Sunday 30 June 2013

Replacing Briscoe

Just for fun, you ask, can you tell us how you'd deal with ROH's world title crisis? Ohhhhh, alright then...

I'll give two answers. The first will be how I’d deal with the crisis without any access to Jay Briscoe and working on the assumption that he's leaving for WWE without ever appear for ROH again. The second will be what I'd do if Jay appeared on the July 12th and 13th shows as he was originally advertised to, with those being his final appearances for the promotion.

So, without Jay I'd have Nigel McGuinness, Matchmaker, appear at the Milwaukee show on the 12th to make an official announcement. He would explain that Mark and Jay have left ROH for spots in NXT, which would probably get boos (I know I'm going to be frustrated if this is what they have to do for real). Michael Elgin, as the only man with a world title shot officially announced, would be considered the current champion via forfeit.

Elgin would come to the ring to interrupt this. A promo would be devised for him that would cover a few points. He'd be torn. On the one hand he's wanted to be the ROH champion for a long time but on the other he's always wanted to earn it in the ring by beating the best the promotion has to offer. He wouldn't want it handed to him but he also wouldn't want to see such a prestigious belt vacated.

This would bring out Adam Cole. He would inform Nigel that he'd accept the championship if Elgin had doubts about being able to carry himself as "the man". McGuinness would say no to that, adding that he respects Elgin's decision. McGuinness would announce a shakeup of the announced card in favour of the opening four matches of a two night tournament for the vacated belt.

This is a good point to address the status of the physical championship belt. Matt Hardy and Steve Corino apparently ran off with it at the end of June 23rd TV tapings. I imagine this was done to keep the pair relevant to storylines with SCUM out of the picture. I’d have McGuinness reintroduce the belt with an explanation that it was retrieved from Hardy by police and lawyers. ‘The Icon’ could be reintroduced alongside Corino in some other fashion.

The opening round matches of that tournament would be Davey Richards v BJ Whitmer, ACH v Roderick Strong, Eddie Edwards v Mike Bennett, and Jay Lethal v Michael Elgin. Richards, ACH, Bennett and Elgin would win, setting up Richards v ACH and Bennett v Elgin for the following evening. The finals would see Elgin beat either Richards or ACH (I’m not sure who would win their semi-final match) to become the new champion.

ACH would be good in the challenger role. Generally speaking I think it's too early for him to convince a crowd he's about to become champion, but people could be encouraged to believe he might win due to the unusual situation. An Elgin v ACH final could have a good atmosphere to it. Obviously the match would be at least decent. ACH seems incapable of anything less.

The alternative, Richards versus Elgin, would be the obvious route to take. Fans would be far more split on who would win that match. Both are realistic replacements for Jay. The match quality would be great too. Showdown in the Sun proved that.
A potential tournament final
With access to Briscoe I think ROH could present two stirring matches and a great story across two shows. I'd have Briscoe’s final opponents announced as Michael Elgin and Adam Cole. They'd probably be announced on the website, along with an acknowledgement that the Briscoes have signed with WWE and that Mark's final ROH appearance had already been and gone.

As pointless as I find Jay's singles push I think Briscoe v Elgin could he a phenomenal match. Mainly because of Elgin. His excellent pacing ensures the closing moments of his matches are electric (not literally, that would be hideous). A five minute sequence stuffed with Jay Drillers, Elgin bombs, buckle bombs, crossfaces, and stomps could be, as they say, epic.

Elgin would win. Jay would raise his hand. The world would be happy.

Until Dearborn on the 13th at any rate. I'd have Adam Cole cut a promo about being denied his rightful title match (because he'd be scheduled for a match with Briscoe rather than the champ). Nigel would tell him he should be honoured to face a guy like Jay in Jay's final match. Cole would probably respond that he's not interested in honour, he's interested in the championship.

Elgin would wrestle a non-title match on the show. Cole and Briscoe would go on last. The event’s name would be chosen as something appropriate for hosting Jay’s final bout.

I like the idea of Cole v Briscoe being a no DQ match. That would permit Jay to do all that brawling he loves and also allow interference from Matt Hardy and Steve Corino on behalf of 'The Panama City Playboy'. Elgin would make the save and, if possible, Mark Briscoe would make a surprise appearance too.

Jay would probably win. It would be a popular decision that would allow the Briscoes to go out as winners, which is what ROH fans seem to desire. A win for Cole would be better in the long run and would set him, Hardy and Corino up as a strong faction for the future but I don't think a heel win could be justified. It would dampen spirits a little too much.

Either scenario would have Elgin striding into the summer as the ROH champion. My dislike of multi-time ROH champions (because it's something the company has, Austin Aries aside, avoided promoting) means I wouldn't feel comfortable placing the title on Richards, Edwards, Steen or Strong, who are all wellsuited in principle to replace Jay as the leading man. In the case of Steen I think it's too early for him to regain the belt anyway. He only lost it in April (and I bet ROH are regretting putting it on Jay now).

Having the right mix of wrestling ability and intriguing character Elgin is the right choice to represent the company as the leading man for the foreseeable future. Given a long run he could become one of the biggest names associated with the title. He’s the ideal candidate and perhaps if Jay does leave he’ll finally get the world title reign he’s deserved for a long time.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Retiring the Mask

Rey Mysterio's been injured, on and off, for over two years now. It's reached the point where his credibility as a reliable main event performer is almost completely eroded and his long term health is in jeopardy. He's generally okay when he turns up but no long term plans can be made for him because the chances are that he won't be around to see them through. I’d like to advocate retirement for him.

The latest on his knees, which are said to be the cause of his erratic schedule, is that they'll be healthy enough to allow 'Mr 619' to compete at SummerSlam. This is by no means a certainty. He was originally going to be back in the ring by June.

I'd like to advocate holding off his return for beyond ‘The Hottest Event of the Summer’. If the last few years have taught us anything it's that rushing back from an injury does Mysterio no favours. It has no impact on ratings either, so it’s not even as if something’s gained from the rush. It would be best for Mysterio if he spent the rest of the year resting. That would allow him time to return to full health and give WWE a chance to prepare a storyline for when he comes back.
Mysterio there, invoking the Riddler
It's the return plan I'm interested in. I think WWE and Mysterio should be thinking of his next return as his last, hence the reason that he should be as healthy as possible to avoid any injury-related complications. All parties should want to give Mysterio the send-off he deserves.

The obvious time to do this would be next year’s WrestleMania. Adding a Mysterio retirement match to a card that’s already likely to feature big names like Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, Cena, Punk, and The Rock, would help to make ‘Mania XXX one to remember.

They could even do a longer wait and have Mysterio go out at next year’s SummerSlam. With a bit of effort WWE could turn SummerSlam back into their second biggest annual show, the WrestleMania of the summer.

Obviously things like fanfests can help with that but the best way to make SummerSlam mean something would be to hoard big names for the show. They seem to be doing that with CM Punk v Brock Lesnar this year. But the top three or four matches need to be big if SummerSlam’s to do truly impressive numbers. Again a Mysterio retirement stip could help with that.

The ideal way to reintroduce Rey would be through a series of vignettes in which he discusses the reasons for his time away, his passion for wrestling and his desire to come back and show that he can still be as good as people remember. He could talk about having one more run and cementing his spot as one of the greatest wrestlers ever.

Reveal a return date for Rey and show a new vignette every week. The should ensure people are aware of his return. From there the company should know roughly how long they’re going to have access to Mysterio for before he retires and draw up a list of all the opponents they want him to face in important matches.

The biggest matches should be saved for pay-per-view. Everything else could be a heavily promoted TV match. Yeah, I still think WWE could improve their ratings by advertising matches. I’m crazy like that.

Mysterio has been an important member of the WWE roster for a long time now. He’s won world titles and had some memorable and very enjoyable matches. The guy deserves a send-off befitting what he’s accomplished in and for WWE.

Thursday 27 June 2013

From Sandy Fork to New York

The Briscoes are off, apparently. It's been rumoured many times over the years that the brothers would leave Ring of Honor for WWE. The latest iteration started circulating last weekend when it came to light that neither Jay nor Mark would be appearing on any ROH shows for the foreseeable future.

The situation has become more bizarre as the week's gone on. Various websites have reported that the Briscoes are heading to WWE, while Ring of Honor has maintained that the Briscoes are taking time off to heal, which, frankly, sounds like a load of old cobblers. Wrestlers, particularly those without the wages of WWE Superstars™, are not in the habit of taking time off unless they have absolutely no alternative.

There's also a worrying rumour that the Briscoes contracts have expired. This is very similar to the situation that arose last year: the tag team titles were won by the All Night Express when the company knew that Kenny King was either working without a contract or soon would be. That was a stupid move. Doing the same thing with Jay Briscoe would be worse.

Not only should ROH and their owner SBG have learnt from last year's debacle, they should have also taken the championship off of Briscoe when they had the chance. If they didn't want to switch it to Matt Hardy then they could have had someone else issue an impromptu challenge to Jay for an unadvertised second world title match at the TV tapings.

Maybe Adam Cole should've won this match
The truth of all of this seems evasive. I don’t believe Jay would leave ROH without dropping the championship. He and Mark both strike me as men who think enough of Ring of Honor and its style of presentation to do the right thing and put someone over on his way out.

Their absence from future line-ups could truly be due to them being given some time off to rest. Both work most ROH shows and with the next big event not being until August (Manhattan Mayhem V) it's entirely possible they're on holiday as opposed to leaving.

Of course what throws a spanner into the works there is that ROH have announced that there will be an announcement made regarding the status of the title “soon”. It’s teased in said announcement that Michael Elgin could be awarded the title by forfeit as he was due to be the next challenger. I’d by disappointed at the avoidable disruption to the lineage of one of wrestling’s most meaningful titles were anything like that to happen, mostly because it could so easily have been avoided.

That an announcement is imminent means there’s something to announce. I can’t see what else it could be than Jay being relieved of the gold.

Perhaps it’s all a lot of misdirection and ROH know Jay will be at an upcoming show to drop the title in a surprise, unadvertised bout. I’m not going to get my hopes up for that though. Again, the simplest thing to do would have been for him to lose the belt last Sunday.

It's also interesting that not all of the regular sites took note of this story. Some cover ROH more than others but all of them would cover something like a pair of major stars (which the Briscoes are) leaving for WWE. That not every major wrestling website covered the story makes me think it may not be entirely true.

This isn't to say that I don't think WWE would be interested in them. I think the Briscoes would fit with the fed's recent interest in top indy talent. They've been told before that they don't have a marketable WWE look. That's true as far as the standard WWE look is concerned, but it also appears to be less of an issue than it was five years ago. Sami Callihan has been signed to a contract and as good as he seems to be he doesn’t look like a traditional WWE Superstar™ either. He's been signed so the Briscoes certainly have a shot.

If they do wind up in WWE (which I'm not convinced is happening yet, remember) I think they could make a real difference to the product. They've got over a decade of experience working as a team and would work pretty well as good guys on the main roster with a modified version of their current act. They'd probably need to tone down the farmhands bit a little (and, in Jay’s case, avoid the rampant homophobia) because I can't imagine Vince McMahon liking it (or even comprehending it) but otherwise I think they'd be ready. It's the Briscoes, not the Wyatts, that I think would work well as opposition for The Shield.

Of course if they have signed or do sign they'll have their obligatory stay in NXT. Expect 'Dem Boys' to become the doubles champs there very quickly.

If Jay does need to drop the title and returns to do it I think Adam Cole is a strong contender to beat him. He'd work as a heel for ROH's bounty of babyfaces to chase and wouldn't be considered a ridiculous choice of champion as Matt Hardy would have been (although the fact that fans would have hated a Hardy title reign is the main reason I think it would have worked).

Whatever the Briscoes have planned, whatever titles they chase next, and wherever they end up working, I wish both men all the best in their future endeavours. I’ll be less inclined to extend those wishes to ROH if it turns out that they’ve let another champion’s contract expire.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Best in the World 2013 review

The title of Satursday’s Best in the World presumably didn’t refer to the quality of the internet stream. Yep, ROH had issues in that area again. I've written about ROH's streaming problems so many times that I'm bored of the subject. The sentiment I've expressed before is basically that ROH should have more respect for their fans than to continually offer shoddy streams and that being owned by a broadcasting company should mean these issues are far rarer.

Since Saturday it’s become something of a moot point. Finally admitting defeat, Ring of Honor announced that they are discontinuing their internet pay-per-view offerings. They will instead record their shows and upload them as video on demand content, allowing them to ensure the highest quality possible.

I think this is a move they should have made a while ago. Streaming issues have been plaguing ROH’s internet broadcasts for years, so much so that it had reached the point that a flawless stream was considered newsworthy. The lack of a live atmosphere and the floods of spoilers are a small price to pay for offering a reliable product that fans know won’t let them down.


Best in the World’s opening match saw BJ Whitmer tangle with Mike Bennett. Their match was nothing special. What happened afterwards was more interesting. Maria blamed 'Brutal' Bob for 'The Prodigy's' loss. She didn't really have much of a point: Bob had run into the ring and been immediately thrown out by Whitmer. He had no impact on the match outcome. Bennett lost clean after being hit with an Exploder suplex.

Maria shouted at Bob as she left with Bennett. Bob followed them, bellowing pleas for reason. I assume the group is being split to free 'The Brutal One' up to manage someone else once Bennett leaves for NXT.

The second match was the one I'd looked forward to most: the American Wolves versus Adrenalin RUSH. What I saw of it lived up to my high expectations. Thomas and ACH didn't look at all out of place opposing two former world champions. Richards seemed to be on form, having fun encouraging "Yes!" chants and good naturedly using traditionally heel tactics. Free of the pressures of the main event Davey is a far more enjoyable personality.

The Wolves won. Adrenalin RUSH put up a strong fight though. I'd like to see a rematch on TV at some point. Singles matches wouldn't go amiss either. Richards v ACH could be incredible.

Match three was preceded by footage of recent altercations between Adam Cole and Roderick Strong. The story was that Cole refused a handshake after losing to Strong in San Antonio, which irked Roddy. They shook hands here though, which Kevin Kelly theorised was Adam Cole admitting he was wrong to refuse it to begin with. If only we could block Kev out.

The streaming issue cuts seemed particularly prevalent in this match, so certain transitions were lost on me. What I managed to see was great. Cole and Strong work very well against one another.

Eventually they headed on to the ring apron. Chops (needlessly stiff ones of course) were exchanged, with Cole ultimately giving up on them in favour of a superkick. That sent Strong tumbling off the apron and through a table.

Cole made out as though he was torn on what to do, take the count out win or be the good sportsman and help his opponent. Corino screamed at him from the commentary position, telling him to think of himself and take the victory. Cole's conscience seemed to get the better of him as he slipped out of the ring to help Strong to his feet.

Cole revealed his true nature after a few seconds, pushing Strong down to the floor and getting back into the ring just as the ref reached twenty (yeah, they get a twenty count in ROH, deal with it). He seemed very pleased with himself. I was just pleased the stream had held out long enough for me to make sense of the sequence.

Steve Corino followed Cole to the back. The official heel turn is a step closer.

Yet another chunk of footage went missing after that. The next thing I saw after Corino gushing over Cole (not like that) was Kevin Kelly being joined by RD Evans and Veda Scott. For some reason Kelly said he'd rather have RD with him at ringside so Veda Scott left. If there was a point to her presence it was lost on me.

A man of questionable morals

The final match of the first half was Michael Elgin versus Tommaso Ciampa. The audience was split on who to support and remained so throughout the match. They did react more to 'Unbearable's' delayed suplex than to Ciampa's if that means anything to anyone. But then it's his move, so you'd expect that.

Thankfully the stream held out for the particularly exciting end sequence. Ciampa blasted Elgin with Project Ciampa and was astonished when he kicked out. 'The Sicilian Psychopath' took his foe out to the apron and gave him a Kryptonite Crunch, then took him back into the ring to attempt another Project Ciampa. Elgin reversed into a conventional power bomb and followed up with a buckle bomb. Ciampa managed to kick out and apply a triangle choke.

Elgin hoisted the mohawked one up and dropped him with a powerbomb but it wasn't enough to break the hold. Elgin went for another buckle bomb but 'The Dominant Male' rolled through and scored with a hard knee to the head.

That still wasn't enough to end the bout. Nor was the lariat that Elgin pounded Ciampa with seconds later. It would take three spinning back fists, a rolling elbow to the back of the head, and a final hellacious lariat for Elgin to finally put Ciampa down for the count.

The match, particularly the finishing sequence, was expertly paced. That's becoming one of Elgin's more obvious strengths as a performer. His bigger matches tend to build to frantic exchange of big moves and finishers.

After the match QT Marahall strolled to the ring. What he and the rather natty suit he was wearing got up to will remain a mystery as the video I watched cut out just as he neatly folded up his jacket. When it came back on QT and Evans were stood outside the ring. Presumably he attacked both Ciampa and Elgin. Maybe the two powerhouses will team up to take on the amusingly named Marshall Law? Hey, it's not like ROH prioritise turning Elgin into a star or anything.

The second half opened with a video that showed how the two triple threat matches came about. It was pretty well edited but it didn't do anything that Kevin Kelly and Nigel McGuinness (who commentated the second half) couldn't have done with a sentence or two.

Matt who?

The TV title match was one of the more severe casualties of the streaking troubles. One moment I was watching Taven get introduced to some impressively loud boos, the next I was watching him land on his opponents at ringside to cheers. He followed that up with a Mark Henry impression, shouting "That's what I do!" into the camera. At least the stream managed to catch that!

The middle portion of the match was pretty slick. You'd expect that from MTV though: he's been in a ton of three-ways over the last few months (and I'm not talking about the Hoopla Hotties!). Everyone carried themselves well. It was a lively affair.

What I assume was the ending sequence was bizarre. Scarlet entered the ring to distract Jay Lethal and got her top yanked off for her troubles. As the referee pawed at her (by which I mean gave her a towel) Truth Martini entered the ring, allowing Jimmy Jacobs to spear 'Black Machismo'. Truth begged off from 'The Zombie Princess' until Solicia (the other Hoopla Hottie, whose name is probably spelt incorrectly) got in between them. Jacobs pie faced her out of the way. It was a bit of a dodgy thing to book but he is a heel and fans are smart enough to know it's an act. What came next is far harder to shrug off. Solicia scooped Jacobs up on to her shoulders and then took a full force super kick to the face from Jay Lethal.

Pie facing someone is one thing, booting them in the head is quite another. On top of how uncomfortable it was to see it was also done by a babyface. They're the ones who are supposed to have moral fibre and a sense of honour. Or at least they used to. Apparently in 2013 it's absolutely fine for a good guy to kick a defenceless woman in the head.

What that led to I have no idea. The next thing I saw was Taven celebrating and Jimmy Jacobs angrily pushing his way backstage as Kelly intimated that he'd had the match, and the belt, won.

The technical issues really ruined the flow of the match. I've no idea how it started or how it finished. The middle was good, as was the beginning of the presumed finishing sequence, but it felt very disjointed.

The three-way tag team title match, reDRagon defending against the C&C Wrestle Factiry and SCUM boys Rhett Titus and Cliff Compton, was decent enough. It was never going to be anything special with Compton and Titus involved. The good news is that O'Reilly and Fish defended the titles against Coleman and Alexander in a conventional two-on-two match at Sunday's TV taping. We'll get what I'm sure will be a superior match for free. That's not bad.

Back to Best in the World. reDRagon retained their titles after Fish knocked out Alexander with a kick to the head. It was a believable, if slightly sudden, finish.

The evening's penultimate bout saw Matt Hardy defeat Kevin Steen. Before the match started Corino cut a cheap heat promo and provided an introduction for Matt Hardy. Not to be outdone Steen performed some mic work of his own, requesting that matchmaker Nigel McGuinness add a no disqualification stipulation. McGuinness complied, which allowed 'Mr Wrestling' to once again draw inspiration from the Attitude Era in a wild brawl that went all over ringside and saw various objects, including a crutch, a trash can, and a ladder, incorporated into the madness.

Naturally SCUM intervened. Titus and Jacobs were first out, saving Hardy a trip through a table. Titus got a Package piledriver for his troubles while Jacobs got an apron bomb. Hardy eventually gained the advantage after Compton hit Steen with a chair.

Steen came back with a Codebreaker variant and an F5, which 'The Wrestling Jesus' kicked out of. Hardy hit a low blow and one of the match's many side effects on to the ladder for a two count of his own. Hardy finally secured the win when he gave Steen a Twist of Fate through some chairs.

Corino announced the victory as part of another attempt to convince people he can do the overblown announcer shtick (which he can't). SCUM continued to beat up Steen as referees came to the ring and the bell was rung (because heels always stop beatdowns when bells are rung). Eventually they just wandered off. Nobody made the save. Presumably this was designed to illustrate that Steen is still an unpopular member of the roster.

It was not a good night for Kevin Steen

In what has to be considered one of Ring of Honor's worst ever production choices Papa Briscoe was interviewed before the main event. He said the word family around a dozen times. It was awful. He'd clearly enjoyed a drink or six throughout the course of the evening.

I really wasn't into the Briscoe v Briscoe match. Neither was the crowd. They came alive at certain points but they were quiet for a lot of the exchanges. I think a large part of the problem was the lack of a storyline feud. Matt Hardy would have been a far more sensible choice of challenger, especially when you consider he faced Jay the following evening.

The pair went overboard when it came to the finish. Mark kicked out of a Jay Driller so Jay lariated him and hit a second. That also got two. Jay hit a series of superkicks (during which audience members were shown for some reason) and then hit a third Jay Driller for the win. The audience livened up during points of this bit for the most part they didn't seem to care. Frankly, it was not the greatest of matches.

The following evening's TV tapings saw Jay retain the championship against Hardy. Reading that on Monday morning was a big surprise. If you've read anything I've written about ROH over the last few months you'll be aware that I was convinced Hardy would have the belt by late June in order to setup a future clash with Kevin Steen. Not only is that not happening but it appears the SCUM stable as we knew it is over: the faction lost a stipulation match at the tapings which means they must disband.

So, where next for ROH? In a way the move away from iPPVs will benefit them. They now have a greater degree of freedom when it comes to pacing their stories. Without the need to ensure bigger matches are reserved for pay-per-views any card can now be turned into a "supershow". Obviously venue size and the town the show’s being held in will still need to be taken into consideration to an extent but with every show now potentially becoming a VOD ROH can do more with some of their smaller shows.

Storyline-wise I think a union between Adam Cole and Steve Corino seems like a safe bet. I don't think Matt Hardy's going anywhere either. He nicked Jay's belt at the TV taping, which indicates he's going to get a second shot at the title. If he doesn't win it I think Adam Cole will. I can't imagine (nor do I want to) a world in which Jay Briscoe is the ROH champion until the end of this year.

Monday 24 June 2013


Dave Lagana is a bit of an anomaly in wrestling. He's a wrestling fan that managed to get a job as part of WWE's creative department. That's not something that happens too often and it's safe to say that it happened in Lagana's case thanks to a combination of having Writer of Friends (you may have heard of it) on his CV. His timing probably helped too. He started with WWE in 2002. Since then WWE has become strongly opposed to the idea of hiring anyone, no matter what relevant experience they may have, who is a wrestling fan. They want TV experience, not opinionated fans.

Lagana had a fair run with WWE, lasting six years before getting released from his contract (or is that term only applied to the talent?) in 2008. During his time in WWE he worked as a writer on SmackDown, headed up the writing of ECW and was taken under the metaphorical wing of Paul Heyman. As far as wrestling CVs go those aren't bad things to be able to say. Having written Friends doesn't hurt either.

After his release Lagana wound up in ROH. His role there was undefined. During his not wholly unsuccessful attempts to turn himself into a media personality throughout the summer of 2011 Lagana was deliberately vague on the subject of what he actually did for Ring of Honor. He admitted he had the chance to make suggestions regarding the company's creative direction but that it was mostly left up to Carey Silkin, Adam Pearce and, later, Jim Cornette. It seems safe to assume he was more involved with the production side of things rather than scripting. That's what his known employment track record would make him a good fit for.

Lagana wound up getting moved on from ROH in the closing months of 2011. The company went into a creative tailspin shortly afterwards. In fairness I think that was more to do with the presence of Jim Cornette than the lack of Dave Lagana. I could be wrong but I doubt it.

Lagana quickly found himself snapped up by TNA (he was a former WWE employee remember) and started working on the company's Indian spin-off Ring Ka King. Despite being a massively successful and warmly received project the channel that aired Ring Ka King decided to pass on a second series. Perhaps they've got something against successful TV shows? Whatever the reason it didn't matter: RKK had provided Lagana with a chance to prove to TNA management that he could put together entertaining wrestling television. When it became apparent Ring Ka King series two wasn't materialising Lagana was moved over to work on Impact Wrestling.

Lagana's addition to the Impact writing team coincided with the initial push of Austin Aries. With Bobby Roode and James Storm recently established as headliners it seemed like the perfect time for a new writer to come in and take TNA in a bold new creative direction.

It didn't happen. Instead the promising new era faltered just before it was established. 'A Double' performed a senseless heel turn out of nowhere and dropped the title to Jeff Hardy then formed a tag team with former rival Bobby Roode. Meanwhile Hardy enjoyed a lengthy run before dropping the championship to Bully Ray.

I have nothing against Ray or Hardy but their ascension to the top felt like regression. Both men made their names elsewhere while Roode, Storm and Aries could be presented as TNA creations.

As Lagana is not acknowledged as the head of TNA creative it's hard to pin this on him. Bruce Prichard's the man in charge of the scripts and so it's him we should blame for the decidedly uninspiring product TNA puts out. If anything I think we should be encouraged that Lagana's still around and a part of the process. Last year's Impact quality boom coinciding with Lagana joining the team could be a coincidence, but it'd be a big one. It strikes me as more likely that he had a little more say last summer and that it ceased when ratings didn't immediately improve. If that's the case it's unfair. Ratings take time to go up, especially with the amount of choice viewers today have.

Lagana has a proven track record in wrestling. He’s learnt from probably the two most highly regarded bookers ever (Vince McMahon and Paul Heyman). He worked on SmackDown during what is generally considered one of the blue brand’s brightest periods. Ring Ka King was a solid show too, and that is generally credited as the work of Lagana and Jeff Jarrett alone.
Don't do what this sign says
TNA is clearly not as successful as it could or should be right now. They attract just over one million viewers a week, which is pretty poor considering their time slot and the size of the wrestling fan base in North America. The trouble appears to be that the promotion is happy to settle for the number two spot.

Having old boys like Prichard, Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, Al Snow, and D’Lo Brown backstage is not going to change anything. They’re all interested in booking the same tired product TNA’s been putting out for years now, a strange mix of Attitude Era shock tactics and attempts to emulate the current WWE approach. The bad ratings and disinterest in pay-per-views (TNA are lucky if they pull a five figure viewing number) proves that this is not the way TNA should be going.

The company would be best served getting rid of everyone currently involved in the creative process with the exception of Lagana. I think he deserves a crack at steering TNA for a while. Bring in some fresh blood to flesh out the rest of the creative department. Do something WWE would never do and bring in wrestling fans.

There are plenty of fans out there who have an idea of what they’d like to see from TNA. An online application process could turn up some good ideas and new talent. Under Lagana fans could learn how to format a show, interact with wrestlers, and experiment with the tried and tested wrestling TV formula.

Over the last several years TNA has missed out on signing talent like Tyler Black, Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Jon Moxley, and El Generico. They’ve proven incapable of holding on to established names like Rob Van Dam. I’m convinced this is largely because they’re presenting such a boring product: wrestlers simply don’t want to be associated with it and would rather take their chances in NXT.

A retooled creative division helmed by Lagana would provide TNA with a chance to go in a new direction. The company should not be satisfied with a number two spot. It should be figuring out a unique presentation and striving to be the best at that.

Sunday 23 June 2013

The Managers

During the Attitude Era the WWF phased out male managers. They were replaced by female valets, who were there more to provide eye candy than to help disguise the weaknesses of a wrestler. Terri? The Kat? Debra? Remember them? They’re the ones I’m thinking of. Even Trish Stratus started off in that role before transitioning into WWE’s most valued in-ring female wrestler ever.

The manager change fit with the direction of the Attitude Era but, in the long run, would prove harmful to the development of new stars. The WWF was blessed during the late 90s and early double zeros with a batch of stars who were gifted talkers. There were very few people on the roster who needed someone to talk for them. Those that did were so low down the pecking order that giving them mic time wasn't a priority anyway.

Before that managers had been used often to help main event stars whose promo skills weren’t terribly strong. Every person who filled the role, from Bobby Heenan to Harvey Whippleman, did so because they added something to the product. They knew how to do things that their various charges didn't.

The change stuck for much of the following decade. Paul Bearer remained linked to the Undertaker and Kane until 2000 and returned for various runs alongside both men from 2005 to 2012. Paul Heyman was the only other manager of note. He introduced Brock Lesnar in 2002 and went on to manage Big Show, Kurt Angle, Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas before being written off TV. He returned in 2006 and was affiliated with Big Show, Hardcore Holly, Test and various others before finally leaving WWE in December. Heyman was easily the industry's top manager (although he went by the decidedly more modern term “agent”) by that point.

When Heyman returned to WWE last year it was to once again manage Lesnar. He helped to sell the feud between his client and Triple H over the summer with excellent microphone work and facial expressions. His ability to cut a clear and concise promo that drew people in and at the same time made his motivations clear was and remains marvellous.

When 'The Pain' disappeared from television (because WWE like to hoard the limited dates they have him for) Heyman was given a very different role alongside CM Punk. His job there was not to talk for his charge but to enhance Punk's promos with his facial expressions and reactions. He'd occasionally provide a long winded, heat-seeking introduction but that would it as far as speaking went.
Strange little hand gesture from Heyman, there
When Punk left television after WrestleMania (he was granted time off for some R&R) Heyman was paired with Curtis Axel. That partnership has seen him return to a role he's not played since introducing 'The Pain' to audiences over a decade ago, namely helping to establish a new act.

Both Punk and Lesnar are big names in WWE in their own right. Heyman adds something to both (particularly Lesnar) but he's not an absolute necessity for either man to be perceived as a star. The entire point of his partnership with Axel is to make Axel a bigger name by the association. Once managers reach a certain point this is a great use for them.

That he excelled in all roles is not only a testament to Heyman's talent but also an example of how varied a skilled manager's (or agent’s) role can be. I suspect the work done by Heyman last year is what prompted WWE to try out other traditional managers.

The only other one that's made it to the main roster so far is right wing fanatic Zeb Colter. That WWE drafted in an old pro to be their second manager isn't a surprise. Dutch Mantell (the man behind the whiskers) is a forty year veteran. He knows how to be effective with a microphone and has been successful at masking Jack Swagger's distinct lack of charisma.

His new pairing with Antonio Cesaro is a sign that WWE is pleased with his work. On the surface it may appear slightly disappointing that ‘The Swiss Superman’ has been deemed in need of a manager. I don’t think it’s necessarily indicative of poor standing though. Punk was paired with Heyman after all. Perhaps Cesaro will get to do his fair share of speaking. Even if not it should at leats get him more time on TV.
Colter's new charge, roaring like a bear
Anyway, if Colter's been a test run to see if people other than Heyman can do well in the agent-manager role I think he has to be considered a success.

There are two guys lined up as managers in NXT. The first is Sylvester Lefort,  a French wrestler trained by Lance Storm. His obligatory NXT repackaging has seen him not only transform into a manager but also develop an apparent fondness for leopard print. He's got a good look to him, and his accent will not only help him stand out but also make punters more inclined to boo him. Some things in wrestling never change. One of those things is the foreign heel.

The other man is Bray Wyatt, someone you'll probably be aware of if you've watched RAW lately. Wyatt's preacher gimmick and southern twang set him apart from the rest of the WWE pack, as does his southern drawl. It's still not clear if he's going to be wrestling or managing or both when The Wyatt Family make their debuts he's capable of both, and I'm hoping he's used in a way that allows him to manage Rowan and Harper.

Good on WWE for resurrecting the role.

Saturday 22 June 2013

The (World's Strongest) Slam Heard Round the World

On Monday's RAW Mark Henry interrupted a John Cena promo. Dressed in a snappy salmon pink jacket, Henry told Cena he could put his guard down and that he should stay in the ring for what was about to be said. Before he said anything more the crowd started up a “Henry!” chant. The reason for that was the rumour that Henners was going to announce he retirement.

Henry said he respects everyone who works for WWE before making the bizarre claim that he was a “seasoned veteran” when Cena got called up to the main roster in 2002. He’d been in WWE six years at that point, so hardly a season veteran. He was also dreadful in the ring. It’s only the last few years that have seen him become passable in the ring.
Snappy dresser
Anyway, ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ told the champ that the way he’s going he’s going to be the greatest WWE champ ever. If you consider a large number of reigns as the key to greatness then Cena is already the best ever as far as the WWE championship is concerned. Personally I think there’s more to the greatest label tag than that. But I digress.

Henry continued by saying that if he had one regret it was failing to be WWE champion. And then he announced that he was retiring, which got loud boos and a chant of “One more match!” It was a generous crowd. It was at that point that Cena handed over his title belt for Henners to pose with. The crowd lapped it up.
Mark Henry with the WWE title there
After mentioning that he was on the road two hundred nights a year Henry talked about getting to spend more time with his family. He then raised up his arms and soaked in the amazingly warm response from the crowd. Cena came into the ring, raised the retiree’s hand and then went in for a hug.

At which point Henry then swerve turned on Cena, scooping him up and hitting him with a World's Strongest Slam. He strode up the entranceway, the crowd alternating between chants of “Henry!” and “You still got it!” Once at the entrance Henry bellowed "That's what I do!", his unintentionally hilarious catchphrase.

Yep, it was a setup all along.

Everyone involved in the sequence deserves an enormous amount of credit. The entire thing was brilliantly executed. Henry displayed a completely unexpected ability to act: his performance felt so real and full of emotion that it was easy to believe he really was calling it a day. It’s destined to become a career highlight.

The WWE office crew played their part well too. Using social media and rumour websites to their advantage WWE carefully leaked information and posted conjecture on their official outlets that 'The WSM' was retiring. The audience was prepared for Henry's announcement, which ensured they reacted in the desired fashion. Had the announcement not been setup it's possible Henry's speech would've been met with indifference or, worse, cheered. Instead the audience were primed to give Henry a hero’s send off.

Even Cena was good. It didn't seem like he was propagating a storyline when he proffered his title to Henry and he reacted in a completely believable manner to everything covered in the speech. If he'd mugged his way through, as he does all too often, then ringsiders may have guessed what was coming and its impact would've been lost.

It's the social networking and planned leaking that impresses me the most. It shows that when WWE staff put their mind to it they can use these things to their own advantage. It would become tiresome if it happened every week but once in a while I think it can be very effective. It's nice to see WWE finally experimenting with false information and more subtle teases.
This is what he does
The segment was great. Sadly I don't think the matches that follow will be. I think the approach did a good job of casting Henry as a heel (the audience cheered him but that’s probably because they realised they’d been a part of something special and that things were happening at the expense of the hated Cena), and there's plenty of time to increase the disdain felt for him before he locks horns with Cena at Money in the Bank. But ultimately we're left with the same problem we have with all Cena matches: Cena's involved.

No matter how good Henry is at being bad in the coming weeks there are some people who just won't cheer Cena. As far as this particular story goes it's a shame. Henry deserves to be treated as a heel for his quality work. Obviously the quality of the matches they have will be abysmal, but WWE has done the best they can to give what would've been a deeply tedious feud a good start.

Once again I congratulate them on the good work.

Friday 21 June 2013

One of a Kind

At Payback we learnt that Rob Van Dam has signed a new WWE contract. The news went down very well with the Chicago crowd. They spent the rest of the evening bursting into chants for RVD. The same three letters trended on Twitter during the show. Clearly his return is popular.

I suspect that a lot of people are going to be expecting a lot from 'Mr Monday Night'. For starters he's signed a short term, limited appearances deal. That means that people attending house shows (or is that live events?) are most of the time going to be left disappointed if they're hoping to spy RVD. I suspect he’s going to be used mostly on TV and pay-per-view.

Even placing availability issues aside there's the fact that Van Dam is, shall we say, not as spritely a performer as he used to be. Anyone who saw him in TNA, particularly towards the end of his run earlier in the year, would be able to tell you that he is not as slick as he once was.

Don't worry, he still does all your favourite signature RVD spots: the split legged moonsault, the Van Daminator, the tumbling senton and all the rest. But his matches have become formulaic. They've always been known for being heavy on high spots but the transitioning used to be close to seamless. Now Rob shuffles from one spot to the next with a tedious selection of scoop slams and punches to get his opponents into the desired position. His decreased speed and intensity, and increased portliness, mean that his frog splash no longer merits a five star rating.

Perhaps I'm being pessimistic. After all, there's nothing to stop Van Dam getting back into shape for this WWE return. He's long been known as a man who performs better when he feels valued. He was in good condition towards the start of his time in TNA, which is when he was being presented as a major star by the league. A correlation can be drawn between his drop down the card and the extent to which he phoned his performances in. Maybe a return to The Big Time will motivate Van Dam to get back to top form.

RVD sparkles when he’s on top form. Numerous examples of his wrestling prowess can be plucked from his twenty year career. An obvious thing to mention is his ECW programme with Jerry Lynn, which gave the company some of its best matches in its final years. In addition to carrying dozens of lesser performances to enjoyable matches he’s also worked classics against the likes of 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Lance Storm, Rhino, and the Undertaker.

A cynic might point out that those guys rarely had bad matches with anyone. And they'd be right. But as I say, Van Dam has carried so many lesser opponents to quality matches that he’s proven he can be relied upon.
Happier times for 'Mr Monday Night'. Don't expect to see this sight again
The other side of Van Dam shouldn't be forgotten though. The sloppy worker side. RVD famously unleashed a slate of concussions on the WWE roster when he debuted the Van Daminator in the promotion. While some of the blame could fall to the men receiving the move it's hard not to see it as evidence of clumsiness.

There are other examples. Hardcore Holly getting sliced up in a poorly executed table spot in 2006 for instance. With the WWE approach to handling concussions having changed (for the better) since RVD was last in town he'll need to work a less reckless style if he's going to achieve success.

The return of 'The Whole F'n Show' to WWE presents a number of fresh matches, feuds and storylines. His status as a Paul Heyman guy is well documented, for example. It's unlikely but that could lead to an on-screen pairing for the two. If Rob ever goes heel I'd like to see that. Don’t expect it any time soon though.

Match-wise Van Dam has "dream" opponents waiting for him in CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. He has fresh pairings with Brock Lesnar, Wade Barrett, Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Alberto Del Rio, and of course Ryback to look forward too. It's been said that WWE already has a first feud in place for Van Dam. Realistically that could be with anybody but Randy Orton, Curtis Axel and 'Big Hungry' would be good choices.

The much ballyhooed Orton heel turn (hey, it’s going to happen any time now, everyone says so!) would make ‘The Viper’ a great opponent for RVD. They’ve interacted surprisingly little despite coexisting on the roster for much of the last decade. I think they’d have good matches. Ryback could be an intriguing programme too. RVD could comfortably lose a bout against ‘The Human Wrecking Ball’ at SummerSlam without his status being harmed. There’s even a readymade storyline waiting: Ryback’s been nicking Van Dam’s wrestling gear!

Perhaps the best rivalry for RVD to launch into would be with Curtis Axel. There’s a natural starting point with Heyman trying to recruit Van Dam and being rebuffed. Being associated with Van Dam would enhance Axel’s standing on the roster, as would gaining a win over him. Even a tainted one. It would be a sensible piece of television.

Don't expect RVD to come back and win a Money in the Bank briefcase. While it's not impossible he'll once again win the 'Mr Money in the Bank' moniker I don't think it's likely. That's an accolade for a rising star heading to their first world championship. Van Dam, as an established and popular name, doesn't need that shortcut.

RVD's return strikes me as something designed to spice up the mid-card. We could see him clashing with the big names for a world championship but I think it's likelier he'll be playing a supporting role. At this stage of his career there's no finer use for him.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Best in the World 2013 preview

This Saturday Ring of Honor will present its third annual Best in the World pay-per-view. Over the last two years the event has been used as a mid-year turning point for advancing or starting feuds and storylines, most notably the Eddie Edwards v Davey Richards rivalry in 2011. The previous BITW events have been worthwhile affairs, second only in importance to Final Battle.

This year's show is going to have its work cut out if it's to compete with its predecessors. The Jay Briscoe v Mark Briscoe main event does not, in my eyes, immediately scream "quality". That's not helped by the fact that I'm not the Briscoes biggest fan. Yes, they've been with the company "since day one", but they're a tag team. Tenure does not (or at least it shouldn't) entitle anyone in wrestling to a spot they're not necessarily cut out for. And I don't think the Briscoes, as opponents, are cut out for the main event.

The Briscoes battling for the ROH championship will, in short, be a peculiar sight. Hopefully their match will be kept under the twenty minute mark and they'll be allowed to brawl around ringside. That's the best way to handle the match, letting them play to their strengths.

I expect Jay to win. The champion will defend the title against Matt Hardy at Sunday's TV taping and I expect the belt to change hands there. Having Jay lose to Mark only for Mark to lose to Matt the next night doesn't strike me as something ROH would do. Mark doesn't strike me as a world champion either (but then neither did Jay). I think it'll be Jay entering Sunday's match against Hardy with the belt.
Jay Briscoe, centre stage on another poster
Speaking of SCUM, the group has been included in Best in the World's other two title matches. This is the result of storyline complaining from Steve Corino about his boys being locked out of title contendership. I was perfectly happy with the original matches that were announced. ROH could have afforded a night light on SCUM.

The tag team title match will see champions reDRagon defend against Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander and SCUM members Cliff Compton and Rhett Titus. The prospect of C&C facing Fish and O'Reilly alone appealed to me far more. I've wanted to see them given a larger role for around a year now and it seemed as though they were finally going to get that here. Perhaps the match will be revisited in the future. I remain hopeful that Coleman and Alexander will get their turn as a top team eventually.

As far as the match goes I think the addition of Titus and Compton will hamper the quality. The original match could have seen some fast and slick exchanges. A triple threat will make that trickier to accomplish.

I'm going with reDRagon to win. They still have plenty left to do as champions. They could lose the titles and then win them back later but what would be the point? The current approach seems to be longer reigns for the secondary titles.

The other match SCUM have been added to is the TV title match. It was originally going to be Matt Taven defending against Jay Lethal. MTV will now defend against Jimmy Jacobs as well. This will be the third iPPV of the last four that sees the television belt defended in a three-way match. Someone should remind the booking team that it's not the X Division championship.

Unlike the tag match I think the inclusion of 'The Zombie Princess' could enhance this match. He's had some highly regarded matches with Lethal this year, which bodes well for some good exchanges in this bout. Taven's not a slouch himself, he'll contribute to the match too. It could be a surprise match of the night.

I'm going to predict a successful defence for Taven, but that's as much wishful thinking as anything else. I like his current status as a slightly unworthy champion who has to rely on Truth Martini and the Hoopla Hotties to win. We could just as easily see Jacobs benefit from SCUM interference to win his first ROH singles title or Lethal become the first multi-time TV champ. Long term it's Taven that needs the title most.

Speaking of the TV title two former holders of it will clash at Best in the World: Roderick Strong and Adam Cole. A few months ago Strong was a heel. Without any particular turning point or change in character he has become a babyface. Cole'a the opposite. He was a happy, smiley good guy into hand-slapping and morals a few months back. Losing the television title to Matt Taven and then failing to defeat Jay Briscoe for the world title has made him bitter. He is now an out and proud bad guy.

There's not a particularly interesting reason for this match to happen, not that that matters. Strong and Cole will tear it up and do their best to have the match of the night. Both men could do with a win because their iPPV records this year aren't the greatest. I think a Cole win would make more sense so that's what I'm going with.

I originally said that Tommaso Ciampa v Michael Elgin would be held off until after this show. Looks like I got that wrong. I think it could be a great match. The story is basically that 'The Sicilian Psychopath' feels he could have made it to Elgin's spot on the card had he not been injured last year. For his part Elgin wants to beat Ciampa to prove he's the more worthy of an ROH title shot (which, for the record, he's already earned).

I'd like to see Ciampa win but I think Elgin will get the nod. He's not had a huge amount to do lately and is closer to being a major star than is Tommaso. Perhaps a loss will be used to tip Ciampa over the edge and make him a heel, although he's had stirring responses since his return so perhaps not.

Perhaps the least interesting match on the card is BJ Whitmer v Mike Bennett. Whitmer is like the Briscoes, respected more for the length of time he's worked for ROH having hard-hitting matches as for the quality of his wrestling. I like Bennett as a character, and it's always nice to see Maria at ringside, but his wrestling style always feels a little out of place in ROH. He has improved since debuting a couple of years ago though. That's a positive.

I'd like to see 'The Prodigy' win this match. There are still rumours floating around that he's heading to NXT. ROH could make use of that by building him up with plenty of wins, making a loss in his final appearance mean more. If that happens then it could be ROH trainee 'Cheeseburger' that gets the honour of a stature enhancing victory over Bennett. He's been moved into a rivalry with Bennett by kissing (or sexually assaulting, call it what you will) Maria so a match between the two seems likely.

All that said I've predicted a lot of heel victories so far (and I'll be predicting another below). I don't think the promotion will present such an unbalanced card so I'm going to predict a win for 'The Buzzsaw' here. Perhaps 'Cheeseburger' will interfere to protect 'The Prodigy' in defeat. I'll be cheering for Bennett.

The second tag match on the card will see the American Wolves face ACH and Tadarius Thomas, who have picked the team name Adrenalin RUSH. As far as actual wrestling goes this is the match I'm most looking forward to. Both teams are fast and I think the intensity of the Wolves will work well with the high flying of the RUSH boys. That Richards and Edwards are very generous when it comes to making their opponents look good wont hurt either. It should be a fantastic match.

A month ago I thought Adrenalin RUSH were being built up for a title match with reDRagon, so I was puzzled when they lost a number one contenders match on TV. That loss now makes sense. It was done to keep them free for this match. Winning here would make them very credible challengers but I don't think it will happen. I think the Wolves will win a tough contest, only barely overcoming the younger team.

Finally there's the storyline main event: a singles match between Kevin Steen and Matt Hardy. As I mentioned above I think Hardy, 'The Jesus Christ of Professional Wrestling', will be winning the ROH world title on Sunday. That creates reasons for him to both lose to and beat Steen.

If Hardy defeats 'Wrestling's Worst Nightmare' and goes on to capture the top prize then there will be a natural story of Steen having to spend six months earning a title shot at Final Battle. The audience would be encouraged to be more supportive of him whenever his title match with Hardy came because he would have been cast in the underdog role by the BITW loss. Beating Steen would also make Hardy even more unpopular than he already is. The win would also allow Hardy access to the cowardly heel tactic of refusing a title match because he's already beaten 'Mr Wrestling'.

Steen beating Hardy on Saturday would give him a legitimate argument for a title match as soon as Hardy's the champ. Hardy could then spend six months avoiding a rematch with Steen, creating more heat, before finally having to face him at Final Battle.

Of the two stories I think the one that would most make sense is the first. I think Matt Hardy will win and that Corino will spend months claiming that Steen's loss means he doesn't deserve to get in the ring ever again with Matt Hardy.

Of course I could be wrong about everything regarding the next six months for ROH. Perhaps Jay Briscoe's reign is going to stretch into 2014. Who knows?

I've really enjoyed the pay-per-view and TV product of Ring of Honor over the last six months. They've got a strong central plot with the SCUM invasion and they've finally expanded the roster and started pushing new talent. I'd love to see Best in the World get the second half of the year off to a good start for the company. I think it will.

Predictions summary:
Jay Briscoe to defeat Mark Briscoe
Matt Hardy to defeat Kevin Steen
reDRagon to retain the tag team championship
Matt Taven to retain the TV championship
American Wolves to defeat Adrenalin RUSH
Adam Cole to defeat Roderick Strong
Michael Elgin to defeat Tommaso Ciampa
BJ Whitmer to defeat Mike Bennett

Monday 17 June 2013

Payback review

Before it aired I said that Payback seemed like a predictable show. I felt that the majority of the matches on the card had obvious outcomes and WWE had left themselves with few opportunities to surprise us. I was proven right. With one notable exception every outcome on the card was either obvious or so inconsequential that nobody could be expected to care about it.

That didn’t make it a bad show. Actually I rather enjoyed it.

The evening kicked off with a spirited pre-show battle between Sheamus and Damien Sandow. ‘The Duke of Decency’ was permitted to look far more competitive than I’d expected but he still lost. Had the match taken place on the main show more people may have been convinced that Sandow would score the upset. Putting them on the pre-show made the outcome pretty clear.

The pay-per-view proper opened with a well-made but overly long video recapping the lead disputes for the show. It could have achieved the same result in half the time.

Payback’s opening match was for the Intercontinental title. Miz, the lone babyface in the triple threat, was met with boos when he entered the arena. Curtis Axel received a handful of cheers that quickly turned to half-hearted boos before the audience fell silent. Wade Barrett was met with almost total silence. It was disheartening to see and hear such a lack of interest in three men that should be over with fans. It’s WWE’s fault for not doing enough with them.

The match was very enjoyable, although it did feature some gargantuan gaps where one of the three men was written out to let the others clash without them. The audience took a while to warm to it but when they did they stayed interested. I think they would have appreciated Fandango’s involvement. They seemed like that sort of crowd.

The victory eventually went to Axel. He got a convincing near fall several minutes before the finish with a Perfectplex but it was ultimately a far more unique move that got him the gold: he pinned Barrett as he was trapped in ‘The Awesome One’s’ figure four leg lock. Perhaps that will make Miz stop using the hold. I doubt it though.

The audience reacted loudly to Axel winning his first singles title (he’s been a tag champ before, alongside the mighty David Otunga). That lifted my spirits regarding WWE’s star making process.

A video was shown reminding us that Mark Henry will return on RAW. It featured him squashing enhancement talent and roaring his catchphrases. The guy’s been gone a month. Does he really require a return video?

Backstage Vince McMahon congratulated Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel on the Intercontinental title match, moments after Heyman told Axel that it was the greatest IC strap match ever. That was clearly rubbish. Triple H was there too, blocking Axel’s path like a school bully with an ASBO. After Heyman and his charge left Vince asked ‘The Game’ how he felt about his upcoming match with Curtis Axel. ‘The Cerebral Assasin’ said he’s not feeling it one bit.

Match two was the Divas title match. Kaitlyn got a decent reaction but AJ got a better one. That was to be expected. AJ has been presented as the company’s top female star for around eighteen months now. Kaitlyn and her championship have been presented as afterthoughts for years.

The match was good. It wasn’t on the level of TNA’s Knockouts division or something from SHIMMER but it was certainly far better than anything we’ve seen from the WWE Divas in a long while. The crowd were silent for most of the bout but that was probably because years of booking have taught viewers to treat the Divas matches as breaks. In fairness WWE did try to combat that by placing the match early on the show, where the crowd could still be expected to be hot.

AJ won the championship clean with her Black Widow submission hold. Kaitlyn held out for a while but couldn’t make her way out of the hold and had to submit. A point that I’m sure will be revisited in the storyline is that Kaitlyn had the match won after a spear but chose to pull AJ up and mock her instead of going for a pin. Plot-wise it’s that mistake that’s credited with costing her the match.
AJ Lee finally gets the Divas title win she's deserved since last year
Following the loss Kaitlyn moped in the ring. The crowd chanted “You just tapped” at her. She left the ring crying. That caused boos. Layla (yeah, I know, random right?) appeared in the aisle to console her. That only enflamed the boos. This treatment did Kaitlyn no favours at all. Presenting her as a whiney sore loser is not going to encourage fans to warm to her.

Josh Mathews was then shown in his luxury skybox. He’d presented the pay-per-view’s pre-show from there alongside Big Show, R-Truth and Cody Rhodes. They were all still with him, and had a spirited discussion about the two matches they’d just seen. Truth got on with the heels fine, despite being a face. There also appeared to be no bad blood between Cody and Show, even though they humiliated each other last year. Bill watts would not have approved of this.

The three wrestlers essentially said nothing but were entertaining nevertheless. I think these expert panels of WWE wrestlers would be a great show in their own right.

"That United States championship is one of the most important championships in sports entertainment" said JBL in the early moments of the Dean Ambrose v Kane match. It’s arguably WWE’s most worthless title, so I have no idea what ‘The Wrestling God’ was wittering on about. Maybe a Wikipedia entry said it’s a prestigious belt, that’s where JBL seems to get all his information from.

Their match was not as dynamic as the one they had on RAW. Ambrose worked over ‘The Big Red Machine’s’ leg before they rumbled out to ringside and Kane got dropped with a DDT. Ambrose won by count out.

That was followed by a surprise: a video informing us that Rob Van Dam will return to WWE at Money in the Bank. The crowd loved that. They would be chanting RVD throughout most of the evening’s remaining matches.

I was struck by how old most of the clips were. It brought home how long it’s been since Van Dam was full time with WWE. He’s slowed down considerably since then. If you’ve not seen much of him in TNA you may be disappointed with the weight RVD’s put on and the slower speed he works at these days. Presumably he’ll be in a ladder match competing for a briefcase at MITB. I doubt he’ll win, but he might.

Match four was Dolph Ziggler’s defence of the World Heavyweight championship against Alberto Del Rio. Ricardo was great at working the crowd for ADR. Without him it would be have been quiet as the challenger made his entrance. Ziggler didn’t have that problem. The crowd went nuts for him.

The enthusiasm for ‘The Heel’ continued throughout the ring introductions and into the match itself. The crowd let rip with a “Let’s go Ziggler!” chant in the early going, cheering his offence and reacting with either disinterest or hostility to Del Rio’s.

Big E got ejected fairly early after being tricked into a shoving match with ‘The Essence of Excellence’. The point of that was to write Langston out of proceedings, which was a necessity as Ziggler would be on sell duty for the evening. Having Langston out there not interfering would have looked odd so it made sense for him to go backstage.

ADR targeted ‘The Show Off’s’ head. We were reminded several times by Cole and JBL (Lawler is excused from advancing stories because he’s no good at it) that Ziggler had suffered a concussion that kept him from competing for over a month. The story quickly became clear: Alberto Del Rio was being absolutely ruthless and exploiting an obvious weakness while Ziggler battled on refusing to give up.

The longer it went on the more obvious it became that we were seeing a double turn taking place. Fans were encouraged to root for Ziggler as he spent the entire match selling and telling medical staff that he was fine to continue. Del Rio exhibited some of his old cockiness and arrogance as he booted Ziggler in the head over and over again.
How can you not feel for Dolph Ziggler?
When Ziggler made a surprise comeback with a kick to the knee and a Zig Zag I thought he’d win on a fluke rollup. It wasn’t to be. Del Rio was up to his feet first and floored a kneeling ‘Show Off’ with a superkick to win the match and the championship.

Del Rio posed and swaggered about in the ring like a heel as Ziggler lay on the mat looking dejected. The new champion left ringside first. Ziggler got a standing ovation and heard his name chanted by the crowd. When Del Rio was shown up at the entrance holding his prize aloft he was met with blistering heat.

It was an incredibly successful double turn.

Up in his luxury skybox Josh Mathews asked Show, Rhodes and Truth about what they’d just seen. They talked about ADR being like a shark, commenting that you could see ruthlessness in his eyes during the match. I think the three of them should write poetry. I bet it would be sublime.

They were interrupted by Del Rio re-entering the arena with a microphone. He asked Chicago to give it up for the new World Heavyweight champion. He said he’d proved why he deserved to be the champ and asked not just the people of Chicago but the people of the entire world to lend him their support, because he competes for the fans. After the performance he’d entered, he told us, he felt like he had earned the championship.

It felt like an impromptu promo to capitalise on the reaction he'd had. If it was it was the right call. Del Rio was almost drowned out by boos. It established him as the bad guy.

Chris Jericho got a nothing reception when he entered for his match with CM Punk. The crowd were neither rooting for him nor booing him as the foe of their beloved Punk. They chanted for Punk as soon as Jericho's music shut off. ‘The Second City Saint’ got a loud reaction when he finally entered (still to the strains of Cult of Personality) alongside Paul Heyman. The crowd were really into him. Or maybe they just approved of his new Wolverine-esque mutton chops.

I was not impressed with their display. The first half was fine, if a little slow, but they tried to pack far too much in to the latter half and went overboard on finishers. Punk hit the GTS at least three times (he hit the move twice to end the match for some reason), ‘Y2J’ locked in the Walls of Jericho three or four times, Punk milked a Macho Elbow for ages, and the Codebreaker was used at least one time too many. These two guys need to stop believing their own hype about having classic matches, pace things better, and make better use of their finishers.
One of the many times the Walls of Jericho was applied during the match
The match included a rather confusing moment where Heyman appeared to distract Punk by climbing up the stairs onto the apron. Neither Heyman or Punk made it clear with their body language or facial expressions what was supposed to be happening and the commentary team failed to elaborate (meaning they failed in one of their key roles). It was presumably meant to hint at a break up of Heyman and Punk. It did a lousy job.

The evening’s penultimate bout was the tag team championship match. Defending champions Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins were booed when they entered the ring. It’s good that they can draw that sort of reaction from an entrance. The Shield have been one of WWE’s big success stories of the last few years. Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan were both met with cheers when they entered the arena. The crowd went crazy for Bryan, bathing him with “Yes!” chants.

The match was one of the best of the evening. In a change from the regular format it was ‘The Viper’ who got isolated in order to set up a hot tag to ‘The World’s Toughest Vegan’. Bryan came in with a series of drop kicks and charges. The inevitable miscue occurred when Bryan went for a suicide dive to his foes, only for them to move and leave Orton to take the move in their place.

Back in the ring Orton dodged a Reigns spear, leaving Bryan to take the move full force. Reigns was eliminated with an RKO, but Bryan got pinned after a Black Out from Rollins. The champs celebrated as Bryan lolled about looking depressed (or maybe angry, the beard makes it hard to tell). ‘The Apex Predator’ left in disgust.

Justin Roberts spent a metaphorical eternity explaining the rules for the main event. It really shouldn’t have taken as long as it did.

The lumberjacks were out first. All of the company’s big names were excused the duty, with the exception of Sheamus. I have no idea why he was included in what was clearly a mid-card role. Perhaps the decision’s been taken to de-push him to teach him some humility. He’s probably really arrogant backstage. He looks the type.

The first fall was dull. It was essentially a regular match, neither man’s strength, broken up with intermittent bouts of ringside brawling. The highlight was watching the reactions of the lumberjacks to the action. They were more animated than any member of the audience. Particularly amusing were Miz and Sweet T. The fans amused themselves with an RVD chant.

‘Big Hungry’ won the fall after a huge brawl erupted at ringside and Cena stupidly (but impressively) launched hismelf off the top rope into the fray. Both men got wiped out during the battle and were eventually tossed back into the ring. Moments later Ryback got a Shellshock on Cena for the pin.
Was it Cena under the Rey Mysterio mask all along?
The lumberjacks quickly made their way backstage as Ryback grabbed a table from under the ring. He tried for a power bomb, which would have won him the championship, but Cena slipped out. ‘The Franchise’ was speared to the mat moments later.

More tables were introduced along with the metal ring steps. Ryback unveiled a new move: chucking the steps around like a psychopath. His aim proved off whenever he lobbed the steps because, y’know, that would have hurt Cena for real. Doing things like that only harm the suspension of disbelief, not that Ryback or Cena care about something as trivial as match quality.

Cena got the fall when he slipped out of a Shellshock attempt and easily lifted Ry’ up to AA him through a table. Ryback no sold the AA like a trooper, springing up almost immediately and throwing Cena outside the ring. There he power bombed him through the announce desk. The crowd chanted for him to do it again. He didn’t.

The two brawled up to the ambulance parked at the entrance and proceeded to rip parts off it to belt each other with. “Talk about a drive-by” quipped Michael Cole as Ryback was Irish whipped through a car door. In kayfabe terms that could have quite literally killed Ryback. That Cole, along with JBL and ‘The King’, was cracking jokes killed the atmosphere of what was a very intense performance from both men.

After Ryback had torn another piece of the ambulance off and hit Cena with it Cena decided the only logical thing for him to do would be to climb on top of the vehicle. Ryback grabbed a crutch and followed him. Cole said two men (one in jorts and one in a singlet) battling atop an ambulance with a crutch was like something from a Bond movie. It wasn't. You have to wonder what makes Cole say some of these things.

After a brief tussle over Ryback’s crutch Cena scooped his opponent up and casually AAed him through the roof, gaining the win.

Cena went back to the ring to roar at the hard camera and hold his belt. The siren started playing. Sadly nobody in the crowd reacted as if Scott Steiner was making a surprise return to become Cena's next challenger. I would’ve marked out for that.  

No, the siren indicated Ryback was being driven out of the arena a defeated, and presumably still hungry, man. I think it’s safe to say that Ryback doesn’t rule: that was his eighth straight non-win on pay-per-view. Cena did the you can't see me thing as he watched the vehicle leave then shook and slapped hands at ringside as the show went off the air.

The headline bout was a spirited performance. Cena does his best work in these kinds of matches and Ryback seems better suited to them as well. I assume their programme is now at an end. I can’t see how Ryback can justifiably be granted a third match with Cena after such a convincing loss. I also can’t imagine many people paying to watch such a match.

Payback was a very good show. The main event, the tag title match, and the Divas match were all very good, and the triple threat match was decent despite its flaws. We also got a superb story told in the WHC title match. If Dolph Ziggler ends up turning face that could be what this event is best remembered for.