Saturday 30 May 2015

NXTweet 27.05.15

Kevin Owens solidifies his spot as one of WWE's prime bad guys, has words with William Regal, then trounces Solly Crowe. Emma, Bayley and Becky Lynch all get attention, possibly preparing them for title shots. Alexa Bliss gives us a shockingly good new character. Corey Graves continues to be WWE's best commentator. Jason Jordan and Chad Gable do... something. All this plus...



Tweet 1: I'm going to tweet about NXT for as long as my internet holds up.
Tweet 2: Loving the slow motion recap of Takeover. Particularly Rhyno v Barry Corbin. Saddened there was no slowmo of Finn's entrance though.
Tweet 3: Banks being put over as "the elite." Great stuff.
Tweet 4: Then the only Samoan in WWE history not somehow related to Rikishi turned up. The end.

Kevin Owens promo, featuring William Regal and Solomon Crowe

Tweet 5: Kevin Owens trolling a Zayn entrance while wearing a Cena shirt. Lolishness.
Tweet 6: This is one of the few times I'm happy to see a RAW recap interrupting another show. Makes sense here.
Tweet 7: "I am a good man" - Kevin Owens
Tweet 8: Remember all those times Mick Foley said a heel has to believe he's the good guy and feel completely justified in his actions? That.

Owens is great and the championship means
something but that belt's still ugly.

Tweet 9: That Owens promo was better than anything I can remember from RAW this year.
Tweet 10: #Regalpop
Tweet 11: Awful music playing? It has to raspy-voiced piratical baked potato 'Solid' Solly Crowe.
Tweet 12: Loving the blank look on Byron's face.

Zack Ryder tells Renee Young that he's mates with Mojo Rawley and that he likes NXT

Tweet 13: Reading between the lines it's safe to say that Itami said he's going to murder whoever attacked him when he comes back. What a #man
Tweet 14: No, not Zack Ryder...
Tweet 16: Bring Zack Ryder in fresh from late 2011 to give the rub to Mojo. Smart booking.

Bayley v Emma

Tweet 17: Emma has completed her turn to the dark side with the implementation of new beach bum style entrance music.
Tweet 18: Emma looks shorter as a heel.
Tweet 19: "Beautiful suplex by Bayley!" - Rich Brennan on a rough suplex

The Emma Lock.

Tweet 20: Liking the blending of two singles feuds with this Bayley and Charlotte v Dana and Emma stuff. Subtly done.

Baron Corbin and Rhyno backstage

Tweet 21: How did Barry Corbin feel about beating Rhyno? He felt it proved he was the only unstoppable force in NXT.
Tweet 22: Then Rhyno rocked up and suggested a rematch. Winner becomes the most unstoppable force in the world.

Becky Lynch vignette

Tweet 23: This Becky video again. They won me over on her at Takeover. I don't need to see this again.
Tweet 24: Although in fairness this is the first time I've noticed Nikita (or Katie Lee Burchill) in that picture with Becky and Natalya.
Tweet 25: I hope Fifth Element steampunk lass is Lynch's permanent gimmick from now on.

Blake and Murphy v Elias Sampson and Mike Rawlis

Tweet 26: Heel Alexa Bliss. My word.
Tweet 27: So this is a Blake and Murphy match against two newcomers? *Looks at watch, waits for Enzo and Cass run-in*
Tweet 28: Devastating elevated punch from Blake there.
Tweet 29: Rumour is that the next Takeover will be headlined by Blake and Murphy v Enzo and Cass in a no-ropes barbed wire match.

Absolutely devastating sparkle splash.

Tweet 30: I hope Bliss still calls that the sparkle splash even though she's a heel now.
Tweet 31: Corey explaining that Alexa joined B&M because she likes sparkly things. No words. Solid gold commentary that.

Devin Tayor interviews Alexa Bliss while Blake and Murphy stand around like idiots

Tweet 32: Love this gimmick of all female wrestlers in NXT taking digs at Devin Taylor whenever they get the chance.

Finn Bálor v Tye Dillinger

Tweet 33: 'The Tyke' Tye Dillinger.
Tweet 34: How do you showcase your number one contender? Put him against a talented young gun like the Dillinger.

This is Tye Dillinger's ti- Oh, never mind.

Tweet 35: Dillinger has been around forever. If the next repackage job doesn't work we'll probably be seeing him in EVOLVE.
Tweet 36: Still gutted Team Jordillinger is no longer a thing.
Tweet 37: Note to Rich Brennan: don't describe one of your lead babyfaces as crafty. Craftiness carries distinctly heelish connotations.

Greg Hamilton interviews Jason Jordan then Chad Gable rocks up

Tweet 38: Earlier today Greg Hamilton caught up with 'The Real Double J' Jason Jordan.
Tweet 39: I hope Chad Gable starts using the phrase "Gable's able!" in his promos.
Tweet 40: Teasing us with a mystery tag partner for Jason Jordan? I can get with that. Especially if Jordan turns on whoever it is in favour of Gable.

Solomon Crowe v Kevin Owens

Tweet 41: I wish Crowe was still king of the hackers.
Tweet 42: Imagine the heat if Crowe was interfering in matches, channelling Paul E Dangerously and smashing iPads over people's heads.
Tweet 43: That's main event material.

What is Solomon Crowe's character?

Tweet 44: Remember when Owens would call his own matches using a microphone? Hoping he revives that on SmackDown or something at some point.
Tweet 45: Owens v Truth with Owens on commentary would be great fun. Maybe get Truth on too. Bickering commentary between opponents. Book it.
Tweet 46: The show should have cut to black when Owens pinned Crowe, revealing that Crowe's consciousness powers the internet.
Tweet 47: SAMOA JOE SO * CAL
Tweet 48: That star is a thing for some reason.
Tweet 49: Joe's here. We're meant to remember earlier when Owens said he'd KO Joe when he next saw him.
Tweet 50: Didn't happen. Owens ran off. He did make a comment about how Joe should have stayed in "oblivion" though. #TNAwful
Tweet 51: Great show, everyone. Good hustle.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

WWE Elimination Chamber 2015 preview

This is the second time this month I've previewed a WWE show. It's the first time in a considerably longer period that I've actually looked forward to a main roster show not named WrestleMania. NXT specials are a different story. They're related to this because one of the reasons I'm looking forward to this show is that it will feature NXT champion Kevin Owens. He's not only wrestling, he's wrestling John Cena.

This is a big deal. This marks the first time that a reigning NXT champion has wrestled on the main roster while being acknowledged as the NXT champion (Seth Rollins, Big E and Bo Dallas all made main roster appearances while they were the champion without the title being acknowledged), which is significant in itself as it pits the top guy in NXT against the top guy in WWE. And make no mistake, no matter who has the WWE world title it's Cena that is the measuring stick and the main man on the WWE roster.

But this match is more than just a clash between developmental and the old guard. This is Cena once again coming up against an indy standout. Owens, under his real name Kevin Steen, was one of the biggest non-WWE draws in North America prior to his signing with WWE late last summer, just as Seth Rollins was in 2010, Daniel Bryan was in 2009 and CM Punk was in 2005. Cena collided with all three of those guys in significant ways during their respective rises up the ranks and it was always interesting to see them handling themselves well opposite WWE's premier performer. This match is another of these rare occasions when Cena brushes shoulders with the world of independent wrestling, albeit by proxy. They almost always produce something noteworthy and interesting, perhaps because Cena is aware that guys who have made it to the top of the indies know how to get over without the WWE machine behind them and puts in extra effort to ensure he's not outshone.

But most importantly it's Kevin Steen on a major WWE show. That's what makes this stand out. That's what makes me want to see it. Steen, now Owens, in WWE proper being treated as a man who can not only share a ring with Cena but also pose a threat to him. That's incredibly appealing.

I'll be amazed if the match isn't enjoyable. Part of what will help there is that there's no obvious outcome. A Cena victory is not assured. Although it's been said that Owens' move to the main roster is only a temporary thing that's not definite. It could be a permanent move, with him working RAW, SmackDown, NXT TV tapings and a blend of house shows for the foreseeable future, in which case a victory over Cena would get his run off to a great start. Even if he is going back to NXT there would be no better way to enhance that brand by having its champion defeat Cena. Shady tactics will be employed by Owens if he does go over, but that's nothing new not anything important. The result is what would matter.

As nice as it would be to see I don't think it will happen. I think a DQ or non-finish is likelier. That would protect Owens, which will be a factor in the booking given his NXT title reign and general standing, but keep the balance of the universe in check. By which I mean Cena would win, like usual.

The other main reason I'm looking forward to this show is the Chamber itself. I'm usually against WWE's themed shows because holding them annually devalues the gimmicks and frequently leads to awkward plotting as feuds are bent out of shape to incorporate stipulations that don't fit them. But that's not the case here. Away from 'The Road to WrestleMania', which was understandably more about building to 'Mania than putting together a great Chamber card, the six celled cage can be deployed more carefully, and has been. The vacant Intercontinental championship is a nice prize to put up in a Chamber match. For a company averse to tournaments a multi-man match to crown a champ is about as good as it's going to get, and the Chamber makes the IC belt appear more meaningful.

For the most part the line-up for the match backs this up. Sheamus has been booked well since returning in March. Bad News King Wade Barrett I received a minor boost by winning King of the Ring and never looks out of place at the modern day IC level. Ziggler always looks at home in these kind of matches and there's the additional appeal of his sort-of-feud with fellow entrant Rusev. Although his status took a thumping in his recent series with Cena 'The Bulgarian Brute's' standing overall is still pretty impressive. Ryback, like Sheamus, has been positioned well over the last few months and has seemingly found his niche in the upper mid-card. The only guy who really doesn't fit in is R-Truth, and with this being an elimination rules match (clue's in the name, mate) we can't even argue that he's in there to eat a pinfall. All but one guy is in this match to be pinned. Including Truth makes no sense.

Arguments could be made for pretty much anyone that's not Truth winning but I like Sheamus's chances most. Rusev and Ziggler seem poised to head off into a singles programme that wouldn't need the IC strap to be over, Ryback's popular but not really doing that much, and Barrett has his royalty gimmick sustaining him. 'Great White' makes sense as a bully boy IC champ lording it over the mid-card. He'd make a nice target for an underdog babyface to chase. Like Adrian Neville, for example.

Speaking of Neville he'll be facing his old NXT rival Bo Dallas at Elimination Chamber. This is just a way of keeping him out of the IC title match, something that's presumably necessary because it's too early for him to win the championship or be jobbed out attempting to do so. I suspect their NXT history, which culminated with Nev defeating Bo to win the championship at the first Takeover show, will be glossed over at best, ignored at worst, and that they won't get long enough to do anything special. Not that doing anything special is the goal here. The goal is clearly to make Neville look like a somebody with some flashy moves who can beat guys at Bo's level.

Back on the titular match, its other outing of the night will feature tag teams for the first time ever. The good news is that the Lucha Dragons, New Day (presumably the popular Kofi and Big E combo or all three together) and Cesaro and Tyson Kidd are three of the six teams involved. The bad news is that The Ascension, Los Matadores and the Prime Time Players are the other three teams and Luke Harper and Erick Rowan are nowhere to be seen.

I like the Prime Time Players. I enjoyed The Ascension when they were shaded by logical booking in NXT. I can appreciate Los Matadores for the reliable hands they are. But I would have much preferred to see Harper and Rowan in this match than any of these teams. They haven't been presented as perennial losers and are better workers (well, Harper is). Their inclusion would have been a boon to this match. Not that it will be bad though. Presumably things will come down to the Luchas, Kidd and Cesaro and New Day for some nifty tag spots. I'm hopeful that the gang will be able to offer us something new from a Chamber setting, or at least some high spots we haven't seen for a while. If it goes right this could be the match of the night. If it goes wrong it could be a mind-blowing omnishambles.

It could end with a title change. The Dragons have been popular since their main roster call-up so having them win would make sense. Kidd and Cesaro remain popular so they could be in with a chance too. But I think the likeliest outcome is New Day winning by shady tactics again, last eliminating the Lucha Dragons to set up a traditional tag match and a title switch at Money in the Bank.

A triple threat for the Divas championship and Ambrose versus Rollins for the WWE championship round out the show. The Divas title match will see Nikki Bella defend against Paige and Naomi. They are the three best workers in the division and this show being light on matches should mean that they get enough time to put together something worthwhile. With Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch receiving nothing but plaudits for their match of the year contender at Takeover: Unstoppable last week I think it's likely that Paige, Nikki and Naomi will feel they have something to prove here. I hope they get the chance to show what they can do.

I think a title switch could be due here. Nikki's been the champions since November 24. That's over six months. It's possible WWE will keep the title on her long enough for her to outdo AJ Lee's 295 day reign (because AJ's in the company's bad books and they may want that accolade on somebody who's still around) but Naomi is also doing solid work as a heel and that should be capitalised on. Putting the title on her would create some new scenarios for her opposite Natalya and Alicia Fox. Not that WWE is bothered about doing anything with either of them.

Rollins versus Ambrose will be great. Because it's Rollins versus Ambrose. They never have bad matches, people care about them, and they have a considerable history with one another. It will be nice to see them have a singles match on pay-per-view without a gimmick or stipulation attached. They'll provide a top quality main event for the evening. You can't ask for more than that, even with the obvious ending of Rollins winning.

I'm surprised at how positive I feel about this card. I think it says a good deal about the use of fresh talent in Kevin Owens and the lack of announced Big Show or Kane match. Even if one gets added, and Kane and Big Show v Randy Orton and Roman Reigns looks worryingly likely, I don't think it would dampen my spirits for the show. Owens and a logical reason for dusting off the Chamber are more than enough to keep me happy.

Now if only they could convince me that this will be better than Takeover: Unstoppable...


Predictions summary:
Seth Rollins to defeat Dean Ambrose to retain the WWE championship
John Cena to defeat Kevin Owens
Sheamus to win the Intercontinental championship
New Day to retain the tag team championship
Naomi to defeat Nikki Bella and Paige to win the Divas championship
Adrian Neville to defeat Bo Dallas

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Fight, Owens, Fight

Takeover: Unstoppable was a great show. Anyone who's read my review (cheap plug, yeah: read it here) of the show will already know I feel that way. But a strength of the show I didn't touch on in the review was the way it built up Kevin Owens. The show ended with him backing away from the newly debuted Samoa Joe while brandishing his NXT championship belt and screaming about how it was his show.

The thing is, he's not wrong. Owens debuted at December's Takeover: R Evolution and in the five months since NXT has been transformed, with Owens being one of the most heavily featured names on the show. It's not surprising that a high profile newcomer like Owens is being featured in a significant role but it's surprising at how quickly it's happened and just how significant his role is. His rapid ascent, winning the NXT title two months (to the day) after debuting and interacting with top names immediately, is very much not something pulled from the usual WWE playbook.

NXT would not fall apart or become unwatchable without Owens. Just like it wouldn't without Finn Bálor and won't without Sami Zayn and Hideo Itami. Just like it's surviving fine without Adrian Neville. But his departure would be noticeable because he's such a major focus of the show and storylines. Just as a champion should be.

You need look no further than the number of programmes Owens has set up coming out of Unstoppable for evidence of how key Owens is to NXT and WWE's plans for the future. By my count he has five programmes ready to launch into. That's a number Seth Rollins, who supposedly holds wrestling's (and WWE's) greatest prize, doesn't come close to.

This man is not a Cena victim.
Owens versus Cena will happen for the first time at Sunday's Elimination Chamber Network special. This is obviously a big deal for Owens. With or without the world title and pay-per-view main events Cena is the face of the company. Getting to wrestle him in what is essentially a pay-per-view environment is a vote of confidence in Owens' abilities and a sign that WWE wants him to be viewed as a standout performer. Whether he wins or loses the match Owens will come out of it looking stronger1.

Takeover: Unstoppable established Finn Bálor as the new number one contender to Owens' championship and Samoa Joe's appearance at the end of the show left no doubt that he'd be up for a crack at Owens and the belt too. So that's two guys Owens has gunning for him in NXT. Plus there are his unresolved issues with Sami Zayn, who will presumably continue chasing Zayn upon his return from his current injury layoff, and the heavy implication that Owens was the one who attacked Hideo Itami before Unstoppable (see their interactions on Twitter in the days before the show). It's not a stretch to imagine Owens attacking Itami because he was worried about having to defend his title against him.

And in addition to the number of potential rivalries Owens has he's possibly the most interesting character in all of WWE right now (only Sami Zayn, Sasha Banks and possibly Triple H are competition in that regard). He's an unpleasant, opportunistic thug who's happy to attack people from behind but he also has a relatable motive for his get-to-the-top-no-matter-the-cist approach: earning more money to provide as good a life for his family as possible. The nuances in his performances, such as the hypocrisy of him being so vicious while talking of being a role model and the twinge of remorse before he battered his one time pal Zayn with a steel chair, only serve to make his character that bit more interesting. If this is indicative of the future, not just for Owens but for NXT and WWE as a whole, then we have plenty to look forward to.


1 Usually there'd be the issue of Cena doing something questionable to upstage a foe lower down the pecking order2 but I don't think that's a concern here. For one thing WWE seems intent of having Owens look like a big deal, as mentioned above. For another Owens has been around long enough to know how to counteract someone attempting to show him up.

2 See his repeated pulling down of Rusev's trunks to reveal a plump gut during their series for the most recent example of Cena's ability to subtly undermine people.

Sunday 24 May 2015

NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2015 review

Back at the start of the month New Japan presented their twelfth Wrestling Dontaku show. Plenty of people have reviewed it in the weeks since but I thought I'd add my voice to the cacophony. Because I've been enjoying New Japan since Wrestle Kingdom and I thought "Why not, right?" Plus there's that sweet poster.

The show kicked off with a peculiar all-babyface eight man tag. The team of Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask, Mascara Dorada and Yuji Nagata took on Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi, Kushida, and Captain New Japan. The crowd were really into it, presumably because of the involvement of Liger and Tiger Mask, but it wasn't anything special. Nakanishi looked good though. He's a guy I'd like  to see involved in the NEVER title scene. He was on the losing team though: Nagata got the win off an Exploder suplex on the Cap'n.

Match two saw Kota Ibushi and Yohei Kamatsu team to defeat Sho Tanaka and Tetsuya Naito. Ibushi and Naito were the respective stars of their teams, both guys frequently being talked about (by people more knowledgeable than me) as being amongst New Japan's next batch of headliners. I definitely see it in Ibushi. He's had two dazzling matches this year at Wrestle Kingdom and Invasion Attack, opposite Nakamura and Styles respectively. He lost both but was elevated by lasting as long as he did and entering solid showings. I've yet to see anything similar from Naito. He's not been put in a position to shine in the same way but there's nothing abou him that makes me want to see him have the chance, and his tag work has been wholly uninspiring. It doesn't help that his haircut is amongst the ugliest on the roster.

The Bullet Club made their first appearance of the night after that, represented by the dream team of Tama Tonga, Cody Hall and Bad Luck Fale. They would lose to TenCozy and Tomoaki Honma. It was Cody who took the loss again as he was pinned after a Honma top rope headbutt. That he keeps losing to Honma, the man who never wins, is presumably leading to something, probably a singles match where Hall finally gets a win. The match was fine for what it was but what it was wasn't much. Which was the intention. It was more a way of getting Honma, TenCozy and Fale onto the show and keeping Hall's stream of losses flowing.

The junior tag straps were up for grabs in match four. Roppongi Vice defended against former one time champions reDRagon and former two times champions the Young Bucks. It was, unsurprisingly, the best match of the night until that point. Highlights included: a Bucks double super kick on Baretta as he went for a tope; stuff shots from O'Reilly as he mounted Baretta; Baretta suplexing Nick onto the ropes and Rocky following up with a top tope knee; reDRagon's assisted wheelbarrow DDT and backbreaker-top rope knee combo; Baretta suplexing Matt from the top rope onto their respective teammates, reDRagon, and some young boys at ringside; the Bucks' buckle bomb-enziguri combo on O'Reilly onto Fish and Romero slumped in the corner; a run-up top rope German suplex from Baretta to Matt; the Indy-Taker to O'Reilly on the floor; and a series of super kicks on Baretta followed by a match-winning More Bang for Your Buck.

Taken as spot-fests with little psychology and no proper selling these matches are always good fun. All the teams involved here (plus former frequent contributors Time Splitters) have a good range of moves that can be mixed and matches in new ways to ensure there's always something new and-or interesting on offer. That said it wouldn't hurt to mix the division up a bit and get some new pairings involved.

The first of only two singles matches on the show, Kenny Omega v Alex Shelley, was preceded by a video package. It reminded us all that Omega has been on a mission to "clean up" New Japan's junior division and that Shelley is a fightin' babyface with the support of the deity Hiroshi Tanahashi himself. It did its job of elevating the match and reminding us that Omega's not a nice guy.

Shelley entered wearing a biker helmet for whatever reason (I suspect this was a gaming reference lost on me) and had Kushida and Taguchi with him. Omega entered in his Matrix-style leather jacket (get with the times, mate) and had the Bucks in his corner. Omega kicked the match off by offering a handshake. Shelley gave him a middle finger, earning himself cheers. The sequence seemed a bit off because Omega, the clear bad guy, had seemed pretty genuine. Maybe we were just meant to assume he'd cheap shot Shelley or something during the handshake but that sort of negativity is no way to go through life.

The pair exchanged the advantage in the opening moments and did a tonne of running about. Omega was the first to get in some extended offence when the Bucks distracted the referee and he countered a Shelley suicide dive with a trash can to the head (because he's cleaning up, geddit?). He stayed on the challenger with a camel clutch, a backbreaker and a nice bicycle kick into the corner before reintroducing the trash can. After belting Shelley in the face with that he gave him a fisherman buster, from which the Time Splitter kicked out.

On the outside Omega continued to use the bin (can) and also brought in a broom. A power bomb onto the bin (can) was countered by Shelley and was followed up by a vault over the top rope, catching hold of Omega and driving him down to the floor with a DDT. 'The Cleaner' took more damage when he rolled back into the ring in the form of a top rope double stomp but he managed to kick out. He withstood a super kick and attempted a power bomb but Shelley countered with a DDT. The challenger tried to follow up with a top rope splash but Omega got his knees up then gave Shelley a modified blue thunder bomb.

Shelley kicked out of that and escaped an attempted electric chair drop before hitting a dragon suplex. The pair exchanged blows, Shelley getting the better of Omega with an enziguri then giving him a super kick and Automatic Midnight for a convincingly close two count. Sensing their boy was in trouble the Bucks hit the ring but were cut off by Taguchi and Kushida and wiped out with some sweet, sweet Time Splitters double teaming. Shelley then hit Sliced Bread Number Two on Omega but only got a two.

Back on their feet Omega heelishly thumbed Shelley's eye. That was enough to open up Shelley for the Croyt's Wrath electric chair drop, which lead to a three count for the reigning champion. Afte the match Omega cut a heel promo about being too good to wrestle in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament but wished all the lads at ringside good luck in it. Kushida seemed particularly irate with Omega's behaviour. Having him win the tournament and going on to take the gold from Omega would make sense. It would establish him as a singles force and would play into Omega's defeat of his Time Splitters partner here.

After a lethargic intermission the show continued with Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows and Amber Gallows facing The Kingdom trio of Michael Bennett, Matt Taven and Maria Kanellis. The story was that Anderson was still smitten with Maria and Amber had been roped in to counteract her effect on him. It was pure silliness made worse by the lack of clear faces. Were we supposed to root for massive perv Anderson? Or were we supposed to cheer for Maria, who hadn't done anything wrong but seemed very happy to be presented as nothing more than an object to be ogled? It wasn't clear, and the only clue offered by the production team was that the match's biggest star was Maria's backside.

In terms of match quality this was adequate. The four lads are good in tag situations, although Anderson was hampered at points by his weird Maria-fixation gimmick. Maria's not bad, Amber is, but neither was bad enough to make the match a stinker. The match ended, fittingly enough, with Anderson stroking Maria's face only for her to kick him the privates. Amber then came in and went for a suplex on Maria but got rolled up with a small package.

After the match Anderson grabbed Maria and threw her to the ground. Seemingly unsatisfied by this the Bullet boys pulled her back up and gave her the Magic Killer. Then they ran off as Bennett and Taven returned to the ring to make the save. Anderson seemed unremorseful about possibly having broken the neck of his object of lust. I'd like it if this match were the end of the unpleasant Maria aspect of the Kingdom versus Bullet Club rivalry but I don't think it was.

More tag action followed that. First Togi Makabe, Katsuyori Shibata and Hiroshi Tanahashi teamed to defeat Tomohiro Ishii, Kazushi Sakuraba and Toru Yano in a lively tussle when Tana fell on top of Yano in an awkward, botched-looking exchange. Then AJ Styles and Yujiro Takahashi defeated Kazuchika Okada and Yoshi-Hashi when Styles dropped Hashi with a brainbuster and a Styles Clash. This was a particularly good match that did its job of reigniting the Styles-Okada dispute. Okada having the champ's number was hammered home after the match when 'The Phenomenal One' went to give Okada the Clash and Okada slipped out and came close, twice, to walloping Styles with the Rainmaker. It was 'The Ace of the New Era' who stood tall at the end of the segment.

The main event of Intercontinental champion Shinsuke  Nakamura defending against Hirooki Goto was preceded by a prime video package that established Nak as the cocky, charismatic champion and Goto as the underdog who wouldn't give up on his pursuit of the gold. It was also made clear that Nakamura simply didn't consider Goto a real threat to his title reign, something which carried over into the story of the match.

Nakamura refused to take Goto seriously until the halfway point of the match, by which point it was too late. The combination of the wearing down he'd already taken and Goto's tenacity meant he was unable to mount the comeback he needed to to retain his championship. Goto gave it his all, surviving a pair or Boma Yes in the closing moments before finishing Nakamura off with a Goto Shiki from the second rope and a Shouten, showing up the bigger star and earning the prize he'd bee determined to reclaim (he'd held the title in 2012 and had been the man beaten to start Nak's first reign, something I imagine the commentary team touched on during the match). A return bout between the two could be really interesting.

Overall this show wasn't bad but it was clear it wasn't intended to be taken as one of New Japan's better offerings. The IC championship match and Omega v Shelley were both very good and the junior tag match and semi-main event were both enjoyable offerings but nothing was better than it needed to be. It was a decent show and that's all it was intended to be.


Results summary:
Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask, Mascara Dorada and Yuji Nagata defeated Captain New Japan, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi and Kushida
Kota Ibushi and Yohei Komatsu defeated Tetsuya Naito and Sho Tanaka
Tomoaki Hona, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima defeated Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Cody Hall
The Young Bucks defeated reDRagon and Roppongi Vice to win the IWGP junior heavyweight tag team championship
Kenny Omega defeated Alex Shelley to retain the IWGP junior heavyweight championship
Michael Bennett, Matt Taven and Maria Kanellis defeated Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows and Amber Gallows
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe and Katsuyori Shibata defeated Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii and Kazushi Sakuraba
AJ Styes and Yujiro Takahashi defeated Kazuchika Okada and Yoshi-Hashi
Hirooki Goto defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to win the IWGP Intercontinental championship

Saturday 23 May 2015

NXT Takeover: Unstoppable review

NXT's Takeover shows have become the most consistently enjoyable, well-rounded and well-booked shows in wrestling since they debuted on the Network last year, with a string of main events that knock the average main event of a WWE pay-per-view into a cocked hat. But this success has brought high expectations with Takeover shows now frequently being more hotly anticipated than the main roster pay-per-views on either side of them.

High expectations can be difficult to meet. Thankfully this show didn't disappoint. In fact it was quite possibly the best of the bunch so far.

Girls in furry hoodies kicked the show off by strutting up and down the entranceway like it was a catwalk. They were there as part of a special entrance for Tyler Breeze. The fact that wrestlers were getting special entrances on a Takeover show was the first sign that the show would be even better than expected. WWE usually only bothers with those at WrestleMania (excluding Finn Bálor's demon getup for these shows, obvs). Breeze came out and gazed into phones the models held for him. He was wearing a red robe, because male models.

With Breeze in the ring the announce team recapped an injury angle that had originally been brought up on the pre-show. Hideo Itami, who had been scheduled to fave Breeze and Bálor in a three-way match to earn an NXT title shot, had been found writhing in pain on the floor of the car park (parking lot, to you North American types). NXT champ Kevin Owens was shown walking passed uttering "That's a shame." The implication seems clear: Owens attacked Itami because he was concerned about the possibility of facing him.

Entrances are cool, yo.
Finn Bálor was super over for his entrance. The crowd was chanting for him long before Breeze's music cut (although in fairness that was at least partly due to the lengthy recap). Bálor's outfit had been augmented with a pair of bat-like wings and spikes on his face. The facepaint was upgraded too: red veins on his thighs and a gaping, glaring orange eye on his back. Both entrances topped all but Rusev's tank from WrestleMania.

After exchanging headlocks, quick pin attempts and drop kicks in the opening moments Breeze took control with a kick to Bálor on the apron. Bálor absorbed stomps and a neck breaker before getting trapped in a side headlock. He fought out and sent Breeze off the ropes only to be hit with a sunset flip. Being a stone cold pro he rolled through that and drop kicked 'The Gorgeous One' in the face for a two count.

Bálor worked Breeze over with chops and sent him retreating out of the ring with a soccer kick, following onto the apron and double stomping Breeze's back before throwing him back into the ring. Bálor climbed to the top rope to attempt another double stomp but Breeze rolled away. Bálor went for an inverted Bloody Sunday but Breeze escaped only to be met with a sling blade seconds later. Breeze crawled to a corner and dragged himself to his feet before catching Finn with a crisp super model kick as he dashed across the ring from the opposite corner.

Bálor kicked out at two so Breeze busied himself with loosening a turnbuckle pad then stomped a mud hole in Bálor in the opposite corner. Bálor staggered to the middle of the ring ducked a Beauty Shot and went for the double stomp. Breeze rolled out of the way and snuck in a school boy for two. Finn went into the loosened corner with Breeze following in with a splash. Bálor avoided the move and Breeze avoided the exposed metal under the loosened pad (a win for both lads, really). Bálor got a rollup. Breeze kicked out, sending Bálor head first into the turnbuckle. Breeze gave him a Beauty Shot as he turned backed around and immediately went for the cover.

Bálor kicked out at two and rolled to the outside. Breeze three a fit in the ring before following Bálor out of the ring. Bálor reappeared towards the entranceway, leaping on Breeze from the shadows and knocking him to the floor. He then clambered onto the entrance rig and dove off with a cross body. 'Prince Pretty' was then thrown back into the ring for a shotgun drop kick and the top rope double stomp to bring an end to an excellent match.

Owens was shown watching Bálor celebrate on a monitor in the back. He shook his head as if to say "That's nothing special" before walking off. Some highlights of NXT's Philadelphia swing followed that. The best bits of this for me were seeing the reception for Sasha Banks's entrance and Bayley gleefully saying she'd never been to New York before. Both of them were giving such honest reactions and there positivity was infectious. That's a large part of NXT's appeal: the talent are so happy to be doing what they're doing. 

Dana Brooke and Emma entered together to the former's music for their tag match. Emma was wearing wine coloured ring gear and a darker shade of lipstick than usual. Because she's a heel now. Charlotte and Bayley had their own entrances. Charlotte gave her subpar wooo (she'll never seem as effortlessly crazy as her pa) and Bayley gave some kids wristbands. She is one of the most delightful babyfaces in all of wrestling.

Figure Eight. Twice as good as her dad's figure four? Erm... no.
Bayley dominated the opening of the match, handling both her foes with ease. An "Evil Emma" chant started up when Emma first tagged in. It was amusing. Eventually Dana distracted Bayley allowing Emma to pull her off the second rope down to the mat, giving the heels the advantage. After a couple of minutes she made a tag to Charlotte who came in to clean house with chops and boots to Brooke. An Emma distraction briefly got the heels the advantage but Charlotte quickly regained control. In a great finishing sequence Charlotte applied the figure eight leg lock, Bayley baseball slid through the gap underneath Charlotte's arched back, and Bayley-to-bellied Dana to stop her making the save. Charlotte then broke the hold, shot to her feet and hit Emma with Natural Selection to get the pin fall.

The match followed a well known formula but it was still enjoyable thanks to the popularity of Charlotte and Bayley, the effectiveness of Emma's recent heel turn, and Dana's strong introduction. They did a lot in less than seven minutes.

A recap of Sami Zayn v John Cena from the May 4 RAW was shown before a shot of Zayn in a bathroom psyching himself up. For his match. Out at ringside new signees were shown sitting in the crowd. There were two lasses, two lads, and one Uhaa Nation. Uhaa got a massive pop and had his name chanted. Based on that reaction and the vignettes that have been airing to hype his signing he'll debut towards the top of the card. I hope he fairs better than his fellow Dragon Gate USA alum Solomon Crowe. He's not made much of an impact since he first appeared.

Rhyno versus Barry Corbin was match number three. This was better than I'd expected. It was only the second Corbin match that's not been a squash and was presented as his toughest challenge since how tangled with Adrian Neville back in January during the number one contendership tournament. It was an even match won, predictably, by Corbin with the End of Days after he'd dodged Rhyno's fabled Gore.

A recap of Owens' interaction with Cena on the May 18 RAW was shown next. Greg 'Generic Interviewer' Hamilton (who will never soar to the heights of such legendary backstage hands as Todd Pettengill or Jonathan Coachman) asked Owens for a moment. Owens mentioned his three successful title defences during the recent northeast tour and took the opportunity to remind everybody that he'd laid out Cena. On the subject of Sami Zayn Owens offered some "veteran advice" (an amusing dig at Cena trying to offer him advice): Zayn shouldn't show up or he'd never be seen again. He did Cena's hand gesture as he said that.

That was followed by the long-awaited NXT tag team championship between champions Blake and Murphy and challengers Enzo Amore and Big Cass. This was the sloppiest match of the night by a significant margin. But the appeal of Enzo is very much nothing to do with seeing him wrestle. And it wasn't that bad, it just stood out on a card where everything else, even the Corbin match, was booked really well. Cass played the unstoppable, no-selling juggernaut (something that would have been keeping Reigns strong for months now if the main roster writing team knew what they were doing). Blake and Murphy isolated Enzo every time they got a chance and double teamed Cass whenever they were opposite him. It was simple but it worked. Enzo being a sympathetic figure who works well as an over matches underdog helped.

The finish was a swerve I'd called a few weeks earlier. Alexa Bliss appeared and attacked Carmella, distracting Cass as he was getting ready to launch Enzo off the top rope for their assisted splash finisher. He left the ring to check on Carmella and got wiped out by a Murphy super kick (for the record Murphy really needs to introduce a solo finisher and call it Murphy's Law). Murphy then distracted the referee, allowing Bliss to shove a recovered Enzo off the top rope to be pinned by 'Frosted Flake' Wesley Blake.

Blake, Murphy and Bliss, the new faction of killer heels.
Bliss celebrated in the aisle with the champions as Enzo, Cass and Carmella's scowled at them from the ring. It wasn't the shocker WWE probably wanted it to be (at least not to me) but it makes a great deal of sense. Carmella should now get an easier time from the crowd for staying loyal to Enzo and Cass while Bliss gets to tweak her character and try playing a heel. It opens up an interesting story too: Bliss was happy to be the girl on the arms of the champs where Carmella wanted to help her lads become the champs. That could play well. Bliss had done everything she was going to as a face for now, up to and including wrestling for the women title, so this benefits her. I'm interested to see how the inevitable six person tag plays out.

Eva Marie was shown in the audience as the Dubstep Cowboys wandered backstage. She stood up and blew a kiss to the camera. I've no idea what the point of her being there was. The only thing I can think of is that she'll be getting a regular slot on NXT over the next month or two and this was a way to reintroduce her. If they want to polish her up before sending her back to the main roster (which they might considering they're paying her to do Total Divas and little else right now) NXT is the place to do it. And it's nice to see the women's roster getting fleshed out a bit.

Speaking of the women's division, Sasha Banks' NXT women's title defence against Becky Lynch was preceded by a strong video package and the backstage-walk-to-the-ring trick, both of which helped to amp up the importance of the bout. Lynch entered with newly dyed hair, a leather steampunk coat and goggles. This redesign was the most interested I've ever been in her (although that's not saying much). I was still firmly behind 'The Boss' in this match though. As were the audience, to begin with. The opening moments saw them soften towards Lynch as she out-wrestled Banks, going for pin attempts again and again and targeting the left arm to set up for her armbar finisher. Banks would eventually take a time out in the ropes and the gain the advantage by driving Lynch into the ring apron with an arm wringer.

Banks stayed on Lynch before taking a break to mock her challenger's signature taunts. Lynch staggered to her feet when Banks locked in a straight jacket sleeper but Sasha took her back down with a lung blower, expertly keeping the move applied and rolling her into a camel clutch then around on to her back again to add pressure with a boot to the back. Becky managed to fight her way out again but got hung in the ropes for Sasha's double stomp, which she hit on the arm.

The champion stayed on the challenger with a nasty-looking (in the right way) armbar and a stomp on the point of the elbow before applying a version of the key lock. As the crowd blessed the women with duelling chants Becky managed to roll backwards to get a two count. Sasha kicked out and reapplied the hold but Becky rolled back again, this time going all the way to her feet and hoisting Banks up for a power bomb.

Back on their feet Lynch fired up on Banks, knocking her down with clotheslines and a (rough) missile drop kick. Banks came back with a top rope arm drag and running knees to Lynch's face. Lynch kicked out of a cover, desperate to stay in the match and win the title. Banks hauled Becky to her feet. They exchanged slaps and rolled out of the ring where Lynch viciously wrapped Banks's arm around a ring post. Back in the ring Lynch northern light and T-Bone suplexed Banks onto her injured arm, earning herself a "Suplex City!" chant. Banks escaped a second T-Bone and went for a suplex. Lynch countered with a snap suplex, rolling through into the armbar which had been built up as absolutely devastating in the preceding weeks.

Sasha made it to the topes to break the hold and Lynch rolled out of the ring for relief. Banks targeted her with a suicide dive but Lynch held on to her, staggering back to her feet and smacking Banks back-first into a ring post. Becky followed via the top rope. That led to her downfall: Banks caught her with an armbar takedown off the turnbuckle and flowed into the Bank Statement for the hard fought tap out victory.

Sasha Banks deserves a long reign.
This match was incredible. It told a logical story with both women targeting arms to set up for the signature submission holds. It presented them as athletes driven by their desire to win a prize and prove that they're the best. When it comes to women's wrestling (particularly in WWE) that's incredibly hard to find. It also got over their characters. Banks mocked Lynch on her way out, the cocky heel who'd proven she was better. But Lynch looked strong in defeat, putting up such a fight that she won over an initially hostile audience. This was demonstrated when they gave her a standng ovation and started singing her entrance music before it started up. In modern wrestling that is a powerful vote of confidence. Good job, Becky and NXT management. You've finally made movement winning me over on Lynch.

The video before the main event did a great job recapping the feud between Zayn and Owens: Owens debuting and immediately targeting Zayn, winning the championship two months (to the day) after his debut; Zayn going home; both men interacting with big boy John Cena; their friendship before WWE (less their rivalry because WWE, understandably, doesn't want to admit they're doing ROH reruns); and Zayn telling Owens he's not a good role model to his son, a driving motivation of the Owens character. It recapped everything without becoming laborious and I imagine it was particularly useful for newcomers.

Zayn entered to a rousing pop. Owens entered to a mixed reaction that gave way to cheers when people noticed that he was sporting a John Cena T-shirt. The Cena mockery continued when he teased tossing the shirt to the crowd before dropping it to the floor (whadda heel!).

Owens slipped out of the ring at the opening bell. His intention was to frustrate Zayn by eeping him waiting but it didn't work: Zayn left the ring when Owens' back was turned and launched himself onto him from the steps. Zayn dominated the first half of the match, which was mostly about brawling around ringside and into the crowd. Both guys were great during this period, Sami playing the fiery babyface and Kevin the sly heel looking to create space to find weak point.

Kevin Owens. Fan of power bomb variants.
After a few minutes they found themselves at the bottom of the entranceway. Zayn gave the champion an Exploder suplex and then charged him (possibly looking for the Helluva kick but it didn't look like it), only to be caught with a pop-up power bomb onto the apron. To all intents and purposes that was the end of the match. After a brief pause Owens pushed passed referees checking on Zayn and started kicking him in the head. He was pulled away several times. Each time he went back for more.

Owens would eventually throw Zayn into the ring and continue his attack there. William Regal, general manager extraordinaire, rocked up and got in Owens' face. Owens pushed passed him to continue his attack so Regal fish hooked and pulled him off Zayn. Owens dropped him with a headbutt then grabbed a chair from ringside. A look of regret flickered over his face as he held the chair aloft, then it disappeared and Owens brought the chair down on Zayn's injured arm.

Music played. Owens, being a wrestler, was distracted by this. He immediately forgot all about Zayn and gazed at the entranceway to see Samoa Joe.

Joe walked with purpose and stepped into the ring with purpose. He and Owens went nose-to-nose before Owens backed off. As if trying to prove a point he didn't leave the ring so Joe stormed up to him and they went nose-to-nose again. Owens left after that, hearing boos and chants of "Fight, Joe, fight!" and "Joe is gonna kill you!"Joe posed then called doctors beck into the ring to check on Zayn.

Owens briefly returned from the back. Joe readied himself for a fight in the ring and Owens briefly looked as though he was going to give him one. Instead, clearly feeling mixed emotions, he picked up his championship belt and headed backstage. The show ended with Owens saying "I did what I had to do" as the audience chanted "What a father!" and "Father of the year!" in reference to Owens's increasingly hard-to-believe comments about only wanting to do right by his children.

Takeover: Unstoppable was the best wrestling show in months. The commentary team were on point. Every wrestled like they had something to prove. Every match had a reason to happen and told a story. There were two great matches in Bálor versus Breeze and Banks versus Lynch, the latter of which is a match of the year contender, and a satisfying brawl to close the show. Plus the debut of Samoa Joe, which is a big deal for its historic significance as much as anything else. Everyone, whether they won or lost, left NXT looking tronger than they had before it and the show as a whole solidified NXT's status as the hottest brand in wrestling. Not bad for two hours of work.

Results summary:
Finn Bálor defeated Tyler Breeze to become the number one contender to the NXT championship
Bayley and Charlotte defeated Emma and Dana Brooke
Baron Corbin defeated Rhyno
Blake and Murphy defeated Enzo Amore and Big Cass to retain the NXT tag team championship
Sasha Banks defeated Becky Lynch to retain the NXT women's championship
Kevin Owens versus Sami Zayn went to a non-finish

Wednesday 20 May 2015

That RAW Recap 18.05.15

On June 6 2011 RAW was held in Richmond, Virginia. The most exciting thing on the show was R-Truth marching to the ring in a Confederate uniform to talk about a perceived conspiracy against him. It's fun to look back on but when Truth is the highlight of RAW something is going wrong somewhere in the writing process.

Getting on for four years later and RAW was back in Richmond. There were no Confederate uniforms and only a little R-Truth. What there was was a very solid episode of WWE's flagship show. The kind of episode that is all too rare.

The most notable part of the show was the first main roster appearance from Kevin Owens, in which he shared a ring with John Cena. Whether this was the beginning of a full-time call-up or, as seems more likely, something designed to hype Takeover: Unstoppable and give Cena something to do at Elimination Chamber isn't that important. It was NXT champion Kevin Owens on RAW with his championship belt.

The segment started fairly innocuously with Cena issuing his now standard open challenge for a United States title shot. Owens' music didn't get much of a reaction, probably because it's a bit generic, but the audience popped when he appeared. They popped more when he started speaking, saying that he didn't need to introduce himself because Cena knew who he was, as did everyone in the audience who mattered. This prompted Cena to cut in and introduce Owens to the crowd. Owens responded to that with "Thank you. That was nice", a very Owens ad-lib.

After giving Owens a telling off for saying the paying customers don't matter and plugging Takeover: Unstoppable Cena went to offer Owens some veteran advice. It was Owens' turn to cut Cena off with an emphatic reminder that he'd been wrestling for fifteen years, longer than Cena. That prompted Cena to change tack and offer a warning: he said he could tell Owens was a scared kid and that if he wasn't careful Sami Zayn would beat him for the NXT championship at Takeover.

The champ is here.
Back on the US title open challenge Cena asked if Owens wanted the shot. Owens said he'd a prize fighter but that he already had a prize: his NXT championship. He promised Cena they'd face each other one day but that it would be on his terms before going to leave and then surprising Cena with a kick to the gut and a pop-up power bomb. The segment ended with the onetime 'Mr Wrestling' stamping down his foot onto Cena's US title belt and holding his NXT title belt aloft.

This was a great segment. It introduced Owens's character and immediately positioned him as a big deal by having him hold his own verbally with Cena. Having him power bomb 'Mr CeNation' underlined this, making it clear that Owens is not just another prospect but someone who's destined for big things. The final shot of Owens standing on the United States championship and standing over Cena was symbolic of not just Owens' dominance over Cena but of his perceived dominance of the brand he represents over WWE.

In the main event segment the Rollins v Ambrose feud was revived to provide Network special Elimination Chamber with a world title main event. Ambrose interrupted a shindig held in Rollins' honour, just as Triple H, Stephanie, Kane and the New Stooges were putting him over as the greatest wrestler ever. After being told he'd have to join Roman Reigns and Randy Orton at the back of the line 'The Lunatic Fringe' attacked Rollins and they brawled around ringside.

Over at the announce desk Ambrose revealed he'd pulled a trick from Rollins' own play book and stashed a pile of cinder blocks at ringside. With 'The Future's' head in danger of being caved in (which would have put him out of action for a month, as Ambrose demonstrated last year) Stephanie agreed to grant Ambrose a title match. The brawl then continued and Ambrose wound up taking a Pedigree from the WWE champion. No paperwork was signed to make his title match official but something tells me he'll wrestle Rollins anyway.

These guys reviving their series is a good thing.
This segment wasn't anything out of the ordinary. It's one of WWE's standard approaches for setting up world title matches and gets a lot of use in short notice situations like this one. The reason I mention it is that it's good that we're getting a Rollins and Ambrose match again, and that it was nice to see the continuity at play, both with the cinder blocks and Rollins' continued use of the Pedigree. These things are simple to set up in a wrestling environment but they're so rare in WWE and it's frustrating.

In addition to the WWE title match for Elimination Chamber being set the entrants for both of the cage matches were announced too. King Bad News Wade Barrett I, Sheamus, Ryback, Dolph Ziggler, Rusev and, for some reason, R-Truth will compete for the vacant Intercontinental title. I'd have much preferred Adrian Neville in Truth's spot. It's still a possibility, Sheamus or Barrett could wipe Truth out before the Chamber show for example, but it probably won't happen. With or without Truth match quality should be high and I'm interested to see how Rusev's handled. He's coming off three straight big event losses. Would they do a fourth and give it to someone who isn't Cena? I doubt it, but I also can't see them giving him the Intercontinental title.

Meanwhile New Day will defend their tag straps against Cesaro and Kidd, the Lucha Dragons, the Prime Time Players, Los Matadores and The Ascension. It would have been nice to see the recently reunited Luke Harper and Erick Rowan in the match in place of the one of the latter three teams and I'm surprised (but relieved) WWE didn't go overboard and give the Meta Powers a slot. Rowan and Harper would make this match more interesting for me, but I'm fine with the Dragons, New Day and Cesaro and Kidd being in there. This is another good-looking Chamber match.

Considering Elimination Chamber wasn't going to be a thing until around a week ago a good job was done prepping it here. For the first time in years there are enough teams in the tag division to make a six team match feasible and the company's spoilt for choice when it comes to potential IC champions (which, to be honest, makes the inclusion of R-Truth even more puzzling. Ambrose and Rollins never have a bad match together and Cena v Owens, while unlikely to be a classic encounter, feels like a genuinely important moment: the NXT champ meeting the face of the company.

Monday 18 May 2015

WWE Payback 2015 review

I didn't have particularly high hopes for Payback. The card was heavy on rematches and had what felt like a squandered opportunity to do something special in the main event. It didn't help that the pre-show got underway with R-Truth beating Stardust. Things didn't get better with The Ascension v Mandow and Axel but when the show proper started I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a fantastic show or anything (I knew it wouldn't be that) but it was good more than it was bad and all the matches I'd expected to be good were.

Dolph Ziggler and Sheamus opened the show. Cole claimed that the match had "become" personal. Was it not personal last month when they fought in a Kiss My Arse match? Because that seems like a fairly personal stip to me. Backwards booking of this feud aside the match was good. 'The Show Off' took the early lead. Sheamus turned the tables when he caught a super kick and elbowed Dolph's knee. Ziggler came back with a series of forearms before pulling up his trunks and rubbing his backside into Sheamus's face, retribution (or, if you prefer, payback) for the finish of their Extreme Rules collision. The pair traded finishers and signature moves to ratchet up the tension, Ziggler getting two counts off a Fameasser and a super kick. Sheamus got one of his own wren he trapped Ziggler in a cloverleaf. The match closed with a bleeding Ziggler being Brogue kicked for the three count.

After that Seth Rollins and Kane had an overly rehearsed exchange designed to get everyone up to speed on their grudge. Kane had been told by Triple H that he'd lose his Director of Operations job if Rollins lost the title. Kane told Rollins here that he didn't need that job and explained he still hadn't decided what he'd do in the main event. The segment ended with J&J threatening Kane. As a reminder this was all fine.

Better than fine was New Day's entrance promo. They talked about positivity and trashed a local sports team. It was, as these things go, highly enjoyable.

The first fall of this two-out-of-three falls match saw Cesaro and Kidd dominate Kofi and Big E with double team moves. Particularly impressive was Cesaro. He caught Big E in mid-air (just like last month) and made short work of Kofi with uppercuts and jumping stomps. The challengers got a quick pin after the Big Swing into a drop kick on Kofi. That prompted Xavier Woods to leap onto the apron screaming about the Freebird rule. Natalya pulled him down to the floor where he was wiped out by Tyson. That left Kofi and Big E to compete in the second fall. They got off to a better start here when E grabbed Tyson as he went for a suicide dive and gave him a belly-to-belly suplex on the floor.

The second fall was built around Tyson trying to tag out as he was worked over by New Day. New Day pinned him after E speared Cesaro off the apron and he and Kingston gave hit the double team Big Ending. They stayed on Tyson as the third fall began, still with Big E and Kofi as the legal men. Tyson tagged out almost immediately and Cesaro came in to batter Kofi with uppercuts and hit E with a double underhook power bomb. The uppercuts were incredible. The bomb was botched.

Kofi survived a wild Cesaro uppercut, a backbreaker-elbow drop combo, and a Kidd Sharpshooter before being hit with a pop-up by Kidd and an uppercut from Cesaro for what we were primed to see as the definite finish. Big E broke that up and as the referee busied himself getting him out of the ring Woods slipped into the ring and got a small package on Cesaro. The referee, unable to see Woods' face when he turned around, counted the fall and New Day retained. It was a good finish, one that played into New Day being cheats and kept the feud alive.

Backstage Ryback cut a Warrior-esque promo to Byron Saxton. He told us he's not a lab rat and that he lives his life by the motto "Start full, end hungry." It was entertaining stuff. As it turned out it was more entertaining than the match that followed it. Both Wyatt and Ryback have their strengths as wrestlers but they didn't mesh well here. They included some impressive spots (Ryback taking a DDT on the apron and Wyatt leaping from the ring to the floor with a senton) but overall the match was pretty basic. It got a better reaction than it deserved because both lads are over as characters. Wyatt won after shoving Ryback into an exposed turnbuckle (which just fell off as they tussled with one another, a lazy bit of booking designed to protect 'back) and giving him Sister Abigail.

The Final Confrontation Ever (for now) between John Cena and Rusev followed that. Before Cena was even in the ring the growing divide between Lana and Rusev was being emphasised, the crowd playing their part by chanting for Lana. It was clear Lana was going to play a part in the finish of the match. Rusev offering Cena the chance to quit before the match began didn't fool anyone. It did get amusingly mixed "Yes!" and "No!" chants when referee Mike Chioda asked Cena if he'd accept the offer though.

After Rusev had repositioned Lana on a chair by the commentary table (prompting Lawler to openly admit he'd perv on her as she was so close) the match got underway with some solid big lad action. Cena surprised Rusev with an AA. Rusev responded with some drop kicks and a heel kick then went to have a word with Lana. Moments later he had her pass him the Russian flag so he could wave it about. Cena turn surprised him with a Five Knuckle Shuffle.

Rusev quickly regained control. He threw Cena into ring steps on the outside and whipped him into the on the inside. A piledriver attempt on the steps failed but a sidewalk slam didn't. Cena withstood it, refusing to give up. Because that's his slogan, innit. He then got a desperation AA on the steps and lobbed the steps at Rusev's head after he rolled to ringside. 'The Super Athlete' sidestepped it.

Cena threatened to put Rusev through a crowd barricade if he didn't quit. Rusev refused so Cena did indeed spear him through the barricade. An extended brawl through the crowd followed. They spent several minutes playing around near an incredibly flimsy table before Rusev discovered the pyro tech area. He attempted to their Cehs onto it but Cena countered, giving Rusev a AA on a crash mat several feet away from the pyro shooters. This inexplicably caused some pyro to go off. The commentary didn't even sell it, so what was the point.

Lana ran to the entrance area looking concerned. Rusev refused to give him so Cena hit him with a guard rail. 'The Bulgarian Brute' put the guardrail to use himself by suplexing Cena onto it. Back in the ring Rusev Hulked up, kicked Cena in the face and applied the Accolade. Cena sold it for all of ten seconds before clambering to his feet and smacking Rusev into a turnbuckle. The hold remained locked in and Cena sagged back down to his feet. Cena passed out in the hold and Rusev celebrated like he'd win. When he was told he hadn't he undid the top rope and poorer water on Cena to revive him. His plan was to swing the metal corner piece into Cena's head but Cena ducked and dragged him down into the STF. Rusev started cutting a promo in Bulgarian, prompting Lana to slide into the ring screaming that he quit.

Yes, the finish was predictable but the match as a whole was very enjoyable. They were given plenty of time and a bunch of shortcuts and made the most of both. It was the best entry in their series. This sort of match is Cena's strength. Rusev has looked good in the environment too. If he's kept around the top of the card he could probably develop a pretty mean reputation in these sorts of brawling matches.

The mood was lightened after that, with New Day toasting their title victory by drinking milk. Byron Saxton rocked up and told the trio that they'd be defending their titles in an Elimination Chamber at the EC Network special. New Day weren't impressed. Big E said they were too big to fit in a pod. Kofi was the standout of the segment. He's doing great work as an antagonist.

After a fast-paced tag match pitting Naomi and Tamina against the Bellas, won by the heels after Naomi simply threw Nikki off the top rope, we were shown Lana and Rusev in the back. Rusev wasn't happy, obvs. He ranted in Russian before switching to English to tell Lana to get out. It would be nice if the sword to English was done because Rusev didn't feel Lana warranted Bulgarian or Russian but the reality was that the line needed to be in English to make it clear to viewers that Lana wasn't simply walking out on Rusev.

King Wade Bad News Barrett I versus 'The New Sensation' 'Don't Call Me Adrian' Neville took the pre-main event slot. WWE apparently still feel audiences can't handle two hot matches between headline talents in a row and pack in a lengthy cool down period before a main event. I think they should trust audiences more, to be honest. Better running orders could really benefit a lot of their pay-per-views. They didn't get long but they had a good match for the time they had. The finish was disappointing though: Barrett rolled out of the ring to avoid a Red Arrow and took a count out loss. He roughed Nev up after the match. Neville got the last laugh when he lamped Barrett with the plastic sceptre and launched himself off the top rope with the Red Arrow.

The main event was predictably excellent. Noble and Mercury grabbed Reigns and Ambrose at the start. Within moments Reigns had broken away to hit an impressive Undertaker-like leap over the top rope onto a human crash mat at ringside. Some fluid action followed from all four. Sadly it wasn't long before Kane interfered: he pulled Reigns from the ring as he set up for a spear on Rollins. Team Rollins then attacked Reigns and Orton, leaving Ambrose and Rollins to battle in the ring. They did the great work they always do with each other before Kane interfered again, this time choke slamming 'The Lunatic Fringe' just before he spiked Rollins with Dirty Deeds.

Orton and Reigns finally took care of Kane at ringside before 'The Viper' headed into the ring for his singles stretch with Seth. The highlight here was a high-arcing superplex from Orty. It also lead to the spot of the match: Orton clearing the announce table only to be beaten down and power bombed through it by Rollins, Ambrose and Reigns. Ambrose and Reigns turned on Rollins immediately afterwards and got attacked by Kane. That didn't the well for him. He was power bombed onto Rollins through the Spanish table. Twice, because it didn't break the first time.

Ambrose and Reigns slipped into the ring for a singles stretch opposite one another. Ambrose was easily the more popular, winning out on a yay-boo exchange, but it was Reigns who dominated. Ambrose kicked out of a Superman punch and countered a spear with the knee. Reigns escaped a Dirty Deeds attempt and dropped Ambrose with a spear. Rollins returned to break it up then did a lap around ringside to escape Reigns' wrath. Back in the ring Reigns was dropped with Ambrose's rebound clothesline and Rollins with Dirty Deeds. Kane made the save by pulling Ambrose out then smashed both of them with steel stairs.

Orton knocked Kane into a ring post and then headed into the ring to RKO J&J and catch Rollins with a power slam as the champ leapt off the top rope. 'The Big Red Machine' interfered again, distracting Orton long enough to allow Rollins to sneak in a Pedigree for a successful title defence. His reward for this victory was having his hand raised in the aisle by 'The Game' himself, Triple H. High praise indeed for 'The Future'.


Results summary:
Sheamus defeated Dolph Ziggler
New Day defeated Cesaro and Tyson Kidd to retain the tag team championship
Bray Wyatt defeated Ryback
John Cena defeated Rusev to retain the United States championship
Naomi and Tamina defeated the Bellas
Adrian Neville defeated King Barrett
Seth Rollins defeated Randy Orton, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to retain the WWE championship