Thursday 30 July 2015

Revolutionising the Divas Division

The July 13 RAW saw the main roster debuts of Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Becky Lynch. Hardly breaking news at this point I know, it's taken me a while to get a post together on the call-ups. Not doing a post simply wasn't an option: the significance of the three women being promoted from developmental simultaneously cannot be understated.

Paige and her NXT allies, the unofficially dubbed Powerbuff Girls.
Moving a number of women from NXT's women's division is a sign that WWE management recognise change is needed in the way women are presented by the company. Having them be three of the four best wrestlers (the fourth, to clarify, is Bayley) is a sign that this isn't just a case restocking a depleted division but a drive to improve quality. Had the former been what the company desired they simply could have gone with utilising existing bit part players Alicia Fox, Cameron, Summer Rae and Rosa Mendes. That wrestlers who have been receiving critical praise were chosen to join the division tells us that creating a competitive, layered and compelling division is the goal.

As does, of course, the manner in which the three were promoted. They were introduced by Stephanie McMahon. Having a McMahon hype you up before your first appearance is a big deal, because they're the owners of the company and if they're going out of their way to talk you up it sends the message that you're worth attention1. Te same goes for interacting with a champion in your first segment. Basically everything about the way the women were introduced was designed to let anyone unfamiliar with them know they're a big deal and reassure people who've enjoyed their work in NXT that they'll get the same kind of opportunities on RAW and SmackDown.

Naomi versus Banks could be great. Just saying...
Since the call-up the company has stuck to its guns on the revamped Divas scene. Charlotte, Banks and Brie Bella wrestled an eleven and a half minute three-way at Battleground. The following evening's RAW saw Charlotte defeat Brie in a nine minute match and Naomi and Banks topple Lynch and Paige in a little under fifteen minutes. The July 23 SmackDown saw a thirteen minute tag match, and the Monday 27 RAW a fourteen minute singles match between Paige and Banks. The newcomers haven't been booked to steamroll their more established counterparts but they have been made to look competitive, an intelligent approach that considers the long-term future of the division.

I'm not claiming the matches have all been classics. They haven't. The only one that can accurately be said to be n above average affair was the Banks versus Paige match, and that was at least partly due to Banks being the reigning NXT women's champion and 'The Anti-Diva's' history in the developmental league (and with that title) making for an interesting background to the meeting. But they have been longer than the average Divas match of the last few years, and they've been wrestled like the people involved have something to prove, presumably because they do.

The decision to form three factions is what I like most about the restructuring of the division. It keeps things simple and gives each Divas match a reason for happening. Going by the numbers there are now twenty-seven singles matches, eighteen tag combos, three six women tags, and the obviously climactic three-way trios collision that can be cycled through. That's easily enough to keep the division feeling fresh and exciting for months. If things are paced properly and the story is told right WWE could do something special with Nikki Bella edging closer and closer to becoming the longest reigning Divas champion ever2.

Can Nikki Bella become the longest reigning Divas champion ever?
A strong maybe from me.
Whether Nikki achieves this feat or not, and personally I think she will because she seems liked within the company and the people that run the company are vindictive enough to want to take the chance to take an accolade away from AJ, she'll lose the title at some point. When she does it will be to a member of a rival faction, because these are the women who will form the focal point of the division for the foreseeable future. When that happens it opens up longer term stories of rivalries between people who are currently allies. Charlotte winning the title could set up a friendly series with Paige, for example, while Banks and Naomi seem destined to clash over "leadership" of their BAD stable.

It's taken WWE far too long to get back around to presenting its women wrestlers as athletes who have the same athleticism and competitive drive as their male counterparts but at least they got to it eventually. It was at least worth the wait as the situation they've created by going with three promotions at once has given us the most promising Diva line-up in years and dozens of potential storylines, matches and feuds. If they can meet half of the potential they'll be doing okay.


1 we will at this point overlook the fact that Steph, while great on the mic, is nowhere near the level of her dad, the one and only Vinnie Mac.

2 As things stand right now she will surpass AJ Lee's current 295 day record on September 15. That's the Tuesday before Night of Champions. It seems reasonably safe to assume that if Nikki leaves August's SummerSlam with the butterfly belt she'll make it NOC as champ, breaking Lee's record.

Monday 27 July 2015

Undertaker: The Final Months?

Undertaker and Brock Lesnar will headline SummerSlam in a rematch from last year's WrestleMania. You know, that match in which 'The Pain' ended The Undertaker's 'Mania winning streak. I've seen the match described elsewhere (specifically Cageside Seats) as God versus Death. I like that description, even though I think it'd be more accurate to cast Lesnar as the Devil, what with him being frequently referred to as 'The Beast' and all.

The match will probably be good. Lesnar has had nothing but excellent matches since he defeated Undi' last year and both men will likely want to erase the memories of that subpar outing (which suffered in quality because 'Taker got a concussion in the first few minutes) with a slobberknocker here. They already seem to be benefiting from a superior build: Undertaker's return at Battleground and the brawl the two had the following evening on RAW knocked spots off the clichéd and dull sequence of segments, culminating with a contract signing, the two slumped through before WrestleMania XXX.

There are arguments to be made for both men winning. 'The Dead Man' "needs" his win back and to be rebuilt as a strong force ahead of his presumed retirement match at WrestleMania Play Button. Lesnar needs to remain the most dominant force in the company because that's what people like about him. Obviously only one of them will win. It doesn't really matter who it is. The more interesting topic is what Undertaker is going to do after 'The Hottest Event of the Summer'.

Broadly speaking there are two things he could do. One is disappear again and only return when WrestleMania 32 is the company's focus (which would be any time from January). The other is to stick around and appear regularly until retiring at 'Mania.

I'd prefer the latter. If Undertaker is going to retire next year (and the smart bet is that he will) then he deserves to have one final semi-full time run. We don't need to see him wrestling on TV. In fact we don't even need to see him every week. But appearances on the monthly pay-per-views (or special events as they're styled now) would give 'The Phenom' the chance to work with guys he's never faced before he leaves. Guys like Sheamus, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Kevin Owens would all benefit from a 'Taker match on their CV. UT would benefit from wrestling these guys as he'd be getting fresh opponents eager to put in the extra work to make the bout memorable, lessening the pressure on him. The PPVs themselves would benefit from 'Taker wrestling as the matches could be pushed, subtly or not, as amongst the last of 'Taker's career.

Is this schedule, or a similar one, likely? We can't and won't know until SummerSlam's bee and gone. We can say that Undertaker looks healthy and put in a spirited performance on the July 20 RAW. But we can also note that he struggled ever so slightly when hoisting Lesnar up for the Tombstone at Battleground. If I had to guess I'd say that we won't be seeing Undertaker wrestling on that many shows between SummerSlam and WrestleMania, a shame because there are plenty of storyline opportunities for him outside of his current programme with 'The Conqueror'.

I'd love to be wrong, and I hope he gets to do something at Survivor Series, if only to allow him to celebrate his twenty-fifth anniversary under the gimmick. That would be fitting if he's on the cusp of retirement.

Saturday 25 July 2015

NXTweet 22.07.15

NXT champion Finn Bálor finally makes an appearance on the show with the title belt. He cut a promo, signed a contract and brawled with former champion Kevin Owens. Good stuff, somehow.


Tweet 1: Watching NXT. Dedicating this to the memory of Hulk Hogan's career.
Tweet 2: "Finn Bálor returned home" - The NXT voiceover guy on Irishman Finn Bálor wrestling in Japan

Finn Bálor promo

Tweet 3: Love Bálor being hyped as a new champ even though he won the belt like a fortnight ago.
Tweet 4: Guy in the audience dressed as Hogan. #awkward

"Let me tell you something, brother!"

Tweet 5: Looking forward to the Full Sail crowd turning on Finn for daring to win the belt anywhere but there.
Tweet 6: A contract signing! YES!
Tweet 7: The gist of that promo was "I'm gonna beat Big Kev again." I reckon he probs will tbf.

Eva Marie talks to Devin Taylor

Tweet 8: Why is Eva Marie wearing one of Ric Flair's robes?
Tweet 9: Eva engaging Humble Babyface Mode here.
Tweet 10: I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to seeing her wrestle here but I am intrigued to see if she's improved.
Tweet 11: I've been predicting for weeks that she'll be way better than she was. It would be nice if she was. But y'know...

Cassie v Eva Marie

Tweet 12: Eva's stolen Nakamura's arm swings. That or she's forgotten how to do an ungimmicked walk.
Tweet 13: Eva Marie. #feelings

Good form.

Tweet 14: Eva doing a suplex and the crowd feeling they need to politely applaud.
Tweet 15: Minus points for mentioning Lance Storm, Byron.
Tweet 16: I hope Eva winning with Sliced Bread leads to Brian Kendrick returning as her on-screen manager-slash-eunuch.

William Regal and Tyler Breeze chat in Regal's office

Tweet 17: Teasing something big for Breeze at Takeover. This is where the need to announce special appearances ahead of time spoils things.

Baron Corbin v Jesus de Leon

Tweet 18: Barry Corbin wearing a T-shirt with a wolf on it to remind us all of his status as a Wolf Shaman.
Tweet 19: Arrive. End of Days. Snigger a bit. Leave.

Corbin wins via Wolf Power.

Tweet 20: They're going to force people to cheer Barry by having him go back to his mad-quick squashes aren't they?

Samoa Joe v Mike Rawlis

Tweet 21: This new music for Samoa Joe...
Tweet 22: Mike Rawlis has a touch of the Lucky Cannons about him.
Tweet 23: Random plug for Joe v Rhyno in two weeks. I like that. I wish RAW matches were advertised in advance.
Tweet 24: Hard when a crazy old man demands last minute rewrites though.

Emma and Dana Brooke talk to Devin Taylor

Tweet 25: Darth Emma talking about breaking people's spirits there. Keep it light...
Tweet 26: Looking forward to Devin Taylor slapping on a kimura when Dana pats her on the head one day. It's going to be such a Big Moment.

Emma v Bayley

Tweet 27: How about promoting Dana, Emma and Alexa Bliss to the main roster to join the Queen of Trios feud?
Tweet 28: Bayley and Emma work well together. It's like they're spurred on y the success of their peers. They want to prove they're as good.

The Force is strong in Bayley.

Tweet 29: Emma has only one person to blame for her career faltering: Santino.
Tweet 30: Bayley says she wants the championship and needs to beat the best to do it. Asks for a match with Charlotte. Charlotte's not the champ...
Tweet 31: Bayley v Sasha Banks at Takeover: Brooklyn then? I'd be down with that. Guessing Bayley would win. I'd be down with that too.
Tweet 32: Wanted Banks to have the title for ages but doesn't look like it's happening.

Charlotte talks backstage and gets interrupted by Dana Brooke

Tweet 33: Charlotte welling up at getting the chance to wrestle on proper WWE TV. Sad she doesn't mask it and elbow drop a jacket tbh.
Tweet 34: Who has more buff points: Dana Brooke or Charlotte?
Tweet 35: Charlotte needs to do more elbow drops in her promos, basically.

Sawyer Fulton and Angelo Dawkins v The Vaudevillains

Tweet 36: #Vaudevillainspop
Tweet 37: Immediately missing Sawyer Fulton's headguard thing.

I never wanted to see Fulton's ears. The magic is gone.

Tweet 38: Measurements will definitely get Angelo Dawkins over.

Blake, Murphy and Alexa Bliss talk backstage

Tweet 39: Blake's hair. Good lord.
Tweet 40: Blake 'n' Murphy, very much the T&A to Alexa's Trish.

William Regal hosts a contract signing between Kevin Owens and Finn Bálor

Tweet 41: Mad heat for the Barclays Center. Sign it and push it as the top heel.
Tweet 42: Finn Bálor wearing trainers for a contract signing exposes the business.
Tweet 43: Love Owens' playing up his accomplishments here. It's such an obvious basic thing to do but nobody in WWE ever gets to do it.

Alex Riley run-in at Takeover? Maybe. Nothing to do with this picture though.

Tweet 44: A wrestling contract signing ending in a brawl? WHAT?!
Tweet 45: Enjoyable show, everyone. Enjoyable hustle.

Thursday 23 July 2015

The Power of Bolief

Bo Dallas's motivational speaker gimmick is similar to the archetypal televangelist. For whatever reason WWE seem unwilling to fully embrace this1 and instead keep Bo doing the same trite promos that end in his "Bolieve!" catchphrase. Yeah, it's a damn nice pun but Bo could be doing more as a character and livening up the lower card as he does it.

Do you.. Bolieve?
Here's an idea. Have Bo come out dressed in an all white suit, including a white tie and white shoes. They should go full televangelist with it and have him look like he's trying to resemble an actual angel. The New Day lads have honed the televangelist promo style but they're not using the look. That's still wide open and Bo would fit it well.

With this new look could come a new focus in promos. Instead of just setting himself up for his punchline catchphrase Bo could spend a few weeks or a month talking about how he wants to help WWE Superstars™ who are floundering and struggling. Interrupting random matches on SmackDown and getting segments on Main Event would be enough to get this new approach across, with it being made clear that Bo's looking to help lower card lads.

After a few weeks Bo could reveal the guys he wants to help, interrupting a match involving them or simply calling them to the ring during SmackDown (this clearly isn't high profile enough to get air time on RAW). There are a few options for this. Bo could tell Cutis Axel and Damien Sandow that they're better than imitating people from decades ago. He could tell Fandango and Adam Rose that they're both great athletes not being taken seriously because of their silly gimmicks. He could tell Zack Ryder that management aren't interested in him despite his hard work and that he hasn't been relevant for years.

They're all middle or lower card guys (whether they deserve to be or not). The diea should be that Dallas recruits them to be Bolievers and becomes their manager. Let him manage two guys, give them new all-white ring gear (maybe have their names in black on them or something) and use them as a tag team. You'd have a new team, a new use for Bo Dallas that plays to his strength of being both irritating and ridiculous, and something for guys who are currently directionless.

You would also have the option to imply that Bo is some sort of sinister cult leader who's brainwashed guys into being Bolievers. That may not sound like anything particularly novel in and of itself and it wouldn't be. But it's worth noting that Bo's real life brother is Bray Wyatt, a man well established within WWE canon as a cult leader. Doing something similar with Bo would create the option to play the cult leader thing up in a future storyline. It's an idea that does things short and long term.

But it won't happen. Obviously. Nobody in WWE writes for the mid-card anymore.


1 It's possible they're concerned about upsetting big Christianity fans in their own locker room or religious groups outside the company. But that argument doesn't really tally with them referring to Brock Lesnar as the Devil or the continued depiction of The Undertaker as a demon and-or zombie.

Monday 20 July 2015

WWE Battleground 2015 review

Battleground was, amongst other things, a indication of Randy Orton's standing in WWE in 2015. This is a man who just under two years ago was positioned as the company's top heel and on-screen undisputed top star. Since splitting with his benefactors The Authority last year he's had an underwhelming feud with Seth Rollins and nothing else. After playing a relatively minor part at Money in the Bank this show saw him relegated to a thoroughly mid-card outing against Sheamus, and in his home town no less.

It's peculiar how the standing of someone like Orton can fluctuate so drastically. He's been on the roster for well over a decade now and despite this, and the fact that he's a favourite of the McMahons and is amongst the best wrestlers on the roster (when he's motivated) he frequently finds himself dropping down to programmes such as this, his momentum and focus drained. It's impossible to imagine this happening to John Cena, who is a close parallel to Orton in terms of years served and standing on the backstage pecking order.

But hey, this is a company that finds it a struggle to sustain a push for pretty much everyone. That's why Bad News Barrett defeated R-Truth on the pre-show (in a match that should make it clear why I don't write about pre-shows) despite having won the allegedly star-making King of the Ring tournament in April and Adrian Neville, the man who debuted to much fanfare the night after WrestleMania and who we're supposed to believe has been pegged as a future headliner, was nowhere to be seen on this show. For that matter it's why the Divas division which was given some fresh talent in a high profile and well received segment on RAW just six days earlier wasn't considered important enough to have its match announced in advance for this show.

Orty won his opening match against Shaymo with an RKO (outta nowhere!), an interesting outcome with Sheamus being the Money in the Bank holder but not exactly massively surprising. It was a pretty enjoyable match for the most part but we didn't see anything special. It would probably have been improved by losing a couple of minutes, to be honest.

After a recap of the main roster debuts of Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks we were shown Stephanie McMahon chatting to Jojo backstage. After pandering to the St Louis fans (to make it clear she was a face at this point) she announced that there would be a triple threat later in the night with a representative of each Divas team involved.

New Day followed that with some chatting of their own, only they did it on their way to the ring for their tag title match. They said they'd been tested for five weeks (prompting a nice call-back to Big E's obsession with the number five that he had in NXT) but they hadn't lost their way. They ended by saying they deserved to win and that they'd defeat the Prime Time Players. It was a great promo, mostly because they're such smug idiots. Big E in particular was great (again).

The more prominent New Day combo of Kofi Kingston and Big E represented the team in the match. It makes sense that they get to wrestle the most because they're the more capable members of the group and it frees Xavier Woods up to ran around the ring being a modern day Bill Alfonso. He came out with such gems as "Worst. Leg drop. Ever" after Titus leg dropped Big E, "What happened to you?" after Darren Young had been launched out of the ring by Big E, and "There it is again: triceps meat!"

The match followed the standard WWE pattern: the heels isolated D-Young and worked him over in the corner. After several minutes Young tagged out to Titus, who smashed his way through Kingston and Big E. The crowd were really into Titus at that point, which just goes to show that if guys are booked to their strengths people will react.

After being distracted by Woods Titus tagged back out. Young immediately hit a crisp overhead belly-to-belly on Kingston, walloped Big E with a rolling elbow, and back dropped Woods on the ring apron. Back in the ring he was caught with a spin kick by Kofi and set up for the Big Ending by Big E. He wriggled out of that, avoided a Trouble in Paradise, and hit the one-time 'Wildcat' with a gutbuster. Titus was then tagged back in to hit the match-winning Clash of the Titus.

It was nice to see the Prime Time Players turn in another strong performance after years of being considers just another team. They've shown they have something to offer the division. It's just a shame they've not had the chance to work with Cesaro and Kiss, Harper and Rowan and the Usos, all three teams being afflicted by injuries. We do have a PTPs versus Lucha Dragons match to look forward to though. That could be interesting.

Backstage Paige talked about how she'd been wanting change for the Divas division for months and she's psyched to have Charlotte and Becky Lynch helping her. Lynch said they should tear the division down and rebuild the entire thing. Charlotte said they'd do with flair. I'd like weak, obvious puns to become her new gimmick.

Match three was Roman Reigns versus Bray Wyatt. One of the most interesting thing about the match was the video package that explained why it was happening. Mostly because it highlighted how weird the rivalry between the two is. Wyatt started off by talking about how it should have been him that won Money in the Bank, which made sense because wrestlers should want to win that as it gives them a world title match with a practically guaranteed victory. That he'd be jealous of Reigns being in the match and cost him the win made sense. What didn't make sense was that the feud quickly degenerated into mid-90's level Undertaker-esque mind games, complete with doppelgangers, promos about loved ones, and the apparent ability to teleport.

I like the Wyatt character and I'm not averse to Reigns as a top guy but none of this has done either man any favours.

Do you care? Do I? Who even knows anymore...
The match was slow and featured little to hold attention. Reigns started off by lumping Wyatt but had the tables turned on him with a punch to the mouth from the outside. From there 'The Eater of Worlds' controlled a brawl around ringside for several minutes, the highlight of which was him screeching with laughter at the Spanish announce team. Reigns would eventually make a comeback after being trapped in a sleeper for what felt like five minutes, battering 'The New Face of Fear' with right hands, clotheslines and other assorted basic power moves.

Reigns went for the Drive-By (the awful name for his running drop kick) but got caught with a clothesline by Wyatt. After giving Reigns a senton on the outside Wyatt rolled Reigns back into the ring and continued to work him over. Reigns would fight back, allowing the two to exchange signature moves and finishers in what was the hottest portion of the match and should have been the finishing sequence. Instead they had Wyatt kick out of a Superman punch, counter a spear with a kick to the face, and floor Reigns with a right hand for a two count before both men took a breather and the match continued.

The actual finish saw a lad in a hoodie jump the barrier and shove Reigns into a ring post as he was throwing chairs into the ring. Wyatt then hit him with Sister Abigail in the ring and pinned him. The hooded lad then joined Wyatt and revealed himself as Luke Harper. While run-in finishes are never ideal I was okay with this one. The Wyatt Family should never have been broken up. Putting them back together is the most sensible thing that could have been done.

After a SummerSlam hype video and a shot of the St Louis Cardinals (a team I care so little about I can't even be bothered to Google what they play) we got a segment of Jojo interviewing Beautiful and Dangerous (geddit? Because it spells BAD!) backstage. Jojo asked if they'd had trouble picking a representative for the triple threat. Naomi went the basic heel route and asked if Jojo was implying BAD were trouble. She then told us the strengths of each member: Tamina's the muscle, Naomi's the razzle and the dazzle (whatever that's supposed to mean), and Sasha's the NXT women's champion, which was presumably Naomi's backhanded way of admitting Banks is the best wrestler of the trio (because she is). Banks basically said she'd show what she was all about in the match. The three then wandered off and went straight into their entrance.

Your brand new Divas division.
Banks and Charlotte represented their teams. Nikki Bella teased that she'd wrestle for Team Bella before telling the crowd "Not tonight" and leaving the ring. It would be Brie that wrestled for the Bellas. In my opinion Alicia Fox would have been the best choice form that team in terms of wrestling ability. I suspect WWE wanted an actual Bella in the match though.

The match was essentially another Charlotte versus Sasha Banks match with Brie interfering every so often. The NXT girls were pleasingly over. The audience reacted strongly to Charlotte's Flair mannerisms and broke into a "Like a boss!" chant when Banks was in control. The match got over ten minutes and held the crowd's attention with solid wrestling work (mostly between Charlotte and Banks), high spots (mostly in the form of dives out of the ring), and by allowing everyone involved (including those at ringside) to get across something of their character. Charlotte won with the figure eight leg lock on Brie after Brie had broken up a Bank Statement on Charlotte.

The penultimate match (not the semi-event slot, as you'll read below) was Kevin Owens versus John Cena for Cena's United States championship. Owens was the heavy favourite with the live crowd, just as he had been in the previous two meetings. Both lads put on a great match, just as they had in their previous two meetings. Highlights included: Owens catching Cena as he attemptd a cross body block and giving him a version of the World's Strongest Slam; Owens rolling out of the way of the Five Knuckle Shuffle setup and luring Cena into position for a Swanton bomb, only to be met with knees; Owens stealing the Five Knuckle Shuffle for himself; Owens reversing the springboard Stunner into a German suplex; Owens' second rope fisherman buster; Cena reversing the pop-up power bomb into a hurricanrana; Owens hitting an AA and applying the STF; and Owens taking a springboard Stunner only to stay on his feet and floor the champ with a lariat.

Even though he's turning out great matches Cena's
still doing sloppy applications of the STF.
The finishing sequence saw Cena hit an Attitude Adjustment from the second rope. Despite it being the third of the match overall and WWE matches very, very rarely seeing someone kick out of a third finisher Owens kicked out. Cena sold absolute disbelief as Cole emphasised he'd not seen him looked so stunned since he lost to The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII. Owens was deadweight as Cena pulled him up but managed to sneak in a small package for a very believable two count. Cena then applied the STF, forcing Owens to tap out.

That Owens lost was disappointing. But he was kept strong in defeat, fighting against the STF and being allowed to kick out of the AA three times. It verges on amazing that Cena has been this good in 2015. It just shows that if he feels he has something to prove against someone he'll work hard to produce a cracking match. That's three match of the year contenders he's had with Owens now, in addition to the various TV matches he's had with Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Dean Ambrose and others. I wouldn't mind Owens v Cena IV at SummerSlam, even though this was framed as the final entry in their series.

Miz wandered out to the ring after that, just as Cole and company were talking about Ryback being pulled from his scheduled title defence due to a staph infection. 'The Awesome One' ran down 'The Big Guy' for getting injured and depriving him of his championship victory. He proclaimed himself the toughest man in the building and urged Big Show to retire, prompting 'The World's Largest Athlete' to waddle out to the ring. Miz tried sweet talking him but got a KO punch for his trouble. The audience enjoyed that. I was just happy that the segment was kept short.

Which just left the WWE world championship match, Seth Rollins defending against Brock Lesnar. Everything immediately before the match, the hype video, the entrances, was excellent, perfectly building anticipation for the big fight. At the bell Lesnar rushed Rollins into a corner and hit him with shoulder tackles. Rollins managed to slip away and left the ring. 'The Pain' followed him and got caught with punches as he rolled back in. He shrugged those off and tried a suplex. Rollins clenched the ropes and got in some well-placed kicks on the challenger. He headed to the top rope and launched himself off, hoping to daze the big man.

Suplex city. Population; Seth Rollins.
It didn't work. He got caught. And then the suplexes began. Rollins absorbed five German suplexes before he rolled outside the ring, grabbed the title belt ad tried to leave through the crowd. Lesnar leapt out of the ring, launched himself over the crowd barrier and through Rollins back into the ring.

Rollins took another German suplex and some elbow strikes before reversing a suplex and wobbling Lesnar with a super kick and some strikes of his won, all aimed at the hamstring. Lesnar was taken down to his knees and took four super kicks as he staggered back up. The champ tried for a Pedigree but Lesnar turned it into an F5 attempt.

Rollins escaped that and kneed 'The Beast' out of the ring, following him out with a suicide dive. He returned to the ring to go for a second but Lesnar slipped in after him and met him with a belly-to-belly suplex off the ropes, Rollins' seventh suplex overall. Lesnar hit five more German suplexes on Rollins. Rollins responded by slapping Lesnar. Lesnar smirked and gave Rollins (unsurprisingly) another German suplex.

After that Lesnar scooped Rollins up and blasted him with an F5. The count went as far as two before the lights cut out and a gong sounded.

Yes, he first ever singles match between Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins was interrupted by the return of the fifty-year-old Undertaker.

To his credit Lesnar sold the appearance like The Undertaker was the scariest sight he'd ever seen. That was the best approach to take but considering his standing within the company there was no guarantee he'd do it. He had, after all, beaten 'The Dead Man' with relative ease in their last encounter a year and a half earlier and been on a tear ever since. If anyone on the roster could justifiably stare down 'Taker and treat him like a washed up has-been it was Lesnar. Not doing so retained the air of credibility that's needed for whatever Undertaer does next.

Still over after all these years.
Based on what we see next that seems like a rematch with Lesnar at SummerSlam. 'Taker went for a choke slam. Lesnar escaped and went for an F5. Undertaker escaped that, kicked Lesnar low, and gave him both a choke slam and a Tombstone piledriver. He went to leave but returned to hit a second Tombstone when Lesnar dragged himself up to his feet. The response was wild, but a few boos stood out amongst the pro-Undertaker cheers and chants.

The show went off the air with Undertaker marching backstage and Heyman tending to Brock Lesnar in the ring. The fate of Seth Rollins was left unknown.

As a show Battleground was pretty good, on the whole. The main event was great and although it went to a non-finish it did so for the right reasons and provided something that satisfied in place of a hot match. Owens v Cena III was every bit as good as their previous two encounters, the Divas were finally presented as a serious division again on pay-per-view, and the tag titles were attached to another enjoyable match. There were less  good additions like Orton v Sheamus and Wyatt v Reigns but they were never actively bad. It stopped short of being a top notch show but it was a highly enjoyable couple of hours.


Results summary:
Randy Orton defeated Sheamus
The Prime Time Players defeated New Day to retain the tag team championship
Bray Wyatt defeated Roman Reigns
Charlotte defeated Brie Bella and Sasha Banks
John Cena defeated Kevin Owens to retain the United States championship
Brock Lesnar v Seth Rollins went to a non-finish when The Undertaker returned and attacked Lesnar

Saturday 18 July 2015

NXTweet 15.07.15

Finn Bálor has been the NXT champion for weeks and hasn't appeared on his show with the belt yet. That's the one negative of recording shows a month in advance. Not that it detracts from the quality of NXT. We got a resolution to the Gable and Jordan story, hype for Barry Corbin and Eva Marie (y'know, just general hype an' that) and a cracking main event between Charlotte and Sasha Banks. Who needs a men's champion?


Tweet 1: It's do a watch of NXT time.
Tweet 2: "Hey guys if you could chant NXT for us to splice in at convenient points we'd really appreciate it."

Jason Jordan and Chad Gable v Elias Sampson and Steve Cutler

Tweet 3: Chad Gable. The new Tye Dillinger.
Tweet 4: I'm immediately enjoying Chad Gable repeatedly tapping Jason Jordan. Hope they go with a mancrush story.

Gable's able.

Tweet 5: Srs point: I've liked the story of Chad convincing 'The New Double J' to tag with him. Simple and easy to follow innit.
Tweet 6: Sampson and Cutler need a team name. How about The Gold Star Rangers?
Tweet 7: Pop-up 2D finish. Just to stick it to them damn Dudleys.

Recap of RAW

Tweet 8: Recap of Lynch, Banks and Charlotte. That makes me think WWE realises there are people who watch NXT but not RAW.
Tweet 9: Those people are sensible.

Samoa Joe v Axel Tischer

Tweet 10: Samoa Joseph's music is all over the place. Starts off as some big epic thing then becomes synth hiphop.
Tweet 11: Axel Tischer's name will get changed at some point surely? Vince will drop Axel and Tischer is too weird to be his only name.
Tweet 12: Really enjoying Tischer's Heidenreich lite look.
Tweet 13: Heidenlite. #stillgotit
Tweet 14: Tischer raking Joe's eyes on the top rope. Absolutely devastating display.

Son of Heidenreich taking a kick to the face there.

Tweet 15: Joe getting the shock win there. Really didn't expect that. Thought that lad I'd never seen or heard of would go over.
Tweet 16: The Eva Marie push continues. It's even happening in Total Divas ads now.

Baron Corbin vignette

Tweet 17: YES! Barry Corbin talking about FOOTBALL and MARTIAL ARTS as he gets a TATTOO.
Tweet 18: Barry is THE READ DEAL, yo! You think you've done something? You've done NOTHING compared to Barry, mate.
Tweet 19: Loving Barry slating people for wrestling in gymnasiums so much. He's above that. He's told Triple H not to book him in gyms.
Tweet 20: And Triple H listened because he respects Barry's Wolf Power.

Eva Marie promo

Tweet 21: Eva Marie appearing to #instantheat here.
Tweet 22: Dem mic skillz.
Tweet 23: In-ring debut next week, Eva? What about all those times I saw you wrestle before? Wouldn't that mean you've already debuted?

What's her name again...?

Tweet 24: I'm genuinely hyped for Eva's REdebut though. So much potential in her as a troll character ruining the women's division.
Tweet 25: Still think she'll surprise us and be relatively good though.

Blake and Murphy v Angelo Dawkins and Sawyer Fulton

Tweet 26: Team name suggestion for Blake 'n' Murphy: The 90s Scarecrows.
Tweet 27: Angelo Dawkins should keep this amateur rassler gimmick but also wear a backpack and wacky glasses. Change it up, brother. Stand out.
Tweet 28: Your partner's channelling Rick Steiner. You need to keep up with that and it won't be easy.
Tweet 29: Soooooo... which one's Blake and which one's Murphy?

Who are we meant to cheer for here?

Tweet 30: Why are we seeing a heel versus heel match? What sense does this make? Is it a test to see if WGTT 2.0 can be cool heels? They can't.
Tweet 31: Nice to see Alexa's career path closely following that of Trish Stratus. Fitness model > Manager of a dodgy team > Greatest Wrestler Ever™
Tweet 32: Blake and Murphy beating up legit shoot fight juggernauts Fulton 'n' 'Dorky' Dawkins. This gets them over as KILLERZ.
Tweet 33: I wish JR was around to call that assisted Sparkle Splash. "Bah gawd! Sparkle Splash! Sparkle Splash! Sparkle Splash! That Jezebel!"

Sasha Banks backstage

Tweet 34: Sasha Banks wandering about in a dimly lit locker room there. Because why not?

Sami Zayn promo

Tweet 35: Sami Zayn there, looking like an injured golfer.
Tweet 36: "Welcome home" chant for Zayn. He's from Canada, ya daft Floridians.
Tweet 37: Waiting for Sami to say he's been "Daniel Bryaned."
Tweet 38: "2014 was probably the best year of my career" - Sami Zayn
Tweet 39: Sami's goals include winning the PGA championship, continuing to wear nice golf shirts, and wrestling The Undertaker at WrestleMania.
Tweet 40: Sami Zayn saying he wants Kevin Owens' ass. Such an Attitude Era sentiment.

Charlotte backstage

Tweet 41: Earlier today Charlotte did some skipping with a rope. That right there is how you know she's an #athlete

San Diego Comic Con NXT panel recap

Tweet 42: Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens being on the same panel at Comic Con exposes the business. Just ask Jim Ross.
Tweet 43: Finn Bálor is not a confident speaker outside of a wrestling show. Not a surprise tbh.
Tweet 44: Srs point: I like Owens saying New York City is to him what (all of) Japan is to Fergal 'Demon King' Devitt.
Tweet 45: That's how you do a modern wrestling story. Make it about careers and wins and losses and personality clashes.

NXT women's championship: Charlotte v Sasha Banks (c)

Tweet 46: Hello please where is Queen City kthnxbye.
Tweet 47: Charlotte should be announced from Flair Country.
Tweet 48: Charlotte still awkwardly doing her dad's taunts is so cringe. Just let her drop it. She clearly doesn't enjoy doing it.
Tweet 49: Charlotte, the babyface, likes to describe herself as "genetically superior". Y'know, like the Nazis did.
Tweet 50: Hope Charlotte doing the Flair Flop becomes a thing. Want to see her rolling from the ring, walking backstage and doing it in a locker room.
Tweet 51: Banks pressing A and B to steal her opponent's finisher there.
Tweet 52: This match is #wellgood for the record.
Tweet 53: I want to see Charlotte face Luke Harper in a Big Boot Must Be The Finish match.
Tweet 54: Devastating hair extension blows! Whadda match!
Tweet 55: Dat Bank Statement torque.

This hold is incredible.

Tweet 56: Banks winning via tap out with such a crazy-looking hold is part of the reason this division is so good. Everything looks legitimate.
Tweet 57: Banks tearing up after retaining helps too. Shows she cares, innit.
Tweet 58: "This women's division is in great hands" - Corey Graves with a comment notable because it looks like both women are leaving the division
Tweet 59: Great show everyone. Good hustle. Except Byron.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

WWE Battleground 2015 preview

With a Rollins versus Lesnar championship match in the main event slot WWE could have taken it easy with the Battleground undercard. They've done such a good job building Lesnar up (keeping him strong, if you will) over the last eighteen months that getting to see him wrestle can be considered a special occasion. Even when it's on a house show in Japan against Kofi Kingston.

But they haven't taken it easy. The undercard of the Batteground show has clearly had some thought put into it, with some matches that will almost certainly be very good and others designed to heat people up for bigger, better things sometime in the (presumably not too distant) future. Of the former we have Sheamus versus Orton and the tag team championship match. Of the latter we have Reigns versus Wyatt and (potentially) the IC title three-way. Meanwhile Owens versus Cena can fit snugly into both categories.

That comment about the three-way may confuse some people so I'll talk about that first. I don't think Miz, Big Show or Ryback should be considered locks for top card spots. Miz had his chance in 2010 and 2011 and he blew it. There's always a chance Show could be slotted back into a top spot in an emergency but on the whole I think we should be expecting to see him at this upper mid-card card level from now on.

But something big could be planned for Ryback. His status has been all over the place over the last few years. He went from main eventing shows against WWE champion CM Punk to being in a nothing tag team with Curtis Axel before being sensibly turned face again so that he could be slowly shifted up the ranks once more, which is where we find him now. This match is clearly designed to boost his standing by having him beat a monster and an irritant at the same time. It's possible that the intention is to have him ready for something big by the end of the year. Whether that's the case or not he'll be leaving with the gold.

The Reigns v Wyatt match is more definitely about making someone look good and getting them ready for something else. It's just not obvious who that is. I can fully understand people expecting Reigns to win this match but I don't think it's anywhere close to a foregone conclusion. We know that WWE likes to stretch feuds between major names (which Reigns and Wyatt are) over two or three pay-per-views. I fully expect to see a rematch at SummerSlam. And because of this it's possible 'The Eater of Worlds' will defeat WWE's favourite Samoan.

If that happens I don' think it will be a clean victory. It almost certainly wouldn't, in fact. Reigns is considered the more important of the two long term and as such he's the only man in this feud likely to gain a win clean. But Wyatt winning via shenanigans at Battleground would be the simplest way of setting up the SummerSlam rematch. It would also be unexpected and allow the creative team to do some sort of distraction finish with Wyatt utilising Reigns' daughter in some way, which is something they seem inexplicably big on right now.

Owens v Cena III: The Reckoning should be amazing. Their first two matches have both been match of the year contenders, adding to Owens' generally strong body of work from his six months in NXT and Cena's surprising, welcome, and mildly baffling string of wondrous matches against mid-card wrestlers. They're currently tied at one win a piece. That would usually make me lean a little more towards a Cena victory because it's rare for him to fall behind on the victory tally when he's in a series with someone, especially someone not yet established. You need only look at the Rusev programme from earlier this year for a perfect example of Cena losing an initial meeting only to go on to win each subsequent bout, despite it not being in the company's long term best interests.

Things are different with Owens. Not only does he have more momentum than 'The Bulgarian Brute' but WWE seems generally more interested pushing him, presumably because they see more potential in him than Rusev (rightly so, if true). By the time we were midway through Rusev v Cena it was clear they didn't really see Rusev as someone who'd be headlining soon (a shame because had Rusev not lost at all to Cena, or even just had one more win and looked a smidge more competitive in his losses he could have been a great world title contender by now). Owens is being afforded time to flesh out his character and being presented as a man who could very well be Cena's equal in the ring. This is, basically, a programme that features a man who has a future at the top of the card and a man who is the top of the card.

I think this is a bout Owens has to win. His character is one that needs the advantage over Cena at this point. We need to be shown that he'll keep pushing himself after suffering a loss, and a second win over Cena would be so much better for the longevity of this rivalry. The best route that could be taken with this feud is presenting Owens as the surly, indy-friendly version of Cena, which he pretty much is. For that to truly work he needs to have Cena's skill of rebounding from a loss with a more dominating performance.

The only downside of an Owens win would be the loss of Cena's weekly US Open Challenge from RAW.  It's been the highlight of most RAWs since it was introduced a few months ago and has allowed Cena to have what I think is shaping up to be the strongest in-ring year of his career. But this would be a small price to pay to enhance Owens for a bit. And there's no reason 'Mr Wrestling' couldn't do his own weekly challenge, which I'm sure would keep the good matches coming and be an interesting way of keeping the Cena v Owens rivalry alive.

On a similar note, I expect Sheamus v Orton to be good as well. They generally have enjoyable matches together, bringing out the best in one another and having good timing together. It's a shame they don't have more of a story beyond "Randy came back after his hols and took out his latest indecipherable babyface frustrations out on Shaymo" because if they did I think I could have been tempted into caring about this. Sheamus will presumably win because he's got the Money in the Bank briefcase and he'll need to be kept strong for whatever angle that earns him.

The Prime Time Players v New Day should be a reliably fun match too. New Day's ability to get insane heat from audiences should keep people interested and help to encourage cheers for the PTPs. The last couple of months have demonstrated that Young and O'Neil can contribute good matches if the booking's right and they're given long enough to pull themselves together. Hopefully that trend will continue. As far as winners go I'll go with the Players because they've only had the titles a month. Should New Day win it will be after cheating, quite possibly Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston swapping places at the finish. Because sneaky heels, am I right?!

Which leaves us only the main event to discuss. I'll start with the obvious and say this match should be very good. Lesnar and Rollins have interacted a fair bit this year what with their interaction in the Royal Rumble triple threat and their handful of intense scuffles. This, along with the fact that Lesnar matches always benefit from a lot of planning and forethought, should ensure they put on a good show. It's interesting to note that this is their first ever singles match despite them interacting as long ago as Night of Champions last September, when Rollins caused a DQ with a failed Money in the Bank cash-in.

The story of the match seems easy to guess. Lesnar will be the unstoppable monster he always is and Rollins will play the coward. Lesnar will dominant the early going before Rollins cheats to gain an advantage for a while. There things get hazy. Lesnar will obviously make a comeback but it won't necessarily lead to a win and his fifth WWE world championship. A month before SummerSlam doesn't seem like the right time for a title switch. For that matter Lesnar doesn't feel like the guy to take the title from 'The Future'. That would be Roman Reigns.

So I'm going to say we'll see Rollins retain the championship. I can't see it being a straightforward win. Lesnar's unlikely to take one of those for someone not named Roman Reigns.

Battleground looks like it could be a good show. Despite the puzzling absence of Dean Ambrose and the depressing absence of the Divas division, which had only been rejuvenated on Monday (although there's time for a women's match to be added I think it's sad that after doing such a good job of creating interest in the division nothing was immediately announced to capitalise on the momentum), I think there's a lot to look forward to. Owens v Cena and Lesnar v Rollins alone are worth watching this show for. Anything else being good is pretty much a bonus.


Predictions summary:
Seth Rollins to retain the WWE championship against Brock Lesnar via shenanigans
Kevin Owens to defeat John Cena for the United States championship
Bray Wyatt to defeat Roman Reigns
The Prime Time Players to retain the tag team championship against New Day
Ryback to retain the Intercontinental championship
Sheamus to defeat Randy Orton

Tuesday 14 July 2015

That RAW Recap 13.07.15

In my opinion the July 2015 edition of Monday Night RAW deserves to go down as one of the best episodes of recent times. As usual it featured both good things and bad but unlike usual the good things outweighed the bad and, more importantly, when things were good they were really good. And things were never better than when Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins faced off and when the Divas division finally got the shot in the arm it's needed for what seems like years.

Lesnar and Rollins was great because everyone involved knew exactly what was expected of them and made sure they were on top form. The pair were given the standard  issue WWE trope of a contract signing to play with but got to do something different with it. Rollins played the cocky heel who claimed to have a plan to take down his more dominant foe. Lesnar played the super-cool face not at all rattled by Rollins' bravado. Both were excellent, as were their respective seconds Kane and Paul Heyman.

I still love Lesnar even though they're going OTT with this Suplex City stuff.
What made the exchange truly great was the brawl (because there's always a brawl). Rollins tried to sneakily palm a weapon he'd stashed under the desk. Heyman noticed and called him on it. 'The Future' denied the accusation, playing up the affront for all it was worth. Lesnar's response was to flip the table over and pull out the stick1 Rollins had hidden there. He then calmly placed it on the table and sat back down, gesturing for Rollins to make his move.

Rollins showed caution but did make his move, beaming with pride after he'd grabbed his stick back. He began taunting 'The Beast' but didn't get far before Lesnar sprang to his feet and lobbed the table in Rollins' face. A German suplex followed before Kane got involved, briefly helping Rollins to give Lesnar a kicking. Naturally this didn't last: Lesnar would shrug off Kane's efforts and F5 him outside the ring before smashing his ankle with the ring steps.

Once Lesnar had left Rollins would return to the ring and cut a promo on him, promising to "slay" him (because he's a beast, y'see) at Battleground. He then turned his attention to Kane, telling him he was nothing and stomping on his injured ankle.

Rollins left this segment looking like an opportunistic coward who people should be desperate to see receive his comeuppance. Lesnar left looking like an unstoppable juggernaut. Which is exactly what he should be. Along the way we were reminded that Lesnar is not just freakily strong but impossible to intimidate and smart, all excellent qualities in a take-no-prisoners type babyface. Basically it's stuff like this that reminds you just how great Lesnar is.

As good as the Lesnar-Rollins stuff was it's the stuff with the Divas2.

Let's start with (an attempt at) a succinct summary with what happened. Divas champion Nikki Bella strolled out with her sister Brie and Bella groupie Alicia Fox. The usual routine of Nikki talking about being a strong champion only to be interrupted then played out. Paige being one of the people interrupting was not a surprise. Stephanie McMahon being the other, however, was.

Steph, inexplicably playing babyface3,  talked about Paige wanting to bring about a revolution in the Divas division and made it clear she thought this was commendable (and in fairness she couldn't have done this as a heel). She then introduced NXT stars Becky Lynch and Charlotte as Paige's allies. Charlotte, being the daughter of Ric Flair, naturally got the louder reaction of the two but not by a huge amount. That this can be said of Lynch shows how far she's come since she was entering to stereotypical Irish music and doing awkward jigs in the ring.

As Paige and her designated pals had a staredown with Team Bella the entrance music extravaganza continued and Naomi, the forgotten woman of the division, sauntered out with Tamina. Naomi said she had unfinished business with both Nikki and Paige before being told, almost patronisingly, by Stephanie that she absolutely deserved to be in the ring. Sasha Banks was then introduced as the new playmate of Naomi and Tamina and joined them in the ring to face off with Team Bella.

Finally, an exciting Divas scene.
Which is where things broke down. Nikki, Brie and Alicia turned around only to find they were also being confronted by Paige, Charlotte and Lynch. A brawl broke out. It was lengthy and a bit sloppy but it drew the audience in and it made it clear that all nine women were equals. It also ended exactly as it needed to, with Lynch trapping Brie in the armbar, Charlotte applying the figure eight leg lock to Alicia, and Banks giving Nikki the Bank Statement. It was the perfect introduction for the three women from NXT, and it was particularly nice to see women's champion Banks paired up with Divas champion Nikki.

What made all of this work is that WWE have spent so long getting around to it. It's would be misleading to say that they've done a slow burn build because they've have an awful main roster women's division for much of the last decade, but they have taken a more deliberate pace over the last few months. Team Bella has been built up as a dominant force ruling over a stagnant division. They've played on the fact that their women's division is weak as well as the common view that Nikki and Brie "don't know how to work" and written in a sensible story about a lone crusader, Paige, trying to instigate change.

With just one fifteen minute segment WWE made their main roster women's division interesting. There are so many directions they could take and matches they could present. I'm excited about the Divas division for the first time in years. And for that alone this episode will always be memorable for me.


1 That it was a stick, albeit a very nice one (by which I mean it was nicely smoothed and had some varnish on it), was the only disappointing thing about this segment. With the current story being that Rollins is becoming increasingly like his on-screen mentor Triple H it would have made far more sense for him to have hidden a sledgehammer under the table.

2 Look, I'm aware of how unprogressive it is to refer to women as Divas. I think we all are. But that's the label WWE (by which I mean Vince McMahon) has chosen for its female wrestlers so I'm going to use it. I'm nothing if not accurate when it comes to this sort of meaningless stuff.

3 To be fair Steph rapidly switching between heel and face is not new. She was doing it as long ago as 2003 during her time as GM of SmackDown, where she would happily play both good and bad on the same show. At least these days she tends to have the good grace to leave a few days between her turns.