Wednesday, 20 May 2015

That RAW Recap 18.05.15

On June 6 2011 RAW was held in Richmond, Virginia. The most exciting thing on the show was R-Truth marching to the ring in a Confederate uniform to talk about a perceived conspiracy against him. It's fun to look back on but when Truth is the highlight of RAW something is going wrong somewhere in the writing process.

Getting on for four years later and RAW was back in Richmond. There were no Confederate uniforms and only a little R-Truth. What there was was a very solid episode of WWE's flagship show. The kind of episode that is all too rare.

The most notable part of the show was the first main roster appearance from Kevin Owens, in which he shared a ring with John Cena. Whether this was the beginning of a full-time call-up or, as seems more likely, something designed to hype Takeover: Unstoppable and give Cena something to do at Elimination Chamber isn't that important. It was NXT champion Kevin Owens on RAW with his championship belt.

The segment started fairly innocuously with Cena issuing his now standard open challenge for a United States title shot. Owens' music didn't get much of a reaction, probably because it's a bit generic, but the audience popped when he appeared. They popped more when he started speaking, saying that he didn't need to introduce himself because Cena knew who he was, as did everyone in the audience who mattered. This prompted Cena to cut in and introduce Owens to the crowd. Owens responded to that with "Thank you. That was nice", a very Owens ad-lib.

After giving Owens a telling off for saying the paying customers don't matter and plugging Takeover: Unstoppable Cena went to offer Owens some veteran advice. It was Owens' turn to cut Cena off with an emphatic reminder that he'd been wrestling for fifteen years, longer than Cena. That prompted Cena to change tack and offer a warning: he said he could tell Owens was a scared kid and that if he wasn't careful Sami Zayn would beat him for the NXT championship at Takeover.

The champ is here.
Back on the US title open challenge Cena asked if Owens wanted the shot. Owens said he'd a prize fighter but that he already had a prize: his NXT championship. He promised Cena they'd face each other one day but that it would be on his terms before going to leave and then surprising Cena with a kick to the gut and a pop-up power bomb. The segment ended with the onetime 'Mr Wrestling' stamping down his foot onto Cena's US title belt and holding his NXT title belt aloft.

This was a great segment. It introduced Owens's character and immediately positioned him as a big deal by having him hold his own verbally with Cena. Having him power bomb 'Mr CeNation' underlined this, making it clear that Owens is not just another prospect but someone who's destined for big things. The final shot of Owens standing on the United States championship and standing over Cena was symbolic of not just Owens' dominance over Cena but of his perceived dominance of the brand he represents over WWE.

In the main event segment the Rollins v Ambrose feud was revived to provide Network special Elimination Chamber with a world title main event. Ambrose interrupted a shindig held in Rollins' honour, just as Triple H, Stephanie, Kane and the New Stooges were putting him over as the greatest wrestler ever. After being told he'd have to join Roman Reigns and Randy Orton at the back of the line 'The Lunatic Fringe' attacked Rollins and they brawled around ringside.

Over at the announce desk Ambrose revealed he'd pulled a trick from Rollins' own play book and stashed a pile of cinder blocks at ringside. With 'The Future's' head in danger of being caved in (which would have put him out of action for a month, as Ambrose demonstrated last year) Stephanie agreed to grant Ambrose a title match. The brawl then continued and Ambrose wound up taking a Pedigree from the WWE champion. No paperwork was signed to make his title match official but something tells me he'll wrestle Rollins anyway.

These guys reviving their series is a good thing.
This segment wasn't anything out of the ordinary. It's one of WWE's standard approaches for setting up world title matches and gets a lot of use in short notice situations like this one. The reason I mention it is that it's good that we're getting a Rollins and Ambrose match again, and that it was nice to see the continuity at play, both with the cinder blocks and Rollins' continued use of the Pedigree. These things are simple to set up in a wrestling environment but they're so rare in WWE and it's frustrating.

In addition to the WWE title match for Elimination Chamber being set the entrants for both of the cage matches were announced too. King Bad News Wade Barrett I, Sheamus, Ryback, Dolph Ziggler, Rusev and, for some reason, R-Truth will compete for the vacant Intercontinental title. I'd have much preferred Adrian Neville in Truth's spot. It's still a possibility, Sheamus or Barrett could wipe Truth out before the Chamber show for example, but it probably won't happen. With or without Truth match quality should be high and I'm interested to see how Rusev's handled. He's coming off three straight big event losses. Would they do a fourth and give it to someone who isn't Cena? I doubt it, but I also can't see them giving him the Intercontinental title.

Meanwhile New Day will defend their tag straps against Cesaro and Kidd, the Lucha Dragons, the Prime Time Players, Los Matadores and The Ascension. It would have been nice to see the recently reunited Luke Harper and Erick Rowan in the match in place of the one of the latter three teams and I'm surprised (but relieved) WWE didn't go overboard and give the Meta Powers a slot. Rowan and Harper would make this match more interesting for me, but I'm fine with the Dragons, New Day and Cesaro and Kidd being in there. This is another good-looking Chamber match.

Considering Elimination Chamber wasn't going to be a thing until around a week ago a good job was done prepping it here. For the first time in years there are enough teams in the tag division to make a six team match feasible and the company's spoilt for choice when it comes to potential IC champions (which, to be honest, makes the inclusion of R-Truth even more puzzling. Ambrose and Rollins never have a bad match together and Cena v Owens, while unlikely to be a classic encounter, feels like a genuinely important moment: the NXT champ meeting the face of the company.

Monday, 18 May 2015

WWE Payback 2015 review

I didn't have particularly high hopes for Payback. The card was heavy on rematches and had what felt like a squandered opportunity to do something special in the main event. It didn't help that the pre-show got underway with R-Truth beating Stardust. Things didn't get better with The Ascension v Mandow and Axel but when the show proper started I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a fantastic show or anything (I knew it wouldn't be that) but it was good more than it was bad and all the matches I'd expected to be good were.

Dolph Ziggler and Sheamus opened the show. Cole claimed that the match had "become" personal. Was it not personal last month when they fought in a Kiss My Arse match? Because that seems like a fairly personal stip to me. Backwards booking of this feud aside the match was good. 'The Show Off' took the early lead. Sheamus turned the tables when he caught a super kick and elbowed Dolph's knee. Ziggler came back with a series of forearms before pulling up his trunks and rubbing his backside into Sheamus's face, retribution (or, if you prefer, payback) for the finish of their Extreme Rules collision. The pair traded finishers and signature moves to ratchet up the tension, Ziggler getting two counts off a Fameasser and a super kick. Sheamus got one of his own wren he trapped Ziggler in a cloverleaf. The match closed with a bleeding Ziggler being Brogue kicked for the three count.

After that Seth Rollins and Kane had an overly rehearsed exchange designed to get everyone up to speed on their grudge. Kane had been told by Triple H that he'd lose his Director of Operations job if Rollins lost the title. Kane told Rollins here that he didn't need that job and explained he still hadn't decided what he'd do in the main event. The segment ended with J&J threatening Kane. As a reminder this was all fine.

Better than fine was New Day's entrance promo. They talked about positivity and trashed a local sports team. It was, as these things go, highly enjoyable.

The first fall of this two-out-of-three falls match saw Cesaro and Kidd dominate Kofi and Big E with double team moves. Particularly impressive was Cesaro. He caught Big E in mid-air (just like last month) and made short work of Kofi with uppercuts and jumping stomps. The challengers got a quick pin after the Big Swing into a drop kick on Kofi. That prompted Xavier Woods to leap onto the apron screaming about the Freebird rule. Natalya pulled him down to the floor where he was wiped out by Tyson. That left Kofi and Big E to compete in the second fall. They got off to a better start here when E grabbed Tyson as he went for a suicide dive and gave him a belly-to-belly suplex on the floor.

The second fall was built around Tyson trying to tag out as he was worked over by New Day. New Day pinned him after E speared Cesaro off the apron and he and Kingston gave hit the double team Big Ending. They stayed on Tyson as the third fall began, still with Big E and Kofi as the legal men. Tyson tagged out almost immediately and Cesaro came in to batter Kofi with uppercuts and hit E with a double underhook power bomb. The uppercuts were incredible. The bomb was botched.

Kofi survived a wild Cesaro uppercut, a backbreaker-elbow drop combo, and a Kidd Sharpshooter before being hit with a pop-up by Kidd and an uppercut from Cesaro for what we were primed to see as the definite finish. Big E broke that up and as the referee busied himself getting him out of the ring Woods slipped into the ring and got a small package on Cesaro. The referee, unable to see Woods' face when he turned around, counted the fall and New Day retained. It was a good finish, one that played into New Day being cheats and kept the feud alive.

Backstage Ryback cut a Warrior-esque promo to Byron Saxton. He told us he's not a lab rat and that he lives his life by the motto "Start full, end hungry." It was entertaining stuff. As it turned out it was more entertaining than the match that followed it. Both Wyatt and Ryback have their strengths as wrestlers but they didn't mesh well here. They included some impressive spots (Ryback taking a DDT on the apron and Wyatt leaping from the ring to the floor with a senton) but overall the match was pretty basic. It got a better reaction than it deserved because both lads are over as characters. Wyatt won after shoving Ryback into an exposed turnbuckle (which just fell off as they tussled with one another, a lazy bit of booking designed to protect 'back) and giving him Sister Abigail.

The Final Confrontation Ever (for now) between John Cena and Rusev followed that. Before Cena was even in the ring the growing divide between Lana and Rusev was being emphasised, the crowd playing their part by chanting for Lana. It was clear Lana was going to play a part in the finish of the match. Rusev offering Cena the chance to quit before the match began didn't fool anyone. It did get amusingly mixed "Yes!" and "No!" chants when referee Mike Chioda asked Cena if he'd accept the offer though.

After Rusev had repositioned Lana on a chair by the commentary table (prompting Lawler to openly admit he'd perv on her as she was so close) the match got underway with some solid big lad action. Cena surprised Rusev with an AA. Rusev responded with some drop kicks and a heel kick then went to have a word with Lana. Moments later he had her pass him the Russian flag so he could wave it about. Cena turn surprised him with a Five Knuckle Shuffle.

Rusev quickly regained control. He threw Cena into ring steps on the outside and whipped him into the on the inside. A piledriver attempt on the steps failed but a sidewalk slam didn't. Cena withstood it, refusing to give up. Because that's his slogan, innit. He then got a desperation AA on the steps and lobbed the steps at Rusev's head after he rolled to ringside. 'The Super Athlete' sidestepped it.

Cena threatened to put Rusev through a crowd barricade if he didn't quit. Rusev refused so Cena did indeed spear him through the barricade. An extended brawl through the crowd followed. They spent several minutes playing around near an incredibly flimsy table before Rusev discovered the pyro tech area. He attempted to their Cehs onto it but Cena countered, giving Rusev a AA on a crash mat several feet away from the pyro shooters. This inexplicably caused some pyro to go off. The commentary didn't even sell it, so what was the point.

Lana ran to the entrance area looking concerned. Rusev refused to give him so Cena hit him with a guard rail. 'The Bulgarian Brute' put the guardrail to use himself by suplexing Cena onto it. Back in the ring Rusev Hulked up, kicked Cena in the face and applied the Accolade. Cena sold it for all of ten seconds before clambering to his feet and smacking Rusev into a turnbuckle. The hold remained locked in and Cena sagged back down to his feet. Cena passed out in the hold and Rusev celebrated like he'd win. When he was told he hadn't he undid the top rope and poorer water on Cena to revive him. His plan was to swing the metal corner piece into Cena's head but Cena ducked and dragged him down into the STF. Rusev started cutting a promo in Bulgarian, prompting Lana to slide into the ring screaming that he quit.

Yes, the finish was predictable but the match as a whole was very enjoyable. They were given plenty of time and a bunch of shortcuts and made the most of both. It was the best entry in their series. This sort of match is Cena's strength. Rusev has looked good in the environment too. If he's kept around the top of the card he could probably develop a pretty mean reputation in these sorts of brawling matches.

The mood was lightened after that, with New Day toasting their title victory by drinking milk. Byron Saxton rocked up and told the trio that they'd be defending their titles in an Elimination Chamber at the EC Network special. New Day weren't impressed. Big E said they were too big to fit in a pod. Kofi was the standout of the segment. He's doing great work as an antagonist.

After a fast-paced tag match pitting Naomi and Tamina against the Bellas, won by the heels after Naomi simply threw Nikki off the top rope, we were shown Lana and Rusev in the back. Rusev wasn't happy, obvs. He ranted in Russian before switching to English to tell Lana to get out. It would be nice if the sword to English was done because Rusev didn't feel Lana warranted Bulgarian or Russian but the reality was that the line needed to be in English to make it clear to viewers that Lana wasn't simply walking out on Rusev.

King Wade Bad News Barrett I versus 'The New Sensation' 'Don't Call Me Adrian' Neville took the pre-main event slot. WWE apparently still feel audiences can't handle two hot matches between headline talents in a row and pack in a lengthy cool down period before a main event. I think they should trust audiences more, to be honest. Better running orders could really benefit a lot of their pay-per-views. They didn't get long but they had a good match for the time they had. The finish was disappointing though: Barrett rolled out of the ring to avoid a Red Arrow and took a count out loss. He roughed Nev up after the match. Neville got the last laugh when he lamped Barrett with the plastic sceptre and launched himself off the top rope with the Red Arrow.

The main event was predictably excellent. Noble and Mercury grabbed Reigns and Ambrose at the start. Within moments Reigns had broken away to hit an impressive Undertaker-like leap over the top rope onto a human crash mat at ringside. Some fluid action followed from all four. Sadly it wasn't long before Kane interfered: he pulled Reigns from the ring as he set up for a spear on Rollins. Team Rollins then attacked Reigns and Orton, leaving Ambrose and Rollins to battle in the ring. They did the great work they always do with each other before Kane interfered again, this time choke slamming 'The Lunatic Fringe' just before he spiked Rollins with Dirty Deeds.

Orton and Reigns finally took care of Kane at ringside before 'The Viper' headed into the ring for his singles stretch with Seth. The highlight here was a high-arcing superplex from Orty. It also lead to the spot of the match: Orton clearing the announce table only to be beaten down and power bombed through it by Rollins, Ambrose and Reigns. Ambrose and Reigns turned on Rollins immediately afterwards and got attacked by Kane. That didn't the well for him. He was power bombed onto Rollins through the Spanish table. Twice, because it didn't break the first time.

Ambrose and Reigns slipped into the ring for a singles stretch opposite one another. Ambrose was easily the more popular, winning out on a yay-boo exchange, but it was Reigns who dominated. Ambrose kicked out of a Superman punch and countered a spear with the knee. Reigns escaped a Dirty Deeds attempt and dropped Ambrose with a spear. Rollins returned to break it up then did a lap around ringside to escape Reigns' wrath. Back in the ring Reigns was dropped with Ambrose's rebound clothesline and Rollins with Dirty Deeds. Kane made the save by pulling Ambrose out then smashed both of them with steel stairs.

Orton knocked Kane into a ring post and then headed into the ring to RKO J&J and catch Rollins with a power slam as the champ leapt off the top rope. 'The Big Red Machine' interfered again, distracting Orton long enough to allow Rollins to sneak in a Pedigree for a successful title defence. His reward for this victory was having his hand raised in the aisle by 'The Game' himself, Triple H. High praise indeed for 'The Future'.

***

Results summary:
Sheamus defeated Dolph Ziggler
New Day defeated Cesaro and Tyson Kidd to retain the tag team championship
Bray Wyatt defeated Ryback
John Cena defeated Rusev to retain the United States championship
Naomi and Tamina defeated the Bellas
Adrian Neville defeated King Barrett
Seth Rollins defeated Randy Orton, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to retain the WWE championship

Saturday, 16 May 2015

NXTweet 13.05.15

The fina bits of hype for Takeover: Unstoppable. It's another packed card, even when you consider two of the key performers (Zayn and Itami) have injuries that will either hamper their performances or stop them wrestling entirely. This show was good. Even with Carmella wrestling.

Intro

Tweet 1: It's NXT time.
Tweet 2: Lengthy recap of Zayn versus Cena off the RAW where Sami kicked out of an AA with a popped freakin' shoulder.
Tweet 3: Tonight: a face-to-face chat! #money

Solomon Crowe v Baron Corbin

Tweet 4: Liking Solly Crowe's new hairdo.
Tweet 5: 'Wolf Shaman' Barry Corbin exhibiting #malice according to Byron Saxton.
Tweet 6: Remember the other week when they showed a video of Barry Corbin talking about being special and being heelish? This is where it was going.

Still wish Crowe was wrestling in a shirt and tie tbh.

Tweet 7: That was a nice End of Days to be fair.
Tweet 8: I like the phone dial tatt on Barry's arm. Just noticed it. Very Dial H.
Tweet 9: "Are we gonna do this or not?" - Rhyno on making sweet, sweet love to Barry Corbin
Tweet 10: Rhyno there, Goring trainees dressed as security staff. Great stuff.
Tweet 11: All he needs is Cyrus back as his manager and I'd be on board with Rhyno getting a title reign.

Finn Bálor is interviewed

Tweet 12: Earlier this week Finn Bálor wore a tie and chatted about wanting to be the NXT champ.
Tweet 13: Bálor basically said he wants to the champion. Did its job. He talked about things like they matter.

Tyler Breeze is interviewed

Tweet 14: Earlier this week Tyler Breeze looked mmmmmm... gorgeous.
Tweet 15: Love Breeze's gimmick of being more interested in becoming number one contender then champion.
Tweet 16: If Breeze becomes champion will he get a spinner belt?

KC Cassidy v Sasha Banks

Tweet 17: No NXT name for this week's enhancement talent. #sadface

'The Boss' versus Nobody.

Tweet 18: The crowd have gone with Black Shorts. It's not as catchy a name as Blue Pants.
Tweet 19: Sasha doing Becky's hair flip taunt way better than Becky there. Yeah, Becky can't even pull off a hair flip.

Devin Taylor interviews Bayley and Charlotte

Tweet 20: Charlotte and Dana Brooke feuding over a Tapout sponsorship. Emma and Bayley feuding over head bands. It was all going so well...
Tweet 21: Charlotte still can't wooooooo.
Tweet 22: "Tempers are beginning to flair" - Corey Graves with a cheeky comment

Not Uhaa Nation vignette

Tweet 23: Name TBD reuniting with Solomon Crowe there. That was something.

Carmella v Alexa Bliss

Tweet 24: Everything about Carmella is ridiculous.
Tweet 25: I like Bliss having her name written in purple on the back of her purple vest.
Tweet 26: Not really a fan of Carmella's ring work but that arm hook submission looks pretty good.
Tweet 27: Blake and Murphy distracting Carmella and giving Bliss the chance to win.

Why not change Blake's name to Bloke?

Tweet 28: I'm kinda hoping the setup for the Carmella turn is a swerve and Bliss is the one who becomes their manager.
Tweet 29: Is Carmella's gimmick that she's a modern day Sunny?
Tweet 30: Carmella shamelessly thieving Enzo's shtick there. Absolutely sickening.

Hideo Itami is interviewed

Tweet 31: Earlier this week Hideo Itami sat down with his lovely hair.
Tweet 32: Itami putting it out there that he wants a title match with 'Mr Disrespect' Big Kev Owens.
Tweet 33: Itami's promo was electric.

Devin Taylor interviews Dana Brooke and Emma

Tweet 34: "And Charlotte thinks I'm jelly of her?" - Dana Brooke
Tweet 35: Two women's matches on one special? Will the world not implode?

Adam Rose and Tyler Breeze v Hideo Itami and Finn Bálor

Tweet 36: No Rosebuds and Rose has a beard. So this is basically Leo Kruger wearing a red robe and Terry Funk's tights.
Tweet 37: IT'S TYLER!! *swoons*
Tweet 38:


Tweet 39: If Itami can't wrestle in the triple threat match (which he can't) Adam Rose should totes replace him.
Tweet 40: Just kidding, obvs.
Tweet 41: Bálor likes crouching in the corner by the fans before getting in the ring because it reminds him of the Butlin's circuit.
Tweet 42: No idea if Bálor ever participated in the fabled Butlin's circuit but I like the idea of him doing so.
Tweet 43: They should have done a show-long story where Breeze tried to recruit a partner.
Tweet 44: Imagine the fun to be had with him in skits with Corbin and Rhyno. He could have asked Blake or Murphy to get involved.
Tweet 45: They could even have had Mojo Rawley back for a cameo. I'd have marked.
Tweet 46: Obviously that's a very un-NXT idea and I wouldn't want it to happen. It's too Russo.
Tweet 47: Rich Brennan just called a snap suplex. I shouldn't be but I'm impressed.
Tweet 48: Don't really cover enough Rose matches to mention it often but I really like his spinebuster.
Tweet 49: Rose has applied the dreaded Sleeper. This is OVER.

Stray thought: I like Bálor's elbow pads.

Tweet 50: It's great how Bálor and Styles have lifted moves from each other and that most people in positions of authority in WWE won't even realise.
Tweet 51: Bálor will be busting out the Bálor Clash soon.
Tweet 52: Breeze wins with a small package more often that 2005-06 era Danielson.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in-ring promo

Tweet 53: Another recap of Zayn v Cena. Big match for Zayn, yeah, but I really don't need it covered more than once per show.
Tweet 54: Top Dog versus Big Dog. Kennel From Hell. So much money to be made.
Tweet 55: Sami's out for his main event promo wearing his all business flat cap.
Tweet 56: And his own merch. Standard.
Tweet 57: Hilarious bit of ADR slipped in to get the shoulder injury mentioned. Got to keep up the kayfabe that this isn't taped a month in advance.
Tweet 58: Zayn going full heel, revealing that Owens' son prefers Zayn's merch. What a villainous move. I'm all for Owens breaking Zayn's arm now.

Owens versus Zayn. The new Sandman versus Raven.

Tweet 59: Owens will win. Zayn will be demoted to the main roster because he can't hang in the big league of NXT.
Tweet 60: That... was a great show. Good work, everyone. Good hustle.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

WWE Payback 2015 preview


Payback is going to be an historic pay-per-view. In the main event, for the first time on a WWE television show, all three members of The Shield will face off against one another. This isn't like a generic, run-of-the-mill triple threat pitting three guys against each other for no reason. This is a big deal. Because the three have a shared history.

At the time of their split last June The Shield were one of WWE's top acts. They're one of the creative team's biggest successes of the last half decade. They achieved a lot together and were presented as a headline act despite being a faction, rare in WWE. That a match involving all three working against one another wasn't rushed into, instead being saved for later, further emphasises the importance and significance of its first occurrence.

At this point Rollins and Reigns are both bona fide main eventers. Dean Ambrose has cooled off considerably since the second half of last year but he remains popular and talented. It's come at a good time for 'The Lunatic Fringe'. He's there to take the fall but being involved gives him a status boost, something he's in need of after failing to capture the Intercontinental title (because what sort of self-respecting WWE wrestler can't win the IC belt in 2015?). The last few weeks of television have shown that he can still get crowds to react to him when given something to do.

I find myself unable to get as excited about the match as I'd like though. Because it's not the logical three-way that it deserves to be. Instead it's a four-way also involving Randy Orton. What should be a meaningful, memorable, landmark moment in the careers of all three Shield guys is instead something that's happening because Vince is in a bind when it comes to main events. A Reigns versus Orton versus Rollins triple threat was initially decided on via public vote on the April 27 RAW. Ambrose was added a week later when Kane was irked for the umpteenth week in a row by Rollins' arrogance. The reality of the situation is that WWE realised that this would be the third pay-per-view of the last five with a triple threat WWE championship match going on last. With a triple threat also planned for SummerSlam (a 'Mania rematch of Reigns v Rollins v Lesnar) the decision was made to make this a four-way.

The logic behind the switch is sound but it was a situation WWE could have avoided if they planned better and concentrated on elevating a wider variety of talent. They're throwing away one of the few meaningful matches they have access to to salvage a B-level pay-per-view. Technically, yes, they can still go ahead with a Shield triple threat at some point in the future but its appeal will be lessened because we'll have already seen the three at loggerheads here. You only get one chance at a first impression and all that.

Honestly, I'd have preferred Kane in the match in place of Ambrose. It would be far less offensive for him to be in there as the blatant fall fodder and it would have made sense in terms of recent characters directions. A month ago Ambrose wasn't involved with Orton, Rollins or Reigns while Kane and 'The Future' have been sniping at one another since shortly after WrestleMania (and Kane was running interference against Orty before that). His issues with Rollins could have been safely paid off in a four-way saving us the chore of sitting through a Rollins and Kane singles match, and as he's technically a heel his involvement would have made more sense from a ring psychology perspective: it would have been two heels and two faces in one match, instead of the three faces against one heel we're actually getting.

None of this is to say the match won't be good. Reigns has had a number of very good matches recently. Rollins is quite possibly the best active wrestler on the WWE roster. Ambrose and Orton are both reliable and over. Unless something very surprising happens the match will be satisfying. But this doesn't make it any less of a massive waste.

A Rollins win seems painfully obvious.

In the second biggest match of the night John Cena will defend the United States championship against Rusev in an I Quit match. This will be the fourth straight meeting for the pair on pay-per-view. Nothing about their previous three explains why a fourth is necessary. They haven't been bad together but they haven't been anything special either. The win-loss record also makes this a bit of a pointless meeting. After suffering a loss in their first showdown at Fast Lane Cena has dispatched Rusev twice. As we've been told this will be the final entry in their series the best Rusev can do here is draw the feud. That means it's impossible for him to come out of Payback looking like the juggernaut he was shaping up to be before he was sent Cena's way. It would have been better for all involved had WWE cut their losses and split them following Extreme Rules.

Not that that matters much. Cena is going to win this match and keep hold of the US championship so he can continue his run of surprisingly exciting TV matches against mid-carders. Rusev's future isn't clear but the last month of TV has made one thing certain: Lana won't be featuring in it. Not as his manager at least. Lana, you see, has been corrupted by The West, waving at crowds who chant for her and dancing with Fandango. She and 'The Super Athlete' are going to split. Presumably Lana will find someone new to manage and Rusev will take them on.

The obvious finish would be to have Lana quit on Rusev's behalf. She could argue she felt she was doing the right thing, Rusev's shaky claim of only having one definitive loss to his name could be maintained (just), and the desired split could be achieved. I don't want this to happen. Rusev and Lana are a great act and both will suffer for being apart. But what I want and what I think will happen aren't always the same thing when it comes to WWE.

Another fine example of this is the Bray Wyatt versus Ryback match. The idea is that Wyatt, having suffered a high profile loss to The Undertaker at WrestleMania, can be rehabilitated with a few victories over 'The Big Guy'. I can't see it working. I enjoy Ryback's character (especially when he's an anti-internet heel) but he's not on a level where a win over him is enough to make up for a recent loss, especially to someone like 'The Phenom'. He's not even a good enough wrestler to provide 'The New Face of Fear' with a good match.

This said I'm going to go against the grain and pick Ryback as the winner. Every so often WWE goes through a phase where obvious pay-per-view outcomes don't happen. Sting's loss to 'The Game' at 'Mania and Sheamus's loss to Dolph Ziggler at Extreme Rules indicate we're in one of those periods. A Wyatt win seems like the obvious thing but a Ryback win wouldn't alter any major plans so I think they'll go with it. 'The Eater of Worlds' can get his win back in the rematch (there's always a rematch).

Speaking of Shaymo and 'The Show Off', their bout is far more promising, although their feud seems to be running in reverse to booking logic. Instead of starting with a normal match against one another and running through gimmick matches afterwards they started with a gimmick match and have regressed to regular rules. Not that a Kiss My Arse match is a classic gimmick or anything but it's a gimmick nonetheless. They work well together and I expect they'll put out something good here. As Ziggles won at ER it's Sheamus's turn to go over this time.

Another outcome that seems easy to predict is The Ascension's loss to Macho Mandow and Curtis Axel. After four months on the main roster what potential The Ascension had is completely gone. Teaming Mandow with Axel isn't the best use of either man. Mandow has been one of the most popular guys on the roster for over six months now and it's disheartening that in that time WWE have blundered splitting him from Miz and preparing something meaningful for him to do afterwards. But at least they've come up with something. That's better than doing nothing with him, right? Right?

King Barrett v Adrian Neville is another one that seems fairly straightforward to predict. They met on the pre-show of last month's Extreme Rules. Neville won. They met again in the finals of the (shambolic) King of the Ring tournament two nights later. Barrett won. Barrett got himself a new royal gimmick with that win, which means he's the favourite to win again here.

The match I'm most looking forward to at Payback is the tag team title match. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd will challenge New Day for the championships they were cheated out of a month ago. If previous encounters are anything to go by this will be one of the best matches of the night. They also have a well chosen stipulation to work with: two-out-of-three falls. That's a good choice for two good teams anyway, but it's especially good here because New Day are defending their titles under the Freebird rule.

In case you don't know (unlikely as that is, being that you're reading a niche blog about wrestling already) this is a rule that allows any members of a three man unit to defend a two man tag team championship. It's application in a two-out-of-three falls environment could create some amazing heat as New Day swap members in and out on different falls, giving them an advantage in the latter stages of the match. I expect New Day to retain via shady tactics. I expect this to be the best match of the night.

And I expect Payback to end up being the latest forgettable WWE pay-per-view. There are elements of it that are promising, such as the main event, the tag title match, and Ziggler versus Sheamus, but there's not enough to make it look like it'll be worth more than one repeat viewing (if that). There are too any rematches and shoddy booking choices for that. Sadly, this isn't the first time I've expressed that sentiment about a WWE pay-per-view. Even more sadly, I'm yet to be wrong.

***

Predictions summary:
Seth Rollins to retain the WWE championship against Roman Reigns, Randy Orton and Dean Ambrose
John Cena to defeat Rusev after Lana quits on Rusev's behalf
New Day to defeat Cesaro and Tyson Kidd
Ryback to defeat Bray Wyatt
Sheamus to defeat Dolph Ziggler
King Barrett to defeat Adrian Neville
Macho Mandow and Curtis Axel to defeat The Ascension

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Four Man Tag Division

I'm usually as happy as the next guy to rave about how good NXT is. Because by any reasonable standard it is good. How could it not be with a main event scene built around the artists formerly known as Kevin Steen, El Generico, Prince Devitt, and KENTA and a surprisingly good WWE find in Tyler Breeze?

This doesn't mean NXT is flawless though. Far from it. Recent months have seen a very clear deemphasising of the tag team division. Over the first half of this year a lot of teams that were regulars in 2014 have disappeared. The Ascension and the Lucha Dragons have been promoted to the main roster. Sylvester LeFort and Marcus Louis had a falling out, split, and then both vanished. The Vaudevillains simply stopped appearing with no explanation after their loss to Enzo and Big Cass in February.

The Ascension aren't a loss in terms of quality matches but within NXT they worked well in their established role. The same can be said for Sin Cara and Kalisto, although they did actually turn out quality work. The promotion of both of these teams was inevitable, with the Dragons being obviously ready and Konnor and Viktor having nothing else to do in developmental besides tread water.

The departures wouldn't have been a big problem had they not inexplicably coincided with other teams splitting or vanishing too. But for whatever reason The Vaudevillains are being held off televised shows and more was seen in LeFort and Louis as singles acts. In fact a story possibly inspired by the Phantom of the Opera (or maybe The Hunchback of Notre Dame) was started with Louis being glimpsed watching Tyler Breeze entrances and matches shortly after he split from LeFort. That was dropped quickly, even though it could have been enjoyably silly. Personally I feel LeFort shone brightest as a sleazy Eurotrash manager and think that's the role he's best suited to. Meanwhile Jason Jordan and Tye Dillinger, who were a decent team who could have achieved more, were split to make way for repackaging work on both guys.

I like Enzo and Cass, but some variety wouldn't go amiss.
Right now the NXT tag division features little but matches and skits pitting Enzo Amore and Big Cass against Blake and Murphy. As a tag title programme it's fine, and Carmella's involvement as a heel manager of two very popular babyfaces gives the whole thing a unique slant, but it's noticeably weaker than the men's and women's singles ranks. With most episodes of NXT being around forty-five minutes (discounting ads) there should be plenty of time to feature more teams. And despite the lack of them on screen there are enough to have a much healthier division.

Last week we saw the first appearance of Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder's Mechanics tag team in months. It's an enjoyably daft, mid-card gimmick and I think the pair would work well opposite Enzo and Cass. Being redneck stereotypes they could have a lovely clash of characters with the refined Edwardian carnival troupe dandies English and Gotch too. The Vaudevillains are, as has already been pointed out, overdue a TV return (unless there's an injury involved that nobody knows about).

Angelo Dawkins and Sawyer Fulton have been good in the few matches they've had, but they've been positioned as enhancement talent, there to make the more important teams look good. It's particularly frustrating as teams with the amateur wrestler gimmick are always enjoyable. There's something about the way the style's applied to pro wrestling that makes it a good fit for doubles matches. That they're part of a larger group being tinkered with on house shows makes it more frustrating still: there could be an entire new act on TV. That said a strength of NXT is developing things gradually, so it's best to remain patient for the gang currently known as Shoot Nation to show up.

There are also plenty of guys we haven't seen yet who could be paired up and used as double acts. But even discounting that there are three teams that could be used to make the tag scene more competitive. Given how much the other championships in NXT mean it's a pity thatthe NXT tag belts are going through a dry patch right now.

Monday, 11 May 2015

EVOLVE 42 review


Twenty-four hours after hitting Shine stronghold Ybor City with EVOLVE 41, the EVOLVE crew hit up Orlando for EVOLVE 42. Coming off an enjoyable show in Ybor and a packed WrestleMania weekend offering this show had tough acts to follow. It got off to an underwhelming start and was set back by technical problems (something so common with iPPVs that I've stopped mentioning them, for the most part) but pulled things together in its final hour to be a satisfying event.

The show kicked off with Lenny Leonard and Ron Nemi joking about sandwiches on commentary and Santana defending the Shine championship against Andrea in the ring. This was more a platform for advancing the Su Yung and So Cal Val issues than anything else. This priority extended to the finish, where Yung grabbed Santana as she hit the ropes and held her for Andrea to cheap shot her. That backfired and Su was sent sailing off the apron, which caused a brief pause from Andrea that allowed Santana to apply a small package for the win.

The match as a whole was enjoyable but pretty basic. Andrea seemed really uncertain at points and definitely didn't seem to have the nasty streak which would make her role as the new monster on the Shine scene believable. 

After that match Val called Yung worthless and an idiot (but not a worthless idiot). Andrea gave Yung a Samoan driver. Then Val dumped water on her and got carried backstage by Andrea. Yung was also carried backstage, but by a lowly referee. This would all be revisited in the main event. While I think it's commendable that EVOLVE are telling a story focusing on women I find the specifics odd. Su Yung did a fake heel turn only last year, when she pretended to side with Rich Swann against the PAB. Val doesn't wrestle. And the majority of the feud will play out in Shine, a different company. I understand that the idea is to get more people buying Shine events to see how things play out but I' not convinced what we've seen so far will do that.

Match two, emphasised as being the official opener by Leonard, once again saw Martin Stone on job duty. This time it was Ethan Page getting the win over him with an Ace crusher and a Spinning Dwayne. It was another match as much about furthering an angle as providing good wrestling. In this case it was Leonard discussing Page's fresh rivalry with Johnny Gargano.

Match three saw stringy-haired ROH job lad Andrew Everett become a stringy-haired EVOLVE job lad to lose to Rey Horus. It was a fun match but one I expected to be quicker and have more highlights. Aside from Everett hitting a lovely Asai moonsault and turning a headscissors into a kip up and Horus's match-winning top rope hurricanrana there wasn't much to be dazzled by. But the crowd wasn't overly large so I understand them not taking too many risks, and they avoided being outright boring, so on the whole it wasn't bad.

TJ Perkins versus Timothy Thatcher was the first unquestioned hit of the evening. Their early mat wrestling was slick, engaging and logical, Thatcher working with even more ferocity than usual to convey his increased desire to win after his loss to Roderick Strong in the previous evening's main event. They traded the initiative back and forth, each focusing on the other's arm. That's standard for Thatcher, less so for TJP. It made sense given the grappling credentials (underrated in Perkins' case) of both men.

Particular highlights of the match were TJP turning a Thatcher headstand into a body scissors; Thatcher employing a rolling gut wrench; Thatcher countering a frog splash into a Fujiwara armbar; TJP hitting a GTS into a Pele kick; and the match-ending exchange of armbars which ended with Thatcher gaining the upper hand (no pun intended) to force a tap out from Perkins. After the match Thatcher, who we're told doesn't talk much but has had something to say on several recent shows, took a microphone and requested a match with the winner of the Galloway v Strong title match that will occur at the next batch of shows.

Biff Busick then took on EVOLVE's top heel, Roderick Strong. I make note of Roddy being the company's lead bad guy because he only got brought in as a regular in the back half of 2014. It's impressive how entrenched he is in the company after such a short time. Yes, he was a known quantity before he debuted but it's still impressive that it feels like he's been in the company for years and has become one of its focal points.

As is the case with the majority of Strong matches in EVOLVE this match began with him doing some heelish stalling. Unlike usual Biff managed to get his hands on Roddy and they immediately launched into an intense match, brawling at ringside and swapping big moves both in and out of the ring (including a nasty-looking backbreaker on the barricade from Strong). It was a welcome change of pace after the deliberate Thatcher v Perkins bout.

For the second night in a row the match ended on a judgement call from referee Brandon Tolle. This time he halted the match as Strong was trapped in the rear naked choke. Strong got in Tolle's face about the decision before storming backstage. Busick stayed in the ring to tell everyone that Tolle had finally made a good call, a reference to him losing because of Tolle the night before. Engaging heel mode he also declared that he was unappreciated by EVOVLE managements and fans. Thatcher returned to the ring and said Busick was pissing him off. They brawled and were separated by referees and FIP wrestlers. Thatcher staggered backstage afterwards, Lenny Leonard theorising that a slap to the ear and thrown off his equilibrium. Shoot or storyline? It's tough to know with EVOLVE.

Trevor Lee v Davey Richards took the semi-main event slot. Lee was impressive in his match against AR Fox at EVOLVE 37 in January and he was impressive again here. He's good at the en vogue style of martial arts kicks and knee strikes blended with more traditional suplexes and power bombs. Richards is a peculiar dude, which makes for an interesting in-ring character when he's on form, and also a very good wrestler. He meshed nicely with Lee and gave him a lot of time to show what he could do. He also had him kick out of a top rope double stomp, which created a great close two count. Lee lost after a roundhouse but his status was enhanced by looking competitive opposite Richards. He's definitely somebody that warrants further EVOLVE bookings.

The headline match was a street fight for the Open the United Gate championships, the Ronin team of Rich Swann and Johnny Gargano challenging Anthony Nese and Caleb Konley. For the record this was the first time the titles had been defended in 2015. The last defence had been made by Konley and Trent Baretta against The Colony and the Bravado brothers during the WWN tour of China in November (interesting side note on that is that five of those six names are no longer associated with the company). This highlights just how little attention the EVOLVE tag division gets. They're at the point now where they should make a concerted effort to make their tag belts relevant again.

That said this match did give the titles a boost. Not just because Swann and Gargano are big deals in EVOLVE but because all four men wrestled like the championships meant something to them. Well, I say wrestled, but this match didn't actually feature much wrestling. They made good use of the street fight stip, using ladders, chairs and tables to put on a crazy brawl that should have satisfied anyone into this style of match. Highlights included a lawn dart into a rubbish bin (trash can, for North American readers), Konley bumping through a ladder propped between the ring and the barricade (sadly missed by the cameras), Su Yung misting So Cal Val before cross bodying Andrea, an amusing but slightly too long New Jack-esque weapons sequence, and a power bomb onto a ladder from Gargano to Nese followed by Swann's match-winning frog splash. It doesn't sit especially well with the general style in EVOLVE but it was good fun for what it was and worked well as a rarity.

After the match Ethan Page heckled Ronin from the commentary table (he'd called the match). Gargano said he didn't want to wrestle Page and called him a nobody. More shoot comments about Gargano being a big shot followed until Page got up and teased getting in the ring for a fight. He didn't though. Instead he wandered backstage, leaving Ronin to celebrate to All Night Long.

EVOLVEs 41 and 42 were a good pair of shows. There were a few skippable matches but nothing bad and different tastes were catered to, something illustrated nicely by the contrast in main events. Sapolsky continued building up "his guys" Caleb Konley, Timothy Thatcher and Ethan Page, showing they were the right selections for their larger roles. And you know what? I didn't miss AR Fox once.

***

Results summary:
Santana defeated Andrea to retain the Shine championship
Ethan Page defeated Martin Stone
Rey Horus defeated Andrew Everett
Timothy Thatcher defeated TJ Perkins
Biff Busick defeated Roderick Strong
Davey Richards defeated Trevor Lee
Johnny Gargano and Rich Swann defeated Anthony Nese and Caleb Konley to win the Open the United Gate championships

Sunday, 10 May 2015

EVOLVE 41 review


One of the best things about EVOLVE is that shows rarely leave you feeling frustrated. After the average WWE show I'll have a list of things that could have been done differently, usually correlating with a list of things that make no sense. With EVOLVE there's usually nothing to comment on but the quality of the matches, which is rarely anything less good, and their streamlined nature means they never outstay their welcome. Gimmick matches are used sparingly and thus mean more, and everyone gets the chance to showcase their ability.

EVOLVE 41 was no exception to any of this. It was another satisfying show. Things kicked off with the "new" Premier Athlete Brand entering the ring for a chat.  Nese blamed Su Yung for the group's losses at the WWN Live Experience (even though neither he nor she were there). He told her she had one more chance or she'd be fired. He also promised that the Brand would end Ronin for good in the tag title street fight at EVOLVE 42. After that he beat loveable Londoner Martin Stone with a single leg crab. Yeah, Stone was in the enhancement role again but the match was long enough for him to look competitive and it took plenty of interference from Athena and Val for Nese to apply the single leg crab, so he didn't look overly weak.

Caleb Konley spoke up after that. He called out his opponent, the debuting Rey Horus. On the one hand the match was fairly predictable. Konley kept the pace slow at first before busting out the big bumps to make Horus look good as the pace sped up. On the other hand the match had a somewhat surprising result, with Konley pinning Horus following a Samoan driver from the second rope. Horus was good. His selection of flying moves, while no more dazzling than anyone else's, were crisp and on target. If AR Fox is done with EVOLVE, as has been claimed by both Sapolsky and Fox himself, Horus would be an ideal replacement.

As he'd be an ideal new singles star I'd expected Horus to win, getting his EVOLVE run off to a strong start. I'm fine with Konley going over though. As I've written before he's someone that Sapolsky seems to feel he can rely on and build up over time. Within EVOLVE it's not a slight to lose to 'The Obsession'.

The PAB continued talking after that. Su Yung announced that she'd secured a Shine championship match for herself at EVOLVE 42. Val cut in and said Athena would be in the match instead. Then she had Athena choke Su, ripped Su's shirt open, and made fun of her physique. Which came dangerously close to being in poor taste. What saved it was that it's clearly going somewhere and Su will presumably get her revenge at some point.

Match three was TJ Perkins versus Biff Busick. As is often the case with mat wrestling matches in EVOLVE this took a while to get going but was enjoyable was it did. While it was good I would have preferred TJP in a match against a flyer. He and Rey Horus could work well together. Perhaps that's something Sapolsky wants to build up to, giving Horus a few wins first so it means more when it rolls around.

Perkins won the match with a Fujiwara armbar and kicks to Busick's head. Busick told the referee and a cameraman that he didn't tap out after the match. It was hard to tell from the camera angle but it didn't look like he tapped out. This will presumably lead to another meeting between Busick and Perkins. My money would be on it having a submissions only stipulation.

Ethan Page v Rich Swann was not preceded by the standard issue Swann sing-song. Because this was a grudge match and Swann was being serious (plus it probably saved some money this way). Page had turned on Johnny Gargano at Mercury Rising as a way of openly making a name for himself at the expense of a bigger name. He had refused a match with Gargano, saying Gargano had to wait a year if he wanted the match, a call back to 'The Whole Shebang' making Ricochet wait a year for his Open the Freedom Gate match. So  Page had been booked against Gargano's Ronin teammate Swann instead. From a storytelling point of view this made sense. I'm wary of the feud being kept hot for a year though.

They didn't produce a masterpiece but that was fine. Being an amazing wrestler isn't Page's thing. He's more about character and trash-talking. That's rare in the current EVOLVE so it works nicely from Page. He's providing something nobody else does, even if it is something fairly basic. They did some extensive ringside brawling (including a piledriver on concrete to Swann) before running through finishers and signature moves in the ring. Page won with the Spinning Dwayne, his Rock Bottom variant.

TNA Superstar™ Davey Richards and EVOLVE standout Johnny Gargano followed that. Richards took the early lead when he proved a step quicker than 'Johnny Wrestling', countering a number of his moves and setting the pace of the match. He also took on the role of antagonist, which I liked because I find him far more entertaining in that role than when he's playing a bland good guy.

The match was very good. Each ran through their usual repertoire and their styles meshed nicely. After surviving a lawn dart and two Gargano Escapes it was Richards who went over after hitting the former two time Open the Freedom Gate champion with a rolling kick to the back of the head. After the match a despondent Gargano told Rob Naylor that he and Swann would go to war with the Premier Athlete Brand. Then he no-sold Ethan Page. That's hardly building anticipation is it?

The main event was a two-out-of-three falls match between Roderick Strong and Timothy Thatcher with the winner getting an EVOLVE title match against Drew Galloway. The first fall started with Roddy stalling and trying to get under Thatcher's skin. It didn't work. He was eventually caught and grounded by Thatcher. Despite this Roddy managed to win the first fall with a roll-up as Thatcher tried to apply a Fujiwara armbar, having targeted the arm since he caught hold of Strong.

Fall two saw Thatcher annoyed at Strong getting the first fall in a flash fashion and Roddy looking to soften up his foe for a similarly quick second pin. They brawled at ringside but would return to the ring fairly quickly to exchange strikes before Thatcher locked in the Fujiwara armbar successfully. Strong tapped immediately, saving himself from taking too much damage. This was sold as a veteran move but actually he could have made the ropes easily enough from where he was and retained his pin advantage.

The third fall was, appropriately, the shortest of the three. It worked nicely as an enjoyable, self-contained match that was all about the two men racing to get a victory. It was Strong who got it following a sick kick and a Gibson driver.

After the match Strong said he was going to embarrass Drew Galloway and take his championship at EVOLVE 44. Thatcher got in on the chat action (chat-tion?) by saying he'd work his way back up and challenge the winner. Then Biff Busick wandered out and said he'd been screwed earlier on the show. Strong said Busick sounded like a baby and told both guys they needed to learn to deal with being losers. Thatcher and Busick had a brief staredown in the ring. Then Biff went backstage. Thatcher's music played to end the show. And that was that. Not even a show-closing promo. Sometimes they're unnecessary, aren't they?

***

Results summary:
Anthony Nese defeated Martin Stone
Caleb Konley defeated Rey Horus
TJ Perkins defeated Biff Busick
Ethan Page defeated Rich Swann
Davey Richards defeated Johnny Gargano
Roderick Strong defeated Timothy Thatcher