Thursday 27 February 2014

Moonchild Gone Bad

On the February 12 episode of NXT we finally got a definitive CJ Parker heel turn. It's been needed for months.

After defeating a no name enhancement worker CJ demanded to know why people don’t love him. Tweaking his character so it was less a generic hippy and more a right wing green guy CJ continued by saying that he reduces, reuses and recycles, all to help the planet. He mentioned that he drives a “fuel efficient Ford Fiesta that gets forty miles to the gallon” and stated that he cares about Mother Earth. Who’s to blame for the planet being in the state it’s in? The “NXT Universe”. His delivery was shaky at points but mostly good and the decision was to adjust his character was the right one. Being a condescending conservationist suits him for more than being a standard issue peace and lovenik.

This was nobody's favourite feud
Since his debut 'The Moonchild' has been either met with disinterest or boos. The reason for this is simple. Hippy characters just aren’t applicable to modern culture. The lifestyle they represent jars with the modern approach to life. It’s why fans cheered Tyler Breeze over Parker. ‘Prince Pretty’ is a more relevant character and so is more relatable. Audiences understand a self-obsessed, narcissitic pretty boy taking selfies. The same can’t be said for a man billed as being from the Moonchild Commune. It didn’t help that Breeze was far more entertaining and assured in his role than Parker was in his.

There’s no obvious reason WWE should have been reluctant to turn Parker. I think it simply comes down to stubbornness. They’d decided he would be a babyface and they weren’t going to change him until they’d tried everything they could to have him accepted in that role. It’s not as though they needed him to be a fan fave. He’s not done anything notable that necessitated he be cheered. It was simply the role he’d been allocated.

This is part of a trend in NXT. As regulars at the TV tapings the fans at Full Sail University are largely in the position to dictate who gets presented as what. They selected Big E (Langston) as a top guy and embraced his five count gimmick, which happily coincided with WWE’s plans. But they torpedoed Bo Dallas’s presentation as a babyface, forcing WWE to alter plans. That worked out for the best as it gave Bo the chance to play a face unaware that he’s a heel. It’s a very effective act when done right but it’s something we’ve not seen much of in WWE. He turned out to be good at it and it’s helped him become more over than I think he would have otherwise.

This is a good way of working. Instead of trying to cram guys into roles the audience don’t want to see them in acts are presented and altered accordingly (with a bit of waiting, obviously). It not only makes the NXT show more enjoyable but it also gives the wrestlers the chance to learn how to tweak their characters. That’s a knack that encourages character consistency as wrestlers search for a way to provide a different spin for their character’s actions. That’s useful in coping with multiple face and heel switches, something many will (unfortunately) find themselves subjected to if they make it to WWE or the low budget Florida equivalent that is TNA.

Of course this is possible only because the NXT audience are so in tune with how most viewers feel and because the NXT roster has so many talented wrestlers. If the NXT regulars were really into guys like Mojo Rawley things would be working very differently.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

That RAW Recap 24.02.14

WWE did such a good job producing a great pay-per-view with Elimination Chamber that the following evening’s RAW would have had to go to great lengths to top it. Despite wheeling out bigger names and getting things underway for WrestleMania it wasn’t quite managed. This was one episode of RAW that failed to overshadow the PPV that had preceded it.

The night started off the right way, with Real American playing Hulk Hogan down to the ring for his first appearance in a WWE ring in seven years. ‘The Hulkster’ ran through his usual routine of cupping his ear and posing for each side of the ring. This usually guarantees a loud, sustained crowd response but it didn’t here. Yes the audience reacted but they were nowhere near as loud as I’d expected them to be. Considering Hogan’s name value and the fact that he’s not been on a wrestling show people actually watch in well over half a decade I’d expected an explosion of noise. This was closer to being polite.

Hulk Hogan: back on RAW, brother!
Hogan started off by saying his return to WWE was the turning point of his career. Even for a man known for hyperbole and straight out lies that was ridiculous. He spent several minutes putting over the WWE Network and WrestleMania, saying that it was the “WWE Universe” and all his Hulkamaniacs that had made both possible. That’s true, but coming from Hogan it felt like a lie.

His delivery seemed off. It felt less like he was speaking from the heart (something that used to be a strength of his) and more like he was rattling through bullet points handed to him earlier in the day. Which was the case, but it shouldn’t have been so obvious. As Hogan promos go it was not the best.

After his infomercial Hogan posed his way to the back, leaving Cole, 'King' and JBL to shill hard for the WWE Network. Get used to it. We'll be seeing a lot of this. They also announced Bryan v Kane, a Batista v ADR rematch and acknowledged the "rumour" of Lesnar and Heyman being in the building. Which is essentially the same as announcing that Lesnar and Heyman would appear. I think it’s supposed to seem more exciting and spontaneous if it’s labelled a rumour.

Alberto Del Rio got a subdued response from the live crowd when he walked out moments later. Batista heard nothing but boos. He pointed out a "Bootista" sign near the front row, finally acknowledging the elephant in the room. He’d do so again in a far more obvious fashion after the match.

The bout wasn't as good as the one they’d had at Elimination Chamber but I've seen worse. Del Rio won when Randy Orton strolled out and distracted 'The Animal'. Orton said that the fans don't like Batista much and asked if he was sorry he came back. Batsy stupidly decided to take a while to answer, which gave the audience the chance to kick off a CM Punk chant. When he did speak it was to say he loves the business and that if the fans cheer him he'll cheer them back, but if they boo him he'll boo them back. He described himself as real and honest, which made him sound like a Big Brother contestant, and ended off by calling Orton a whining, snivelling kiss ass suck up and declared, to the arena at large, that he will be the next WWE champion. The worrying thing is that he might be.

Match two saw Big E wrestle Cesaro in a non-title match. The match was just as good as E's match with Jack Swagger the previous evening but it suffered from a less enthusiastic crowd. It was also harder for the two to impress because Cesaro is generally held in higher regard than Swagger. You expect high quality showings from him. The match ended with a disqualification when Swagger randomly got into the ring and applied the Patriot Lock on Big E. The tag partners had words and the IC champion blasted Swagger from behind. Cesaro made the save and performed a botched Neutralizer on the champ, dropping him directly onto his head. Nothing seems to have been posted about Big E being hurt so presumably he’s fine.

The second hour opened with a John Cena promo. He seemed in a surprisingly chipper mood considering he'd been denied a championship win the previous night. Like 'The Hulkster' he started off by talking up the Network. He did a better job, perhaps because he’s been cutting promos more frequently than ‘The Immortal One’.

He also once again mentioned that anyone who wants to be WWE's top star has to go through him. That got him onto the subject of Bray Wyatt. He said Bray had made a bold move by costing him "a title match at WrestleMania" (which seemed an odd way of phrasing it: surely the title itself is what Cena should have been aiming for and more upset about losing out on) and then invited him out to make another (bold move that is).

All three members of the Wyatt Family joined Cena at ringside. Bray said a bunch of stuff that was only loosely connected: the human race is a virus; people need heroes, which is what Cena paints himself as; Cena is a hollow man; The Wyatt Family are the reapers who bring death to lies. Cena said if the Wyatts started something with him they might be unable to finish it. They slipped into the ring and triple teamed Cena.

Cena v Wyatt is happening
Predictably Cena made a couple of Spirited Comebacks but the segment ended with Bray kneeling over him and shouting "Follow the buzzards!" Cena was stretchered out during the break. It was revealed later on the show that he'd been taken to a local hospital. Looks like the Wyatts can finish things with him, doesn’t it?

Christian and Sheamus followed that with a fun match that played to extended periods of silence. 'Great White' won when he brogue kicked 'The Instant Classic' as he leapt off the middle rope. It was a better finish than their match on the previous Friday's SmackDown but I think the SmackDown bout as a whole was better.

That was followed up with a video from earlier in the evening where Daniel Bryan interrupted a tedious and smug interview in which The Authority were discussing the WWE Network launch. D-Bry challenged Trips to a fight and said he'd face him at WrestleMania. 'The Game' said that wasn't going to happen but that he'd try and find a spot for him on the card. It wasn’t the greatest segment but it did the job it was intended to. Specifically it let us know that Bryan v Triple H is the match we should be expecting on ‘The Grandest Stage of Them All’.

After a black history month video that looked at Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson's Soul Patrol (yeah, really) tag team The Shield were shown in the back. Ambrose went off on one about not being trusted by his teammates (because he disappeared at the finish of their six man tag loss the night before) and wandered off. Reigns and Rollins were then joined by The Wyatt Family. Reigns and Bray agreed to have a singles match. That got a roar of approval from the live crowd. The segment once again demonstrated that Reigns is being prepared perfectly for a singles run.

Bryan v Kane came next. It was a good match, as all Bryan matches are. Not only is he popular to begin with but he also throws himself all over the place: there's always something happening in his matches and it looks real. That’s why fans react to his performances. The audience got into the match, rallying behind Bryan and booing 'The Big Red Machine's' offence. They exploded when Bryan kicked out of a choke slam and burst into a yes chant when he hit his running knee finisher for the clean win.

After the match Bryan took a mic and called Triple H a coward. He said 'The Cerebral Assassin' hasn't listened to the fans since he became the COO and has instead pursued his own goals and hidden behind Stephanie. He demanded that Tripper give the fans what they want: Triple H v Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX. The thing is, that's not what people want. They want Bryan to challenge for and win the WWE championship.

After a plug for a worked shoot promo from Batista on Fridays SmackDown and another for Alexander Rusev we saw Emma take on Summer Rae. The contenders for the low point of this match were Michael Cole desperately trying to convince people that Emma's dance move is insanely over with the NXT regulars in the hope it'll catch on on the bigger stage and Jerry Lawler claiming he used to be addicted to...wait for it... the hoakie koakie. Is it too much to ask that the commentators take women’s matches seriously? Actually, yes, it probably is. Emma won an average Divas match with a bridging STF dubbed the Emma Lock.

A recap of the Elimination Chamber tag title match revealed that Billy Gunn had grabbed a handful of tights to get the win. Why this wasn't revealed on the pay-per-view itself is a mystery to me. I’d say it was to avoid the restart it should have logically instigated but when does WWE ever bother about restarts after shady finishes?

The two teams clashed again on RAW, but not before Road Dogg had shooed the twins out of the ring to perform his pre-match shtick. That backfired on him when the Usos used it as an opportunity to jump him from behind and get a quick non-title victory. They were booed for interrupting Roadie but amazingly they won the crowd back by doing some dancing and shouting "Uce!"

There was more shilling for the Network after that. 'King' banged on about being able to watch old episodes of RAW, SmackDown and ECW (a company he used to be incredibly consistent about pretending to hate) and then mentioned Legends' House and the Hart and Michaels feud documentary. JBL looked like he was trying not to laugh while Cole feigned interest in Jerry's eulogising. ‘The Wrestling God’ revealed that he’d found an amusing selection of APA bouts. That he managed to work in a reference to The Mean Street Posse was the icing on the cake for the segment.

Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt had a split crowd when they faced off in the evening's in-ring main event. They started out slowly with Bray in control and gradually sped things up with comebacks, cut offs and near falls. The crowd was irritatingly unresponsive until Reigns signalled for his Superman punch. Such a good job has been done building that move up that it wakes people up and let’s them know matches are about to get interesting.

Look at all that hair!
The Superman punch was delayed because The Wyatt Family cut the lights and teleported to ringside. Any interference they had planned was thwarted by Rollins, who also teleported down to the ring and threw himself over the top rope to take out Harper and Rowan. The Shield member was double teamed at ringside until Ambrose dashed down the aisle and saved him. Back in the ring Reigns finally connected with his Superman punch but got disqualified when Ambrose rolled into the ring and started pummelling 'The Eater of Worlds'. A brief rumble saw the Wyatts expelled from the ring. Surprisingly little dissension was teased between 'The Hounds of Justice'. Rollins gave Ambrose a funny look and that was about it.

The evening ended with Brock Lesnar. He stood smirking as Paul Heyman explained that 'The Pain' had been awarded an open contract for WrestleMania XXX, something that was considered a consolation prize by the pair. Why? Because they consider Lesnar to be the number one contender to the WWE championship and feel Batista v Orton should happen before 'Mania, with Lesnar facing the winner on the supershow. You know what? With the reactions Batista and Orton have been receiving during the last month I don't think that would be the worst thing WWE could do.

We were told what Lesnar wants is history to conquer. Heyman mentioned Lesnar's amateur wrestling, being the youngest WWE champion ever and moving from wrestling to MMA, saying he'd conquered it all and that the only reason he wouldn't conquer the challenge of becoming the WWE champion again was because The Authority wouldn't put the chance in front of him. They declined the open contract, reasoning that Lesnar doesn't have to choose his opponents, he gets what he wants by being Brock Lesnar.

They went to leave and the predictable happened. The lights went out and a gong sounded.

Several minutes later The Undertaker had joined Lesnar and his advocate in the ring. He is currently sporting his Ministry of Darkness era chin beard, a look I've never been mad about. It ages him. 'Taker and Lesnar had a staredown before 'Taker glanced up at the WrestleMania sign and Lesnar nodded towards, and then signed, the open contract. 'The Phenom' responded by stabbing Lesnar's hand with the pen and choke slamming him through the table.

It was the best segment to end with. Heyman gave a reasoned, logical explanation of what motivates Lesnar. It’s doing something simple very well that makes Heyman so enjoyable. Saving The Undertaker until last was also smart, because he’s one of the safest names WWE has when it comes to getting a positive reaction from the crowd. They needed a safe person like that to close the show to ensure it ended on a good note.

It was also a good decision to close with a WrestleMania match being announced. With six weeks to go WWE needed to start announcing the card here and Lesnar v Undertaker was the logical thing to go with as everything else they’re building towards involves a gradual process in some way.

As episodes of RAW go this was good. But as the first show of the Network era? I expected more. They delivered all the big names and furthered all of their top feuds but it didn’t feel quite like I’d expected it too. The main example of that is Hogan. I thought he’d do more than promote the Network and WrestleMania. I suppose there’s plenty of time left for him to do that, but as a big return his use here seemed underwhelming.

There’s time for things to change but right now it looks like WWE are planning to do Triple H v Bryan and Batista v Orton as separate matches. Doing that would entice hostility. The sensible thing to do at this point is accept that Bryan is the guy people want to see on top and add him to the WrestleMania title match. As I noted in the Chamber write-up, they could do that and the Triple H match. Keeping Bryan out of the title scene altogether in favour of the former Evolution boys is about the worst thing that could be done.

Monday 24 February 2014

Elimination Chamber 2014 review

Last night WWE did what they could do all the time but only seem to do rarely. They produced an excellent pay-per-view. The show never dipped below good in terms of match quality and everyone who appeared seemed to be doing everything in their power to make themselves stand out. That’s such a rarity with WWE that it stood out. Everyone, from Big E and Jack Swagger to the six men in the titular title tussle, did everything they could to make this a great event. And it paid off. If only WWE could do this all the time.

The evening’s action kicked off with the pre-show tag match. Larry ‘The Axe’ Hennig, a big name a couple of decades ago who lives in the area, accompanied his grandson Curtis Axel, along with The Ryback, to ringside for their encounter with the Rhodes bros Goldust and Cody. The four put on an energetic show which did a good job of presenting the teams as even. It was the former tag champs who went over though, with Cody hitting Cross Rhodes for the win.

The only other noteworthy thing on the pre-show was the expert panel of Mark Henry, The Miz and Rey Mysterio being introduced. The talked up the night’s card in the standard fashion.

The show proper kicked off with Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter being introduced. As they meandered to the ring (Zeb is not a man who merely walks) they told us that the E in Big E stands for “enough”. Big Enough? Doesn’t make sense to me. Zeb revealing that his reasoning was that Big E hasn’t done enough as Intercontinental champion to improve the standard of living in North America didn’t help matters. If anything it left me more confused.

Big E got booed as he smacked his chest and roared on the apron. He managed to win the audience over during the match, thanks to a combination of a fast paced, E’s power moves, and Swagger taking some impressive bumps to help make his foe look impressive and playing the coward in the early minutes. Their greatest moment saw Big catch Swag as he attempted a Swagger bomb, then, realising he couldn't hit him with the Big Ending, dunk him onto the apron and spear him down to the mats. It got a well-earned "Holy shit!" chant.

Whoever thought Swagger and Big E would produce anything special?
The match was the first of many that felt like both men trying to prove something to the fans, and possibly management and themselves too. If so it worked. It was the best match I've ever seen the former Langston have and the best non-gimmick outing I've seen from Swaggalag. This is what I was talking about when I mentioned wrestlers being given more freedom on this show. Big E retained after countering out of the patriot lock and hitting the Big Ending.

As the champ celebrated Bad News Barrett appeared. His bad news was that Russia had outperformed the US in the Winter Olympics. I have some bad news at this point too. It was not the last we’d see of the former Nexus frontman on the show.

After some video recaps and Byron interviewing Bryan, both of which were designed to remind us the latter was not at one hundred per cent, it was time for the tag team title match. It was another great outing. The Outlaws fell about all over the place like they were still in their prime. The Usos kept up with some big falls of their own. Particularly impressive were a tope and a rough hip toss into the corner from Road Dogg.

I'd expected the match to end in a way that setup a rematch. That wasn't the case. Billy got a roll up on Jimmy after he'd super kicked Road Dogg off the apron. It was clean but I still expect the teams to clash again at WrestleMania. It feels as though WWE are ready to make a move with the Usos.

Wade Barrett returned to tell fans that Daniel Bryan would lose the Elimination Chamber match. That would make the fans turn on him and bring an end to the yes movement. The fans responded with a no chant.

Darren Young and Titus O'Neil sadly weren't able to keep the hot streak of matches going. They did what they could, D-Young looking impressive tumbling over the ring post to the floor and Titus doing everything in his power to look like an unstoppable monster, but the fans just weren't interested. I suspect that was a mixture of their issue seeming forced and the match's place on the show. Titus won a competent match with Clash of the Titus.

Bad News was out again after that. His bad news was that he had overshadowed  Hulk Hogan. That didn’t qualify as news or truth but hey, that’s the WWE creative team for you. Over on the expert panel ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ revealed he's unhappy with what's happened between the PTPs and Miz and Rey raved about the IC and tag matches respectively.

Best Shield match ever?
Both The Shield and The Wyatt Family got cheered as they were introduced for the six man tag match. The audience roared out chants for both units as they stared each other down. Ambrose threw the first punch, triggering a ruckus that his team got the better of. The match that followed was one of the best I've ever seen from either team. All six men looked good, doing everything they could to make the match exciting and memorable and stuffing it with special moments: the initial meeting of Reigns and Wyatt, an incredible clothesline from Harper, Rollins getting choke bombed through the Spanish announce table, and Reigns powering out of Sister Abigail and taking out all three Wyatt members being just some of them. It could not have been better. The crowd made it even better: the reaction they gave the match made it seem like a big deal. It's a shame it couldn't be saved until WrestleMania.

Presumably it wasn't because bigger and better things are planned for 'The Granddaddy of Them All'. Reigns took the loss, being pinned by Bray Wyatt, which could see him labelled as the weak link by Ambrose and-or Rollins. A three-way match seems the obvious thing for WWE to present at this point, and considering the way the group's been built up the natural place for it to happen is WrestleMania. Hopefully that match can match this one. It won't be easy.

Backstage Renee Young spoke to Christian. He said he'd win the WWE title. Nobody believed him.

AJ Lee extended her 252 day Divas title reign went to 253 by escaping her encounter with Cameron with the gold. They didn't get long and so smartly focused on interacting with the crowd as opposed to trying to cram in a load of moves. It was most notable for Tamina accidentally super kicking her charge and then roughing up Cameron to cause the DQ. The dissent between AJ and Tamina will probably lead to a match at WrestleMania.

Bad News Barrett's final piece of bad news was that the WWE Network will be so good that people will become obsessed with it. Kids will be expelled to lack of attendance and adults will lose jobs. It was painful, as were all his segments. As I’ve written before, this is not the character that’s going to turn Wade Barrett into a star.

After Emma, The (Not So) Great Khali, Los Matadores, El Torito and Santino were shown playing with a LEGO-like toy in the back it was time for Batista v Alberto Del Rio. The audience made it very clear that they weren't fans of 'The Animal' by giving him the loudest boos of the night. Batista did a typically poor job rising above the response while the announcers no-sold the boos.

Who could resist cheering this?
ADR came out on a crutch and said he wouldn't be able to compete. The inevitable attack didn't get the blistering heat that was expected for two reasons. One: it was obvious that it was coming. Two: people wanted to see Del Rio assault Batista. The fans chanted "Sie!" and "Bootista" throughout the match, also throwing in chants for Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, RVD, Brock Lesnar and 'Y2J'. Mid-way through the match things had become so bad that the order was given to acknowledge the hostile crowd, although it was stated to be an unusual situation as opposed to the norm. WWE were adamant the Rumble winner remain a face.

The entire match was a transparent attempt to try and make Batista appear sympathetic. That aside it wasn't a bad showing. Yes it was basic. Yes the fans were more entertaining than the wrestling. Yes Batista's victory was terribly predictable. But the bout could have been far worse. That said I think WWE really need to listen to their audiences and turn Batista heel.

The expert panel were asked for their opinions on the Elimination Chamber match. Miz selected Bryan as the winner while Mark Henry went with Sheamus and Mysterio backed Cesaro. I mention this for completion rather than for interest. Because it's not interesting.

My prediction regarding Brock Lesnar attacking someone (specifically Christian) and nabbing their Chamber pod turned out to be incorrect. It would have been nice to see 'The Pain' involved but considering the quality of the match we got I'm not too unhappy it didn’t happen.

I’d expected Cesaro and Bryan to start the match. I was half right. 'The Swiss Superman' began with Sheamus. They hammered one another with uppercuts and closed fists and tumbled around on the steel structure for good measure. It was a good opening exchange that kept the crowd interested without involving anyone too important. Bryan was the third man into the match, immediately nailing both opponents with a top rope drop kick and then laying in some stiff kicks. Seconds later he trapped Shaymo in an Indian death lock and performed a northern lights suplex on Cesaro, a nice spot. On the outside Cesaro sent Bryan sailing through the "bulletproof" glass of an empty pod. That would become a theme.

After that things quietened down until entrant number four was added. 'Captain Charisma' started off targeting D-Bry's shoulder. Moments later he took out Sheamus with an inverse DDT on the steel grating and then got power bombed into an empty pod and uppercutted back into the ring by Cesaro.

Entrant five was Cena. He AAed Christian onto Cesaro before taking a top rope hurricanrana from Bryan. Before Bryan could connect with his big kick Christian snuck in with an Unprettier (no, I won’t call it the Killswitch). A sequence of finishers, signature moves and near falls followed, including a Swiss Death uppercut, Christians tornado DDT and Shaymo's White Noise. When the klaxon sounded to signify Orton was entering everyone was down. He started off with stomps but quickly broke out a pose when he started drowning in boos. That this is all Orton can think to do when he’s receiving such strong heat is incredibly disappointing. Anyway, the posing gave everyone time to recover and corner the champ, which sent him scurrying back into his pod.

That didn't work out well for him: in one of the highlights of the match Sheamus nailed him with a brogue kick through the pod. Back in the ring Orton was subjected to Cesaro's Big Swing. Moments later he was back on his feet to play a part in the first elimination, performing a superplex on Sheamus, which was followed up by a splash from atop a pod from Christian. That would be the only elimination 'The Instant Classic' would make though: he almost immediately fell victim to Bryan's running knee.

Cena and Bryan traded punches before Cena scooped Bryan up for an AA, only to be scooped up himself, still clutching Bryan, for a Cesaro German suplex. Cena countered a gut wrench into a hurricanrana, AAed 'The Real American' onto the steel and then made him tap to the STF. Cesaro looked incredibly strong in defeat. Not only did it take three major moves to put him down but it was the company’s top star that pinned him.

WrestleMania preview?
Cena wasn't done with his trusty STF. He slapped it onto 'The Viper' less than fifteen seconds later. That application would prove less fruitful. The lights were cut before The Wyatt Family appeared in the ring. They took out Bryan and then triple teamed Cena, ending with a Sister Abigail. That allowed Orton to eliminate Cena and left him alone with Bryan.

Kane went to ringside to order the Wyatts to the back and then entered the cage, to help remove the slumped Cena, where he absorbed a flying knee from Bryan. 'The Dazzler' and 'The Apex Predator' traded the upper hand for a minute or two before Bryan escaped an RKO attempt and dropped Orton with the running knee. The referee's count was broken up by Kane. He got a roundhouse kick for his behaviour, which allowed Orton to connect with an RKO for a believable false finish. Bryan came back with a small package and another kick but then got smacked by 'The Big Red Machine' and dropped with a second, match-winning, RKO.

As Orton left with his belts Cole confirmed that Batista v Orton will headline WrestleMania for the championship. They are the two most hated men on the roster. If WWE goes through with that and doesn't involve Bryan they deserve all the negative and abusive chants they get during that match.

The booking the show seems to indicate that Daniel Bryan will clash with company COO Triple H at WrestleMania XXX. This doesn’t necessarily preclude him from the WWE championship match he deserves to be a part of. He could be booked in the match opposite ‘The Game’ with a stipulation that he’ll be placed into the evening’s main event if he wins. A big name wrestling twice at WrestleMania may seem odd but it’s not unprecedented (WrestleMania X) and it would fit with Bryan being the man who wrestles two or three times on practically every other episode of RAW.

The last thing WWE management should be doing is sticking to their guns and planning Orton v Batista in a singles match. That is not best for business.

Sunday 23 February 2014

SmackTalk 21.02.14

For the final (relatively) significant piece of WWE television to air before the arrival of The WWE Network SmackDown felt anti-climactic. The new streaming service was, to the best of my recollection, not mentioned once and the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view was half-hearted. It was as though WWE were producing a piece of television by the numbers. While that’s nothing new I would have expected their final non-Network era piece of work to be more meaningful.

As understated as the show was it was still enjoyable. The opening two matches in particular were very good. The first saw Daniel Bryan defeat Jack Swagger relatively quickly with a running knee. The second also featured Bryan, this time tangling with his old indy foe ‘Don’t Call Him Antonio’ Cesaro. That one got longer and was more enjoyable, even though it saw Bryan writhing in pain for a lot of its run time.

The main event, Christian v Sheamus, wasn’t bad but wasn’t especially good either. It was a standard match from the two men. That they’re deemed worthy of headlining SmackDown demonstrates how little effort is put into the programme these days. The same match closing RAW simply wouldn’t happen.

A better choice for the main event would have been the lively six man tag that pitted Erick Rowan, Luke Harper and Bray Wyatt against Goldust, Cody Rhodes, and Rey Mysterio. The Wyatts are easily as over an act as either Christian or Sheamus, Goldust and Cody aren’t far behind and Rey Mysterio, for all he’s falling apart and passed his best, can still excel in multi-man showings. It was the best match on the show.


Tweet 1: It's SmackTalk time!
Tweet 2: Nothing says B show like a Christian v Sheamus main event.

Daniel Bryan v Jack Swagger

Tweet 3: But don't worry, Daniel Bryan's in the opener! "Why put the most over man in the company on last?" he asked rhetorically.
Tweet 4: Lengthy recaps of RAW happenings. Never a good sign. Still, it's nice to see Kane wrestling in his vest again.
Tweet 5: Swagger v Bryan? And we could have had Cesaro v Bryan. #continueddisappointmentofSwaggersexistence
Tweet 6: Anyone else noticed that Zeb Colter usually wears a tie? I like that. So few people dress for ringside anymore.
Tweet 7: Just look at Jerry Lawler.
Tweet 8: Actually, don’t.
Tweet 9: I still don't understand why The Real Americans aren't wrestling in red, white and blue gear. Natural fit for their characters.
Tweet 10: Swagger's working the injured arm but I bet he'll still try the ankle lock at some point.
Tweet 11: Swagger gets randomly belted with the knee then loses. Completely unsurprising result.

Daniel Bryan v Cesaro

Tweet 12: Oh look, it’s Rita Repulsa!
Tweet 13: Oh we ARE getting Bryan v Cesaro? Delightful.

Bryan v Cesaro never gets old

Tweet 14: JBL says it's best for business. I think that line's played out by WWE. Does Triple H even say it anymore?
Tweet 15: How many times has Vickie Guerrero been the SmackDown general manager? It's got to be at least four.
Tweet 16: Michael Cole concedes that, on paper, Bryan v Cesaro is best for business.
Tweet 17: "Whaddaya doing, Jack?" - Unbiased commentator Michael Cole
Tweet 18: "No! No!" - Jack Swagger, misunderstanding the concept of yes chants
Tweet 19: Why was Kane's walk down to ringside not televised? That could have been a highlight of this show.
Tweet 20: Why refer to your most popular wrestler as a gnome and a farm animal?
Tweet 21: Small package followed by a Swiss Death European uppercut. Good exchange. Nice that those moves are now established as convincing finishes.
Tweet 22: Kane interferes. What a bad dude. I'm pretty much convinced he's going to do the same at Elimination Chamber.
Tweet 23: I'm getting worried that WWE are planning Kane v Bryan at WrestleMania. The correct use of Bryan at 'Mania is a triple threat title match.

Christian speaks to Renee Young backstage

Tweet 24: Christian getting some boos there.
Tweet 25: 'The Man of the Peeps' lashing out at the fans there. No reason for it beyond reminding us he's a heel now.
Tweet 26: I'm bored of all WWE heels sounding the same.

The Wyatt Family v Goldust, Cody Rhodes and Rey Mysterio

Tweet 27: JBL is wearing a polka dot tie and a checked shirt. Not cool, bro. #fashionsense
Tweet 28: The Wyatt Family are being booed. What exactly have they done or said to make them heels?
Tweet 29: Bray Wyatt: king of nonsense.
Tweet 30: Remember when Mysterio and Cody Rhodes hated each other and Dusty came in to betray his pal for his son? Well now they're tagging together.
Tweet 31: I miss Goldust’s pink gloves.
Tweet 32: "Constantly talking in riddles..." - Michael Cole on Bray Wyatt. I think he was thinking of The Riddler
Tweet 33: Goldust needs a better brand of face paint. The one he currently uses is always running. Maybe put in a call to Prince Devitt...
Tweet 34: Goldy gets the hot tag to Cody. Has Rey even been in this match yet?
Tweet 35: Ah he's just tagged in. Knee status: frisky.
Tweet 36: I couldn't be more pleased that Harper escaped the 619. Mysterio is a smug little ferret who needs taking down a peg.
Tweet 37: Erick Rowan is tossing Rey Mysterio around in a bear hug. It's not particularly interesting but bless 'im for trying.
Tweet 38: "He's like a member of the MENSA society" - Michael Cole on... wait for it... Bray Wyatt

FYI: Rey Mysterio's outfit was modeled on the Swiss flag

Tweet 39: Goldust is the most over man on his team. WWE need to find a way of transferring some of that reaction to Cody permanently before they split.
Tweet 40: Tasty little springboard from Cody there.
Tweet 41: Great finishing sequence to that match. Lots going on and people being taken out. Right result too: Wyatt over Goldust with Sister Abigail.

Sheamus speaks to Byron Saxon backstage

Tweet 42: Sheamus, cut back on the hair gel, yeah?
Tweet 43: "A fired up Christian is just what the doctor ordered!" - Sheamus, revealing his view on America's leading religion

Renee Young hosts a dance off involving Emma, Santino, Summer Rae and Faaaaaan… daaaaaan… goooooo

Tweet 44: Emma and Santino... *rolls eyes*
Tweet 45: Renee Young's hosting the dance off, so it's not all bad.
Tweet 46: And in fairness I love me some Fandango.
Tweet 47: I wasn't that into this crowd to begin with but they've completely lost by not humming Fandango's music.
Tweet 48: Cole's feigned enjoyment of Emma's dancing is nauseating.
Tweet 49: #hipaction
Tweet 50: Forget Bryan, Fandango v Santino needs to be the WrestleMania main event! #grudgematch

Titus O’Neil v Dolph Ziggler

Tweet 51: I'm still a fan of Titus O'Neil even though he's not going anywhere as a singles wrestler.
Tweet 52: Darren Young's on commentary claiming that The Prime Time Players were the roughest and toughest tag team in WWE. He is incorrect.
Tweet 53: This match is a waste of Dolph Ziggler.
Tweet 54: Darren 'You Know What?" Young.
Tweet 55: Nice that Ziggler won but doing it off a WHISTLE distraction? C'mon, WWE.

Road Dogg v Jimmy Uso

Tweet 56: The Usos gets a televised entrance but the Outlaws don't? Poor...
Tweet 57: It says something about the younger members of the WWE roster that Road Dogg has worked the crowd better than anyone else on this show.
Tweet 58: Yes, including Bryan. He's more over than Road Dogg but he was selling for most of his matches. There wasn't much interaction there.
Tweet 59: Road Dogg loses. That makes me think the Outlaws will be winning at Elimination Chamber.
Tweet 60: So does Michael Cole saying that the Usos have the Outlaws' number.

Sheamus v Christian

Tweet 62: "Sheamus is out there, cue up the piped in crowd noise, quick!"
Tweet 63: After my comments about Road Dogg's crowd interactions it's probably fair to point at that Sheamus is also doing well in that area.
Tweet 64: Who does Michael Cole think has the most momentum going into the Chamber match? Cesaro...
Tweet 65: Even if that were true (it's not) Cesaro ain't winning the WWE title at EC.
Tweet 66: Orton's never won a Chamber match. That's another reason to predict a victory for him.
Tweet 67: Why did Sheamus take a bump near the timekeeper's table? He wanted to look up Lilian Garcia's dress. #filthySheamus
Tweet 68: It sounded like Sheamus just shouted "I'm Irish!"
Tweet 69: JBL's sports guru gimmick is annoying.
Tweet 70: Mostly because he only knows things because he looks them up specially on Wikipedia, as opposed to having a genuine interest.
Tweet 71: JBL thinks Christian is bad looking. What he needs is a blue dot over his face...
Tweet 72: Tornado DDT being countered into the Irish Curse was nice.
Tweet 73: Anyone who thought Christian would win doesn't know WWE. 
Tweet 74: SmackDown ends with Sheamus hitting his own chest and then being knocked out of the ring by Christian.

It was never going to end well for Christian

Tweet 75: Maybe 'The Celtic Warrior' will be the man jobbed out by Lesnar at Elimination Chamber.
Tweet 76: I don't want to see that. Because ti will almost certainly mean we're getting Lesnar v Shaymo.

That Wrestling Podcast Episode 43

Remember when JBL was a main event wrestler? We do. And it’s one of the things we discuss in this episode. When he was first given the promotion I wasn’t a fan of the decision. I was used to him as a tag wrestler in the APA and didn’t feel he looked or wrestled like someone who belonged at the top. It didn’t help that he beat Eddie Guerrero for the championship.

By the end of his title reign I’d warmed to him. He still feels like an anomaly on the list of WWE champions but he did produce some enjoyable brawls in the role. What really won me over was his character. The glad-handing phoney inspired by politicians and JR Ewing was gauged just right. Had they not gone far enough, or gone too far, it would have flopped or become incredibly irritating. It ended up a highlight of the often dodgy mid-decade’s WWE output.

The big question is whether Tozawa would keep the mouth guard in NXT
Also discussed are cage matches. Specifically we talk about types of cage matches, our favourite cage matches, and whether the gimmick’s had its day. I also voice my displeasure at wrestlers being able to win cage matches by pin.

The main portion of the episode is given over to a Breaking In segment. Need to be reminded of what that is? We talk about the chances of three wrestlers from another company making it through the WWE system. This episode’s outsiders come from Dragon Gate USA: AR Fox, Akira Tozawa and Chuck Taylor. Want to know if we think they could make it in WWE as well as our general feeling on them? Then you’d better hit that play button, bro!

Friday 21 February 2014

Does Bray Wyatt Have Magical Powers?

Bray Wyatt having magical powers seems to be the conclusion we're meant to come to. Why? Because he can control the lightning in arenas around the world.

This is a trait we've seen from only a handful of wrestlers in WWE's past, most prominently Kane and The Undertaker. The ability manifests in different ways but they both “control” lighting. 'The Big Red Machine' can magic trigger explosions and a sustained lighting change by slowly raising and then rapidly lowering his arms. Presumably it was originally done to intimidate foes or impress audiences but it's since become a way for Kane to express frustration or get a cheap pop as much as anything else.

‘The Phenom’ uses his light-controlling abilities to make grandiose entrances. That's developed over the years too. Eerie walks to the ring have always been a part of the character but they've become increasingly elaborate and drawn out. It’s important to note that a darkened arena has always been a part of ‘The Dead Man’s’ entrance. A key aspect that remains unchanged is that 'Taker raises the lights back up when stood on the corner steps. As with Kane he triggers this control by slowly raising his arms (what happens when he lowers them rapidly is unknown1).  

In kayfabe terms these skills are clearly meant to be supernatural in origin. We can tell this from the body language of the performers and the way in which the lighting is addressed by the commentary squad. Also from the fact the The Undertaker and Kane both, in storyline terms, have supernatural origins. The lighting changes associated with, say, Sin Cara are contextually explainable as something being done in the production truck to mark out his matches as something special. That's clearly not what we're meant to assume with The Brothers of Destruction.

He's doing magic!
Which leaves us confused on the subject of Bray Wyatt. His entrance sees him walk through a darkened arena holding a lantern. When he blows that out the lights return to the arena. If you overlook the fact that extinguishing a flame triggering the return of full lighting makes no sense then it seems as though this is being presented as a magical power.

It's not as clear or obvious as with 'Taker and his bro, nor is it as impressive, but it seems to be what they're going for. The bottom line is that it's a wrestler controlling the lighting as part of his entrance. He may not have obviously supernatural kayfabe origins but it appears Bray Wyatt does have (kayfabe) magical powers.


1 A gateway to a parallel dimension is summoned perhaps?

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Elimination Chamber 2014 preview

Yes, this year’s Elimination Chamber poster does depict Stephanie McMahon pulling a puppet master pose and hovering over the Elimination Chamber structure. Don’t read too much into it. It could play into the last few months of storylines that have shown The Authority playing favourites and holding people down. But it won’t. It’s just the latest in a long line of WWE posters that bare little connection to the card they’re promoting.

While I don’t think EC will achieve the storyline potential that its poster (admittedly only very slightly) hints at I do think it will be a worthwhile show. It’s the last event the company will hold before the launch of the WWE Network so they’ll be feeling the pressure to make it a good one to encourage more subscriptions. It’s also the last pay-per-view1 the company will produce before WrestleMania XXX. I’m sure the following evening’s RAW is going to be more eventful than the Chamber event but we can expect at least some of the big things occurring on Monday night to be set up on Sunday.

The card itself is a mixture of good and bad. The Elimination Chamber and six man tag matches will both be highlights while I think it’s safe to assume Big E’s first title defence of 2014 and the bout between former teammates Darren Young and Titus O’Neil will be forgettable. Cards like this are what happens when companies don’t concentrate enough on creating stars that people can’t care about.

The evening will kick off with former tag team champions Cody Rhodes and Goldust facing RybAxel on the pre-show. It should be fun. The Rhodes bros are one of WWE’s most popular acts and never seem to have a bad match. While Curtis Axel and The Ryback are no strangers to less than great matches they are at least proficient. More promisingly ‘The Big Guy’ has recently been hilarious with his high school jock-inspired tweets, YouTube antics, and keyboard-mashing entrance taunts. His gimmick is basically that he’s trolling internet wrestling fans and it’s great. But as great as it is I don’t think it will help him and his partner win. Cody and Goldy are the men I expect to go over.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is whether or not the brothers will split to set up a singles match between them at WrestleMania. That’s a match both men have wanted to have for years and now would be the logical time to do it, what with them being affiliated on-screen and all. I’ve said before that I hope they don’t go their separate ways. I’d be much more interested in seeing them wrestle together as a team at WrestleMania than against each other. A three-way tag title match involving the Rhodes boys, the Usos and the New Age Outlaws would be nice. I’m going to hope for that.

Titus O’Neil v Darren Young does nothing for me. I’m only interested in the two as a team. That they’ve been split strikes me as a massive waste. The roster’s clogged up with singles guys doing nothing. It’s going to be very hard for either of them to connect with audiences in a meaningful way. As the aggressor in the split and the bigger of the two I think ‘The Big Deal’ has been selected as the one to get moved up the card, so I’ll go with him to win.

I am similarly disinterested in Big E v Jack Swagger. Neither man excites me with either their wrestling style or character. In fact the most interesting thing that’s happened to either lately is the loss of a surname. It feels safe to assume that the former Langston will retain his IC gold. A lengthy title reign with the restored number two title is probably something that those in charge think will get him over. In and of itself it won’t. But if he’s given some worthwhile feuds and defences that mean something then Big E might be able to move up in people’s estimations and restore some cred to the strap.

The New Age Outlaws’ title defence against the Jimmy and Jey Uso is neither good nor bad. It merely is. The Usos are a team that WWE have kept in a position of minor prominence for a year or two now. They’ve never had the big push but they’ve been kept chugging along with outings against everyone form the Rhodes brothers to The Shield. Whenever something’s come up for a less important tag team to do it’s them that have been given it. I remain convinced they’ll never be a huge act but WWE are at least taking the right approach with them, taking things slow and letting the crowd accept them in their own time. They should do that with more of their wrestlers.

On the other hand the Outlaws are a nostalgia act. They’re not going to have the titles for long. They’re not going to stay on our screens for long either. They’re two guys getting one last run of relevance. With that in mind it’s possible their sixth championship reign will end with this match. I’m leaning towards it lasting six more weeks though. As I mentioned above, a triple threat pitting Road Dogg and Billy Gun and Cody and Goldy and Jey and Jimmy would be a nice ‘Mania bout. It would be ideal for the pre-show.

Speaking of teams Elimination Chamber will play host to a six man tag match WWE have masterfully held off: The Shield versus The Wyatt Family. Both units have been kept strong by winning more six man tag matches than they’ve lost, by being used consistently instead of having their pushes halted for backstage faux pas or decreases in interest, and by interacting with names further up the card. It’s been a great example of building new acts, welcome proof that WWE can still succeed at that task if they decide they want to.

Because of how well the teams have been built up and because they’re both trios it’s always been a natural match for WWE to book. By not rushing into it and allowing the teams to establish themselves separately the match means more than it would otherwise. They’ve also sensibly held off until one of the units is near the end of its life. ‘The Hounds of Justice’ will either face one another at WrestleMania or split and face off shortly afterwards. A match with the Wyatts is the last, obvious, box for them to tick before they take off the riot gear and do their own things.

I find it hard to imagine The Shield winning this match. They’ve been shown bickering amongst themselves and Roman Reigns is increasingly looking like he’s ready to step away from the gang and be his own man. Meanwhile the Wyatts are a united force.

A Wyatt win makes sense. It keeps the act that’s staying together looking stronger and gives Bray Wyatt another win over an over act. That’s important if he’s to be taken seriously as a foe for John Cena, which seems to be what’s planned for him. A Shield loss makes just as much sense. It creates another reason for the three members to have issues with one another.

I’ll be interested to see how this match is laid out. Reigns is set up for a face turn and Rollins and Ambrose are both smaller than all three members of The Wyatt Family so The Shield playing face makes sense. More flattering booking for Reigns wouldn’t be surprising. Neither would Ambrose attempting to upstage his teammates. It seems pretty clear he’s going to be the central antagonist of the three when they split, while Rollins could go either way2.  

Batista v Alberto Del Rio is, more than anything else, a necessary evil. As the Royal Rumble winner and the man who will wrestle for the WWE championship at WrestleMania Batista needs to have a presence on this show. A promo wasn’t going to cut it. He’s been talking for weeks. This show needed to have him wrestle.

If kept short this match could be fine. That would allow ‘The Animal’ to run through a sequence of power moves before the crowd has a chance to become bored and really get into heckling him. As it is they’ll do that anyway, but the longer he’s out there the worse it’ll get. A short length would also help with the quality. Batista has only ever worked satisfying lengthy matches with men of a very high level. As much as I like ADR he’s not of that level, partially because his character has not been permitted to progress that far. The WWE faithful simply aren’t conditioned to expect twenty minute PPV matches from ‘The Essence of Excellence’.

On top of that Batista has been getting blown up performing entranceway taunts. That’s another reason I think this match would benefit from a slender run time.

The result seems the most predictable thing on the card. There’s just no logic in Batista losing: he’s going to wrestle for the company’s top prize at their biggest show while ADR isn’t even guaranteed a match on the show. As flat as his return’s been WWE have invested a lot of money in it and made plans centring on the former Evolution man. They’re not going to have him lose on this show.

We’ll find out who Batista will be facing in the Elimination Chamber match. Randy Orton, John Cena, Sheamus, Christian, ‘Don’t Call Him Antonio’ Cesaro and Daniel Bryan will compete for the WWE championship. That’s the announced match at least. With this show being held in Brock Lesnar’s billed from town of Minneapolis I’m expecting him to be added to the match. Christian and Cesaro could be attacked early in the show or on their way to the ring and have their spot taken by ‘The Pain’. It’s something WWE’s done before and it would add star power to an already strong Chamber line-up. ‘The Man of the Peeps’ would be my preferred choice to receive that beating: I don’t need to see him in the Chamber while I think Cesaro could benefit from the spot.

There are a lot of things that could happen in this match. Cena is expected to become linked to the Wyatts, so they could interfere. Bryan has had a half-hearted, short-lived programme with Kane over the last couple of weeks, so he could interfere. Triple H could interfere to cost D-Bry the match, setting up a match between them for WrestleMania. There’s even a slender chance Undertaker could appear in order to kick off his ‘Mania feud, something that I think will be likelier if Lesnar’s involved than not.

If you’ve never seen an Elimination Chamber match before, or if you have a very short memory, you may be wondering how this interference could happen. Well, in 2010 Shawn Michaels popped into the Chamber by removing hiding under the ring and removing one of the metal grates. And, y’know, the cage door opens when people are eliminated, someone could easily run in then. For ‘The Phenom’ I’d particularly enjoy the lights out-lights back on trick. I won’t expect it though.

There are two men I think have a real chance of leaving this match with the WWE championship. The first is Randy Orton. The second is Daniel Bryan. The original plan for WrestleMania seems to have been ‘The Viper’ defending the title against Batista. Due to Batista not being as popular as WWE believed and the ascension of Daniel Bryan I think there’s a good chance that plan has been altered to either a triple threat involving Bryan or a singles match between Bryan and Batista.

The three-way seems likeliest and that could be set up with either Bryan or Orton leaving as champion. Bryan could request a chance to be entered into that match and be given the chance to do so in a match (pitting him against Batista would be a nice idea, but not something I’d expect from the overly protective WWE). If Orty lost the title he could add himself to the WM30 main event via a rematch clause (although the way WWE books him I wouldn’t be surprised if he had to earn his way in too, even though he’s a conniving, cowardly heel). Either Bryan or Orton could go into that match as champion but I’d like to think WWE would do the sensible thing and have ‘The Apex Predator’ enter as champion. That would allow Bryan that feel good win on the company’s largest stage, getting the best crowd reaction of the entire show.

I can see WWE taking the stupider three-way route. That would see Bryan winning the championship at EC14 and losing it to Batista at WrestleMania. The justification for this would be that it gets the Bryan title win everyone wants but would also allow the original plan of a Batista title win to go ahead. It would, of course, be a bad move, because it would see the promotion’s hottest star losing the championship everyone wants him to have at the biggest show of the year. That result would get booed out of the building, even if it was designed to set up Bryan regaining the gold a month later in his home state.

Predicting an Orton win also covers me in case none of the above is applicable and WWE are arrogantly sticking to their guns and going ahead with a Batista versus Orton singles match. It would be a completely stupid decision to do that match but don’t put it passed them. Whatever the plan for the future I think the Chamber will come down to Bryan and Orton.

There are alternatives of course. As I’ve said before John Cena can never be ruled out in title matches. With so much uncertainty going on around who’s over and who’s not it would be easy for WWE to fall back on their tried and tested top guy. Yes he’d get booed at WrestleMania, but they’re used to that and Cena copes with it better than anyone else. He’d be a safe bet and could wrestle Batista, Orton, Bryan or any combination of the three at ‘Mania in a satisfactory match.

There’s also the potential for Lesnar to win (if he ends up entering that is). Lesnar v Batista would be a fresh match and one I imagine WWE have always wanted to promote. If they were prepared to have Batista lose his guaranteed title match (which they would be) then Lesnar v Orton and Lesnar v Bryan would also be fresh. The latter would also have benefit from having a very interesting dynamic and probably being the best thing on the show.

While Elimination Chamber doesn’t have an announced card that will go down as one of the greatest of all time it does at least promise to be interesting. The uncertainty around the main event is what will make or break this show. I’m as confident as I can be that WWE will do the right thing for the success of their bigger show. And that’s having Bryan lose to set him up for a win later.

Predictions summary:
Randy Orton to retain the WWE championship
The Wyatt Family to defeat The Shield
Batista to defeat Alberto Del Rio
The New Age Outlaws to defeat the Usos
Cody Rhodes and Goldust to defeat RybAxel
Titus O’Neil to defeat Darren Young
Big E to defeat Jack Swagger


1 What are we going to call them when they’re on the Network? Supershows? Somehow that doesn’t feel very WWE.

2 And I don’t mean that in a fanfic way, obvs.