Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Swerve Return

By now you've probably seen the Hell in a Cell show. In which case you'll have seen Bray Wyatt return to attack Dean Ambrose, costing him his Cell match with Seth Rollins. It’s a move that has nicely set up a new programme between Ambrose and Wyatt and also allowed Rollins to head off into a presumed slow-burn programme with Randy Orton.

I’ve seen it said elsewhere that the finish was cheap and disappointing. I couldn’t disagree with this more. The ending reintroduced Wyatt after a TV absence that lasted over a month. The point of that absence was to provide the Wyatt character with a rejuvenation period so he could return with a new focus. Which is, of course, what we got when he assaulted Ambrose.

Best Hell in a Cell run-in since Kane's debut? Quite possibly.
The finish also got over the opportunist attribute of Rollins’s character. He doesn’t care if a victory is cheap, he’ll take it because a win ultimately makes him look good. By the same token it protected Ambrose: he lost after going through a table, taking weapons shots, various standards moves, and, finally, a beating from a completely fresh Bray Wyatt. The Uranage he was hammered with was particularly impactful.

The Rollins and Orton issue is something WWE have vaguely teased for a while but I get the feeling it’s not something they’d planned to go through with just yet. It’s possible that the light babyface side of the roster (caused by injuries, most notably to Daniel Bryan and Roman ‘Great Hope’ Reigns) is the sole cause for the move, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the recent spate of “Outta nowhere!” videos, seeing Orton edited into videos as if delivering RKOs to people falling on their faces, has sped things up too. They have made Orton more relevant than he’s been since at least June, and probably earlier.

It’s tough to judge how quickly the Rollins and Orton issue is going to develop. It could see them both remain members of The Authority for a while longer or ‘The Viper’ could cut ties with the group next week. I think the longer option is likelier. Survivor Series presents an ideal opportunity for Orton to be assaulted by his comrades, signalling his face turn.

Coming to a special event near you.
Both Rollins and Orton will presumably wrestle as part of Team Authority against Team Cena (and yes, that would mean another pay-per-view meeting for Cena and Orton). Orty could be pinned and then get duffed up by his teammates immediately afterwards or, more likely, on the following evening’s RAW. A more exciting way of doing things would be to have Orton RKO Rollins (outta nowhere!) during the match to get the young upstart eliminated, Orton’s reasoning being that he knows Seth’s after his spot. Sadly that jars with WWE’s formulaic approach to face and heels turns and so isn’t likely to happen.

As good as matches between Rollins and Orton could be I’m more interested in the Ambrose versus Wyatt. First of all Wyatt used a smoke hologram when he returned. If that’s not getting you interested in him I don’t know what will.

My more sensible reasoning is that Ambrose and Wyatt is a fresh singles match between two men WWE need to establish as headline acts. It’s exactly the sort of feud they should be doing and putting on towards the top of the card. With a Team Cena versus Team Authority match confirmed for Survivor Series it seems safe to assume Ambrose and Wyatt will take the semi-main event spot. That would help the standing of both men.

It’s also nice to see the storytelling in the company being changed up. Ambrose has been established as a man motivated by gaining retribution on those who wrong him. It proved the driving force of his feud with Rollins and provided a good starting point for his issue with Wyatt: ‘The Eater of Worlds’ stopped Ambrose delivering the final blow to his bitterest enemy and for that Wyatt has to pay. It’s nice to see some character consistency. It’s also an attribute that will generate some interesting scenarios for a heel Ambrose one day.

Could this be a career-defining feud for Ambrose and Rollins?
A resounding "maybe" from me!
Something that's important to note with these new and emerging rivalries is that the door has been left open for Ambrose and Rollins to resume their fight at some point. Which I'm sure they will. They're still less than two years into their (main roster) WWE careers but their rivalry already has the makings of being their generation's Orton versus Cena feud. Actually, that does the former Shield lads a disservice. It would be more flattering to say they could progress to an Austin v Rock scenario, feuding on and off across the years. They should certainly be aiming for Austin and Rock instead of Cena and Orton.

But that's for the future. For now we have Rollins versus Orton and Ambrose versus Wyatt. Fresh scenarios that should provide quality matches and (particularly in the case of the latter) quality promos. It’s looking as though WWE has finally committed to a new batch of headliners. Now all they have to do is legitimise them as main eventers.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Hell in a Cell 2014 review

The announced card for Hell in a Cell’s 2014 edition did not sound particularly appealing as it came together. Ambrose versus Rollins, the lone sane choice for a collision inside the Hell in a Cell, seemed good but WWE took their time announcing it and stupidly made Ambrose qualify for the thing in a pole match with John Cena. Any time a wrestler has to qualify for a match in what is essentially a blood feud something's gone wrong somewhere.

While mid-card title matches pitting Sheamus against The Miz and Dolph Ziggler against 'Don't Call Me Antonio' Cesaro both sounded enjoyable both taken place numerous times on free TV shows leading up to the pay-per-view. It's hard to look forward to a match-up, no matter how good it’s expected to be, when the combatants have wrestled numerous times in the space of weeks.

The rest of the card was a combination of rematches and unappealing borefests. Qualifying as both was John Cena versus Randy Orton in their second Hell in a Cell match (their first was at the dreary inaugural Cell PPV in '09). They're both legitimate stars but nobody wants to see them wrestle one another, Cell or not. Not helping the bout was the general feeling that it would close the show in place of the more deserving Ambrose v Rollins. Pleasantly this turned out to be incorrect. WWE let their new lads and future headliners close the show. That was a move that should pay off nicely as it helped with the pair’s reception as stars.

Did WWE manage to turn a bland line-up into a captivating special event offering? Let's have a look...

After a pre-show which saw dissension teased between Miz and stunt double Damien Mizdow, Sheamus Brogue Kick a camera (because all babyfaces should have a healthy disregard for expensive technological equipment), and Mark Henry handily defeat Bo Dallas, the show proper got underway with Ziggler's Intercontinental title defence against Cesaro, fought under two-out-of-three falls rules.

Not the greatest picture, but it's suitably dynamic.
The first fall featured a wonderfully crisp pin exchange sequence and a crowd-pleasing Big Swing. 'The Show Off' got a flash pin after rolling up the challenger. Cesaro controlled the pace of the second fall, immediately giving Ziggy a double stomp and battering him with punches and wear down holds. Ziggler survived this, a second double stomp, a double underhook power bomb, a fantastic second rope suplex, and a Swiss Death uppercut. Cesaro took an armbar (which he countered out of for the second rope suplex), and a Fameasser before falling victim to a super kick and a Zig Zag.

It was an electric opener, although somewhat surprising that Ziggler went over two falls to none. The pair have great chemistry. On top of that pretty much everything Cesaro does looks devastating, making him an ideal opponent for salesman extraordinaire Ziggler.

That was followed by a Network shilling spot. 'King' revealed people watching on pay-per-view had shelled out $54.99 for the show. That's a ridiculous price. Even if every match had been great there was no way the show was going to be worth that.

After a reminder that Seth Rollins had Curb Stomped Randy Orton on RAW we were shown The Authority backstage. Orty wanted to find Rollins, presumably to rough him up. Stephanie told him to focus on beating Cena and earning a WWE title match with Lesnar. Trips gave Orty a pep talk, spinning Seth's actions as him attacking Orton before Orton could attack him. After simmering down Orton said he'd do it The Authority’s way but made it clear he expected The Authority to deal with Sethy-B eventually.

Then... BRIE MODE!! The heated sister versus sister rivalry that started in the womb! So heated was this feud that the pair had agreed to a stipulation which would see the loser become the winner's assistant for a month. Because nothing says serious rivalry like someone losing and having to do whatever the winner says.

The commentators spent the match talking nonsense. 'King' opined that Brie v Nikki may have been the ultimate sibling rivalry in company history. Presumably he had forgotten the 2009 Matt Hardy versus Jeff Jardy feud and the many, many matches involving storyline brothers The Undertaker and Kane that were dished out over the course of an entire decade. ‘The King’ also revealed he'd pay money to be the assistant to either one of them. No comment could scream “Vintage Lawler” more.

The match was very good. If you want evidence that the Bellas are better workers than they're given credit for this was it. Brie did Daniel Bryan's suicide dive and Yes Lock while Nikki dished out some snug knee strikes and forearms. She was also very good at playing to the crowd. One pro-JBL chant aside the audience were invested throughout.

Nikki won after the match's second Rack Attack. Layfield and Lawler immediately started gabbling on about what Nikki would get Brie to do as her assistant. It was at this point that I realised how the storyline was the sort of thing Vince McMahon routinely booked himself in in 2003 and 2004. But there’s a charm to Vince’s peversion that JBL and Lawler (particularly Lawler) lack.

The expert panel were up after that. Alex Riley said Ziggler v Cesaro was a match of the year contender (it wasn't) while Booker T declared Nikki v Brie the Shucky Ducky Quack Quack moment of the night (it was). Paul Heyman said the night's most important match was Cena v Orton because it would decide the next opponent for his "challenger-eating carnivore" Brock Lesnar. Booker stared at Heyman in an attempt to make him laugh. Heyman didn’t break but Booker’s amazing for trying.

Golden boys.
The evening's third match was for the tag team championship. Stardust and Goldust defended against the Usos. It was the sort of competent match the two teams always have: fine but tough to get excited about because of how often we’ve seen it. It was essentially a reminder that these are the only two teams WWE has that currently mean anything. Goldust retained for his team after an elevated Cross Rhodes on Jey, set up with a kick to the leg by Stardust.

Surprisingly, and pleasingly, the Orton versus Cena match followed the. It was preceded by an excellent, if ridiculously hyperbolic, video package. Cena and Orton's seemingly never-ending rivalry was compared to Hogan-Savage, Flair-Rhodes, and Austin-Rock. Anyone who's seen any of their matches knows how ridiculous that is: they do not have the heated, energetic of those more famous rivlaries. The video was on safer ground paralleling the pair's rise through the ranks and making note of them starting in WWE at the same time. This is the sort of thing WWE does well, so it's not surprising this was as good as it was.

Orton brought a chair into the match almost immediately. Cena was tasked with some early selling, which he did as good a job with as could be reasonably expected. It was a logical thing to do. Having Orton keep the pace slow, battering Cena with a chair and ramming him into the cage and ring posts, should have gotten the crowd invested in Cena, encouraging them to desire a grand comeback. Unfortunately the crowd seemed mostly disinterested, not that they can be blamed for that.  

Cena got a few hope spots, one of which saw him smack 'The Viper's' head into the cage long enough to grab a table from beneath the ring. His AA attempt failed when Orton flipped the table, drop kicked him, and ran him head-first into a chair. Moments later Orton hit an RKO (outta nowhere!) for a two count. He followed that up by lobbing Cena through the table.

Ring steps were next on 'The Apex Predator's' list of weaponry. But their introduction backfired on him: Cena shoved his way out of an RKO, hit his shoddy belly-to-back- suplex-slash-blue thunder bomb and followed up with a Five Knuckle Shuffle. Boos rang through the arena. Orton escaped an AA. Cena evened things up by avoiding a Punt and slapping on the STF.

Orton looks delighted to have that chair, doesn't he?
The match chugged on for a while after that. Cena lobbed ring steps at Orton, who side stepped them, before dropping him with an AA. ‘The Viper’ kicked out and turned another AA into an RKO. In perhaps the most boring advancement possible Cena simply picked Orton up and hit another AA. That got him a two count so he set up a table in the ring and, after a little back and forth in the corner, AAed Orton through it from the top rope for the win.

The match could have been far better. It could also have been far worse. On balance I think we should be pleased with what we got.

Backstage Big Show told Mark Henry he was going to beat Rusev. For Texas. For Mark Henry. For AMERICA!!

Back in the ring we got the US championship match, Sheamus defending against The Miz. It followed the pattern of their TV matches. Sheamus dominated Miz until Mizdow provided a distraction that set up a change of pace. After several minutes Sheamus escaped an SCF and a figure four then got distracted by Mizdow, who distracted the ref during a Shaymo pin. Surprisingly that didn't lead to a Miz victory and a title change. Instead ‘The Awesome One’ got lamped with a Brogue kick as he jumped off the top rope.

After the match Sheamus manhandled 'The Awesome One' and Mizdow mimicked it all to the delight of the crowd. ‘Great White’ then floored Miz with another Brogue kick. What happened to being a star, Sheamus?

In the car park Brie was shown putting a bag in Nikki's car. Nikki showed up to make sure Brie had made her dinner reservations and then poured a smoothie over her. Then she drove off. Leaving before the final bell? Nikki's lucky Bill Watts isn't around.

A video reminded us that Rusev is Russian and Big Show is American. Then 'The Bulgarian Brute' went to the ring. Lana cut a promo asking people to show respect and rise for the Russian national anthem. That was the cue for Show's music to blast over the speakers and 'The World's Largest Athlete' to lumber to the ring.

Bulgarian brutishness.
Rusev dominated the first few minutes of the match. He targeted the giant’s leg and also busted out an impressive suplex. Show came back with a Haas of Pain-like hold and then muscled Rusev around a bit. Both guys did a good job of selling when required. That has been a consistent strength of Rusev’s.

After Show had speared Rusev, Mark Henry walked down to ringside. Show hit what Maggle Cole referred to as a "choke slam for America" which only earned him a two count. Rusev got back to his feet and hit Show with a super kick. Henners lumbered onto the apron and took one too. Show was sent to the mat with a further two super kicks and then placed in The Accolade. He tapped out, failing himself, the crowd, Mark Henry and… AMERICA!!

Henry checked on Show after the match. No swerve turn occurred but there was a little hug between the big lads. That was nice to see.

Somewhere in the building Dean Ambrose said Seth Rollins looked like a descendant of Dracula and that he was prepared to burn in Hell in the main event. It was not his best work.

Paige and AJ Lee's latest Divas championship match took the pre-main event slot. They had another disappointing match, although it wasn't the worst entry in their series. AJ won when Paige submitted to the Black Widow. After the match Paige gave Alicia Fox (the new BFF she'd brought to ringside) a slap, blaming her for the loss. Fox looked surprised, as though she wasn’t aware that Paige is not the most stable of women. Maybe she should start watching RAW.

The main event was Ambrose and Rollins in a spot they deserved but many (myself included) didn't think they'd get, as discussed above. They were also treated to a top notch video covering their history as part of The Shield and the four month rivalry they’ve had since Rollins turned heel and joined The Authority.

Ambrose entered first, a kendo stick slung across his back. He threw half a dozen chairs into the ring and then climbed onto the roof of the Cell. Because why not, right? Rollins walked out and heelishly dispatched New Stooges Mercury and Noble to retrieve 'The Lunatic Fringe'. This move was met with laughter from Ambrose and a "You sold out!" chant from the crowd.

Wheeeeeeeee!
Mercury and Noble took a caning, allowing Rollins to scale the Cell and attack Ambrose from behind. Ambrose was beaten down for a minute or three before dispatching The New Stooges with a suplex and a clothesline. Rollins went to escape, climbing down the commentary side of the structure. Ambrose caught up with him halfway down. After trading blows they took simultaneous Shawn Michaels bumps off the cage and through the announce desks. It obviously didn’t come close to matching the iconic Mick Foley falls from King of the Ring ’98 but it was impressive and should make for excellent additions to highlight packages and career retrospectives on the two in years to come.

Medical staff came out and both men did stretcher jobs. Cole did a particularly poor job making the devastation seem real. Instead of talking about the career-shortening, potentially career-ending, falls Ambrose and Rollins had just taken he emphasised their storyline feud, reminding us that what we were watching was a scripted wrestling show and making it all the more likely that one or both men would leave their stretcher to attack the other.

Which is, of course, exactly what happened. Ambrose leapt off his stretcher and attacked Rollins, throwing him inside the Cell and slamming the door on his head. Despite protests from New Stooges Noble and Mercury the bell rang and the match officially started.

Once inside the cage they had a fulfilling brawl which included chairs, tables, the Money in the Bank briefcase, cinder blocks, multiple finishers and finisher attempts and liberal use of the Cell wall. Each man took a turn smashing the other with a barrage of chair shots. Ambrose elbow dropped Rollins through a table while Rollins power bombed Ambrose through one, the latter after Kane had teleported down to ringside and squirted a fire extinguisher into Ambrose’s face.

The finish began when Ambrose puts Rollins’ head on cinder blocks and prepared to unleash a Curb Stomp on him, calling back to an episode of RAW where Rollins did that to Ambrose (in order to write Ambrose off TV to go and make a movie). Just before the move could happen the lights went out. The crowd booed and we heard some chanting over the speaker system. A light came back on to reveal a lantern in the ring. Smoke billowed out from it and Ambrose puzzled got up to look at the thing. As he got close Bray Wyatt leapt through the smoke and pummelled Ambrose, flooring him with a high Uranage suplex. He then slumped down in the centre of the ring as Rollins crawled over and covered Ambrose for the three count.

The match was a satisfying collision, one that provided a good cap on their current feud. I’m sure they’ll feud again in the future, and probably get back together as The Shield alongside Reigns. But a Cell match made sense for them at this time and they delivered a good performance. They showed that WWE was right to put them on last.

 Wyatt versus Ambrose. Best for business.
After the match Ambrose’s new rival picked him up and gave him a Sister Abigail. That met with boos, as had the interference in general. That’s a promising sign. That the audience was willing to boo somebody monstrously popular for costing Ambrose a match with the hated Seth Rollins shows how invested they are in Ambrose and his cause. Ambrose versus Wyatt is a new singles pairing featuring two guys who are over but new to the top of the card. It’s exactly the kind of thing the promotion needs to be doing right now.

As good as the main event was, and as promising as the new direction for Ambrose is, the show as a whole was not that great. While only one match was less than good (Paige versus AJ) there were too many rematches on offer. The show felt more like a polished episode of RAW with some particularly fancy gimmick matches than a special event.

Results summary:
Dolph Ziggler defeated Cesaro two falls to none to retain the Intercontinental championship
Nikki Bella defeated Brie Bella
Goldust and Stardust defeated Jimmy and Jey Uso to retain the tag team championship
John Cena defeated Randy Orton to earn a WWE championship match
Sheamus defeated The Miz to retain the US championship
Rusev defeated Big Show
AJ Lee defeated Paige to retain the Divas championship
Seth Rollins defeated Dean Ambrose

Saturday, 25 October 2014

NXTweet 23.10.14

This was a very enjoyable episode of NXT, everyone’s favourite one hour weekly wrestling show. Not watched in a while? It’s probably a decent jump on point.

The Ascension v Tye Dillinger and Jason Jordan

Tweet 1: Right then, you bunch'a marks! Let's T some NX!
Tweet 2: "Next generation of WWE stars..." - A commentator as we were shown a shot of The Ascension
Tweet 3: Two weeks ago: Funaki stretcher job. #prayforFunaki
Tweet 4: The crowd should be chanting "Where's your hair gone?" at Jason Jordan.
Tweet 5: Jason Jordan should totally go singles and start calling himself 'The New Double J'.
Tweet 6: Slik Vik and Special K: The Ascension.

Imagine Joey Styles calling this. "FALL OF MAAAAAAN!!"

Tweet 7: Decidedly erotic cover from Viktor there. Tye was probably too intimidated to try a kick out.
Tweet 8: Fuanki's lad getting beaten down there. Remember when he debuted and sent The Ascension packing single-handed? Debut's over.
Tweet 9: "Just go home" - Konnor to Hideo Itami

CJ Parker v Tyler Breeze

Tweet 10: Rich Brennan, Tensai McBurgerson, and Alex Riley. What a dream team!
Tweet 11: No sign from CJ Parker this week? Poor form, bro.
Tweet 12: Ah no, he had it stashed at ringside so he wasn't weighed down on his entrance. Good lad.
Tweet 13: CJ is clearly hated and they insist on presenting Tyler as a heel so who are we meant to cheer here?
Tweet 14: Give CJP his own YouTube and-or Network show called Everybody Hates CJ Parker.
Tweet 15: Mojo Rawley has walked out to ringside. The quality of this show has dipped.
Tweet 16: Mojo staring lustfully at Breeze there.

Tyler's boots and CJ's hair are easily confused.

Devin Taylor interviews Titus O’Neil

Tweet 17: Loving this interviewer openly laughing at Titus O'Neil.
Tweet 18: Titus basically said he's going to win the NXT title and rename the promotion NXTITUS. He is not a money promo.

Baron Corbin vignette

Tweet 19: Sin City movies + American Wolves gear = Baron Corbin

The Vaudevillains v Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy

Tweet 20: #Vaudevillainspop
Tweet 21: The Vaudevillains are wearing T-shirts to the ring, have new music and are doing an Impact Players-esque pose.
Tweet 22: Tensai is putting this over as a game-changing new attitude.
Tweet 23: Murphy and Blake should use the ring name The Meaty Lads.

Cesaro would roll up an uppercut here...

Tweet 24: Why are they talking about the NXT Universe? Does NXT not exist within the WWE Universe? Maybe my alternate universe theory was right.
Tweet 25: I think they should refer to NXT as a galaxy. #justsaying
Tweet 26: Blake does a kip up and acts like it's the most impressive thing ever. It's not, mate. You're generic.

Bayley v Sasha Banks

Tweet 27: Bayley's great. Tell a friend.
Tweet 28: Sasha Banks is also great, even though her character doesn't really make much sense without the BFFs.
Tweet 29: Lots of hip action on Sasha during that entrance...
Tweet 30: Alex Riley is talking about putting Ws in the win column again. Why is on he on the commentary team? He's so bad!

That may be a Scyther on Bayley's trunks.

Tweet 31: The colour scheme of Sasha's outfit makes me think of Ultimo Dragon.
Tweet 32: The Banks Statement is great every time I see it.
Tweet 33: Swerve turn from Becky Lynch! Swerve! Swerve! Sweeeeeerve!! #swerve
Tweet 34: Lynch's post-match taunting needs work. Right now it's a weak head waggle and brushing imaginary dirt from her shoulders. No.

Enzo Amore, Big Cass and Carmella backstage

Tweet 35: Enzo and leopard print. That's all I got from that segment.
Tweet 36: Here's another thought: maybe Enzo and Cass will split after Enzo gets jealous of Cass and Carmella’s friendship.
Tweet 37: Because pecks on cheeks should lead to heel turns more often.

NXT championship: Adrian Neville (c) v Titus O’Neil

Tweet 38: What's with Byron Saxton saying "championship" in such a weird way?
Tweet 39: Newcastle? Boooooooooooo!!
Tweet 40: Has Titus been sent to NXT to get some good matches out of him for a Best of Titus O'Neil DVD?
Tweet 41: I'd buy a Titus DVD from WWE. I'd also buy a YouShoot interview with him if he ever got released.
Tweet 42: Not least because I, like everybody else, would mark out seeing Titus and Sean Oliver in the same room.
Tweet 43: Looking forward to the day Sean Oliver is considered enough of a name to appear as a talking head on WWE documentaries.
Tweet 44: BEAR HUG FROM TITUS!! IT'S OVER!!
Tweet 45: "Would he represent NXT the way it deserves to be represented? I don't know. It's a good question" - Alex Riley to Alex Riley
Tweet 46: Titus runs into Nev's boots and goes down. Neville then hits the Red Arrow and pins him. It could be argued that Titus beat himself.

Titus taking the Red Arrow like a pro.

Tweet 47: Why are WWE protecting Titus to any extent? Because he's been presented as a monster on NXT? That's not enough.
Tweet 48: Zayn and Nev agreeing to a future championship match there.
Tweet 49: Zayn says Nev should appreciate having the belt while he can. Nev says Zayn can't "win the big one."
Tweet 50: A guy in the audience says Zayn got served. END SCENE

Friday, 24 October 2014

Second Opinion: RPW Uprising 2014

I wasn’t the only person at last Saturday’s RPW Uprising show. Michael King was there too. Sitting next to me, as it happens. On Sunday I asked him if he fancied contributing some thoughts to my write-up (you can find that here). What he sent over ended up being over one thousand words long. Which, y’know, is easily a blog post in its own right so I decided to present it in full. It’s presented below, with anything in italics added by me. Because why not?

***

Lionel Richie’s All Night Long runs four minutes 19 seconds. Rich Swann’s entrance, based around the song, felt significantly longer. By the end of the match the crowd had cheered itself out, much to the detriment of what followed. It’s a shame this didn’t go on after the interval.

The match was good. Think a PPV/Network Special opener, or post Cena-promo Uso tag match on RAW. Lots of reversals, combos and dives to the outside, all pulled off with exceptional timing and little to no regard for psychology. Aries is as crisp in person as he is on TV. 2 Unlimited bad-guyed it up despite their adorable denim waist coats and propensity to move their mouths as if to taunt the crowd, but not actually say anything. Maybe they have very silly voices (They’re Irish so they probably do). Aries took the mic after the match to tell the crowd to keep the energy up. He obviously knew what was happening before we did.

Britain's premiere hoss. That'd be a good moniker for him, actually.
The next match featured Dave Mastiff against Karl Anderson. You’d think Anderson, being used to wrestling to the sound of a dripping tap in the Tokyo Dome men’s room (and only getting a pop for re-entering the ring) would have adapted better to the lack of atmosphere, but it seemed to put him off. Mastiff lives his gimmick and generally held up his end of the match. On reflection this match was pretty decent. A good ol’ meat bash (Oh!) with some big spots and a decent finishing sequence, but it felt a little flat whilst it was going on. We have Swann and Richie to thank for that.

To take us into the break we saw the best wrestler in the world face Adrian Neville’s old tag partner. To be fair Joel Redman is a much better singles wrestler than viewers of NXT would believe, but he was the wrong opponent, in the wrong slot. A big part of these RPW shows is being part of the reaction these big ticket foreign stars receive. Seeing Hiroshi Tanahashi burst through the curtain twelve months ago (in the main event) was surreal, and the reaction appropriately massive. Okada got some weak chants and a single streamer. The crowd wasn’t ready for him.

The match itself was decent, despite a complete lack of chemistry between the two men. Redman seemed a little unsure of his role and Okada’s deadpan arrogance didn’t work with the smaller crowd in the same way as Tanahashi’s stiff  arm air-guitar or Nakamura’s nuanced epileptic routine. I can’t stress enough how insane it was that this went on pre-interval. Okada, at 26 years old, is the biggest star in the world’s number two promotion, and will most likely be on top for at least another decade. Anyway, enough of that. Okada won.

The show resumed with the Revolutionists facing Too Cool. I should preface this by saying that I spent a long time where my only access to WWE was VHS tapes and Sunday Night Heat, which at the time seemed to consist of lovingly framed shots of Trish Stratus; Mick Foley going to theme parks; and Too Cool main events. This probably goes some way in explaining why I enjoyed this so much (Amazingly other people enjoyed their tedious routine too. I think I was the only one who didn’t see the appeal in a former light heavyweight champ, a grossly overweight Samoan, and Jerry Lawler’s estranged son). I wanted to be angry for Okada, but seeing these three men go through their old routine moved me in a way I wasn’t prepared for. This was so, so, so stupid and I loved it.

That said, Sha Samuels is great and deserves better than this. (I couldn’t agree with this more)

The championship match was set up with a video package. I didn’t hear a word but most of it still came across. Stone was angry because he is less well thought of than Mojo Rawley. Scurll is crazy now because he has a beard and an umbrella and that’s why he is the best Martin. These two had by far the best match of the evening, with plenty of outside brawling, near falls, heelish shenanigans and Scurll’s Vince McMahon impersonation. Scurll seems a little restless with his gimmick and it’s easy to see why. He is so far ahead of those round him in terms of presentation, pacing, crowd interaction and work rate that he probably changes things up so frequently to keep himself entertained. I can’t get into Stone. As a wrestler he’s fine, but his ring gear, promo delivery and lack of personality give him the feel of a fill-in main eventer.

Michael isn't one for national pride.
The post-match angle involving the (wonderfully panto) Knight family was a fun bit of wrestling nonsense. It went on far too long, but so did everything on the show. Dave has said all that needs to be said about the pacing, so instead I’ll complain about the constant references to the UK made on the show. This was the first RPW offering in a while to not feature anyone in Union Jack trunks (the UK wrestler equivalent of black wrestlers wearing animal print), but we still had it incorporated into the set (see right for one of Michael’s least favourite aspects of the show), and the Knight family patriarch (who based on the relative appearances of his sons and daughter (Paige), is a dismal producer of XX chromosomes) referring to the invaders as The UK Hooligans.

No-one in the building was confused about where we were, neither will anyone be when watching a DVD. The ostensible main event featured a man called Martin fighting another man called Martin. Wrestlers used scarfs and umbrellas as foreign objects. Not one reference was made to college football. All the UK references make the production look as indy as anything.

Ospreay vs Sydal went on last. There were flips. I question the decision to put an amiable face v face crusierweight match on after a number a genuine star attractions and a hard fought, angle heavy, championship match. But hey I also like my brief intervals to last less than 40 minutes (He wasn’t interested in a picture with Austin Aries and former TNA megastar Rosita).

A strange show, bafflingly less than the sum of its parts. Too Cool were oddly perfect, but with so many indy free agents now snapped up by NXT and the NJPW roster tapped, I wonder whether RPW can channel some of it’s momentum into building the size and profile of its home grown roster. Scurll versus Gangrel at Summer Sizzler?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Hell in a Cell 2014 preview


So here we are. The sixth annual Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. The sixth!  They shouldn’t have gotten to the first. A gimmick match being the focus of an annual event devalues it, as I’ve written many times before (usually during Hell in a Cell previews). The entire point of stipulation matches is that they get wheeled out when a rivalry calls for it, not because the name of a show dictates it.

But hang on a moment. This year we actually have a fitting feud for the Hell in a Cell, WWE’s premier gimmick bout and feud-ender. Former Shield brethren Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins have been waging war on one another since the beginning of June. Clocking over four months and a surprisingly slim number of televised bouts1 they’re the natural pair to close this show inside the cage.

Only they’re probably not going to get to. John Cena and Randy Orton have also been booked to clash in the Hell in a Cell for absolutely no logical storyline reason. They’re meeting again because they need something to do. That’s it.  Ambrose defeated Cena to earn his match against Rollins, a foolish move in itself: Cena being in contention for a Cell match with Rollins detracted from the animosity between Rollins and Ambrose. Losing to Ambrose meant Cena got a Cell match with Orton.

Cena and Orton meeting in a Cell brings with it a barrel load of monotony. The two have collided on WWE television dozens of times over the years and have never produced anything beyond an average match together. They’ve faced off on pay-per-view a few times this year alone, most notably at Royal Rumble where they began their anything goes encounter (brought about by Orty viciously attacking Cena’s father) with a lock up. Had their programme rumbled on since then the Cell would have at least made sense, although we should probably be thankful that it didn’t. Eleven months of Cena v Orton (they’d started off with a staredown at the end of the 2013 Survivor Series) is depressing just to think about.

Also worth noting is that this isn’t even the first time the two have met inside the Hell in a Cell. They went on fifth at the inaugural 2009 HIAC pay-per-view (in what was billed at the time as their final encounter EVER), a show that was opened by CM Punk v Undertaker and closed by D-Generation X v Legacy. Yeah, Punk, ‘Taker, Orton and Cena all worked Cell matches lower down the card than Ted DiBiase Jr yet Rollins and Ambrose likely will not close the 2014 instalment.

Wherever they’re put on the card the former Shield lads will almost certainly produce the better bout. In an ideal world Cena and Orton would open up the card and do everything in their power to make it the best entry in their never-ending rivalry. With the rest of the card in between the two Cell encounters Ambrose and Rollins would be afforded as much cool down as possible and could go out and tear the house down with a Cell clash given a suitably different layout.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. WWE could pull these matches off (just) if they wanted to. But that would involve portraying Ambrose and Rollins as the biggest stars of the night. I just don’t think it will happen. Cena and Orton are the established names and they’re the ones WWE is convinced the majority of people are tuning in to see.

Let’s pick winners. Cena seems likelier than Orton to win. They’re not actually feuding with each other and when that’s said of a Cena PPV match then he’s usually the safer choice. Meanwhile Ambrose probably needs the win in his match more than Rollins. He’s only beaten Seth once on TV (and that’s the only place it counts in WWE) and this is the environment in which ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ has to win if he is to be the anti-hero we can believe in, overcoming everything Sethy B lobs his way. That includes the likely Kane interference.

The rest of the card is very clearly intended to be filler.

Paige and AJ Lee will have their fourth consecutive pay-per-view bout. Only one of the previous three was not a singles match (Night of Champions saw them joined by Nikki Bella for a three-way… get your minds out of the gutter) and they’ve had a few singles matches on TV too. None of them have risen above average. I had high hopes for the programme when AJ returned but it’s become one of the dullest long-running programmes in years.

I’ll pick Paige to win as that would get the title back on her and allow AJ to be put in the chasing babyface role she’s better suited to at this point. Note that I’m expecting their feud to continue. WWE doesn’t have any other women ready to step into a featured feud, even for the meaningless Divas championship. The frustrating thing is that they could have a stellar women’s division if they wanted one.

Sheamus’s United States title defence against The Miz is mostly an excuse to get the popular Damien Mizdow character on to the show. It’s a good call as he’ll get the crowd reacting while the two former WWE world champions put on a good match. I think this could play host to a title change. ‘Great White’ has done nothing with the belt since winning it in May. Putting it on Miz would allow Mizdow to do the replica belt shtick he did with the IC title on the September 22 RAW. Beyond that sight gag it could also lead to a Mizdow face turn and a feud between the star and his stunt double, perhaps restoring some credibility to the championship and making something of Sandow’s popularity.

We all know that Big Show versus Rusev will end in one of two ways. Either Rusev wins clean or Big Show wins via disqualification. I think it will be the former. There’s also a chance that Mark Henry will turn on Show to start a pointless rerun of that feud. They’d be of more interest contributing to the tag division as that’s something new for them but a split seems inevitable.

Goldust and Stardust will defend the tag team titles against the Usos. We’ve seen these teams face off many times. They can be trusted to produce something competent without burning the crowd out.  I’ll predict the champions to retain, because why not? As is the case with the Divas, WWE could have a solid tag division if they wanted one, making these constant repeats obsolete.
Not confirmed at time of writing but expected to happen is Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler. They are two of WWE's best and should put on the best match of the night outside of Rollins v Ambrose. An Intercontinental title reign would be nice for Cesaro at some point as he's the sort of guy who could have a good run with it. But before that happens the belt needs to be given meaning again, and the best way for to achieve that is to keep it on 'The Show Off' for a while and continuing to give him lengthy matches on TV and PPV. Ziggler to retain here, but let Cesaro take it from him in the future.

Finally, there’s the Nikki Bella versus Brie Bella match with one of the most wrestling stipulations WWE has done for quite a while. In a move straight out of the Jerry TV pilot in Seinfeld the loser of the match will have to be the winner’s PA for a month2. It’s the sort of scenario that can only work if a heel is the victor, and it would also provide a natural setup for a rematch. So I think Nikki will win. As for match quality… the match will certainly happen.

Hell in a Cell seems very much like a one match card. I can’t imagine anyone being interested in the Cena v Orton match, even with the desperation (overbooked, call it what you will) stipulation that the winner will get the next shot at Brock Lesnar’s WWE championship3. Ambrose versus Rollins in the top gimmick match the company has is the clear draw. The mid-card has nothing to offer beyond Cesaro v Ziggler and Miz and Sheamus’s match, and the latter’s only of interest because of a man at ringside. Hell in a Cell 2014 will have a tough job of being an interesting show.

Predictions summary:
Dean Ambrose to defeat Seth Rollins
John Cena to defeat Randy Orton
The Miz to defeat Sheamus for the United States championship
Dolph Ziggler to defeat Cesaro
Rusev to defeat Big Show
Nikki Bella to defeat Brie Bella
Goldust and Stardust to defeat the Usos
Paige to defeat AJ Lee for the Divas championship

***

1 They were both involved in the Money in the Bank Ladder match on June 29, won by Rollins; Ambrose lost to Rollins and Kane in a handicap match on the July 29 SmackDown; Rollins won their enjoyable lumberjack encounter at SummerSlam; and Ambrose picked up his sole televised win over Rollins on the August 18 post-SummerSlam RAW.

2 “Is this common in your legal system?”

3 Presumably this will take place at Royal Rumble. That will give WWE three months to promote their number two card of the year. Good move. Thumbs up!

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Part Time Squad

WWE’s reliance on the stars of the past has been well documented over the last several years. The Rock’s return at WrestleMania XXVII and matches at XXVIII and XXIX drew scorn from some. Triple H and Undertaker taking an annual ‘Mania spot has also failed to go down well with everyone. And guys like Chris Jericho, Batista and Hulk Hogan have also returned in one form or another, to a variety of reactions.

There could be said to be broadly two views on this. The first would be that the returning stars help to attract viewers who wouldn’t otherwise be interested and that their participation helps give the events that extra special feeling they’re meant to have. The second would be that the returnees take away spots from the roster members who work a full schedule and deserve to participate at a show of WrestleMania’s significance.

My view lies somewhere in the middle of the two. The returning stars are necessary for shows like WrestleMania to be distinguishable from the rest of the PPV pack. I don’t think WWE could expect to fill more than one stadium for a ‘Mania using only their current roster, and they’d only manage one because tickets are sold so far in advance. But at the same time I don’t think the list of returning names would need to be as long as it generally gets if WWE did a better job of making guys like Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler seem like they’re genuinely big stars. Part of WrestleMania absolutely should be about celebrating the past and integrating older stars, but it should also be about building for the future.

Something that could be done differently is how the returning names are used. Right now they tend to interact exclusively with one another. Jericho v Fandango and Triple H v Daniel Bryan aside all the names listed above have been involved with other stars from past eras at the last few WrestleManias. An argument could be made for CM Punk being raised up with his matches against The Undertaker and The Rock, but Punk was already pretty close to that level anyway. And, y’know, he lost both matches. By the time he left he was definitely on that level.

I’d be far more interested in a Triple H versus Dean Ambrose match than I would in a Triple H versus The Rock match. The former is a match that could easily take place at WM31, WWE having ample time to prepare it. The latter is a match the men themselves talked about on the SmackDown fifteenth anniversary show and while I don’t think it’s especially likely to happen it’s not an impossibility. That it was brought up on company programming indicates that WWE were interested in seeing how people reacted to talk of the bout.

For whatever reason WWE doesn’t seem interested in pitting the veteran performers against the younger batch of stars. Perhaps they feel the youngsters are beneath the vets. That will cause a problem in years to come if true because sooner or later it will bleed through into the televised product and the current roster could be viewed as second rate in terms of star power.

More likely, given the matchups we’ve had over the last few years, they feel the Dream Match™ route is the best one to take. Their idea of what constitutes such a match can at some times be questionable (Cena versus Rock headlining two ‘Manias in a row f’r’instance) but it’s a solid enough approach. With all of this in mind I thought I’d run through the various part-timers WWE does and could make use of and look at the possible opponents, both part- and full-time, they could be pitted against at the next few ‘Manias.

We’ll start with Mr Hulk Hogan. He’s a pretty big star, right? Well, yes and no. He was undoubtedly wrestling’s biggest star in the 1980s and for much of the 90s, but his status has been somewhat diminished by the likes of Rock, Austin and Cena. His stint in TNA didn’t help him either. That gave anyone who saw it the impression that he’s washed up. He obviously was washed up but that TNA really emphasised it. It wore off what mystique he was still clinging to and he’s only started getting it back since he started the sporadic appearances for WWE.

He says he's got one more leg drop left in him, brothers!
‘The Hulkster’ has dropped a number of unsubtle hints about wanting to wrestle a retirement match for WWE. I suspect there are a number of motives for this. One would be the hefty payday. Another would be the chance to get himself into the spotlight one more time, something he has adored throughout his career. Third would be the opportunity to go out on top. I mean, Hogan clearly hasn’t been on top of wrestling since 19-take-your-pick, but having a retirement match on the upper half, possibly even in the main event, of a ‘Mania card would do a lot to sate his legendary ego.

There’s only one man I think Hogan could or should come back to face. That’s John Cena. The reason is pretty obvious. It would be the biggest current star against one of the biggest stars of the past. They would not have an especially good match but it would be a spectacle, and there’s always a room for spectacle at WrestleMania. Cena’s capable (though he wouldn’t necessarily be willing) of bouncing around to make Hogan look good. Hogan could probably take an AA. It’s the only feasible match should a Hogan comeback occur.

Next is the man who Hogan made his initial ‘Mania comeback against back at X8, The Rock. I’ve already mentioned the tease WWE made of a Rock versus Triple H ‘Mania outing. It would be interesting from a historical point of view because they never wrestled in a singles match at the event, despite having a feud that lasted years and took them both from the mid-card to the main event. While doing the match now would allow them to tick off an accomplishment it wouldn’t live up to their past standards. Between 1998 and 2000 the pair had a number of memorable matches on TV and pay-per-view. They’re older now, and ‘The Great One’ is extra cautious of doing anything that could inflict an injury for fear of losing work in Hollywood, and they wouldn’t be able to match their previous high standards. It’s a match best left in the past.

Rock versus Brock Lesnar has a certain appeal to it: the Hollywood A-lister facing the former UFC champion. It’s the sort of thing WrestleMania has always been built around: mainstream, outside-wrestling appeal. But it’s unlikely to happen with Lesnar’s status as champ as it would need to be for the title and I don’t think either would be back before SummerSlam. Rock’s health and safety gimmick would probably make this match a no, too.

Rock versus Rusev is a potential match after their surprise interaction on the October 6 RAW. I think it could be a very good match. Rusev’s selling and psychology are good and constantly improving and he’s got a convincing, and over, set of moves. It would make sense to promote this match and there’s a reason for it happening. But I don’t think WWE will do it. The most I think we can expect is a second meeting on TV which ends with Rusev looking strong. That would help him, but not as much as a WrestleMania victory in an official match would.

Other than ‘The Bulgarian Brute’ no characters from the main roster jump out as a particularly good match for Rock. I think Cesaro would be a particularly nice fit match-wise, but not enough time has been invested in his character to make it seem a realistic possibility. Meanwhile I think there’s a natural story to be told between Rock and Roman Reigns, not least because they’re cousins, but the in-ring action would let them down. Reigns is not yet experienced enough as a singles wrestler to make this bout work. But if Rock’s still around for WrestleMania 33 in 2017 it might be a good idea.

Going back to Brock Lesnar there are a surprising number of options. Roman Reigns is top of the list as beating Lesnar for the WWE championship at ‘Mania 31 would be a nice crowning-of-the-heir-apparent moment. But even though it would make sense it’s not been announced as a thing yet. ‘The Beast’ could just as easily find himself working a rematch with The Undertaker or having his first main roster dalliance with Randy Orton. Had a better job been done of splitting Paul Heyman and Cesaro then there’d be a compelling, natural story to be told for Cesaro versus Lesnar. It could still be done, but the time for making it mean as much as it could has slipped through WWE’s fingers.

Since the loss of his Streak I’ve found myself less interested in the concept of further Undertaker appearances. It’s not because the Lesnar bout was bad (although it was), it’s because the main appeal of ‘The Dead Man’ for me had become seeing him increase The Streak’s length. It added an urgency to his bouts that just can’t be there now. I’d convinced myself that he’d go for another year or two, announce his final match before it took place, and have Cena as his opponent. Cena, more than Lesnar, would have been able to convince people before the match that he was going to end The Streak. Because he’s Cena. My logic was that if WWE were going to end The Streak for anyone it would be Cena.

But that all fell apart when Lesnar pinned ‘Big Evil’ at WrestleMania XXX. ‘The Phenom’ will still be able to have good matches (if his body permits it) but they just won’t be as suspenseful. He could have his rematch with Lesnar and win, but ultimately it wouldn’t matter. The blemish on his record would still be there.

A lot of people seem to want Sting v Undertaker. I’ve said before that I would have no interest in seeing that match. Sting as a performer does nothing for me and any analogies between his role in WCW and ‘Taker’s in WWE are lost on me. One went off the rails because he felt betrayed during an invasion of cool heels, the other’s a zombie biker who digs MMA. The most that can be said in favour of them being a particularly good pairing is that they are both synonymous with their respective promotions. But WCW closed down in 2001. At this point Sting v Undertaker would be as much TNA v WWE as WCW v WWE.

But a lot of people want to see it. There’s obviously something I’m missing. That people seem keen on it makes me think that Undertaker versus ‘The Stinger’ is the most sensible match for both men at ‘Mania 31. Personally I’d be more interested in either man in a singles match against Bray Wyatt. He’s a better fit for the characters of both veterans. But I doubt that will come to pass.

I suspect a lot of people would argue that Sting v Triple H would be a good match. It’s true that both are top tier performers, but something about their respective styles makes me think they wouldn’t gel well together. Neither strikes me as a significant enough name to make the match work. There’s no obvious story to tell between the pair either.

‘The Game’ is best off working against guys getting established. He’s a respected (within WWE TV Land at least) performer, a former multi-time world champion, and the on-screen boss. His status is why guys would want a match with him and his job allows him to be easily written into necessary stories. The Daniel Bryan story worked well. More along those lines would be fine. Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt and Cesaro would be my top choices for matches against Trips. In time there’s a very obvious Seth Rollins match waiting to be presented too.

One guy I’m not especially interested in seeing Tripper wrestle is Batista. Since leaving over the summer he’s mentioned in interviews that he’d be interested in returning for a retirement match against ‘The King of Kings’ at a WrestleMania. Which says a fair bit about how ‘The Animal’ sees his status within WWE history. In fairness Triple H v Batista would make sense as a retirement match, given their history as friends and opponents. It would be a neat ending to Big Dave’s career. It just doesn’t feel like a modern day ‘Mania match, partly because they faced off at a ‘Mania before and partly because I don’t think Batista quite deserves that level of send-off. To me it feels more like a SummerSlam idea.

I think Batista would be of more value facing an Ambrose or a Cesaro at future WrestleManias. But such matches are probably beneath his ego, even if he were to win them. A bout with Lesnar would likely satisfy him, with or without the title on the line, but the trouble there is the same as with The Rock: Batsy has to keep himself as healthy as possible for Hollywood duties and Lesnar is not conducive to that. It would be a fresh pairing though of established headliners though, and that counts for a lot with me.

A man it would be easy to overlook here is Goldberg. No, he’s never been on the best of terms with WWE. No, they don’t seem to regard him as any form of exceptional draw (and in fairness there’s little evidence that they should). But if Sting is going to get mentioned Goldberg should too. At his peak Goldberg was just as big a star for WCW as Sting.

Were The Streak still intact a decent story could have been built around ‘Taker pitting it against Goldberg’s mostly perfect win-loss record. WWE could have ignored ‘berg’s handful of jobs or acknowledged them and emphasised the screwiness of most of them, either approach would have done the job. A year and a half ago Goldberg would have been a good choice of opponent for Ryback. ‘The Big Guy’ was getting compared to Goldberg every week and it would have given him a boost to face and beat the former WCW champ. It may seem a peculiar thing to say now, given Ryback’s lower-card status, but had WWE handled him better during his rushed rivalry with CM Punk and into WrestleMania XXIX they could have made a headliner out of him.

Those are wasted opportunities. There’s no obvious scenario for Goldberg at a WrestleMania now. But he’s a big enough name to attract a few eyes, especially if he was given the Hall of Fame and retirement match package (not that WWE would deem him worthy of that). The Ryback match could still just about work, just not as well as it could have previously. Beyond that matches with Brock Lesnar, Cesaro or a more embedded Roman Reigns could work nicely.

One more year for Angle. But it probably won't be in WWE.
Goldberg is also one of the many names that could work as an opponent for Kurt Angle. WWE’s fledging roster split stopped it happening during Goldberg’s previous run, which was a pity as the pair seem like a natural fit: the powerhouse and the technician. The trouble is that Angle would likely be taken as the face and Goldberg the heel, and both do their best work in the opposite roles. The more significant trouble with doing this match nowadays is that Angle is falling to pieces and Goldberg isn’t exactly known for his safety.

The really obvious Angle match would be opposite Rusev. He’s a foreign heel who talks about his superiority to America whilst wearing a gold medal. It seems tailor made for Angle. The current leading hypothesis is that Rusev is destined for a ‘Mania showdown with Cena. That would work and work well, but the ultra-patriotic Angle would be just as good a fit, if not a better one.

At this point I should probably pause and acknowledge the fact that it doesn’t look like Angle will ever return to WWE for a match. He’s said he’ll wrestle one more year part-time and then retire. WWE are said to be sceptical about Angle’s ability to pass their health and endurance tests, and they’re almost certainly right to be. Angle was originally let go by WWE in 2006 because of health concerns and he’s visibly smaller now than he was then. As much as it would be great to see him return for one final run and matches against Rollins, Ambrose, Cesaro, Ziggler and Rusev (and basically everyone else on the roster) it doesn’t look as though it will happen. I suspect we won’t be seeing Angle back in WWE until he’s called it quits on his in-ring offerings and is ready to accept a (much deserved) spot in the company’s Hall of Fame.

The same isn’t necessarily true for Angle’s fellow TNA alums Bully Ray and Devon. The former Dudley Boyz have apparently cut ties with TNA and agreed to some sort of deal which will see them wrestle at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 9. It seems safe to assume Team 3D were added because the pay-per-view will be broadcast on PPV in the US (via Jeff Jarrett’s increasingly shady Global Force Wrestling “promotion”) and Bully and Devon are considered big enough names to help attract an audience.

While they’re far from being the biggest names in wrestling ever they are a known quantity. They have the Attitude Era rub that could attract lapsed fans and a very long list of accomplishments for longer term fans. I don’t personally feel that they are but I could understand an argument being made for them being the best tag team ever.

All of which could be used to argue in favour of bringing them into WWE on a part-time basis. Or it could if WWE had a healthier doubles division. I’m sure that the Dudleys versus Goldust and Stardust or the Usos would be good, but neither of the current WWE teams has the status of the Dudleys. To make the most of rehiring the Dudleys WWE would need a team (preferably several) with some history and status to pit them against. They’d need that Dream Match™ scenario, allowing the Dudleys to give the rub to a younger team. The only duo WWE has right now that look like they have the potential to become a significant team is The Ascension, and they’re still in developmental.

If WWE wanted to they could hire Bully and Devon as agents and use them as an occasional treat for house shows crowds. If they spent the time between WrestleManias 31 and 32 creating an interesting and worthwhile doubles division with The Ascension as the undisputed stars then a Dudleys match in 2016 could mean something. But we all know this isn’t something WWE will bother with.

Finally we come to the man whom I think would prove the most lucrative name on this list were he to return to the ring: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. He seems fine with his retirement, having publically exhibited no burning desire to have one final match. It’s completely understandable. He went out in an extremely satisfying match in the semi-main event spot of a WrestleMania, losing to one of his greatest rivals, and friends, at a WrestleMania. He faced everyone there was to face during his time and became a massive star doing so. It’s hard to imagine him having any regrets about his career accomplishments or his last match in particular. While he’s always been careful to avoid committing to anything he has said that he’d come back for the right opponent and the right scenario. But I think another match with Austin is unlikely.

But that’s not to say there aren’t options for him. Because there are. There are tonnes. Austin against Ambrose, Rollins, Ziggler, or Cesaro. He has spoken highly of all of them in interviews and on his podcast, which indicates that he’d work a competitive match with them. Austin v Bryan could be a very good match too, although there you’d have the thorny issue of Bryan having to play the heel. Any of the four guys above could be switched to the antagonist role for an outing against Austin, but for several years now a defining attribute of Bryan’s character has been that he’s the chosen one of fans. He’s the man we want to see on top and the man we want to cheer for.

Even less likely than any of those matches is Austin versus CM Punk. It’s a match that WWE teased in a backstage segment on the 27 June 2011 on the episode of RAW that ended with Punk’s celebrated “pipe bomb”. The appeal of the match is obvious: they’re characters that have both a lot in common and some very clear differences. Each elevated their status within the company as outspoken anti-heroes railing against the management system. Each won several WWE championships and became credible headline talents. It’s the specifics where they differ. Austin was the beer-guzzling redneck who would attack anyone over anything. Punk doesn’t touch alcohol and was never booked to be as aggressive a presence as ‘The Rattlesnake’. The promos and interactions the pair could have in the build-up to a WrestleMania match would be sensational. With both men healthy and capable of hitting their signature spots a match would almost certainly be well-received. 

The match that never was.
Then there’s Austin versus Brock Lesnar. The promos there would have a different feel to them because it would be Austin dealing with Paul Heyman. There’s a lot that could be brought up there without even mentioning Lesnar: Heyman managing Austin early on in his career, giving him the opportunity to do a rough cut of the ‘Stone Cold’ character in ECW in 1995, and their time together in the Alliance. Then of course there’d be the history between Lesnar and Austin. The Texan famously walked out on WWE in 2002 after he was told he was to lose to ‘The Next Big Thing’ on an episode of RAW with no build-up. Heyman could spin that as Austin being scared of Lesnar and go on to talk up Lesnar various shoot credentials and WWE accomplishments to add validity to his claim. There are a lot of topics that could be covered to create a very tense, very real atmosphere for the bout.

Would it happen? I don’t think it would. While Austin would probably be more willing to risk injury than Batista and The Rock because he’s not got as many acting commitments or opportunities he does have a more serious medical history than either man (which, were it to happen, could be another topic for Heyman). Austin’s neck and knees would take a pounding in a match with ‘The Beast’ and I don’t think it would be worth the risk to his health.

Austin versus Hogan is another match with a very obvious appeal to it but I don’t think it could ever happen. ‘The Hulkster’ would need an opponent who could carry him, and that wouldn’t necessarily by Austin after twelve-plus years away from the ring. Then, of course, there’d be the question of winning. Can you imagine either man agreeing to lie down for the other? I can’t. And in this day and age anything less than a clear winner would not go down well.

There’s also John Cena. He’s already faced The Rock twice, losing once and winning once. Their matches were not received well and it’s tough to see things being any different in a Cena v Austin match. Rock actually seemed like a better fit for the Cena character as he was always a little more family-friendly than Austin, and Cena’s always about being family friendly. Something about their characters just made the pairing a natural fit, just as Austin and Punk would fit well together.

Were the match to happen Cena would obviously find himself booed. Austin, more than anyone else from the late 90s and early 00s, embodies the spirit of the Attitude Era. He was the man that sparked that movement within the company. It would be tough to see the match outside of the frame of Attitude versus PG and that’s a scenario WWE should want to keep Cena away from at all costs. The match would probably be as good if not better than Cena’s collisions with The Rock but that’s not really saying much.

Were Austin to return for a match there’s one match I’d want to see more than any other. It’s a match that has never happened but was once advertised as a pay-per-view main event: Austin v Triple H v The Rock. A triple threat match between the three biggest stars of the Attitude Era.

The match was originally advertised as the main event of Survivor Series 1999, a lovely bit of deliberate false advertising by the WWF because they knew from the start that it would never take place. Early on in the show Austin was “run over” in a car park to write him out of the match and storylines, allowing him to head off for a neck surgery. He was replaced by Big Show, who left as the new WWF champion.

Even back then I don’t think the match would have been incredible but it would probably have been very good. But it’s a bout that goes beyond concerns over quality. It’s appeal lies in seeing the three biggest stars of a generation together at the same time. And of course in seeing who’d be booked to go over. Had it happened in ’99 with all three men healthy it would have been hard to call. There were reasons for each man to win: Austin had been the company’s leading man for over a year and a half, The Rock was set to step up and become just as big a star, and Triple H was the era’s lead heel who always found a way to escape with the title. If it were to happen now none of that would be a factor. Times have changed and each man has a Hall of Fame career behind him. But it would still be one of the hardest matches to predict a winner for. And I think it would be an incredibly satisfying watch.