Saturday 31 August 2013

Golden Opportunity

Any time John Cena takes time away from WWE it provides everyone on the roster with the chance to progress. Other TV regulars find themselves with more air time when the face of the company isn’t around. Those performers who rarely, or never, see the bright lights of Monday Night RAW may find themselves appearing more often. And this extra time can become a regular thing if enough of a reaction is received.

Cena's final appearance before elbow surgery came on the August 19th RAW. After the show he commented via Twitter that him leaving just as Los Matadores debut is a fair trade. This was clearly a joke but it does beg the question of who could "step up" and better their position in the company during Cena's absence.

The obvious person to mention is AJ Lee. On the August 26th RAW she was given an open mic to reveal how she feels about the state of the Divas division, the women that comprise it, and the Total Divas vehicle that she’s been denied a part in. She gave one of the most compelling performances seen in wrestling this year. In a single promo she did more to rejuvenate a shambolic division than all the Natalya v Brie Bella matches ever could.

What will happen next on the Divas scene is anybody's guess. Personally I hope that the women are granted more air time and the various feuds and storylines they're given are constructed primarily around AJ. She's the best all round female performer WWE has at the moment. They'd be foolish not to make her the division's centrepiece as well as its champion.

Up until July Dolph Ziggler seemed to be on track for the number four babyface spot. That doesn't terribly impressive but bear in mind that the three guys above him would've been Cena, Bryan and Punk. Technically I suppose he could still be considered babyface number four (or even three, with Cena out of action) but the gap between him and the next guy on the list, whether you consider that to be 'The Second City Saint' or 'The Dazzler' is gargantuan.

'The Show Off' would've been better served by a continuation of his feud with ADR. That being pulled too early combined with the fact that he's not moved on to anything new has caused him to lose almost all of the momentum he built up in the first half of the year.

That said Ziggler remains popular and could earn himself an elusive and richly deserved top spot. He just needs something to do to give audiences a reason to care about him.
Is 2013 the Year of Ziggler or not?
Curtis Axel has a great chance to “step up” too. He’s working with one of WWE’s most popular performers in CM Punk. He’s only playing a bit part, Heyman’s henchman, but it’s his biggest feud yet. It’s a chance for him to prove to those in charge that he deserves another programme at that level once he’s done with Punk.

As much as I feel he's in the right place at the moment (namely the middle of the card) The Miz is the sort of guy who could rise up the ranks in Cena's absence. In any interview you ever hear with him you'll hear 'The Awesome One' talk about wanting Cena's spot. I agree that everyone in the company should be aiming for the top but few wrestlers seem to actually have the drive. That results in guys who are not especially qualified rising higher than those that are, because they're more willing to put themselves out there and do everything they can to climb to the top.

Miz already does a lot of media appearances for WWE and is apparently considered to be one of the company's greatest social media assets internally. If being a social media asset is judged on the number of Twitter followers someone has (and while that's a ludicrous single criteria to have it certainly is indicative of popularity) then Miz is amongst the top in the company. He can certainly take on more appearances for WWE during Cena's absence but I'm not sure he'll be able to translate any advancement he makes on that front into a better TV spot. He'll certainly be able to argue for more TV time though, and that's a start.

The man Miz is currently feuding with, Fandango, could also make good use of Cena’s absence. We saw ‘The Ballroom Brute’s’ popularity soar the night after WrestleMania, mainly thanks to the fans in attendance taking a liking to his entrance music. European tour aside he’s not reached those heights since.

That magic will be tough to recapture (probably impossible outside of TV tapings from this continent) but Fandango could still move himself up the ranks. Playing such a clearly gimmicked up character helps him. Fans want a bit of variety on their wrestling shows and a ballroom dancer can provide that. If there were more gimmicks on the roster he’d have a harder time of it, but there aren’t. It helps him to stand out.

He’s shown a knack for playing a tweener role, accepting crowd cheers when he’s supposed to be the villain. He, like Ziggler, could make something of himself if given something to get over with. A feud with Miz is not it.
Just turn him face...
The entire tag team division could revive itself while Cena’s away too. It’s been a long time since WWE had this many regular combos on television. The Real Americans, The Shield, Tons of Funk, The Usos, The Prime Time Players, 3MB, The Wyatt Family, and the incoming Los Matadores make eight. When you throw in Big Show and Mark Henry, who have said they’re teaming together to chase the tag belts, and the possibility of Tyson Kidd and Evan Bourne returning to reform International Air Strike and Air Boom respectively and there could be a whopping eleven teams in WWE.

If every guy involved in the tag ranks agreed to work together to make their division into something more than generic TV filler they could elevate everyone. They’re obviously not all going to magically start appearing in RAW main events, but it could lead to regular TV outings on shows that matter for tag teams. And there are a lot of guys that could benefit from that.

Had he not senselessly been turned into a heel back in the spring Ryback would be the ideal candidate to march right up to the top of the card now. Even if he’d turned heel and been kept a strong and dominant character they could probably revert him to the good guy role and do something worthwhile with him now.

‘The Human Wrecking Ball’s’ chances of benefitting from Cena’s absence seem long. He’s not just had his hot babyface momentum stolen from him, he’s been utterly discredited with a string of pay-per-view losses and a whining, bullying character. At this point I can’t see anything giving Ryback his momentum back. But he’s definitely one of the guys that should be doing everything they can to nab themselves a higher spot while Papa Cena’s at home.

The final man I feel is worth mentioning is Wade Barrett. Three years ago he was main eventing pay-per-views against Cena and Randy Orton and was the promotion’s lead heel. There were rumours that the company was going to go all the way with him and award him a run as the WWE champion. Obviously that didn’t happen but that he was in such a lofty position under a year after he’d first been introduced to fans shows that Barrett was considered a man with potential for greatness.

Is he still viewed that way? In truth, probably not.

If WWE thought highly of him he wouldn’t have been competing for the worthless Intercontinental title for a year. Nor would he have been involved in a throwaway fortnight-long programme to keep Daniel Bryan warm just before SummerSlam. He’s not the guy he once was, but there was clearly something about him that allowed him to reach the top in the first place. I’d like him, and those in charge, to remember what it was and get back into the main event. 

Friday 30 August 2013

The NXT Wolves

Over the last few years Davey Richards has intimated he’s going to quit Ring of Honor on two occasions. The first was in 2010 when he stated outright that he was going to leave wrestling behind to become a full-time fire-fighter. That didn’t happen. He instead re-signed with Ring of Honor and was front and centre for the horrendous reign of error inflicted on the company by Jim Cornette.

The second time was when he signed his current ROH deal. He announced that the contract lasted through to August of this year and when it expired he would take a look at his options. That’s wrestler speak for seeing if WWE’s interested.

And in fairness who can blame the guy? Davey Richards has been slogging his guts out as a wrestler since 2004. In that time he’s built up a reputation for working hard and putting on spirited, energetic performances. He’s travelled the world learning his craft and is at an age where he’s probably thinking about whether he’s ready to trade in the creative freedom of the indies for the opportunities only WWE can offer.

With this in mind it should come as no surprise that Richards and his American Wolves tag team partner Eddie Edwards are rumoured to be among the names attending a WWE tryout camp at the company’s new training facility in Florida. It’s these camps that WWE uses to determine whether or not prospective wrestlers warrant being offered a developmental contract and spot in NXT.
The American Wolves: future NXT tag team champions?
I don’t want to bang on about how good an idea it would be to sign Richards and Edwards. Anyone who’s seen them wrestle will know they could be an asset to WWE’s product, either as a tag team or as singles competitors (and the latter is far likelier). Both would have to work at cultivating suitable personas, their current approach is fine for ROH but wouldn’t go over well with WWE management or audiences. But that’s the purpose of NXT. Were they to sign developmental contracts they’d be amongst the top guys at that level immediately, and their deficiencies in the personality department could be improved.

The Wolves are booked on ROH shows up to September 28th. Shows after that haven’t yet had appearance lists attached to them. As it’s been reported that the Wolves’ contracts expired in August I have to assume that they’ve either signed contract extensions or verbally agreed to appear at a few more shows.

Worth noting is that only one show actually has them listed in a match: at Death Before Dishonor XI they will challenge the Forever Hooligans for the IWGP junior tag titles. That the match has been announced makes me think whatever agreement the Wolves have in place covers that show. It’s reasonable to assume that the TV taping the next day could be covered by this too, as it will be held at the same venue.

Should Richards and Edwards get WWE developmental deals it’s entirely possible that those shows could be their last. Should that end up being the case I hope Ring of Honor breaks their recent trend and provides a fitting send off for Richards and Edwards. By that I don’t mean making sure they win, rather that they should be given enough time to ensure their final ROH match is an absolute classic.

Considering ROH bills itself as a promotion that promotes in-ring ability over anything else this should be a standard approach, but it’s not and hasn’t been for years. The last time a guy was allowed to go out on a tremendous match was El Generico at Final Battle 2012.But he wasn’t a regular at the time and that felt more like ROH cashing in on a popular feud one final time more than allowing Rami Sebei to give fans a reason to remember him fondly.

The last regulars I remember being given a chance to leave on a classic in a spot that befitted their standing in the company and its history were Nigel McGuinnes and Bryan Danielson. That was back in September 2009. Since then Richards and Edwards have been amongst the names that have kept the company going. If any performers deserve to go out on a high it’s them.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

That RAW Recap 26.08.13

This week's RAW was never going to match the standards of the post-SummerSlam instalment. That show benefited from great timing, being the episode that established Randy Orton and Triple H as the new untouchable lead heels, reinvigorated The Shield, and made it very clear that Daniel Bryan is the promotion’s next major star. I expected WWE to continue those threads but I didn't expect them to do such a great job. What could have been a humdrum, forgettable episode or a simple rehash of previous events instead built on what had gone before.

The show began with Triple H cutting a promo, protected by The Shield. It was another explanation from the COO, this one regarding his actions at the close of the previous week's RAW. Trips said he had tricked and beaten Daniel Bryan in the closing moments of the August 19th show because Bryan had made it personal. Which was a logical thing to say considering Bryan had screamed and shouted at 'The Game's' wife and generally made a nuisance of himself by not “going back down to the mid-card”.

Tripper's other chosen topic was WWE champ Randy Orton. Talking Orton up as the face of the company is only going to make him unpopular after the ease with which he won the title. This is the point, of course. We are supposed to see 'The Viper' as a paper champion, a corporate tool and the McMahon family's pawn. Comments made in a backstage segment later on in the evening by Triple H, that he considered the WWE championship his personal property and that he allows Orton to carry it for him, further illustrated this point. That Orty didn't pick Triple H up on the comment showed us that he knows he's on to a good thing and doesn't care about how he's perceived.

The opening segment featured Trips giving Orton a gift in the form of a Cadillac Escalade. I'm not really one for cars so I'll have to assume this is a particularly lavish and desirable make. As anyone who has watched WWE for a while can tell you, cars are rarely safe when introduced to the environs of Monday Night RAW. The car would be covered in orange lettered "YES"es later on in the evening by Bryan as a way of antagonising the bad guys.

When the WWE Hall of Fame is built this car will be on display. That's fact
Bryan also interrupted Orton and 'The King of Kings' at the top of the show. At that point he was more focused on thanking various people for opportunities and belittling the champion than defacing an automobile. Bryan once again showed that he has a good enough sense of timing and an ability to judge and ingratiate himself to a crowd to work at the very peak of WWE. Those promo skills are just as important as his (rightly) vaunted ring skills. You can't survive as a WWE headliner for a substantial amount of time if you can't carry your weight in a speaking segment. And it's important to note that Bryan can because the fact often gets overlooked.

Bryan's interruption resulted in him being booked in a gauntlet match against The Shield. It was, we were told, what was best for business. That not only showed us that Triple H is corrupt but that he recognises Bryan has attained a certain level of popularity. After Bryan had defaced Orton's lovely car Day Tripper decided that the rest of the roster would have to stand and watch the match(es) from the top of the ramp, with anyone interfering being fired.

This was similar to the previous week's white hot show closer but that didn't matter. It reinforced that Triple H is now ruling the company through fear and that the reason nobody has come to Bryan's aid is that they've been placed into a position where they can't.

A side note, at this point: WWE has run variations of this story before. The most recent I can think of before this was when Triple H saw the entire roster walk out on him in a vote of no confidence in 2011 (leading to the laugh-a-minute reign of 'Big' Johnny Laurinaitis). Another occurred during the McMahon-Helmsley Era, which occurred within the much broader and more popular Attitude Era, and was mentioned on Monday's show by Christian. The reason I mention these examples isn't to highlight WWE's lack of creativity, because I don't view it as a lack of creativity. Running the same basic story a few times in over a decade isn't unimaginative, in no small part because the situations have arisen and played out in different fashions each time.

The reason I mention it is to draw attention to the fact that WWE tends to have the person who’s been walked out (funnily enough that's Triple H in each of the three examples I've given) on receive their comeuppance in the end. It indicates that sooner or later the Superstars™ and Divas™ will tire of 'The Game's' antics. That's months down the line though, not something we need to overly concern ourselves with yet.

The gauntlet match was the main event. Bryan successfully defeated Seth Rollins in a competitive match before getting jumped by Dean Ambrose. 'The Dazzler' quickly got the Shield member into the Yes Lock and looked like he was going to win by submission... but Roman Reigns broke the hold to instigate a three-on-one beating. For the record that means Bryan won his second match by DQ and the third simply never took place.

Daniel Bryan gave Seth Rollins a kicking in the main event
After 'The Hounds of Justice' had laid out Bryan with their signature triple power bomb Orton and Triple H appeared. The champ sauntered to the ring and pulled a limp Bryan to his feet to be dropped with an RKO. Up at the top of the ramp 'The Cerebral Assassin' stared at Big Show, Dolph Ziggler and others. Nobody met his gaze for long and it was once again clear that guys can’t stand up to him else they lose their jobs (presumably Big Show’s iron clad contract has expired).

The programme went off the air with WWE's Most Hated heading to the back and The Shield standing over Bryan in the ring. It was more great booking. Bryan was again shown as someone who won't be cowed, giving fans all the reason they need to believe in him, while Orton was presented as someone who hasn't earned the title he carries and is benefiting from preferential treatment. There are few things more likely to irk the modern wrestling fan than that.

Elsewhere on RAW CM Punk beat Curtis Axel in a non-title match. Per a pre-match stipulation, voted into existence through the combined power of the WWE App and the WWE Universe, that earned 'The Second City Saint' the opportunity to get his hands on Paul Heyman in the ring.

Heyman was forced into the ring by security but was saved by his client before Punk could do any real damage. Punk was then handcuffed and beaten with a Singapore cane by Axel and Heyman. It was another overly long segment. The same effect could have been achieved in half the time.

Rob Van Dam defeated Alberto Del Rio in a non-title match when ADR was distracted by Ricardo Rodriguez. It was fairly enjoyable and RVD and Ricardo worked well together. They should be a fine addition to the Night of Champions card.

The best thing to happen on the show didn't involve anyone previously mentioned. After what appeared at first glance to be a generic time filler match pitting Brie Bella against Natalya, with the Funkadactyls, Nikki Bella and Eva Marie at ringside (Brie won), AJ Lee appeared. The Divas champion proceeded to cut one of the greatest promos I've ever seen in WWE or anywhere. It was easily the greatest mic work to come out of the Divas division and the best piece of work in general since the days of Trish Stratus, Lita, Mickie James and Victoria.

Playing off what are probably real life frustrations at being overshadowed by the female performers who appear on Total Divas despite being the Divas champion AJ knocked every woman at ringside. She upped her game when she called the entire group cheap, interchangeable, expendable, useless women who’ve turned to reality TV because they couldn’t get work as actresses. A comment was added, presumably to cover Natalya, that they were not talented enough to be the champion.

"OMG I just watched last night's episode of Total Divas!" AJ cutting one of the greatest promos ever
AJ said she’d done more in a year than all of them had in their collective careers. Which is absolutely true. This time last year AJ was one of WWE’s most over characters and she’d gotten there by working hard and making the most of what material she was given. AJ earned the Divas championship by making herself a compelling, multi-layered character. No other woman in the promotion has worked as hard to make something of themselves than AJ Lee.

And AJ said this. She said she’d worked her entire life to make it to and in WWE. Her comments about being handed fifteen minutes of fame were not true of all the women at ringside. Natalya has certainly earned a spot on the roster, although she was covered by AJ’s nepotism remarks. But they were true of the Total Divas cast members and that was the point of what is irritatingly being dubbed a “pipebomb”.

After telling the ladies they’d never be fit to lace her Chucks AJ finished on the punnishly wonderful line of “And that… is reality.” If this was the beginning of a resurgence for the Divas division (I’ve written those words before but this time it feels different) then there is not a better women to lead the way.

Monday 26 August 2013

Perfection on Hold

Well that didn't last long did it.

The man formerly known as Michael McGillicutty returned to our screens as the brand new Paul Heyman Guy on May 20th. His first match under the new moniker was against Triple H, a match he won by count out (a win’s a win for a mid-card heel). At Payback he dethroned Wade Barrett, in a triple threat match also involving The Miz, for the Intercontinental title. As he celebrated the commentary team talked about how it was the championship his father had held before him and generally gushed to such an extent that it seemed certain he was being fast-tracked to the top. Being given wacky wins over Triple H and holding the Intercontinental title may not mean much in the grand scheme of things but they were signs that WWE was interested in and supportive of Axel.

After successfully defending his prize against Barrett on the June 21st SmackDown Axel’s next big match was teaming with CM Punk to take on the Prime Time Players. The story of the match was that Punk didn’t trust Axel and didn’t want to team with him but tolerated him on the apron due to his friendship with Paul Heyman. It was a supporting role for Axel but he still benefited from the link to a star of Punk’s stature. At the end of the match he was portrayed as a glory-hunter when he tagged himself into the match for the winning pinfall after Punk had hit Darren Young with a Go To Sleep. It wasn’t a huge win but it was a nice bit of character work.

After that Axel inexplicably slipped down the card.

He defeated The Miz in a bland match at Money in the Bank. Later in the evening he was on run-in duty, attacking CM Punk during the WWE championship Money in the Bank ladder battle. That earned him a GTS and brought Heyman out to ringside so that we could all witness his turn on Punk.

That run-in was the last thing of relevance that Axel did for a month. It took just two months for WWE to lose interest in him and his push.

Axel had seemed promising when he was reintroduced to our screens. He got positive responses during his reintroductory segment and in his title winning performance at Payback. True they were more to do with his heritage and remixed entrance music than him as a performer in his own right, but they were still reactions linked to him. Many WWE wrestlers don’t receive anything when they perform.

The reason he found himself in a reduced role for a month was because Paul Heyman’s time was taken up feuding with CM Punk alongside Brock Lesnar. But now that Lesnar’s disappeared again, until the WrestleMania build begins next year if rumours are to be believed, Axel has found himself being used again.

Having Heyman appear in Punk and Lesnar related promos and accompanying Axel to ringside was probably considered too much by management. I can sort of see their point: it would have risked overloading us on Heyman. And it would also raise the question of why Punk wasn’t at ringside to attack him every time Axel wrestled. It was easier for them to simply reduce Axel for a bit.
Is Curtis Axel a future star?
Wrestling Punk is a boost for Axel. For Punk it’s a comedown but it’s also a logical continuation of his feud with Heyman. The two are scheduled to face one another on tonight’s RAW. I imagine they’ll end up tangling at Night of Champions too. I can’t imagine (or I don’t want to imagine, at least) WWE putting the IC belt on Punk which means Axel could be in line for an interference-assisted victory over ‘The Second City Saint’, possibly at Night of Champions. That would be another step up for the son of Perfect.

This start-stop approach to pushes is normal. The WWE method of elevating guys has changed over the years. At one point, many years ago now, a guy would be brought in and be pushed consistently for months on end. He’d be given plenty of chances to make it in the role that had been chosen for him and the plug would only be pulled after several failures.

These days guys will find themselves pushed hard and fast for two weeks and then forgotten about for the next two. It’s not an approach that makes the star building process any easier but it does seem to have its advantages. The constant halting of big pushes for CM Punk, Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan meant that their main event pushes were incredibly successful when they did finally roll around. I can’t imagine Bryan would have become this over had he not been kept down in the middle of the card for several years.

If Axel can weather the stop-start storm then perhaps, in two or three years, WWE will activate a massive push for him. It’s not an ideal way of creating new stars. But it’s a way. More importantly, it’s the way WWE have chosen right now. If Axel wants to succeed he’ll have to get used to it.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Manhattan Mayhem V review

Previous Manhattan Mayhem shows have always been a significant entry into the ROH canon. Whether it was CM Punk’s dog collar match with Jimmy Rave at the first MM show in 2005 or Eddie Edwards’ shock title win over Roderick Strong in 2011 there was always something memorable on the shows. Sadly the run of excellent Manhattan Mayhem events ended on Saturday 17th August 2013.

Even three ROH world title tournament matches and the tag team championships changing hands couldn’t save this event . The underwhelming brackets of the tournament meant that none of the three second round matches were going to make much of an impact. The title change, as good as it was, being the third in two weeks was also not going to be a particularly momentous occasion.

Manhattan Mayhem V was not a bad wrestling show. But in the grand scheme of Ring of Honor plots and storylines it just wasn’t very important. It was used to setup the far bigger Death Before Dishonor XI. There’s nothing wrong with having one show set up another, it’s a vital part of the process in fact, but it does tend to result in the setups being average shows. And that’s exactly what happened here.

Silas Young and Adam Page kicked the evening off in a good match that surprisingly ended up being one of the best on the show. Young got the victory after hitting his impressive headstand into a moonsault from the turnbuckle.
Silas Young, preparing to absorb a chop there

Before match two could take place Steve Corino showed up and tried to join Kevin Kelly and Prince Nana at the commentary position. Yes, Prince Nana was on commentary, and playing a face to boot. It would be revealed later in the evening that Matchmaker Nigel McGuinness had hired him as a talent scout.

Back to ‘The King of Old School’. He was ejected from the building by Todd Sinclair and security as Kevin Kelly reminded him he no longer has a job. Nana described the experience as “nerve wracking”. Presumably Corino will show up again at Death Before Dishonor, possibly during an Adam Cole match. I remain convinced he will be Corino’s next on-screen client.

Match two saw the C&C Wrestle Factory clash with Adrenaline RUSH under scramble tag rules (basically whenever someone leaves the ring their partner can enter the match to become the legal man). It was a fast and enjoyable match but ultimately not something anyone’s going to remember. C&C won after Coleman hit a leaping hurricanrana from the top rope on ACH and Alexander followed up with a splash.

I’m beginning to think Coleman and Alexander may turn heel at some point. Other than reDRagon there aren’t any heel units in ROH at the moment. C&C could benefit from the move as it would give their matches a dynamic currently only seen with Fish and O’Reilly. It could result in a long term storyline or feud for them too.

There was very little response for home state boy Mike Mondo when he made his way to the ring in his fancy Beast Mode hoodie. Speaking of which, Nana entered Jerry Lawler mode when the Hoopla Hotties came to the ring alongside Matt Taven. He came dangerously close to talking about puppies.

What followed was a standard Matt Taven bout. The TV champ (this was a non-title affair, for the record) did some impressive things in the ring but was overshadowed by the nonsense of Truth Martini, Kasey Ray and Seleziya (finally got the correct spelling). I like entourages in wrestling, but the House of Truth is all too often a factor in MTV’s matches. It wouldn’t hurt to let him fly solo sometimes. It would give him a better chance to show how talented a wrestler he is.

That said Taven did win without direct interference from his seconds. He put a boot up as ‘No Fear’ leapt off the top rope and then followed up with his Climax finisher.

Up next was the dream tag match. The Young Bucks took on the former ROH, and current IWGP junior heavyweight, tag champs. I intimated in my All Star Extravaganza V review (get a read of that here) that I was unimpressed by the Bucks. The same was true here, though to a lesser extent. As they were in a regular tag match Nick and Matt had more time to shine and were able to work the sort of pace they prefer (as opposed to the three-way they were in at ASE). Even with that going in their favour they didn’t come across as anything special. I think it’s their limited use of ring psychology that puts me off them.

The match was the second best of the evening. I suspect a large part of the reason for that was Rocky Romero quietly and competently holding things together. It certainly wasn’t because the Jackson boys threw a dozen super kicks during the match. The Forever Hooligans won after a flying knee-torture rack combination.

After the match the Bucks shook hands with the Hooligans, something they’re not known to do. The idea has been that they don’t respect anyone but each other. That they shook hands obviously means there’s been a change of heart, which could lead to a rematch at some point. I wouldn’t be averse to seeing that but in all honesty I’d prefer to see the Hooligans clashing with ROH’s regular teams.

The second half of the show kicked off with RD Evans and QT Marshall entering the ring. ‘The Barrister’ said it was an injustice that the American Wolves, Forever Hooligans, and Adrenaline RUSH were booked but Marshall Law were not. He then announced he would not leave the ring until they got a match.

Nana got up and introduced his first two signings as opponents for Evans and ‘God’s Gift’. Two guys came out wearing shirts, ties and clown masks. After clotheslining Marshall Law the first revealed himself to be CHIKARA Grand champion Eddie Kingston. The other unmasked as Homicide.

A brief match followed that was won by Homicide and Kingston, who we were informed are to be collectively known as Outlaws Inc. After the match ‘The Notorious 187’ grabbed hold of RD and broke his finger.
Nobody was more excited to see Homicide and Eddie Kingston back in ROH than Homicide and Eddie Kingston

Nothing about this segment got anywhere near the reaction Ring of Honor was clearly hoping for. Homicide was greeted with indifference, whereas five years ago the NYC fans would have erupted for him. The crowd was not drawn into the action and the post-match digit breaking was not treated seriously. All of that should be enough to convince any fair-minded person that Homicide is no longer the force he once was.

I’m disappointed ROH resorted to bringing in Kingston and Homicide. I can understand the company wanting to bring in a new team. I can understand them wanting to have guys vaguely linked to Prince Nana. And I can understand them wanting to have a team that adheres to the Code of Honor but has questionable morals. But all of that could have been achieved by bringing in two newcomers in exactly the same fashion. In fact I think that would have worked better.

The evening’s first quarter final match saw Michael Bennett facing Tommaso Ciampa. ‘The Sicilian Psychopath’ was played to the ring by a band called Last Remaining Pinnacle. They’re responsible for his entrance music, you see. I can appreciate ROH were trying to make Ciampa look a star but it didn’t really pan out. He’s not quite over enough to warrant this treatment and it won’t get him over in and of itself though. Still, at least ROH are trying.

The match built slowly and featured some awkward exchanges early on. They weren’t helped by an unresponsive, uninterested crowd. It took some reckless brawling at ringside to wake them up, although once they were interested they stayed that way. They reacted nicely to Bennett teasing a piledriver on the apron, a call back to the injury he (unintentionally) gave BJ Whitmer at All Star Extravaganza. It was a good spot. They also reacted to Bennett attempting the GTS, a move synonymous with the ex-boyfriend of Bennett’s gal pal Maria.

Even though it was Bennett working his socks off to generate reactions it was, as predicted, ‘The Sicilian Psychopath’ who won. He blasted Bennett with a Kryptonite Crunch on the floor and then rolled him back into the win for his victory. Such a dramatic ending was another attempt at turning him into a star.

Roderick Strong versus Kevin Steen was match number seven. Learning from the mistakes of their peers the two men kicked their match off at a blistering pace. Within the first minute Strong had hit a backbreaker and attempted a suicide dive, only to be caught and hit with an apron bomb, and ‘Mr Wrestling’ had flown off the top rope to hit a Swanton bomb.

They slowed down a little as the match progressed but the start they’d chosen, coupled with the immense popularity of Steen, meant the crowd remained rowdy. Steen won an enjoyable match after a sleeper suplex followed by a package piledriver.

The evening’s penultimate match was Michael Elgin v Karl Anderson, the final second round tournament match. They too suffered at the hands of the crowd’s disinterest. They set a brisk pace but nothing they did got much of a reaction early on. Even ‘Unbreakable’s’ beloved stalling suplex didn’t get the booming ovation it has at recent shows.

‘Machine Gun’ begun playing the bad guy around five minutes in but the crowd didn’t really acknowledge it. They seemed keener on booing Elgin, occasionally breaking out into a USA chant (because Elgin’s Canadian). ROH fans, particularly those in New York, have a tendency of turning on popular wrestlers when they become ROH world champion. Elgin’s status as tournament favourite may have prompted that treatment here. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s treated by the town when Final Battle rolls around, whether he has the championship or not.

The audience did eventually get into the match after Anderson hit a TKO from the second rope and followed up with a fire thunder driver. Elgin came back with a crossface but Anderson broke it up with a handful of ropes to boos. After receiving a boot out on the apron Elgin performed his impressive deadlift second rope suplex.

Anderson would come unstuck a few moments later when he went for a boot into the corner. Elgin avoided the attack and connected with a pair of spinning back fists, a buckle bomb and an Elgin bomb for the victory. It was a good series of moves but it didn’t provide the excellent climax it has before because the audience hadn’t been as hot. It was the first Elgin match in a while that hasn’t culminated with a blazing hot final three minutes.
Going off the poster Elgin v Anderson was the main event

The main event was the match of the night. It saw the American Wolves defend the tag team titles against reDRagon. Richards and Edwards had won the belts just seven days earlier at All Star Extravaganza. Fish and O’Reilly had lost them only two weeks earlier at a TV taping. They would regain them here.

I’ve liked the frequent changes of the tag titles. It’s been a call back to the early days of the promotion and made the doubles division seem more unpredictable. It’s also given ROH a logical reason to book a three-way championship match between the Wolves, reDRagon and the Forever Hooligans at some point. Whether they will or not remains to be seen, but the option’s there.

The match was as slick and enjoyable as you’d expect from these four. Both Richards and Fish deserve extra credit for making it a great encounter. Richards’ recent sense of fun was alive and well here, and he seems to have taken on board criticism that he tries doing too much in matches. Fish did a fine job of winding the crowd up, useful when you remember they’d been quiet for a lot of the evening.

But it was Kyle O’Reilly who was the star of the show. He was presented as being on the same level as Richards, his former mentor. After Fish had taken Edwards out of the match by shoving him off of the top rope through a table and then been taken out himself by Davey we got a lengthy sequence designed to raise O’Reilly’s standing.

Kyle kicked out of a top rope double stomp and then a brainbuster and even countered his way out of an ankle lock. On the outside he knee dropped Richards’ arm onto a chair held in place by Fish and then returned to the ring to hit a divorce court from the top rope. Being a babyface Davey fought valiantly out of the arm bar and then caused a miscue between the challengers. Moments later O’Reilly was back in control and hit a tornado DDT following by Chasing the Dragon for a convincing near fall.

O’Reilly immediately applied an arm bar on Richards’ injured arm. After a few seconds Richards submitted and reDRagon became two time tag champions. Had O’Reilly won off a double team move he would have been enhanced, but not as much. Having him win with a submission hold over his former mentor was a big deal. He’d worked over the arm and the finish made it clear that it was O’Reilly’s persistence and skill at targeting a body part that had gained him and his teammate the victory.

As reDRagon had the belts put around their waists by Cary Silkin and Todd Sinclair the sirens and red lighting from earlier in the evening came back on. Outlaws Inc returned to the ring and brawled with the new champions. Homicide snapped O'Reilly's finger and he and Kingston posed and shouted in the ring to end the show.

The prospect of a reDRagon v Outlaws Inc match does not fill me with joy.

Friday 23 August 2013

The Matador Gimmick

You know how sometimes you'll have an idea and you'll think you should share it with the world before someone else does it? Yeah. That.

A few years ago I had an idea for a really gimmicky wrestling character. I've continually put off mentioning it anywhere because I wanted to save it and ensure it had maximum impact when it was finally used. In hindsight this was a stupid decision. It's not like I'm ever going to book an actual wrestling company. The closest I'll come is fantasy booking blog posts and they're not the sort of place to use this idea. Waiting hasn't saved the idea, it's simply allowed actual wrestling companies enough time to beat me to it. I should've known that would happen. I've watched the sport long enough to know that sooner or later everything gets turned into a gimmick.

The promotion that's beaten me to this incredible idea is WWE (hey, they'd already been there before with Tito Santana). On Monday's RAW they aired an introductory vignette for a new tag team called Los Matadores. It's basically a repackaging of the previously directionless Epico and Primo into bullfighters. It appears to be a comedy gimmick, which is good because outside of CHIKARA or a crazier Japanese promotion I couldn’t see it working as anything else.
This seems good, but I had something better
For the record I think this is a good move. Epico and Primo are talented guys but they failed to stand out. A bullfighting gimmick isn't the sort of thing that will take them to the top but it helps them distinguishable from their peers. More lower card guys in WWE would benefit from this treatment.

The idea I had was for a singles wrestler, dressed as a matador. He wouldn't just have been a matador though. Oh no. He would also have carried an encyclopaedia to the ring to show he was an intellectual. And to give him a handy foreign object.

Before each match he would have asked a member of the audience to ask him a question, at random, using the encyclopaedia. He'd either have answered it correctly or turned the question back on the audience member and used it as a way of insulting the town he were in. I’d have had him wrestling like a matador, sidestepping opponents with a heelish flourish. That's not something I'm expecting from Los Matadores.

This may sound a little strange and peculiar and ultimately pointless and I suppose it is. Without any sort of context explaining the concept of a wrestling gimmick is a little pointless. But you've not heard the name yet. It's the character's name that I was most proud of and the name that I think could have made it work.

The name was... wait for it... The Mind-Over-Matador.

Thank you for your time.

Thursday 22 August 2013

The Reunion: Now Showing in 3D

I don't normally do this but if you're the sort of person who's keen to avoid spoilers regarding TNA you'll want to avoid this until Friday morning. This is the only warning you'll get.

Last Thursday's sort-of-live Hardcore Justice edition of Impact Wrestling hinted at dissension in the ranks of lead heel stable Aces and Eights. Gang leader Bully Ray told his second-in-command Mr Anderson that he didn't feel sufficiently supported by his subordinates. Of course everything worked out for them in the end. Anderson dutifully trotted out to the ring to play his part in Bully regaining the world championship during the main event.

Just because things ended up rosy for the biker boys that don't own bikes last week doesn't mean they'll stay that way. TNA has given us a very clear tease of a potential future storyline.

This Thursday's Impact (recorded last week, hence the uncharacteristic spoiler warning above) will feature a ten men tag match with the stipulation that the man who's pinned must leave TNA. It will be Devon who takes the fall. That could be TNA's way of moving him off our screens and into the D'Lo Brown shaped agent position they have backstage. It could be their way of legitimately getting rid of a guy who has far less to offer than recent firees Joey Ryan and Matt Morgan (and it should be noted neither of them had much to offer). Or it could be the promotion preparing for the next instalment of their long running storyline.

It's easy to imagine Bully Ray losing his world title at Bound For Glory come October. To who doesn't matter. The important thing here is that a bright-eyed babyface is likely to wrestle the title away from Bully at BFG.

What if the loss of the world title leads to Mr Anderson leading a coup of Aces and Eights? He could claim Bully's become a weak link and kick him out if the group. This would work incredibly smoothly, although slightly differently, if it were Anderson that won the BFG series. But honestly, can you see that happening? No, me neither.

With Bully out of A&E the stage would be set for him to battle with the gang for weeks on end until TNA's next pay-per-view rolled around (expected to happen in January). It's not too difficult to envisage Bully challenging Anderson and any member of his crew to meet Bully and a "mystery partner" at that pay-per-view.
Could a Team 3D reunion be in the works?
Obviously this mystery man would be Devon and we'd have the first major Team 3D match in years against the massive heel faction Bully fashioned in his own image. Just as obviously this scenario would be tedious to watch play out and illogical even by wrestling standards. Why should we care if Bully's kicked of a group he created to bring down TNA (through unspecified means)? The answer is that we shouldn't.

Some people would probably get behind a babyface Bully. He worked well as a good guy last year and for the first few months of this year. But that doesn't mean this scenario’s a good idea. I've written this simply to flag up the possibility. And to give myself something to link back to in six months’ time if they do go ahead with it.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

That RAW Recap 19.08.13

This week's RAW ranged from extraordinarily good to mind-numbingly pointless. The opening and closing segments, along with a small number of things that happened in between, were excellent. We'll come to them below but while I'm talking them up here I would say those good parts of RAW, along with the SummerSlam finish they stemmed from, are what makes wrestling so good. That it can produce material of this quality is what keeps me watching.

The mind-numbingly pointless stuff was the majority of what lay between the start and the finish of the programme. The first match of the night was a SummerSlam rematch pitting Cody Rhodes against Damien Sandow. Rhodes won with a sunset roll from the corner, meaning 'The Intellectual Saviour' lost to his former teammate two nights in a row. The crowd weren't into the action and amused themselves by chanting about Cody's lack of facial hair.

The Funkadactyls, who are still being introduced as hailing from Planet Funk, bested AJ Lee and Layla when Naomi rolled up Layla. After one of his cheap heat specials Zeb Colter stood at ringside to witness the Real Americans lose to the newly babyface Prime Time Players. This match was not a great advert for them but I think Young and O'Neil could work well as good guys. Their act doesn't need to change, they just need to learn how to play a new role.

Bray Wyatt dropped R-Truth with that finisher of his. The match meant nothing and existed solely to get the Wyatt Family on the show. Just over a month in and they're already being booked as filler. It's disappointing but unsurprising.

In the penultimate match of the night the Usos defeated 3MB boys Jinder Mahal and Heath Slater with a top rope splash. And in the in-ring main event (the true main event was a promo) The Miz defeated Wade Barrett via disqualification after Fandango hit him with a top rope leg drop. It looks like those awful SummerSlam skits happened for a reason after all.

Speaking of Fandango he was involved in one of the highlights of RAW’s unwieldy middle portion. Justin Gabriel and Zack Ryder were shown enthusing over sneakers (or trainers as they're known over here) with a Footlocker employee. Footlocker were RAW's sponsors, which explains why this glorified ad took place in the middle of RAW. Anyway, Fandango showed up, danced a bit and then asked if he could dance in the shoes. The employee replied "Of course you can, Mr Fandango," which was funny in itself. Faaaaaan... daaaaaan... goooooo then corrected the pronunciation of his name and left. It shouldn't have worked but it did, largely because the former Johnny Curtis is happy to ham it up and doesn’t took himself or his character too seriously.

There were only three other items of interest outside of the opening and closing segments. The first was the Alberto Del Rio v Sin Cara match. This was something special. Cara was making his big return after a few months off healing from various injuries. He was scripted to suffer a storyline injury early on in the match. ADR was scripted to ruthlessly work over his foe's injured body part. But Sin Cara, being incredibly prone to botching botched for real. He legitimately injured his hand performing a suicide dive, which led to the amusing sight of Del Rio targeting a genuine injury. ADR was awarded the win via referee stoppage.

Recovering like a pro ADR moved on to the promo he was meant to cut. It was the same message he'd delivered at SummerSlam. He wants to be a hero for the Latin community because they have nobody else. This desire has extended to him having miniature Mexican flags placed atop the turnbuckles as he wrestles.

Del Rio’s diatribe was interrupted by a returning Ricardo Rodriguez. Double R told the champ that he is not a hero, to the Latin community or anybody else, and that he's happy he's no longer employed by him. He then introduced Rob Van Dam as his new charge. RVD dashed to the ring and gave Del Rio a pasting. He tried a five star frog splash but Del Rio escaped.

Ricardo Alfonso? Rob Van Del Rio?
Yep, this is the new World Heavyweight title challenger. A man who couldn't defeat the US champion on the SummerSlam pre-show or, more to the point, win a number one contendership match for the WHC just a few weeks ago. I've not got a problem with an ADR v RVD match but WWE could have planned things a little better.

As for the pairing of Van Dam and Rodriguez, I think that could work. RVD functioned well with a manager in ECW and Ricardo is very good at adding emotion to matches. As that's not one of Van Dam's strengths this pairing should, in theory, work. I'll be interested to see how the two function together.

Item of interest number two was the use of The Shield. The group were placed into two matches throughout the evening. The first was against Dolph Ziggler and the second was against Big Show. The idea was that Show and Ziggler were being punished for speaking out against Triple H’s actions at SummerSlam. The matches, both of which saw the bad guys win, were designed to remind us how effective ‘The Hounds of Justice’ are in three-on-one scenarios. They also showed that Brad Maddox, who booked the matches, had happily aligned himself with Triple H. It was incredibly effective booking.

The third item of interest was the development of the Paul Heyman and CM Punk story. First Paul Heyman went to the ring and said that he wanted the family feud to end. If CM Punk was willing to apologise Heyman would reunite with him and lead him back to the WWE championship.

Later in the evening 'The Second City Saint' responded. After offering to fight a man in the audience who'd dared to boo him (which I originally thought was ridiculous but now see simply as Punk being a modern day babyface) Punk called Heyman out to the stage. He informed his former pal that he wished he'd pulled his arm out if its socket at SummerSlam and promised to do it next time.

Curtis Axel was dispatched to fight Punk and the two had a lengthy brawl. A little too lengthy, frankly. It ended with Punk giving the Intercontinental champ a Go To Sleep on steel steps.

Which leaves us only the opening and closing segments to discuss.

The show opened with John Cena. He told us that he was offended and disgraced by Triple H “handing the WWE championship to Randy Orton”. He put over Bryan, who he said had won fair and square. He then announced that he’s going to be taking four to six months off for surgery on his elbow, which was shown swollen to a grotesque size. Before he left he introduced Bryan.

We're not going to be seeing this guy for a while
Before Bryan could say anything Stephanie McMahon came out (she has the most inappropriate entrance music I’ve ever come across). She said she hoped Bryan understood that what Triple H did wasn’t personal but simply the right thing for business. The audience chanted no to that. Bryan, like a pro, acknowledged it.

Bryan said he’d have expected what happened from Stephanie or Vince, but not Triple H. ‘the Game’ had been a renegade, the leader of DX. Now he’s walking around with a corporate haircut and a suit (which, in the world of pro wrestling, equates to something bad). Bryan told Stephanie he’s not afraid of getting fired. He can go back to wrestling on the indies and selling T-shirts from the back of his car.

The point here was that Bryan isn’t obsessed with the idea of being a WWE Superstar™. He’s his own man and is just happy if he can get into a ring, any ring, and wrestle. What he said was wonderful because he said it was passion and it was both logical and in line with the storyline.

Stephanie didn’t want to fire him, she just wanted to manage his expectations. She said that guys of his height, weight, and appearance aren’t WWE championship material. She acknowledged that the fans love him. Essentially her point was that firing him would be bad for business, she just can’t allow him to reach the top of the card.

Bryan’s response as that he didn’t have to accept what she said. He can be WWE champion. Steph’s response to that? That ‘The Dazzler’ was being unprofessional and uncouth. She had him escorted out of the building by security.

The show closer was even better.

We returned from the final break of the show to find the entire roster (minus Bryan, Cena, and potentially one or two others like Punk) assembled on the stage. The Shield were down at ringside, standing between the roster on the stage and the McMahon family in the ring.

The setup here was perfect. It would be made clear through Triple H’s promo that anybody who dared step out of line would find themselves not only be brutalised by The Shield, who seemed far more threatening after their victories earlier in the show, but also fired. An appearance from Daniel Bryan did not contradict either of those things. It’s been established over the last year that Bryan will not back down and his comments about returning to the indies meant that he had no fear of losing his job.

Vince spoke first. He said ‘The Cerebral Assassin’ had seen the light and and done what was right for business (Vince’s unofficial catchphrase). He then passed the mic over to H3, who told us that he did what he did not for himself, but for his wife, his father-in-law, his kids, his future grandchildren and the fans, all to ensure the future of the company.

Triple H didn’t want to screw Daniel Bryan. He said he considered him a friend and a “good little technician” (the first sign that he had entered disingenuous heel mode). He said he deserved to win because he gave Cena a hell of a match. It’s just that the fans deserve better than Daniel Bryan as WWE champion.

Pedigreeing Bryan and costing him the title hurt Triple H. He didn’t like forming a union with Randy Orton because there’s a lot of bad blood there. He referenced the formation of Evolution and the overkill feud they had for WrestleMania XXV (y’know, the one that involved Orton punting both Vince and Shane and giving Steph an RKO?). He’d put all their history behind them because it was… all together now… the right thing for business. Bryan, said Triple H, is selfish for not understanding the bigger picture.

Randy Orton was introduced to boos. The new champ shook hands with Vince and Hunter and was hugged by Steph. That she initiated the hug was a nice touch as it really hammered home that the McMahons have put everything behind them and were unified in the decision to make ‘The Viper’ the face of the company.

Orton said he owed his reign to Triple H and blasted the audience for not standing up to show the COO the respect he deserved.

That was it from Orton. That he didn’t contribute a great deal verbally could be seen as a negative but I’d argue against that. We all know Orton can cut a promo. He didn’t need to here. It wasn’t the point. That he only said a few words before handing back to Trips helped to paint him as an undeserving paper champion. Putting him in that role will make him more hated in the long run.

Triple H said because they owned the building they had eyes everywhere, which meant he knew Bryan was in the building. That too was a wonderful touch. It helps to portray the McMahons as the illuminate of WWE, and makes it easy to imagine a storyline (and indeed a real life) sense of paranoia that they know everything that’s going on in the locker room.

‘The Game’ said he knew Bryan had things he wanted to get off his chest so cued up his music, told everyone, including The Shield, that anyone who laid a hand on him would regret it, and invited him out to the ring.

Bryan emerged from the tech area at the side of the stage and made his way towards the ring. He was wearing jeans. This may seem like a small thing (because it is) but it’s something WWE deserves a little credit for. The norm is to have wrestlers wandering about in the ring gear and a T-shirt (this is precisely what Orton was wearing as he stood in the ring). Because Bryan had been removed from the building that approach wouldn’t have made sense and someone deserves credit for realising it.

As soon as Bryan got close to the ring The Shield pounced on him. He wiped out Rollins and Reigns with the ring steps and then brawled up the aisle with Ambrose. After getting the better of the US champ Bryan headed back towards the wing but was wiped out by a spear from the recovered Reigns. Again, this is something that could be viewed negatively, Bryan going down to a single spear. But it didn’t cast Bryan in a bad light at all. He overcame the odds and got caught by a sneak attack. Not only that but Reigns’ spear had been the move which won The Shield their first match of the evening and Ziggler had done an incredible job of making it look devastating. And Bryan managed to get back up thirty second or so after absorbing it.

Anyway… The heels went for their triple power bomb but Triple H called them off. He said Bryan had something to say and that he should be allowed to say it. As Bryan pulled himself up to his feet and into the ring Triple H mocked him. It was an incredibly effective heat garnering move. As was the RKO that Orton blasted Bryan with as he staggered through the ropes.

The almighty heels stand tall. How long until Bryan takes them down?
And it was there that the show ended. The new as-yet-unnamed heel stable (The Corporation has a nice ring to it…) standing triumphant over the beaten number one babyface. In two nights WWE had created a new lead heel in Orton and succeeded in making Bryan and even hotter babyface than he had been before SummerSlam. The promotion’s new top feud, whether you see it as Bryan v Triple H, Bryan v the McMahons, Bryan v Orton, Bryan v The Corporation or Bryan v all of the above, could not have had a better start.

SummerSlam and the Monday 19th RAW saw WWE at its best.

Monday 19 August 2013

SummerSlam 2013 review

The majority of the hype for SummerSlam focused on the two main event matches. The red hot Dolph Ziggler, World Heavyweight champion Alberto Del Rio, and former friends Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes all found themselves in programmes that were, to a greater or lesser extent, cobbled together as the writing team threw its weight behind the big money players. It’s understandable but it didn’t create the most anticipated card in wrestling history.

But the decision paid off for WWE, as such things tend to. On the night the audience was receptive to everything they were presented with. They naturally gave bigger reactions to the more hyped battles but Ziggler and company got their fair share too. SummerSlam was another pay-per-view success for WWE.

The evening’s action kicked off on the pre-show with Rob Van Dam challenging Dean Ambrose for the United States championship. With just under fourteen minutes and Big Show, Mark Henry and the remaining Shield members making their way to ringside during the match the two were able to construct a match that held attention. Van Dam won via disqualification after he was speared by Roman Reigns. Expect this to lead to title defences from The Shield at Night of Champions.

After a little more waffling form the expert panel (we’ll get to them) and Renee Young SummerSlam proper kicked off.

The Miz walked out onto the stage to absolutely no reaction. He welcomed us to the show and talked up the evening’s big matches. It brought back memories of his time hosting SmackDown. That was not something I wanted reminding of.  Fandango came out and danced to his music with Summer Rae as Miz said “Really?” It was not the best of starts.

The opening video was given a grainy, dated feel, evoking seventies and eighties infomercials. It was a typically well produced WWE video package. It’s one of the company’s strengths. At this point the bigger surprise would be them producing a bad one.

After Jo Jo Offerman sang America the Beautiful we were told that the opening contest would be the Ring of Fire match. Kane was introduced first and we had two commentary highlights before he’d even entered the ring. The first was Michael Cole describing the Wyatt Family as “diabolical” and the second was Jerry Lawler saying "If you can't stand the heat don't tickle the dragon." Lines like this cannot sound like anything but a euphemism from ‘The King’.

The match was fairly basic but benefited from being on early. The crowd were incredibly into everything the two men did. Bray Wyatt’s involvement helped too, because he has become very popular in a short amount of time.

‘The Big Red Machine’ was in control for most of the match, eventually hitting ‘The Man of a Thousand Truths’ with a choke slam. Wanting to inflict more pain Kane hit a second choke slam and then signalled for a Tombstone piledriver. That gave Erick Rowan and Luke Harper time to place some black flooring over the fire-belching contraption and make their way into the ring. Because the match could end only by pinfall or submission the referee was powerless to stop them. They double teamed Kane and then a recovered Bray hit his finishing move for the win.
What a wrestling ring looks like when it's on fire (sort of)
After the match Bray sat down in his rocking chair and had Kane placed in front of him with his head on some steel steps. Rowan and Harper smashed another set of steps onto Kane’s head (they’re shaped so that all Kane had to put up with was a loud noise) and dragged him out of the arena after Bray. We won’t be seeing Kane for a while as he’s off to film See No Evil 2.

It was a good performance from all four. Jerry Lawler described what we’d seen as creepy, which fails to do it justice.

Up in the skybox Josh Mathews and his expert panel of Booker T, Shawn Michaels and Vickie Guerrero discussed what they’d just seen. Booker said it was disturbing and that the Wyatts have flipped the script. That made me miss Booker’s commentary. HBK said it was uncomfortable viewing but added that it was an impressive debut.

A Paul Heyman interview originally shown during the pre-show was aired. The most important thing he said was that the match between Punk and Lesnar would be fought under no DQ rules.

Damien Sandow cut a promo as he walked to the ring. He reminded us that there have been many great literary pairings over the decades, one of the pair always being the leader and the other a sidekick and lackey. He told us Rhodes had been his sidekick. He finished by saying that he would send Rhodes back to his Dumb and Dumber partnership with his father.

Sandow promos are always good. This was not an exception to the rule.

The two had a spirited, fast paced opening sequence. Sandow gained control before Cody kicked off a comeback with a Muscle Buster from the corner. A few minutes later he won with Cross Rhodes. That moves strikes me as one that could be seen as incredibly legitimate if built up. It looks like it would get you a victory. If WWE have him go over more people with it then it could become something special.

These two will almost certainly clash again at Night of Champions. That neither has a title makes me think that the briefcase will be up for grabs. Whether it is or not, expect ‘The Duke of Decency’ to win there. It’ll be his turn.
Cody Rhodes there, channelling his inner Kid Muscle
The video of Christian’s career that’s done the rounds on TV over the last couple of weeks preceded the World Heavyweight championship match. That this was shown instead of the traditional feud recap showed just how bad a job WWE had done adding sparks to the Christian and Alberto Del Rio rivalry. The closest we came to getting a genuine reason for the two men’s alleged dislike of one another was Michael Cole’s claim that a black eye ADR was sporting was the result of Christian’s Killswitch finisher. It may be true, but I doubt it.

The match built slowly, with the two men eventually exchanging their signature and finishing moves for near falls and reversal spots. It was very well done. Del Rio worked on Christian’s shoulder, playing off the injury that had kept ‘Captain Charisma’ out of action for nearly a year and also softening him up for the cross arm breaker submission.

The finish came about after ‘The Instant Classic’ speared Del Rio, winding the champion but also harming his own shoulder. ADR recovered and slapped on the cross arm breaker for the victory. It was a logical finish that didn't harm Christian but kept ADR strong. Considering this was a time killer feud for Del Rio keeping him strong was obviously going to be of importance. The match didn’t measure up to the incredible Del Rio v Ziggler matches of the last few months but it was worth watching.

After the match Renee Young appeared in the ring to ask ADR if he was proud of his win. ADR told her it’s a great night because he's still the champ. He said the Latino people need a hero and an idol to look up to. And that's him (obvs). Presumably this was done to dissuade WWE’s Latin fans from cheering Del Rio.

Backstage The Miz acted as interviewer and spoke to Maria Menounos. She recapped the issue between Natalya and the Bellas (which nobody cares about) before Fandango showed up again. He and Summer danced and then Miz and Maria danced. The final shot was of Fandango and Maria looking put out. If these segments don’t provide the starting point for a feud between Miz and Fandango they will have happened for literally no reason at all.

The Divas battle was next. Maria Menounos was nowhere to be seen. Natalya was accompanied by the Funkadactyls only. Brie was accompanied by her sister Nikki and Total Divas newcomer Eva Marie. The heels looked better, as is usually the case with WWE’s Divas.

The crowd amused themselves by chanting for each member of the commentary team in turn as Brie took an early lead following heel shenanigans. Natalya would eventually overcome those and get the clean victory via a Sharpshooter. The match was basic but avoided being bad.

In the back Ryback bullied a catering guy. First he said the food sucked, then he poured soup down the guy’s shirt and over his head. None of WWE’s babyfaces made the save. That doesn’t paint them in a terribly good light, does it? I’d ask where it all went wrong for Ryback but I think it’s probably too late for that. WWE have wasted a golden opportunity with him.

A lengthy video package was shown. It recounted the failed friendship of Paul Heyman and CM Punk and the involvement of Brock Lesnar.

The match kicked off with Punk getting in some offensive flurries on Lesnar before getting shut down and put on sell duty for several minutes. During the early portion of the match I was particularly impressed with Lesnar’s use of the bear hug. It’s not exactly a thrilling move but when applied by Lesnar it looks genuinely painful.

Punk kicked off a comeback by biting ‘The Pain’s’ ear. He followed up with kicks, elbows and a high knee. Punk finally sent Lesnar down to the mat with a roundhouse kick, following up with a Macho Elbow for a two count.

Punk attempted a GTS but Lesnar countered into the Kimura lock. Punk sold that for a few moments before inexplicably countering into an armbar and then a triangle choke. Lesnar powered up to his feet and tried to power bomb his way out of the hold, but Punk kept it applied. Moments later he powered to his feet again and this time freed himself by hitting a running power bomb on Punk. ‘The Second City Saint’ kicked out.
The Kimura lock. This will be among the many things Punk fails to sell on RAW

Lesnar blasted Punk with Eddie Guerrero’s Three Amigos for another two count. ‘The Beast’ slipped out to ringside and grabbed a chair. He was met with a top rope dive from Punk before he could return to the ring but managed to get the chair up to protect himself. This was a wobble in the otherwise enjoyable action. Not only had Punk recovered too quickly from the sustained beating that had included two power bombs and three suplexes but he made it to his feet quicker than Lesnar even though he jumped off the top rope into a steel chair. It was ropey psychology. Considering the high esteem Punk holds himself in I think we’re entitled to expect better from him.

Punk smacked Lesnar with the chair on the outside and back in the ring and used it when hitting a Macho Elbow. Heyman made the save there. As he distracted Punk, Lesnar clambered groggily to his feet (selling the beating he’d taken – fancy that) and scooped Punk up for an F5. Punk grabbed hold of Heyman, forcing Lesnar to release his grasp and creating a moment of confusion that allowed Punk to get a GTS on his foe.

Heyman made the save for a second time. Instead of looking furious that he’d just been cost a win Punk smiled. He chased his former pal around the ring, re-entering the ring to find himself scooped up for an F5. He countered that into a DDT and applied the Anaconda Vice.

Heyman once again entered the ring, this time brandishing a chair. Punk released the hold to put a stop to Heyman’s nonsense. He punched him in the mouth and then put him in the Vice. This left him wide open to Brock Lesnar, who broke the submission hold with a chair and then F5ed Punk, onto that very same chair, for the victory.

Punk’s aversion to logical wrestling psychology aside this was a very good match. It wasn’t as great as the commentary trio made it out to be nor was it the match of the night (the main event grabbed that honour) but it was very enjoyable. Lesnar and Heyman left to boos and Punk got a standing ovation. My assumption is Punk will win a rematch.

Michael Cole went from discussing the serious beating Lesnar and Punk had handed one another to jovially introducing a video package about a fan who agreed to take a World’s Strongest Slam from Mark Henry in exchange for free SummerSlam tickets. It was a jarring change of pace. It was also a weird challenge. But this is wrestling. We’ve seen far weirder over the years.

The evening’s penultimate match was the mixed tag. Ziggler (and Kaitlyn, because she entered with him) got a huge pop. AJ got slightly less. Big E got nothing. The crowd were hot for the Big E versus Dolph exchanges but cooled off considerably whenever the ladies stepped into the ring. They did nothing wrong, this is just the result of WWE encouraging fans to see women’s wrestling as a waste of time over the last six or seven years. It’ll take time to get the division back on track but they are moving in the right direction.

The finish saw Big E attempt the Big Ending only for ‘The Show Off’ to counter into the Zig Zag. Winners of a fun and thoroughly inoffensive bout: Ziggler and Kaitlyn.

Backstage we got the final skit involving Miz and Fandango. Miz clotheslined the dancer to the ground for no reason. The crowd didn’t care. Neither did I. Frankly, I’d be surprised if either Fandango or Miz did.

Up in the skybox the experts gave their picks. Shawn and Vickie both selected Bryan while Booker failed to select anyone and instead talked about how Bryan will scratch and claw and fight while questioning whether Cena is still hungry enough to be at the top. Segments like this only work if everyone involved plays along and picks against the underdog. That was clearly Bryan, but going exclusively off the responses here you’d think it was Cena. A logical reason for HBK backing Bryan did exist (he trained him), but Booker and Vickie both should have backed the champ to get over how big a challenge Bryan was facing.

The final video of the evening recapped the Bryan, Cena, Triple H and Vince saga we've seen over the last month. If you’ve missed it the basic gist is that Cena selected Bryan to be his opponent, Triple H felt Bryan was the future of the company, and Vince didn’t want either Cena or Bryan holding the title and isn’t getting on with Triple H.

Triple H's King of Kings music got a rare airing for his entrance. Bryan's entrance, featuring his The Beard is Here parody shirt, was met with the predictably thunderous yes chants. Cena’s entrance was booed, but that was always going to be the case.

The first few minutes saw Cena turning his hand to some mat wrestling. This was done to prove a point to Bryan, who’d described Cena as a parody of a wrestler. It was also in retaliation to the “You can’t wrestle” chants fans pelted the champion with.

Cena took control with a suplex off the steps to the mats and a power bomb back in the ring. Bryan came back with a clothesline and a series of kicks. Cena responded with a spinning back drop (formerly known as the Killswitch) and the Five Knuckle Shuffle. He attempted an AA but Bryan landed on his feet and hits a top rope drop kick for a two count.

Cena's eye was shown swelling as Bryan laid in kicks and screamed at Cena to get up. Bryan tried slapping a submission hold on to Cena’s elbow and Cena tried countering into the STF. Bryan came through that and slapped the STF on himself.

Cena powered out of that but moments later found himself in a Yes Lock. Cena slipped out but Bryan immediately put on a front face lock and a body scissors. Cena came back from that with an AA, out of which Bryan kicked out. Yes, Daniel Bryan was permitted to kick out of the AA. At this point I became convinced WWE were doing everything they could to make the match special and memorable.

Cena went up to the top but Bryan crotched him. Bryan launched himself at the champ again and again, getting pushed off each time but climbing to his feet and coming back. After a few repeats of that Bryan hit Cena with a second rope suplex, staying on the top rope by hooking his legs in the ropes. The commentary teams rightly put that over as a smart move that helped Bryan avoid the impact of a traditional second rope suplex.

Bryan came off the top with a headbutt and attempted a suicide dive. Cena put a stop to that with a forearm and his notoriously dodgy top rope leg drop. Cena tried a second rope AA but ‘The Dazzler’ fought out of the predicament with a load of elbows. He attempted a hurricanrana but Cena blocked it, leapt down to the mat and applies the STF.

After a few moments in the STF Bryan slipped out and applied the Yes Lock. Cena escaped into the ropes, earning him boos.

They did the boo and yay punch exchange, a Cena specialty, before a mid-air collision dropped them both to the mat. After a breather the two got back up, Cena visibly calling spots.

Cena slapped the challenger. Bryan responded in kind. They started a slap exchange but Bryan quickly got the better of it and Cena was left to cover up. Bryan went for his top rope flip counter as he was whipped into a corner but Cena caught him. The subsequent DDT attempt was countered into a DDT. As they both sold that Cena loudly called a sequence, ending on “… you got that?” What a pro.
There were several kicks thrown in this match. Natch
Bryan went for a top rope body block but was caught by his muscular opponent. Cena tried for an AA but Bryan instead got a rollup for a convincing out of nowhere false finish. First to his feet, Bryan connected with a kick to Cena’s head and then battered him with a running knee a three count from nowhere.

Daniel Bryan defeated John Cena clean. It's astonishing.

Bryan was handed the championship for a celebration but was interrupted after just a few seconds by the former champion. There was nothing to worry about though, not with a loveable babyface like John Cena. He shook Bryan’s hand and then left. Bryan continued his celebration with pyros exploding all over the place and confetti cascading down from the rafters. It was a great moment for fans of a guy who’s been one of wrestling’s hardest working men for years, both in and out of WWE.

Then Randy Orton came out.

‘The Viper’ posed with his briefcase in front of the ring. Bryan shouted out him to get in the ring but Orton just walked away. The commentary gang assumed this was just Orton reminding Bryan that he was waiting to strike. They had clearly forgotten how WWE works. As Bryan continued shouting Triple H, who had remained in the ring, spun him round and hit him with a Pedigree. Orton then headed back to the ring and handed over his briefcase. ‘The Game’ took it and we had our second WWE championship match of the night.

It didn’t last long. Orton simply made the cover and won. Thirty-three seconds passed between Bryan receiving the Pedigree and being covered. If that doesn’t tell us who the star was I don’t know what does. Cena would have kicked out of that pause. It would have been nice to see Orton pull Bryan up and hit him with an RKO (or enter the ring quicker) but I suspect the fact that Orton didn’t perform a single wrestling move all night but still left as champion is going to become a plot point.

Anyway, Triple H applauded Orton as he posed all over the place with the championship belt. SummerSlam went off the air with Triple H raising Orton's arm and Orton smirking. It was a shot that had a very DX feel to it.

And that was SummerSlam, the hottest show of the summer. It was, by any fair criteria, a damn fine wrestling show. Every match performed at or above expectations and it ended on a development that will send plots off in new and unexpected directions. The Bryan v Orton feud had been expected, but the union between the ‘The Apex Predator’ and Triple H had not.

It was also nice to see WWE go all the way with Daniel Bryan. Yes they took the championship off him straight away, but that’s to set him up as a babyface chasing a heel champion. It’s a dynamic proven to work and so there’s nothing wrong with doing it. Bryan still managed to defeat Cena clean in a pay-per-view main event, something not even CM Punk has been permitted to do.

Tonight’s RAW should be very interesting.