Tuesday 29 April 2014

That RAW Recap 28.04.14

There's no preamble this week. Frankly they're a pain to write.

This week's RAW was the final one before Extreme Rules, which meant it was the last opportunity for WWE to provide reasons for people to be interested in the show's top feuds. They didn't pass it up. They know what they're doing when it comes to this stuff.

The opening segment was given over to the John Cena and Bray Wyatt rivalry. It was Cena who hit the ring (which was surrounded by a cage so as to subtly promote the Extreme Rules cage match) first and it was clear from the moment he walked out he had engaged serious mode. You see the previous week's episode had ended with Cena taking on the entire Wyatt Family in a three-on-one handicap match, something WWE fans (or those who have the WWE App at least) had voted for. Understandably Cena started off by asking why the fans had chosen to put him in that situation. Somewhat less understandably he revealed he actually knew the answer.

The reason is a simple one: Cena has been on top of the company for a decade. In that time, as he rightly pointed out, the fans, he himself, and the landscape of WWE have all changed. Tastes have evolved and while Cena has evolved too it has not been in line with what fans desire. Part of the problem is that most fans are simply keen on seeing new names at the top, which is something no established star can help with directly. They can help to make these new names but they cannot be these names themselves which means they will always, to some extent, be an obstacle in the star building process. Someone who's been on top for as long as Cena and is a polarising figure to begin with is going to find it extra tough to overcome the problem.

Cena recognised that in his promo. He named The Shield, Cesaro and Daniel Bryan as stars of the future, then threw in some NXT names too. Those men all have the same passion and drive to succeed as Cena considers himself to have, and it's that that makes him excited for the day he steps aside for such names. But according to Cena the leader of the Wyatt Family doesn't share this passion, only being interested in himself. Which is a nice way for the Cena character to address a man positioned as a cult leader. Of course Wyatt only cares about himself, and of course a company man like Cena would be upset by this.

Wrestling doesn't get much creepier than this.
Naturally Cena found himself interrupted soon enough. But it wasn't Wyatt or any other wrestler doing it. It was a children's choir. They shuffled out on to stage (something that took a while to coordinate meaning we were treated to lengthy shots of Cena doing his best to look pensive) singing He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. Then Bray Wyatt joined them and led them to the ring while singing the song himself. The lights went out for a moment and then came back on to reveal the kids surrounding the ring wearing sheep masks. Wyatt, who had one nipper perched on his knee, laughed uproariously while Cena looked... well, to be honest it's hard to know what he was going for here. It was either betrayal or disgust. That I can't tell probably means he didn't do a particularly good job.

Later on in the show Cena's feelings would be explored a bit. Renee Young found him and asked what had happened earlier in the night. The former WWE champ told her nothing had happened and stomped off. Later still Cena apologised to Renee and announced that Wyatt's shenanigans hadn't gone down well with him. Then he promised Wyatt would not be singing his song after Extreme Rules. I hope that's not true. A man called 'The Eater of Worlds' singing children's songs is one of the best things about modern wrestling.

RAW's final two hours were where the other main event programmes were dealt with. First Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella received an apology from Stephanie McMahon for the rambunctious behaviour of Kane the previous week (he'd delivered three Tombstone piledrivers to Bryan, resulting in D-Bry sporting a neck brace here). Unsurprisingly the WWE champion didn't believe Steph's apology was sincere. The boss understood his attitude and granted Brie a Divas championship match to make up for it. That's as good a reason as any for getting a title match in WWE.

Comic book poses, you say?
The match started immediately and featured Bryan at ringside because he was worried about 'The Devil's Favourite Demon' turning up. He was right to be concerned because Kane did indeed put in an appearance. Instead of walking down the ramp or entering through the crowd as he had the week before he came from under the ring. His attempts to drag Brie back under the ring with him failed: first Bryan hit him in the head with a wrench (where was Triple H's sledgehammer?) and then again when Brie kicked her way out of Kane's grasp and ran off. Which was necessary because Monster Mode Kane can no-sell wrenches and he'd made a ridiculous comeback to pester Brie again.

It was another segment designed to rebuild Kane so that he correctly functions as a monster for his match with Bryan. As far as achieving that goal went the segment was a success. It did considerably less well in the good taste department: a near seven foot man chasing down a woman a few inches over five foot is not a pleasant image, even when viewed through the prism of wrestling logic.

Finally there was the Roman Reigns versus Randy Orton main event. Before Evolution entered the arena we heard from The Shield backstage. They basically said that they are a greater force than 'The Cerebral Assassin' and his boys and that they're the future. Ambrose had the best line when he said that "evolution has passed Evolution by." It effectively reminded us of the key issues between the two factions and what The Shield perceive as their strengths. Good stuff, in other words.

Once Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns were in the ring there was a stare-down between the six men. We were supposed to think that the tension may boil over into a brawl but that at no point seemed likely. It was Tripper and 'The Animal' letting the side down there. They didn't look like they were ready to engage in a fight. 'The Viper' and all three members of The Shield did a far better job of seeming like they were on the cusp of coming to blows.

Ric Flair: fan of The Shield.
Before the match started Ric Flair sauntered down to the ring. Because he doesn't get the chance to hog the spotlight any more he took his time, gobbling up several minutes of television before he'd even said a word. When he did it was to deliver a promo that was basically self-parody. 'The Nature Boy' is generally accepted as one of the greatest talkers ever. Old footage of him bears that out. He was giving excellent promos as late as the mid-2000s (as part of a Evolution, funnily enough). Judged on his RAW performance alone nobody would accept Flair as a good talker, let alone one of the best ever. He filled his speech with an excessive number of pauses and didn't seem particularly passionate about what he was saying. He was very clearly there to hang out with his mates and enjoy having spotlight shone on him.

There were a couple of problems here. The first was that, as I've already noted, Flair doesn't get to be in the spotlight much these days. He's always had a tendency to try and make himself the centre of attention as it is (and in fairness that's a large part of why and how he became successful) and that's only worsened when he doesn't get the opportunity to be adored on a regular basis. The second issue was that 'Naitch' was tasked with putting over The Shield. He did it, but in such a stilted, almost unclear, fashion that the audience was flat when he turned to shake hands with 'The Hounds of Justice'. The likelihood is that he wasn't entirely happy about having to endorse The Shield over Evolution. He really is friends with the three members of the latter team and was linked with them professionally for a fair amount of time. Having to snub Evolution on any level basically required Flair to acknowledge that another group was better than one he'd been in. That wasn't going to sit well with his ego.

So basically The Shield were endorsed by Ric Flair but in such a cack-handed way as to make it not worth bothering. A better use of Flair would have been to encourage him to parody his overblown flip out promos and declare that Evolution would destroy The Shield. It would have seemed less jarring considering the history of Flair and Evolution and would probably have been better received. Because everyone loves Flair flipping out.

Reigns v Orton didn't really last long enough to be considered a good match but it showed promise. It turned into an interference special fairly quickly, with Triple H, Orton and 'The Animal' taking The Shield apart for a few minutes before a comeback was made. The show ended with The Shield holding the ring (the ultimate sign of dominance in this overly common wrestling scenario) and Evolution backing up the rank. A good ending as it furthered the issue between the two units without actually favouring either too strongly, leaving the outcome of their Extreme Rules match as hard to predict as before the show.

Monday 28 April 2014

The Conqueror

Brock Lesnar ended The Undertaker’s much celebrated Streak at WrestleMania XXX. You may have missed this. It’s not like ‘Mania was the most watched wrestling event of the year or as if Paul Heyman has mentioned it multiple times during every appearance he’s made since it happened. But that’s the world we’re living in, and it indicates that WWE has plans for Brock Lesnar.

Looking at it logically, how could they not? ‘Taker’s ‘Mania win-loss record was (and arguably still is) one of the most impressive things in wrestling. Handing ‘The Dead Man’ a loss was not something that just anyone was going to do. Whoever ended The Streak, and bear in mind it was at no point a foregone conclusion that anyone would, was going to be someone WWE saw as a significant part of its programming.

And it’s at this point we have to stop and say “Really… Brock Lesnar?” Because although Lesnar is an incredible physical specimen with a marketable look, amazing athletic ability, headline aura, and an (often overlooked) understanding of the wrestling landscape he cannot be described as a company guy. That is, he is not someone WWE can count on being around in five years’ time.

More to the point he is not someone who can be relied upon to be around in one year’s time: his current deal expires shortly after WrestleMania XXXI. Even if he does stick around (and I suspect he’s already agreed to and that’s part of the reason he beat The Streak) he is not somebody who’ll be on TV that often. That’s the nature of his enviable limited dates deal.

And that’s fine. Having Brock Lesnar on television every week misunderstands the appeal of Brock Lesnar. He is not a performer who benefits from being on TV every week. His status is better served making occasional appearances to hype his next match and with those matches being months apart. This way any appearance he makes becomes event in itself, even if he’s doing something as relatively banal as jobbing out 3MB or destroying Mark Henry. In this sense he occupies the same sort of position as The Rock or The Undertaker, someone who appears and wrestles occasionally to make certain shows that bit more significant.

So, on the one hand we have a man who has accomplished arguably the most impressive thing in WWE in ending The Streak, and on the other a man whose appeal is partly that we don’t see him very often. These two things seem to be mutually exclusive. How can WWE capitalise on giving ‘The Beast’ such a massive victory and bragging point if he’s not around to be capitalised upon?

Well, they’ve got Heyman. He’s been talking up the accomplishment and will continue to do so for some time to come. That’s a good thing, but it only goes so far. Really, all Heyman can do is talk about it. Yes, it’s something worth talking about within the bubble of wrestling logic, but sooner or later Lesnar has to actually do something to show that he is the unstoppable, dominating ‘Conqueror’ we’re being told he is and that defeating The Undertaker at WrestleMania was really only just the beginning of his reign of supremacy.

The natural thing to do is to have Lesnar become WWE champion. This would not be some huge, landscape-redefining event. Title wins are rarely that these days. But it would continue to build Lesnar’s credibility and aura and set up some killer matches. Obviously the first would be with Daniel Bryan, a match that currently seems like the obvious SummerSlam main event. And how could it not? After spending months regaining the title Bryan is settled in for a lengthy title run in which he will overcome various intimidating challengers (the first of which is to be a remonsterised Kane). After a spring and summer of Bryan fighting valiantly to keep hold of his title the perfect man to unleash upon him as The Ultimate Challenge (WWE should feel free to use that as a tag line for ‘The Hottest Event of the Summer’) would be Brock Lesnar.

I'd put my money on this man being the next WWE champion.
Lesnar v Bryan would be a tremendous match. Lesnar defences against Cena, Triple H, Orton, Batista and Roman Reigns could all be made to work (whether the last should or not is another kettle of fish), and it’s possible CM Punk will be back for the return engagement he never got. Smart hoarding of the limited dates and strategic deployment of Paul Heyman, which is a standard thing at this point anyway, could allow Lesnar to have a reign stretching into 2015.

Planned properly they could construct another WrestleMania around Daniel Bryan and do a SummerSlam rematch in which he regains the gold from ‘The Beast’. That could be another Career Point for him and would equal the Bryan-Lesnar score at one all. A third match could up the buys of a B-show or be held off until SummerSlam.

There are four special events (hey, they’re not pay-per-views anymore!) between SummerSlam and the end of the year. That’s four dates off Lesnar’s contract. Adding one RAW appearance between each match to get him to interact with his latest foe would take him to eight. That’s not too ridiculous for four months of TV, not to mention something that would reinvigorate the legitimacy of the title (as much as that matters in 2014) and increase interest in WWE from casual and non-fans. It’s an approach I think would benefit WWE greatly. How could having a man like Brock Lesnar as champion not?

Right now it’s not just Bryan and Lesnar headlining SummerSlam that looks obvious. It’s also Lesnar being the next WWE champion.

Friday 25 April 2014

ROH Supercard of Honor VIII review

Due to previous, much-discussed issues with their streaming facilities ROH's WrestleMania weekend offering was not available live. It took place on April 4, opposite DG USA's Open the Ultimate Gate 2014, but wasn't uploaded until a week or so later. Which is a pity, because it was a good show (as you'll read below) and deserved to be discussed during wrestling’s biggest weekend of the year.

It's likely that this will be the last time the issues of streaming and uploading affect ROH. From Best in the World onwards their big shows will be broadcast as live pay-per-views. Yeah, full on television PPVs, not those internet streaming things and taped offerings they’ve been doing until now. It's a big thing for ROH which could help them expand (which is the idea, obviously) if they can string together some top notch shows.

The situation’s obviously only come about because the WWE Network has finally reared its head. With WWE moving away from pay-per-view it's created an opening for ROH to build itself up. Basically the pay-per-view companies are going to ROH to try and recoup some of the losses they’ll be suffering losing WWE money. Doesn’t say much for TNA, does it?

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The show at hand is Supercard of Honor VIII. Although it wasn’t available live for anyone who didn’t have a ticket it was still a big and important show for ROH. It paid off months of storylines between the company’s two world champion claimants and offered a number of clashes between top names.

The show kicked off with a very impressive video that recapped the last year of plot. Jay Briscoe's title win, his reign and his loss of the belt via stripping. Adam Cole winning the vacated championship and subsequent heel turn on Jay. Their feud over the legitimacy of Cole's reign and Briscoe's introduction of the so-called real world title. It was a great piece of work that caught people up without being tedious.

The night's first match was Cedric Alexander taking on ROH veteran and proud Decade member Roderick Strong. He had Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer at ringside, along with new member Adam Page. He'd joined as a young boy (a Japanese, and therefore Ring of Honor, concept linked to paying dues and earning a spot) a week or two earlier.

The pair had a very good match that told a good story: Cedric wanted to prove himself to be on the same level as Roddy and worthy of his, and The Decade’s, respect. He kicked out of a bunch of very convincing false finishes, took out the Decade members stationed at ringside before eventually being caught with a drop kick and a suplex into a back breaker for the Strong victory.

Kevin Kelly put over Cedric’s efforts, though he didn’t need to: the match was one of the best of the night and Cedric looked so good during the match that he got over even in defeat. After the match Jacobs told Cedric he should act more like Adam Page and be respectful. Perhaps that will be the next swerve turn, Cedric attacking Caprice Coleman in favour of joining The Decade. Or not. ‘The Zombie Princess’ also referred to ROH as the house that The Decade built. I hope that was intentionally ridiculous.

Andrew Everett and Adrenalin RUSH were called out for their six man scramble tag match. The scramble rule meant that if someone leaves the ring one of their partners could become the match’s legal man without the need for a tag. It’s a good approach that ensures a faster pace, never a bad thing in your second match of the night.

Once again the story centred on respect. Specifically it was about The Decade not respecting their foes and the younger trio doing everything they could to show they were worthy of it. ACH was a highlight during this, taking particular exception to his treatment at the hands of the heels. He shook hands with the fans when the bad guys refused and was booked as the star of his team, getting isolated and hitting the majority of the most impressive flying moves. Making him the star made sense: he was the most charismatic guy in the match and had the crispest delivery.

As with the opener it was a very enjoyable match. The faces, Jacobs and Page were all quick. BJ wasn’t going to keep up, but he offered the match some a power guy instead. Highlights of the match included a Doomsday Device-suicide dive combo on the floor from Whitmer and Jacobs, springboard shooting star presses to the outside and inside of the ring by Everett, an incredible topĂ© from ACH, and The Decade's All Seeing Eye (a move it would be easy to botch and that always looks good). That was enough to earn Whitmer the win for his team.

After the match Jacobs teased caving in Tadarius's skull with his trusty spike. He walked off instead. ACH sat at ringside, exhausted and unable to make the save. My assumption is that there will be a singles match between ACH and Jacobs sometime soon. Probably at Best in the World.

After a reminder of why they don't like one another Truth Martini and Matt Taven went to the ring for a showdown. Instead of introducing his mystery wrestler Truth called Kevin Kelly into the ring and started reading the final chapter of the Book of Truth. Taven snatched it away and started reading his "favourite” chapter. He got about three words in before flames came out of the book which caused a distraction (understandably so) and allowed Truth to kick Taven in the groin and walk off. It was a confusing, disappointing mess of a segment.

Match three saw the "undefeated" RD Evans (he's pulled 82-0 from somewhere) take on Silas Young. Evans was popular with the fans. Young was not. He was, in fact, hated. Partly because he does such a good job of being an unlikeable bully. What could have been a simple comedy bout was actually a pretty lengthy, compelling outing. After narrowly avoiding being counted out (having absorbed an impressive electric chair drop on the apron) Evans caught Young with a small package that was just kicked out of.

Veda Scott then distracted the referee while Ramon, the other member of the RD Evans Comedy Troupe, tossed his belt into the ring. Young intercepted it so Evans pretended he'd been struck with it in an effort to win by DQ. Young escaped another rollup and accidentally battered the ref with the belt. Evans got a hangman's neck breaker but there was nobody to count the three so Evans, needing a ref, checked on the downed official. That allowed Young to grab him for a fireman roll and a moonsault, at which point a fresh official appeared in the ring to make the unpopular count.

However... original official Paul Turner got to his feet and reversed the decision. Silas Young was disqualified, presumably for striking an official. Evans celebrated in typically overblown style, screaming that he'd done it and high fiving and hugging fans at ringside. He’s one of the best things currently going in ROH.

Following that were Michael Bennett and Mark Briscoe in a no disqualification match. Bennett had involved himself in Jay Briscoe's rivalry with Adam Cole, so Mark was looking out for his brother. That was all the build they needed.

The match started with Briscoe launching himself off the apron and battering Bennett around ringside. Bennett turned things around and the two wound up brawling into the bleachers. Noteworthy here was Mark launching himself from one guardrail over another and landing on nothing but Bennett and concrete. Back at ringside 'The Prodigy' smacked Briscoe with a pair of chair shots, spat water in his face and ran him into the crowd barrier.

In the ring Bennett wrapped a chair around Briscoe's leg and smashed a second chair on top. Briscoe shrugged that off (just one of many no-sells he would perform) and came back with an elbow drop to a floored Bennett outside the ring (Cactus Jack style). Briscoe gave Bennett some chair shots of his own and ran him into barriers in the aisle. Up at the entrance Bennett speared Briscoe through a table, which fell over rather than broke in half. Which was somewhat anticlimactic.  

Once again returning to the ring Briscoe pulled out a kendo stick. Bennett took two shots before Maria grabbed the stick out of Mark's grasp. Bennett snuck in a super kick and Maria gave Briscoe a stick shot of her own, allowing Bennett to hit a side effect. A series of chair shots put the former tag champ down. Bennett followed that with a one man Conchairto and an application of the Anaconda Vice. Referee Todd Sinclair awarded the match to Bennett. Briscoe was helped out of the ring but was looking for a fight before he'd reached the aisle. The match was a very satisfying brawl but someone needs to remind Mark to sell.

We were shown Matt Taven searching for Truth Martini backstage. He walked into the gents, there was some shouting, and then Truth wandered out. The cameraman entered the restroom to find Taven clutching his face. I think we were meant to assume he'd been fireballed. Although there were other options that would fit with Truth’s deviant character.

A top notch hype video for ROH's co-promoted shows with New Japan was followed by Cheeseburger giving out T-shirts. The inevitable interruption came from Matt Hardy. After politely asking the burger to give him the ring 'The Icon' talked about ROH setting record numbers in TV ratings, attendance figures, and merch sales, which he took credit for, natch. In fairness he didn't just claim it was because of him, he also said it was because he'd handpicked Adam Cole as the top guy in the company. Channelling both Triple H and Gedo ‘The Sensei of Mattitude’ talked up Adam Cole as being on another level and said he couldn't take anything away from Briscoe being a "pretty good little wrestler". Wrapping up, Hardy said that he, Bennett, Kanellis, and Cole are the best unit in wrestling and that Cole winning the main event would cement him as the greatest ROH champion ever.

Cheeseburger was called back into the ring. Hardy disingenuously apologised for taking his time and then gave him a Twist of Fate. The sequence was good for building up the importance of the main event and establishing the top heel unit in the company but it wasn't unmissable stuff. Nothing involving Matt Hardy is.

Match five was the Forever Hooligans v reDRagon v Hanson and Raymond Rowe in a three-way tag match, with the winners earning a title match with The Young Bucks at Global Wars. Despite Hanson and Rowe being the only guys who were definitely faces it was Fish and O'Reilly who got most of the cheers before the match started.

Things took a while to get going in this. The first several minutes were pretty standard tag fare. Things only really picked up in the final five minutes when the near falls kicked in and guys were rapidly coming and going from the ring. O'Reilly eventually got the win for his team off a rollup, craftily applied after the Hooligans had attempted a double team springboard thwarted by Fish (who, for the record, was sporting a lovely quiff).

Hanson and Rowe looked decent as a team. If they’re together long enough they could development into a useful combo. That said I can’t help but feel this match would have been better without their involvement. But that feels like an unfair complaint to make. The match wasn’t actively bad, it just wasn’t as good as it could have been. We’ve had Forever Hooligans versus reDRagon on other shows so all things considered I think I’d rather have had this three-way. It was something different and it gave Hanson and Rowe a good introduction to the tag division.

A video package showed an angry Jay Lethal talking about his two years of history with Tommaso Ciampa and wanting the TV title back. They have indeed had two years of feuding for the TV strap, on and off. Unfortunately none of their interactions are especially memorable. I think it was a result of Lethal's bland face character. I like Ciampa's character and both men's wrestling ability but they've never clicked for me as the great feud they're clearly meant to be.

The match was a two-out-of-three falls affair. Instead of a handshake Ciampa put his knee brace on Lethal's outstretched hand. It was a way of demonstrating that he was not only confident in his knee but keen to pursue a level playing field. The first fall was the length of a regular ROH match and ended with a Lethal Injection attempt countered into a pinning attempt which was countered itself into another pinning attempt. That put Lethal ahead by one fall.

Ciampa was on the defensive for the second fall, having to immediately escape a hurricanrana and a Koji clutch. He countered the latter into a Sicilian Stretch but it wasn't enough to get him his first pin. Minutes later he was on the receiving end of his own Project Ciampa. The second ref bump of the night followed when Ciampa ducked a Lethal Injection attempt and Todd Sinclair took the move instead. Ciampa blasted Lethal with a German suplex series (triggering a Benoit chant) and a lariat.

Truth Martini then rocked up and slid Ciampa's knee brace to Jay Lethal. The challenger used it. Ciampa kicked out but wasn't with it enough to make it back to his feet, so Lethal hit him with the Macho Elbow. Ciampa, channeling Hulk Hogan, immediately kicked out. He no sold a pair of super kicks but buckled after a kick to the knee and fell to a Lethal Injection.

The first ever two time TV champ celebrated with Truth Martini as the fans told him he'd sold out. Taking a microphone Lethal told the fans "There is a house in New Orleans. And it's called the House of Truth." At commentary McGuinness and Kelly talked about how Lethal had turned his back on honour and the teachings of his parents (though they failed to mention it was Truth Martini who cost him the TV title in March 2012 (not that I’d expected them to)). They also made it clear they'd never expected to see a Jay Lethal heel turn in ROH. I have to say I’d never thought we'd get it either. It could work out well though. Lethal's lack of charisma (except for when he's channelling Randy Savage) has always been a problem and he'd done loads as a face and become a little played out doing it. This is something new for him and it gives Martini someone new to interact with.

The evening's penultimate match saw Michael Elgin clash with Kevin Steen in a match that would see the winner challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP world heavyweight championship at Global Wars. They set an electric pace from the opening bell, Steen immediately attempting a package piledriver with Elgin escaping and belting him with a right hand. Within thirty seconds Steen had hit a cannonball and gone for a cover. After that they headed out of the ring for the obligatory ringside rampage.

Several minutes passed before they re-entered the ring, at which point Elgin was in control after using a stalling suplex on the outside to wind 'Mr Wrestling'. Elgin hit a drop kick before Steen came back with a version of the draping DDT. Elgin took a senton and shoulder blocks in the corner then blasted Steen with an enziguri and a dead lift German suplex. Steen got a two count from a fisherman neck breaker then hit a second cannonball into the corner.

It would prove ill-advised as 'Unbreakable' kept hold of him and powered up to his feet to give him a power bomb. He went for a second but Steen turned it into an F5. Elgin kicked out and an exchange of big punches followed. Elgin got the better of that and dropped Steen with a bicycle kick and a back fist for two. Back on the outside Steen apron bombed Elgin and then took a power bomb into the turnbuckle. In the ring Steen survived a tombstone piledriver and responded with a pop up power bomb and a package piledriver for an ultra-convincing two count. Steen attempted a Swanton bomb but was met with knees.

Both men dragged themselves back to their feet. Elgin walloped Steen with a back fist, a buckle bomb and an Elgin bomb for another strong convincer. Elgin tried for something on the top rope but Steen countered with a version of the fisherman suplex for another two count. Steen once again tried the package piledriver but found it reversed into triple power bomb, followed by a buckle bomb. The Elgin bomb attempt that followed was countered with a sleeper suplex, but Elgin shrugged it off and belted Steen with a lariat, another buckle bomb and Steen's own package piledriver for the hard fought victory.

The match was phenomenal. Elgin and Steen are two of ROH’s best and this was proof of it. I thought it was significantly better than their last effort opposite one another.

The ladder match main event was excellent, which was to be expected. Jay Briscoe is one of the most experienced ladder guys ROH has while Cole is just generally awesome and capable of doing anything asked of him. The history behind the match helped too, creating a reason for the two to clash under ladder rules and continuing the tradition of ladder matches only occurring under very special circumstances in Ring of Honor.

In the end it was Cole who “unified the titles” and left New Orleans as Ring of Honor’s undisputed world champion. This, I’m sure, will be credited to the training from self-proclaimed ladder match whizz Matt Hardy. In actuality it was more down to interference from Hardy and Bennett. That made sense though: the heels are a confirmed faction and there was always going to be interference in the match.

Supercard of Honor VIII was a good show, all told. It paid off various long-running plots, provided some high quality matches, and provided a few changes to keep the promotion feeling fresh. It will almost certainly not end up being Ring of Honor’s best show of the year (especially when you consider what they’ve got coming up at Global Wars) but it was a satisfying show at a time when ROH needed to deliver a satisfying show. If they can give us more events like that when they hit pay-per-view they’ll be doing okay.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

That RAW Recap 21.04.14

It’s been revealed, through the magic of the interweb, that the ratings for Monday Night RAW have been decreased over the last two episodes. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. The April 7 episode was the post-‘Mania one, which always does well. The April 14 edition was never going to be able to compete because the reasons to watch simply weren’t as strong. By the time the April 21 show rolled around it was pretty much business as usual in terms of who’d tune in.

The April 7 RAW featured significant changes to the lead feuds in the company and got WWE’s ever tricky late-spring-early summer season off to a good start. The ratings going down don’t mean they’ve failed or that people aren’t interested in The Shield taking on Evolution or Daniel Bryan’s championship reign. It just means that the people who were watching over WrestleMania Season have had their fill of wrestling for now. Many will be back for SummerSlam. The rest will be back for WrestleMania XXXI.

The reason I bring this up is that a lot seems to be getting made of RAW’s ratings drifting down and it’s not really a concern. It’s to be expected. WrestleMania always sees a peak in ratings. As long as the ratings don’t fall drastically (which they haven’t) there’s no cause for concern. The core audience is still there.

The business as usual approach WWE have gotten back to can best be described as workmanlike. They know the matches they’re building to both in the short term and long term and each was allocated what was deemed an acceptable amount of time on RAW.

The opening segment was the clearest example of this. It saw Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella celebrating their recent wedding in the ring, the first time the pair have been shown together on RAW since the 2011 storyline which saw Brie and Nikki competing for D-Bry’s affections (they ended up losing out to Gail Kim). Their unfettered happiness wasn’t allowed to grace screens for long as Stephanie McMahon rocked up to announce Bryan would be defending his title against Kane at Extreme Rules. She referred to this as a wedding gift. She needs to work on her gift selection.

This table would prove surprisingly sturdy.
It didn’t end there. Kane, now back in his wrestling garb, mask and wig, ran in through the crowd and got the better of the Bryan as the champ tried to protect his wife. Bryan took three tombstone piledrivers: one on ringside mats, one on a set of steel steps, and one on (but not through) the announce table. Bryan did a stretcher job to sell the effects of the beating and Steph called ‘The Big Red Monster’ a bastard.

The delivery of the line indicated Stephanie was genuinely displeased with Kane’s antics. If so this would mark a return of her playing both face and heel in the same segment, something which characterised her time as SmackDown GM many years ago.

There were two reasons this sequence took place. The first was that Daniel Bryan’s father had unexpectedly passed away and he needed to be written off of TV for a bit (WWE were reportedly happy to simply excuse Bryan but he insisted on appearing as advertised). The second was to reheat Kane as an unstoppable, merciless monster who poses a real threat to the Daniel Bryan’s title reign.

This was needed partially because he’s spent the last six months or more playing a suit-clad executive. But there’s more to it than that. The Kane character, as has been noted on this blog before, goes through periodic phases. He’ll play a monster heel for a while, then become a heroic, misunderstood face, gradually segue into being a comedic babyface, before doing something completely unexpected like joining DX, entering therapy or accepting an office job and wrestling in a vest. It’s become the norm and the character has proven malleable enough to be able to withstand these revamps. But it does necessitate scenes like the one on RAW every now and then, just so that he can be taken seriously for a little while.

Less than an hour later the rivalry between Evolution and The Shield received some attention. Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista strolled to the ring for a promo talking themselves up. This was just as necessary as the rehabilitation of Kane, but for different reasons. Evolution was not a group that went through wildly different phases. It was presented as the elite of wrestling. But the last time the faction was a regular fixture on our screens was in early 2005. This segment was needed to remind people of the group’s former standing, to stop it being three guys with shaved heads getting together because of shared enemies. The promos helped there, but what was of most benefit was the video package that aired showing the group’s past. It was a nice piece of work.

Randy looks happy, doesn't he? Meanwhile Triple H looks
like he's going for the Horatio Nelson look.
Naturally The Shield put in an appearance here. They didn’t need building up, but they did need to be placed in the vicinity of Evolution in order to avoid being overshadowed or perceived as second rate. Had they not walked to the ring to speak out it would have looked peculiar. It was also handy as a way of highlighting the difference between the two factions: Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns are united while ‘The Game’, ‘The Viper’ and ‘The Animal’ are individuals currently banded together by a common cause who have a history as a team.

By the way, anyone worried that the reformation of Evolution would bring an end to the sartorial elegance of Dave Batista should have been relieved here. He did himself proud. Part of the Evolution gimmick was a love of suits. While Orton’s favoured option of dressing in trunks and a T-shirt was closed to him Batista simply exchanged his ridiculous skinny jeans and trainers for a ridiculous suit. He opted for a waistcoat, his beloved shirt with a collar a different colour to the torso, and shades. This is part of the reason I don’t object to Batista being on TV. He finds ways to make his character work no matter the situation he’s placed in. He knows that he needs to look absurd, so he makes sure that he does.

The show ended with some work being done on the Cena versus Wyatt Family feud. That doesn’t have the far reaching effects of Bryan’s title reign or the Shield v Evolution series but it’s still the promotion’s number three feud and will probably be looked back on as a key aspect of Bray Wyatt’s early career.
The main event had been the subject of a vote throughout the night. Viewers had been given the power to decide whether ‘The CeNation Leader’ faced one, two or all three members of The Wyatt Family. Perhaps unsurprisingly they went for all three. This could be used as fuel for Bray to argue that he’s succeeded in convincing the audience’s view of Cena (which seems to be his goal) or as a reason for Cena being “off his game” at Extreme Rules. The likelihood is that it won’t be turned into anything significant but the possibilities are there. Even if that’s the case it was a way of highlighting the dispute and reminding everyone that WWE’s shows are currently so packed that they have three feuds that can go into the main event and not feel out of place.

It was not the most thrilling episode of RAW ever. It wasn’t intended to be. It was designed to accomplish a number of things and it accomplished them. It got us closer to Extreme Rules without giving away too much or boring us by not doing enough. That, in WWE, is a good result.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Global Boom

You’ve probably noticed that Jeff Jarrett has a new wrestling promotion under construction. It will be called Global Force Wrestling and it’s being created for a number of reasons. First and foremost it’s because Jeff no longer holds a position with TNA, the company he founded with his father (Jerry) in 2002. Despite selling control of the company to the Carter family’s Panda Energy Jeff kept a position with the group for a number of years, including the years after he stopped being a TV presence. That changed a few months ago when he announced he was leaving. It seems fair to assume, given his new venture, that Jarrett was tired of being a bit part player in a company he’d intended to be North America’s number two wrestling league. Jeff Jarrett wanted to be the boss again.

Secondly, he feels that another wrestling boom period is imminent. While promoting his new league he’s said that now is the best time to start up a wrestling company because it’s due to shift back into the mainstream. He seems tuned in enough to realise that WWE is going to be the focal point of such a boom (should it materialise) but understands that being a new group while people are just getting interested in wrestling again (or for the first time) will help him build a fan base. A new promotion will feel fresh and new and be more capable of providing jump-in, introductory points than even WWE. There will be a certain dynamism that companies that have existed for more than a few years (basically the entire crop of meaningful indy feds) won’t be able to create.

It’s actually timing that may have doomed TNA from the very start. Wrestling’s last major period of significance started in the mid-nineties and ran through to 2001. It was characterised by the innovative ECW, the Monday Night Wars between the WWF and WCW, and the WWF’s Attitude Era. It was never going to last forever and in hindsight it was always going to wind down after either WCW or the WWF folded. The natural conclusion, basically, was always going to be an invasion of the WWF by WCW talent (or, in some alternate universe somewhere, an invasion of WCW by WWF talent).

Even if that storyline had been expertly handled and booked with no expense spared it was never going to stretch much beyond the early months of 2002. That it was so badly presented only helped to drive less enthusiastic viewers away sooner than would otherwise have been the case. By March 2002, a year after the closure of WCW, the WWF was the only game in town and it was not providing storylines anywhere near as compelling as it had two years before.

Setting up a wrestling company just a year after a hot streak had finished and while the market leader (which dictates how wrestling is perceived in general) was being particularly uninspiring was not the greatest move. But it’s the one the Jarretts made. And in fairness although it was ill-fated it did make sense. They couldn’t sit around waiting for the WWF (soon to become WWE) to get hot again. If they wanted to start a promotion they needed to do it then because there were still significant names floating around from the boom period that had only just ended, plus newcomers wanting a break that McMahon Corp weren’t going to provide.

This time it appears that Jarrett’s timing is better. While I’m not as confident as he is that wrestling’s about to explode into mainstream pop culture again, it is at least a positive sign that WWE’s doing better than when he started TNA. It creates an environment in which wrestling is taken as more acceptable. There’s also the fact that the viewing habits of fans have changed over the years. The internet has made it easier to watch wrestling from all over the world, and old footage too. People’s tastes have become more sophisticated and they understand the business better (whether the people in the business want to admit that or not). It’s easier to present a product that’s less storyline driven and more about athletic ability than it would have been ten years ago because fans at large have become more accepting of the variety of styles that make up professional wrestling.

And it seems as though that’s the approach ‘Double J’ is planning to take. We’ve heard that he’s “created a database” (a pretentious way of saying he’s got a list of names and numbers) with over five hundred entries on it. Obviously you’re not going to have five hundred main event calibre performers on any list. But equally you’re going to have a list that long and have no main event calibre names. Looking beyond the specifics of who Jarrett has and hasn’t signed we can say confidently that he will have some worthwhile talent available to him.

He’s also linked himself to a production company in California. That’s a good move in itself for the obvious reason that he’ll need to produce some sort of show to air and sell. Going with a company in California is a particularly good move. That’s the US’s entertainment mecca, making hobnobbing with other companies that could cross promote far easier than it would be if they were based in, oh, I don’t know, Baltimore, Maryland (cough, ROH, cough!). It also means that they’ll be promoting in an area that has all the technical equipment and venues (of all sizes) they could need. It also sets them up nicely to promote shows at next year’s WrestleMania weekend without going outside of what will I imagine will still be their comfort zone, although that’s more a happy coincidence than planning.

At first glance the idea of Global Force Wrestling has a lot of potential. That Jarrett appears to have worked out deals with talent from around the globe (presumably the name is intended as a literal reflection of his promotion’s scope as opposed to being an all too common bit of hollow wrestling wording) will allow him to present a variety of styles that will provide something for everyone watching. Theoretically it will help viewers discover new styles they enjoy too. As WWE only promotes the sports entertainment style (although in fairness it should be pointed out that this is far more flexible than many make out and does change with the times), DG USA and ROH don’t venture much outside their own comfort zones, and TNA are a complete shambles with no definitive style to speak of, that gives him something unique to offer anyone watching.

I think it’s safe to assume he’ll get some working arrangements sorted out with other promotions too. Jarrett was the man credited with getting TNA deals with AAA and Wrestle-1. As soon as whatever contracts are in place with TNA expire it’s entirely possible Jarrett will be able to swoop in and negotiate something for GFW in their place. In fact TNA itself is on shaky legs: should they go under Jarrett would have access to a wide selection of reasonably well-known names to feature on his shows.

Not everything about GFW inspires confidence. While Jarrett has been involved in wrestling for his entire adult life he’s not exactly got a string of successes to his name. I’ve already mentioned TNA, which is the closest thing we’ve got to a track record for Jarrett as an owner-operator-booker, is not in a good way. While the absence of former WWE, WCW and TNA stars will be a blessing for the most part it also means Jarrett will have to work that bit harder to get people interested. Modern fans may see quality wrestling as a reason to watch in and of itself but a significant name doesn’t hurt. And it may sound like nitpicking but the name Global Force Wrestling doesn’t roll off the tongue no matter how well it may reflect Jarrett’s international desires.

But the biggest problem I can see is that there’s not a particularly compelling advertising campaign attached to the group. Look back and see how it started: pictures of Karen Jarrett and the question of whether you missed her. She, at first glance, was the star of the group. While that no longer appears to be the case it’s still strange that they went with her in the first place. Yes, she’s an attractive woman who’d been an on-screen presence in TNA but if you’re trying to build interest in a wrestling company wouldn’t it be a good idea to start out by announcing you’ve got a significant wrestler on board? Perhaps the trouble there is that they didn’t and don’t have such a name interested and Karen Jarrett was their second best option (in such a scenario Jeff would be the top choice, although he doesn’t look as good lying around a beach) for presenting a big name from the business that could draw people in.

Social media (Twitter, basically) is likely to play an important part of GFW. If Jarrett’s going to be using a fraction of his purportedly five hundred strong roster (database, call it what you will) my assumption is that he’s going to be looking at social media response just as much, if not more than, the reactions of live crowds. So far I’ve seen nothing that makes me think he has anybody particularly ‘net savvy working for him in this department. The entire campaign has been based around posting pictures of the Jarrett and sometimes Karen posing with various wrestlers, everyone from Carlito to Jay Lethal to Gregory Helms to Bad Influence. Nobody interesting that they’ve shown pictures of (Nash and Bret Hart are about the only proven draws) is going to sign a contract, and the Lethals and Bad Influences of the world, as good as they may be, are not the stuff from which a dynamic new wrestling product can be fashioned.

Monday 21 April 2014

Pro Bro

Want an example of something done right in TNA? The BroMans.

Jessie Godderz and Robbie E were originally put together because nothing else could be thought of for either man as a singles act. They turned what could have been a quick way to get released, treading water as a thrown together pairing, into a success. They got matching outfits, worked on their promo patter, and implemented some double team moves more complex than double suplexes and wishbone leg splits.

The addition of Zema Ion as DJ Z helped. He works surprisingly well as a hype man and the idea of the team having their own personal DJ fits perfectly. Most importantly it gives them an entrance that no other promotion would do. A DJ playing guys to the ring is something WWE wouldn’t touch, and while I can imagine ROH and similarly sized promotions would they don’t have the budget or setup to pull it off as well.

Okay, so The BroMans aren’t the best wrestlers in TNA. In fairness they’re not meant to be. They’re supposed to be a gimmick team that gets heat, which is precisely what they are. Given that role and the way they’re booked I think they turn out better quality matches than they need to.

Note the shades, bro.
TNA should make the most of The BroMans’ relative success and work on getting a good tag division going. Not only would it make use of an entertaining team but it would also allow for some fresh matches, something the company’s crying out for with all the established names it has under contract. As good as the formerly American Wolves are we can only see them tangle with Jessie and Robbie so many times before the match becomes a chore to sit through.

EC3 and Rockstar Spud could work as a team, as could Kurt Angle and ‘Willow’ Jeff Hardy. TNA’s already set these four up for a tag encounter. It would be easy enough to turn it into a series instead of a one off, and for storyline reasons to be given to explain each duo remaining together after said series. Dixie Carter could decree she wants EC3 and Spud to remain together while Hardy and Angle could say they want a fresh challenge. This would have the added bonus of helping to protect ‘The Olympic Hero’s’ increasingly frail frame.

Tigre Uno and Seiya Sanada could become a team after their best of three series wraps up. It’s a bit of a clichĂ© at this point but that doesn’t mean it would be bad. They could have great matches with The Wolves and The BroMans.

There’s Beer Money too, of course. They’re already back together in an unofficial capacity. They could be reunited on a permanent basis by their dislike of another team, The Wolves for example, describing themselves as the best team in TNA history. A smart writing team (unfortunately that’s not a description that seems to fit the current one) could use a Beer Money reunion to redo the team’s split and segue Storm and Roode back into the world title’s orbit.

If Bad Influence were re-signed TNA could have a very good doubles division. The BroMans wouldn’t need to be the centrepiece but they could be an entertaining part of it.

Saturday 19 April 2014

The SmackDown Spot

WWE have got Tyson Kidd, Justin Gabriel, Bad News Barrett, Luke Harper, Cody Rhodes, Kofi Kingston, the new and improved Sin Cara, Damien Sandow, and Dolph Ziggler sitting in the locker room. That’s a list that omits anybody who might be even remotely confused with a main eventer, guys like Cesaro and Bray Wyatt, and the perma-injured likes of Rey Mysterio (and, seemingly, Christian). Oh, and people who just aren’t particularly interesting like Zack Ryder and The Miz. It’s a bunch of talent not even appearing on the show.

There’s Evan Bourne sitting on the sidelines, having apparently been ready to return for over year from the injury he suffered in 2012. He’s a charisma vacuum, as are Kidd and Gabriel, but he’s capable of exciting matches. He’d be a fresh addition to the roster after so long away too.

They’ve even got access to David Otunga! He’s not appeared on TV in forever, despite having an incredible array of wrestling tools at his disposal (I know I’m in the minority on this but the guy’s valuable in roles other than Active Non-Gimmick Wrestler).

This had to happen apparently. I'd probably have been
fine if Hornswoggle weren't involved.
And yet somehow, for some reason, somebody made the decision to give Hornswoggle and El Torito a match on SmackDown. I’ve nothing against Torito. In fact I’ve enjoyed his JBL and Cole Show antics and the swagger he exhibits whenever he’s stationed at ringside. The guy’s entertaining. I’ve no time at all for Hornswoggle, but this isn’t really the point. Why are two gimmick seconds, one of whom hasn’t appeared in anything even approaching a meaningful capacity in years, getting time to have a match on TV when the names above aren’t even appearing?

Diego, Fernando and 2-out-of-3MB were at ringside on the show. Couldn’t they have had a tag match in place of Torito v Hornswoggle? So what if they’d had that exact match on Main Event. It would have been more entertaining than the leprechaun and the bull (even that four word description makes the match more fun than it could ever be). If repeating meaningless matches within the same week is against the rules then they could’ve done a six man instead and had ‘swoggle and Torito do the finish.

I appreciate that not everyone’s going to get on every show. With a roster so large people being relegated to the locker room is inevitable. But that’s not an excuse to exclude everyone. Give us someone off the list instead of nobody.

For all they’re getting a lot right these days WWE are still dropping the ball on little things (no pun intended). Next time can we have Kidd and Gabriel in matching trunks doing their storyline best to impress management enough to be awarded a tag title match? Please and thanks.

The Power of Names

Remember when nicknames in wrestling were just nicknames? Steve Austin was ‘Stone Cold’ because it reflected the merciless, uncaring personality he wanted to portray. The Rock was ‘The Great One’ because it reflected his heelish egomania and belief that he was better than everybody else. Triple H was ‘The Game’ because he told Jim Ross that’s what he was in an interview (which ended up being a surprise high point of his career). The Undertaker was ‘The Dead Man’ because he’s supposed to be a zombie. And so on. You get the idea.

WWE seems to have forgotten the reason nicknames and monikers were introduced in the first place. The build up to WrestleMania XXX saw Triple H telling Batista that if he didn’t rediscover ‘The Animal’ he didn’t think he’d be able to leave the event as champion. That’s the same Triple H who promised Daniel Bryan that he’d be facing ‘The Game’ as though sometimes people face Triple H but not ‘The Game’. Before that we had The Authority telling Randy Orton to rediscover ‘The Viper’, which was used as shorthand for his supposed sadistic streak (basically little more than him punting people in the head, but still).

The return of 'Y2J', apparently.
The earliest instance of the practice I can recall came in the summer of 2012. The August 10 episode of SmackDown featured Chris Jericho announcing that it was time to bring back ‘Y2J’, a signal that the audience should treat him as a babyface (which they’d been doing anyway). ‘Y2J’ was intended as his babyface persona, but the moniker had been used for years beforehand, regardless of whether he was seeking cheers or jeers.

It’s clear from the way in which these nicknames are being employed by WWE that they are no longer intended as mere nicknames that add to a wrestler’s character. They are now supposed to be taken as some sort of totem of power, something that can be gained and lost, switched on and off, depending on a wrestler’s drive, motivation and success (or something). Which is something that can work in wrestling but not in a promotion like WWE.

It does not come across well and it’s something I think WWE should drop before they go any further with it. A lot of what they’re doing recently has worked very well but the nicknames as superpowers approach has been a miss. Nobody has latched onto it and everyone sounds stupid talking about channelling their inner-nickname. Let nicknames be nicknames and use good booking to get guys abilities over.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

That RAW Recap 14.04.14

The opening of the April 14 RAW was not what WWE had planned when the previous week’s episode went off the air. Instead of a promo from Triple H about how he was irked by The Shield and Daniel Bryan (or whatever) we got a tribute to The Ultimate Warrior, who died of a heart attack on Tuesday April 8. The entire roster started the show stood on the stage as Jerry Lawler introduced a video package for the Hall of Famer. It was a touching compilation of rope-shaking and match footage. Afterwards Triple H instigated a Warrior chant, which everyone in the building joined in with.

The tributes would continue throughout the night, taking the form of career highlight videos focusing on specific Warrior matches. The bouts selected for inclusion were his Intercontinental title victory over the Honky Tonk Man at SummerSlam ’88, his iconic clash with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI, his SummerSlam 1990 cage match opposite Rick Rude, and an edited version of his final RAW promo. WWE did a good job making Warrior look a star.

The show proper kicked off with Alberto Del Rio taking on Rob Van Dam, one of four first round matches in a tournament to determine the number one contender to Big E’s Intercontinental gold. The match was nothing special. In fact it was pretty sloppy in places. The most notable thing about it was that the announce team mentioned Van Dam’s hybrid style. For whatever reason (quite possibly because I often try and tune them out) I’d never registered that they say this in every RVD match. It’s incredibly lazy, but that won’t stop them saying it next week. Van Dam progressed to the second round after yanking ADR off the top rope and hitting him with a Five Star frog splash.

After a recap reminding us of what went down with Evolution, The Shield, and Daniel Bryan (who was on his honeymoon with Brie Bella and wouldn’t make an appearance) the week before we were shown Triple H shaking hands with Orton and Batista in an office. ‘The Game’ told his boys that he didn’t think The Shield were going to let either of them near the WWE championship and said it was an attitude that reminded him of Evolution (which was probably meant as a compliment). Then he said he doesn’t think anyone can stop them then immediately contradicted himself and said a united Evolution could. Both Batista and Orton told Tripper that he was on his own. ‘The Animal’, you see, just wants to be champ.

I suggested Goldust's robe on a TWP
episode. Maybe they're listeners.
The evening’s second match was Goldust and Cody Rhodes v RybAxel. It was enjoyable, as most things involving Cody Rhodes are. Perhaps surprisingly the heels won clean, Ryback pinning Cody off a Meathook clothesline as Cody went for a Disaster kick. It meant we got to hear RybAxel’s hunting horn heavy theme tune again, so I was all for that win.

In his latest hype video Bo Dallas told us today is a gift, which is why it’s called the present. I can’t wait until he’s on TV with this ridiculousness. There’s a lot of potential in character and I’m hopeful WWE are going to do something worthwhile with him.

Out next was Paige. We were reminded of the circumstances of her debut and title win but there was no victory promo from her. Nor was there any appearance from former champ AJ Lee. I’d expected the latter in order to set up a rematch at Extreme Rules. Presumably she was elsewhere and her reaction to the loss of her title will come next week. The new champion faced Alicia Fox in a non-title match. Fox dominated much of the match. Eventually Paige turned the tables with a kick and applied her scorpion lock for the submission victory.

Hour two opened with WWE tag team champions Jimmy and Jey Uso (whose continued popularity surprised and pleases me) facing Randy Orton and Batista. The story behind it was that the Usos had challenged the Evolution boys after the beating they’d taken around ringside the week before. The Usos started off with a barrage of punches and a pair of dives on to their foes but the match quickly proceeded into a slow pace with Team Ortista keeping things under control.

It didn’t last long. After a few minutes ‘The Viper’ left the ring to give Jimmy a beating around ringside (again) and got attacked by The Shield. Big Dave was left alone in the ring. Rollins and Ambrose sacrificed themselves distracting him to allow Reigns the chance to get into the ring and drop ‘The Animal’ with a Superman punch. That Ambrose and Rollins got taken out is a small thing but a nice touch: it demonstrates that The Shield can and do work together to accomplish their goals (here it was getting their hands on Batista) and that each man works towards the greater good. It’s something we’ve not really ever seen in WWE. For that reason alone it should be supported.

After a break Batsy and Orty were shown walking through a backstage tech area. They came across Triple H and Stephanie, who were just standing around instead of running the show. Trips said he’d told them so and wandered off. The two were left to look sour together and glare after him.

Out at ringside Paul Heyman walked out to brag about Brock Lesnar ending The Streak. He had photos cued up to remind us how everything played out at ‘Mania and said that nobody had believed him when he said The Streak would end. By his logic we should now believe everything he says and announced that Cesaro was going to be the next major star in WWE. They should play up Heyman being some sort of pro wrestling oracle. That’s a character development that could really go places.

Check out the walk on Cesaro.
‘The King of Swing’ came out to no music but was wearing his lovely, shiny ring jacket. He was there to wrestle Mark Henry in an IC tournament match. After plastering ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ with uppercuts and avoiding a World’s Strongest Slam Cesaro won the match with a Neutralizer. His win got a split reaction. I think that was as much because of the lack of a Big Swing as anything else.

Another Triple H and Stephanie segment occurred backstage. This one saw Brad Maddox dispatched to tell The Shield they had a six man tag match in the main event. The identities of their opponents were not disclosed. This was Maddox’s only contribution to the show. Sooner or later a new role is going to be needed for him. The GM spot has become obsolete (again).

Back in the arena Lana talked up Alexander Rusev in both Russian and English. After posing and talking to himself in the ring ‘The Super Athlete’ defeated Xavier Woods in a squash match with The Accolade (or the Steiner Recliner for those of us who enjoy referencing Scott Steiner). After the match R-Truth attacked Rusev. That didn’t end well for Truth. Worth noting was that Lana was shown to call Rusev off of Truth for a moment. I’m sure that was done to demonstrate that she’s the one in charge, not Rusev.

After some merciless Network plugging the third tournament took place, this one pitting Sheamus against Jack Swagger. Those who enjoy hoss fights were well served by this match. The match was a little slow for my tastes, although I did appreciate the two men not going light on one another. Sheamus won with a surprise Brogue kick after gritting his way through an ankle lock. He did a good job of selling the effects of the hold after the match.

An Adam Rose promo followed that. It was the same one that was on the week before. A new one would air later in the night, this one showing Rose winning a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos and then telling his bunny (a fully grown man in a bunny suit) not to be a lemon but a Rosebud. I love me some Adam Rose. He’s a marvellous gimmick.

A break was followed by Damien Sandow telling everyone that he was the most deserving man in WWE. Big Show waddled out but that didn’t stop ‘The Intellectual Saviour’ talking: he shouted that he wouldn’t be silenced and told people to sit back down and listen to what he had to say. It’s material like that that sets the Sandow character apart and makes it work. Sandow continued talking once Show arrived, claiming people should be begging to touch him as he walks to the ring. He said he deserves “it”, failing to specify what “it” is, because he’s earned “it”. He prodded Show in the chest and got a WMD punch for his trouble.

Presumably the segment existed to set something up for Sandow. I’ve no idea what it could be. He looked pretty pathetic here. Not only did he crumple to Show (that was to be expected frankly) but he was instructed to cut a promo that wasn’t really about anything. All we know is that Sandow feels he’s earned respect. We don’t really know he suddenly feels the need to address it on TV. Perceived lack of respect can’t be the reason: that’s something he’s been putting up with for months.

Hour two kicked off with a Bray Wyatt speech. He talked about The Man and said John Cena’s made a career out of lying to people. Cena is, according to Wyatt, not a man but a beast. Wyatt promised all the kids that he wouldn’t let Cena lie to them anymore and confided that he had Cena where he wants him, up against the ropes, and all he needs to do is give him one final push. My immediate thought was that Cena’s had enough pushing.

Bray Wyatt, 'Eater of Worlds'... and lights.
Wyatt invited Cena to come to the ring. He did, natch. The first thing he did was make a remark about pushes. So there we go: I sometimes have the same train of thought as John Cena. Cena said the monster Wyatt talks about doesn’t exist and then cracked jokes at the expense of the Family. This led to one of WWE’s favourite tropes: obviously doctored photographs. We were shown Abigail Wyatt on Myspace (Wyatt’s face on a woman’s shoulders), Mama Wyatt (Luke Harper in a dress, found via Tinder) and a Wyatt baby (Erick Roan’s head on a swaddled baby’s body). It wasn’t funny but Michael Cole dutifully mugged along anyway.

Wyatt said Cena always falls back on his jokes, so then Cena did his serious voice. He said Bray relies on Harper and Rowan and challenged him to give them a rest and face him in a cage match at Extreme Rules. Wyatt liked that and accepted the challenge. Then he sang. He has a majestic voice.

Match seven was Emma and Santino v Layla and Faaaaaan… daaaaaan… goooooo. Yeah, Summer Rae’s out and Layla’s in. The storyline reason is that Fandango grew bored of Summer and wanted a new “dance partner” (to this end we got an amusing video in which Fandango told Summer Rae “It’s not me, it’s you”). The actual reason is that Summer Rae is expected to become more significant now she’s made it to Total Divas so the decision’s been made to split her off from the mid-card dancer. Layla’s replaced her because she had nothing else to do, but it works out well because she has a dance background. Summer did not. Everyone benefits from the change really.

As all of the recent mixed tag matches between this lot have been this was nothing but basic filler. These matches are designed more to drive forward stories than anything else. Layla won after pulling Emma off the top rope. Yeah, that’s a finish now.

Backstage Stephanie gave Kane a telling off. Once he’d had enough of Steph’s yammering Kane stood up and started doing his heavy breathing routine, just as the camera angle changed to reveal that his old mask (and wig) were sitting on a table inside a glass cabinet. If that being there wasn’t weird enough (and it was) Kane reverently took hold of the mask and promised Steph that he would destroy Daniel Bryan.

The final tournament match of the evening was Dolph Ziggler v Bad News Barrett.  Bad News was surprisingly popular. I hadn’t expected that, attributing the cheers he got the week before to the large number of British fans at the event. I suppose people can sense how much Barrett enjoys playing the character and that makes them appreciate him more. The match itself was the best of the night. ‘The Show Off’ survived Barrett’s old Wasteland finisher. In turn Barrett was able to kick out of a top rope X Factor. Bad News next escaped from a Fameasser. Seconds later Ziggler slipped out of Barrett’s wild sidewalk slam. Barrett’s first Bullhammer attempt was ducked, Ziggler sneaking in a roll-up that should have gotten a better reaction as a potential finish than it did. Barrett kicked out and connected with his second Bullhammer attempt for the win.

After the match Bad News proclaimed himself the next Intercontinental champion and did the Scotty Riggs overhand claps again. Now seems a good time to discuss the title tourney. As enjoyable as Bad News has been in his last two RAW appearances I don’t think he’s getting to the final. He will face Sheamus in the second round while RVD faces Cesaro. The matches seem designed to give Sheamus and Cesaro opponents that can have great matches with them, and it’s them that I expect to go to the final. Van Dam is an enhancer at this point while BNB can fall to a former world champion without looking week, especially when he’s had two enjoyable wins leading up to it.

I could be wrong but it seems like ‘The Swiss Superman’ is the clear favourite to win the tournament. I can’t imagine anybody facing Big E for the IC gold. Given the selection I don’t want to either. Big E showed back at Elimination Chamber that he can have a good power match if he gets the time to do so. And that was with Jack Swagger. He should be able to accomplish far more with Cesaro.

Before the main event a Kane promo aired. ‘The Big Red Machine’ was shown wearing his mask and walking through various fiery locales. It was put together very quickly, considering the mask had only been put back on less than an hour before. It’s like it’s all scripted or something…

The main event saw The Shield take on Alberto Del Rio, Jack Swagger and Fandango… along with 3MB, Titus O’Neil, RybAxel, Alexander Rusev, and Bad News Barrett. Instead of taking the obvious beatdown direction the eleven men actually tagged in and out in a handicap match against Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns. Rollins was isolated, with all the heels tagging in for twenty second stints to hit him with some basic move or other. Reigns eventually got bored and went round to his foes’ corner to spear Ryback. That prompted a ringside brawl which featured dives from Ambrose and Rollins and then spilled into the ring, where the heels got the advantage on ‘The Hounds’.

It's another Triple H faction reunion!
Then Evolution’s music hit and Triple H, Batista and Orton walked out and dismissed the mid-carders. They gave Rollins a kicking and then hit Reigns with an RKO and a Batista bomb. Rollins got the same. Meanwhile Ambrose was finished off with the Batista bomb-RKO combo that was debuted at WrestleMania. Triple H encouraged Reigns to try and fight back to his feet then had him pulled up so he could give him a Pedigree. Evolution then spent the last minute of the show posing.

This was another good episode of RAW. There were no great matches, but there were good ones in Bad News Barrett v Ziggler and RybAxel v the Rhodes bros. The purpose of the show was not to give us a plethora of excellent matches, it was to get things moving for Extreme Rules. Cena versus Wyatt in a cage match is a good tone setter for the card. It looks as though a six man tag match between Evolution and The Shield and a WWE championship defence from Daniel Bryan against Kane will also be added. The title match should be fun enough but D-Bry will need a more credible opponent for Payback. The six man, on the other hand, should be a great addition to the card, and a worthwhile “special show” (they’re not pay-per-views anymore, ‘member?) main event.