Monday, 24 November 2014

Survivor Series 2014 review

A few years ago Vince McMahon apparently considered dropping Survivor Series as a concept because of poor pay-per-view sales. Only a passionate plea from Triple, centring on the event’s legacy and place in company history, stopped that from happening. Watching this show you’d probably wonder why he made such a big thing of it. It wasn’t a bad show, but nor was it an especially great one. And this show, more than any Survivor Series in years, needed to be a great one, for all the reasons I’ve discussed in the last month (see here for more).

The twenty-eighth annual Survivor Series began, as WWE pay-per-views tend to, with a hype video for the evening’s main event. It focused on the last month of television, with a particular emphasis on the future. Considering we’d see 55-year-old Sting make his first ever WWE appearance at the end of the show, that rung a particular kind of hollow. That said Seth Rollins was most prominently featured, unsubtly reminding us he had been handpicked by The Authority as the company’s next flagship performer.

The show kicked off with a talky segment. Vince McMahon brought The Authority and John Cena to the ring Vince promo. The purpose of this was to fill up the minutes, rather than to do anything productive. Vince did reveal that if The Authority lost they’d be working at WWE HQ but with no influence on the careers of performers, but really that wasn’t enough to justify ten-plus minutes of natter. It’s something that should have been made clear in the build up to the event.

The first match of the show was the four-way tag title match, the Usos (wearing a pair of fetching 1800s train driver neckerchiefs), Miz and Mizdow, and Los Matadores challenging the Dust Brothers. The early minutes were characterised by Mizdow shtick, which the crowd loved. Both Miz and Stardust teased tags to Mizdow as the crowd chanted for him, earning themselves some loud boos when they denied them what they wanted. Beyond that we got tags every few minutes to give every team a turn in the ring.

The crowd went nuts when Mizdow was finally tagged in by Miz. He didn't get to do much though: Goldust immediately tagged himself in and went to work on a matador.

Basically the match was competent but didn’t really pick up until its closing moments, a real shame considering the fifteen minutes they had to play with, the capability of everyone involved and the immense popularity of Mizdow. It’s not unreasonable to think we should have had something better.

This is the most relevant the tag titles have been in a while.
The closing moments saw the Usos clear the ring and fly over the top rope onto their foes. Stardust followed up with The Falling Star (a springboard butt bump) and Los Matadores lobbed El Torito over the top and then jumped off the turnbuckle. Back in the ring the Dusts and Los Matadores did a stacked suplex spot from the corner. Jimmy Uso followed up with a splash and got thrown from the ring by Miz, who then found himself blind tagged by Mizdow, who got the pinfall and the tag team titles for his team. Miz looked shocked before celebrating with both belts. Mizdow celebrated empty-handed. He did get more cheers than 'The Awesome One' though.

Backstage Adam Rose and his bunny had a fight with some WWE toys to settle their differences. Rose reminded the bunny he was working at kids’ parties before he found him and basically told him to lose. Despite this The Bunny won. Then Titus O'Neil and Heath Slater rocked up to save the skit. They did a little bickering and Rose challenged Slater Gator to a tag match later on the show. Then he and his worshippers (so-called because he claims they think of him as a god) left.

Paige, Cameron, Summer Rae and Layla v Natalya (with ‘Mr Charisma’ Tyson kids), Naomi, Emma, and Alicia Fox was match number two. That WWE can't be bothered to get a bubble machine, hardly the most expensive bit of kit, for Emma's entrance says everything you need to know about her standing in the company.

Paige v Natalya is a singles match I'd like on pay-per-view.
This match was rough in places but it did at least get time to tell a story and everyone was trying their best. Paige looked impressive, a good thing considering she was booked to wind up in a four-on-one position after her team had been picked off by Fox’s team. There was an attempted tease at Paige making a comeback and sweeping through her opposition but ultimately it didn’t happen: she lasted a few minutes before falling to a headscissors driver from Naomi. After the match Kidd leapt on to a turnbuckle in front of Nattie. Because douchebag husbands, am I right?

After a recap of the pre-show and perhaps the most inconsequential expert panel segment ever we got a video recapping the Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose beef. Condensed down into a couple of minutes in which Bray’s magical teleporting can be downplayed it didn’t look bad.

The first few minutes of the match was all about Ambrose countering everything Wyatt tried. 'The Eater of Worlds' eventually turned the tables with an uppercut as Ambrose vaulted the top rope. Ambrose went back on offence after a double clothesline on the outside, bulldogging Wyatt, stealing his upside down corner taunt, and hitting him with a leg drop put. Wyatt fired back with a Uranage suplex, with Ambrose kicking out of the pin that followed and performing a top rope elbow on a standing Wyatt. Seconds later Ambrose was flattened by a loud clothesline.

This could have been the match of the night.
On the outside again Wyatt dropped Ambrose on the ring steps. When that didn't get him a three count Wyatt grabbed a microphone to tell Dean they could have ruled the world together because they're special. Then he grabbed a chair from under the ring. Ambrose grabbed it first, leading to a standoff with Bray basically telling Dean to go for it and the referee telling him not to. ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ decided to use the chair, giving Wyatt a tap to the gut and then Dirty Deeds.

After he'd been disqualified Ambrose got a table from beneath the ring and elbow dropped Wyatt through it. He then piled chairs and tables on top of Wyatt and posed on top of it (we’d find out just before the main event that Wyatt and Ambrose would clash in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at TLC). The crowd gave the post-match shenanigans more of a response than the match itself. It’s understandable but it still harmed the actual match a little.

I wasn’t a fan of the finish. DQ finishes are necessary for prolonging feuds sometimes, I get that. But they shouldn't happen on PPV. Certainly not in such an openly lazy fashion. It wasn't clear why Ambrose responded so violently, beyond the fact that everyone seems to do it when Bray tries to recruit them. It just felt like something slapped together to set up the TLC match rather than something designed to satisfy the live and home audiences.

Backstage Triple H and Steph gave Team Authority a pep talk. ‘The Game’ promised them more title matches, money and fame. When Steph spoke she quickly became desperate, wailing that they couldn't lose. Trips quickly shushed her and gave every member of the team a reason to win. It was a good segment with a logical, self-contained story. It did go on a bit though.

Adam Rose and The Bunny versus Slater Gator helped the show chug towards its conclusion after that. They did a decent job. The match benefited from not having a lengthy slot to fill. They told a simple story: Rose got worked over before tagging out to The Bunny, who made short work of Slater and O'Neil before pinning Slater as Rose held out his hand for a tag. The Bunny then got carried backstage by the entourage as Rose looked stunned in the ring.

Roman Reigns was then introduced to speak to the commentary team via satellite. He made some token mention of how he was getting stronger and referenced the main event. The most relevant thing he said was that he’ll be back in a month. We can believe that, apparently.

We were shown Team Cena backstage. Dolph and Ryback spoke about it being a big night as Rowan played about with a Rubik's cube. Cena said he'd do everything he could for the team, all of whom were facing unemployment if they lost (although Cena wasn’t for some reason). Ziggler said he'd do everything he could to make sure he survived, which seemed like it was designed to tease him turning on Cena. Show said they all knew what they signed up for. Ryback said it was feeding time and he was hungry. Cena said there was one thing left to do. Then Rowan stood up and said "win." It was laughably bad stuff, basically. Everyone trotted out stock phrases and swore allegiance to babyfacedom.

But who's side is Brie Bella on?!
The penultimate bout saw Nikki Bella challenge Divas champion AJ Lee for the title. I say bout like they actually wrestled. Which isn’t true. After the opening bell Brie Bella clambered onto the apron holding the Divas title belt. AJ confronted her and Brie kissed her. Then Nikki punched the champ in the back of the head, dropped her with a Rack Attack, and pinned her to win the strap. Brie clapped and joined Nikki in her celebrations, setting up the next stage of the overly long Bella sisters saga for the following evening's RAW.

Everyone in the main event was treated to individual entrances, for no other reason than it fills up the minutes and WWE had minutes to spare. I noticed during Ziggler's entrance that he's no longer doing his hip wiggle. Maybe Nikki Bella complained about him stealing her bit?

This was the match that WWE had concentrated on the most in the weeks before the show, the match that they were counting on to draw people in. While I hadn’t agreed with their decision to not promote a balanced card that could give people numerous reasons to sign up to the Network (if they live in a country where they can, of course) I did at least understand it from a storyline perspective. Creative felt the need to freshen things up and do a big, enticing stipulation that they would allow them to promise a brand new day.

While it wasn’t the best Survivors match I’ve ever seen it also wasn’t the worst. It was given a tonne of time to tell a story and every elimination was made to mean something. It was the best thing on the show and easily as good as it needed to be.

I won’t attempt to cover everything that happened. Instead here are some edited highlights…

Solid booking, this.
Mark Henry was eliminated immediately with a WMD from Big Show. It was a good call, getting someone out of the way early, eliciting a big reaction from the audience, and positioning 'The World's Largest Athlete' as a huge obstacle to overcome. There was a loud reaction for a Rowan and Harper standoff, which was promising. Rollins got enormous heat when he tagged himself in on Harper.

Rusev and Ryback got a loud response when they squared off too. Surprisingly Ryback was booked to get the best of the Bulgarian before a shmoz broke out, culminating in Rollins Curb Stomping Ryback and Rusev pinning him. Ziggler tagged in for the first time shortly after that and spent the next several minutes getting worked over. That culminated with Rusev power bombing him onto a gaggle of match participants at ringside and trying to splash him through the Spanish announce table. Ziggler rolled out of the way and got back into the ring just before the ten count, avoiding a count out elimination. Rusev wasn’t so lucky: he was thrown out from the match when he was unable to return.

Back in the ring Ziggler finally tagged out to Cena, who quickly hit Kane with an AA. Rollins dashed in and Curb Stomped him before he could manage a cover though. Rowan and Harper got their moment in the sun shortly thereafter. The crowd reacted to it again. WWE could do a lot worse than Harper versus Rowan singles match at TLC, a good thing considering that’s probably their plan. Following interference from Kane and a flying knee from Rollins, Harper got a discuss clothesline on his former teammate to send him to the back.

Then the first major shock happened. As Ziggler lay unconscious on the outside Show and Cena squared off with Harper, Kane and Rollins… and Show lamped Cena with his WMD. Rollins immediately went for the cover and got the pin, shockingly eliminating Cena from the match. Yep, Big Show turned again. It’s impossible to be surprised at this point. I wrote before the show that a turn from ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ wouldn’t be a surprise because his career has been characterised by turns back and forth. We’re at the point here it means nothing.

That said there was at least a reason to it here beyond “Hey, we need some more heels on the roster.” Show saw the tide turning against his team and reasoned that if he laid out Cena and got himself counted out he’d be handing The Authority a victory and they’d waive his firing.

Show’s betrayal (which I really wish Jim Ross had been around to call) left Ziggler alone to face Kane, Harper and Rollins. He was triple teamed for the next few minutes before getting a flash super kick and a Zig Zag on Kane to eliminate him. More punishment came his way at the hands of Luke Harper. ‘The Show Off’ took a suicide dive and a sitdown power bomb before getting a flash rollup for another elimination.

Which left him alone with Seth Rollins. Two counts for Ziggler off a small package and a DDT brought the crowd to their feet, as did a buckle bomb from Rollins. A top tope Curb Stomp missed, allowing Ziggler to get a Fameasser for another rousing two count. Ziggler fought off Mercury and Noble interference and dropped Rollins with a Zig Zag, only for Tripper to yank the referee out of the ring. Ziggler fought off more Noble and Mercury interference, Stephanie fell off the apron onto Triple H, and Rollins got a buckle bomb. A Curb Stomp missed and Ziggler's pin after a Zig Zag was again broken up by 'The King of Kings.

Triple H then got into the ring and gave Ziggler a Pedigree. He dragged Rollins on top of him and then signalled for another new official. Crooked ref Scott Armstrong came out to count the pin but got distracted two thirds of the way through by the entrance of Sting.

‘The Stinger’ sauntered to the ring looking every day of his 55 years then had a staredown with Triple H. It was a long staredown. Like, a really long staredown. Uncomfortably so, in fact. The crowd chanted "This is awesome!" They were wrong. Very wrong. It was tedious.

He's finally signed. And I don't care.
Eventually Triple H threw a punch. Sting ducked it and gave him the Scorpion Death Drop. Then he put Ziggler atop Rollins and a rejuvenated referee that wasn’t Scott Armstrong counted the pin. Rollins didn't kick out, even though he and Ziggler had both been selling for over five minutes. Still, it was great to see Ziggler as the man working the majority of the match for his team and getting the deciding pinfall fifteen minutes after Cena had been eliminated. Cena coming out to hug him afterwards could have been taken as destruction but in this particular instance, with what was on the line and the way Ziggler had been positioned, it made perfect sense.

Once Ziggler and Cena had headed backstage the crowd jeered The Authority as they sold the loss in the ring. Stephanie screamed it wasn't over and then three a fit to take the show off the air. Unfortunately I think she's probably right. WWE have had too much success with the heel authority figure shtick over the years to try something new. We'll get something fresh for a while but they'll return to their comfort zone eventually.

There are two things we need to ask about Survivor Series: was it good enough to convince people they should stick with the WWE Network for at least one more month and was it a satisfying experience in its own right? My answer to the first question would be no. They were clearly hoping the debut of Sting and the post-match antics of Wyatt and Ambrose would be enough to convince people to stick with the Network through TLC but I don’t think that’s enough. Sting won’t wrestle and while I’m sure Wyatt and Ambrose are capable of a strong TLC bout that match alone isn’t sufficient reason to see the show.

The quality of the overall card is what WWE should have focused on. They were hampered by a few injuries but they still put on a distinctly average show. Is an Adam Rose match really something WWE feels can help them grow their subscriber numbers? A more balanced card was clearly the way to go. What we had here proves that.

Taken on its own merits the show was average. The main event was, as already stated, as good as it needed to be. Sting debuting will excite many people. But nothing else on the show was especially memorable, even the Mizdow title win. There have been worse WWE shows, but few with the stakes being so high. This was WWE’s chance to convince people that paying $9.99 a month for a pay-per-view is a great investment, and they failed.

Now let’s see what that plucky young upstart Sting does on RAW, shall we?

Results summary:
The Miz and Damien Mizdow won the tag team championship
Natalya, Naomi, Emma and Alicia Fox defeated Paige, Cameron, Summer Rae and Layla
Bray Wyatt defeated Dean Ambrose via disqualification
Adam Rose and The Bunny defeated Slater Gator
Nikki Bella defeated AJ Lee for the Divas championship
Team Cena defeated Team Authority

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Dawn of The New Day

Over the last month we've been introduced to WWE's New Day stable. More accurately we’ve been reintroduced. Two of the three members had previously been established as main roster mid-carders before disappearing a couple of months ago to allow for this repackaging. The other was a low-card guy who’d been called up to do a whole lot of nothing at the end of last year. They'd been loosely affiliated before their disappearance but only now are we getting confirmation that WWE actually knows what they want to do with them as a unit.

Another faction name considered was Guys in Suits.
The first man we were reacquainted with was Xavier Woods. He used to do a 90s pop culture gimmick1. Before disappearing a few weeks ago the only thing he’d done of note since getting called up to the main roster was get The Funkadactyls to go to the ring with him for a while. He didn't really have much of a character at all beyond generic babyface loosely affiliated with R-Truth. So his transformation into an amalgamation of Little Richard and Ernest 'The Cat' Miller in a vignette on the November 3 RAW can probably be classified as an improvement.

Up next was Kofi Kingston. His exquisitely trimmed and incredibly pointy beard remained intact. So did his lack of charisma. That's always been Kofi’s problem. Perhaps being teamed with two guys with more personality will help him bring out his own on camera. Ultimately personality isn't the reason he's in the stable. He’s there because practically everything else that could conceivably get him over has been tried during his seven years on the main roster.

Finally the November 17 RAW featured a vignette in which Big E channelled Martin Luther King. Super relaxed in his jeans and T-shirt combo it was possible to believe he could become a star again. That's not something we've been able to say about him since before his premature split from Dolph Ziggler. If E can be as comfortable in front of an audience as he was in his video he'll go somewhere.

It seems as though the three have touches of a televangelist gimmick to them. They appeared in front of a choir and gave spirited, sermon-flavoured promos about a new day dawning. It was eye-catching and memorable. Alone it’s not enough to help them get anywhere but it was a good start.

It looks like they’re intended as a babyface trio. That’s a positive sign. WWE has had some success with those over the last two years in the form of The Shield and The Wyatt Family. The writers should have a good idea of what to do and what to avoid when it comes to handling a three man faction. Not least because it’s easy to see their interest in this new team waning quickly, something the previous trios didn’t have to contend with. The Shield was comprised of three guys considered future headliners while the Wyatts were built around a future headliner so they were guaranteed attention. New Day features a long term mid-carder and a man who was promoted on a whim. Only Big E has main event potential and he’s been subjected to stop-start booking over the last year.

If The New Day can get half as over as The Shield they'll be doing well.
It’s tough to know what to expect from The New Day. Both the Wyatts and The Shield started out as heels before becoming faces (albeit never officially in the case of the Wyatts) mostly due to the strength of their booking and their dynamic performances. What we’ve seen so far makes it look like New Day are going to begin their time together as faces. Perhaps they’ll go heel over time. That could work in storyline terms but it wouldn’t do much for the three individuals. Kofi and Xavier seem far better suited to the protagonist role and while Big E has appeared proficient at playing both heel and face right now a face run is what’s best for him. It will allow him to show his personality, giving people a reason to warm to him and showing that he’s more than just a body guy.

It seems unlikely the new group will achieve the success the Wyatts and ‘The Hounds of Justice’ did before them. Mostly because archetypal job guy Xavier Woods is involved. But maybe WWE will surprise us and give the team things to do. Like giving the tag division one of its periodic rejuvenations or putting together another trio to oppose them. Unlikely I know. I think the most realistic thing we can hope for is that the group gets something to do on RAW every week for the next six months and Big E gets treated as the man who’ll go on to singles stardom. If it ends up being the thing that launches him up the card it will have been a success.

***

1 Not as cool as it sounds. Instead of using phrases from 90s TV shows for move names or in promos or putting 90s emblems and motifs on his ring gear he basically said “It’s morphin’ time” sometimes. There’s a load of iconography and phrases to latch on to from the 90s and Woods did a poor job of tapping into it. Our best hope for making use of the 90s gimmick now seems to be Angelo Dawkins. Not because he’s hinted that he might, but because it’s not a million miles away from the backpack-wearing self-aware nerd he’s playing now.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

NXTweet 20.11.14

Way more matches than normal. That was something. Unfortunately none of them were anything special and the main event was a promo. If this were a piece of homework and I were a teacher it would be graded a D with “See me after class” written on it.

Intro

Tweet 1: It's NXTweetin' time!
Tweet 2: Last week... Sami Zayn danced and mentioned destiny.
Tweet 3: Last week... Adrian Neville retained after a shady rollup.
Tweet 4: Last week... some kid in the audience looked astonished Zayn had lost. Poor little mite.

Bayley v Becky Lynch

Tweet 5: Becky Lynch has changed her plaid for camo. It's an improvement but not much of one.
Tweet 6: "Irish spitfire!" - Alex Riley on Becky Lynch
Tweet 7: Tights grab. Heel.

#mates

Tweet 8: Renee saying that Charlotte's job is to keep the women's division together there. Nah, it's to wrestle. But whatevs.

Bayley and Charlotte chat in a locker room

Tweet 9: Charlotte and Bayley teleported backstage to have a chat. And oh noes, Charlotte won't be around to help next week.
Tweet 10: Rare bit of sloppy editing that.

The Vaudevillains v Mini Lucha Dragons

Tweet 11: #Vaudevillainspop
Tweet 12: The Vaudevillains demand a title shot. Two midgets come out. Classic WWE booking.
Tweet 13: In unrelated news Ed Ferrera works at Full Sail.

This is vintage WWE stuff. Vintage!

Tweet 14: Gotch doing power spots on a midget is funnier than it should be.
Tweet 15: I think it's because his gimmick is "power guy" but he's too small to do it convincingly on most of the roster.
Tweet 16: I say most of the roster like these fake Lucha Dragons are signed. They're not. But after that performance...

Kevin Owens hype video

Tweet 17: Hmmmmmm... That guy in the 11.12.14 (British dating) video looked familiar.

Elias Sampson v Baron Corbin

Tweet 18: Oh good. Baron Corbin. So we're getting a third unremarkable match in a row.
Tweet 19: Elias Sampson is today's Corbin fodder. He didn't last long.
Tweet 20: The audience are chanting "twenty-two" as though Sampson lasted that long. He didn't. They were counting fast.
Tweet 21: And Sampson looks like a bargain bin Enzo.

Bull Dempsey v Steve Cutler

Tweet 22: Bull Dempsey is my boy.
Tweet 23: He's getting booed because he didn't job out his guy in under thirty seconds.

This looks a bit... dirty is probably the best word to use.

Tweet 24: Bull won with Air Canada. Because Benoit references.
Tweet 25: Four matches in. None have gone longer than five minutes. This is not the best week to start watching NXT.

Tyson Kidd v CJ Parker

Tweet 26: And now we've got Tyson Kidd. Because I guess sometimes you've got to put on a deliberately bad episode.
Tweet 27: CJ Parker and his skimpy trunks can't save this show. But bless him for trying.
Tweet 28: The audience doesn't know who to back. Go with CJP. He's wearing white boots do he's the more babyface.

Even Tyson's feeling the pain of this Sharpshooter.

Tweet 29: CJ tapped to the Sharpshooter. That result shouldn't surprise anyone.
Tweet 30: Tyson saying he'll excellently execute Finn Bálor next week. So there we are. That's something.

Enzo Amore, Big Cass and Carmella have a chat backstage

Tweet 31: Carmella, Enzo and Big Cass. Remember that they exist? They gotta match, bro!

Enzo Amore and Big Cass v Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder

Tweet 32: Fascinated by Enzo's modern day Road Dogg shtick.
Tweet 33: The Mechanics! YES!
Tweet 34: They weren't referred to as The Mechanics though. Guessing that name's been dropped. Bad call, booking boys.
Tweet 35: Rock, paper, scissors just confirms that Enzo and Cass are intended as a modern day New Age Outlaws. Which I'm cool with, for the record.

Leopard print is back in.

Tweet 36: If Jim Cornette were with WWE today Dawson and Wilder are the kind of team he'd be managing.
Tweet 37: The Ascension attack both teams after the match. Because why not?
Tweet 38: Viktor's chatting about Bálor too. He's a popular man.
Tweet 39: "The Ascension will rise again!" - Konor, who should have said they'd ascend, because grammar lols

Sami Zayn promo, featuring Adrian Neville and William Regal

Tweet 40: Sami Zayn has wonderful dress sense.
Tweet 41: Another airing for the last week video? That's another questionable bit of editing. Maybe they've got some new students in.
Tweet 42: Adrian Neville is dressed like 1999 Matt Hardy.
Tweet 43: Stick him in a tag team with Michael Hayes.
Tweet 44: "Regaaaaaal!" - Some woman in the audience at the mention of William Regal

Solid promo work from two guys not known as great talkers. Promising.

Tweet 45: Great work from both guys here. Zayn making the title seem important and his motivations clear. Sympathetic character.
Tweet 46: Neville doing good work as the allegedly fightin' champs with ever so slight shades of villainy to him.
Tweet 47: And speaking of villains: William Regal.
Tweet 48: Regal announcing a Takeover event with textspeak in the title to end the show sums this episode up nicely.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Survivor Series 2014 preview


This year’s Survivor Series is a notable WWE pay-per-view for a number of reasons. Unfortunately none of those reasons are to do with the quality of current storylines or a hotly anticipated match. Those are things WWE should be striving to provide, because they’ve put themselves in a position of having to rely heavily on their Network, and the Network is ultimately going to succeed or fail based on giving people reason to invest in the WWE product. And what the sort of people willing to pay for subscriptions to a wrestling-themed streaming service are going to invest in is strong storylines and hot match-ups.

Instead the 2014 Survivor Series is notable for being the first pay-per-view WWE has ever produced that will be available for free (making the already iffy pay-per-view label even stranger). The reason for this offer is to attract subscribers to the Network. It’s a good idea in theory (as I’ve written here). Giving away what is generally thought of as a major event (thanks to the days of the Big Four which actually ended nineteen years ago) for free is a excellent way of enticing people to sign up to the Network, and once they’re signed up they can be persuaded to remain signed up after the show.

But this ploy is only going to work if Survivor Series has a good enough card to encourage the initial sign-ups and the content of the Network is sufficiently enjoyable to keep people hooked. I can’t speak to the latter because WWE and Sky have gone full on heel and halted the release of the Network in Britain and Ireland. But I do know that they haven’t managed the former.

There are two matches announced for Survivor Series that could be considered big. The first is the traditional ten man elimination match. The second is Dean Ambrose versus Bray Wyatt. The tag match has been hyped well (thanks mostly to the sterling November 3 episode of RAW) and has significant storyline implications. But the trouble it has is that nobody really expects it to be much good. It is not hotly anticipated. I mean, how can it be with Mark Henry, Big Show, and Kane involved? Ultimately all the storyline implication means is that we’ll get a hot finishing sequence as we’re kept guessing as to who will win and how.

This match does few favours for the rest of the card. It’s deprived us of a number of logical singles bouts. While the likes of Rusev v Sheamus and Big Show v Mark Henry wouldn’t have been anything particularly amazing they would have at least had meaning to them. Their addition to the main event would have been ideal if WWE programming were brimming with exciting rivalries to fill the undercard.

But it’s not. So we have a top-heavy show with everyone of note piled into one match in the hope that it will appear exciting and momentous enough to encourage people to take advantage of the Network’s free month offer. I’m sure it’ll get some people. I’m just not sure it will be as successful as a more even card would be.

Ignoring how important it is to the Network and the fact that it’s depriving the show of some logical singles matches the ten man tag looks good. If nothing else it will be interesting to see how the thing’s structured, as is usually the case with matches like these. It seems safe to assume that Kane, Henry, and Show will not play major roles and will be amongst the first out, because they’re not as important to current plots or future plans. To a slightly lesser extent the same probably holds true for Luke Harper and too.

What’s interesting when noting that is that three of those four names are on The Authority’s team. Assuming those four are the first out (unlikely, as it’s probable at least one major name will go before all four are gone to help with the pacing, but bear with me) it would leave Cena and his gang with a four on two advantage. That would seem like a natural time for WWE to implement their seemingly inevitable swerve turn (written about in greater detail here).

This is what this year’s Survivor Series main event is about for me. Who’s going to defect from Cena’s team and help The Authority stay in power and, to a lesser extent, what is the finishing sequence going to be? I’m expecting The Authority to win because what sense would it make for them to lose and not be in charge of RAW? Sheamus strikes me as the likeliest man to turn because his character is in desperate need of a change and he seems like a natural choice for a placeholder feud with Cena before he challenges Lesnar for the world championship at Royal Rumble at the end of January.

But he’s not actually a part of the match. It’s still possible he could turn, coming in to replace someone who’s suffered a mid-match injury before shockingly double-crossing Cena and Brogue kicking one of his team mates to help out Team Trips.

Shaymo isn’t the only guy we could see running in on the Survivors main event. Bad News Barrett has been announced for the event but we don’t know what he’ll be doing. Roman Reigns could be closer to recovering from his hernia surgery than we’ve been led to believe, setting him up as some sort of saviour for Team Cena. There’s Randy Orton too. He was written off TV to star in a WWE Studios movie a few weeks ago but a one night return before coming back full time in a few weeks isn’t out of the question. With Survivor Series being held in his hometown of St Louis it would be mad for WWE not to use him in some capacity, even if it’s a post-match run-in.

It would make sense for Seth Rollins to be amongst the surviving members of Team Authority. He’s been set up as the top active heel on the roster and is consistently booked as the man who wangles his way through tough spots, always just managing to come out on top. It wouldn’t need to be clean, but Rollins getting the final and deciding pinfall on Cena, ensuring his mentor stays in control, would be a perfect way to get more heat on him.

As for the other eliminations... well, I’ve already written it’s hard to say what will happen. Rusev and Ryback seem likely to receive the standard Survivor Series trick of a double count out elimination as they brawl to the back. That would keep ‘The Bulgarian Brute’s’ unpinned and unsubmitted streak alive, protect the recently repushed ‘Big Guy’ and  create a reason for Rusev versus Ryback at TLC in December. Ziggler eliminating Harper seems plausible as it would prove ‘The Show Off’ can beat him and didn’t deserve to lose the IC strap on RAW (not that anyone would consider that match fair anyway). Henry and Show seem likely to be tied to one another in the bout. Henners getting eliminated by Show before attacking him unfairly afterwards to set up ‘The Giant’s’ elimination seems simple enough.

Ultimately I think the bulk of the match will revolve around Cena, Ziggler and Rollins. It’s possible another heel will last into the final stretch to make things more even. If so it should be Harper or Rusev to get them some credibility. But it will probably be Mark Henry.

All in all there’s a lot that can be done with the ten man main event so it’s unlikely to be boring. But it’s not looking like an all-time classic match. With the result obviously playing a factor on the opening segment of the following evening’s RAW the promise of an unpredictable but sloppy match likely won’t be enough to convince that many people to check the show out.

The Ambrose v Wyatt match is the second biggest match on the card because of how over the two men are, not because of how it’s been booked. Because it’s been booked pretty poorly. Wyatt has again fallen into the trap of not making it entirely clear what his issue is (as happened with Jericho). I’m fine with his promos being heavy on nonsense, but he should at least try to get across what he wants with the people he’s targeting. Ambrose has done his best to salvage things, but when he’s been booked opposite a man who can magically teleport around an arena there’s only so much he can do. It’s another match hard to describe as hotly anticipated.

That said the match could be excellent. ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ has had some superb matches opposite Seth Rollins this year. ‘The Eater of Worlds’ has been hampered by peculiar booking choices but he didn’t do horrible work opposite John Cena in the spring and he had a belter against Daniel Bryan at the Rumble. They seem like guys who’d have good matches together. Hopefully they do.

I’ll go with Wyatt as a winner via nonsense, because that would be the easier way of keeping the programme alive for another month. It could just as easily be Ambrose though.

The rest of the card is, as already stated, not exactly stellar. The highlight is probably the four-way tag title match in which Goldust and Stardust will defend against the Usos, Los Matadores and The Miz and Damien Mizdow. Yes, another PPV meeting for the dusts and Rikishi’s lads. It’s not exactly revolutionary stuff, is it? Los Matadores should spice things up and Mizdow’s involvement should ensure the crowd are hot (although I’m concerned that El Torito being there will mean we get Hornswoggle as MiniMiz again). The tag scene could do with a change and Miz and Mizdow would benefit from getting the straps. It might be wishful thinking but I’ll pick them as winners.

The other two announced matches are Divas matches. First there’s the obligatory time-filling elimination tag bout pitting Team Paige, consisting of Paige, Cameron, Layla and Summer Rae, against Team Fox, consisting of Alicia Fox, Emma, Naomi and Natalya. If it comes down to Paige and Natalya we could be in for a treat, but that’s not likely. Paige should win though, seeing as she’s easily the most heavily pushed of the eight ladies.

The other Divas match will see AJ Lee defend the championship against Nikki Bella. I think if this match gets some time it could be very good. AJ generally gets responses from audiences while Nikki is over as the company’s premier in-ring villainess, and both can turn out solid matches when they’re awarded the time to do so. With the list of matches pretty slender there’s a good chance they’ll get in excess of ten minutes.

It’s tough to pick a winner. There are rumours floating around (but not for the first time) that AJ will be leaving WWE shortly after the show. That would make it sensible for her to lose the gold to Nikki, who could then resume her feud with sister Brie. The trouble with that is that Vince McMahon has apparently decreed that no member of the Total Divas cast is to win the Divas championship, because it creates inconsistencies with the two shows (what with TD being filmed months in advance). The show may not be on the air right now but putting the title onto Nikki would still put WWE in a tough spot regarding Vince’s clause because the only person she could logically drop it to is also a member of the cast.

I’m going to ignore the Total Divas aspect (not least because practically every woman on the roster is on the reality show anyway) and pick Nikki to win. Brie still being her assistant just sets up a very obvious scenario: Nikki forces Brie to help to win the championship, adding another layer to Brie’s quest for revenge once the assistant stip comes to a close.

On the whole Survivor Series looks quite good. All the matches should have something to offer and the main event guarantees at least one major storyline development. While I don’t think it’s the best card to encourage Network sign-ups it certainly won’t actively discourage people from subscribing. With this card it seems as though WWE is moving in the right direction. But it doesn’t seem like they’re doing so quite fast enough.

***

Predictions summary:
Team Authority to defeat Team Cena for control of the (WWE) universe
Bray Wyatt to defeat Dean Ambrose
The Miz and Damien Mizdow to win the tag team championship
Nikki Bella to defeat AJ Lee for the Divas championship
Paige to be the sole survivor in her Survivor Series match

Team Cena members:
John Cena
Dolph Ziggler
Ryback
Big Show
Erick Rowan

Team Authority members:
Seth Rollins
Rusev
Luke Harper
Kane
Mark Henry

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

That RAW Recap 17.11.14

The main thing I picked up from this week's RAW was that everyone on Team Cena has a reason to defect to Team Authority. Depending on how you look at things that’s either a deft bit of writing or a happy accident. I'm inclined to believe it's an accident. But hey, at least they got there.

The thing is it shouldn't be an accident. WWE has been doing what it does for decades and employs so many people to contribute to their creation direction that it's not unreasonable to expect them to produce a top notch show more often than not. This week was not a top notch show. Nor was it a second notch show. It was closer to a bottom notch show. It was, to put it bluntly, bad.

And the reason for this is that their preparation for the Survivor Series pay-per-view was ill-thought-out. On the one hand yes, it made sense to have Team Authority once again perform the divide and conquer routine. But on the other hand…

On the other hand we had Ryback declaring himself to be on Team Ryback (there’s a T-shirt waiting to happen) before being positioned as the saviour of the day by aiding Cena and chums at the end of the show. We had Triple H basically cutting a babyface promo about why he should remain the heel authority figure. We had Erick Rowan demanding he be given stuffed animals and then joining Team Cena. We had Team Cena being picked apart and Cena doing absolutely nothing about it even though that directly contradicted his Hustle, Loyalty, Respect mantra.

The worst thing about this episode should have been that it was guest hosted by a cat. Instead that's not really worth mentioning because so much of the important stuff went wrong and did so at such a basic level that it never stood a chance of coming across well on screen.

Chances are that one of these men will be turning. Not Cena though, obvs.
But as I said up at the top at least the end result of RAW was a desirable one. It feels as though Cena's team is unstable. That plays well in storyline terms as it helps to present the team as underdogs. It also means that the swerve turn which seems inevitable has an element of unpredictability to it: if everyone has a reason for turning it makes it tougher to accurately say who will.

Ryback is the most logical choice for the turn, considering his declaration that he's loyal only to himself these days. He's the kind of character who'll do what benefits him at any given moment so if an opportunity comes up to help an already winning Authority then it would be utterly in character for 'The Big Guy' to take it. But it's possible the recent booking of Ryback has been designed to make us think this. If Ryback refuses an opportunity to benefit himself and remains loyal to his team it would come across as a key moment for him. It wouldn't erase the messiness of the previous few weeks but it would be enough to satisfy most people that he'd seen the error of his ways and gone full babyface (until his next heel turn, obvs). It could, in other words, cement him as a top line face, albeit in an unnecessarily convoluted manner.

Erick Rowan wouldn't be much of a surprise either. Since being "released" (anyone else think that sounds needlessly sexual?) by Bray Wyatt he's been presented as a creepy stalker dude and a simpleton who enjoys toy cats more than the average man. The character is clearly low on mental stability, which means little reason is needed for him to betray Cena. It doesn't hurt that his former Wyatt Family teammate is on the opposite team. Luke Harper could convince Rowan to walk out on the match, indirectly helping The Authority. More likely Harper will give that a try and Rowan will Eugene up and slap him about.

Big Show was offered a 2015 Hall of Fame spot and a chance to be a headliner again if he turned on Cena. That's more reason than his usually has for turning. The current heel and face line-ups and his feud with Mark Henry make me think a Show turn is unlikely. But, y’know, it’s Show. Never bet against him turning.

Not officially part of the team anymore is Sheamus. He was wiped out with a World's Strongest Slam through the announce desk. It's peculiar that this was enough to take the fightin' Irishman out when he would have made a comeback within minutes had it occurred during a match. But this was apparently so devastating that he'll be unable to compete for at least seven days.

It's possible this was done to set Sheamus up as a last minute surprise for Team Cena. More likely, but also more puzzlingly, WWE felt that Rowan would be a better fit for the team and Roman Reigns or Bad News Barrett will get the surprise partner treatment. If that's the route taken a Sheamus turn is still possible. All it would take is one of the active team members to get "injured" mid-match and taken backstage, leaving Shaymo to come charging in as a replacement (because the injured party wouldn’t have been eliminated) before swerve turning. Yes, this approach would raise the question of what The Authority's plan would have been had the mid-match injury not occurred but this is WWE and they won't care about that.

Finally there's Dolph Ziggler. We've seen him step up into the number two babyface spot over the last month and he's been adamant about standing up to The Authority. Which, in a WWE storyline, is exactly the kind of thing that would usually preface him going bad. That he's also the worst person WWE could turn heel from the team, because he's so incredibly popular, is also concerning. It would be such an obvious mistake to have 'The Show Off' go bad that it's worryingly easy to imagine WWE making it.

We have Cena to thank for this.
At least if it were to happen Ziggler would have a logical reason for turning: siding with Cena cost him his Intercontinental championship and Cena just sat in the back and watched him lose it unfairly. Yes, Cena lolled around in the back, probably on his private coach, as Cena was beaten down by Seth Rollins, Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury and then lost the IC gold to Luke Harper. Also on the plus side for a Ziggles turn is the fact that a series of Ziggler versus Cena matches would probably be the most desirable thing for Cena over the next couple of months. Not that that’s enough to make me want to see it. I’d much prefer Ziggler to stay a face with his current positioning.

The 2014 Survivor Series is an important show for WWE, as I’ve written before and will write again tomorrow in my preview. Their recent episodes of RAW have not reflected that. There have been some good aspects, most notably the importance of the Survivor Series main event coming through, but overall it’s been a sloppy affair with WWE struggling to find ways to tie a large number of performers together in one storyline. This RAW typified that.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Hollywood Entourage

Over the last couple of months a pairing has emerged from the nether realm that is the WWE mid-card. A pairing that’s taken what little they were given by the company’s legion of writers and turned it into something that fans look forward reacting to and seeing. I’m talking, of course, about The Miz and Damien Sandow.

"No, you're the coolest!"
That should probably be Damien Mizdow. That’s the name Sandow trades under since being taken on as Miz’s stunt double, a natural (for wrestling) progression from the generic imitation gimmick he’d been lumbered with for months. You’ll probably have seen Mizdow in action, so you don’t need me to tell you that he mimics everything Miz does backstage, in the ring, and at ringside, or how funny it is.

As Mizdow, Sandow has taken something that sounded like nothing more than filler material and turned it into one of the highlights of WWE’s TV output. That’s quite the achievement and he deserves all the praise he’s had for it.

Miz hasn’t been a slouch in this time either. Since returning from his latest sabbatical filming a straight-to-the-bargain-bin DVD movie ‘The Awesome One’ has done some of the best work of his career. Promos have always been more his forte than wrestling, and he’s overhauled his approach with them, playing the mostly oblivious babyface who doesn’t realise how contemptible he is. The gurning and frat boy attitude are gone, replaced by a character clearly modelled on genuine Hollywood A-listers.

He’s also tightened up his in-ring offerings. Miz is never going to be the greatest wrestler but he’s improved his already good selling and concentrated on making his signature moves mean more. He’s also making better use of the Skull-Crushing Finale and the figure four leg lock. It’s made for far more enjoyable matches from him.

Miz and Mizdow are great together. I’ve previously advocated a gradual split for them, the logic being that WWE should capitalise on the popularity of the Mizdow character. But after thinking on it more I don’t think that’s necessarily the best move. The appeal of Mizdow is seeing him hamming it up while copying Miz. Yeah it’d be great to see him stand up for himself and turn on his egotistical boss but once that feud were over there’d be nothing for him to do.

Not literally, of course. The natural thing to do with Sandow if he became a singles babyface with the Mizdow gimmick would be to have him imitate the moves of guys he’s feuding with while they’re wrestling. It would give people what they want from the character without having to have him linked to The Miz. But we all know WWE’s current booking approach wouldn’t allow for that. Sandow would become just another mid-card babyface being used like everyone else within a month of his programme with Miz finishing.

This man is a natural bodyguard call-up.
So, as I say, they’re better together. There’s actually potential in them as the basis of a larger faction. As a male model Tyler Breeze would be a natural stablemate for a supposed movie star. He could be introduced as an allegedly A-list pal of Miz’s. A security guard character would also be a natural fit. Bull Dempsey would be ideal for that role, and there are probably other suitable candidates yet to be used on the NXT show.

This stable would allow WWE to build on the popularity of Miz and Mizdow by associating newcomers with them. Breeze and Dempsey would debut in high profile spots but wouldn’t be under as much pressure to immediately succeed. It would also be a readymade feud. After a few months of the group getting along Breeze and Dempsey could turn on Miz and Mizdow, creating a tag match people would care about (largely because of Mizdow’s involvement) and setting up a new pairing that could be spun off into the mid-card: Tyler Breeze and his bodyguard Bull Dempsey.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Global Announce Team

A few weeks ago Jeff Jarrett announced that his e-fed would be airing New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom 9 on pay-per-view in the US and Canada. It was a significant announcement followed up by instructions for people to stay tuned for news. 'Double J' has to promise news instead of providing it because he doesn't have a promotion of his own and is reliant on New Japan making decisions before he can release information. It’s a less than ideal way to run a business.

But a week ago Jarrett struck a deal that will see Jim Ross provide English language play-by-play commentary for the show, something he was able to tell the world himself. It was presented as big news when announced on November 11. And it is.

Slobberknocker! Sauce it! Bah GOD! Stone Cold! Stone Cold! Stone Cold!!
As the voice of WWE when it was at its hottest Ross is a known quantity to many lapsed and casual fans, a market Jarrett is probably interested in attracting. He's also an experienced wrestling commentator, with a solid knowledge of moves, an understanding of how to convey a match's story to an audience, and an unparalleled level of passion1. He was the best choice to lead an English language broadcast and, considering his promotion's completely hypothetical status at the moment, Jarrett was lucky to get him.

But 'Good Old JR' is not flawless. Even at his late 90s-slash-early 00s peak he was prone to frequent minor mistakes. This usually took the form of confusing names of guys he was less familiar with who kind of but not really looked alike. Hardly the worst thing in the world but it presents an obvious problem for WK9. NJPW's roster is almost entirely new to Ross, and a lot of the guys he's already familiar with will be using different names.

Obviously there's ample time for Ross to familiarise himself with the roster. And being a professional I'm sure he will. While he's in prep mode it may be a good idea for someone to warn him about the flagrant anti-psychology that plagues Young Bucks matches. Better than him finding out on the air.

The other issue with JR is that he does his best work when being needled by an antagonistic colour commentator2. His work alongside Paul Heyman in 2001 and Jerry Lawler in the years before (but not really after) that was so good because both Lawler and Heyman knew how to interact with Ross's on-air personality to get the best out of him. They knew to prick his ego every so often and provide him with anti-babyface material to get riled about. Basically, they knew how to be very good heel commentators and Ross knew how to be a very good babyface one.

It's not that JR's commentary will be bad without a good heel colour commentator with him but it’s likely he'll be better with one. Thinking of suggestions for the role is pretty much a waste of time because there's no defined Global Force roster in existence to draw names from. The only realistic suggestion to make is Jarrett. He's been established as a heel within New Japan storylines and would be easy enough to accept in the role for an English language audience. I've never heard him on commentary but Ross could coach him and help him prepare. Plus he's already going to be in Tokyo for the show and it would cut down on costs. I’m sure that’s a factor for an imaginary company like Global Force.

Whether they go for Jarrett or a more left field but probably better choice like Colt Cabana or Chris Hero (I would be astounded if they got CM Punk3) I hope the pairing gets adequate time to prepare. If English language commentary is to become a thing4 for NJPW (and less importantly if GFW is to succeed) Wrestle Kingdom 9 needs to be a success in North America. And rightly or wrongly a lot of that is on the shoulders of Jim Ross.

***

1 I’m particularly looking forward to him shouting “Okada! Okada! Okada!!”

2 Ideally with that colour commentator being fed digs by Vince McMahon over a headset, not that that's an option here5.

3 Though he'd be ideal, obviously. He knows the product and Ross and has a fair amount of commentary experience. Plus he's a big enough name to generate some US interest in the pay-per-view, New Japan, and GFW. But it won’t happen.

4 I hope English language commentary catches on because the lack of it is the biggest barrier for plenty of people (including myself) following New Japan more closely.

5 Although if Vince were to ever to get involved with production of a rival promotion's commentary I'm sure it would be solely to take shots at Jim Ross.