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

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