Wednesday 27 February 2013

ROH 11th Anniversary Show preview

I remember reading about the first ever Ring of Honor show in Power Slam magazine. I was mainly drawn to it because of the prominent photograph of Eddie Guerrero. I wasn’t especially interested in his opponent, Super Crazy. I wasn’t at all concerned by anybody else on the card. I’d never heard of Bryan Danielson, Christopher Daniels, Spanky or Homicide. I’d only ever come across Low Ki thanks to his work as a WWF enhancement talent on weekend show Metal (remember that?). But I read the article and was intrigued. It sounded like The Era of Honor Begins had been a good show.

Over the following months I followed the story of ROH’s rise and the crowning of their first champion online and in Power Slam. I wanted to see a Ring of Honor show but as far as I was aware video tapes weren’t region free (I’m still not sure on this but I’m still fairly sure they’re not). DVD players hadn’t become widespread enough for me to have one by this point.

By 2004 I had a DVD player. I bought an ROH show on eBay, after making sure that their DVDs were definitely region free (they were and are, so feel free to buy some). I decided what to buy based on a combination of price and who was on the card. I got both Weekend of Thunder show for six quid. The price was the biggest factor. CM Punk wrestling was a secondary one. I’d seen his name mentioned a lot in PS and online and had seen him wrestle at British Uprising 2. I knew him being on each DVD guaranteed me at least two good matches.

It’s been eleven years since ROH started up. That landmark will be celebrated with the imaginatively titled 11th Anniversary Show on Saturday night. After the reign of (t)error inflicted on the company, and the fans, by Evil Overlord Jim Cornette ROH has become enjoyable again over the last few months, so there’s every chance TEAS will be a good show.
Eleven years of men who don't feel comfortable posing for wrestling posters
Let’s start at the bottom of the card and work our way up.

The SCUM (I’m still not sure what that’s supposed to stand for) team of Jimmy Jacobs and Steve Corino will take on the C&C Wrestle Factory. These four clashed in the semi-finals of last year’s title tournament. I wanted Coleman and Alexander to win. They lost. I’m hopeful that part of the reason for this bout taking place is to grant C&C the win they deserved to take last year at Death Before Dishonor X. They remain a pair that could be used as the future of ROH.

In another middle-of-the-card outing ‘The Outlaw’ Charlie Haas will clash with BJ Whitmer. I’m not a big Whitmer fan and I’m not especially interested in Haas as a singles wrestler. Without Shelton Benjamin at his side I don’t really think he has a huge amount to offer ROH, although his character has grown on me.

This match is happening because of the well-established troubles between Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team and Whitmer and Rhett Titus. That’s another aspect of the current ROH product I’m not overly keen on. So really there’s not much about Whitmer v Haas that interests me. I’m picking Haas to win, because for some reason he’s used as a formidable singles force.

Former House of Truth pals Roderick Strong and Michael Elgin will wrestle under two-out-of-three falls rules. Truth Martini, who we were told would retire at the end of 2012 but didn’t, is barred from ringside. That should mean we can expect a victory for Elgin, seeing as the reason he fell to Strong at Final Battle was outside interference from Martini.

Usually when a two-out-of-three falls bout is made fans can expect to see the third fall. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case here. Ring of Honor is the sort of company that isn’t afraid to brook convention, and giving ‘Unbreakable’ two straight decisions with Strong getting none would do a lot to rehabilitate him.

And he does need rehabilitating. Elgin was handled incredibly badly by Cornette. He went from being a hot prospect that everyone wanted to see ascend to the top of the card to a generic dude who likes power moves. Not shoving him to the top of the card was a huge mistake. I’m hopeful that Delirious is going to treat him differently and as such I’m expecting a decisive Elgin victory.

Truth Martini may or may not appear during the Strong v Elgin match. Just because he’s banned from ringside doesn’t mean he won’t sneak in. One match he’ll definitely be at ringside for is Adam Cole’s TV championship defence against Matt Taven. Because Martini is now Taven’s manager.

A title change isn’t impossible. It would be a shocking result, which is usually a good thing on a big show like this. Cole’s faced everyone he’s realistically going to as TV champ. A surprise loss of the title would be a great way of launching a Taven push and would free Cole up for a move up the card. Or to NXT.

I’m not going to predict that though. It would be a nice surprise and a way of creating a new star and keeping Martini relevant but I think Cole will have the belt for a bit longer. I’m looking forward to this match. I think it could be very good.

The ROH tag team titles will be defended by the eight time champion Mark and Jay Briscoe. Their opponents will be Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly. The challengers have the team name redDRagon. I missed the reason for this team name, if one was given. Given the emphasis of the DR of dragon I’ll assume it’s somehow related to Davey Richards.
This is likely to be one of the better matches of the show. For all they're overexposure 'Dem Boys' are a reliable double act who are at their best when facing opponents the audience reacts strongly to. O'Reilly and Fish fit the bill there.
What's a little annoying about this new team is that O'Reilly was only split from a regular team with Adam Cole this time last year. While Cole's gone on to become the TV champ O'Reilly has floundered. His heel turn was rushed and his split from mentor Davey Richards still feels underdeveloped eight months after it happened. O'Reilly's been wasted over the last year.
On the bright side he's being used properly now and he and Fish can be just as useful to the tag division as Futureshock would have been had they stayed together. I could see this match going either way. There's no obvious favourite. I'll pick the Briscoes though, mainly because they're the Briscoes and they win a lot. Hopefully O'Reilly and Fish get to win a rematch.
The reunited American Wolves will be in a "special attraction" match (a very indy term) against The Forever Hooligans. Firstly I want to state that Forever Hooligans is a pretty cool name for a tag team. Things like that are important. The team is made up of former WWE developmental prospect and NJPW regular Alex Koslov and the former ROH tag team championship partner of Davey Richards, Rocky Romero. Expect a lot to be made of the history between Romero and Richards by the commentary team. To the point where it becomes annoying.
This match could be the best of the show. The Wolves have had enough time to get reacquainted with teaming and both men are slick performers. The Hooligans are equally good. A fast match stacked with double team moves and impressive counters is what I'm hoping for.
I'm expecting the Wolves to win this match. A third title reign for them seems likely for later in the year. A loss here would only be a setback to that. I don't think it's likely but I’d love Romero and Koslov to become regulars. They'd be a tremendous asset to the promotion.
Finally there's the ROH world championship being defended in the main event. Champion Kevin Steen will wrestle Jay Lethal. It's a rematch from last October's Killer Instinct show. There Steen trash-talked Jay Letha’s mother (who was chilling at ringside) to send Lethal over the edge and cause a double DQ. Lethal went nuts and started smashing the set up in a Bret Hart-inspired worked shoot rampage. It was a peculiar direction for the naturally likeable Lethal to be sent in but it did end up with getting Corney written off TV so it wasn't all bad.
As a result of Lethal's unstable display Steen managed to get a ruling put in place that stated he'd never have to face Lethal in ROH. But then (shock, horror!) Lethal won the 2012 Survival of the Fittest, the winner of which receives an ROH world title match at a time of their choosing (although they have to have it officially sanctioned in advance, it's not like WWE's Money in the Bank gimmick). Lethal managed to get Steen to agree to give him his one and only title shot at the 11th Anniversary Show.
Yes, it's another "the challenger must win this match" scenario in wrestling! Imaginative, no?
'Mr Wrestling' has been as reliable as any precious ROH champ when it comes to entering great matches. This match should be no different. Lethal has been in ROH long enough to be a credible challenger. He's one of the best wrestlers in ROH, and Delirious has smartly edged away from many of the heelish traits Lethal was displaying while Cornette was still running things. Lethal’s trouble is that he's just not believable as an anarchic tough guy, especially one that Kevin Steen, of all people, is supposed to be scared of.
As with many other matches on the card I don't think there's a clear winner for the main event. Honestly, I don't want to see Lethal win. He doesn't strike me as world champion material. He's a solid wrestler, but not every solid wrestler should get to be the champ. Wrestling is not the only factor, even in ROH. There are too many holes in Lethal's work (promo skills and playing a decent character being the obvious two umbrella reasons) for him to have an extended ROH title run.

That said I did write an article last month suggesting the exact opposite of this. My reasoning then was that Lethal could work as champion if the plan was for him to drop the title within a couple of months. I stand by that, and if he does win I’ll be hoping for a short reign.
I’m beginning to get the feeling that Steen won't be champion for much longer. I think this show, Supercard of Honor VII in April or Best in the World in June are going to see his reign end. I've not ruled out Lethal winning the strap on Saturday. Just because I don't want to see it happen doesn't mean it won't. I'm going to predict a Steen victory but add the caveat that I wouldn't be surprised to see him lose.
The 11th Anniversary Show looks a lot better on paper than last year's card. There are a greater number of appealing matches booked featuring a greater number of marketable talent. If you've got nothing to do on Saturday (more accurately around one in the morning, British time) there are worse ways to spend a tenner than an ROH iPPV. Bear that in mind.
Predictions summary:
Kevin Steen to defeat Jay Lethal
The Briscoe Brothers to defeat redDRagon
The American Wolves to defeat The Forever Hooligans
Adam Cole to defeat Matt Taven
Michael Elgin to defeat Roderick Strong
C&C Wrestle Factory to defeat SCUM
Charlie Haas to defeat BJ Whitmer

Monday 25 February 2013

Real American

Anyone who's watched WWE over the last twelve months will be able to tell you that Antonio Cesaro has been a great success story. He's carved out a niche for himself as a rising star and enjoyed ring time with several of the company's top acts. Nobody gets to have competitive matches with Randy Orton, Sheamus and The Ryback unless they're being presented as something of worth.
The crowning achievement of Cesaro's WWE run so far is arguably his United States title reign. He won the strap on the SummerSlam pre-show, broadcast on YouTube, from comedy act Santino. Since then he's been presented as a fighting champion, working surprisingly enjoyable matches with the likes of R-Truth, Zack Ryder and Justin Gabriel.
He has proven himself to be a reliable wrestler and a reliable promo. Practically anyone on the roster could be put in a match with him and be made to look at least decent. He got something passable out of The Great Khali. Twice! If that doesn't prove his talent I don't know what does.

Zips are cool
Over the last few months Cesaro has dropped the anti-America shtick that characterised the early weeks and months of his US title run and instead started embracing the country. Coming to the ring waving Old Glory and wearing trunks patterned with stars and stripes while disingenuously endorsing the US has proven a far more effective way of having fans turn on him than merely proclaiming himself (and Switzerland) better would in 2013. It's been a smart, enjoyable move.
I'd like to see Cesaro take things even further and begin emulating Hulk Hogan. Throughout the 80s 'The Hulkster's' chief gimmick was that of the uber-patriot. It was a clever move back then. The Cold War was still an ongoing thing and the US fans were generally happier to cheer a guy wrestling in a singlet interpretation of the national flag than they are today. It was cheap but it didn't matter. It worked.
Have Cesaro wrestle decked out in red and yellow tye dye trunks with a Swiss Cross or the Stars and Stripes on them. Let him keep the flag and the championship he's restored credibility to and add the Hogan pose routine to the act. Even if just for one night, say WrestleMania, I think it would be great. The heel European rubbing the embarrassing, overly-patriotic image of Hogan, a man who has since become somewhat of an embarrassment to the wrestling business in general, into the faces of fans. I can hear the boos (and ironic cheers) now.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Swagger Versus The Rock

Considering The Rock’s status as a pretty big deal in Hollywood it's surprising that the US media haven't made more of his recent WWE championship win. Don't get me wrong, I didn't expect it to be on the front covers of papers or topping evening news rundowns but I thought there'd be a little more interest than there has been.
It's not The Rock's fault (nor is it Gene Snitsky’s). He's done everything that could be expected of him, including tweeting pictures of himself with the belt from whatever film set he happens to be on on any particular day. He is proud of his association with the wrestling company (and he should be, they're paying him enough) but that doesn't naturally equate to interest from the media.
As big a name as 'The Great One' is there's a member of the roster who's managed to net WWE more media coverage in the last couple of weeks. His name is Jack Swagger.
In case you haven't heard Jack Swagger was repackaged as an ultra-right wing zealot a few weeks ago. His ankle lock finisher was renamed the Patriot Act, he was given a xenophobic manager, and he started bellowing "We the people!" in what is supposed to be a rallying cry that will unite American citizens.
It is, predictably, the xenophobic manager and his comments regarding the cultural diversity of America that's garnered negative attention. Conservative news haven FOX, along with various other media outlets, have dedicated time to Swag's new direction claiming that it is WWE's attempt at undermining various right wing political movements. A radio host named Glenn Beck has been particularly noteworthy for his outrage at the characters.
In fairness to WWE they're clearly not trying to undermine the right. If the politics of Vince McMahon weren't a dead giveaway the fact that WWE has many prominent culturally diverse employees and viewers shows that undermining any political movement isn't their goal. It's a distasteful, old fashioned approach to wrestling antagonism but it’s not a reflection of the company's political ideology.

Swagger and Zeb Colter are playing villains designed to get a negative reaction from audiences. Nobody living in democratic 2013 is supposed to agree with them. They're the bad guys. A video, partly in character and partly out of it, was posted online on Friday explaining all of this far better than I ever could. View it here.

More interesting than The Rock
After last Tuesday's SmackDown taping Swagger was arrested for possession of marijuana and driving under the influence. It was unfortunate timing, coming just as the biggest push Swag's had in years was getting underway. Usually this news would almost certainly result in a suspension or perhaps even a firing. Either one of those reactions would necessitate a major reworking of the World Heavyweight title feud for WrestleMania.
What's interesting is that at time of writing WWE hadn't announced any formal repercussions against 'The All American American'. They’d actually continued publishing videos furthering the Swagger and Colter storyline via YouTube accounts. It's possible they're waiting until RAW's been and gone. That would allow Swagger to appear on the show to be written out of storylines.
I don’t think that’s likely. It’s possible WWE may be willing to overlook Swagger’s transgression on this occasion, or at least punish him in such a way as to allow the WrestleMania rivalry to continue interrupted. As he's providing the company with their best source of media coverage they're going to be unwilling to take Swagger off of television. Replacements for the WHC match spot can easily be found in the likes of Randy Orton, Sheamus, Mark Henry, and Dolph Ziggler. Finding someone to replace Swagger as a media magnet will prove far more difficult, as The Rock has so ably demonstrated.

Saturday 23 February 2013

NXTweet 20.02.13

The problems that have been brewing for the last few weeks between Conor O’Brian and Big E Langston finally led to a match on this week’s NXT. It wasn’t the greatest match you’ll ever see but it wasn’t supposed to be. It was supposed to be a hard-hitting collision between two powerful brawlers.

Considering the wrestling styles of the two men that was the best approach. They had a surprisingly entertaining tussle that mostly involved swapping holds and exchanging power shots. Predictably there was no clear winner. The first meeting between them had to end in disqualification or something similar in order to set up a rematch. It’s just the way things work in wrestling. It means that when the good guy eventually scores the win over his foe he will have overcome a greater obstacle than he would otherwise.

I like the Langston v O’Brian rivalry. It’s being built without the anarchic sense of rush that would be present on WWE’s regular programming. The far more sedate pace that NXT permits is of great benefit when constructing feuds that are designed to be easy to follow.

Big E, an enforcer for bad-guy-on-the-rise Dolph Ziggler on the main roster remember, is incredibly popular with the NXT regulars. It’s a promising sign for his future prospects. He’s not going to be a henchman forever. At some point he’ll go it alone. His popularity in NXT indicates that he could work as a babyface in WWE if used correctly.

Langston gets to show far more charisma on the developmental show. If you’ve only seen him on RAW and SmackDown you could be forgiven for thinking that he’s just a pile of muscles with a questionable taste in ring gear. He’s got a personality and a sense of humour (hence his ring gear), he just doesn’t get to show them much outside of NXT.

Conor O’Brian is not as effective as Langston. That’s to be expected though. If he were he’d have been called up by now too. Without Kenneth Cameron to team with The Ascension gimmick is, frankly, a little bit silly. There’s something about tag team wrestling that makes dressing like Conan the Barbarian and wearing bright contact lenses acceptable. If he’s to graduate from NXT O’Brian had better start devising a new character for himself.

How about a heel tree surgeon?

One final thing to note about NXT’s main event is the surprise appearance of Corey Graves. After Langston v O’Brian had been called off the champ posed with his belt in the ring, only for Graves to run in through the crowd, attack him, and leave with the belt. Graves is one of the best things on NXT at the moment. His promotion to a title feud with ‘Mr Five’ should mean we get some good matches and promos.
Future NXT champion?
Aside from that match the most striking thing about this week’s NXT was the fact that both the featured heel Divas are being booked almost identically. Both preen on the way to the ring, both cut daft promos about how they’re the most attractive creatures on the show, and both witter about being overlooked.

If Summer Rae and Audrey Marie, who are targeting Paige and Sasha Banks respectively, are to become useful assets to WWE then they’re going to have to be given their own characters at some point. Both women should sit down and figure out ways to make themselves stand out despite the vague and generic lines given to them.

Opening video

Tweet 1: NXTweet.
Tweet 2: Little summary of the tag title tournament final. Immortality was also on the line. Well, it was according to Dawson.
Tweet 3: Subdued recap.

Yoshi Tatsu v Bray Wyatt

Tweet 4: Here's Yoshi Tatsu. First time I'll have watched one of his matches in months. I don't watch Superstars.
Tweet 5: Bray Wyatt's wrestling? #win
Tweet 6: "I feel danger and I feel evil" - William Regal on Bray Wyatt
Tweet 7: Bray Wyatt wins! What a shock! WHAT AN UPSET!
Tweet 8: Are Luke and Erick supposed to be brothers?
Tweet 9: Bray likes to watch brothers with different surnames fight.
Tweet 10: I don't care that the segment made no sense, Bray Wyatt is GREAT.

He also has a nice line in shirts

Sasha Banks’ mystery admirer is revealed

Tweet 11: Rene Dupree? No, Renee Young.
Tweet 12: Sasha Banks gets to meet her secret admirer tonight! She's excited! We all are.
Tweet 13: That reveal was dull. I don't know who the secret admirer woman was. The commentators should've been on that.

Xavier Woods v El Local

Tweet 14: El Local looks familiar. I wonder if he'll do his own ring entrance...
Tweet 15: I like Xavier's dancing.

He's quite the mover and shaker

Tweet 16: If ECW were still going I can imagine Xavier being a member of the FBI.
Tweet 17: El Local has a distinctly La Parka physique.
Tweet 18: Did Regal ever wrestle in Mexico? That'd be a dastardly style clash to watch. He could pull it off though.
Tweet 19: "I'm an original raver, me. 1988" - William Regal #ImnotaraverImstraight
Tweet 20: This commentator is worse than Dawson.
Tweet 21: … Unless it is Dawson. It's difficult to tell and they've not introduced themselves.
Tweet 22: Xavier Woods wins with a tornado DDT. When was the last time that move got a win?

Various backstage shenanigans

Tweet 23: Here's Mike Sampson. He's saying words about Paige's fake shoulder injury. Compelling viewing.
Tweet 24: Ahhhh... it was Audrey Marie that attacked Sasha. The fiend!

Audrey Marie v Sasha Banks

Tweet 25: If Audrey Marie is supposed to be a heel someone should tell her not to high five kids in the audience.
Tweet 26: Regal with a subtle dig at the lack of imagination given to Divas feuds there.
Tweet 27: It was a short match but it was pretty decent. Heel Divas get booked strong in NXT.

Renee Young interviews Summer Rae

Tweet 28: Speaking of which... Summer Rae.
Tweet 29: Summer wants to be referred to as 'The First Lady of NXT'. I wonder where she got that nickname idea from...

Tyson Kidd in-ring promo, featuring Leo Kruger and Justin Gabriel

Tweet 30: Whoever's interviewing Tyson Kidd looks like a budget version of Lance Storm.
Tweet 31: James Andrews performed surgery on Tyson. What's wrong with Mike Sampson, eh?
Tweet 32: Tyson Kidd looks like a newsagent in his mid-forties.
Tweet 33: Punk makes a passing comment about Kidd being a workhorse and it becomes a gimmick. I can't wait till he comes back as 'The Workhorse'.
Tweet 34: Here's Leo Kruger with his 1970s racist BBC sitcom voice.
Tweet 35: Justin ‘The Hair’ Gabriel.

Big E Langston v Conor O’Brian

Tweet 36: How much of Big E will we see in this match?
Tweet 37: Conor O'Brian should form a tag team with Sin Cara. They'd save on lighting effects.
Tweet 38: People are loving Big E.

The champ is here

Tweet 39: Lots of lockups going on here...
Tweet 40: It's a perfectly sound match but there's nothing noteworthy about it. Power exchanges are the order of the day.
Tweet 41: The referee jumped between O'Brian and Big E and then disqualified them for hitting him. What a weak finish.
Tweet 42: The show goes off the air with Big E chasing Corey Graves backstage. Graves has stolen the belt. Next NXT champ? Maybe.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Boot Camp Britain

I didn't write about TNA's British Boot Camp while it was on. I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it was a clever move by TNA that made use of the group’s popularity in the UK. It gave us extra programming starring wrestlers who, as they were Brits, we should find that little bit more relatable. It was well times too, airing at just the right time to serve as advertising for the company’s January tour. On the other hand it was another example of American wrestling dipping into the British scene for its own needs.
I'm not the most knowledgeable or vocal supporter of British wrestling but I am a supporter. I know that the men and women wrestling in Britain work just as hard as those elsewhere and generally do so for significantly less cash. I also appreciate that most of them, as with the majority of North American wrestlers I imagine, want to eventually earn themselves a WWE contract. I certainly don't begrudge any of the Boot Camp contestants the chance to work for TNA. It could be a stepping stone to WWE. Even if it's not it will get them a considerably larger paycheque than working in Broxbourne ever would.
I appreciate that another series of Boot Camp would be a good thing for anyone wrestling on it and for TNA. It would be nice for anyone who enjoyed the first series too, and I know it was very popular. It could even be considered a minor boon for the British scene, shedding light on some of its best workers and encouraging people to attend a show they’d otherwise overlook. But the greater effect will be detrimental. The more successful the show proves the greater the number of wrestlers Britain will lose.

Coming to an IMPACT Zone near you
The fact that TNA can get away with running a show like this is depressing. This country provides the promotion with its biggest crowds of the year and has done ever since they started their annual tours. WWE runs two tours a year here because they always do well too. There are plenty of wrestling fans in Britain and yet (here's the depressing part) not one of its dozens of promoters has managed to create a product that showcases British talent the way they deserve to be showcased.
I'm not suggesting that a British indy could compete with TNA or WWE. It would take a very long time and a lot of hard work to come close to being at TNA's level and I don't think a UK group could ever reach the heights of WWE. I’m not suggesting a TV deal is attainable either (though I did suggest an alternativeto TV last year that I stand by).  I do think that with the right people in charge the early Ring of Honor model could be successfully emulated though.
Broadly speaking this would mean finding a core group of wrestlers to use as the basis of the roster and running shows with the intention of breaking even on the night and making a profit through DVD sales. The emphasis wouldn't need to be the same as it was for ROH, quality matches are popular yes, but a healthy dose of storylines could have their appeal too.

Perhaps it’s expecting a lot for one company to rise above the rest when so many share the same workers. A working agreement could be reached though, surely? Maybe an all-British version of the National Wrestling Alliance? Only the NWA of the 70s, not the NWA of today. Because the NWA of today is rubbish.

It would be nice if this country's wrestlers and fans had a home-grown alternative to the North American product. A company that would allow a couple of dozen guys to work as full time wrestlers in Britain without leaving the country that supplies viewers with regulars DVDs and-or a regular TV or YouTube show. The wrestlers and the fans are there. It just needs someone to create a big enough splash and grab some attention.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

One on One with 'The Great One'

When The Rock and John Cena announced they would wrestle each other at WrestleMania XXVIII it was immediately clear that 'The Great One' had returned to WWE to put over the company's current top star. That clarity was obliterated the moment Rock beat Cena in that match.
The point still stands though. The Rock returned in 2011 to provide aid to the company that helped launch his career. His hosting duties at 'Mania XXVII were just the first step. In hindsight it had clearly been agreed by WM27 that he'd return to the ring.
The reason Rock will put over John Cena is that it will help the latter's credibility. You'd be forgiven for thinking that Cena doesn't need help in that area. He's over and popular despite not being able to perform any wrestling move or hold convincingly.
Being granted a victory over one of the biggest name wrestlers ever will, in the minds of WWE management, put him on the same level. It will also send a message to "smart fans" that Rock considers Cena worthy of the rub. Cena, being the biggest full time wrestler at WWE's disposal, is the natural choice to hand The Rock his first defeat in a decade. WWE basically want to get Cena as close to Rock-level stardom as possible so that in ten years’ time he's the one returning to put guys over.

What's he pointing at? Probably the WrestleMania sign...
This is why Rock v Cena has to happen at WrestleMania XXIX as opposed to a three-way that adds CM Punk. As much as that addition would improve the quality of the bout the story needs to be that 'The CeNation Leader' earned his victory without help or distractions. He does it against everyone else, but everyone else isn't The Rock. The man from Hollywood is the only other man on the roster who legitimately casts Cena as the underdog.
The impact of the victory would be lessened considerably were Cena to pin Rock in a triple threat. It's a situation that demands a singles bout.
The announcement that Cena and Punk will clash on next week's RAW, with the winner facing The Rock, is concerning. It could simply be a way of spinning out the 'Mania build for another couple of weeks. Reigniting the old Cena and Punk feud for two episodes of RAW means that Rock v Cena only has to be hyped for four weeks rather than six. That's a desirable situation because all the good material for those two was used prepping last year's showdown.
The alternative is more worrying: a wacky finish of some sort to instigate the three-way match for 'Mania. This would only come about if Undertaker has announced he's unable to wrestle Punk on April 7th. I don't think that's the case. I think 'The Dead Man' will defend his Streak. Even if he doesn’t I'd rather Punk be given a fresh programme as opposed to being slotted into the WWE title feud.
If the last two years are to have been worth it this year's WrestleMania needs to end with Cena getting his win back and The Rock raising accepting him as an equal by raising his hand. Nothing else will do.

Monday 18 February 2013

Elimination Chamber 2013 review

On paper the 2013 Elimination Chamber looked like it could be a very good show. With a rematch of the previous month’s successful Punk v Rock clash headlining and an undercard that boasted a Chamber match and The Shield in only their second WWE match there were plenty of chances for highlights. It could have been great.

Unfortunately it was only good.

Usually a wrestling company should be happy if they put on a card that can be described as good. Not so here. With Elimination Chamber WWE were coming off a very strong Royal Rumble pay-per-view and building towards their biggest card of the year. It was a middleman show but that wasn’t to stop it being entertaining in its own right. I’ll discuss this further below.

Things kicked off with a World Heavyweight championship match between Alberto Del Rio and Big Show. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t as thrilling as their last man standing outing at the Rumble. Fought under standard rules it was never going to be.

The two could have been given a little leeway, especially as the only other gimmick match on the card was the cage battle. As it was the final entry into their feud they deserved the chance to go out with a bang. A falls count anywhere battle would have worked fine.

Del Rio won via tap out with his cross armbreaker submission. Thankfully he’ll be leaving Big Show behind. Presumably ‘The Giant’ will be paired up with Ryback for WrestleMania. As I’ve written before a Shell Shock on Show seems like a WrestleMania Moment™ waiting to happen.
Those red trunks must be lucky
Match two was the United States title match between Antonio Cesaro and The Miz. It was an average match that seemed worse than it was thanks to an uninterested crowd. ‘The Awesome One’ got DQed after Cesaro deliberately got himself low blowed. This was probably done to set up another outing between the two either for WrestleMania or a TV show in the next six weeks. Either way I’m not looking forward to it.

Up next, surprisingly early in the running order, was the Elimination Chamber. Zeb Colter cut a promo beforehand. It was similar to the one he gave us on RAW. American has failed itself and he and Jack Swagger are going to clean it up. He uttered his “We the people!” phrase too. Taken on its own it doesn’t really mean anything.

WWE made the smart decision of having Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan start things off. Well, it would have been a smart decision had ‘Y2J’ not been having one of his off nights. He didn’t make any major fumbles, he just seemed generally sloppy, rushing through what should have been standard exchanges and seeming overly keen to show how good he and Bryan are against one another.

‘The All American American’ was the first man unleashed from his cell, followed by Kane. Bryan and ‘The Big Red Machine’, who were (and are) still the tag team champions despite not having taken their belts to the ring for this match, turned on one another moments after they’d performed some generic double team moves. Although he’d told Kane he’d watch his back throughout the match Bryan tried rolling Kane up for a schoolboy.

Kane kicked out of that at one.

The two battled for a moment or so before Swagger and Jericho rejoined them to establish that it was now every man for himself. Team Hell No were not helping one another.

Orton entered the ring and didn’t really do anything of interest. Finally Mark Henry lumbered in as everybody was down. He quickly eliminated ‘The World’s Toughest Vegan’ with a World’s Strongest Slam, then did the same to Kane soon after. In a spot destined to make it onto future Chamber hype videos ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ blasted Orton through the Perspex of one of the cells. That wrote ‘The Viper’ out of proceedings for a bit to allow him a heroic comeback spot later.

Henry, Swagger and Jericho tussled for a while. It was a lengthy sequence that did what it was supposed to, namely keep the crowd entertained and guessing as to who’d be the next out. Eventually Henry went for a splash from the second rope on both Swagger and Jericho only to miss. The Swagmeister than gave him a big boot which ‘The Highlight of the Night’ followed with a Codebreaker. ‘The Viper’ then returned to nail an elimination-gaining RKO to a thunderous pop.

The match chugged towards its inevitable conclusion with some slick exchanges between the remaining three men. Jericho eventually fell to an RKO after a nice series of finisher attempts and counters, with Swagger running in to surprise ‘The Apex Predator’ with a rollup immediately afterwards.

‘The Real American’ celebrated his victory by bellowing animalistically in the aisle. Orton stood in the ring looking shocked and disappointed. I hope WWE are going somewhere with this story. Orton pulled the same face at the Rumble. It doesn’t matter if it’s the predictable “I’ve lost my focus” routine, it just needs to go somewhere.

Swagger winning sets him up as the challenger to Alberto Del Rio’s World Heavyweight championship. We haven’t seen what WWE are doing with this feud yet but the dynamic seems promising. Swagger is the bigoted American who wants to “save” the country while ADR is the foreign hero who embodies the true principles of the USA. I hope WWE don’t mess it up, it could be great.

WWE deserves credit for the booking of the Chamber match. There were three credible choices for winner and it wasn’t at all clear who’d be leaving as the number one contender. Mark Henry seemed like a possibility for much of the match, and having Orton go down to a smashed door spot, immediately setting up a valiant comeback, made him look likely too. Swagger stealing the win in the way he did was also intelligent: he couldn’t have credibly lasted against or beaten Orton.

The show’s fourth match saw the babyface club of Sheamus, John Cena and Rybac tangle with The Shield. The match was about as good as I’d expected. It didn’t reach the heights of The Shield’s tables, ladders and chairs match last December but how could it have done? This bout was as good as it was going to be considering the lack of gimmicks and who was involved.

I’d predicted a victory for Rollins, Ambrose and Reigns but the finish of the match still surprised me: Ryback was going for the Muscle Buster on Rollins but got speared by Reigns, allowing Rollins to get the pinfall. I’d expected ‘The Celtic Warrior’ to take the loss for his team, keeping Cena strong for his ‘Mania collision and protecting Ryback’s dubious streak. If ‘The Human Wrecking Ball’ is going to face Big Show at WrestleMania he’s going to need some rehabilitation after this loss.
Who can stop this guy?! Erm... Seth Rollins...
Dolph Ziggler strutted out to remind us of his existence only to get booked in a bonus match by Booker T. His opponent was Kofi Kingston. This was a good match and all (because Kingston v Ziggler is never anything less) but it seemed a little pointless. Nobody seriously thought ‘The Wildcat’ was going to beat the company’s top rising star and the post-match beating Big E Langston administered was just burial for the sake of burial. Kofi could mean something if WWE worked out how to present him correctly.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the segment was Big E's new ring gear. A back view teased us with a wafer thin slice of buttock protruding from beneath the singlet. The front view appeared to be an explanation of the NXT champ's ring name.

A better use of this slot would have been to further the rivalry between Bo Dallas and Wade Barrett. They could have had a singles match that had a DQ or cheated finish to set up a rematch or Dallas could have been booked in a singles bout with ‘The Show Off’ and been cost a victory by Barrett. That would at least have accomplished something.

Kaitlyn successfully defended her Divas championship against Tamina Snuka in the evening’s penultimate match. It was the worst thing on the show, designed to calm the crowd back down before the main event hit. The women deserve better but they’re not going to get it until the division receives a restock.

The evening ended with the rematch between WWE champion The Rock and CM Punk. Punk entered with the title and had Justin Roberts announce him as ‘The People’s Champion’. Even that couldn’t persuade some members of the audience to boo him. That’s what WWE gets for putting a reliable worker into a main event scene that’s been dominated for so long by John Cena.

The main event was not good. Deprived of the shortcuts they’d used at last month’s Royal Rumble and lumbered with ‘The Great One’s’ diminished conditioning the two men set a sluggish pace featuring an overabundance of rest holds and stalling. Punk was on offence for the majority of the first three quarters, a good call considering his status as the more active of the pair.

Even Punk spitting in The Rock’s face couldn’t tip this match over the edge. The crowd reacted to it the right way, but within minutes the two wrestlers were back to stalling.
Rock closes his eyes and awaits a kiss
Things came alive in the final portion of the bout. Punk kicked out of a Rock Bottom. Chioda took a bump and Punk connected with a GTS on the champ to have the match won. Only there was no ref. This should satisfy any Punk fans that he can still claim a rematch in the future because he had the match won. Rock hit a spinebuster and a People’s Elbow, eventually getting a second ref to count the fall.

Punk kicked out at two. ‘The Second City Saint’ blasted Rock with a kick to the head and signalled for Heyman to get the title belt. Heyman slid that in and then grabbed Rock, holding him for a belt shot from Punk. The champ dodged (which was completely predictable) and then hit Punk with the match winning Rock Bottom.

Elimination Chamber was a show about lining things up for WrestleMania XXIX. That was fine, it’s something that needs to be done at some point and a pay-per-view is the logical place. But that doesn’t excuse the perfunctory feel EC 2013 had. Swagger’s win aside there was nothing surprising on the show. Could Triple H not have appeared to challenge Lesnar to a match? Could the Undertaker not have returned after the WWE title bout for a staredown with Punk? I’d even have accepted Cena’s music hitting after ‘The Brahma Bull’ had retained. The show going off the air with Rock and Cena shaking hands or pointing at a sign would have been more interesting that Rock’s solo posing.

The final match was the biggest disappointment. Rock and Punk didn’t match the pace they set last month. Which concerns me for WrestleMania XXIX. Rock and Cena had a lethargic battle at last year’s show. If they’re having a rematch this year (which, obviously, they are) they need to go hell for leather and make it a fast and physical battle. Based on Elimination Chamber The Rock’s not up to it. Which will mean a poor ‘Mania main event for the second year in a row.

Sunday 17 February 2013

NXTweet 13.02.13

So the WWE developmental league now has better tag team champions than the main roster does. I can’t be the only person this doesn’t make sense to? I mean it’s nice that WWE wants to prepare some double acts to be called up at some point in the future but shouldn’t they also be concerning themselves with the ones they already have?
The current WWE tag champs are Kane and Daniel Bryan. They’re an odd couple unit whose limited shelf life expired months ago. They remain the champions because there are no realistic alternatives. The Rhodes Scholars were senselessly split a couple of weeks ago, although if the Elimination Chamber pre-show match is anything to go by that decision may since have been reversed.

The Prime Time Players remain intact but if they were to become champions who would oppose them? It’s difficult to imagine anyone getting excited about a tag title feud involving Jimmy and Jay Uso, isn’t it?

My point here is that if the work being done creating tag teams for NXT is to prove beneficial in the long run then some more makeshift units need to be lashed together for the short term. Get some singles guys doing nothing into the tag ranks and let them hold the fort until Adrian Neville, Oliver Grey and the Wyatt Family are deemed ready for the big time.

Let’s overlook the bleak long term future of the tag teams on NXT. I thought the tournament final was a very good match. The four men were given plenty of time to construct something worthwhile and tell a story. They fell down a little on the narrative side of things but the action was enough to carry them through.
The new champs
The most disappointing thing about the match was the early ejection of Bray Wyatt. Not only is he the group’s namesake and manager, he’s also its biggest star and the man who will go farthest in WWE. He should have been at ringside to keep the crowd involved. If he had to be thrown out then it could at least have been held off until the closing moments.

Elsewhere on the show the feud, over prettiness, between Paige and Summer Rae continued. They had their first televised match after a brawl at the start of the show. Ironically it was not pretty. Part of the reason for that was that Paige was wrestling as though she had an injured shoulder. She’ll recover from that within a few weeks and then get her inevitable rematch victory.

Opening video

Tweet 1: NXTweet.
Tweet 2: This voiceover guy's HAS to be a rib.
Tweet 3: A-Ry tapped out to a kravat. Yeah his career's FIIIIIINE.
Tweet 4: Who will be NXT's first tag team champions? Who?! WHO?!

Axel Keegan v Mike Dalton, featuring Paige

Tweet 5: "I'm Tony Dawson!" - Tony 'I'm Tony Dawson' Dawson
Tweet 6: Impromptu run-in from Paige. Now she's on the mic, sounding like she's about to ruddy cry.
Tweet 7: I really wanted to see Mike Dalton v Axel Keegan too (are those their names?)...
Tweet 9: Is Dusty going heel? This is the turn of the decade!
Tweet 10: That all felt very ECW.

Paige backstage

Tweet 11: Doctor Sampson is "examining" the shoulder of Paige, is he? Looks inappropriate to my (admittedly untrained) eye.

Alex Riley v Corey Graves

Tweet 12: It's Alex 'Future Endeavors’ Riley!
Tweet 13: You've got to love a guy who wrestles in suspenders.
Tweet 14: If you ever watch this match look out for the inverted atomic drop reversal sequence a minute or so in. Massively sloppy.
Tweet 15: Dawson just announced the "breaking news" that Paige v Summer Rae will happen next. Wasn't that announced last week?
Tweet 16: Everything A-Ry's done in this match shows that WWE were right to take him off the main roster.
Tweet 17: The man who looks like an 80s game show host tapped out. Good. Graves is better.

If only Riley's pain were real
Paige backstage again

Tweet 18: Paige is still backstage with that questionable doctor. Getting her shoulder taped so she has an excuse when she loses.

Summer Rae v Paige

Tweet 19: Summer Rae, also known as Kelly Kelly 2.0.
Tweet 20: Paige should enter to the theme tune of Big Break. To play up her British roots.
Tweet 21: Paige just did the old stomping a mudhole routine. Earlier on she did a Thesz Press. Just shave your head bald and call yourself Austin, luv.
Tweet 22: While I was typing that Summer Rae won. That was pretty short. There'll be a rematch. Hopefully it'll get more time.
Tweet 23: Regal was shocked by the win.

Sasha Banks’ poetry corner

Tweet 24: Backstage Sasha Banks reads a poem aloud. That'll get her over. No wrestling fan can resist a bit of poetry.

NXT tag team championship tournament final – Adrian Neville and Oliver Grey v The Wyatt Family

Tweet 25: Byron Saxton's on ring announcing duty. He's basically the NXT version of Borash.
Tweet 26: "The whole of England will be celebrating, it's wonderful for my country" - William Regal on the possibility of Brits winning NXT tag belts
Tweet 27: Contrary to what Regal said I want to see the Wyatts win. I do know the result by the way...
Tweet 28: "The British have been underdogs for thousands of years" - William Regal
Tweet 29: I'm pretty sure both Neville and Grey are younger than me which means it's pretty unlikely they grew up idolizing the British Bulldogs.
Tweet 30: Bray's gone from ringside. This match just got a bit less interesting.
Tweet 31: What's Dusty actually doing at ringside? I mean, I know he's watching the match, but physically what is he doing?
Tweet 32: I want them to keep cutting to Dusty nodding or pursing his lips, maybe cocking his head to one side.
Tweet 33: If you've gone to the trouble of having a living melted waxwork at ringside at least show him to us.
Tweet 34: Rey Mysterio should be sent down to NXT. He doesn't need to learn how to work, he needs to learn how to show up to work.
Tweet 35: Look at Adrian Neville. Running around like a ruddy lunatic.
Tweet 36: If beards play a factor on membership then I think Daniel Bryan could be a future acquisition for the Wyatt Family.

One word: beards

Tweet 37: Neville and Grey have won. To their credit they're celebrating like it means something to them. It was an enjoyable match.
Tweet 38: Dusty's in the ring to shake and raise hands. You know you've made it when 'The Dream' wants to touch you.
Tweet 39: Well... it could just mean you're a woman.
Tweet 40: Fans cannot understand the post-match squealings of the new champs. I can barely make out what they're saying and I'm used to the accents.
Tweet 41: Where's Triple H? Does he only appear for singles champions? Selfish.
Tweet 42: The show goes off the air with the new champs standing on the stage holding their belts, which are better looking than the NXT singles belt.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Showing Up to Show Off

Anyone who’s read my Elimination Chamber preview may have noticed the absence of one name from it. Dolph Ziggler. While he doesn’t have a match announced for the show his status as ‘Mr Money in the Bank’ meant that his name could have cropped up in a preview of the show.

I opted not to mention him because there’s been no clear indication that he’s going to cash-in on the show and the preview felt long enough as it was. It felt like a subject for a fresh entry (this one). Also, I’m of the opinion that ‘The Show Off’ will take his title shot at WrestleMania XXIX. That feels like the right location for Ziggler’s first proper world title win.

That’s not to say that I think Ziggler will be absent from Elimination Chamber. Far from it. I fully expect Ziggler to make an appearance of some sort on the pay-per-view. He’s the most high profile TV regular without a scheduled appearance. That WWE would put on a card without him during the much vaunted Road to WrestleMania is unthinkable. It’s an ideal time of year to elevate talent, and with Ziggler top of the elevation list it would be monumentally backward to omit him from the show.

There is a chance I’m wrong and he will cash-in his Money in the Bank contract. If he does I’m sure it will be on Alberto Del Rio. Ziggler isn’t high enough on the pecking order to score a victory over Big Show. In fairness that would be a weird sight anyway: not only does ‘The Heel’ not have anything in his arsenal that could effectively put Show down for three but one heel beating another for a world title would be strange.

Perhaps you’re thinking that Big E could take out ‘The Giant’ to allow Ziggler a successful WHC win. That would look better but it wouldn’t help Ziggler. His World title win needs to come at his own hand. If he’s shown to need the help of someone else to obtain one of the biggest wins of his career it’s not going to do his already flimsy credibility much good, is it?

So if he uses his guaranteed title shot it will be against ADR. While I don’t think a Ziggler cash-in is likely I do like the air of unpredictability the possibility casts over the World Heavyweight title bout at WrestleMania. WWE’s biggest show of the year should never be completely predictable. There needs to be an air of mystery to the card throughout January, February and the first bit of March. If the big matches are revealed too early then there’s a chance we’ll be bored of them before they even happen.

That’s what’s so good about the World Heavyweight title scene at the moment. We don’t know who’s going to be involved and there are plenty of directions to take.

ADR could retain and go on to defend against Swagger at WrestleMania in a match that turns the old patriotic American hero routine on its head. Or he could clash with Randy Orton in a match that sees ‘The Viper’ return to the dark side by going to increasingly desperate lengths trying to wrest the belt from his opponent. He could go up against the reinvigorated and unstoppable monster that is Mark Henry, or enter into a (very surprising) programme with ‘Y2J’.

Or Big Show could shock us all by becoming a three time WHC. He could be the mountain that ‘The Apex Predator’ has to overcome to get back on top. One of his old rivals in Mark Henry or Daniel Bryan could surprise us with a Chamber win. We’ve seen Show work surprisingly good matches with both before, why not give him ten minutes with one of them to kick off WrestleMania with a bang?

Or Ziggler could cash-in at Elimination Chamber and wrestle a fantastic match with Daniel Bryan at WM29. It could turn out to be one of the best pure wrestling encounters in the event’s history. Perhaps he could leave EC as the new champion and go babyface before April 7th, defending against Jack ‘The Racist’ Swagger. Orton or Jericho could win to revive one of Ziggler’s programmes from the second half of last year. They both have victories over him which could be used to introduce doubt into the WM result.

There’s no way of knowing what WWE’s doing with the World title yet. With the top three matches pretty much certain (Rock v Cena, Undertaker v Punk, and Triple H v Brock Lesnar) it’s good to have something on the show that nobody’s sure about.
Who will this guy face at WrestleMania?
But like I said I’m still as sure as I can be that Ziggler won’t cash-in until ‘Mania. The likeliest thing for ‘The Heel’ to do at Elimination Chamber is to interfere in a match or appear in a brief in-ring segment to cut a promo. Doing either could be used to set him up with a match at WrestleMania. The likeliest guy for him to face would seem to be ‘Y2J’.

They interacted briefly after the Royal Rumble but their feud has since cooled a little. I originally thought they’d face off on the EC card but Jericho’s inclusion in the Chamber bout made it clear that wouldn’t happen. That there are unresolved issues between the two and WWE went out of their way not to have them face one another at Elimination Chamber could hint that they’re being held off for something bigger.

If it’s not Jericho then Orton or Sheamus could be candidates to face Ziggler. Neither man has anything clear to do on the big show and both could do something enjoyable against a guy like Ziggler. Either match could also boost the WHC scene for April onwards: Ziggler could lose his scheduled match at ‘Mania then cash-in later in the show and leave as the champ. That way whoever he lost to could make a legitimate argument about deserving a title shot.

Whether he cashes in or not I’m sure tomorrow’s show will feature Ziggler in some form. He’s too important to the future of the company, and his development is at such a critical point, for him to be left off the event. Just don’t expect to see him with gold around his waist.

Friday 15 February 2013

Ryback to the Future

Late last year it felt as though every other thing I wrote was about Ryback. He was feuding with the WWE champion, headlining pay-per-views and was prominent on television. At one point he was even more prominently featured on television than John ‘Face of the Company’ Cena.
Since the beginning of 2013 Ryback's push has slowed considerably. Programme-ending Tables, Ladders and Chairs clash with CM Punk aside 'The Human Wrecking Ball' has hasn't had a single noteworthy match this year. He survived to the final two of the Royal Rumble but that’s about it. And that was boring anyway. He has instead returned to his relatively short squash outings and segued into a feud with The Shield.

Anyone else think Ryback looks photoshopped in this picture?
This is not a bad thing. In fact it's probably the best thing that could have happened to the NXT pioneer. His matches with Punk got WWE fans to notice and support him as something more than a bit part player or a star-in-waiting. For a few months he was a legitimate headliner and, as a short burst, that helped his status.
Had it lasted much longer then there's a good chance the fans would have turned on him. We've seen this many times over the last ten years. WWE have raced guys into top spots only to have their audience reject the newcomer on the basis that they've not earned their way into the role.
Working with The Shield is good for Ryback right now for two reasons. One is that they're established as a strong force, not a bunch of jobbed out weaklings. That means that should Ryback gain a win over the posse he's gained a win that matters. He can only beat disposable low card acts for so long before the routine outstays it welcome.
The second reason is that WWE only seem to be interested in using The Shield in tag team matches at the moment. This benefits Ryback because it relieves him of some of the pressure of delivering a worthwhile main event level match. Having two guys teaming with him against three other guys WWE are keen to elevate means Ryback can storm around hitting power moves and bellowing without needing to worry overly about quality.
At the moment I'd say The Shield are probably the favourites to oppose Ry' at WrestleMania. Cena will be heading into his rematch with The Rock and Sheamus is likely to move on after Elimination Chamber’s done and dusted too. There's no clear part for Ryback to play at ‘Mania beyond a continuation of his current feud.

There have been rumours he'll wrestle Big Show or Chris Jericho at the event. Either match could be decent, but it would leave The Shield with nobody to face and would necessitate a heel turn for 'Y2J', which seems unlikely. Keeping Ryback associated with The Shield and finding two new partners is the best way to get six meaningful performers onto what is going to be a packed 'Mania card.

I'm currently expecting Cena to leave WrestleMania with the WWE championship. I’m also expecting him to hold it until at least SummerSlam. That will likely preclude Ryback from immediately re-entering the title picture as ‘The Franchise’ works his way through the existing list of heel challengers. The possibility of a Cena v Ryback title match shouldn’t be ruled out immediately though. If saved for a big event, like SummerSlam, and marketed in the right way it’s a match that could generate a large amount of money for the company.

It may not be a particularly exciting prospect for anyone who likes their wrestling to be, y’know, good, but that’s not WWE’s chief concern. They want to make money. Ryback’s run at the top is a long way from being over.