Monday 30 April 2012


On Thursday 26th April WWE announced Rey Mysterio had tested positive for a substance banned by its Wellness Policy and would be serving a sixty day (unpaid) suspension. This is the second time Mysterio has violated the company’s Wellness Policy, the first being in August of 2009 (which came into effect in September of that year to allow WWE time to shift the Intercontinental championship off of Mysterio). The 37-year-old is currently recovering from surgery he underwent in the latter half of 2011, which is a silver lining of sorts as it means he doesn’t need to be written off television.

WWE are not currently relying on him and he will still likely be the recipient of a healthy push when he returns to TV later in the year. Rumours were that he would return around late July and even with the suspension taken into account that date still seems likely. Being suspended won’t stop him rehabbing after all.

So, no harm done then?

Well, not really. That Mysterio has been using substances banned by WWE’s Wellness Policy while recovering from injury is worrying news. It’s most likely to have been some form of enhancement that made his healing quicker (or less painful) or something to help him “relax.”Whatever the case may be it shows that the man thinks he can get away with behaviour that others can’t. The likeliest reason for that sort of thinking is that he thinks he is irreplaceable, that WWE could not create a star to take his spot on the roster.

This feeling could also stem from the abject failure of Sin Cara (also currently recovering from an injury). Mysterio may have taken that as WWE attempting to replace him, or at least prepare someone to take his place sometime in the future, and failing.

Whatever the cause of his recent rule-breaking and subsequent suspension Mysterio could not be more wrong: he is very much expendable.

Over the last several years Mysterio has consistently been WWE’s second biggest merchandise seller (behind merch kingpin John Cena). This has earned both he and WWE a lot of money and has been going on for so long that Mysterio has very possibly convinced himself that nobody else would be capable of blending popularity, working ability and marketable as well as he does. Were he in any other wrestling promotion he would very probably be right. But WWE has a very large, very experienced and very successful marketing department behind them. If they wanted a new masked babyface to push to the top and replace Mysterio they would have one by now.

Rey Mysterio is not the only man who can do this. Far from it
It’s true that Sin Cara has failed to reach the levels of popularity WWE were clearly hoping for but that doesn’t mean they can’t try again with someone else. The main reasons Cara didn’t work out were his inability to speak English (which severely limited his ability to connect with audiences and work comfortably with opponents), his unfamiliarity with the sports entertainment style, and his general clumsiness.

Those problems could easily be combated by hiring a US indy wrestler capable of working a fast-paced style (and let’s face it, there’s no shortage of them) and familiar with WWE programming. The language barrier would clearly cease to be an issue there and the risk of mistakes could be reduced simply by not making the newcomer enter the ring via a trampoline.

If put under a mask and left alone to put on exciting, fast-paced matches men like Jack Evans, PAC, or TJ Perkins could easily become very popular in WWE very quickly. The draw is a masked guy wrestling a fast style. That’s not something exclusive to Rey Mysterio.

‘The Ultimate Underdog’s’ popularity stems from the fact that he was a novelty when brought into the company: smaller than everyone else with a fresh look that WWE fans weren’t used to, he was pushed as a star from the beginning and as such was able to gain acceptance from the promotion’s worldwide audience. It was the treatment he received and his own talent that made him a star. WWE can give a similar push to anyone they chose, and there are plenty of talented people for them to pick from. Mysterio would be advised to remember that.

Sunday 29 April 2012


Nikki Bella is the WWE Divas champion.

That’s not a sentence likely to fill any wrestling fan with joy. Nikki and her sister Brie are good looking young ladies and have improved greatly in the ring over the last several years but they’re nowhere near as good as TNA’s Knockouts or the women that comprise the SHIMMER roster (generally considered to be the best female only promotion outside of Japan). WWE simply isn’t seen as company that takes women’s wrestling seriously and Nikki’s victory is a perfect example of why.

But it should be pointed out that there’s a plan in place.   

Beth Phoenix, the woman Nikki toppled for the gold, is said to be injured. This isn’t true. Phoenix is as healthy as any active wrestler can hope to be. The reason that WWE are claiming she’s injured, with ‘The Glamazon’ helping the story along on Twitter, is that they wanted to take the title off of her because they are about to embark on their highest profile women’s feud in years.

Kia Stevens, formerly known as Amazing Kong and now billed as Kharma, is about to make her full time return to WWE. She is regarded as one of the best female wrestlers in the world and was considered a big signing for WWE back at the start of 2011. The most notable work in her career so far came during her stint in TNA, where she worked incredibly enjoyable matches with many of that company’s top names, including a stellar series with Gail Kim. She has wrestled extensively in Japan and across the US indies too, including the aforementioned SHIMMER.

WWE quite rightly believes that a programme between Kharma and Phoenix could be their hottest Divas feud in years. The decision to relieve ‘The Glamazon’ of the belt was made so that the company can bring Kharma back to television and immediately start building her up as the most dominant woman in the division without rushing into her clash with ‘The Glamazon’.

Presumably this will start with her crushing Nikki Bella and then ploughing through every other female performer on the roster. Once she’s established as a powerful force in WWE (and replays of her hitting the move formally known as the Implant Buster on Dolph Ziggler during this year’s Royal Rumble should help there) expect Phoenix to be brought back to begin chasing her for the title.

Can Kharma help revive the WWE Divas division?

I think if the two women are given substantial time and leeway to put on the best matches possible on pay-per-view and their feud is booked logically on RAW and SmackDown they could help to reinvigorate WWE’s knackered Divas scene and make the butterfly belt mean something. Phoenix has been WWE’s best female worker over the last year and a rivalry with Kharma should finally give her something to do beyond beat up expendable models each week.

If WWE handle this correctly they could set themselves on the path to having a competitive and enjoyable women’s division again. Natalya could be brought in after a couple of months to add a fresh dynamic to matches and perhaps enjoy a surprise title reign. Tamina Snuka keeps getting better and would be an interesting opponent for Kharma, Phoenix or Natalya. Meanwhile Kelly Kelly and Alicia Fox can keep improving and work as outmatched babyfaces against the division’s top string of stars.

It will all start with Kharma obliterating Nikki Bella, and possibly Brie too. Rumours have been going around that the Bellas are leaving WWE very soon so I’d expect that to happen sooner rather than later, possibly as early as this evening’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view. It will likely be WWE’s way of writing the twins off of TV. I will take an admittedly sadistic pleasure in watching them get squashed and I imagine others will too. I hope in six months’ time we can look back on Kharma’s return and see it as a turning point for WWE’s female performers and the starting point of a resurgence of their division.

Saturday 28 April 2012

The New Face of Honor

Wrestling promotions need big names in order to survive and thrive. When it comes to acquiring those names there are really only two options available: create your own or hire stars from elsehwere. Ring of Honor has always prided itself on taking the former approach. Letting wrestlers establish a connection with the fans and getting themselves over has become one of the company's hallmarks. It's an approach that has served them, the business in general, and a lot of wrestlers, very well.
With its on-going attempt to expand into a larger organisation ROH may have to ever so slightly reconsider this approach. I'm not saying they should attempt to enter bidding wars with other promotions over name talent, because that clearly isn't an approach that would work for them. I'm advocating the signing of select names that leave WWE or TNA, either of their own volition or for other reasons. That's how Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin came to be in ROH and I don't think anyone would argue that they're not tremendous wrestlers and fine additions to the roster.
Right now one man stands out as an obvious candidate for Ring of Honor to try this approach with: John Hennigan. Formerly John Morrison in WWE, he left that organisation late last year to give himself a break from hectic travel schedule working for that company necessitates and rest his battered body a little. He's been active on the US independent scene since he left, which tells us that he's still very much passionate about the wrestling business and being a part of it.
Were Ring of Honor to sign Hennigan they would be getting a man who looks and carries himself like a star, which is exactly what they need if they're going to continue growing and attracting new fans to their shows. He's a ten-year veteran in great condition, which makes me pretty sure he'd be able to keep up with the ROH roster and deliver the company's preferred style of match too.

John Hennigan could give Ring of Honor a much needed injection of star power
If 'The Shaman of Sexy' were to turn up in Ring of Honor tomorrow he'd have a complete roster of fresh opponents to work with (which is never a bad situation for a promotion or wrestler to be in), including potentially lucrative bouts with top stars Davey Richards, Kevin Steen and Eddie Edwards. Any of those three matches, particularly Hennigan v Richards, would be an excellent addition to an internet pay-per-view. ROH needs to reassure fans on the matter of its iPPVs after the debacle of Showdown in the Sun, signing Hennigan would help show that the company is trying to make things up to its fans. Meanwhile the TV show could be spiced up with matches putting Hennigan against the likes of Michael Elgin, Jay Lethal, Roderick Strong and Kenny King, all of which could be very entertaining matches.
Hennigan has displayed the ability to get over as both a heel and a face during his career but I think he'd be best off playing the bad guy were he to appear for Ring of Honor. Fans would not be inclined to cheer him to begin with anyway so the smart thing to do would be to embrace that and allow Hennigan to play the antagonist.
Adding John Hennigan to the roster may mean the promotion has to bring in a former WWE talent but that's not without precedent and would be well worth doing for the fresh matches and potential increase in pay-per-views buys. A six month contract can't be the worst idea for ROH management right now.
Does all of this mean they should sign Melina too? Let's not go nuts...

Friday 27 April 2012

Golden Opportunities

In the weeks since WrestleMania XXVIII WWE has done an exemplary job of building up challengers for world titles.
It started on the post-WrestleMania RAW with The Rock's statement that he wants to be the WWE champion again (read more on that here)
. A big name film star such as him expressing his desire to capture the WWE championship does the company's mainstream image a world of good and also serves to elevate the championship. By extension CM Punk also receives a rub: he looks like a bigger star in the eyes of fans if he has something The Rock wants.
Later on in that same show Brock Lesnar returned to the promotion and smashed perennial headliner John Cena. While he still has yet to expressly state that he wants to win his fourth WWE championship it has been implied in the interviews he's given and the video packages that have been dedicated to him. 'The Pain' has made it very clear he's motivated by success: what greater measure of that in the world of professional wrestling than winning the WWE championship?
With Lesnar and Rock joining top boy John Cena (who’s never too far away from a title challenge) as title contenders the company’s top prize suddenly looks like a very important piece of kit. ‘The Brahma Bull’ and the former UFC supremo are not likely to be tackling Punk any time soon. But they don't need to. The fact that we know they're keen to win the big one again is enough for the time being.

CM Punk may not be too far away from a title defence against The Rock or Brock Lesnar

There are currently rumours of a Lesnar v Rock title match at WrestleMania XXIX. That would be interesting to see and would certainly add to the prestige and lustre of what is historically WWE’s greatest prize. That we already know that the 2013 mega-show will be 'The Pain's' last night with WWE would allow for an enjoyable and easily accessible scenario in which Lesnar becomes champion and announces his intent to leave with the gold, setting up Rock as the avenging hero wanting to maintain company honour.

It’s similar in essence to the CM Punk storyline of last year but different enough to not detract from its impact. 'The Great One' winning the Royal Rumble and going on to clash with Lesnar should guarantee fan and media interest when the time comes. In the meantime Punk has men such as Lord Tensai, Dolph Ziggler and The Miz to work with, adding variety to his title reign and establishing him as a dominant champion.
WWE have smartly adopted a different approach with storylines involving SmackDown's World Heavyweight championship. A healthy number of challengers have been lined up for Sheamus. If he makes it through his rematch with former champion (and fan of the word "yes") Daniel Bryan at Extreme Rules 'Great White' has Alberto Del Rio and Christian to tangle with. Both have earned title bouts (through various means) over the last month which is a nice change of pace for WWE, who tend to have one clear challenger for a world champion at any one time. A multitude of challengers is somewhat of a novelty in the sports entertainment world and serves to highlight how desirable the WHC is.
Further down the line we can expect Sheamus, should he remain champion (and I suspect he will) to battle the likes of Cody Rhodes and Wade Barrett. I hope WWE continues the approach of having two or three men in contention as it gives the World title a different feel to the WWE strap and makes the product less predictable. That's never a bad thing.
It's pleasing to see WWE elevating their top prizes again. It's a positive sign and implies that they have long term goals in mind. If we end up seeing a big name such as Brock Lesnar or The Rock holding the WWE championship in the next year it will help the promotion’s image and hopefully bring in some new fans too.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Open Fight Night

If you're familiar with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling you should know that once every six months or so the company promises its fans great changes. Words and phrases like "revolutionary", "groundbreaking" and "game changing" get bandied about as TNA's decision makers, Hulk Hogan and Dixie Carter being the most prominent, start promising that TNA is going to change and become the company we all want it to be. Suffice it to say that since this cycle started several years ago TNA has not changed to any significant degree. The biggest change has been the signing of Hogan himself, and that's made no difference whatsoever.
TNA have recently entered one of these periods. Dixie Carter (overexcitable president of the company) has taken to Twitter to tell fans that there are lots of changes coming to the TNA product in the coming months and lots of surprises in store for June's Slammiversary pay-per-view. That's the show that will mark TNA's tenth anniversary so the news that big plans are being made is welcome. We don't need to be told though. The lead up to the event and the event itself should be what excites fans, not promises of the build-up. Telling us big things are planned only serves to heighten expectations and detract from the sense of anticipation, one of the most enjoyable elements of wrestling.
The latest attempt to reinvent TNA has also (predictably) hit IMPACT. Not satisfied with simply incorporating changes and letting fans notice for themselves the promotion instead decided to have Hulk Hogan dedicate a fifteen minute promo to the topic. That was patronising not only to fans but also to the champions who were made to stand in the ring while the GM painstakingly explained the alterations to the way IMPACT will work from now on.

Open Fight Night is coming to IMPACT, brother! 
That the champions were made to stand there and either nod and clap (faces) or shake their heads and mutter off mic (heels) just made them look like extras on the Hulk Hogan Show. They're meant to be the best TNA has to offer, not a bunch a voiceless nonentities too scared or awed to interrupt 'The Immortal One'. That Hogan was the star of that segment showed that the very changes he was discussing are not actually forthcoming.
Want to know what delights Hogan has in store for IMPACT viewers over the coming weeks? Of course you do! Who wouldn't? Firstly the TNA world television championship will be defended every week. That means we're guaranteed a weekly Devon match. As if that wasn't fun enough there's also Open Fight Night to be held once a month. That will feature a wrestler not contracted to TNA challenging any champion for their title.
That the TNA creative team have nothing better to offer us than this is worrying. The news of Devon having guaranteed airtime is an annoyance but it's not catastrophic. There is a bright side to be seen: he may lose the title to a wrestler who actually deserves that level of exposure.
There's no such silver lining to be found with Open Fight Night. By allowing outsiders to come into the promotion and challenge for the world title TNA are devaluing their top belt and their entire main event scene. Why should we care about Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy or James Storm toiling for a title opportunity when some random indy wrestler that nobody's ever heard of can come in and claim a shot? It makes TNA look  like a very small operation. If they want to be America's number two promotion they have to avoid that label at all costs.
Perhaps there are long term plans to use these Open Fight Nights to elevate Bobby Roode as a heel or introduce a new star. I hope TNA has something planned because at the moment it just looks like a great way to make titles and wrestlers mean less. That's not going to do anyone any good.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Leavine So Soon?

On Monday April 23rd WWE announced the release of developmental talent Andy Leavine. The organisation makes cuts to its developmental programme all the time but Leavine is a unique case in that he was the winner last year's Tough Enough revival. His release could be indicative of that show's future.
Upon winning TE Leavine appeared on RAW in a segment with 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin (who picked him as the winner) and Vince McMahon, an incredibly impressive introduction to the company. His good fortune didn't last. He was posted to Florida Championship Wrestling to join the rest of the hopefuls signed to developmental deals. He adopted the ring name of Kevin Hackman and started training, the idea being that he would brush up on the skills he would need in order to advance to the main WWE roster.
You know from the above news of his release that he never made it out of FCW. Doing that was always going to be tough to accomplish. There are dozens of men vying for a handful of lucrative spots, many of whom have more experience or a more marketable look or better mic skills or some other asset that would earn them promotion than did Andy Leavine. He found out the hard way that it's tough to make it from FCW to WWE on merit alone.

In the end Andy Leavine just wasn't... tough enough (I'm sorry)

If WWE were planning a second season of Tough Enough, in which a group of men and women attempt to avoid elimination on a weekly basis by competing in tasks and impressing trainers Booker T, Trish Stratus and Bill DeMott and judge 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, it would make the release of the series' most recent winner that much more unlikely. Two winners of the same show would make a natural feud and, more importantly, they'd want Leavine under contract to talk positively about the process and the opportunity the show provides contestants. That he's gone could mean WWE was either unable or unwilling to get a 2012 series underway.
Unfortunately for Andy Leavine he may find it difficult to get further work in the wrestling business. Winning Tough Enough may have earned him the ire of indy wrestlers and promoters, making them unlikely to book him. As he was never a regular on RAW or SmackDown there's no incentive for an independent company to give him work beyond his ability level, and all indications are that he's average at best. He will have to persevere if he's going to get anywhere with his wrestling career. I hope he does. If he's lucky it's possible TNA may offer him something at some point in the future. It's the sort of move they're renowned for making.
The apparent end of Tough Enough isn't the worst news for wrestling fans. It was an interesting insight into the training that pro wrestlers go through and the farm system WWE utilises to create its stars of tomorrow but it was never must-see television. It was a diversion, nothing more. The absence of a second series is as much to do with wrestling's popularity being a far cry from its Attitude Era heyday as anything else. That being the case perhaps should learn the lesson that they need to try being a little more creative again.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Extreme Rules preview

Last time WWE went to Chicago to put on a pay-per-view it produced the superb Money in the Bank 2011. In addition to being headlined by the hotly anticipated CM Punk v John Cena WWE championship match that show also featured two exciting ladder bouts that set Alberto Del Rio and Daniel Bryan on their paths to world title glory. It was a very successful show and WWE are going to have to pull out something very special to top it when Extreme Rules rolls around on Sunday.

Placing CM Punk in a street fight with current nemesis Chris Jericho should ensure the hometown boy gets a lively reception. I can’t see the match going on last but it should be high up on the running order. Unfortunately I don’t think the Chicago crowd will be as into this feud as they were with Punk’s war against John Cena. Part of the problem is that ‘The Second City Saint’ is going into Extreme Rules as the champion so he cannot be presented as the underdog.

Another, larger, part of the problem is that the Jericho v Punk programme has been a let-down. Had the two kept their rivalry focused on which of the two is “the best in the world” it would have been far more enjoyable. All the stuff with ‘Y2J’ trashing Punk’s family and smashing whiskey over his head has been too much and not what the feud should have been focused on. They just need to wrestle. That’s it.

I’m hoping Punk wins the match and he’s my official pick but I won’t be massively surprised if the man from Winnipeg leaves with the gold. WWE has a nasty habit of having people lose in their hometowns. Punk dodged that bullet last July, can he do so again at Extreme Rules?

SmackDown’s World Heavyweight title will be defended in a two-out-of-three falls match. Current champion Sheamus will face challenger and former champion Daniel Bryan. While the stipulation may not fall into the extreme bracket it’s still an intriguing aspect to the match. There are a couple of interesting things WWE could do here.

They could start off with Sheamus catching Bryan unaware with the Brogue Kick, as he did at WrestleMania, for a surprise early lead. The trouble there would be that it would place Bryan, the heel, at the disadvantage and make him the underdog, encouraging fans to rally behind him. Considering how popular he is and the fact that the company wants to get Sheamus over as a strong babyface that may not be the wisest of moves.

The other thing I can imagine happening is Bryan and Sheamus getting one fall each with the story of the final fall being Bryan trying to get Sheamus to attack the referee (because it’s been ruled that if Sheamus lays his hands on an official again he will be fired). I’d love to see Bryan regain the championship at Extreme Rules but I don’t think it’s going to happen. That Alberto Del Rio is lined up as a title contender makes me pretty sure Sheamus will be leaving Extreme Rules as champion.

Big Show v Cody Rhodes for the Intercontinental title has been announced but as yet has had no gimmick attached to it. I expect that will happen at the SmackDown tapings or on the night itself. It doesn’t matter what they decide on, I fully expect ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ to keep hold of the belt and for Cody to move on to bigger and better things once the feud has concluded.

Interestingly WWE have announced their pre-show match, something they are not in the habit of doing. Santino Marella will defend his United States title against The Miz. It’s not going to be on the pay-per-view but I’ll give a prediction for it anyway (as it’s been announced and all). I cannot see Santino losing the title because he’s so over right now and a mid-card belt would be a comedown for ‘The Awesome One’. Santino to retain.

Kane and Randy Orton will clash in a Falls Count Anywhere match. I hope this marks an end to their tedious feud. It hasn’t been enjoyable. Their matches are awkward and both would be better served feuding with younger guys, giving the newcomers a boost and audiences something new to watch. I’ll pick ‘The Viper’ to win because Kane (surprisingly) went over at WrestleMania.

The match I’m expecting to go on last is John Cena v Brock Lesnar. I originally thought the match would have no special rules or stipulations added to it but that turns out that was wrong. Not only have WWE decided to make it an Extreme Rules match (hardcore rules, basically) but Monday’s RAW also saw the inclusion of various stipulations should Lesnar win. If ‘The Pain’ overcomes John Cena he will have access to Vince McMahon’s private jet, be able to show up on WWE programming if and when he chooses, and RAW will be renamed Monday Night RAW: Starring Brock Lesnar.

WWE replaced their original poster, featuring Kane, with this. It's an improvement I think

What should have been a simple match has become an overbooked slice of utter nonsense. Had WWE kept this as a regular match or, at a push, merely limited themselves to the Extreme Rules gimmick I think the match would have been more enjoyable. The stipulations could (and should) have been saved for a rematch at Over The Limit or another pay-per-view later on in the year. Lesnar’s been back less than a month and this will mark his official return to a WWE ring: the whole process feels incredibly rushed.

Picking a winner for this match is tough. I’m largely ignoring the stipulations added on Monday because I don’t feel they will have a bearing on the outcome (I can all too easily imagine the Starrign Brock Lesnar tagline being added to RAW for a few weeks before a stipulation match is made to reverse it). I’m thinking more about the fact that Cena, the company’s biggest star, no matter what the Lesnar storyline would have you believe, lost a very high profile bout to The Rock at WrestleMania less than a month ago. He could easily survive another loss to a big name like Lesnar but would WWE want to do that to him? Ultimately I think they’ll want to establish Lesnar as an unstoppable force to set him up for the rest of the year and worry about rehabilitating Cena later.

Lesnar to win then.

That’s the announced card for the show. I’d expect a Divas match to be added to the show. Nikki Bella surprisingly won the title on RAW and could theoretically defend it against any member of the roster on Sunday. Whoever they go with I’d be surprised if a title switch happens so soon. Bella to retain in any match that happens.

There are plenty of options available for additional bouts. Brodus Clay, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, Mark Henry and Alberto Del Rio don’t currently have anything announced for the show, and with Christian fully healed from injury it’s possible he’ll crop up for something too. And I’ll be surprised if all of the new additions to the roster (Ryback, Lord Tensai, Damien Sandow and Antonio Cesaro) are left off the show.

Extreme Rules looks a bit generic on paper, a whopping four of its five announced bouts are WrestleMania rematches and only the Lesnar v Cena contest helping to provide something new. Whether or not it’s a memorable affair may well hinge on whatever additional bouts WWE adds to the show. That’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.

Predictions summary:

Brock Lesnar to defeat John Cena
CM Punk to defeat Chris Jericho
Sheamus to defeat Daniel Bryan
Big Show to defeat Cody Rhodes
Randy Orton to defeat Kane
Santino Marella to defeat The Miz

Monday 23 April 2012


Randy Orton is perhaps WWE's best all-rounder. He's incredibly popular, wrestles well, knows how to make lesser talent look good, and gives intense, believable interviews. The only guy who could arguably be considered Orton’s peer in all of these areas is CM Punk. As he’s stationed on Monday Night RAW he isn’t likely to be encroaching on Orton's SmackDown territory any time soon. With this being the case you have to wonder why ‘The Viper's’ so wasted by the organisation.
Since February Orton has been stuck in a soul-destroyingly banal programme with Kane. Both men are veterans of the WWE roster and have faced each other many times over the years. The best they've ever produced together is an adequate match. They've certainly never come close to anything that could be described as a classic.
The two have exchanged wins on RAW and SmackDown and 'The Big Red Monster' took the surprise victory at WrestleMania. I assume Orton will win at Extreme Rules. It just feels like an exercise in time killing because the promotion has nothing else for either man to do. If neither man is making any progress from the programme and the bouts they're having are tiresome then what's the point to it all in the first place?

The situation begs the question of why they've been paired up for the last two months when there are so many other more useful and entertaining things they could be doing.
Orton's previous feud was with Wade Barrett. That was a good use of the veteran. Orton put Barrett over decisively on multiple occasions and did all he could to keep him look strong whenever they clashed, even when booked to beat him. As such Barrett left the feud closer to the main event than before. That was the point of the programme.

This man could be WWE's resident star maker if only he were allowed

'The Apex Predator' gave Cody Rhodes the same treatment last autumn. Surely WWE can see the pattern? If Orton is given a wrestler of lesser stature to work with he will do his best to elevate them. As the company needs a new batch of credible main event talent they should be giving Orton one new guy after another to elevate.
Ideally Orton will move on to work with Alberto Del Rio after his feud with Kane concludes. ADR v Orton is one of WWE's few fresh headline feuds and would help restore credibility to both men. After months wasted with 'The Devil's Favourite Demon' Orton needs a proper feud to get his teeth into before he starts elevating guys again.
The good news is that lots of new faces (and a few old ones with a metaphorical lick of new paint) have cropped up on WWE television over the last several weeks. Orton has fresh feuds waiting for him with Lord Tensai, Damien Sandow, Darren Young, Titus O'Neill, and, my personal favourite of the bunch, Antonio Cesaro. With Drew McIntyre also a candidate for elevation and Daniel Bryan still being fairly new to the main event there's a lot of fresh talent for 'The Viper' to tangle with over the next year or so.
This nonsense with Kane can’t end quickly enough.

Sunday 22 April 2012

The Lone Wolf

I feel the need to address my feelings on Davey Richards.

I’ve been very open about my dislike of the man before. Generally when people say they don’t like him they state it’s because he’s an “MMA wannabe.” That’s not the case for me. It’s not that the MMA influences aren’t there, because they clearly are, more that it doesn’t bother me. Wrestling thrives on variety. If every performer has the same routine things quickly become boring, so I welcome wrestlers who adopt MMA influences. It adds something different to shows.

In truth Richards MMA gimmick isn’t all that pronounced anyway. He just works a very stiff style and incorporates various strikes and submission holds from other combat sports. That’s nothing new to wrestling or Ring of Honor. The stiff style in particular has been present in ROH since its very first event so it’s nothing Richards has introduced. Chris Hero was working a more realistic style before he left for WWE, and Bryan Danielson was doing it before him. You can even go back to ECW and see Taz using Judo throws and holds (most famously the Tazmission). It’s nothing new to wrestling and not something that necessarily equates to “bad.”

I have no problem with Richards’ perceived MMA influences. I also have no problem with his clear fascination with the sport. Wrestlers need to gain inspiration for their art form from somewhere, so why not mixed martial arts?

My problem with Davey Richards is that he doesn’t do everything he can to improve Ring of Honor. He strives for perfection when in the ring, I can’t fault him there. He’s an impressive wrestler continuing to have excellent matches for the ROH title. It’s his actions outside of the ring that I take issue with.

I first noticed the problem last September when ‘The American Wolf’ chose to go on a tour of Japan with New Japan Pro Wrestling rather than appear on ROH’s Death Before Dishonor IX internet pay-per-view. It was the first pay-per-view event the company had promoted since Richards won the belt at Best in the World in June, it was also one week before they launched their then-new television show.

As champion Richards should have been. He should have been in the main event wrestling for the ROH title. Instead he was in Japan with NJPW, a company he had described as “prestigious” in a video hyping the very ROH event he had chosen to skip. There is nothing prestigious about working for New Japan (or All Japan, NOAH or any other Japanese promotion for that matter) in 2012. It’s a wrestling organisation like any other that hires workers of all skill levels. It’s as respectable an organisation as Ring of Honor, WWE, All Japan, NOAH, or any other wrestling company you care to name.

That Richards chose not to describe ROH as “prestigious” made it seem as though he regarded the US promotion as the minor league and NJPW as the big time. That’s not a good attitude for a champion to have about a company they work for.

That Richards opted to wrestle abroad rather than defend his world championship and tried to pass it off as a move designed to bring fresh attention to ROH (by using the word prestigious) was disgusting. How many new fans was he going to attract to the North America-based group by wrestling in Asia?

Does anything about this look prestigious to you?

I also have a problem with his stilted promo style. I appreciate that Ring of Honor has always been more about wrestling skill than possessing a particular look or being the best talker in the world, but that excuse will only carry the champ so far. ROH has turned out Daniel Bryan, Austin Aries, Chris Hero and, most notably, CM Punk, all of whom are held in high regard when it comes to their promo work.

It may not often be acknowledged but ROH has a rich history of top quality promo guys and as the current champion Richards should be attempting to improve his work in that area. In fairness he does often address opponents and audiences after matches, and he tends to be pretty good when doing so. Perhaps he could watch back these post-match segments and study his performance for things he could use to improve his pre-match promos.

Richards doesn’t need to be the best talker in the business. That isn’t what being the ROH champion is about. But he could and should be making more of an effort in that area. In the current era of wrestling champions need to be able to cope with every aspect of the business. That’s everything from putting on a top quality match to picking up a microphone and telling viewers why they should buy tickets to the next show.

Davey Richards gets a lot right but also a lot wrong. If he’s ever going to become a true heir to the likes of Danielson and Punk he needs to start putting ROH first and start saying no to Japan. That’s unlikely to happen, which means my views are likely to change any time soon.

Saturday 21 April 2012

SmackTalk 20.04.12

I was surprised at how quiet the crowd was on last night’s SmackDown. It was taped on Tuesday, the day after the RAW tapings I attended. The Monday night show attracted a raucous crowd that loudly chanted “Yes!” all evening. The audience the following night barely chanted it at all (even Daniel Bryan didn’t attract it as much as I’d expected) and generally seemed quieter than Monday’s bunch. I feel this is worth pointing out as it may mark the beginning of the end for the “Yes!” chant, which is a great shame.

SmackDown didn’t seem as well rounded as RAW did this week (read my review of that show here). The evening’s lengthiest bout was the six man tag main event which the audience loved but I found hard to get into. There were moments of greatness, with the spirited exchange between Sheamus and Daniel Bryan being particularly good. Overall it seemed like a match thrown together just to get the big names onto the show. Still, at least we didn’t have to watch Khali wrestle.

Daniel Bryan deserves praise for his show-opening in-ring segment. That saw him utilise the “Yes!” catchphrase brilliantly (much as Steve Austin did when he realised the “What?” chants were catching on) and give storyline ex-girlfriend AJ a dressing down. He’s become SmackDown’s MVP over the last month. It’s now impossible to imagine the programme being as enjoyable without him on it.

The other thing that stood out on this week’s show was just how many new wrestlers are now on the blue brand. Damien Sandow appeared in another talking head vignette, complete with deliciously heelish “You’re welcome” signoff, and Ryback continued his run of squashing random nobodies while some wrestlers watched on a backstage monitor talking amongst themselves.

They were joined by Darren Young and Titus O’Neill, two former NXT talents. They’ve formed a heel tag team and talked about how they were going to become a top team in the company during a backstage segment. Michael Cole echoed their sentiments when they were in the ring. They will not get over as a unit. Both men are too bland and nondescript to make enough of an impact. That’s not to say they’re not a top team in the company though: merely by pairing up they have accomplished that task. Yes, the WWE tag division is that shallow.

I originally thought Titus O’Neill, if protected by the booking team and given the right opponents, could get over as a mid-level babyface. I no longer think that: he has made no progress during his lengthy stint on NXT and as such would be unlikely to improve during a sustained babyface push in which he was protected. WWE would be best off firing the pair of them.

The other new name on SmackDown was Antonio Cesaro, formerly the independent scene’s Claudio Castagnoli (and yes that is his real name!). Antonio appeared in a backstage segment with Aksana, Teddy Long and John Laurinaitis, in which he was presented as an acquaintance and possible boyfriend of Aksana. He teased Teddy Long before being invited into Laurinaitis’s office. That was the second time in as many days Laurinaitis had been behind closed doors with a female member of the roster and another guy. I will once again refrain from making a comment.

Get used to this guy. You're going to be seeing a lot of him

For those unfamiliar with Antonio Cesaro you’re in for a treat. He has the sort of physique that Vince McMahon loves but he can actually wrestle too (which is rare for guys with impressive builds). He is capable of working everything from a hard-hitting style to a comedy match so I have no doubt that he’ll excel at WWE’s preferred sports entertainment approach. He’s also fluent in several languages, which should guarantee him a decent spot whenever WWE puts a European tour together.

While RAW may have been the more entertaining show this week SmackDown did a better job of preparing WWE for the future. That’s something that should have been happening for a long time. Still, better late than never. It’s nice that WWE finally has the process underway.

Daniel Bryan promo, featuring AJ

Tweet 1: It’s SmackDown time!
Tweet 2: Mark Henry is now shown flexing on the SmackDown intro. He got blown up from that.
Tweet 3: Daniel Bryan! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
Tweet 4: I'm pleased a mention of the eighteen second match drew boos.
Tweet 5: I predict Bryan will get cheered in Chicago.
Tweet 6: #Yesfest
Tweet 7: AJ gets booed. Good.
Tweet 8: "AJ. Stop. Turn around. And go away" - Daniel Bryan
Tweet 9: Bryan's giving a great heel promo. The crowd seems a little flat.
Tweet 10: I miss the days of Bryan telling Samoa Joe to eat raw fish and carry coconuts to the ring with him. That's REAL heel heat.

AJ Natalya

Tweet 11: AJ v Natalya. They're going to swerve us with a non-match here...
Tweet 12: What is that cape thing Natalya's wearing? Not very Hart-like.
Tweet 13: Don't pull AJ off of Natty, ref! She has till five!!
Tweet 14: So the storyline is that AJ is having a mental breakdown of some sort? Keeping it light...

Damien Sandow vignette

Tweet 15: Ah, Damien Sandow. This guy is a good promo.
Tweet 16: I don't know about you but I'd enjoy seeing Cena attempt one of Sandow's promos.

Brodus Clay v Hunico

Tweet 17: Hunico... and he's facing Brodus Clay! This should be spectacular...
Tweet 18: "Cameron on the left, Naomi on the right" - Josh Mathews on Brodus Clay's dancers. I wish he'd followed up with "like it matters..."
Tweet 19: I could do without the Hornswoggle appearance.
Tweet 20: Good to know Cole's been doing his "dinosaur research." How about calling a match, idiot?!
Tweet 21: Hunico officially lasted longer against Brodus Clay than Dolph Ziggler did. I'm not sure how to feel about that.
Tweet 22: They need to keep pushing Brodus in EXACTLY this fashion, alongside Hornswoggle, for three years. Then have him turn on Hornswoggle.
Tweet 23: Only with a three year build with this be worthwhile.
Tweet 24: Look, I'm a fan of Brodus Clay but how much airtime needs to go to his post-match dance routine? It's not a Joel Gertner segment...

Darren Young, Titus O’Neill and John Laurinaitis taunt Teddy Long in a corridor and Matt Striker interviews Randy Orton

Tweet 25: Nothing gets heels over like backstage taunting of Teddy Long.
Tweet 26: Titus O'Neill and Darren Young will never be over.
Tweet 27: Furthermore Young calling himself 'Mr No Days Off' is laughable: he served a drug suspension a few months ago.
Tweet 28: All Matt Striker ever seems to do on SmackDown is interview Randy Orton. Is that his gimmick? Orton's personal interviewer?
Tweet 29: Kane v Orton in a falls count anywhere match. They should've done a Boiler Room Brawl.

The Usos v Darren Young and Titus O’Neill

Tweet 30: The Usos are on SmackDown. That means WWE's making its annual attempt to make the tag division matter again.
Tweet 31: "These two are going to become prime time players here on Friday Night SmackDown, mark my words" - Cole on Young and O'Neill
Tweet 32: Mark MY words: Cole is wrong.
Tweet 33: Young and O'Neill are on SmackDown while the Kings of Wrestling are being used as singles acts. #thingsthatarewrongwithwrestling
Tweet 34: The guys from NXT get a win. Why Cole's acting as though this is impressive I can't say.

From the Vault

Tweet 35: The streak of great From the Vault matches continues with Shawn Michaels v Rey Mysterio.
Tweet 36: The down side is that we have Grisham and Striker on commentary.
Tweet 37: This is a really good match though I'm concerned it will end on an interference DQ.
Tweet 38: "That is usually the precursor to the sounds of silence: Sweet Chin Music!" Shut up, Striker.
Tweet 39: Rey springboards into Sweet Chin Music. I genuinely think Shelton Benjamin did that spot better.
Tweet 40: Batista causes a disqualification. I'd be annoyed if it hadn't been so predictable.
Tweet 41: Random Undertaker appearance to close the segment. Thankfully they cut away before Striker's gibberish became too much.

Alberto Del Rio v Big Show

Tweet 42: Albertooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Deeel Riiiioooooooooooooooooo!!
Tweet 43: I read earlier that Del Rio has been moved back to the SmackDown roster. That's a good move. He was always used better there.
Tweet 44: Remember when ADR and Big Show had a three-way feud with a car last summer? I wish I didn't...
Tweet 45: "Del Rio is just grinding on this boy" - Booker T with a typically peculiar comment
Tweet 46: I can't wait until Cody gets a new feud. He's wasted on Big Show.

Ryback v Danny Lerman

Tweet 47: Danny Lerman looks about twelve.
Tweet 48: RYBACK!!
Tweet 49: Ryback could very easily sodomise this boy...
Tweet 50: There have been surprisingly few "Yes!" chants so far.
Tweet 51: Ryback wins and then starts up a bizarre one man chant of "Feed... Me... More!"

Teddy Long witnesses the SmackDown debut of Antonio Cesaro

Tweet 52: Another "hilarious" Teddy Long backstage segment. Oh dear...
Tweet 53: Antonio Cesaro!! #veryEuropean #Heeeey

Daniel Bryan, Mark Henry and Cody Rhodes v Sheamus, Randy Orton and Big Show

Tweet 54: Daniel Bryan! Yes! Yes! Yes!
Tweet 55: For the second time this week Mark Henry doesn't get a televised entrance. Poor.
Tweet 56: Sheamus and Randy Orton are introduced before Great Khali. Odd.
Tweet 57: Khali can't even walk convincingly!!
Tweet 58: Cody jumps Khali and the heels pose in the ring. Handicap match? I hope so.
Tweet 59: Khali's torso looks like a burlap sack filled with walnuts.
Tweet 60: The commentary team are currently bickering about whose job it is to call what. As a result nobody is doing their job.
Tweet 61: FINALLY Mark Henry gets into the match.
Tweet 62: I'm looking forward to Orton getting a proper feud again. His current rivalry with Kane is a waste of everyone's time.
Tweet 63: Big Show and Mark Henry clash in a WWE ring AGAIN. I'm so tired of that sight.
Tweet 64: How much time is Mark Henry getting in this match? Too much, perhaps?
Tweet 65: If they're allowed to I think Bryan and Sheamus could have a GREAT match at Extreme Rules.
Tweet 66: Henry was finisher fodder tonight. He was an unstoppable monster eight months ago...
Tweet 67: Sheamus, Show and Orton pose for what seems like half an hour to take us off the air. That's what I tune in for, WWE!

How do you end a wrestling show on a high note? Having all your babyfaces pose in the ring rarely fails

Friday 20 April 2012

The King is Dead (Well, Not Dead...)

It's nothing short of astonishing that the youth-obsessed WWE hasn't replaced Jerry 'The King' Lawler as their lead colour commentator. He's ten years passed his best behind the announce desk and, thanks to the PG rating WWE currently adheres to, is incapable of playing to his strengths (which mainly consists of him talking about the fleshy parts of women forty years younger than him, so that's sort of a mixed blessing). Nowadays 'The King' appears disinterested in and ignorant of the product he is employed to promote. It's been years since he could effectively at elevating talent with his commentary, which is one of the key aspects of his job.
The trouble is that WWE has nobody to replace the decrepit Memphis legend. Their only other commentator of note is Booker T, who's heavily reliant on catchphrases and dangerously unpredictable. What's more, he's still learning his craft. It takes time to learn how to become a wrestling commentator. In truth Booker is decent enough for SmackDown, being a second string show, but he wouldn't cope with the increased pressure of RAW. It probably helps that he can usually be edited on SmackDown whilst RAW airs live.

He's smiling because he's still employed

William Regal has made a very good job of providing colour commentary on NXT and would actually be a better option than Booker for the Monday night gig: he's far less reliant on contrived catchphrases, has a sense of humour, knows how to use the role to elevate talent, and can actually call a wrestling match. Unfortunately I think his English accent and softly spoken approach would preclude him from consideration. It's simply not what WWE wants for the RAW broadcast team.

Matt Striker? No. He doesn’t understand exactly what WWE wants form the role, which is why he rarely makes it off of the purgatory of the company’s weekend shows.
WWE management have nobody to blame for this situation but themselves. If they treated their developmental programme seriously they would be preparing people for every role on WWE television. That includes backstage interviews, ring announcers, managers, and, yes, commentators as well as wrestlers. They do not currently place enough emphasis on training anybody but wrestlers in FCW and that needs to change.
The promotion is not without options though. There are several wrestlers on the main roster who talk well enough to warrant a chance at commentary on a show like Superstars on NXT. Christian, Wade Barrett and The Miz all have the right mix of verbal dexterity, experience and tenure to make ideal candidates for the role.

WWE should try these guys out for a month each to see if any of them are good enough to continue prepping with an eye to replacing 'The King' a year or so from now. WWE could even use a switch between one of these guys and Lawler to give the veteran the send-off he deserves: a feud over the RAW announcer spot would be a fitting end to his full-time run with the company and allow him to go out in a memorable match.

They could even look outside the company or at their developmental league for a new colour commentator. Steve Corino would be good in the role. If they could get him Paul Heyman would be ideal. Meanwhile FCW has Kassius Ohno (formerly Chris Hero) who could spice up the audible aspect of the WWE product.
Ultimately I suspect the company has plans to move CM Punk onto commentary when he's done with his in-ring career. He proved during his stint in late 2010 that he could excel in the role. He not only talked about the storylines he needed to but he got over the talent in the ring and still managed to slip in some in-jokes along the way. When he's ready he'll be superb in the role but (hopefully) that move is still far off. In the meantime WWE need to remove Lawler as soon as possible. He simply can't cut it anymore.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Mere Mortality

Immortal was once a pretty formidable heel stable. When they formed in 2010 members included ‘Hollywood’ Hulk Hogan, Jeff Hardy, Jeff Jarrett and Eric Bischoff. Those are some pretty big names. Just over a year earlier Hardy had been the number one babyface in North America (and arguably the world) in WWE, and upon the group’s formation he won the TNA world title, meaning that the faction had the most prestigious belt in the organisation from the start. Meanwhile Bischoff was (and is) one of the most successful wrestling bookers in the industry’s history and Jarrett brought more credibility as a former WCW and (more significantly) TNA world champion. Hulk Hogan is Hulk Hogan: one of the biggest names the wrestling business will ever know.

Not a bad start for a heel group then.

Based around Hogan’s longstanding ‘Immortal’ moniker it would have been easy for him to become the sole focal point of the gang. Surprisingly he didn’t. Jeff Hardy was allowed to shine as Immortal’s most important member and did some pretty solid work as a heel. Immortal dominated TNA for close to a year before cracks began to appear. Unfortunately they were big cracks.

Back when it was built around Jeff Hardy Immortal wasn't half bad

Security guards had been introduced as Immortal’s personal enforcers. That was as a good way of packing the group’s matches with heat garnering interference. But then someone had the idea of letting the security guys (Gunner and Murphy) start wrestling. That was a poor move. Not because the men couldn’t wrestle but because Immortal was meant to represent the pro wrestling elite. How elite can a group be if security personnel are allowed to become full-fledged members?

Matt Hardy joined TNA and became associated with the group. Then Ric Flair swerve turned on Fourtune and jumped ship to Immortal. It was a blur of nonsense as Immortal began gobbling up anyone in TNA without a storyline. Flair joining was fine: he’s regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers ever. But Matt Hardy? His biggest claim to fame at that point (and now) was his rampant lunacy on YouTube and Twitter. Oh, and being Jeff Hardy’s brother.

What harmed Immortal as an entity more than anything else was Jeff Hardy falling off the wagon in March of last year. He had to be written off of television quickly and sent home to get himself together. It was an embarrassment for TNA and a blow to Immortal. Both lost their biggest star.

With Hardy gone Mr Anderson was hastily added to the faction only to be written out again a few weeks later to advance his lacklustre feud with Bully Ray (and Immortal at large). Since then the group has been treading water, based around Ric Flair (a man in his 60s who wrestles only very occasionally), Eric Bischoff (a man best known for booking WCW in the mid- to late-nineties), and Gunner (a wrestler who has improved a lot since his debut but isn’t exactly a big star). Their chief rival at the moment is Bischoff’s son Garrett who was introduced to TNA as a pro-Immortal referee who has since seen the error of his ways and become a wrestler.

These two men do not epitomize the term "heel stable"

While Bully Ray, one of the best acts TNA currently has, is still technically a member he is barely ever shown with the group these days and is off with storylines of his own. That their most prominent active member is Gunner is not good. The TNA writing team need to accept that Immortal has had its time. The group had a good run but it’s time for a fresh idea and some new heels on top.

The bottom line here is that the group is very much Mortal.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

The Abating Storm

At last year's Bound For Glory TNA undid two months of hard work when they had Kurt Angle successfully retain his world championship against Bobby Roode. At last Sunday's Lockdown event they undid six months of hard work when Bobby Roode overcame challenger James Storm. ‘The It Factor’ fluked a victory when ‘The Cowboy’ superkicked him out of the cage (meaning he touched the floor first and thus won the match). It wasn’t decisive but it was a win, and it was at James Storm’s expense.
I wrote at the time of BFG 
that TNA had made a mistake in not putting the title on Roode after they'd built him up in the fashion that they had. I have written it since too. I also said that if TNA did the same with Storm at Lockdown that they would have learned nothing from their mistakes. Roode may have worked out nicely as a headline talent but that's in spite of the delayed title victory he received last October, not because of it. James Storm, much as Roode did at Bound For Glory, needed to win the gold at Lockdown to legitimise him as a main event wrestler and show fans that they were right to believe in him.

Champion grates challenger at Lockdown

Wrestling audiences want to support winners. If someone is built up for a significant title victory for months on end then people are going to expect them to win. Someone who loses too often before they’ve established themselves at the top will find it tough to gain acceptance when a company does finally go all the way with them.
Since elevating both Roode and Storm to the main event last October TNA had been booking the two well. Roode was (and is) over as a heel champion who will do anything necessary to keep hold of his title while Storm has done a great job of connecting with fans as a babyface. 'The Cowboy' needed the victory at Lockdown. It was the right time and the right place. If he wins the title at the next pay-per-view or at an IMPACT taping it won't have the same effect as a victory on Sunday would have had. The moment that the promotion spent months building to has now passed.
TNA had their chance and they blew it.

That isn't to say that ‘The It Factor’won’t continue to make a good heel champion or that Storm is damaged beyond repair. It does mean that when Storm does finally become a two time champ he'll find it that little bit more difficult to gain acceptance. It also means TNA denied fans at Lockdown a memorable moment. But that's nothing new: the current creative team have little else for the past two years.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

That RAW Recap 16.04.12

Over the years I’ve been to quite a few wrestling shows. I’ve been to events held by various British indies. I was there for ROH’s first (joint) show in the UK. I saw CM Punk and Colt Cabana’s first match outside of the United States. I’ve been to a SmackDown taping and a RAW house show. I was even at the London Arena in November 2000 when WCW filmed Nitro (that was an interesting experience). But it wasn’t until last night (alongside friend and former colleague Dan Pryce) that I was able to say I’d seen Monday Night RAW filmed live.

I’m happy to say that the RAW taping was the best WWE show I’ve ever been to. The crowd was lively from start to finish and we got to see every big name you could realistically hope for. There was no Brock Lesnar but he was never going to be there. I was happy with the names on offer.

The seats we had were close to the entrance, which was good, but slightly behind the Titantron, which was bad. We got a pretty good view of wrestlers as they entered but couldn’t see anything that happened on the big screen. Thankfully it was a vignette-light episode so the lack of ‘tron view wasn’t as catastrophic as it could have been.

We were close to the exit at the side of the stage, which meant we could occasionally catch glimpses inside the Gorilla Position and cheer (or boo) some of the wrestlers as they left. The very first wrestler I saw was thanks to those seats: Damien Sandow came to sneak a peek at the set and the crowd. That would be the only time we’d see him: he didn’t wrestle or appear in other capacity.

The opening match was announced as being for Superstars but as the commentary team were introduced directly after its conclusion I’m not convinced that was right. It saw Dean Ambrose defeat Alex Riley with a cheeky rollup. Most fans chanted “Who are ya?” at the developmental talent. As I recognised him and prefer him to the nondescript A-Ry I cheered him. Cheering heels would be a theme of the evening.

Match two was a lengthy-by-current-standards Divas contest. Kelly Kelly entered first to an almost Cena-like mixed reaction. Kids and their parents cheered her. Everyone else seemed keener on Eve Torres. I was firmly in the Eve camp. She got the surprise win. By WWE standards it was a good women’s match.

That was followed by Jack Swagger losing to R-Truth. Truth got a good reaction but couldn’t hold onto the crowd for the whole match: a few minutes in “Let’s go Swagger!” chants started up.

Lillian Garcia was out next to sing God Save The Queen. It’s nice that WWE goes to the trouble of having our national anthem sung but it’s not in the nature of the British to go wild for it. That’s more of an American thing. As such Lillian got booed for most of her performance, the crowd only relenting at the end to cheer and clap her. Hopefully she understood it wasn’t anything personal.

Mark Henry lolloped to the ring before RAW officially started. That saved valuable airtime: the guy does not walk quickly. The main show kicked off with the advertised WWE title match between Henry and champion CM Punk. ‘The Second City Saint’ got a great reaction and somehow managed to drag ‘The World’s Sweatiest Man’ to a bearable outing. That’s no small feat when you consider how cumbersome and limited Henry truly is.

I thought this was a great match. It was possibly the only contest of the night where I cheered the face and booed the heel. There were chants of “CM Punk”, “Sexual Chocolate” and many cries of “Yes!” Punk went over with the Macho Man Elbow, which drew loud cheers from the audience.

CM Punk prepares to drop the match winning Macho Elbow

Jericho then appeared on the Titantron for a lengthy exchange with the champ. We weren’t able to see him from where we were but we could hear him. That was (mostly) enough. ‘Y2J’ again taunted ‘The Voice of the Voiceless’ about being drunk and then introduced some footage. Punk handily referenced the footage so we knew it was a shot of him doing something at a pub. He reaffirmed he’s straight edge and then ‘The Highlight of the Night’ revealed the two will clash for the WWE championship in a Chicago Street Fight at Extreme Rules. That should be one of the better matches on the show.

RAW’s second match was for the United States title. Champion Santino Marella was introduced first. He stood at the top of the ramp peeling off various football shirts to get heat. As I’m not a football fan I wouldn’t have reacted even if I could have seen this display. I wouldn’t have recognised what shirt belonged to what team, and wouldn’t have cared if I had. Having watched the broadcast I now know that one of the kits belonged to Chelsea. Amusingly this prompted Jerry Lawler to say "Come on, Santino, you're in London! That won't work here!" ‘The King’ needs to work on his geography.

David Otunga came out to face him. He got a loud cheer from me. I’m a fan of Otunga, largely because he’s so ridiculous and prone to botching moves. He was on fine form last night, at one point even managing to go for a cover incorrectly. That, as Michael Cole would say, is vintage Otunga. Laurinaitis’s legal aid predictably lost. The match was nowhere near as enjoyable as simply seeing David Otunga.

Backstage Josh Mathews spoke to Lord Tensai and his young boy. A kid sat in front of me said to his friend “We’re going to see Lord Tensai. He’s funny.” That should tell you all you need to know about whether the former A-Train is over as a monster heel.

A Lesnar video aired. It lost a surprising amount of impact without being able to see the accompanying footage. The message was basically that ‘The Pain’ sees himself as an athlete and an ass-kicker, not a superstar. He didn’t come back because he missed the crowd or going through the curtain. He came back because he likes to beat people up and win. He also said had he stayed around Cena wouldn’t be where he is now. I’d disagree with that. Cena still would’ve gotten over and Lesnar would have remained at the top of the card but fizzled out a little. His initial success was as much thanks to willing opponents and the good booking of Paul Heyman and Vince McMahon as it was his own ability.

Kane came out to squash Ryder. Amusingly he stood in the ring for around three minutes as his attacks on Ryder and Randy Orton were recapped. He then slapped Ryder about at ringside and then gave him a choke slam in the ring. That was followed by a tedious promo that I’ve sat through twice but still couldn’t tell you the point of.

Woo woo woo! You got beat!

Backstage Kofi Kingston was talking to AJ in hushed tones. I like to think he was saying something vastly inappropriate. Daniel Bryan showed up. I couldn’t see any of this but I knew immediately that Bryan was on the screen because the audience erupted with chants of “Yes!” Bryan told Kofi that just because he didn’t want AJ that didn’t make it open season, then told AJ that he would make ‘The Dreadlocked Dynamo’ tap out to the LeBell Lock. He stopped himself there and said that he didn’t like the move having that name as he was far greater than Jean LeBell. He said the move would be known as the Yes Lock, then shouted “Yes!” over and over again directly into Kofi’s face. It was hilarious.

That was followed by a John Cena promo. The face of the company received his traditional mixed reaction, though there were more boos than cheers. Cena is not a popular man in London. He talked about how he thinks John Laurinaitis wants to replace him with Brock Lesnar. Storyline-wise that’s probably the case: ‘Mr Excitement’ is a heel and so naturally wants to dispatch all top babyfaces. That’s how WWE works. The truth is that Cena is not going anywhere. He’s far too valuable to WWE and everybody knows it.

John Laurinatis strolled out onto the stage to refute Cena’s conspiracy theory claims and book him in a match. We were told it would be an Extreme Rules match but wouldn’t reveal the name of Cena’s opponent. Why? Apparently it’s something to do with People Power. Whatever. I was just excited to see John Laurinaitis and hear his raspy voice. Unfortunately his mic work left a little to be desired live and it was difficult to hear what he was saying. Thankfully Cena recapped it during the break. He earned some humour points there.

Next was the best match of the evening: Kofi Kingston v Daniel Bryan. There was no way we were going to boo Bryan during this. The “Yes!” meme is just too over and Bryan is too well respected. Kofi started off getting a good reaction but eventually ended up hearing boos… as well as shouts of “No!” when he started getting offence. Pretty much strike the former World champion got in elicited cries of “Yes!” Following his win via the Yes Lock Bryan reapplied the hold (which finally got him some boos) until Sheamus ran out to make the save.

Daniel Bryan! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

I think WWE are going to have to seriously consider turning Bryan face again. He’s very good in the heel role but he’s just so popular that it’s going to be hard for him to stay over as a bad guy. Once his run with Sheamus is over I hope he becomes a good guy again. A feud between he and a heel Christian would be great to see.

‘The Funkasurus’ continued his run of unmitigated popularity, getting a big pop from the London crowd. He was one of the highlights of the night for me, up there with Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and David Otunga. As much as I enjoyed seeing Brodus Clay I was even more excited to see Dolph Ziggler, his opponent for the evening.

It would be generous to refer to what happened between Ziggler and Clay as a match. ‘The Show Off’ took a suplex before Swagger got into the ring and took a headbutt. Ziggler then took one of his trademark ridiculous bumps to a loud pop and Vickie got into the ring to be shoved to the floor by Naomi. Brodus and his girls then posed and danced as the heels slinked off to the back.

Backstage John Laurinaitis gave David Otunga a pep talk about focusing on his career. Eve showed up and the three went into what was presumably Laurinaitis’s office. No comment.

A video for Chief Jay Strongbow was followed by more backstage shenanigans with R-Truth and Teddy Long. These videos had been played throughout the night. Having seen them I can honestly say they wouldn’t have added to my enjoyment of the show at all.

The penultimate match of the night saw Big Show team up with The Great Khali to take on Epico and Primo. Why the tag champions were chosen for job duty is a mystery. Show has been feuding with Cody Rhodes and Khali been involved in a SmackDown pseudo-rivalry with Drew McIntyre. Why those more prominent heels didn’t get to face Khali and Show I can’t say. Still, at least we got to see Rosa Mendes. That’s never a bad thing.

The heels tried to escape but were caught by Big Show. They then took a choke slam and a Punjabi Plunge back in the ring. Show and Khali then did some embarrassing dancing. Something I didn’t realise was that Abraham Washington was stood at the entrance during the match. I like the way WWE are using him so far and I hope he gets to become a prominent manager. Next time I’ll buy better seats so I can see random FCW call-ups when they stroll out to watch matches.

After the final break of the evening John Cena came back out for his Extreme Rules match. He got a few more cheers on his second appearance. Perhaps because people knew he wouldn’t be talking. I still booed him.

His mystery opponent was introduced by John Laurinaitis and David Otunga (who sat at ringside during the bout). It was Lord Tensai. On commentary Lawler referenced the man’s previous time with WWE and subsequent success in Japan. I was disappointed that there was no back hair to chant about but the loud chants of “Albert!” made up for it.

The crowd was indifferent to Tensai's pre-match disrobing ceremony

Before that match I’d be fairly disinterested in the former A-Train. It seemed as though he was yet another guy being introduced to television with the winning streak gimmick. You can only see that so many times before it becomes boring. That he got to face Cena on his third week of TV is a positive sign for Tensai. The match was a slow starter but when it got going it was pretty enjoyable. The two men brawled around ringside, with Tensai taking a shot from the steel steps particularly well, before heading back into the ring. Otunga involved himself, tossing SuperCena back into the ring to take Tensai’s double underhook facebuster for a two count.

They battled back and forth for a few more minutes before Otunga interjected himself again. He took an AA, which allowed Tensai to catch Cena by surprise with a green mist and double-handed choke bomb for the win. I’d taken it for granted that Cena would be victorious so I was pleased that Tensai went over. Technically it was a clean win too, as the Extreme Rules meant that the mist was not illegal.

After the match Tensai posed in the ring and Cena oversold in a corner. Once the cameras stopped rolling the various heels sauntered to the back while medical staff assisted Cena up the aisle. That Cena sold the mist so much was ridiculous. It may get it over as a dangerous “move” but it only highlights the fact that Cena never sells for younger stars, only for established guys (and Tensai’s former time with the company puts him firmly into the latter camp).

The dark match main event saw Chris Jericho (who didn’t appear in the ring during RAW) take on CM Punk. The champion attacked the challenger before the bell and they had a brief exchange in the ring before Daniel Bryan dashed out to cause the disqualification finish. That brought out Sheamus to even the odds. He was followed by Cody Rhodes, who was followed by Big Show. They were then joined by Alberto Del Rio and Randy Orton. Orton and Sheamus hit their finishers then went round ringside high-fiving fans to send us home happy.

Chris Jericho enters for his dark match main event. He was not the highlight of the night...

Not only was this a good episode of RAW it was a great experience live. It narrowly pips the SmackDown taping I went to last year as the most enjoyable WWE event I’ve attended (and the SmackDown event was only in the running as I got to see a Five Second Pose from Edge and Christian). I’d recommend going to see RAW whenever it’s in the area. The list of names on offer makes it well worth it.