Tuesday 31 March 2015

That RAW Recap 30.03.15

The more I think about it the more I think WrestleMania 31 (reviewed here) is one of my favourite instalments ever. There were things I disliked about it but the good far outweighed the bad and the quality of even the worst stuff (Big Show winning the battle royal, for example) was so high that as a show it deftly overshadowed the last several 'Mania cards. It's still too early to tell but it might even be that this show is my second favourite WrestleMania behind X7, a show I, like many others, hold in incredibly high regard.

The last few years have seen the RAW after WrestleMania more lauded than the big spectacle its followed. Whether it was The Shield saving Daniel Bryan from a beating at the hands of a reformed Evolution in 2014, Dolph Ziggler's electrifying cash-in in 2013, or Brock Lesnar returning to F5 John Cena in 2012, RAW has always had something to rival 'The Showcase of Immortals'. The excellence of WrestleMania 31 meant that for the first time in years RAW was going to struggle to be the more highly regarded of the two shows.

Rematch clause, bitch.
Things got off to a strong start when Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman marched out to the ring. Heyman introduced them, reminded everyone of what had happened the night before (because I'm sure there were loads of people watching RAW who'd chosen not to watch or read about WrestleMania), and announced that Brock Lesnar was enacting his rematch clause right then and there. Instead of new WWE champion Seth Rollins it was Stephanie McMahon who answered the pair. She informed them Rollins was still flying back from his early morning TV appearance on the east coast but that she felt certain he'd accept Lesnar's challenge upon arrival.

As an opening segment this was great. It gave the crowd Lesnar, the one person they really wanted to see, positioned him as an official babyface, and set something up for later in the programme. The writing team tries to do this fairly often but they usually have no idea what people want to see as a show's thread. I suspect this was more happy accident that considered insight, but the result's the same.

The first match saw new Intercontinental champion Daniel Bryan defend against Dolph Ziggler. Going with Ziggler versus Bryan in this spot was a clever move. It gave the crowd two more guys they cared about and the pair were awarded enough time to have a satisfying match. In storyline terms it did seem a bit off that 'The Show Off' got the first shot at D-Bry while the former IC champ Bad News Barrett was relegated to the commentary desk.

Oh, Sheamus. Who did this to you?
Bryan won after surviving a super kick and a Zig Zag and hitting the running knee. Bad News then attacked both Bryan and Ziggler before a returning Sheamus ran out to chase him off. He was sporting a ridiculous Mohawk and beard beads. In a move that shocked precisely no one 'Great White' attacked Bryan and Ziggles too, then cut a two word promo. "Oi'm back." He didn't even toss in a "fella".

An eight man tag match followed that. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd teamed with The Ascension to tangle with New Day representatives Big E and Kofi Kingston (Xavier Woods was again on standing-at-ringside duty) and the debuting Lucha Dragons. Kalisto proved incredibly popular with the live crowd. They immediately broke into an NXT chant and stayed invested in Kalisto throughout the match. The Cesaro v Kalisto exchanges were the easy highlight and made it clear that Kalisto could work as the company's new lead masked Latin star. 'The King of Flight' got the win for his team when he pinned Viktor off the Salida del Sol.

After a slow mo video of Adrian Neville performing the Red Arrow Brock Lesnar returned. Seth Rollins followed him. That the WWE world championship match was supposedly kicking off RAW's second hour set alarm bells ringing. The match clearly wasn't going to happen at this point because it was a natural main event. It was only going to happen here if an angle was planned.

The angle we got was something special. Rollins backed out of the ring at the beginning of the match and announced that he was jetlagged and his foot hurt a bit so he wasn't going to be defending the title against Lesnar. This triggered one of the most furious rampages in wrestling history from 'The Beast'. He grabbed Rollins from ringside and tossed him back into the ring. There he tried to German suplex him but Rollins landed on his feet and hit an enziguri, which Lesar no-sold.

Rollins again left the ring and tried to run through the crowd and was again caught by the former champion. Lesnar went for an F5 through the announce table but Noble and Mercury saved Rollins. Lesnar clotheslined the pair of them, giving the champ enough time to dive over the barricade and run backstage.

RIP Michael Cole.
Lesnar hurled the announced desk onto its side in frustration, crushing JBL and Booker T. Then he grabbed Michael Cole (to thunderous cheers) and took him into the ring to hit him with an F5. Not satisfied with killing WWE's former lead heel Brock grabbed an indy guy who was cosplaying as a cameraman at ringside. This brought out Steph again, demanding 'The Pain' put the man down. Lesnar did so with an F5.

Steph screeched about Lesnar' actions being unacceptable and suspended him. Lesnar paced back and forth in the ring, Heyman trying to reason with him. For a moment it felt like they were trying to tease Lesnar hoisting Heyman up for an F5 but that didn't happen. Instead the crowd chanted "One more time!" so Heyman called an audible and told Lesnar to F5 the camera lad again. Lesnar obliged and then stormed backstage with the crowd chanting his name.

This was another great sequence. It kept Lesnar as the unstoppable monster, made Rollins look like a complete coward, and created a logical reason for Lesnar's next sabbatical (necessitated by his light contract). This was the best thing on the show.

Sadly things went downhill from there. Damien Mizdow's win over Stardust was enjoyable because the audience was so into Mizdow. The Miz's post-match attack went down well for the same reason. Curtis Axel versus the debuting 'Don't Call Me Adrian' Neville was also warmly received although the match was too short to be anything particularly special.

Does the United States title mean more after this match? Not really.
Surprisingly, it was John Cena's open challenge that stopped the audience's buzz. Cena himself was greeted with a strong mixed reaction, as is always the case the night after 'Mania. Dean Ambrose got a loud response when he came out to face him. But once the match started the audience just died. They weren't as into the match as they had been the rest of the show, presumably because people would have rather seen Ambrose do something less obviously designed to simply get him on the show and seen Cena confronted by Russian killdozer Rusev. Cena won with an AA, the inevitability of which may also have harmed the crowd's response to the match as a whole.

Backstage, Renee Young asked Seth Rollins for his views on Brock Lesnar. Before he could give much of an answer Randy Orton showed up to remind us of his existence and to declare that he was going after 'The Future's' title. Rollins booked a six man tag main event with Kane and Big Show as his partners. This left Orton approximately half an hour to find two partners, the idea being that this would be hard as he's not a popular guy.

AJ Lee, Paige and Naomi defeated the Bellas and Natalya when Naomi pinned Divas champion Nikki with the Rear View. In a locker room Ryback approached Orton and talked to him about eating. This seemed to signify that he was going to help Orty out and team with him. Rusev returned to his winning ways in a match against Goldust. This match felt like what it was: an excuse to have Rusev on the show without getting him involved with Cena.

Gold piping. Gold belt. Rollins has started liking gold.
The main event saw Randy Orton, Ryback and Roman Reigns defeat Rollins, Show and Kane when Reigns speared 'The Big Red Machine'. When you stop and think about it Reigns being in this match was odd. It was a last minute addition to the show, meaning that had Rollins not made the match Reigns wouldn't have been booked but Curtis Axel an Goldust would. The crowd clearly weren't interested in the match. They amused themselves by performing a Mexican wave and performing chants for various NXT stars, including Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Hideo Itami and Enzo Amore. I don't blame them. This was an uninspired main event. Things should have been reworked so that the Lesnar angle closed the show.

For the first time in years WrestleMania was easily better than the RAW that proceeded it. Everything that happened with Lesnar was great, and the less-is-more approach taken with Reigns is what should have been done all along. But there wasn't enough on offer to come anywhere close to competing with 'The Granddaddy of Them All'. 2015 was the year WrestleMania took back its crown.

Monday 30 March 2015

WWE WrestleMania 31 review

WrestleMania 31. The main event of the WWE pay-per-view calendar. It would be stretching things to say that the company has been diligently building all of its major storylines towards this for the last year but it's certainly the culmination of several months of work. Sting and Triple H's feud started in November. Miz and Mizdow have been together since around then. Orton got wiped out by The Authority, setting up his grudge match with Rollins, as long ago as October. There were clearly plans in pieces for this show a long time ago.

Of course, one of the key pieces was the WWE's new chosen one. The man chosen to lead the company into the future as one of the stars of the current generation of wrestlers. For the first time in quite a while someone was positioned to experience their first world title victory in the main event of the show. Someone was positioned to be anointed as the company's new lead star.

It just wasn't the man we were expecting.

Including the pre-show WrestleMania was six hours long. Six hours. That's a lot of WrestleMania. The first hour mostly consisted of hype videos for the show's matches and natter from the panel of Booker T, Corey Graves, Byron Saxton and host Renee Young. The highlight was a backstage meeting between Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury and The Stooges in which Noble searched for sugar and Brisco revaled he'd used it all getting coffee for Mr MackMan.

The pre-show's second hour, exclusive to the WWE Network even though the idea of a pre-show is to get some last minute buys (and, in this case, Network subscriptions), featured two matches. The first was a very good tag team title match which saw champions Cesaro and Tyson Kidd retain against, Los Matadores, the New Day combo of Big E and Kofi Kingston, and, technically, the Usos. I say technically because Jey took an early spill to the outside at the hands of Cesaro (to write him out of the match due to a pre-existing injury) which left Jimmy to fight alone.

What a pair. And the tag champs.
It was a well-constructed succession of spots, the ideal opener for a show like this as it gave people chance to cheer and cheer and cheer. Each team hit at least doubles move and there was a sequence where all the seconds fought one another, ending with Natalya taking a Rear View form Naomi. The match ended when everyone except Jimmy was involved in a double superple off the shoulders spot. Everyone but Jimmy was wiped out by it and he took the opportunity to splash Big E. Cesaro appeared from nowhere to lob Rikishi's lad out of the ring and steal the pin.

The second match was the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. It was not such a roaring success. Curtis Axel, who'd managed to become genuinely popular in the weeks leading up to the show based on being a guy creative overlooks, found himself overlooked by creative and eliminate first. This was likely done to stop him overshadowing the match's designated stars. This left me feeling that WWE still has no idea how to embrace organic popularity. When Hidoe Itami was KO punched off the apron by Big Show I felt the same, although he at least got to get in some kicks and eliminate Bo Dallas before he went.

My feelings changed slightly when Cesaro got to eliminate Kane with a scoop slam, the same thing he'd done to Big Show to win the previous year's battle royal. He attempted the same thing with 'The Giant' but his back gave out and he was sent over the top rope by Show. This didn't bother me as much as the treatment of Itami and Axel. There was a logical sequence which led to 'The Swiss Superman's' elimination.

Ryback fired himself up and got tossed out by Big Show befoe the match came down to Miz, Mizdow and Show. Miz pleaded with Mizdow to work with him against Big Show so the match could come down to the two of them. Mizdow didn't allow himself to be fooled. He threw 'The Awesome One' over the top rope and took his chances with 'The World's Largest Athlete'. It didn't work out well for him. He managed to survive for a minute or two but the match eventually went to Show after he simply dunked Mizdow over the top rope.

"Pull my finger."
I don't have a problem with Big Show winning. There was nothing on the line besides a trophy that looks like it's made from chocolate and tinfoil. The creative team deserve credit for embracing the Miz and Mizdow rivalry and having it come to a head here. Although I can't help but feel the crowd would have gone wild had the match come down to Mizdow and Curtis Axel. The two underdog favourites getting to close out the match could have been really suspenseful. And the Miz and Mizdow split still could have worked.

The Intercontinental championship ladder match opened the official WrestleMania show. It was preceded by a really good video that started out highlighting the importance of the championship before switching to focus on the legacy of ladder matches at WretleMania. This allowed it to cleverly gloss over how the IC title has been pretty much meaninglessness for the last fifteen years.

While the match didn't feature as many crazy bumps as I'd expected it still had plenty to choose from. A series of dives to the outside at the start of the match culminated with Ziggler getting back dropped over the top rope and Luke Harper diving onto everyone, before Dean Ambrose scaled a ladder to hit his cross body elbow. Stardust introduced a diamanté ladder, only for Barrett to kick a step off it and smack people with it. Harper did the Terry Funk ladder spot before dropping it and getting scissor kicked onto it by R-Truth. Barrett suplexed Stardust off the top of a ladder. Ambrose was Awesome bombed from the ring through a ladder by Harper. Barrett went on a Bullhammer rampage, pulling Ziggler off a ladder into the move, battering Stardust with it as he leapt off the top rope into the ring, and then smashing Truth off the ladder.

I didn't want this but I'm willing to give it a try.
Daniel Bryan nearly got the belt during this but was pulled off the ladder by Barrett. He avoided the Bullhammer and felled the defending champion with the running knee. Bryan scaled the ladder again only for Ziggler to sprint up and offer some last minute resistance at the top. They traded forearms and headbutts, D-Bry getting the last word when he knocked Ziggler to the mat with a head butt and reached up to pull down the title belt and win his first Intercontinenta championship. I'd been against Bryan winning but it went down well with the 'Mania crowd. They were happy to see Bryan triumph.

Orton v Rollins was match number two. Orton dominated the first several minutes, smacking Rollins about and no-selling buckle bomb before flooring 'The Future' with a clothesline. J&J interfered and were dropped off the apron with a double draping DDT. But that was enough of a distraction for Rollins to get in a suicide dive and take over the pace of the match. After a brief rest hold Orton comes back with clotheslines and turned a Curb Stomp attempt into a power slam.

'The Viper' hit a rough-looking T-bone suplex. Rollins escaped a draping DDT and got in an enziguri then an Asai moonsault to the outside. Back in the ring Orton got his draping DDT. Orton went for the RKO but Rollins countered into a schoolboy roll-up. Orty kicked out and then took an super kick but managed to stay on his feet to hit Rollins with an RKO.

Orton reacted to the kick out that followed with absolute shock. That seemed a bit much. Yes it normally wins him a match but people have kicked out of the move before, and this was WrestleMania, where we told that everyone goes that little bit further to make an impression. Anyway, he went for his back-up finish, the Deadly Punt™. Noble got in way and took an RKO. Mercury tried a cross body and took an RKO in mid-air. This allowed provided enough of a distraction for Rollins to recover and this time he hit Orton with a Curb Stomp.

An unspectacular photo from a really very good match.
Randy kicked out of that and Seth pulled him into position for the phoenix splash. Orton slipped out of the way as Rollins left the top rope. Rollins landed on his feet and rolled across the ring. Orton went for an RKO, got pushed off and stumbled to his knees. The match ended on a beuatifully performed exchange as Rollins went for the Curb Stomp and Orton slipped out from under him to catch him coming down with an RKO. The match could not have been better.

In a bold (or possibly stupid) move Sting and Triple H followed. They even went without the benefit of a pop song or a filler match. They did get the grand entrance treatment though. Sting came out to a Stomp-style group playing metal drums and wearing his face paint. Triple H had something themed around the Terminator. There was a headpiece themed around his tried and tested skull and crown motifs along with a red "laser" eye, four classic Terminator robots stood motionless on the stage, extras dressed up as less spectacular robots, a target-acquiring POV shot, and a cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger in which he said "It's time to play the game!". It was weird but also nicely done. Triple H's cosplay fantasies are the closest thing to The Streak we have left at WrestleMania.

The opening few minutes were all about making Sting look like a top guy. He overpowered Trips. Then he outwrestled him. He no-sold the knee buster and went for the Scorpion deathlock. Trips wriggled out of the ring, returning to get whipped back outside via Sting's immense power. Sting followed him out and went for a splash against the barricade. Triple H moved and threw him into the steel steps.

Paul versus Steve: The Epic Collision.
Back in the ring H3 muscled Sting up for a stalling suplex then worked Sting over with knees and powerful whips into the corner before slapping on a sleeper so that 'The Vigilante' could loudly call some spots. Sting fought back and applied the deathlock. Billy Gunn, Road and X Pac ran to the DX music. Sting made short work of them with chops. The he threw Tripper out of the ring onto them for good measure. That set up a nice human crash mat for Sting to leap off the top rope onto. It looked like 'The Stinger' was finally going to put 'The Game' but a distraction from Billy Gunn allowed Trips to get in a Pedigree.

Sting kicked out so Triple H grabbed his sledgehammer. Before he could use it he was distracted by the music of the nWo and Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Hulk Hogan swaggering down to the ring. Had he thought about it the so-called 'Cerebral Assassin' could have lamped Sting with the hammer and won the match before the nWo fellas had arrived at ringside. He was clearly awed by their shock tactics.

When they arrived the nWo dispatched DX and Sting recovered to hit a Scorpion Death Drop on Tripper. When Trips kicked out Sting put him in the deathlock. Triple H went for the sledgehammer that lay tantalisingly close. Luckily for Sting that bastion of fairness Hulk Hogan was on hand to grab it from the evil COO's clutches. That triggered a flurry of activity on the outside and DX and the nWo wiped each other. Trips sat in the hold as this went on, only managing to make it to the ropes after everything had simmered down and the camera was back on him. Funny that. It was almost like the match was staged.

Sting went to reapply the Scorpion deathlock but got lamped with Sweet Chin Music (outta nowhere!) by Shawn Michaels. Helmsley crawled into a cover and Sting kicked out. Billy handed Trips the sledgehammer. Hall handed Sting the bat. Sting dropped Triple H with a tap to the midsection then broke the hammer's staff in half. 'The Game' backed into a corner and got pummelled with fists and a Stinger Splash. 'The Vigilante' got greedy and went for a second, which gave Triple H the chance to grab hold of the top half of the sledgehammer and lamp him with it. That was enough to finally put 'The Stinger' down for three.

After the match Triple H pushed DX off and offered a handshake to Sting. Sting accepted. The entire match was far, far better than I'd expected it to be. Sting was protected, Triple H didn't try anything too fancy, and they made excellent use of run-ins. It's probably a bit odd that Sting was saved by the nWo, a group he experienced the biggest match of his career fighting against, but we can take that as the four having put aside their differences since WCW went under. Or you could go really wild and see it as acknowledgment that Sting really was with the nWo all along as they claimed in the nineties.

Backstage Maria Menounos interviewed new IC champ Daniel Bryan, asking how he felt about his win. He tried to answer and was interrupted by Pat Patterson, Roddy Piper, Ricky Stramboat, Ric Flair, and Bret Hart. They all but Bryan over (Flair got himself over too, naturally) and did a "Yes!" chant. Then Ron Simmons showed up and said "Damn!". I presume this was hilarious for those into that sort of thing.

Following a musical performance so uninspiring I can't even be bothered to look up who it was by Paige and AJ Lee teamed up to tangle with the Bellas. Paige was isolated by the twins for a while before finally managing to tag out to AJ. She worked over Nikki, Paige eliminated Brie, and then AJ made Nikki submit to the Black Widow. This was the most time I can remember Divas getting at 'Mania in years. They made the most of it and told a story in a good match.

After the audience had been given the chance to gape at the Hall of Famers it was time for Cena v Rusev II: The Russian Federation Strikes Back. Rusev entered on a tank. An actual, honest to goodness tank. There was other stuff going on with a Russian flag and troops and Lana but it was nowhere near as impressive as RUSEV RIDING A TANK. John Cena got a video of American symbolism intercut with Reagan jingoism. His actual entrance was the standard Cena entrance.

Flag-related taunts set to become wrestling's next craze.
They had another surprisingly energetic, enjoyable match. The match they gave us at Fast Lane had raised my expectations for the quality of this match. They again surpassed them. Cena pulled out his top rope leg drop, multiple AAs and the STF. Rusev busted out his regular assortment of big lad moves and  athletic kicks. He was on top of his game with his selling, ring placement, and facial expressions, perfectly getting across his increasing desperation with wild eyes and an uncharacteristic trip to the top rope.

Not to be outdone with new material Cena hit a springboard Ace crusher. Then he powered to his feet and almost casually become the first man to break out of the Accolade. Lana tried a distraction from the apron and got knocked off by Rusev. Cena then scooped him up and hit him with an AA. Just like that Cena won. It felt like Rusev should've been able to withstand more with a year-long winning streak to his name. Going down to the second AA of the night seemed very anti-climactic.

Then the stalling kicked in. You see, WWE likes to present certain wrestlers in certain ways. One such wrestler is Undertaker. He always enters to darkness because he's a spooky character and darkness is spooky. At this point it was about quarter to seven. They needed to kill time so that it was as dark as possible for 'The Dead Man's' entrance. They also needed to give the crowd time to cool down and hit the toilets before the final two matches of the card.

The expert panel and the commentary split the task of recapping the show up until that point. Then Triple H (now wearing a suit) and Stephanie  were introduced. They announced that a new attendance record of 76,976 had been set for the stadium. Steph put herself and Tripper over as the reason for this and WWE's success in general. Trips took over and said they owned everyone there and everyone watching. I thought this was leading to an appearance from Vince McMahon but instead we got The Rock. He goaded Triple H into taking his jacket off before Steph stepped in and told Rock her family had made his family then gave him a slap. She teased The Rock about ot being able to hit her because she's a woman and ordered him to the back.

Luckily Rock avoided inappropriate talk of pies.
Rock left the ring but he didn't go to the back. Instead he went over to Ronda Rousey (sporting a memetastic "It's over 9000!" T-shirt) in the front row and brought her into the ring. Steph said she and Ronda were pals. When Ronda didn't exactly go along with this Steph demanded she leave. Rock and Tripe H ended up getting into it, with Ronda giving Triple H a hip toss and then grabbing Steph. She released her and the heels hobbled backstage as Rock's music played and he declared the sequence the greatest WrestleMania moment of the night. It was good but this self-aggrandizement put me off it a bit.

With all the time that could be killed killed it was time for Undertaker versus Bray Wyatt. 'The New Face of Fear' entered first, accompanied by a gang of scarecrows, some of whom he brought to life as he walked past. This could not compare with Rusev's tank entrance. Nor, for that matter, could Undertaker's entrance. There was still plenty of light in the sky and, for the first time in a few years, there were no special props on the stage. It was just 'Taker, his jacket and hat, and the funereal music. Very much a back to basics approach.

The match was fine but not the special attraction I think many expected. The crowd didn't seemed as invested in Undertaker as they have been at recent WrestleManias and I suspect this was because of the lack of The Streak. Not having that to fight for and defend makes 'The Phenom' a bit pointless, drifting character. The Streak was tied strongly to his legacy. Without it there's very little point in him sticking around unless he's going to have a stronger presence on TV across the year, which he's obviously not.

Who'd have guessed Sting v Triple H would be more enjoyable
than Wyatt v Undertaker?
They did most, but not all, of the spots that could have been asked of them. Wyatt did his flying forearm and threw out a handful of Sister Abigails. 'Taker gave us Old School, choke slams, and Tombstone piledrivers but omitted the Hell's Gate and the Last Ride. It seemed peculiar. When a guy who only wrestles once a year has this many recognisable moves to call on you expect him to pul them all out, especially in what was possibly his penultimate match. Wyatt survived one Tombstone but fell to a second just after the fifteen minute mark.

That just left the main event: Roman Reigns challenging Brock Lesnar for the WWE world heavyweight championship.

Reigns' entrance was heavy on boos. Lesnar got a thunderous initial pop and extended cheers once he was in the ring. He also received a personal ring introduction from his advocate, Paul Heyman. I liked that. It was a good use of Heyman on a show that didn't really have any other opportunity for him to talk.

Within thirty seconds of the match starting Lesnar had hit Reigns with a German suplex and an F5. He didn't go for a cover. Instead he started with the throws and suplexes. Reigns made sporadic attempts to fight back, clotheslining and pie-facing the champion as well as chuckling, to show us that he can take a beating, but he was quickly shut down each time.

The scene before the match.
After a while Reigns was punched off the apron down to the ringside mats. He got a brief moment of hope as he headed back into the ring, kneeing Lesnar in the face as he tried to grab him. 'The Pain' shrugged that off and sent Reigns off the apron back down to the mats with a lariat. When he returned to the ring he was given more suplexes, Heyman counting along with each one. The eighth was a particularly impressive belly-to-belly from the apron, over the top rope, back into the ring. 

'The Conqueror' hit an F5 and went for the first cover of the match. Reigns kicked out. Lesnar punched away at Reigns. Reigns laughed, earning himself two more German suplexes and a third F5. Reigns kicked out again, technically breaking WWE's unwritten rule that people don't kick out of more than three finishers in a match.

Lesnar tried to shove Reigns into a ring post outside the ring but Reigns managed to reverse the attempt. Lesnar would roll back into the ring bleeding heavily. Reigns hit him with a Superman punch but the champ stayed on his feet. A second Superman punch sent 'The Beast', briefly, down to a knee. Reigns went for the move a third time but Lesnar sidestepped it and went for a German suplex. Reigns fought out and blasted Lesnar with a third Superman punch and two spears. Lesnar managed to kick out. Reigns went for another Superman punch but Lesnar caught him in mid-air and F5ed him.

With both men down Seth Rollins sprinted out to the ring and cashed in his Money in the Bank contract, sending the crowd crazy (in a positive way, obvs). The match was restarted as a triple threat and Rollins immediately booted 'The Big Dog' out of the ring and Curb Stomped Lesnar. He went for the move a second time but Lesnar snatched him up into position for the F5. Reigns thrust himself back into the action with a spear. Lesnar rolled out of the ring. Rollins hit Reigns with a Curb Stomp and pinned him to become the new WWE world heavyweight champion.

The scene  after the match.
The main event was superb. Reigns stood up to a vicious beating from Lesnar and kept coming back for more. Lesnar delivered the suplexes and F5s he's adored for. The finish was designed to accomplish several things and did so. Lesnar was kept strong by not being pinned. Reigns was presented as the wronged victim who had his moment stolen away by someone else's selfishness. Rollins was presented as an opportunistic chancer who selected the perfect moment, making a name for himself at the expense of someone who'd earned their way to the top. Which, in kayfabe terms, Reigns had with his Rumble victory and win over Daniel Bryan at Fast Lane.

WrestleMania 31 was a far better show than I'd thought. I hadn't really expected much from many of the matches. Too many of them seemed like odd choices for a big show. But there wasn't a bad match on the card. The main event was everything I wanted it to be.

What's nice is that it feels like WWE has a plan coming out of this show. I don't like Bryan and Cena having the mid-card titles but it's clearly been done for a purpose. The world title picture has Rollins on top with Lesnar, Reigns and Orton in a position to argue they deserve a championship match against him. On the night the show was a surprising success. I think it will prove to have been a success in the long term too.


Results summary:
Cesaro and Tyson Kidd retain the tag team championship
Big Show won the Andre Battle Royal, last eliminating Damien Mizdow
Daniel Bryan won the Intercontinental championship in a ladder match
Randy Orton defeated Seth Rollins
Triple H defeated Sting
AJ Lee and Paige defeated the Bellas
John Cena defeated Rusev to win the United States championship
Undertaker defeated Bray Wyatt
Seth Rollins defeated Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar to win the WWE championship

Sunday 29 March 2015

WWN Mercury Rising 2015 review

Mercury Rising 2015 was in every conceivable sense the WWN answer to WrestleMania. It played out in front of what will probably, outside of the China tour, be the biggest crowd the company attracts all year. It featured a variety of major matches, some of them grudge matches built up over months, and developments that changed the landscape of the company, impacting on its future. Most obviously it was held just one night before and a few miles away from WrestleMania 31.

But was it any good? Let's run through the show and then come back to that at the end. He'd been injured the night before at EVOLVE 40 but that didn't stop Rich Swann from opening the show with a several minutes long song and dance routine in which he called on several members of the audience to join in with his rendition of Lionel Richie's All Night Long over the microphone. The crowd as a whole, and most of the people Swann called on in particular, seemed self-conscious during this. I don't blame them. It's awkward.

Once the music cut Swann acknowledged his injury, as much to ensure the live crowd were up to speed as anything else, and challenged the Premier Athlete Brand to a tag title match at one of the April EVOLVE shows. The Brand came out and attacked Swann. Johnny Gargano and Ethan Page dashed out to make the save, which fed into the show's opening match of Page versus Caleb Konley.

They had a fun little match, the highlights of which were a Konley double stomp on the ring apron and Page using Gargano's lawn dart. Page survived a Lionsault, the One Night Stand fireman driver, and outside interference from the Brian Cage and Andrea to get the win with a schoolboy roll-up and a handful of tights. It's nice that Page got a win but it's a shame it had to come at the expense of Konley, a guy who went from the middle of the card to the top over the course of last year and who deserves to be treated more like a top guy.

After the match So Cal Val shouted that the loss wasn't part of her plan (well obviously not, Val) before Andrea swerve turned on Brian Cage with a low blow. He was to blame for Konley's loss apparently. This development was a pity. I thought Cage was a good fit with the Brand.

The traditional 'Mania weekend six man tag was on second, although this year it was a six woman tag presented by WWN affiliate Shine. Nicole Matthews (the SHIMMER champ), Portia Perez (collectively known as the Canadian Ninjas), and Nikki Storm were due to faced Shine champion Mia Yim and Shine tag team champions Cherry Bomb and Kimber Lee (collectively known as the Kimber Bombs). Before the match began Andrea and SCV returned to the ring. Andrea attacked Nikki Storm and replaced her in the match. Presumably Storm's two matches in the chick fight tournament which had preceded this show played a part in this decision. Mia Yim, who's also wrestled two matches, contributed less to this match than I'd expected for the same reason.

As a successor to some of the Dragon Gate scorchers that have taken the six man spot in previous years this match didn't hold up. But that's an almost impossibly high standard to meet. Judged at a more realistic level (without the comparison) this was a good match. Everyone got a chance to - ahem - shine, Andrea was presented as a powerhouse, and there was a nice, albeit brief, sequence pitting the two singles champions against one another (something that a match like this really has to do). Mia Yim got the pin for her team when she rolled Perez up following a back and forth exchange of forearms.

After the match the Ninjas argued with Val and Andrea, setting up the return of Nikki Storm. She declared herself the "white chocolate cheesecake of sports entertainment" and challenged Andrea to a match at Shine 26. It set up matches for a show that will be all too easy to overlook, awkwardly falling a few days after the WrestleMania Weekend festivities as it does.

In a surprise move Drew Galloway sauntered out after that. The reason for this early arrival was that he'd been offered a booking back in Scotland the next day and wanted to take it so that he could defend the EVOLVE championship and a newly won Open the Freedom Gate championship there. Not one to disappoint, Gargano accepted the early call and walked down to the ring with Ethan Page for the much hyped title versus title match.

The opening minutes were characterised by Gargano using his speed against Galloway's strength. The action would spill to the outside where Galloway would tilt-a-whirl Gargano onto the apron. Not to be outdone Gargano would toss the former 3MBer into the first row and dive over the barricade onto him. After a lengthy brawl around the arena the pair returned to the ring and Galloway ate a Gargano spear. He fired back with an inverted concrete slam. Gargano responded with a lawn dart.

Moments later Gargano would manoeuvre the EVOLVE champ out to the floor and attempt a suicide dive. Galloway blocked it but failed to block the super kick that followed. Gargano got his suicide dive on the second attempt but wiped out the referee in the process.

Back in the ring Galloway scored with an exploder into the corner. His cover didn't get him a win because there was nobody to count the pin. The Open the Freedom Gate champion escaped a double arm DDT and floored Galloway with an enziguri as Page got up onto the apron to offer him some wrist tape. This was a call-back to Gargano choking out SHINGO at Open the Ultimate Gate 2013 (the first ever DG USA show I reviewed, fact fans), an act which signalled a heel turn at the time. Gargano accepted the tape but, after a brief pause, threw it out of the ring. I thought this really added a lot to the match. It made it clear that Gargano is back to being an honourable lad and sowed about Page.

Gargano turned around into a double arm DDT from Galloway. A second referee ran to the ring to count the fall but Gargano kicked out. The second ref didn't last: he'd fall victim to a misplaced sick kick seconds later. Galloway got caught in the Gargano Escape. He countered into pin for two then took a super kick. Gargano tried to skin the cat but got caught by the EVOLVE champion, who went for a Tombstone piledriver. Gargano reversed into a Gargano Escape. Galloway muscled his way back to his feet and got the Tombstone.

Gargano kicked out but was clearly worn out. Galloway hoisted him onto his shoulders and clambered to the top rope, leaping off for an Emerald Flowsion but finding it reversed into a DDT in mid-air. 'The Whole Shebang' staggered to his feet and super kicked a kneeling Galloway twice. Galloway staggered to his feet and absorbed two more before falling to his feet. Gargano went for a fifth but Galloway sidestepped it and hit him with two double arm DDTs.

Gargano kicked out to a great crowd response then spat in Galloway's face. That caused Galloway to snap. He grabbed Gargano, yanked him to his feet, and drilled him with a jumping tombstone piledriver for the victory.

I thought it was a very good match. There were elements of the Attitude Era to it with the extended crowd fight and the bevy of finishing moves (and the kick outs from them) but used sparingly I think that match can be very effective. It helped to make the match feel more like the big fight it was meant to be. I don't think Gargano and Galloway could have had a better match. It's a shame they didn't get to close the show and the weekend (for the WWN).

After both men had lain about making it clear they were exhausted from their match Galloway took the microphone to cut a promo. He declared that 'Mania 26, where he wrestled in a Money in the Bank ladder match, wasn't his WrestleMania moment, this match was. He put over Gargano and pandered to the fans by saying the ring belonged to everyone. He asked for and received a handshake from the former champion, passed him the microphone, and left. All Gargano managed to say was "thank you" before Ethan Page lamped him and gave him a good stomping. 'All Ego' revealed that he was taking his cue from Ronin, going after Gargano's spot and ending his WWN career.

The turn was an interesting twist which I hadn't expected. They'd been laying the respect on so heavily that I'd expected Page to officially join Ronin and perhaps go after the tag titles with Gargano. This was probably a better option. It introduces a much needed fresh rivalry to EVOLVE.

Tasked with the tough job of following that was a four-way match featuring TJ Perkins, Drew Gulak, Tommy End and Biff Busick. After overcoming some initial awkwardness they got into a good groove. The match didn't dazzle but it had its moments. I particularly liked the sequence where TJP trapped End in a deathlock and fought off Busick and Gulak with abdominal stretches and a northern lights suplex. Perkins got a flash win with the cross armbreaker on Gulak.

PJ Black versus AR Fox was good, though not as good as I'd expected. It was heavy on spots but they weren't quite flashy or bountiful enough to help the match live up to its heavy 'Darewolf' versus 'Daredevil' hype. Highlights included: Black avoiding an attack by moonsaulting from the apron to the floor; Black super kicking Fox in mid-air off a guardrail springboard; another Fox springboard being turned into a triangle choke; and a Death Valley driver from the top rope to the apron by Black, softening 'The Whole Foxin' Show' up for a springboard 450 splash.

The match likely would have benefited from being repositioned first or second on the card. Of course my lack of interest in Fox probably didn't help matters.

After some excessive plugging from some lad whose name I missed (he was the WWN "ambassador") we got Timothy Thatcher facing Chris Hero. The match took an age to begin as Hero spent what must have been a good three or four minutes milking duelling chants from the crowd in a storyline attempt to rattle Thatcher with his popularity. Thatcher simply stood stocky in the ring and looked unimpressed with the veteran's antics. It was good to see the crowd so hot so it made sense to make use of it.

Instead of going into a dynamic series of strikes and counter strikes they went with the Thatcher standard: mat wrestling and submission holds. This isn't a bad thing but it doesn't provide much variety and does run the risk of cooling audiences down. Thankfully that didn't happen here, although some fans did start singing, which may have been worse. I suspect a more unpredictable approach to the blending of styles would have been more warmly received. 

This match, more than any other I've seen him in, highlighted Thatcher's inability or unwillingness to change things up. He's very good at his style of match but doesn't seem interested in doing much else. Even against someone like Hero, who has plenty of experience and an ability to tap into plenty of different styles, we got the same sort of match we always get from Thatcher. This isn't the worst thing in the world as Thatcher's matches usually have something dynamic and engaging in them, especially in the closing stretches, but it would be nice if they weren't so predictable.

Hero blasted Thatcher with four rolling elbows (the last with the elbow pad removed) and left him limp on the mat. He went for a cover but Thatcher kicked out and slipped on a Fujiwara armbar for the tap out win. After the match Hero slapped Thatcher twice, getting one in return each time. This was a respect thing with no malice to it. They shook and Hero left Thatcher to bow to the crowd.

The main event was the much ballyhooed tag match pitting Uhaa Nation and Ricochet against Roderick Strong and Austin Aries, reuniting as Generation Next properly for the first time since 2011 in PWG (before that they hadn't been together since 2007 in the final match of their ROH run together). The match was notable for featuring representatives of ROH (Strong), TNA (Aries), Lucha Underground (Ricochet as Prince Puma) and soon-to-be WWE (Nation). It was quite the inter-promotional affair. The first half of the match was best described as serviceable, with nothing special happening and a safe pace being set.

Things picked up in the second half. Tags were surreptitiously abandoned and the four worked through some sick double team spots. Roddy and 'A Double' demonstrated that they coud, if given the opportunity, still be of benefit to a tag division. Strong won after avoiding a Ricochet Shooting Star Press before hitting him with a knee and an absolutely wild lumbar check. Ricochet managed a ridiculous number of rotations when he was thrown up to take the move.  

After the match Roddy took a mic and made some babyface comments about how Aries had made him the man and the wrestler he is. Then he swerve turned, cracking Aries and Uhaa with the microphone and grabbing the mic again to say that he'd destroyed Drew Galloway at EVOLVE 38 and was gunning for the newly won titles. Timothy Thatcher came out to run him off and end the show on a positive note by thanking the fans. On the subject of Roddy and the championships he said the road to them went through him.

Going back to the question I posed at the beginning of this review's second paragraph: yes, this show was good. The main event started off slowly but ended well, while Thatcher versus Hero and the title versus title match were good from start to finish and there were again no out-and-out bad matches on the card.

That said I don't think the show was the success that EVOLVE 39 was. On the reflection the first WWN offering of the weekend was the best. It was the most consistent and its big matchs were just as enjoyable as the big matches here. I think the level of spectacle was right for this Supershow but an injury and Black and Fox not clicking quite as well as might have been hoped hampered things just a bit.

Overall though it was a success. The Page turn on Gargano was set up well and should lead to interesting things over the next several shows. Galloway becoming a double champ was a mild surprise but deserved considering the passion and effort he's displayed in his time with the company so far. And the final turn from Roderick Strong reminded us that he's not meant to be likeable or trustworthy. He's been built up as a major challenge for Galloway. Now we get to sit back and watch Galloway overcome him.  


Results summary:
Ethan Page defeated Caleb Konley
Mia Yim, Kimber Lee and Cherry Bomb defeated Andrea, Nicole Matthews and Portia Perez
Drew Galloway defeated Johnny Gargano to retain the EVOLVE championship and win the Open the Freedom Gate championship
TJ Perkins defeated Biff Busick, Drew Gulak and Tommy End
PJ Black defeated AR Fox
Timothy Thatcher defeated Chris Hero
Generation Next defeated Uhaa Nation and Ricochet

Saturday 28 March 2015

EVOLVE 40 review

EVOLVE's second WrestleMania weekend offering of 2015 started off strong with the non-title match between EVOLVE champion Drew Galloway and the allegedly departing Uhaa Nation. This was a far better choice for the opening slot than the technical mat exchange between Gulak and Thatcher at EVOLVE 39. It's not that that match was bad, it just wasn't the exciting hook an opener tends to be.

Galloway and Nation spent the early minutes slugging away at one another (because big lads) before leaving the ring. There we got an early highlight as Galloway sidestepped an Uhaa moonsault from the apron and gave him a tilt-a-whirl back onto the ring's edge. Back in the ring Galloway went all Randy Orton and worked over Nation with stomps and a sleeper before 'The One Man Nation' managed to fire back with some clotheslines, rolling German suplexes and a splash from the top rope.

Galloway kicked out of the cover that followed and scored with a power bomb, a German suplex into a turnbuckle and Roderick Strong's sick kick. Uhaa kicked out of all that and the two exchanged a few right hands before Galloway got dropped with a power bomb.

Like the previous evening's Galloway match this one ended with a surprise double arm DDT. Galloway went for it and got it seemingly at random and got the win with it. Clearly this was done to get the move over for Galloway's unification match against Johnny Gargano at Mercury Rising, a match he addressed after his victory. He waffled on a lot but basically his message was that he and Gargano would have a great match at Mercury Rising, which I'm sure they will. He's a passionate, shouty promo is Galloway. That helps when he's repeating the same message two nights in a row.

Match two saw Tommy End, with Chris Hero in his corner, take on Timothy Thatcher. Both men were popular with the crowd but they were easily more into Thatcher. The crowd went wild for him, presumably because he's announced as being from Sacramento, California. We're also assured he's English.

The match was all about Thatcher's mat wrestling being deployed against End's striking. Thatcher's had success early on but End's striking came into play in the match's second half. He smacked Thatcher with a kick to the temple, flooring him until the count of eight. From there a dazed Thatcher was dominated by End's strikes, although End found himself in the frustrating position of being unable to finish Thatcher off. He unleashed his impressive bicycle knee strike but it wasn't enough: Thatcher caught him in a Fujiwara armbar for the tap out victory.

After the match Hero entered the ring and bad mouthed Thatcher. Thatcher ignored him and walked backstage. Hero kicked the bottom rope in frustration then left to allow End to soak up some well-deserved cheers. This was another good showing from End.

Drew Gulak (with five unnamed seconds) versus TJ Perkins followed that. The mat-based 'Legal Eagle' against the nippy flyer could have been a disaster but it wasn't. They went out of their way to keep things fast and avoided sticking with submission holds for too long. TJP's submission abilities helped too, he clearly knows how to blend his flashier moves with hold into counter hold exchanges. Gulak won with the ankle lock after a series of reversals. Nothing occurred with the five nameless lads Gulak brought to ringside. They were just there to get over Gulak's new serious competitor gimmick.

Ethan Page v AR Fox was an exhilarating affair. It was the usual flash and sizzle from Fox (a stark contrast to his maddeningly bland character) and Page kept up fine, which was the most that could be asked of him in this situation. Fox survived a spinebuster onto the apron, a back breaker on the floor, a lifting reverse DDT, and a Tower of London onto the apron before coming back with a springboard Codebreaker, a Lo Mein Pain and a 450 splash to win.

After the match Page talked about how he'd let Johnny Gargano (the man who'd endorsed him) down by losing, which brought Gargano out to the ring. The Open the Freedom Gate champ gave Page a pep talk before bringing up the EVOLVE title v DG USA title match. Again he promised that he'd win that match and leave a double champion, though this time there was a greater emphasis on his history in the company and his contributions getting it to its current state. He offered more reasons as to why we should believe he needs to win the match with this promo than he had at EVOLVE 39.

The Chris Hero v Biff Busick grudge match followed that. Their issues first surfaced at EVOLVE 33, where Biff Busick had talked about his efforts in the 2014 style battle tournament and mentioned Chris Hero as someone the current generation of wrestlers wish to surpass. It was intended as a compliment, an acknowledgement of Hero's accomplishments within wrestling. But Hero took offense and an argument erupted. A few more followed with the final one coming the night before this at EVOLVE 39 where Busick vowed to choke Hero out with the stranglehold.

They had the stiff battle that was to be expected. Busick stayed true to his promise and spent most of the match attempting to apply his stranglehold finisher for long enough to choke Hero into unconsciousness. He applied the hold several times but never managed to submit or blackout Hero. That brought about a shift in approach and he started blasting the former King of Wrestling with suplexes. Hero weathered the storm and then smashed Busick with half a dozen elbows and a Tombstone piledriver for the victory. This match just outdid the main event to nab match of the night honours for me.

The card's lone tag match followed that. It saw the recently (and fairly half-heartedly) reunited Ronin team of Johnny Gargano and Rich Swann take on the new look Premier Athlete Brand of Brian Cage and Caleb Konley. I was again impressed by how good Cage is and felt that it was another strong showing from Konley, who has improved a great deal over the last year.

Gargano was good but not at his best, quite possibly because he was saving himself for his showdown with Scotland's own Drew Galloway the following evening. Considering how much that match has been built up it was an understandable move by the Open the Freedom Gate champ. That left Swann to deliver the thrills and spills. He accomplished this but injured himself in the process, necessitating the match being called to a finish early. Confusingly Konley tapped to the Gargano Escape before the referee announced that he'd ruled the match in the PAB's favour due to Swann's injury.

Had this run its intended course I imagine it would have ended up an inoffensive and fun, though ultimately forgettable, tag bout. But instead it will be most remembered for the peculiar ending. Though, on the bright side, that could be used as part of a Ronin v Premier Athletes story in the future.

The main event saw former WWE Superstar™ PJ Black take on Ricochet in a battle of the high-flyers. They set a breakdown speed and stuffed the match with spots and kept the psychology and lining sequences light (which was to be expected). The story of the early going was basically that Ricochet was a little better than Black, countering or immediately recovering from whatever Black threw at him. This included a great mid-air recovery off a monkey flip, a kip up immediately after a shoulder block, and a drop kick counter to a cross body.

This forced Black to up his game and he started getting an increasing amount of offence in on 'The Future of Flight'. It wasn't enough to get him a victory though. Following a surprisingly vicious exchange of strikes Ricochet got a two count off a top rope reverse hurricanrana then finally put Black down with a nasty power bomb and the 630 splash.

Unfortunate and unavoidable incident in the tag match aside this was another very good offering from the EVOLVE crew. Of the two cards presented this weekend I think this was the stronger. 39 took a little longer to get going with the three more technical matches kicking things off. 40 started with a rowdy bout that drew you in and kept improving right up until the tag match hit (and, again, at least part of the reason that match disappointed was beyond anyone's control). Ricochet versus Black was a superior main event. Black showed he could have been an asset to WWE and Ricochet again proved he deserves all the success he's had.


Results summary:
Drew Galloway defeated Uhaa Nation
Timothy Thatcher defeated Tommy End
Drew Gulak defeated TJ Perkins
AR Fox defeated Ethan Page
Chris Hero defeated Biff Busick
The Premier Athlete Brand defeated Johnny Gargano and Rich Swann via referee stoppage
Ricochet defeated PJ Black

Friday 27 March 2015

EVOLVE 39 review

EVOLVE 39 had the task of kicking off the WWN's schedule of WrestleMania Weekend shows. That's not an easy spot. The group of promotions push the boat out for 'Mania weekend every year and 2015 has been no exception. EVOLVE 40 will boast PJ Black v Ricochet, Ronin v the Premier Athlete Brand and Hero v Busick while Saturday's Mercury Rising event (dubbed a supershow, so you know it's serious) will feature Galloway v Gargano, the reunion of Generation Next, and Hero v Thatcher. There was also external competition with Ring of Honor's Supercard of Honor IX.

It would have been easy to assume that EVOLVE 39 offered little, the bigger, better matches being held off for the cards later in the week. Happily this wasn't the case. The promotion's thirty-ninth show was an enjoyable experience with a solid list of match-ups on offer.

The show kicked off with Timothy Thatcher versus Drew Gulak, with Gulak talking about how he, Thatcher and Busick want to reinvigorate real wrestling before the match. That's something that he did at EVOLVE 38 and I imagien it's going to go somewhere soon, possily later this weekend. I enjoy these sorts of matches but they're tough to transcribe because so much of them is exchanges of amateur style holds which I can't name. That's why I generally skip to the finish of them, as I'll do here. Gulak won a tidy opener with a crucifix roll-up after a brisk exchange of submission hold attempts.

The debuting Tommy End was out next for his match opposite Biff Busick. He's a striker with a penchant for kicks. It was a much faster match than the opener and would have been better in that spot (though I understand the decision to kick off with two known quantities). End got the advantage early on and gave Busick a battering until he got walloped with an uppercut and a half Nelson suplex. End fired back with a bicycle kick but got put down with a lariat.

Back on their feet End put Busick down with an impressive bicycle knee strike. Busick rolled out of the way of the attempted top rope double stomp and returned to his feet to be struck with more kicks. After plenty more striking Busick rolled End down to the mat with his headlock takeover and applied the half stranglehold. End passed out and Busick won.

After the match Busick took a microphone and said he'd choked out Chris Hero's endorsement then promised to do the same to Hero at EVOLVE 40. This earned Busick a smattering of boos before he took a leaf from Hero's book and wandered off through the crowd. End was given a deserved round of applause as he headed to the back. It was a good match from him. He's definitely someone worth bringing back.

Match three pitted Chris Hero against Ethan Page. It was a fun match, featuring the usual Chris Hero blend of strikes and aggressive veteran tendencies. Page mixed in some humour towards the start for good measure. Neither man had the advantage for too long, which helped Page to look competitive against the far more established 'Knockout Artist'. Hero got the win with a rolling elbow.

After the match Hero took a microphone and talked about guys using his name (which was the starting point for his rivalry with Biff Busick). He said he wasn't scared of Busick or his choke hold. Busick returned to the ring and told Hero he'd choke him out at EVOLVE 40 then offered Hero a free shot to "prove" the elbow wasn't powerful enough to knock him out. Hero teased it before saying no because he was looking forward to beating Busick and he wouldn't be able to if he concussed him before their match. Hero went to leave but Busick pulled him back in. They had a tussle where Hero found his elbow reversed into the stranglehold, forcing him to slip out of the ring and retreat. As a segment to refresh everyone on the Hero-Busick issues this was good.

Match number four was the six man tag team match. The new-look Premier Athlete Brand of Caleb Konley (still half of the Open the United Gate champions, in case you'd forgotten), Brian Cage and TJ Perkins took on Rich Swann, Ricochet and Uhaa Nation. The PAB had So Cal Val and a stereotypical Amazonian bodyguard Andrea with them. Swann did his usual blow-up-the-crowd-so-they're-less-responsive-for-the-match routine, but it's over so that's acceptable apparently.

I'd expected the match to be a series of high spots. It was more than that. There was comedy early on (mostly dancing-based) and plenty of very fluid wrestling linking everything together. That said the six lads didn't disappoint on the high spots. Highlights included: a cruiserweight exchange between muscle boys Cage and Uhaa (including a 619 from Cage); duelling power spots between Uhaa and Cage, using their smaller opponents for delayed press slams and stalling suplexes; a sequence in which Ricochet wiped out both Konley and Perkins before being bounced to the mat by Cage; Nation catching Konley on a springboard dive and turning it into a Samoan drop; a great Gory special into the O Face by Konley to Swann; a trio of dives from the ring to the outside by Swann, Nation and Ricochet; a solo twirling tope by Ricochet to Cage; and the match winning sequence of a Swann 450 and an Uhaa Combination on Konley.

The match was very good. I'd expected it to be with Nation, Ricochet, Swann, Perkins and the underrated Konley involved. I hadn't expected much from Cage because he looks like a generic muscle guy but he proved to be very agile and solid on crowd interaction. If he improves his timing he could go somewhere.

Uhaa and Swann danced after the match before Andrea low blowed them both and Cage and Konley gave them a beating (including an always popular title belt shot from Konley). Because heels, am I right? TJP didn't join in with the attack and got a telling off from Val. His response was to walk out. The Brand left in a huff.

The penultimate match of the card was for the Open the Freedom Gate championship, Johnny Gargano defending against AR Fox. Gargano had Ethan Page with him at ringside, because Sapolsky adores the concept of young guys paying their dues as the understudies of established stars. After a nippy feeling out exchange the two progressed to the bigger stuff when Fox bicycle kicked the champ and they headed outside for the prerequisite ringside excursion.

Gargano took control when they returned to the ring. Fox turned the tide after a few minutes with a missile drop kick and a bicycle kick. The action spilled outside the ring again as Fox tried to hit topes. Gargano countered each attempt before hitting a senton from the apron. The slingshot DDT scored him a two count on the challenger.

Gargano tried the Hurts Donut but 'The Whole Foxin' Show' countered into a roll-up before leaping to the top rope to hit a Swanton bomb. When Gargano kicked out Fox attempted a 450 splash. Gargano moved so Fox landed on his feet. Because athleticism. Gargano hit a double stomp to the back of the head and a power bomb for two. After an exchange of elbows the two ran through super kicks, enziguris and other related strikes, the champion getting the last word when he put Fox down with a discuss clothesline.

Fox tried leg dropping Gargano on the apron. Gargano moved and hit Fox with a suicide dive which, in a scarily unplanned moment, sent the pair sprawling into the audience. Luckily everyone seemed to be fine. Fox countered a spear with a kick to the head, following up with a Canadian Destroyer for two. A Low Mein Pain attempt was broken by a shove, with 'The Whole Shebang' immediately hitting a buckle bomb and the lawn dart for a two count. Moments later Fox managed to get him with the LMP and a 450.

Gargano kicked out. After more super and yakuza kicks Gargano got a Hurts Donut on Fox from the top rope. The challenger kicked out of that but immediately found himself trapped in the Gargano Escape, tapping out to end a great match.

At that point Lacey made a surprise appearance to ask Gargano about his (potential, at this point) unification match at Mercury Rising. 'The Whole Shebang' promised he'd be the man to win both belts. Well, he would say that wouldn't he?

The main event was a match you would at one point have had to tune into Superstars to see: PJ Black v Drew Galloway for the EVOLVE championship. That this is something that can be said (that they were little more than job guys in WWE) was likely a deciding factor in making the match in the first place. I imagine it's also something that motivated both men. It was a chance for them to show exactly what WWE missed out on by not giving them more opportunities to just get in a ring and wrestle on TV.

They easily surpassed the standards set by the quality of Superstars matches. They told the story of Galloway's power against Black's speed as Lenny Leonard did a great job of talking up their shared history. Which, incidentally, isn't limited to WWE. They first met at an FWA training school in London in 2001. It was very likely the one advertised on the old TalkSport show which Alex Shane made a massive thing of pushing (understandably). Black survived big boots, power bombs and ringside brawling before falling victim to Galloway's double underhook DDT.

One word: height.
Lacey returned to the ring to discuss the title versus title match on Saturday. Galloway initially no-sold that to thank PJ Black for the match and put over the importance of WrestleMania Weekend, ultimately deciding to rename it Wrestle Week (yeah, that'll catch on). Much like DGUSA title holder Gargano, Galloway promised he'd be the one holding both titles at the end of Mercury Rising. Unlike Gargano he offered a little more than a mere promise as reasoning, stating that he didn't want his eight months of hard work establishing himself as a hard-working, talented wrestler to go to waste with a loss on such an important show.

Gargano rolled back out at that point, telling the EVOLVE champion that he'd been in the WWN for a lot longer than eight months and that he'd slogged to make the brand mean something. Galloway told Gargano that he was hungrier because he hadn't had the opportunity to do what he loved while in WWE and told the Gargano to leave the ring. They had a spirited verbal back-and-forth before things got physical and Ethan Page and Rich Swann left the locker room to break things up. All EVOLVE shows end with a promo of some description but this was one of the better ones. They did a great job of establishing the importance of the Mercury Rising unification bout. Definitely one to look forward to.

EVOLVE 39 was both a good show in its own right and a strong start to several days of wrestling from the WWN. There wasn't a single bad match all night and the final three offerings are all definitely recommended watches. Wrestle Week is off to a strong start!  


Results summary:
Drew Gulak defeated Timothy Thatcher
Biff Busick defeated Tommy End
Chris Hero defeated Ethan Page
Ricochet, Rich Swann and Uhaa Nation defeated The Premier Athlete Brand
Johnny Gargano defeated AR Fox to retain the Open the Freedom Gate championship
Drew Galloway defeated PJ Black to retain the EVOLVE championship