Saturday, 18 April 2015

NXTweet 15.04.15

Sami Zayn returns for his first match in two months, facing 'The Man Beast' Rhyno. We also get another match form the enjoyable combo of Fulton and Dawkins, the tag champs handing out flowers, a Blue Pants match, and the final ever CJ Parker match... unless he re-signs in a few years.

Intro

Tweet 1: Alright, guys. I'm watching NXT.
Tweet 2: Always pleased to see Orton on the opening credits. That guy doesn't get enough screen time.

Solomon Crowe v CJ Parker

Tweet 3: CJ Parker's in the opener. I'm shedding a tear for him.
Tweet 4: Really can't get past my feeling that they're getting a tonne of stuff wrong with Solly Crowe.
Tweet 5: "Look at the rage there from CJ Parker" - Corey Graves, who must have forgotten that rage is Alex Riley's thing
Tweet 6: This match is making realise how much of a loss CJP is for NXT.
Tweet 7: I'm impressed by the number of merch shirts in the audience.
Tweet 8: Still think Crowe could have been introduced as a caveman Sylvester LeFort discovered frozen in ice.
Tweet 9: That would have been tremendous.

A muffling stretch.

Tweet 10: Stretch Muffler being called the Stretch Muffler there.
Tweet 11: See, the problem is that they're positioning him as a hacker but he doesn't actually hack anything.
Tweet 12: Dana Brooke debuts on this show? Now you're talking.

Baron Corbin v Steve Cutler

Tweet 13: Barry Corbin! Not seen him in a few weeks. In his time off he's traded one wild jacket for another. He's a big fan of wolves.
Tweet 14: Steve Cutler's marine experience is no match for Barry's Wolf Power.
Tweet 15: "All hail the big bad wolf" - Corey Graves, embracing my idea of giving Barry Corbin a bunch of inane gimmicks

Sami Zayn interviewed backstage

Tweet 16: Sami Zayn isn't letting Rhyno fast track his way to the top. He's got an annual performance review planned for him...

Enzo Amore and Big Cass v Sawyer Fulton and Angelo Dawkins

Tweet 17: "And this right here? This is Carmella!" *Audience boos*
Tweet 18: Does nobody in The Office understand that there's totes room for a chatty act on the main roster?
Tweet 19: Angelo Dawkins + Sawyer Fulton = World's Greatest Tag Team 2.0
Tweet 20: I always like teams with an amateur background gimmick. No idea why. #insightfultweet

Carmella being won over by flowers there.

Tweet 21: Loling at Carmella being won over by the old buncha posies routine. What a mark.
Tweet 22: That was a good Outlaws match. Road Dogg got worked over and Billy came in to clean up.
Tweet 23: Eh? Not the Outlaws, you say...?

Alex Riley backstage

Tweet 24: Highlight of the show right here.

Rage.

Tweet 25: "Did you think Alex Riley was just going to go away?" Honestly? Yes. And I was hoping I was right.
Tweet 26: A-Ry talking about battling for every inch there. Must... resist... obvious... joke...
Tweet 27: "Remember, Kevo! I got nowhere else to go!" - Alex Riley, revealing his tragic but utterly deserved status as a vagrant

Dana Brooke v Blue Pants

Tweet 28: Really enjoying the seventeen poses and a flip Dana Brooke's loaded into her entrance.
Tweet 29: She's a former fitness model. Basically they're hoping for a new Trish Stratus.
Tweet 30: Dana Brooke running through a stomp routine like a grizzled vet here. Puts me in mind of a young Randall 'Bag Violator' Orton.

She'll be doing the Check Up From the Neck Up next.

Tweet 31: Dana Brooke using Alex Shane's One Night Stand for the win there.
Tweet 32: Remember when Shane booked a kayfabe relationship between himself and Nikita? Great days. Great lad.
Tweet 33: Riley v Owens II confirmed for next week. I hope Riley's Twitter name is RageRileyRage by then.

Sami Zayn v Rhyno

Tweet 34: Love the fact that Rhyno's Titantron vid features an actual rhino.
Tweet 35: Just noticed Rhyno's lack of kneepads. I remember him wearing really skimpy pads in ECW. I always enjoyed that. Made his legs look bigger.
Tweet 36: Imagine how much less intimidating the Gore would be if it were called the Lol.
Tweet 37: Is the skull on Rhyno's singlet covered in rags like a mummy?

Well done, Sami. That was textbook.

Tweet 38: This ref's awful. Took him a two count to start counting. Fire him. Bring back Brad Maddox.
Tweet 39: Enjoying Rhyno channelling Marc Mero there. One of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era.
Tweet 40: Well that match happened.
Tweet 41: It wasn't bad but it wasn't anything special. The crowd being tired hurt it. The lack of a proper Gore and kick out definitely did.
Tweet 42: To be fair they're probably saving the Gore kick out for something bigger. I'm down with that.
Tweet 43: Solid episode, everyone. Good hustle.

Friday, 17 April 2015

NJPW Invasion Attack 2015 review


The night before WrestleMania 31 New Japan presented their third annual Invasion Attack show. Unlike the offerings from Ring of Honor and the WWN this show wasn't held in the state of California. It wasn't even held in the US. That's what kept me from reviewing it at the time: it was happening on WrestleMania weekend but it was so detached that it didn't feel like a part of it. Not that it was intended to be, of course. New Japan is big enough that it doesn't need to tie itself into WWE's schedule.

The opener pitted the Time Splitters, Captain New Japan, Yohei Komatsu and Yuji Nagata against Ryusuke Taguchi, Manabu Nakanishi, Sho Tanaka, Tiger Mask and Jushin Liger. It was a fun but instantly fogettable ten man tag. Shelley pinned Nakanishi with a belly-to-back piledriver for the win.

Tomoaki Honma and the Tencozy lads, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima, versus Bullet Club representatives Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga and Cody Hall was second. Takahashi was accompanied by a girl in a bikini because he's been corrupted by The West. Cody Hall was sporting a slightly altered look channelled Brock Lesnar, while his mannerisms channelled his father. Sadly this didn't translate to a super-hot match or even anything memorable from him. Hall ate the pinfall after a Tencozy 3D and a top rope headbutt from Honma. The thing that most sticks with me is that Hall looked incredibly uncertain a lot of the time. That and the gratuitous shots of Takahashi's gal pal.

Rocky Romero and Trent Baretta had their first two-on-two NJPW tag match as Roppongi Vice after that. They'd wrestled six matches in the company before this but all had featured additional partners. In a slightly surprising move the match was for the junior tag straps. In an even more surprising move the new team defeated the Young Bucks for the titles. This evelopment seemed like something that could have been built to a bit more but it did get a pop and provide a nice surprise.

The match was really good fun. Baretta was sharp and gelled well with Romero. The finish saw Romero tagged by Baretta as Romero was being hoisted up for More Bang for Your Buck. Romero then got his knees up as Nick hit him with the 450 and Baretta, the legal man, dashed in to hit Matt with a top rope German suplex. Romero took out Nick with a suicide dive before the Vice boys hit an inverted Tombstone-springboard combo on Matt, Baretta pinning him to win. That pin sequence was notable: Baretta is the junior member of his team and Matt is the senior member of his. You'd usually expect Nick to be the one laying down in this situation. Clearly the intention was to make Baretta look good by not only having him get the winning fall but doing it against the more impressive member of the opposing team.

The junior heavyweight singles gold was up for grabs in match four. Máscara Dorada challenged Kenny Omega. Dorada had various junior heavyweight babyfaces (among them the Time Splitters, Jushin Liger and Tiger Mask) with him at ringside to ensure there was no Bullet Club-related foul play. Even being unable to utilise his teammates Omega got the win, pinning Dorada with the electric chair driver. After the match Omega challenged Alex Shelley to a title match. Shelley accepted. That should be a highlight of Wrestling Dontaku in May.

The non-Japanese action continued with Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson defending the IWGP tag straps against Matt Taven and Michael Bennett. It was below the standard of the usual Anderson 'n' Gallows match but it was better than anything else I've seen The Kingdom pairing do so far. There were a bunch of spots involving Maria interfering, all of which seemed to really excite the commentary team. Maria ended up distracting Anderson after grinding on the apron, leading to him being hit with a double spike piledriver (prompting cries of "Massacre! Massacre!" from an excited commentator) for the surprising loss. Gallows screamed at Anderson after the match. I'm assuming this title change was done to set up a return match on the ROH-New Japan co-promoted shows in May. Bullet Club, faces in ROH, can take the gold back from the hated Kingdom there.

Two tag matches preceded the show's closing singles bouts, each featuring one of the promotion's top acts. The first saw Shinsuke Nakamura team with Chaos teammates Yoshi-Hashi and Tomohiro Ishii against Hirooki Goto, Tetsuya Naito and Togi Makabe. The second saw Hiroshi Tanahashi and Katauyori Shibata face Kazushi Sakuraba and Toru Yano. The six man was the more enjoyable of the two. It was nice to see Ishii and Makabe's rivalry flaring up again after it had stalled following Makabe's illness in February. Plus I never fail to enjoy a Nak match. The Tana match was fine but I find it hard to get passed my feeling that he's a little overrated, an opinion I've developed because I've yet to see him in a great match that doesn't involve a lesser worker. Anyone can shine against Okada and Styles. His average match against Michael Bennett last year spoke volumes.

The teams with the big stars lost in both instances. Nak was pinned by Goto after a mad lariat and what I believe was a Shouten Kai. That set up an Intercontinental title match between the Goto and Nakamura for Wrestling Dontaku. In the tag match Shibata submitted to a Sakuraba armbar. I'm less clear on the intention there. Perhaps a singles match between Tanahashi and Yano? I'd enjoy it even if no one else would.

The semi-main event was Bad Luck Fale versus Kazuchika Okada, a match-up with a nice story going into it. Okada had been overconfident ahead of his Wrestle Kingdom 9 title challenge against Tanahashi and that overconfidence had led to him being beaten. The following night, confidence shattered, he'd been beaten by Fale in a tag match. Which isn't a soul-crushing embarrassment in itself because Fale is kept strong by New Japan, but it was a further blow to the former two time world champ and company golden boy.

Since that match Fale and Okada and met in a variety of tag and six man matches, with 'The Underboss' being on the winning side more often than not. This singles match was Okada's chance at retribution, his opportunity to change his fortunes, show that he was above the likes of Fale and get his career back on track. Naturally he did so. Just as naturally the match was very good. Not that I'm especially well-versed in Fale matches (nor do I want to be) but this was certainly the best work I've seen from him. Fale managed to make Okada look strong without making himself look weak, a useful skill to have for someone who's clearly meant to be a big ol' monster.

Highlights of the match included a lovely Rainmaker reversal into a choke slam attempt and a sequence that saw Okada escape the Bad Luck Fall, counter a choke slam in mid-air with a drop kick, and avoid a Fale Rainmaker before hitting a Tombstone (something he'd attempted several times during the match). There was also a very nice top rope splash from Fale.

The main event featured IWGP champion AJ Styles defending against Kota Ibushi, who'd earned a title shot by merit of his victory in the New Japan Cup tournament. It seemed designed to reinforce the standing of both guys as bona fide headline stars by having them close out the show without Nak, Tana or Okada around. You can't fault New Japan's star-building process. Nor can you fault their storytelling: Kenny Omega was the lone Bullet Club member at ringside. This was notable as the two men have (or possibly have, at this point) tagged together as Golden Lovers since the beginning of 2009. They primarily teamed in DDT but did make a couple of appearances together in New Japan, capturing the junior tag straps when they did so. Both transferred over to New Japan from DDT and took up new singles roles unaffiliated with one another until this point, and stationing Omega at ringside was a superb move. It allowed for a genuinely interesting "what will he do?" scenario to play out throughout the match, something that's tried fairly often and usually fails.

The match started with Ibushi and Styles locking up a few times. Styles got the better of them and loudly proclaimed Ibushi wasn't ready for him. Ibushi responded with a hurricanrana that sent the champion rolling out of the ring. They ran through a nippy exchange of near falls, as well as a Styles Slash attempt, with Ibushi getting the final word with a very close two count. The champion was then sent out of the ring again, this time with a drop kick.

Ibushi tried a moonsault to the outside. First AJ blocked it. Then, after Ibushi had fought him off, he sidestepped it and tossed Ibushi with a wild German suplex. Ibushi just made it back into the ring before the twenty count was reached but he was left at the mercy of 'The Phenomenal One'. The challenger absorbed punishment for several minutes, including a guardrail to the face and an Indian deathlock.

Styles targeted Iushi's leg when he started throwing out kicks. Ibushi fought overcame that and managed a desperation double stomp as Styles went for a low drop kick. Styles rolled outside, allowing 'Golden Star' to finally hit the springboard moonsault he'd tried for earlier. Ibushi stayed on the champion with a springboard drop kick, a power slam, and a Lionsault, all which scored him a two count. A German suplex got him the same result. Styles reversed a suplex and dropped Ibushi into a turnbuckle then hit his moonsault into a reverse DDT.

Ibushi kicked out so Styles signalled for the Styles Clash. Ibushi fought out with a series of strikes. AJ responded with strikes of his own then hit a Pele kick. Ibushi stayed on his feet long enough to hit a Pele kick of his own. After a brief pause Ibushi pulled Styles to his feet and tried to dragon suplex him off the apron into the ring. Styles elbowed out, hit a springboard elbow, then dropped Ibushi on his head with a "Styles buster" (as named by the commentators) for two.

Frustrated, the champion gave the challenger a high Bloody Sunday. Without going for the cover he tried for the Clash again. Ibushi escaped but immediately found himself locked in a Calf Killer. It took him a while but Ibushi made it to the ropes. Back on his feet he kneed Styles in the face but hurt himself doing so and so couldn't capitalise. Styles floored him with a lariat and hauled him to a corner to take another stab at the Styles Clash. Ibushi fought out and tried a hurricanrana. Styles fought out of that and tried for the Clash again. Ibushi escaped that and rolled onto the ring apron, where he leapt up to the top rope to finally catch AJ with the hurricanrana.

Styles kicked out. Ibushi botched a power bomb. Styles escaped on the correction attempt and got walloped with a lariat for his efforts. Ibushi tried for the power bomb a third time and finally got it. But Styles kicked out in a great near fall.

Ibushi went to the top rope. Omega finally made his move, scrambling to the apron to stare at Ibushi. The two men paused before Omega shook his head and returned to the floor. But that brief pause was enough: Ibushi went for the phoenix splash but Styles was on his feet to catch him, turning the move into a Styles Clash to win the match at the twenty-seven minute mark.

This lad's on... another level.
Takahashi and Tama Tonga hit the ring to proudly celebrate with AJ as Ibushi was helped backstage. Omega joined them in the ring but looked distraught. Clearly he had mixed feelings on the plight of his former teammate and felt that his momentary distraction and cost him a win and the title. But we weren't allowed to dwell on an evil Bullet Club member having feelings for long: Okada hit the ring to destroy everyone and lamp Styles with a Rainmaker. The final major shot of the show was Okada standing over the champion as Gedo said words and smirked.

Invasion Attack was a great show. There were matches that weren't all they could have been but there were no flat-out stinkers and we got a couple of title changes. More importantly it got Okada back on track as a title challenger, solidified the standing of both Styles and Ibushi, and set up something for the future involving Kenny Omega. Not bad for what was not intended to be a A-list show.

***

Results summary:
Yuji Nagata, Time Splitters, Captain New Japan and Yohei Komatsu defeated Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi and Sho Tanaka
TenCozy and Tomoaki Honma defeated Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga and Cody Hall
Roppongi Vice defeated The Young Bucks to win the junior heavyweight tag team championship
Kenny Omega defeated Máscara Dorada to retain the junior heavyweight championship
The Kingdom defeated Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson to win the tag tea championship
Hirooki Goto, Togi Makabe and Tetsuya Naito defeated Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi
Kazushi Sakuraba and Toru Yano defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi and Katsuyori Shibata
Kazuchika Okada defeated Bad Luck Fale
AJ Styles defeated Kota Ibushi to retain the IWGP heavyweight championship

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Age of Obsession

I'll start this off by flatly stating my point: Caleb Konley is an underrated wrestler. Over the last year he's become one of the most reliable performers on the EVOLVE roster. He's had a string of enjoyable matches against everyone from Rich Swann to AR Fox to Johnny Gargano to Ricochet. He wasn't a passenger in any of them, he carried his weight and kept the crowd invested. But his talent never gets the praise it deserves.

It's possible that part of the problem stems from the reason he's been pushed. He's very obviously had his profile raised because Gabe Sapolsky knows he can rely on being able to book him. He's not as celebrated as many of the other men on the roster and as such he's in less demand. Neither TNA or ROH seem to have any interest in using him and WWE definitely doesn't. Having someone that can go in the ring that isn't likely to go elsewhere is an attractive thing for a booker. Sapolsky saw that in Konley and started building him up.

But this doesn't mean 'The Obsession' doesn't deserve the position he's in. Since disbanding The Scene and doing the tried and tested "I'm getting serious" routine Konley has displayed a marked improvement. And not just in the matches listed above either, he had better than expected lower profile bouts against The Colony, Timothy Thatcher and the Bravados. He's gotten into better shape too, possibly a side effect of being teamed with gym freak Anthony Nese. Basically, he's proven he can wrestle well and he's started to look like someone who wrestles for a living (even though he's not).

Konley and Cage would have made a good long-term team.
Nese could have gone singles. Disappointing it didn't happen. Pity.
The WrestleMania Weekend shows were not the best advertisement for Konley. He was the designated jobber in the EVOLVE 39 six man tag (review here) because neither of his teammates were in a position to lose: both Brian Cage and TJ Perkins were making their returns to the promotion. Having them lose would have dulled their impact. after years away. Things weren't much better at EVOLVE 40 (review here). Although Konley and Cage got the win in their match against Swann and Gargano the match was cut short.

He was back to losing at Mercury Rising (another review here), falling to Ethan Page in the opener. That seemed like a massive step backwards at the start of the show but Page's turn on Gargano helped put the move in context: Page needed a win in a solid match so that his turn meant more later in the evening. Konley was chosen because it was known he'd give Page the match he needed.

Konley has earned his spot towards the top of EVOLVE. It would be nice if the tag team division was deeper so that he and Nese could have a reign memorable for its good matches instead of a lack of defences. Sadly that doesn't look to be on the cards, which is a disservice to a talented, dedicated wrestler. A disservice to a talented, dedicated roster for that matter. The Open the United Gate titles could mean more with just a couple more teams added to the roster, as I've written before.    

Long term I think it will be interesting to see how far Sapolsky is willing to go with Konley. As a guy who's likely to remain a fixture of EVOLVE for at least the next few years he's probably going to wind up as a headline guy. The ex- and future-WWE guys on the roster are going to need meaningful names to be pitted against and Konley will likely end up joining names like Fox, Swann and Gargano on that list. A reign as the EVOLVE champion may seem unattainable now but I think things could look different a year from now.

Monday, 13 April 2015

NXT Versus ROH

Triple H wants to expand NXT. He's made many comments in various interviews and Q&A sessions that indicates he believes the league can be expanded to into something that could operate autonomously (or semi-autonomously) from WWE. We've seen steps taken towards this goal with the events held at the Arnold Sports Festival and in San Jose as part of WrestleMania weekend. It's still early days but the fact that these events were able to attract very healthy crowds, the passion fans and wrestlers have for NXT, and the fact that the endeavour is being bankrolled by WWE (essentially meaning they don't necessarily need to worry about making a profit) makes me think that the growth of NXT into a marketable second brand within WWE is an attainable goal. It can afford to run at a loss for a while as it expands, that's not a position wrestling promotions are usually in.

That said it remains a developmental league. It's a place for wrestlers to learn and hone their skills before being promoted to the main roster, where they can earn better money and contribute to the shows where WWE makes its profit. Some people are brought in closer to this point than others. Finn Bálor, formerly New Japan's junior heavyweight ace Prince Devitt, could probably have bypassed NXT altogether. Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Tyler Breeze are all as main roster ready as they're going to get. Hideo Itami is still finding a middle ground between his stiff-as-nails NOAH style and the softer, safer approach taken by WWE's sports entertainers and working on his English. These things aside he's ready too.

But these names are in the minority. Most NXT wrestlers need NXT for the learning environment it was designed to be, not the WWE-owned indy fed people (not least Triple H) seem desperate for it to become. For the main roster to benefit from NXT as it's meant to a middle ground needs to be found, one that allows people like Enzo Amore, Alexa Bliss and Baron Corbin to become confident in-ring performers while also drawing sizeable crowds in its own right.

The solution WWE have apparently settled on is targeting indy talent with a proven ability to fill buildings of the size NXT will be holding events in as it expands. Essentially this means they're going after Ring of Honor guys. ROH operates on a smaller scale than WWE and is generally able to draw a couple of thousand or so people to their bigger shows. Although the ROH brand name contributes to this it's not enough by itself. It's the wrestler that deserve the bulk of the credit there. WWE understand this and want to sign these guys to help NXT and set back the competition. And while ROH is not direct competition to WWE it will be to an expanded NXT.

This would go down well with NXT crowds. Or any crowds, for that matter.
But my point still stands: ACH would be a good hire.
There are four wrestlers in ROH that I think WWE would be particularly interested in. At the top of the list is ACH. The most obvious reason is his dazzling aerial ability. He never puts on a foot wrong on his flying moves and never has a bad match. He can make himself look tremendously sympathetic when taking a beating, always handy for a smaller lad. He's precisely the sort of guy that could be signed strictly for use in NXT. This isn't to say he couldn't go far on the main roster, he could, but his style is well-suited to the more indy-flavoured NXT. With WWE on the hunt for a new lead high-flyer, and seemingly unaware that Kalisto is ideal for the role, ACH could be a great acquisition.

The second and third guys are Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly. As reDRagon they've been ROH's most reliable in-house tag team for the last two years. Three weeks in the summer of 2013 and the Young Bucks' two month reign last year aside, they held the ROH tag team titles from March 2 2013 until April 4 this year. They're a team ROH has invested a lot of time in and an act the company continues to rely on for selling tickets, VOD streams, and tickets. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the Fish and O'Reilly team has been one of ROH's greatest booking triumphs of the last few years.

ROH can't outbid WWE but even if they could it's possible reDRagon might be tempted away. ROH have treated them very well but there's nothing fresh left for them to do aside from beat the Briscoes for the longest cumulative days as tag champs, something they're only around four months away from accomplishing. Even their first match with the new Roppongi Vice team happened at the first opportunity, a sure sign that ROH booker Delirious is aware of how new things need to be done with the duo.

In NXT the team would have an entire roster of fresh opposition. They likely wouldn't get to display the dominance they have in Ring of Honor but I think it's fair to assume they'd be allowed to look immediately competitive with tag champs Blake and Murphy. It's also worth noting that aside from those two and the Enzo-Big Cass team there aren't that many teams kicking around in NXT right now, the Lucha Dragons having been promoted and the Vaudevillains having disappeared. A renamed reDRagon would be a welcome addition.

That they lost the tag straps to The Addiction, a talented pair of guys but men WWE are unlikely to have interest in, could indicate that reDRagon have announced they intend to leave ROH soon. Getting the titles off of them now avoids any sticky booking situations arising later. Of course it could just as easily be a switch made to tell a story and freshen up the doubles scene.

Bullet Club T-Shirt there. It's very much the new nWo shirt.
Another team WWE could show interest in from ROH is the Briscoe brothers. They've got a solid track record of good matches and have worked out their characters. The only stumbling block that presents itself is that Jay Briscoe is still the same man who made comments about shooting people if they tried to teach his son homosexuality was acceptable. Which, y'know, is a problem. ROH is a company that can get away with publically slapping down a guy like that and then getting back to business as usual. WWE isn't. It would be too big a deal (rightly so) for their sponsors. It could be assumed he's learnt the error of his ways but would they want to take that risk when they don't need to? I'm not sure they would.

Jay Briscoe is also a guy I think ROH would put up a fight for. Like reDRagon he's benefited from some strong booking over the last few years. He's not been pinned for around the two year mark and is only the second man ever to enjoy a second reign as the ROH world champion. He's a company stalwart who has, famously, been there since day one. Losing him would create a big gap in their man event scene. It could also send the message that even the most loyal ROH wrestler is willing to leave if they're offered more cash.

But Jay Briscoe isn't the fourth guy I think WWE would definitely be interested in. He and Mark are guys that I could see WWE hiring but not trying their hardest to lure away. The fourth name is Adam Cole. He's got everything  WWE looks for. The look, the wresting ability, the mic skills. There's nothing about Adam Cole WWE wouldn't embrace. He's probably the most signable member of the ROH roster.

The most important thing to note about Cole is that he would be an ideal replacement for Finn Bálor. They don't work especially similar styles but they can both slot into the experienced babyface role well. With a call-up to the main roster looking likely for Bálor a replacement who has as much appeal to live audiences would be desirable. Cole could fill that role nicely. As with Jay Briscoe I could see ROH making a counter offer but it wouldn't be one that WWE couldn't match. If they wanted him they'd get him. And if they're serious with their expansion talk, which we're assuming they are, they'll want him.

There are a handful of other guys WWE could be interested in. At 29 Jay Lethal is still young enough to enter the developmental system and have a meaningful main roster career. The same goes for 23-year-old Adam Page. Despite having lost steam over the last year or so Michael Elgin remains someone who'd make a solid mid-card addition to WWE and he'd look completely at home in NXT. ACH.

#streamers
Samoa Joe, who last wrestled for ROH at Supercard of Honor IX on March 27, doesn't feel like a true ROH guy after only working four matches for them in the last five-plus years, but he's worth mentioning here. Because obviously Joe could be a draw for NXT and do great things with everyone on the roster. With him being conspicuous by his absence from future ROH show line-ups, most notably the New Japan co-promotions, it seems safe to assume he's going to WWE. I wouldn't be surprised if they next quarterly special ended with him confronting NXT champ Kevin Owens.

But none of these guys other than Joe can be said to be the attractions that ACH, reDRagon, Cole and Briscoe are. They're reliable, exciting, in-ring performers who could benefit both WWE and NXT in the long run but they're not the instant fix that is required for NXT's expansion to work before this time next year. If NXT is going to grow and ROH stars are being targeted to help with that, Cole, O'Reilly, Fish, ACH and Joe are the guys I'd expect to get signed.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

NXTweet 08.04.15

Wish you'd seen some of the NXT matches held over WrestleMania weekend? WWE's got you covered with the semi-finals and finals of the tournament held for a spot in the 'Mania battle royal.

Intro

Tweet 1: NXT! NXT! NXT!
Tweet 2: I am watching NXT. I am informed it's not a filler episode.

Shots of WrestleMania Weekend festivities

Tweet 3: Crowd chanting. Graphic for the eight man tournament. Then into some tasty filler.
Tweet 4: Randy Orton telling us WWE takes over towns. Bad. Tyler Breeze playing golf. Good.
Tweet 5: Owens, Enzo and Cass saved that. Those lads can talk.
Tweet 6: Round one "highlights". Can anything involving Barry Corbin be considered a highlight?
Tweet 7: Wouldn't have minded seeing Kalisto versus Neville.
Tweet 8: Corey Graves' use of the name Adrian was dubbed out just then. Vince, you're a rascal.

Andre Battle Royal qualifying tournament semi-final: Adrian Neville v Hideo Itami

Tweet 9: This crowd needs to shut up with its "This is awesome!" chant before anything's happened.

Genuinely been haunted by this Sheamus poster for years. I can't forget it exists.

Tweet 10: Rich Brennan referring to being the GHC champ as a measure of success in a belittling manner there.
Tweet 11: This crowd is getting on Neville. It's like when ECW guys were leaving for the WWF or WCW and the fans turned on them.
Tweet 12: Because how dare guys want better pay and bigger crowds, am I right?
Tweet 13: Sexy knee to Neville's face from Itami. It's stuff like that that got him signed.
Tweet 14: Bring back Punk's "Knees 2 Faces" shirt as Hideo merch, innit.
Tweet 15: Lots of strikes going on here. Started a sequence of thoughts that reminded me that Da Undertaker is WWE's Best Striker Ever™.
Tweet 16: "Hideo is the embodiment of the Japanese fighting spirit" - Corey Graves on the Japanese fighting spirit
Tweet 17: Sleeper! Sleeper! Bah Gawd, the sleeper!!
Tweet 18: Itami ran in for a corner drop kick. Nev kipped up into a super kick. Perfick.

Well done, Adrian. That was textbook.

Tweet 19: Great finish to that. When Itami finally gets the G2S on someone the building's going to explode.
Tweet 20: Maybe the world will even end. Who knows?

Andre Battle Royal qualifying tournament semi-final: Finn Bálor v Tyler Breeze

Tweet 21: Just noticed this is a bit like a TNA taping where there's one side of the ring completely empty of fans.
Tweet 22: Unlike TNA this will be to do with some sort of tech issue as opposed to lack of interest.
Tweet 23: Mate, Breeze is bringing his A game in this match.

Nippiness.

Tweet 24: Breeze's boots always remind me of CJ Parker's hair.
Tweet 25: Why is there never a Zoolander chant during Breeze matches?
Tweet 26: Liking Graves and Brennan as a two man announce team, for the record.
Tweet 27: "Bálor looked like he was going for that reverse lifting DDT!" - Corey Graves, demonstrating that Bloody Sunday was a far catchier name

Consider the similarities to Okada's Rainmaker pose noted.

Tweet 28: I liked that match. Why can't RAW be like this? Said everyone.
Tweet 29: Up next: more filler.

More WrestleMania Weekend festivities

Tweet 30: Good work on these Dana Brooke vignettes, guys.
Tweet 31: Triple H playing hype man. Probably his second greatest skill behind booking NXT, tbh.
Tweet 32: "It's the hottest wrestling show on TV" - Scott Hall on a show that isn't on TV... mang
Tweet 33: Corey Graves rocking an Indiana Jones look there.
Tweet 34: Next week: Sami Zayn versus Rhyno, ROH versus SCUM.

Andre Battle Royal qualifying tournament semi-final: Finn Bálor v Hideo Itami

Tweet 35: How long until Bálor stops getting announced from Bray, County Wicklow on the grounds that it features another rassler's name?
Tweet 36: Commentary team being instructed to talk up Erick Rowan, Jack Swagger, Kane and Big Show, my word.
Tweet 37: Hideo Itami chinlocks > Randy Orton chinlocks
Tweet 38: "C'mon, Finn! Get up!" - Some kid
Tweet 39: Big fan of Itami Hulking up.

Hideo Hogan.

Tweet 40: He should reverse the trend and nick someone else's move for once. Hogan's leg drop is wide open, brother.
Tweet 41: This match though. It's excellent.
Tweet 42: Hideo's such a tease. #G2S
Tweet 43: Itami is celebrating his win by pointing at the WrestleMania sign. He gets it. He'll go far.

Hideo Itami's journey to WrestleMania 31

Tweet 44: WrestleMania 31 weekend was the most important weekend in Itami's career, apparently.
Tweet 45: Not sure he realises that by saying the crowd got louder when KENTA entered Hogan's admitting KENTA got a bigger pop than him.
Tweet 46: Hillbilly Jim sighting.
Tweet 47: Reigns was good with Itami's kids but, if it came to it, he'd beat them to stay looking strong.
Tweet 48: OMG KENTA HIT A G2S!!
Tweet 49: Even Big E was impressed. And Big E is not a man easily impressed.
Tweet 50: Dean Ambrose outrageously flouting the company's dress code with a leather jacket and T-shirt combo. Who does he think he is? Orton?!
Tweet 51: *Compulsory shot of documentary subject sitting in the stands looking thoughtful*

Let's not overlook the fact that that's a former NXT champion Itami's eliminating.

Tweet 52: Still depressed by the bloody Big Show win. At least Itami went out to the winner though.
Tweet 53: Really good documentary that. NXT just found yet another way to upstage main roster WWE.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Summoning the Demon

Anyone who watched the RAW after WrestleMania (and as it was guaranteed to be one of the most eventful episodes of the year that should be most people reading this) would have seen Adrian Neville make his main roster debut. Or, more accurately, Neville make his main roster debut. He's dropped the first name between NXT and Monday Night RAW. Very probably because Vince McMahon doesn't think the name sounds tough enough.

With this call-up WWE has an ideal opportunity to set up another one in a couple of months time. Here's how...

Adrian Neville doing some weird Hawkeye pose.
Have Nev win some more showcase matches over the next couple of months. Maybe put him in a feud with a mid-card heel who's not doing much (which is most people). Someone like Stardust would be ideal, or New Day if they go bad. The idea would be to establish him as a flashy wrestler who can win so that people have reasons to care about him.

Between now and April reunite Erick Rowan and Luke Harper. Nothing fancy would be needed to achieve that. They could simply watch one another's matches from the stage for a few weeks and having little staring contests afterwards. On the RAW after Extreme Rules have one of them wrestle a match against Cesaro or Tyson Kidd. Harper would be nice because he's the better of the two but Rowan is the established face so he'd probably make more sense.

Rowan (or Harper) could beat Cesaro (or Kidd) and then Harper (or Rowan) could wander out to the ring and together the swamp-lovin' lads (decent team name right there) could beat down Kidd and Cesaro. Harper, Kidd and Cesaro are all officially designated heels by WWE but that shouldn't matter. This could just be a feud in which people cheer for whichever team they like best. That's a direction WWE should be testing more anyway.

After the standard array of singles matches between the two teams they could have a tag title match at Payback. Rowan and Harper would win. They could head into defences against the Usos (who they had good matches with last year) and the Lucha Dragons. Maybe the Prime Time Players and New Day too.

Meanwhile the disgruntled former champs could attack Neville (yeah, I got it back to him) during a match the night after Payback. It needn't be a DQ finish or anything. Neville could win a match then be attacked. By that point he'd have two months of TV exposure behind him, enough time for people to think it bad that two angry blokes are taking out their frustrations on him.

This would naturally lead to a couple of singles matches between Nev and the former tag champs. Ideally he'd lose to both Kidd and Cesaro via interference, distractions and shenanigans. These screwy finishes would give him a reason to challenge both of them to a tag match at Money in the Bank: they could interfere but he'd have someone there to watch his back. Cesaro and Kidd would accept and the Nevster would promise a mystery partner for the show.

Neville and Bálor could do a lot of good in the tag division.
Naturally this mystery partner would be Finn Bálor. Just as naturally he and Neville would win the match. This would be an ideal show-opener and would help to make Money in the Bank a memorable show. With it having become one of WWE's most important pay-per-views that's probably going to be a priority. It's also worth noting that as so many guys always get funnelled into a ladder match there'd be a good amount of time available for Cesaro, Kidd, Neville and Bálor to do something  particularly worthwhile.

From there Neville and Bálor could enter the tag division. They could win another tag bout the next night on RAW (maybe a rematch against Cesaro and Kidd) and then tell some backstage interviewer that they like teaming and that they're setting their sights on tag team gold. A win over the Usos, the closest thing WWE has to a well-established, always on top form team, at Battleground could set them up as challengers to Harper and Rowan at SummerSlam. Winning championships in their SummmerSlam debut would draw attention to the lads and allow talk of them being the future of the company to sound legitimate.

This would reinvigorate the tag division and create a platform for two new guys to make an impact in their first months on the roster. Which means it's something WWE aren't going to do.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Last of the Mohicans

"Oi'm back!" declared Sheamus forty minutes into the March 30 episode of Monday Night RAW.

He'd last been seen losing the United States championship to Rusev in a Network exclusive match after the November 3 RAW. Days after that it was revealed via Twitter1 he was headed into hospital for an undisclosed surgery. It's not clear whether or not this surgery was real. It probably was, but it could easily have been invented as a reason to get Sheamus off TV and add some legitimacy to Rusev's fearsome Beast Mode.

'Great White' had needed time off for a while so whether the surgery was real or not it came at a good time. As the happy, smiley babyface who was essentially a modern version of fightin' Irishman Finlay, Sheamus had become incredibly stale. Everything from his look to the guys he's was facing needed changing.

Oh, Sheamus. No.
The look is certainly something Shaymo has addressed. He's gone from a guy with spiked up hair and a daft beard to a guy with a spiked up Mohawk and a daft beard with tassels in it. The RAW and SmackDown audiences he's appeared in front of since returning have all chanted "You look stupid!" at him. They haven't been wrong. But at least they were chanting at him. The WWE mentality these days2 is that any noise is good noise.

It's still too early to say whether or not 'The Celtic Warrior' has sufficiently changed up his wrestling style. We've yet to see any new moves from him but it's still early days. His match against old foe Daniel Bryan on the April 2 SmackDown was enjoyable but there was nothing new on offer. As far as the in-ring stuff goes this is the same old Sheamus. Stiff punches, the backbreaker and the Brogue kick still seem to be the order of the day.

But at least he's changed his look. It's nice to see Sheamus making the effort with his return. So few guys try to do something different when returning to WWE, which contributes to the overall stale feeling of their shows. Sheamus being thrust into a multi-way programme with Daniel Bryan, Bad News Barrett and Dolph Ziggler is promising. He can have good singles matches against D-Bry and 'The Show Off' and the climactic four-way tussle should be exciting. But beyond that I find myself with the same problem I always have with Sheamus: it's hard to get excited about anything he does. Once he wraps up with Bryan and Ziggler there's nobody left I'm interested in seeing him face. And all the silly haircuts in the world won't change that.

***

1 That's how WWE seems to reveal most things these days. Imagine Steve Austin's surgery back in 1999 being revealed through a tweet.

2 Championed by King of Mixed Reactions Jern Cena.