Thursday 30 January 2014

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 38

This episode is about Sunday’s Royal Rumble. We discuss what was good and what was bad about the show. That means covering Batista’s victory, Sheamus’s return, Bray Wyatt’s attack on John Cena, the WWE championship match, and, of course, the treatment of Daniel Bryan. But which category, good stuff and bad stuff, will these things fall into.

Since the Rumble CM Punk has apparently left WWE. I wouldn’t acknowledge that here (yet) but we discuss him during this podcast too. We both agreed he would wrestle Kane at Elimination Chamber. Technically, technically, that could still happen. Both men are under contract and physically capable of wrestling but, well, it’s not likely.

Batista's going to WrestleMania. And he's going there in his invisible car
Basically grin and bear any bits with CM Punk. There’s as much interest to be found in them as there is in anything else in any of these podcasts, and it may become relevant again.

Also discussed are WWE’s long term plans for Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania. We covers the matches and storylines we expect to see on both as well as what we see as the rights and wrongs of pushing the likes of Batista, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns. We even briefly discuss Ryback v Goldberg.

For a more extensive report on what actually happened at the Rumble and on the following night’s RAW you can read my reviews here and here.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

That RAW Recap 27.01.14

The last year has taught us that the episodes of RAW that follow pay-per-views can be more important than the pay-per-view itself. The bigger events deliver the shocks and surprises but it’s on Monday nights that we find out what they mean and how they pertain to WWE’s plans. It’s not necessarily what WWE should be doing but it’s what they are doing, and it’s become the norm.

With this in mind I think the January 27th RAW has to be seen as a disappointment. Good opening segment, hour two opener, and main event match aside there was nothing of significance on the show. In fact there was an omission more significant than most of what was included.

That was CM Punk. He was apparently backstage but he didn’t appear in front of cameras at all. It was assumed that he would in order to further his feud with Authority member Corporate Kane. The reason he didn’t appear could be anything. It could a simple case of time constraints or it could be that Punk has given notice to the group. Whatever the cause he wasn’t on RAW and it was noticeable.

The show opened with Michael Cole saying “unpredictability” had reigned at the Royal Rumble. This after the number most regarded as the favourite had won the thirty man extravaganza and the most shocking thing about the show has been the lack of Daniel Bryan after his loss to Bray Wyatt. Still, he’s got to say something, I suppose. The Authority pointed at the ‘Mania sign and welcomed everybody to RAW. Triple H mocked the fans for liking Daniel Bryan and said the Rumble was incredible. There was no subtlety there.

They announced that Orton would defend the title in the Chamber. Then D-Bry came out. The audience went nuts for him, which was to be expected. Bryan said his match at Royal Rumble, win, lose or draw, was a highlight of the show. Trips said described it as “a good little effort.” Steph stepped in to say it was a great match. Bryan revealed he'd asked several times to be in the Rumble but had been told no every time.

Stephanie said they were looking out for him by not asking him to compete twice. When she asked if Bryan believed the fans had paid just to see him there was (predictably) a "Yes!" chant. The audience then answered “No!” as Bryan asked if they'd paid to see Randy Orton or Triple H. Bryan's message was basically for The Authority to listen to the fans and give him a push. At points he came dangerously close to coming off as a whiney heel. That’s something WWE should try to avoid in future: the basis of Bryan’s popularity is precarious.

Bryan announced he wanted to be a part of Elimination Chamber match. He went nose-to-nose with 'The Game' (impressive in its own way) before The Shield were called out. Even though he grabbed a chair ‘The Hounds of Justice’ still got the better of D-Bry. They do have over a year's experience of beating guys down. Sheamus lilted down to make the save, followed by Cena. The babyfaces stood tall as Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns retreated through the crowd. This was the setup for a six man tag main event, the three winners of which would be given slots in the Elimination Chamber match.

The sign gimmick makes its long-awaited return to wrestling
The first break was followed by the first match, Mysterio and Sin Cara v The Real Americans. Mysterio and Sin Cara got the "currently in the ring" treatment, perhaps because WWE were concerned about him getting booed as he had been the night before. It was a really match, probably the best on the show. Nothing of importance happened though, beyond Zeb Colter giving Swagger a motivational slap. Cesaro got the win after lamping Cara with an uppercut and the Neutraliser.

After that Bad News Barrett had some bad news. It was as awful as it usually is. This gimmick screams mid-card and won’t add anything to his matches, whenever his return to the ring occurs.

Match two was Fandango v R-Truth. It was most interesting for Xavier Woods complaining about his Rumble number being stolen and NXT Diva Emma wandering around in the audience. Truth won with his finisher, which is called Pay Dirt, Little Jimmy or Little Jimmy's Revenge depending on what Michael Cole prefers at any given moment.

Randy Orton was given his own personal introduction by Brad Maddox when he sauntered out for his promo. They've got to get Bradley on to the show somehow. 'The Viper' was annoyed about the planned WWE title Elimination Chamber. He'd barely said that before Batista interrupted him. He heard boos when he got to the ring just as Orton had. And they were not the right kind of boos. They were crowd sending a message of boredom and disapproval boos.

Chants of "Daniel Bryan" started up as ‘The Animal’ reminded Orty of his three goals (win the Rumble, headline WrestleMania, and leave as champ). He said he didn't care who he has to beat and listed Orton, The Shield and Bryan as potential WWE champs he’d be happy to steamroll. It was clearly a list given to him by management, delivered with very little enthusiasm. His proclamations were met with boos.

If Cena had been a part of this we'd have had a full OVW Class of 2002 reunion
Brock Lesnar's music struck up and 'The Beast' walked to the ring for something of an OVW reunion. He got the most positive reaction of the three stars. Heyman told Maddox (who'd hung out in the ring after introducing the champ) he had two choices. Choice one was to announce Orton v Lesnar for the championship(s). Choice two was to put Lesnar in the ring with Batista for the Rumble-earned title shot. Heyman said he wanted an answer by the end of the night "or else."

The three wrestlers deserve credit here. Orton flipped out as a top heel should when presented with the idea of facing a man like Lesnar, while Batista looked concerned as a fightin’ face (and that’s what he is for now)should. Lesnar looked intimidating, which isn’t hard for him, and stared holes through the other two wrestlers.

Hour two is what brought the quality of the show down so much. Miz and Ziggler's Battle of Cleveland was won by Ziggler with a Zig Zag. The Usos defeated RybAxel with a pair of super kicks and a Jimmy top rope splash. ADR v Kingston was most memorable for JBL and Lawler disregarding the match they were being paid to discuss to play up to the crowd, overshadowing the men that were wrestling as they did. ADR won with a double stomp and his low super kick. None of it will be referenced ever again. It was completely pointless and sapped the enthusiasm of the crowd.

The New Age Outlaws v Cody Rhodes and Goldust did as good a job of getting things back on track as it could. It was a title rematch from the Rumble pre-show. The Outlaws did their shtick then Road Dogg said they won the titles not because of who they knew but because they were better than the Rhodes boys. That earned him a punch from Cody which sent him sprawling to ringside. When it started the match was good but not as good as the Rumble meeting. The crowd weren't as hot, because they'd been sitting around for hours, and the pace was slower.

It ended in a double DQ when Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar returned to the ring. Lesnar F5’d both Goldust and Cody as the tag champs ran away. Heyman threw a chair to 'The Pain' and said this was happening because they hadn’t gotten what they wanted. Lesnar then bashed the brothers a few times with the chair.

The filler matches returned after that as the Bellas and the Funkadactyls united to face AJ Lee, Tamina, Aksana and Alicia Fox. Naomi pinned AJ after the Rear View. The girls danced to celebrate. If they’re to be taken seriously as wrestlers that needs to stop. Rock, Austin, Hogan and Cena wouldn’t have gotten to the top if they celebrated meaningless victories by dancing about.

After that we learned that Jake 'The Snake' Roberts would be joining The Ultimate Warrior in the 2014 Hall of Fame class. He definitely deserves to be in there.

Shield six man tags will soon be a thing of the past
Then it was main event time. Even Cena struggled to get a reaction from the crowd by this point. They'd quietness down considerably throughout the night. Bryan did better. The crowd came to life whenever either of them tagged into the match and fell silent whenever 'Great White' did. The audience weren't just giving their opinion on Bryan there, they were telling WWE something about babyface Sheamus too. Also worth noting is that the audience reacted to Reigns' taunt for the Superman punch, a move I really like by the way.

They also reacted to Reigns powering out of the STF, something which happened moments before the lights went out and the Wyatt Family appeared. The faces sent them packing and then it was announced they'd won by DQ, granting them entry to the Chamber match. The Shield flipped out at ringside. This was a clever way of setting up The Shield versus the Wyatt Family for the Chamber card. The programme went off the air with the faces celebrating to Bryan's music.

Elimination Chamber came out of this RAW looking promising. So did the potential for a renewed Daniel Bryan push. But if WWE are going to make people care about WrestleMania future episodes of RAW need to be significantly better than this one.

Monday 27 January 2014

Royal Rumble 2014 review

As an event taken in isolation the 2014 Royal Rumble was mostly a very good show. It featured strong performers in most of its undercard matches and the Rumble itself was one of the most well planned in years. But despite these successes the show is likely to be most remembered for what it didn’t do. Namely make the most of Daniel Bryan’s incredible popularity.

The evening kicked off with a fun pre-show match in which the New Age Outlaws defeated the Rhodes brothers for the WWE tag team championship. On commentary JBL focused so much on how long it would be between the Outlaws’ fifth and sixth reigns that I became even more sure than I had been anyway that Road Dogg and Billy Gunn would have an unsuccessful night. Perhaps that was deliberate, WWE having Layfield talk about stats in order to build up surprise for the title change. I think that’s probably giving them too much credit though.

I enjoyed the title reign of Cody Rhodes and Goldust. They made a good team and were the best thing on WWE shows. Losing the titles doesn’t mean they’re going to stop teaming but it does hint at it. So does the fact that ‘The Bizarre One’, albeit accidentally, eliminated Cody from the Rumble later in the night. The rumoured brother versus brother match at ‘Mania looks like a certainty at this point.

The New Age Outlaws getting a sixth reign is, in my opinion, a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with a popular team getting one final turn in the spotlight while they can still perform at the level they’re best remembered for (which the Outlaws can because they were more about mic work than anything else). It’s a way of acknowledging their popularity, rewarding their hard work, and giving them the send-off they deserve. A long championship reign wouldn’t be the right thing, but I doubt that’s what they’re going to get.

The pay-per-view portion of the night kicked off with Daniel Bryan versus Bray Wyatt. The crowd erupted for Bryan and reacted to everything he did. Wyatt, who was proving popular with audiences before his feud with Bryan, was booed simply by virtue of who he was facing. Bryan is that over.

The opening moments saw Bray and Bryan trading punches and kicks and interference from Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. They were immediately dispatched from ringside by the ref, creating a level playing field.

Bryan took control with a cross body block from the top rope to the outside and a second back in the ring. He worked over Bray’s legs for a few minutes and sent him into the ring steps on the outside. Bray regained control with an arm ringer that drove Bryan’s head into the ring apron.

‘The Eater of Worlds’ pummelled Bryan in the corner of the ring, clotheslined his head into the ring post, then followed up with a high running back senton and a wild head and arm suplex in the ring. Bryan came back with charging clothesline, some stiff kicks and a drop toe hold into a turnbuckle. A top rope hurricanarana got him two count. Bray got a two of his own with a charging elbow that looked genuinely painful.

On the outside Bryan leapt off the apron and hit Wyatt with a tornado DDT. Back in the ring again he followed up with a top rope drop kick and yet more kicks. Moments later Bray blasted Bryan with a lariat. His attempt at Sister Abigail was reversed into a roll up for a convincing near fall. The Yes Lock attempt that followed was countered with a distinctly untechnical biting of the fingers (which probably should have been a disqualification, but whatevs).

The men made their way to the top rope, where Bryan sent Bray sprawling with a headbutt and followed up with a splash. His attempt at the running knee sent Bray under the bottom rope to the outside. The suicide dive that Bryan attempted would prove his downfall: Bray caught him and threw him into the crowd barrier with his Sister Abigail finisher. A second use of the move back in the ring earned him the surprising victory.

It was the second eyebrow-raising result of the evening. At the time it happened it was hard not to see it as WWE continuing to refuse to recognise Bryan’s popularity. The use of Bray later in the evening makes me think that it was actually more about preparing him for an important role in the company. Bryan, as the most popular member of the roster, was the ideal man to put Wyatt over as it made people react to him and helped him look like a big deal.

The third match of the night saw Brock Lesnar tangle with Big Show. The presentation of this was far more interesting than I’d expected it to be. ‘The Beast’ attacked Show before the bell, taking him down to the mat and battering him with a chair. When the match officially started Show caught Lesnar off guard with his WMD KO punch.

That would not be enough to stop Lesnar. After a brief trundle around ringside they headed back into the ring and Show got scooped up into an F5. The match ended quickly and emphatically, exactly as it should have.

This is the best way to use Lesnar. He is not someone we’re supposed to think of as a wrestler. He’s a man we’re supposed to think of as a fighter, an unstoppable wall of rage and muscle. His pre-match attack reminded us how volatile he is and the ease with which he dropped Show once the match began reminded us that he’s a man who can make short work of anyone. Arguments that Lesnar looked weak having to resort using a chair against Show miss the point: the aim was to portray Lesnar as unstable and a poor sportsman, not to protect Big Show. Lesnar could have defeated Big Show without the aid of a chair but he used it because he was angry. Plus he shrugged off Show’s KO punch, which has been established as a guaranteed finish.

After the match the beating continued, driving home the point that ‘The Pain’ is not a stable man. It went on for a while but that was fine. I’d rather this approach than a lengthy match in which Show is given offence. The important thing was building Lesnar up for the next two months, and that goal was achieved.

The evening’s penultimate match was Randy Orton’s WWE championship defence against John Cena. It will be remembered almost exclusively for the hostility of the crowd towards the two men. This is something that’s been caused by years of overexposure and it’s been made worse by WWE’s pig-headed refusal to create a batch of new stars. This is a subject I’ll return to below.

The problem with this match was that we’d seen everything they did in the first fifteen minutes before. There was nothing new, highlighting the overfamiliarity already present in any Orton v Cena match. It didn’t help that they were supposed to be battling not just over the title(s) but over a deeply personal issue. ‘The Viper’ had viciously attacked Cena’s dad on an episode of RAW and yet they started with a lockup. Surely such an issue warranted a wild brawl to kick things off, something that would have stood a better chance of engaging the crowd. They even had the relaxed rules to allow for that.

The match progressed slowly. They were blasted with chants of “End this match!”, “This is awful!” and “We want Divas!” in between the bouts of silence and stretches of boos. Cena, used to the reception, carried on with the match as planned. Meanwhile Orty was visibly irritated and didn’t know how to react. In the end he simply stopped and did his arms raised in the air pose and hoped for the best.

Things did pick up in the closing minutes once the two started hitting their finishers and lifting one another’s signature spots. Orton started that off when he applied the STF to Cena. Moments later he slipped out of a Cena STF and planted the challenger with a dodgy AA. Cena responded with an RKO. The crowd reacted to all of this but it was too little too late: the moves got momentary pops but didn’t regain interest in the match as a whole. The crowd were doing everything they could to send WWE the message that they did not want to see Orton and Cena facing off.

The finish did get a sustained reaction though. As Cena had Orty trapped in the STF the lights went out and the Wyatt Family’s signature was screened. When the lights came back on the three Family members were stood on the ring apron. Cena dashed at Bray and knocked him down to the floor but turned around into the match-winning RKO. For the second year in a row a heavily pushed three man faction played a part in the WWE title match at Royal Rumble.

This was a step in the right direction as far as creating new stars is concerned. Having Bray be the reason Cena lost a WWE title match obviously sets the two up for a collision of some sort. It could be a singles match. It could be a tag match with Cena and Bryan taking on two members (I’d personally favour Bray and Harper). It could even be a six man if Hulk Hogan’s capable of standing on the apron for ten minutes before Hulking up and hitting a leg drop.

Whatever it leads to I think Bray interfering in this match gives sense to Bryan’s loss to him in the opener. Bryan will remain popular. Not indefinitely, not at his current level at least, but enough to take one loss to an upper mid-carder. Bray needed that victory to make him appear credible for whatever he does with Cena.

After a final check-in with the expert panel, which was most notable for how hammered Flair appeared, and a short video of mini promos from Rumble entrants (Batista’s was most cringe-worthy, he simply looked at the camera before saying “Exactly”) it was time for the Royal Rumble match. It was Seth Rollins who would start things off against CM Punk. As I wrote in my prediction piece he was a good choice because he was a big enough name to get a reaction but not so big as to be needed later in the bout. Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes followed. ‘The Intellectual Saviour’ was the first man out when Punk back dropped him over the top rope.

Entrant five was Kane, who tore his shirt off as he trundled towards the ring. He went straight for Punk, trying for a choke slam but getting smacked with a roundhouse kick and eliminated instead. He was followed by NXT regular Alexander Rusev. He knocked everyone in the ring around but would ultimately leave without eliminating anyone.

The crowd weren’t sure whether to pop for Cesaro or boo for Swagger when the Real Americans music hit. It ended up being Swagger, so they booed. He was followed by Kofi Kingston, Jimmy Uso and Goldust. It was at this point that ‘The Bulgarian Brute’ was eliminated via group effort. If this was his official introduction to the main roster it was unimpressive.

Up next was Kofi Kingston’s annual avoiding elimination spot. This year he got knocked off the apron by CM Punk and caught by an angry Rusev at ringside. For no discernable reason Rusev dropped ‘The Wildcat’ on to the crowd barrier, punched him a few times, then wandered off. After psyching himself up Kofi made the eight foot leap from the barrier on to the ring apron and rejoined the action. A while later he would avoid elimination again by wrenching Jack swagger’s boot off and hanging upside down from the ropes. It was not as impressive.

Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth and Kevin Nash followed. Truth found himself immediately eliminated by Ambrose while Nash made short work of Swagger. The reaction for ‘The Show Off’ was impressive. Despite being booked like a nobody for months the fans reacted like he was a star, popped for his missile drop kick, and piped up with a “Let’s go Ziggler!” chant.

The reason for the slight number of eliminations was revealed when Roman Reigns entered at fifteen and set about dominating the match. CM Punk was knocked silly with a running drop kick. Goldust, Cody and Ziggler were all dropped with spears. Kofi was dunked over the top rope after attempting a spinning heel kick. Moments later he was joined by Ziggles and ‘Big Sexy’.

A group effort from The Shield weakened The Great Khali for elimination, but it was Reigns that scooped him up and threw him out. A (planned) timing error between the brothers Rhodes saw Goldy accidentally knock Cody off the apron. Reigns then added to his tally by getting rid of ‘The Golden One’. That left Punk alone with The Shield. Luckily for him, but unluckily for viewers, Sheamus was entrant seventeen. He single-handedly sidelined all three heels.

The Miz, Fandango , El Torito and Antonio Cesaro brought the numbers back up. Fandango and Torito didn’t last long. The dancer went out to the bull and the bull went out to Roman Reigns. Cesaro earned cheers by fending off Rollins and Ambrose and performing a lengthy big swing.

Luke Harper, Jey Uso, JBL and Erick Rowan were the next four. By this point chants for Daniel Bryan had begun and people that weren’t him were getting booed as they entered. ‘The Wrestling God’ kept his suit on and didn’t last long, as you’d expect. He was added to Roman Reigns’ elims list. Eagle-eyed viewers would have noticed Kane sneaking towards the ring as Layfield’s music was playing. This was understandably not acknowledged by Cole and ‘King’.

Jey Uso went out to a Luke Harper boot just as The Ryback was introduced. He was followed by Alberto Del Rio and Batista. The initial reaction for ‘The Animal’ was good but he found himself jeered heavily once he got into the ring. He made quick work of eliminating Rowan, Ryback and ADR. That was intended to remind us of how good he is. Personally I’d have spanned them out a little more, tossing out three guys so rapidly left Big Dave with nothing much to do.

The penultimate entrant was Big E Langston. He too got no reaction because the crowd were holding out for Daniel Bryan. Rey Mysterio was heavily booed when he came out at thirty. Everything that the remaining men did for the next several minutes got similar treatment. It was the fans’ way of telling WWE they were not happy with what they were being given.

Cheers returned when Seth Rollins elim’ed Mysterio. Reigns’ Superman punch elimination of Luke Harper got a mixed reaction but the crowd came to life when Ambrose tried a sneak attack on his big teammate. Rollins shouted at Ambrose for his lack of team spirit and Cesaro tried to chuck them both out. Seconds later all three found themselves on the floor courtesy of Roman Reigns.

The four remaining men (Reigns, Punk, Sheamus and Batista) exchanged finishers, with Punk getting the best of the sequence and ending up stood in a corner. That would turn out to be the wrong thing to do as ‘The Big Red Machine’ would appear from his hiding place under the ring and pull him out of the match. I don’t want to see Kane v CM Punk but I think we’re going to. Probably at, but not necessarily in, Elimination Chamber.

Boos rained down on the three finalists as they clambered back to their feet. Sheamus and Batista made their way through an unengaging exchange of punches and kicks. After what seemed like hours Batista attempted a Batista bomb. Sheamus muscled out of it but ended up back dropped on to the apron. That allowed Reigns to barge him off, making him the record holder for most eliminations in a single Rumble match with twelve.

The crowd rallied behind Reigns. Part of the reason for that is that he’s been teasing a face turn for months. Another part is that he’d single-handedly eliminated twelve men, meaning that he’d earned a victory within the context of the Rumble match itself. But the biggest reason Reigns was cheered was that he’s a fresh face in such an important spot. And new faces are what WWE fans want.

Obviously the crowd would have preferred Bryan because Bryan typifies the new face sentiment. But Roman Reigns was a decent enough substitute. He represented a new direction and youngsters being pushed to the fore. Batista represented big names from yesteryear clogging up the roster and denying the more deserving regulars the spots they’ve earned.  

They exchanged punches before Reigns wiped ‘The Animal’ out with a lariat. Batista responded by wiping the Shield boy out with a spear. Seconds later Reigns was back on his feet and dropping Batista with a (far more impressive) spear of his own. He scraped Batsy up off the mat and went to throw him out but the veteran reversed it and chucked ‘The Hound of Justice’ out. Just like that Batista became a two time Royal Rumble winner.

Loud boos and chants of “No!” and “Daniel Bryan!” filled the arena. Batista’s response was to point at the WrestleMania sign and no-sell pyros going off above him.

The booking of the Rumble match itself was mostly fine. It could have done with a few more surprise entrants (Nash felt like a waste as he made a similar appearance in 2011 and I could have done without R-Truth and the Usos) but it did its job re-establishing Batista as a force to be reckoned with, adding reasons for a Rhodes brothers split, furthering the dispute between Punk and The Authority, and prepping Roman Reigns for his babyface turn.

But that’s all likely to be forgotten. What people will remember about the 2014 Royal Rumble is that Daniel Bryan was not a part of it. His absence overshadowed everything else. Had he been popped in in place of The Miz, El Torito, Ryback or even Rey Mysterio the fans would have been satisfied. They’d have had the man they wanted in the match. He didn’t have to win. He just needed to be given the opportunity to.

There is a positive side to all this. It’s just about possible that the omission of Bryan was planned to get the backlash it did. After the show Bryan posted the following on Twitter:

Sorry guys, the machine wanted me nowhere near the Royal Rumble match. But I thank everyone for their support. YOU are the #YESMovement

They try to keep US down and away from the top spots, but they can’t ignore the reactions forever. Keep voicing your opinions. #YESMovement

You could expect this out of CM Punk but it’s completely at odds with the unassuming, level headed Daniel Bryan. I’ve no idea how they’d make it work but I could imagine WWE trying a storyline in which backstage politics and pre-determined finishes are acknowledged (or strongly hinted at), along with the non-random nature of bouts like the Rumble, with Bryan being portrayed as a man the WWE Machine doesn’t want on top. This is already sort of what’s happened with The Authority but so far it’s only been explained and shown in storyline terms with vague insider terms. The opportunity’s there for WWE to take an experimental approach and have Bryan held down in a completely new way, one that acknowledged wrestling’s pre-planned nature.

The odds are against this idea though. Not only is it something wildly outside of WWE’s comfort zone but they’d be doing it at their most successful time of year and just as they’re launching the WWE Network. Still, it’s something to think about. And it would explain why WWE seem so against doing anything with the man who is clearly the most popular performer they have.

Sunday 26 January 2014

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 37

I know the Royal Rumble’s tonight but we discussed that in last Sunday’s episode. There’s only so much that can be said about it in a podcast before it happens.
Talk to the hand, TNA!
As a change from all the Rumble hype Michael and I turn our attention to TNA and the various news and rumours surrounding the company and its staff. Such as Jeff Jarrett leaving and allegedly talking about forming another new company. He’s got the experience to pull that off but I don’t think there are enough guys out there that he could sign to exclusive contracts for it to be a real possibility. He could probably do something on the level of EVOLVE or Ring of Honor, but I get the feeling ‘Double J’ would like to be affiliated with something on a grander scale.
Then there’s the signing of Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards, the American Wolves. They’re not guys who are going to turn things around for TNA but they could help improve the tag division and perhaps the X Division too. Ultimately they talented fresh names. That, along with a strong creative vision, is what TNA needs the most.
The final subject discussed is a wonderful conspiracy theory that, in fact, tie in to the Royal Rumble. But it’s so ridiculous that I don’t think it falls under the umbrella of serious Rumble talk. Have Kane and Daniel Bryan been in cahoots since they stopped teaming? That’s the question, apparently…

EVOLVE 27 review

EVOLVE 27 was the closing show of a three day weekend for the EVOLVE promotion (read about the first to here and here). As I noted when writing about EVOLVE 26 Gabe Sapolsky (the man in charge of putting these events together) prefers to build up to his bigger matches in these sorts of situations. In theory that should have meant EVOLVE 27 was the best of the three Florida events. Was it? Let’s find out.

Caleb Konley kicked the evening off with a promo. Instead of being a good employee and participating in his scheduled match (which he said was a six-way freestyle match) he demanded a one-on-one rematch from the previous evening with Lince Dorado.

This is a good point at which to acknowledge Lince's gimmick. He acts like a cat and wears gear with a distinctly feline feel to it. It's not as unique as it may sound: British wrestler Lion Kid does essentially the same thing. Dorado's better at it though, and the US fans give him more to work with. Balls of wool being thrown in place of streamers for example.

As an opener it was great. It was fun, fast, and split the offence between both men. Konley win with a roll up. If was pushed as a big moment for him. I don’t think it was but the thought was there at least.

Match two saw Maxwell Chicago team with Johnny Vandal to take on Dos Ben Dejos, Cruz and Rios. It was a mix of comedy stemming from Chicago's basic wrestling skills and ropey teamwork with Vandal and actual, impressive wrestling from Dos Ben Dejoes. It was enjoyable. The regular combo of Rios and Cruz won after a springboard 450 splash to Vandal.

Gabe Sapolsky favourite Jon Davis versus Rich Swann followed that. They started with a bit of power versus speed shtick. Davis got the better of that. The story of the match was that Davis could easily overpower his smaller foe but that Swann’s resilience kept him in the fight. This included the unsportsmanlike acts of rope-choking and wall-smashign. His more traditional offence included an impressive leaping pump kick to a mid-air Swann, a stiff lariat on the apron, a backpack neck breaker, and an elevated power bomb into a German suplex. Swann made numerous comebacks during the match, all but the last being cut off. That saw him leap off the top rope and immediately hit a Canadian Destroyer.

Swann should be praised for his selling. Too few wrestlers are capable of selling convincingly for an extended. That Swann did so made his various comeback attempts all the more compelling. His vulnerability was the story of the match, his win coming from increasing desperation and luck as opposed to a belief shattering super-comeback.

Match four saw Lance Bravado take on Nick Jackson as part of the brothers versus brothers feud. It didn't really last very long: within minutes Harlem Bravado was at ringside interfering. The referee called for the bell before Matt Jackson showed up at ringside and the two teams had a lengthy brawl all around the arena. This involved plenty of rail dives, not-at-all devastating use of stages and steel walls and, of course, chairs. Around the ten minute mark there was a brief and half-hearted "This is awesome!" chant. It wasn't, but it was an effective way to highlight the intense dislike the two teams have for each other.

The shenanigans ended when the Bucks performed a springboard spike Tombstone piledriver to Lance. That was a step too far: the move would have killed or paralysed Lance had it been real. It was complete excess. Showing no compassion for a man he may have just helped paralyse Matt grabbed a microphone and shouted that the Bucks would be taking back the belts in April. The segment started out as a logical bit of feud progression but ended up as overkill.

After intermission ("Fans we're going to take intermission, feel free to check out the merchandise stand," plugged Lenny Leonard as Lance was being attended to by medical staff at ringside) we were treated to one of the highlights of the weekend: Chris Hero v Chuck Taylor. This match showed why both men are so highly regarded. It was one of the best matches of the night and the three show weekend as a whole. 'The Knockout Artist' won with a cravat camel clutch.

AR Fox joined Hero in the ring afterwards, telling him he wanted to defend the EVOLVE championship against him. He suggest the February 23rd Dragon Gate USA show in Brooklyn. Before Hero could accept Trent Baretta rocked up to continue his campaign against his fellow former NXT regular. He said he'd pinned Fox and so deserved a title shot ahead of Hero.

Anthony Nese and Su Yung strolled out as Hero left (he didn’t provide an answer but Lenny Leonard helpfully confirmed that Hero v Baretta would happen). 'The Premier PA' announced that 'Trentylocks' had officially joined The Premier Athlete Brand. Ricochet was the final man to enter for the scheduled tag bout. After some early dives to the outside the Brand boys got the advantage and isolated Fox in the ring. Nese and Baretta showed promise as a pair rule breakers during this stretch of the bout. They could be a nice addition to the Dragon Gate and EVOLVE tag division.

The pace picked up once Ricochet was tagged in as he and Fox took the initiative. The PAB regained the advantage minutes before things broke down and all four men were wrestling at the same time. The bad guys eventually got the win after Nese blocked a Lo Mein Pain and Baretta wiped out Fox with a running knee before Nese performed a 450 splash for the victory.

Chris Hero returned and congratulated The Premier Athlete Brand, specifically Trent, on the win then challenged him (or them, it wasn't clear) to deal with their issues in New Orleans. Baretta's response was to pose with his new tag partner. He didn't officially accept the challenge either. There will be matches involving Hero and Baretta either on February’s New York shows or April’s New Orleans shows but it’s not clear which.

The main event was originally meant to be Roderick Strong against Johnny Gargano. That had to be changed when Strong was injured at the January 4th ROH TV taping. The solution was to award the winner of the EVOLVE 25 Fray! match the title opportunity. It was a good decision, giving Uhaa Nation something meaningful to do and creating a story to be followed across the three shows.

Uhaa was out first to his wonderfully seventies theme music. Gargano's music couldn't compete with that. Mostly because Uhaa's is awesome, but also because Gargano’s is a little bit nineties. Ain't nobody got time for that. The audience was split during the introductions. Both guys received more boos than cheers, which didn't bode well. Thankfully the crowd backed Nation once the bell rung.

The story of the first few minutes was that Uhaa was more powerful than Gargano. 'The Whole Shebang' spent his time bouncing around, taking time outs at ringside and making fruitless attempts to hurt his foe. He managed to turn the tide at the six minute mark when he apron bombed Uhaa off the stage (but not before the pair had botched a subset flip). Uhaa mounted a comeback of his own with a stream of clothesline and a trio of German suplexes. The top rope splash he followed up with gave him the first two count of the match.

Gargano hit his slingshot DDT. Uhaa came back with a lung blower, a DVD and a moonsault. Gargano got a top rope hurricanrana. Uhaa countered a spear into a series of power bombs. None of it was enough for either man to get a victory. Gargano avoided an Uhaa Combination, lawn darting the challenger into a ring post and slapping on the Gargano Escape. 'The One Man Nation' again nabbed the advantage when he gave Gargano a Death Valley Driver on the apron.

An errant boot from Uhaa sent the ref sprawling, freeing Gargano up to bring the ring bell into the match. Uhaa avoided the weapon and scored a Tomstone piledriver (maybe the most overused move of the weekend) for a two count. Moments later the Gargano Escape was applied again after the champ had slipped out of a military press. Uhaa survived for a few moments but ultimately had to tap out. Gargano remained the Open the Freedom Gate championship.

Post-match Gargano told the fans he loved them... except for a section that had been booing him. He said he'd bash their brains in. He also said by defeating the unstoppable Uhaa Nation he'd become the unstoppable Johnny Gargano. Ricochet interrupted him, natch. He asked the champ to sign a contract that would give him a title match with the winner of Gargano v Strong. Johnny refused and tried to leave but got stopped by Rich Swann (who is a human as opposed to a wealthy swan). He called Johnny a champion without heart (what a diss!) before Jon Davis waddled down to the ring.

Davis revealed that because he was making less money than the likes of 'chet and Swann he'd been taking extra money from Gargano to try and injure people (which he did to feed his family, natch). Gargano said he was lying. Davis said Gargano was on his own. With the odds against him Gargano was forced to sign. Swann laid him out with a super kick after he tried to stab Ricochet with the pen. Ricochet then promised to win the title in New Orleans to send everyone home happy.

One thing that leapt out at me about the three shows was how heavy on promos they were. I appreciate that this was because they existed in part to set up the far more important WrestleMania weekend shows but it did feel like too much at points. And they did at least achieve the goal of setting up matches for later. Hero versus Baretta, the Bucks versus the Bravados, and Ricochet versus Gargano all got attention here, which will make the relevant matches mean more when they roll around.

But that’s a minor complaint. EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA shows succeed or fail on the strength of the matches they offer, and the matches offered by EVOLVES 25, 26 and 27 was of a very high quality. Fittingly the best was saved until last. Uhaa Nation versus Johnny Gargano was the best match across all three shows. Hero v Taylor and The Premier Athlete Brand v AR Fox and Ricochet were both enjoyable too.

The three shows were a success. Everyone at EVOLVE should be proud.

EVOLVE 26 review

Back in his Ring of Honor days Gabe Sapolsky booked a lot of two or three date weekends. They tended to feature the smaller matches on the earlier shows with the bigger ones saved for the second or third night. It was an approach that worked then and it’s one that still works now. EVOLVE 25 on Friday January 10th was a good show (read about it here), but it clearly adhered to the smaller match approach. The only major meeting to occur was Davey Richards v AR Fox for the EVOLVE championship, and that only happened on that show because Richards was only making one appearance across the weekend.

EVOLVE 26 would be the middle ground card of EVOLVE’s January triple pack, bigger than EVOLVE 25 but still not featuring the weekend’s biggest matches. The show opened with a SHINE showcase match. I will go on record as saying that SHINE has a lovely logo. It’s very nicely designed. The match was Su Yung, accompanied by Antony Nese, facing Mia Yim. She was alone. Imagine the reaction she'd have had if Prince Nama had been with her. But those days are, sadly, gone.

The match was good, a more traditional opener than the twenty-plus minute encounter that had kicked off the previous evening. The match, which included a piledriver (something only rarely seen in wrestling these days and thus noteworthy), and was won by Yim when she rolled Yung up with a crucifix. Yung was able to attack Yim afterwards thanks to a distraction from Mr Nese. Some tasty cheap heat was obtained when he posed over the fallen Yim.

Up next were Caleb Konley and Lince Dorado. It was a fast match that saw both men chuck themselves about to elicit crowd noise. The focus was almost as much on Trina Michaels taking a phone call at ringside as it was the action. That's fine. This was a low card featuring low card guys. It was mostly happening to create a platform for the Konley-Michaels story. Lince won after rolling through a back body drop and getting a roll up. Trina shouted that she was disappointed in him after his loss.

Maxwell Chicago was out next. I was unfamiliar with him. It was obvious within about three seconds that he's a comedy performer. The vogueing and tux gave it away. His opponent was Chuck Taylor. The match started with a strong sense of fun as Chicago announced he knew a whole five moves and then nearly won by KO with a side headlock. It got sillier from there as the two danced, Taylor wore himself running the ropes and Chicago was talked through applying the figure four by Taylor. Good stuff.

Taylor won after performing the Awful Waffle. Rich Swann then sauntered to the ring. He talked about his shared past with Chucky T and Johnny Gargano as Ronin and then asked if Chuck, like him, wanted to prove that they and not Gargano were what made the group work. He suggested they team up in the main event against The Young Bucks. 'The Kentucky Gentleman' agreed.

Match four was an Open the United Gate match, Dos Ben Dejos challenging Lance and Harlem Bravado. This was, we were told, one of the top tag feuds in Full Impact Pro, brought to EVOLVE cards because they were being held in FIP's neck of the woods. It was a good match but there was nothing that made me think I'd like to see lots more from the four. The Bravados retained their titles after a double team elevated neck breaker.

After a twenty minute intermission (described as brief by the ring announcer before it took place) it was time for Ricochet v Trent Baretta. The FIP champ displayed a slight mean streak during the match, playing off his snarky comments to Chris Hero the previous evening and furthering one of the weekend’s leading plots.

It was a slow starter but it was very good once it got going. There were flurries of excitement throughout the middle portion of the match before a typically pacey finishing sequence. Those flurries mostly involved Ricochet doing multiple back flips or Baretta hitting a leaping kick of some sort. There was also a dead lift Regalplex from Ricochet. It was impressive but didn't gel with his 'Future of Flight' nickname. Or physique.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. By showing that he can deadlift a foe Ricochet wasn’t necessarily showing how powerful he was, it could just as easily be taken as showing that it’s not that tough to heave another human being off their feet. That then makes the feats of strength from guys like Uhaa Nation and Jon Davis seem less impressive.

For the second night in a row Ricochet took a hard tumble to the outside. Shoved off the top rope and landing on his head his lolled around at ringside until the nineteen count, at which point he leapt up and scooted back into the ring. Which brings me to my second complaint about Ricochet. Would it really have been too much to ask for him to pace his recover a little better so that he beat the twenty count in a more convincing fashion?

Back in the ring he was met with a top rope double stomp, something he just kicked out of. Trent slapped him about a bit which led to an exchange of punches. Ricochet got the better of that and attempted a shooting star press. Baretta avoided it and got a two count from a running knee. 'Chet blocked the Dude Buster and performed a float over Northern lights suplex for two. Moments later Ricochet hit a top rope hurricanrana followed by a running shooting star press for another near fall. The 630 splash he hit after that proved too much for Baretta and Ricochet finally got the win.

After the match Ricochet said it won't matter whether it’s Roderick Strong, Uhaa Nation or Johnny Gargano who holds the Open the Freedom Gate championship in New Orleans because he's going to leave the town as champion. For the record I think Johnny Gargano will survive the challenges of Nation and Strong and be the man to defend against Ricochet in NO. Whether he'll make it past ‘The Future of Flight’ or not is another matter entirely. I could see him losing but I could also see him cheating to win, setting up a rematch.

Speaking of Gargano he was involved in the next match. He teamed with Jon Davis to face Uhaa Nation and AR Fox. As you'd expect a lot of the commentary focused on the respective title reigns of Fox and Gargano. This stretched to Uhaa having a shot at the Open the Freedom Gate title the following night. In the ring the match was solid but not spectacular. An early high point was probably a choke slam from Davis to Fox, something which led to the EVOLVE champ being isolated form his corner for a good few minutes. Once he’d made the tag to Uhaa tags were quietly abandoned for the second half and all four men took it in turns to hit stunts and high impact moves. It was a welcome approach.

The faces won after Fox wiped out Gargano with a Lo Mein Pain and a 450 on Davis before Nation gave him an Uhaa Combination. Afterwards Gargano gave Davis a tongue-lashing for not managing to take out Nation. Then he left. Before the bigger man could get to his feet, obvs.

Before Anthony Nese v Chris Hero started Trent Baretta sauntered out to the ring, prompting chants of "You got beat!" He stayed at ringside to watch the show. Perk of the job, innit. The match was about what you'd expect. A blend of standard indy thrills and spills and vaguely sports entertainmentesque sequences. For the record the sports entertainment stuff came from both men. Nese seems cut out for that style anyway and Hero's clearly picked it up in NXT over the last couple of years. It's not bad, it just stands out on a non-WWE show.

In the closing moments Nese survived two rolling elbows and a rolling boot but was forced to tap out to a cravat STF. Yes, Hero has gone back to using the cravat a lot. Deal with it.

Trent Baretta told Hero that he's "not that guy" any more. What he meant was that Hero is no longer a big deal to non-WWE wrestling. He added that while Hero's been learning from Bill DeMott he's been "killing it" (as with the previous show's review I hope he's speaking metaphorically) all over the world. Hero told Baretta not to be crybaby and reminded him that he'd won while Baretta had lost. That's what 'Trentylocks' had gone out of his way to say to Hero at EVOLVE 25. Tit foir tat. I there any greater approach to modern wrestling booking?

The Young Bucks defeated Rich Swann and Chuck Taylor in the main event, putting down Swann with a springboard Tombstone piledriver. It started quick and stayed that way all the way through. That's always going to get me on side. I love a quick match. The pace also lent itself to the Jackson brothers' approach to selling (or lack of it). It was the match of the night.

The show ended on a promo. Johnny Gargano returned to the ring to put down his former Ronin teammates. He referred to them as lackeys and singled Swann out as a "mascot". That provoked a brawl between Swann and Gargano which created a distraction that allowed the Bravados to sneak attack the Bucks. Taylor tried to talk them out of continuing their nefarious actions but he got dropped too. The broadcast ended with Lance and Harlem posing their way backstage and Nick, Matt and Chucky T getting a round of applause for standing up. Yep, genuinely for standing up.

As noted at the start the show was very good and a step up on the enjoyable EVOLVE 25. The function of show 26 was to provide good matches and continue the promotion’s various storylines. It achieved the former with the main event, Ricochet v Baretta, and Gargano and Davis v Fox and Nation. It achieved the latter with the various post-match promos. Nobody could have expected more from this card.

Saturday 25 January 2014

EVOLVE 25 review

The last time I wrote about EVOLVE was during WrestleMania weekend last year. That was EVOLVE 19, which featured a tournament to crown the inaugural champion for the promotion. I remember enjoying the show as a whole and being puzzled afterwards by booker Gabe Sapolsky’s comments that it had been a disappointment to him. If that was bad what must good be like?

That was what I had in mind when I sat down to watch EVOLVE 25.

An FIP “world” championship match kicked off the evening. Champion and former WWE low carder Trent Baretta was defending against 'The Premier Athlete' Anthony Nese. The latter is basically an indies version of Chris Masters’ ‘Masterpiece’ gimmick, but done better. It was a match that had been, according to Lenny Leonard, talked about for weeks. I’m sure that is technically true. I’m less sure of the reverential tone that was implied to have accompanied these discussions.

Gabe Sapolsky’s love was ‘Trentylocks’ was as clear as ever during the match’s opening moments when the commentary team lauded him as “perhaps the greatest FIP champ ever.” This is exactly what WWE does with John Cena on a regular basis, but because more people watch WWE, Cena’s been on top longer, and Baretta wrestles a more indy-friendly style few people seem to notice the comparison.

Memorable spots included Baretta getting ripped off the middle turnbuckle and landing hard on the mat, a Death Valley Driver from Nese to Baretta on the apron, and a suplex from Baretta to Nese over the top rope, which saw Baretta go over the rope too. It was impressive and slickly performer but contradicted wrestling logic. There was no reason for Baretta to take the tumble too.

They pumped in a load of very enjoyable false finishes at the finish. Baretta got the win after around twenty-five minutes when he reversed an Okana roll. Being the length it was it was not a traditional opener, which added to the enjoyment of the match. The crowd reacted well to it too. The two shook hands after the match as Leonard put it over as the greatest FIP title match ever. I’ve not seen more than a few FIP title matches but I’d be dubious of that claim.

Baretta cut a promo about having known Nese for ten years and them being the original Dude Busters. He said the 'Premier Athlete' stuff was good but might be missing something. Whether this was hinting at something larger was left ambiguous, a state of affairs that wouldn't last long.

Match two was the five way Fray! match (Gabe loves weird match names) for an Open the Freedom Gate championship match at EVOLVE 27. The rules seemed to be partially inspired by the Royal Rumble. Two men started and the other entrants entered every two minutes, eliminations being made by pinfall, submission or DQ. Last man left in the match would win.

Lince Dorado and Chuck Taylor were the first guys in. They did some fast wrestling with a comedic twinge until Jon Davis entered at three and started using some power moves to slow things down. Entrant four was Caleb Konley. Within a minute of his entrance the spot of the match was performed as Dorado turned a power bomb to the putside from Davis into a moonsault and landing on Konley and Taylor. Davis continued to keep the match slow until Uhaa Nation came out. After a brief pause he clambered into the ring for a face-off with Davis. Before they could have what I assume was a highly anticipated exchange Chucky T slipped in and broke things up. After a flurry of high flying Davis was eliminated by both Dorado and ‘The Kentucky Gentleman’.

Dorado was the second man out after being dropped on his head by Taylor. Konley went out seconds later to an Uhaa Combination, leaving Taylor and Nation as the final two. 'The Kentucky Gentleman' didn't last long. He fell to multiple power bombs within a minute of Dorado dropping. The match was good but surprisingly short. Ultimately that helped it as it allowed for a mostly speedy pace to be maintained. It only dipped when Davis was controlling things. He seemed an odd man to have involved. Nothing else for him to do I suppose.

The Ricochet v Chris Hero dream match followed that. Breaking with the wrestling norm the commentators acknowledged that Hero and 'chet had wrestled once before but that it was long before they'd reached the level they're at now. Honesty on a wrestling show? That's a novelty.

The match started with a handshake and some rasslin' exchanges. There were a lot of takedowns. The point was to show that Ricochet could wrestle as well as fly but that Hero still had an advantage. Things picked up as Ricochet started showboating, provoking Hero to first punch him in the face and then deck him with a big boot. Hero slowed the pace, winding ricochet with jabs and wearing him down with blows and rest holds. The inevitable Ricochet comeback, provoked by some loud trash-talking from Hero, saw the pace pick up.

We got a jawbreaker followed by a spinning heel kick and springboard clothesline but his standing shooting star press was countered with a cravat and then a cravatplex by Hero. Moments later Ricochet found himself shoved off the top rope and into a steel girder holding up the building. Naturally he just made it back into the ring before the twenty count expired, and just as naturally he kicked out of the kick to the head Hero immediately hit him with. What sort of a babyface would go down to that?

Outside the ring Hero tried whipping Rico’ into some chairs but 'The Future of Flight' managed to leap up to the stage then back over to the ring apron where he blasted Hero with a kick. Back in the ring he still couldn't the advantage for long as ‘The Knockout Artist’ smacked him with an elbow for two. Seconds later he survived another. Hero survived a springboard 450 splash and a shooting star press but finally went down to a 630 splash. Hitting all three in succession was a good call. It gave Hero no time to recover, which is how high-fliers should get victories with high-flying moves. A series of heavy impacts that wind their foe.

After the match Ricochet said Johnny Gargano's been ducking him for a long time and challenged him to a title match in New Orleans. That's WrestleMania weekend, obvs.

Hero grabbed a microphone and talked about how he'd been in the ring or on shows with a lot of big names. The point? To remind everyone how much it meant when he said Ricochet is the best athlete he's ever wrestled. He then said that when Ricochet gets his match with Gargano there'll be a new champion crowned. Then he put over the entire locker room as a new generation of big names destined for big things (WWE, basically). That got cheers.

Just as I thought the talking had wrapped up Trent Baretta returned to the ring. He said he "kills it" (presumably speaking metaphorically) on every show he's on and that he won his match while Hero lost his. He also emphatically said he was not mad Hero hadn't mentioned his name when putting over the roster. But, y'know, he was.

Rich Swann and (sigh) The Young Bucks were out next for their six man tag outing against Johnny Gargano and Open the United Gate champions the Bravado Brothers. The first few minutes were slow but it became pretty frantic soon enough. An early stretch of ringside brawling helped there, getting all six guys in on the action and surprising viewers because it’s not something associated with any of them. Or EVOLVE in general for that matter.

This match, the best of the evening, was a perfect example of why ROH were fools to stop using the Bravado boys in 2012. They were good characters and decent wrestlers. They’ve improved, particularly with the wrestling side of things, since then. For the record it was also a good example of why the Bucks are so highly regarded (despite their continued no selling of psychology) and why DG USA is lucky to have exclusive broadcast access to Gargano and Swann. Gargano in particular. He's very good as the braggadocios, self-absorbed bad guy.

Swann and the Bucks won after More Bang for Your Buck on Lance. After the match the Bucks mouthed off about wrestling being their job (the implication being that the Bravados have to work day jobs, more a part of dues paying than anything else I'd have thought) and said they'd regain the Dragon Gate tag belts. Gargano then attacked Swann and the Bucks and Bravados brawled to the back. Roderick Strong then ran in through the crowd to run Gargano off. Uhaa Nation met the champ in the aisle, sending Gargano back into the ring to take some stiff chops and thrown out (again). Another challenge was issued, this one to Gargano from Roddy. You may have picked up on the fact that this was a show heavy on promos.

The fifth and final match was an EVOLVE championship match, AR Fox defending against Davey Richards. The story here was Richards’ history with the company. He was selected to be the centrepiece attraction of the group after Bryan Danielson joined WWE. For one reason or another relationship fell apart and Richards only appeared on one EVOLVE show. He says he was under contract to ROH. Sapolsky says Richards lied constantly about availability and was tricky to work with. Whatever the truth of the matter this understandably led to hostility between the two sides.

Lenny Leonard started by discussing this history. He acknowledged that EVOLVE and Richards both have their own version of what happens. For their part the crowd were split. The history added something to the match that made it feel like a big deal. It would have been good anyway, because Richards is a talented guy and a major name from outside the company, but the history of EVOLVE and 'The Lone Wolf' is one of those rare situations you get in wrestling where the behind the scenes stuff adds to what plays out in front of the cameras.

The match was very good. Fox hit an imploding shooting star, a combination of Sliced Bread Number Two and a moonsault off the apron, his leg drop on to the apron, and a nice array of cutters. Richards impressed with a knee lock in the ropes, stiff-even-by-his-standards kicks and lariats, a reversal into a Tombstone, and the standard selection of double stomps and leg submissions. The finishing sequence was a blizzard of top ropes moves and counters. It was ‘The Whole Foxin’ Show’ who came out on top when he hit Lo Mein Pain.

Richards kept the promo trend alive, grabbing the title belt and a microphone. He mentioned the wrestlers who'd work hard earlier on the show and Chris Hero referencing big names like Bryan, Punk and Joe before saying that those men, Hero, and the EVOLVE roster could all kiss his ass. Just to show that he was seeking boos he threw down the belt, a major heel tactic when Sapolsky’s running things.

‘The Lone Wolf’ then stormed out to strong boos. The sequence worked mainly because it was an inversion of what we've come to expect from wrestlers in these situations. Normally the big visiting star puts the company over. To have Richards trash it fit with the story of him walking out when the promotion was just getting set up. If he were coming back it probably wouldn't have happened. That Richards has signed with TNA turned out to be a positive.

With only five matches EVOLVE 25 may have looked weak beforehand but it turned out to be very good. There were enough men booked to appear for tweaks to have been made to get a six or seven match show but that’s not always what’s best. The Fray! and six man tag bouts were worthy additions to the show. It’s interesting to compare the approach here to the one made with EVOVLE 19. That was a show that featured eight matches. The man in charge disliked it. While I enjoyed that show I’d say this one was better. I’d hazard a guess that Sapolsky preferred this too. Less can be more.

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 36

I’ve already posted my thoughts on the WWE Network. They can be found here. In this episode we discuss the Network again but talk a bit more about what could come from it in the future.

To get a bit specific before you press play I think if the Network’s around in five years (and it almost certainly will be) I think WWE will be making original dramas for the Network, unrelated to wrestling. Netflix and other internet-based television services (are they television services if you’re not watching on a television?) are already doing this. WWE will want to do it in order to compete and, perhaps more importantly, to show that they can. It’s the WWE way to show that the company is incredibly versatile even though it isn’t.

You'll be able to watch this happen on the Network, should you want to
Something about the Network that isn’t discussed in this episode is Chris Benoit. WWE has stated that footage of him will be shown unedited but will be preceded by warnings. I think this is the best way for them to approach the issue. With the reputation they have and the market they target they can’t just show footage of a murderer without some form of disclaimer.

At the same time he was such an important part of WCW and WWE for so long that it would make editing him out of storylines a lengthy process, and one that would ruin large chunks of shows he wasn’t directly featured on due to the nature of how wrestling programmes are put together. What they’ve chosen to do allows people to opt out of watching Benoit if they wish while not depriving people of the complete viewing experience they’ll be paying for.

For the record I’m most looking forward to watching ECW footage when the Network gets launched. It is, for me, the most interesting part of WWE’s extensive library. I mention this mainly so that this post can end on a positive note. Now press play!