I have been looking forward to Joker for several months. Joaquin Phoenix is one of my favourite actors and has been since he played Johnny Cash in ‘Walk the Line’. But after Romero, Nicholson, Hamill and Ledger (we’ll ignore Leto), could Phoenix bring something new to the character? Yes. Would this movie live up to expectations? An even bigger yes.

Poster 3Retro

Firstly, the film is set within a Gotham City of an unspecified period but somewhere in the 1980’s. This extends to a retro Warner Brothers logo which is a lovely detail. It is the period of ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘The King of Comedy’ and the seminal Batman graphic novel ‘The Killing Joke’, although in reality a period separated by more a decade. As with these key influences the setting is an amalgamation. The non-specific time frame also allows for commentary on our modern world.

Gotham is a city which is bubbling with social unrest. The elite, epitomised by Thomas Wayne, are safe within their bubble seemingly unaware of the hard times and suffering which the less fortunate people in Gotham are having to endure. News reports are inflaming the situation further with stories of giant rats feasting on the festering rubbish littering the streets due to a strike. Budget cuts are causing the removal of care services. Medications are no longer available for those who need them.

Poster 1Joaquin is Joker

Simply put Joaquin Phoenix is astonishing. He dominates the film and is in every single scene. His descent into the more maniacal Joker that we are already familiar is a shocking and at times deeply distressing journey. Phoenix’s appearance as Arthur Fleck is merely a reflection of how he has been mistreated and abused mentally and emotionally as well as physically. Malnourished. Bruised and beaten. He works as a clown but even that is not without perils. In the evening he returns home to take care of his mother and, much like his job, is also a negative experience. Fleck is not a character that you have sympathy for, instead you just pity him.

Whilst watching the movie it is difficult not to want to see that eventual metamorphosis into Joker. That’s why we bought the cinema ticket. But at the same time you don’t really want it to come because, when it does, you realise it isn’t going to be pretty. Boy, is it not pretty!

The explanation of Arthur’s laughter being an involuntary response, seemingly occurring at times of stress, anger and nervousness, was a smart way of accounting for that particular trait of Joker. Medicalising it as the result of a brain injury or impairment was, in my opinion, reaching a bit. But it also balanced with his inability to understanding comedy. Arthur has a desire to be a standup comedian but laughs at the setup rather than punchline. His sense of humour is not obscure or dark, it just isn’t funny.

Venice winnerDirected by Todd Philips

Perhaps the only genuine criticism that I can level at this film is the lack of subtlety. This should be no real surprise as it comes from the director of the Hangover trilogy. The points being made are unquestionably clear. ‘Look what happens when you don’t treat people with mental health problems appropriately’. ‘This is what happens when the wealthy defecate on the poor’. ‘A lack of gun control and the accessibility of weapons can have dangerous consequences’. ‘The media portray the wealthy in glowing terms no matter what they do’. These themes are not painted with the dexterity of a paintbrush on canvas, more like a wrecking ball smashing into a wall. But the messages are clear and that has proved to be effective.

Joker won the Best Film award at the Venice Film Festival plus others and is expected to perform well when awards season hits. That is a credit not just to Phoenix’s sensational performance but to director Todd Philips who have collectively created something truly unique. It isn’t a comic book movie in the conventional sense. The whole thing also looks incredible. A period setting, brilliantly shot and with terrific cinematography by Lawrence Sher. If you can get to an IMAX screening then I would highly recommend it.

Poster 2Violence

It is unquestionably a movie which has created controversy. Joker could quite easily be considered to be a dangerous film, capable of inciting violence in a way that ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was claimed to have influenced on its release. Much of the attention of the debate surrounds the violence which Joker instigates but that would be missing the point entirely. Fleck’s violent outbursts are as a result of the violence he himself has had to endure. Those moments are a reaction to something inflicted upon him but they become increasingly greater over-reactions. First, a physical assault. The second and third instances are based upon long-term abuse with the latter more implied and not entirely clear. Finally, a reaction to being made fun of. Instead of continuing to take the abuse Fleck lashes out in increasingly dramatic ways. Much like Gotham itself the bubbling anger and frustration boil over and the result is carnage and chaos.

That said the film could’ve been far more gratuitous in its violence. In the UK the film received only a 15 certificate so it could easily have gone further still and achieved an 18. The violence is shocking because it occurs unexpectedly. Yes the acts are inherently violent in themselves but in a lot of cases it will catch people off guard and that accentuates the shock. It is a movie full of tension but not a constant unease which elicits terror in the viewer. Uncomfortable to watch but not due to the content if taken in isolation.


Special mention has to be made to the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir which is a work of brilliance. Mournful sounds of cello strings accentuate the tension and contribute to an unforgettable experience. It is not for the faint of heart. Whilst I did not need to see yet another version of Thomas and Martha Wayne being murdered in front of a young Bruce, it felt like an appropriate ripple as Gotham caught fire. Joker becomes a hero. A symbol for a groundswell of social unrest. Let’s hope this particular element remains where it belongs, on screen and not in reality.

I would be surprised if Joaquin Phoenix does not get award nominations for this role. Whilst it is a difficult and at times harrowing film to watch Phoenix and Philips have delivered something truly exceptional.


WM34I have let a few days pass and recovered the hours of sleep lost on Sunday night/Monday morning. I’ve also been able to revisit certain moments, particularly the Main Event and trust me the bulk of this review will focus on that final match. After a few days of consideration my initial reaction to the show has remained largely unchanged. So, let’s dive right into it.

Duration of the Show

Let’s get this out of the way early. A 7 hour show is absurd. The main card went over 5 hours and with a 2 hour pre-show it was simply too long. As someone watching in the UK this meant staying up past 5AM. Unsurprisingly I dozed off on a few occasions. But as a live experience I’d be surprised if audience fatigue was not a factor as the show took a definite nosedive.

WM34_AndreMatt Hardy wins the Andre the Giant Battle Royal

Kicking off the action were all the male superstars otherwise not appearing on WrestleMania. Dolph Ziggler tried to showoff, skinning the cat over and over again but let’s not forget that he’s no longer a gimmick. The match itself was pretty boring, as Battle Royals can be, and then the conclusion was confusing to say the least. Matt Hardy won but the appearance of Bray Wyatt muddied the waters. Given all the entrants filling the ring I wasn’t 100% that Bray hadn’t been in the match. Wyatt’s emergence from the ‘lake of reincarnation’ clearly only saw him reacquire his lead apron. Odd finish but decent result. Shame it doesn’t matter in the long-term as the oversized trophy has been rendered meaningless in recent years.

The addition of Jim ‘JR’ Ross and Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler for this match was an odd choice with Byron Saxton effectively being the lead commentator. It smacked of a meaningless gesture to two Hall of Famers but it was nice to see and hear them once again.

WM34_Cedric_MustafaCedric Alexander defeated Mustafa Ali to win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

Whilst a perfectly competent match, with some entertaining sequences and high spots, I wasn’t gripped. The cheesy dialogue between the two combatants concerning heart and soul was tedious to say the least.

WM34-Womens-Battle-RoyalNaomi wins the Women’s Battle Royal

This match wasn’t too bad with a small showcase for some NXT competitors, Billie Kay was oddly absent but Peyton Royce stood out. But once again the conclusion of this match was confused with fans initially think that Bayley had won only for Naomi to re-emerge and snatch victory. As predicted it continued the bubbling storyline between Bayley and Sasha Banks which will hopefully be built for a SummerSlam main event spot. As an aside, the look on Paige’s face when she tried to suggest that she might make the Women’s Battle Royal was heartbreaking as you could tell that she didn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth. She formally retired from in-ring competition the following night.

Three matches in and the preshow didn’t catch fire but that would all change when the main card began.

WM34_Miz_Finn_SethSeth Rollins defeated The Miz (c) and Finn Balor to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship

As a match to kick off the show who better to deliver than these three top performers. The fast pace and impressive action was the perfect start with Rollins capturing the gold to become a Grand Slam champion. The Miz seems to be moving towards a face turn, sending the Miztourage back to the locker room, and so three baby faces in the same match didn’t really work. But the action was smooth and entertaining, it just wasn’t a match viewers could emotionally invest in because any outcome and victor would’ve been enjoyed and accepted.

WM34_Asuka_CharlotteCharlotte Flair (c) defeated Asuka to retain the SmackDownLive Women’s Championship

Probably the match of the night. Personally I thought Asuka tapped out to the Figure 8 Lock a bit too quickly. She could’ve held on a little longer given she had been undefeated up until that point. Some of the moves were as spectacular as Charlotte’s entrance with the moonsault counter and Spanish fly standing out in particular. The emotional conclusion was also a nice touch and it seemed appropriate that Charlotte Flair, undoubtedly the best female in the company, was the individual to break Asuka’s streak and cementing her legacy. Asuka herself now needs to go on another run of victories but this loss certainly won’t hurt her. What will is the fact that she’s now no longer able to use the armbar submission, presumably neither is Becky Lynch, because of Ronda Rousey’s addition to the roster.

WM34_Jinder_Orton_Roode_RusevJinder Mahal defeated Rusev, Bobby Roode and Randy Orton (c) to win the WWE United States Championship

A Jinder victory was unexpected. His unsuccessful WWE title run would’ve been more suited to the US title but it’s a bit late to try it now. Rusev is over with the audience. The ‘Rusev Day’ chants are everywhere but seeing Jinder pin Rusev was effectively a middle finger to the audience. How dare the WWE Universe support someone the company didn’t intend them too! So Jinder is the champion and I fear more distasteful promos on the blue brand.

WM34_Kurt_Ronda_HHH_StephRonda Rousey and Kurt Angle defeated Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

Talk about the shock of the night! I, like most, feared that this would be a car wreck of a match. With the exception of Stephanie gently placing Kurt’s head into the steel steps in a manner akin to the way she probably rests her children down on a pillow, and Kurt struggling to extend his legs to back body drop Triple H over the rope, the match was largely excellent. Although Steph being able to block a former UFC champion’s armbar was straining the believable, it did make the moment when she inevitably locked it in electric. There was also a great tease that she might force Triple H to tap to the submission. Overall the match was simply great fun and proved to be a highlight of the whole show.

WM34_Usos_NewDay_BludgeonThe Bludgeon Brothers defeated The Usos (c) and The New Day to win the SmackDownLive Tag Team Championships

This is possibly where the show began the decline. A short match that needed a stipulation that could’ve elevated it to the heights of the highlight reel mainstay that was the TLC II match at WrestlemaniaX7. Instead it was a short match that successfully sent the SmackDownLive tag team division in a new direction. Expect the Usos or New Day to move to RAW in the upcoming superstar shakeup.

WM34_taker_cenaThe Undertaker defeated John Cena

So after all the build up fans were treated to a sub 3 minute squash match. Firstly, Cena appeared in the crowd on the Kickoff show. Unfortunately, this meant that the action was regularly interrupted to cut to Cena watching on. Cue an overreaction the moment he realised that he was now on camera. When a referee ran down to ringside after the Charlotte/Asuka match to tell Cena that catering had been stocked up backstage, it triggered his sprinting up the ramp that became a meme creators dream. When Cena came down to the ring and the lights went out, the whole of the Superdome leapt from their seats. Then Elias came down. “Were you expecting someone else?”

That moment was sublime. Unfortunately, Elias’ continued elevation in the thoughts of the WWE Universe was undone by a typical Cena burial. As Cena made his way back up the ramp once again the lights went out again. A spotlight revealed Undertaker’s hat and coat in the ring where it had been left the year before. With a flash of lightning the items disappeared. Then Undertaker emerged. All of this was brilliantly delivered. But then the match began.

Whilst Undertaker looked in great shape, moving smoother than he’d managed in recent outings. The match was completely one sided. All it accomplished is the possibility that The Undertaker could return at any point. After an emotional departure from the ring at WrestleMania XXXIII he deserves to be allowed to retire with dignity. Instead I fear we may continue to get unsatisfactory contests on the biggest show of the year for the foreseeable future. Will we get shorter and shorter matches until ‘Taker’s body finally declares that enough is enough? I hope not. But on this occasion, given the lengthy buildup and teasing, the final match was largely unsatisfying.

WM34_OwensZayn_DanielBryanShaneDaniel Bryan and Shane McMahon defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Viewers watching on the WWE Network can identify the precise moment that the crowd in the Superdome was lost. Seeing Daniel Bryan return to the ring after his retirement was supposed to be a highlight of the show. The ‘Yes’ chants were delivered with rabid passion that was extinguished by the sneak attack from KO and Sami followed by the powerbomb onto the ring apron. The subsequent stretcher spot was designed to prey on people’s worries about Bryan’s physical condition and ultimately see a triumphant hot tag to win the match. In the meantime Shane McMahon had to defy his own poor physical condition after Diverticulitis to get him some laughable punches and his coast to coast drop kick. Even then the momentum in the arena had been lost and the show could not recapture it. Taking Bryan out early poured cold water on the audience’s excitement levels and WrestleMania failed to recover.

WM34_Alexa_NiaNia Jaxx defeated Alexa Bliss (c) to win the RAW Women’s Championship

This was a peculiar story. Whilst positive that the bullied overcame the bully it did help that the former was an immovable object. The way Nia took out Mickie James was impressive, leaving Alexa alone to attempt to retain her title was part of the story. There were nice moments but it couldn’t match the technical heights achieved by Charlotte and Asuka. The match fell a little flat and this trend would only continue.

WM34_AJStyles_NakamuraAJ Styles (c) defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to retain the WWE Championship

Despite the expectations that this match would be an absolute classic these two failed to gel together. I admit that this contest was the first occasion that I drifted off during but awoke before the end. On rewatching it almost felt that Nakamura in particular was holding back. I don’t think this was deliberate but reflective of the fact that both competitors were baby faces. Nakamura’s heel turn at the end of the match sets up some further matches between the two where hopefully the dynamic of a classic heel v face contest will make up for this initial outing that was a little disappointing.

WM34_Bar_BraunBraun Strowman and Nicholas of the WWE Universe defeated The Bar to win the RAW Tag Team Championships

Now this was crazy. There was plenty of speculation about who could possibly be Braun Strowman’s partner for this match with several options. Instead of a returning or debuting superstar Braun wandered round and picked someone from the crowd. As it turned out, it was the son of the referee that was in the ring.

I think that it is a fair enough idea and does create the feeling that anything could happen if you attend a live WWE event. The issue I have is that this was for a major championship. Having two individuals of the talents of Cesaro and Sheamus squashed by a single competitor is bad enough. Yes Braun is a monster among men. But single-handed he has managed to destroy the entire RAW tag team division, including the champions. With Authors of Pain debuting from NXT on RAW the following day, they could’ve immediately been positioned as a dominating team by overcoming Braun. Instead the Tag Titles have been ridiculed. Being won by a 10 year old child is one thing but for them to then be simply handed back because of a scheduling conflict with the fourth grade, although amusing, weakens their value. Win them in the ring and lose them in the ring as Macho Man once said. On the night the moment worked but going forward it was never going to.

WM34_Lesnar_ReignsBrock Lesnar (c) defeated Roman Reigns to retain the Universal Championship

Buckle up. Here we go. The Main Event.

Firstly, the crowd were determined to defecate all over this match. They were determined to tell WWE, and Vince in particular, that they rejected both of these guys. Beachballs were flying. “This is awful” chants rang out. The crowd were not engaged in the match whatsoever. The final outcome surprised everyone because we all expected Roman Reigns to be victorious and Brock to return to UFC. I hold my hands up that I completely got it wrong and perhaps we were being played all along. Whilst I am not a huge fan of the prospect of Reigns with the belt, it was preferable to a part-timer who takes the biggest championship in the company off the show for the majority of the time. But the match itself highlighted why Brock is no longer a performer who people actually want to see in a squared circle.

The lack of variety in Brock’s move-set killed the match for me and Roman’s was no better. It was German suplex after German suplex. Then F5 after F5. When Brock tried something different, namely an overhead belly-to-belly suplex onto an announce table, it was so poorly executed that Roman nearly knocked himself out. Reigns in turn had spears and superman punches but very little else. There was no variety. However the biggest issue is the kick outs from finishers, which frankly is killing the business. Anyone who has followed the story of Brock’s title reign expected Roman to kick out of an F5, the move which has downed Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman, the guy who has destroyed the entire RAW tag team division single handed. Only one of those moves was needed to defeat those two behemoths. But Roman is not a normal superstar.

Things got ludicrous after the third kick out. Then Roman gets put through the table and it’s still not enough. When a superstar hits their finisher that should be it. The best sequences in wrestling should be those where the combatants are trying to avoid each other’s finishing manoeuvre. Yes there’s a place for kicking out of a finisher to accentuate drama. But when it is done five times it is insulting the intelligence of the audience and exposing the business as choreographed. I understand trying to portray Roman as a tough guy but a total of SIX F5 finishers being needed to defeat him was absurdity of the highest order. No wonder fans in attendance rejected the match.

Adding to the surprises, Roman got colour. This was seemingly hard-way from a stiff Brock elbow to the head. But there was something odd about it. Perhaps Roman had taken an aspirin before the match, as used to be practice in the old days. Despite this, Reigns still could not overcome the odds and got pinned. Would it have been better for the match to have been called off at this point? The Main Event of WrestleMania stopped due to blood loss would have delivered scorching heel heat on Brock and set up the now scheduled rematch in Saudi Arabia. Instead the conclusion was probably the flattest end to a Wrestlemania of all time.

Overall, the 7 hour spectacle was entertaining but torturous at times, not least because of the running time. The main card started on a high, managed to maintain the momentum and then the show plummeted off a cliff. Yes the result of the Main Event was a surprise to everyone but the quality of the match and the multiple finishers left a sour taste. As a result, the gut reactions as the show ended were of disappointment and fatigue. Days later that still remains the opinion of Wrestlemania 34.

Why the build for Wrestlemania XXXIV has been so poor

WM34Wrestlemania is WWE’s biggest show of the year. The 34th edition of the ‘Grandest Stage of them all’ has one of the most stacked cards in history. There is no shortage of talent on display. However, the majority of these matches are multi-person contests to get anyone with a performer contract an appearance on the event. Tag matches, triple threats, a triple threat tag team, see a pattern? Whilst some noteworthy collisions have been created, the buildup has been poor at best and for many matches simply nonsensical. The anticipated outcomes are equally predictable, further dampening down excitement levels of this particular viewer.

WM34_Lesnar_ReignsBrock Lesnar (c) v Roman Regins for the WWE Universal Championship

Let’s start at the top with what is likely to be the Main Event. This has had some positive moments in the buildup, particularly when Paul Heyman has been on the microphone. The previous contest three years ago was a very good physical bout which got usurped by Seth Rollins. Hopefully they will put on another solid effort but we all know that Roman is going to triumph. Dana White has confirmed that Brock is returning to UFC. Frankly this is a good move as Brock’s year long run with the top title on RAW has weakened the belt’s value and ensured that week after week the top athlete in the company has not been on the flagship show. Fans may not want Roman as ‘the guy’ but Vince McMahon does and that’s the end of that.

The reaction of the crowd will be interesting. Whilst it is undoubtedly a good move to give the belt to a full-time performer, capable of consistently putting on solid matches, fans may not want it to be Roman Reigns. For me it is his overuse of the Superman punch that riles me about Reigns. Hitting five of them on RAW this past week proves my point. It’s overused and just looks a bit rubbish. That said I am looking forward to a Reigns title run against some deserving challengers like Samoa Joe, Finn Balor and others.

WM34_AJStyles_NakamuraAJ Styles (c) v Shinsuke Nakamura for WWE Championship

Now this is one match that I am actually excited about. It hasn’t needed much to build anticipation as many predict that it will be a classic. Previous history in Japan, including their WrestleKingdom 10 match which received a 4 and 3/4 star rating from Dave Meltzer, has been alluded to but not the focus. It is simply a match where two of the best wrestlers in the world will collide to work out who deserves to be the champ. Here’s hoping for a five star contest. If delivered the winner won’t actually matter too much.

WM34_Kurt_Ronda_HHH_StephRonda Rousey and Kurt Angle v Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

Since her debut at the Royal Rumble all roads have built to this, Rowdy Ronda Rousey’s first match in a WWE ring. Rousey’s signing to the company will have drawn additional attention to the product. Unfortunately, this has proved to be a double edged sword. Rousey’s inexperience in the Sports Entertainment environment has been exposed with poor delivery of her scripted promos. In terms of the match, Rousey against Stephanie is no contest at all. Whilst one has no previous experience in a WWE ring, the other’s is pretty limited. In fact Stephanie’s last match was at Summerslam in 2014. It is therefore unsurprising that more experienced hands Triple H and Kurt Angle have been added to the match. Unfortunately, Angle is not in great condition. His inability to stand up straight in the ring is one obvious example. When he covered for Roman Reigns at TLC Angle was protected, actually having a break in the middle of the match before getting a triumphant return. Triple H will be a safe hand guiding the match but few expect Rousey to lose in her first WWE match then we can all move on.

WM34_Asuka_CharlotteCharlotte (c) v Asuka for the SmackdownLive Women’s Championship

Now we get onto the more nonsensical stuff. Fair enough Asuka won the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble and could challenge either Women’s champion. We all anticipate a good match but the way these two have been pushed together highlights how poorly the Women’s division on SmackdownLive has been booked in recent months. Despite performers like Becky Lynch and Natalya, Asuka has been brought in to provide Charlotte with competition for the biggest show of the year. Asuka’s streak against Charlotte’s title makes plenty of sense but ridicules the so-called brand split. Having two competitors on different shows has limited the opportunity for confrontations, not that that matters anymore. Corey Graves manages to make both shows. Also if Asuka wins, and we all expect her to, then will the title go with her to RAW?

WM34_Alexa_NiaAlexa Bliss (c) v Nia Jaxx for the RAW Women’s Championship

Now this has been embarrassing. Alexa has proved herself to be a tremendous champion. A heel champ that fans actually respect and like to a certain extent. The manufactured friendship breakdown has been done simply to give Alexa an opponent and that’s fine. What is completely unacceptable has been the ‘fat shaming’ of Nia. Yes Alexa is a heel but it is totally unnecessary. For all of WWE’s positive steps forward with the Women’s division this strategy is embarrassing. Not least because it comes from a talent who admits to have struggled with an eating disorder in the past. It also makes a mockery of the company’s anti-bullying messages.

Rumours are circulating regarding Carmella’s Money in the Bank cash-in opportunity. I have a feeling that Alexa might fluke a win, Nia will destroy her in frustration only for Carmella to cash in and take the title. This would see Carmella move to RAW and Asuka, assuming she wins, moving to SmackdownLive.

Now look at the next few bouts. Multi-man matches rule this year and remind me of WrestleMania 2000 which was hugely overbooked. The remainder of the card is a mishmash of multi-man contests that sadly reek of getting performers a ‘Mania pay cheque. At least one tag match has the benefit of a returning hero!

WM34_OwensZayn_DanielBryanShaneDaniel Bryan and Shane McMahon v Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

The confirmation that Daniel Bryan was cleared to return to the ring has been a huge lift for SmackdownLive. For a start it actually provides closure on a storyline which has been meandering for months and months. Owens and Zayn have been an entertaining force on the blue brand but their confrontations with Shane have been crying out for a resolution. Bryan has turned from being on their side to an adversary to create this match. Perhaps it will be revealed that he remains on their side after all? It would be surprising to see Bryan lose on his return to in ring action but turning on Shane would see him move from General Manager back to being a wrestler. It would also setup a Shane v Bryan contest at some point and ensure that Zayn and Owens remain contracted to WWE.


WM34_Miz_Finn_SethThe Miz (c) v Finn Balor v Seth Rollins for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Three top stars in the company clash for the IC title. Whilst this is sure to be an excellent match, part of me thinks that not only have the combatants been thrust together with nothing else on offer but that they should be colliding for the main prize. The Miz is a fantastic Intercontinental champion and his character suits carrying gold. Post-Wrestlemania I would like to see all three individuals push on and challenge for the Universal title. Finn was robbed of a decent run with the belt due to injury, Seth’s best work came when he was the WWE champ and The Miz’s excellent work this past year also deserves reward. For now, the combination of one heel and two faces will probably divide the audience with many also cheering for The Miz, making for an interesting atmosphere. At least the match itself will be high on quality.

WM34_Jinder_Orton_Roode_RusevRandy Orton (c) v Jinder Mahal v Bobby Roode v Rusev for the WWE United States Championship

Speaking of competitors thrust together because they have nothing better to do. Randy Orton has been going through the motions for a couple of years now. A veteran who has accomplished so much he has little more to strive to achieve. Jinder’s poorly judged reign with the top title on SmackdownLive would’ve been better suited to a run with the US championship. To do so now would be pointless. As for Bobby Roode, his is a character that needs to be a heel. He hasn’t connected with the general audience as well as he managed in NXT. The ‘Glorious One’ gimmick is crying out for becoming an arrogant heel and the US title would help with that. However, if you want someone who is properly over with the audience then look at Rusev. His addition to the match is at least acknowledgement of his growing popularity and a Rusev victory would provide a popular Wrestlemania moment. But even then another run with the US strap is hardly progress.

WM34_Usos_NewDay_BludgeonThe Usos (c) v The New Day v The Bludgeon Brothers for the SmackdownLive Tag Team Championship

Whilst The Usos will finally get a spot on the Wrestlemania main card it will be another multi-man collision. Given the setup at Fastlane and the brutality of The Usos and New Day’s epic Hell in a Cell match, this match needs a stipulation. With that rivalry prolonged a win for The Bludgeon Brothers will hopefully provide the tag team division on SmackdownLive a refresh. That said, The Usos have been outstanding champions and are more than worthy of their spot on the main card rather than kickoff show fodder.

WM34_Bar_BraunThe Bar (c) v Braun Strowman and TBC for the RAW Tag Team Championship

The strength or failure of this match will be the identity of Braun’s partner. ‘The Monster Among Men’s decimation of the entire tag team division on RAW belittled all of those teams. Braun has been booked like the all conquering monster but has slipped down to the tag team division, again just to fit him on the card. His partner has not been revealed yet so WWE must have someone up their sleeve. Rumours are of an anticipated return from Samoa Joe, either at ‘Mania or the RAW following. Personally, I like the idea of Ellsworth being his partner. It continues the storyline that Braun doesn’t really need a partner and completes the circle of Ellsworth’s career in WWE. Whoever it is, they’ll have a tough task trying to match the pop that met The Hardyz last year.

For those who haven’t managed to make the main card, the kickoff show does provide an opportunity to get an appearance.

WM34_AndreThe Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

All the remaining male superstars will have the opportunity to lace up their boots and get in the ring at Wrestlemania. Unfortunately, it will be in the utter pointless Battle Royal. Actually winning the match is entirely meaningless. See Mojo Rawley last year. It is simply a device used to appease the athletes who have worked tirelessly all year only to have positions on the biggest show usurped by part-time performers. Hopefully it’ll be over quick.

WM34-Womens-Battle-RoyalThe Women’s Wrestlemania Battle Roya/l

The controversy over the initial naming after the Fabulous Moolah has overshadowed this match. Again it is an opportunity for the women on SmackdownLive, aside Charlotte, to get a Wrestlemania appearance. Hopefully this match won’t end in the same way as the first Women’s battle royal at Wrestlemania, won by a man, or the controversial ending to the Women’s Money in the Bank match. The likelihood is a continuation of the bubbling Bayley and Sasha Banks rivalry with one of those two favourites to lift the appallingly cheap looking plastic trophy. Whilst it would’ve been a stronger statement had this match been on the main card, supporting the self proclaimed Women’s revolution, this match may form part of the kickoff show screened on the USA Network. Thus it might get more viewers than a lot of the other matches so perhaps it is a wise move.

WM34_Cedric_MustafaCedric Alexander v Mustafa Ali for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

Hopefully this match will conclude the kickoff show. Concluding the tournament to crown a new champion for 205Live this should be one of the best contests in terms of in ring action. I have no preconceptions or expectations for this match so I’m looking forward to being impressed.

And then we come to this match…

WM34_taker_cenaJohn Cena v The Undertaker

Prepare for a rant.

At time of writing this match has not been confirmed but we are all expecting it. John Cena has failed on multiple occasions to create his path to a Wrestlemania match. The head of the Cenation, has since turned into a whiney irritant. It also sets a dangerous precedent. How many more superstars will fail and simply call out ‘Taker to get on the Wrestlemania card? This is not a match that I have any desire to see. Perhaps 10 or maybe even 5 years ago but not now. Rumour is that ‘Taker was unhappy with his performance last year and wants to correct it. How he expects to perform even better after another year out is perhaps an indication of his confidence in his surgeon rather than his own abilities. Undertaker’s match against Roman Reigns last year was a painful watch. But the story was told of a gunslinger’s final battle. He left the ring and the stage with dignity. It was very emotional. For that all to be undone just so John Cena can have a match is embarrassing. Anyway, shouldn’t Cena be planning a wedding? That, not in the least bit predictable and totally genuine, proposal was a year ago after all.

Fans are predicting a return of the American Badass gimmick, with Kid Rock entering the Hall of Fame. That is hardly something that people have been clamouring for. How many of the current fans even remember the American Badass version of Undertaker? A little promo video would’ve helped. Just let the man retire. The fact that we go into Wrestlemania weekend not knowing if this match will happen is ridiculous. Assuming ‘Taker does turn up, he has to defeat Cena so what does it accomplish? Maybe the match won’t happen this year but we’ll get the start of a build for Wrestlemania XXXV? Of course that is what this match will need, another year of toe-curling buildup!

Whilst I plan on staying up to watch Wrestlemania XXXIV this weekend I am not looking forward to it. Very few of the matches are ones I am keen to see. Perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment or anticipating some calamities but for all the talent on show the buildup has been utterly abysmal. It will take some stellar matches to engage me for what will inevitably be a torturous 6 hours of WWE programming.

WWE Raw 25 and Royal Rumble 2018

It has been a big week for the WWE. Beginning with the heavily promoted RAW 25 spectacle and ending with the Royal Rumble, WWE’s third biggest event of the year, there is plenty to comment upon. Interspersed between these two points were the typical offerings from SmackdownLive and NXT plus the major announcement of a returning XFL in 2020. It is however a week which perfectly encapsulates everything wrong with the product offered by World Wrestling Entertainment that is seeing casual and diehard fans turning away.

C20BF330-B4B7-492E-9641-08B6D3E1F834RAW 25

The 25th Anniversary of Monday Night Raw is a huge deal for the WWE. The self proclaimed ‘longest running weekly episodic television broadcast’ reached the landmark on January 11th but the go home show before the Royal Rumble was a good opportunity to combine promotion of the Pay Per View and a celebration of RAW. In terms of numbers, RAW 25 was a success achieving a 3.01 rating and an approximate average of 4.53million viewers over the 3 hours, the best figures for the show since the post-Wrestlemania 31 show in 2015. However, there was very little to encourage viewers to return the following week and highlighted to some why they had stopped watching in the first place.

The opening segment was perhaps the highlight but even that was flawed. The pop for a simple glass shattering was the biggest of the night but it was a shame to let Stone Cold, perhaps one of the greatest ever on a microphone to pass through without saying a word to those in attendance. In contrast another iconic legend in the form of The Undertaker was given the mic. Although composed with the vocals, absolutely nothing was said. In fact the majority of viewers would be hard pressed to explain what the Deadman was talking about. Will he be performing at Wrestlemania or will his beautifully poetic retirement last year remain untarnished?

678DBA56-36EA-4EF0-B8CA-D28075EADC7FOther advertised stars were less fortunate. They either appeared as a part of brief backstage vignettes or simply came out on stage to wave at the crowd. Closing the show however was an attempt to brush the gold dust from some legends onto members of the current roster. The DX plus Razor Ramon reunion saw the passing of the ‘Too Sweet’ baton to the Balor Club. Whilst well intentioned it required The Revival to take the role of sacrificial lambs. Even then the duo delivered a masterclass in how to take finishing manoeuvres.

The in-ring product was also typically average with the exception being the crowning of a new Intercontinental champion. Whilst absolutely the correct thing to do as it brought out the very best from The Miz it summed up the disastrous nature of The Shield’s reunion. It is no surprise that six days later Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose substitute Jason Jordan would also lose their tag team championships. Attempts to promote the Royal Rumble pay per view were also clumsy with Braun Strowman’s dominance telegraphing that the Universal Title would be retained by Brock Lesnar. This highlights the problem with WWE programming currently; predictability.

CD903D9A-82C2-4D50-8D57-937E0AF823CCRoyal Rumble

We have only just begun on the road to Wrestlemania and yet we know where all of this is going. Everyone knows that we are going to get another Roman Reigns v Brock Lesnar title match. The only two men to defeat The Undertaker on the biggest show of the year clashed in 2015 only for Seth Rollins to steal the gold. There is unfinished business and after a year with the title Lesnar is long overdue a defeat. His yearlong reign with part time schedule has weakened the title and hampered the flagship show on Monday night. So it was no surprise that Lesnar defied the odds and retained his title at the Royal Rumble. Had they attempted to give Roman Reigns another victory in the rumble match Philadelphia might have seen a riot. Instead expect a number one contenders Elimination Chamber match and a Roman Reigns victory.

On the blue brand an AJ Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura dream match was predicted. It is a pairing that stole the show at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in New Japan two years ago and fans around the world wanted to see it again. Perhaps the only surprise is that what the fans wanted will actually happen. It was as close to an unexpected result as viewers received. Victor in the historic Women’s Royal Rumble match was the undefeated Asuka which was once again entirely predictable. The only potential stumbling block was the incoming Ronda Rousey. There was no need to worry. One year on from her final UFC defeat Rousey only needed to show up and point at the Wrestlemania sign to book a place on the biggest show of the year. If the goal was to insult the 30 women who had just competed in the Royal Rumble then mission accomplished.

B21C3AA8-3973-493E-9BEC-555D0E842F93The arrogance of Ronda Rousey was offensive but failed to match the grotesquely poor taste concussion angle used in the RAW tag team championship match. The recently dismissed Enzo Amore suffered a genuine concussion during a match on pay per view, ending the contest and rightfully so. For medical professionals to allow a performer showing even a storyline head injury is reprehensible. Is this what we can expect from the new XFL in 2020? Athletes continuing playing with head injuries? I sure hope not!

0130A6FC-2051-48A8-B3B9-61792CF560C9An XFL Distraction?

This week also saw the predicted announcement that the brainchild of Vince McMahon, the XFL, would return in 2020. For those interested in learning the story of the league’s only other season in 2001 I highly recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 on the subject. With this on McMahon’s mind once again there is the possibility that the WWE product will suffer. Perhaps this has already begun with the predictable booking at the Royal Rumble and the deeply flawed RAW25 special episode.

Whilst we all know that sports entertainment is predetermined, the entertainment element comes from the viewers not knowing those outcomes. Currently, things are very predictable and that is severely hampering WWE. The saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ seems appropriate. In contrast NJPW is a new world and is entertaining me far more at the moment.

Review: Justice League

AE05378F-D18A-4676-962C-16E13A26ACABFollowing the tedious ‘Batman Vs Superman’ and the nightmarish ‘Suicide Squad’, The triumphant ‘Wonder Woman’ triggered optimism for the greatly anticipated ‘Justice League’. Unfortunately, the critical reception has been far less than stellar. It was therefore with great trepidation that I approached ‘Justice League’. Perhaps these low expectations helped me conclude that it’s actually not too bad.

Of course, the movie is stacked with flaws. From the predictable narrative to the generic CGI-filled fight sequences, there is plenty to find fault with. It is however difficult to appropriate blame following the loss of director Zack Snyder, a man once labelled ‘a visionary’, due to personal tragedy. In that context, the fact that the film remains vaguely coherent can be assessed to be an achievement. Unlike other recent offerings from DC on the big screen, there is a restraint and even an avoidance of the traditional grim and gritty visuals. Despite the death of Superman things seem a lot brighter visually than the murk of ‘Suicide Squad’. Things do venture back in that direction for the climax but the tones are much improved, clearly a decision based on the superior ‘Wonder Woman’ combination of dark moments within the bright instead of constant misery-inducing dullness.

6F1B0FC0-B77C-487C-A855-E5B5CD7AFF11Unfortunately, the plotting is entirely formulaic. There is little doubt from the outset that Superman would return, with death merely an inconvenience. This becomes increasingly inevitable given the presentation of the enhanced threat levels provided by the villain; Steppenwolf. Perhaps appropriately the logic behind the three cubes, one of which may or may not have been his mother, defies the understanding of mere human mortals. Steppenwolf is fairly convincing as an all-conquering destroyer so that Superman’s abilities would be required in addition to the other members of the team, the makeup of which is very deliberate.


The Flash is the comic relief, although not a particularly funny one. Aquaman is the cool and aloof muscleman, Cyborg provides the technological wizardry and Wonder Woman is the unofficial leader. Batman in turn is less of a superhero and more of a facilitator, bringing together these gifted individuals. The Flash even draws attention to it by asking, “So what’s your superpower?” The response, “I’m rich”, although amusing reinforces that this Batman doesn’t really have a place within this team. When Superman is resurrected the gifted quartet fly to his aid. When Batman appears he may as well have been out of breath and bemoaning the buses. This hurts me as a person who has always preferred Batman to all other heroes. However, his place within this team seems largely unwarranted with Wonder Woman coming across as the real leader.


C18D0B6B-95B8-4A22-817A-17019D29C319Gal Gadot is the star of the piece with a sparkle and the twinkle in the eye required for a good Wonder Woman. Conversely Batfleck is just bland, lacking any edge which Keaton and Bale unquestionably brought to the role. Jason Momoa as Aquaman was flawless and badly under-utilised but I look forward to seeing the Aquaman movie in 2018. Similarly, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Cyborg’s struggles with his new form that went underdeveloped. But do I want to see a Ben Affleck led Batman movie? Absolutely not. Ezra Miller as The Flash is in the middle of the two, tolerable but not massively engaging. Henry Cavill’s Superman also manages to generate some emotional moments when reunited with the wonderful Amy Adams as Lois Lane and of course his Mum. Outside of that there is a procession of generic action sequences until finally we reach a conclusion.

‘Justice League’ is clumsily put together and that is no surprise given the circumstances around it’s production. Although predictable and pedestrian in it’s storytelling Justice League is not as bad as one may have expected. That is until the after credits sequence when all positivity was washed away by the appearance of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. His spectacularly irritating performance in ‘Batman Vs Superman’ was mercifully absent from the rest of ‘Justice League’. Whilst the sight of Deathstroke was a bit exciting, Eisenberg’s Luthor is something I never ever want to see onscreen again. The prospect of Luthor building his own team of villains would see me prefer to revisit the abysmal ‘Suicide Squad’ than sit through that potential abomination. If such a project does transpire then I predict that ‘Justice League’ will be deemed a masterpiece in comparison.

For now, I’m going to watch the far more polished Avengers movies from Marvel.

The British and Irish Lions make history

New Zealand 21 – British and Irish Lions 24


In 40 matches over more than 100 years Saturday was only the British and Irish Lions’ seventh win over the New Zealand All Blacks. It was the first since 1993. Prior to that the previous victory over the New Zealanders was back in 1977. So Lions wins over the All Blacks are pretty rare. Just as rare are All Blacks defeats in New Zealand. This loss in the Westpac stadium was the first defeat on home soil since 2009. It was also the first defeat in Wellington since 2003. Historical records are made to be broken but it was a tough ask. It was made a little easier for the Lions however.

IMG_2036The Red Card

The big turning point was of course Sonny Bill Williams’ sending off. You’d like to think that in any era of rugby union his deliberate shot to the jaw of Anthony Watson would be a red card offence. But in today’s game, with the laws tightened this season to crack down and protect players, Garces had no option whatsoever. Even the most one-eyed Kiwi had to acknowledge that under the laws it had to be a dismissal from the field of play. For additional context this was the first red card given to an All Black in fifty years, only the third in history and the first on New Zealand soil ever. Such is the rarity of the event that the Lions had clearly not planned for it. As a result, they seemed rocked by the sudden tag of favourites.

IMG_0652Lions discipline costs them dearly

After halftime the Lions did practically everything they could to hand the game to the Kiwis. The one man advantage seemed to plague them with a string of rash decisions and indiscipline. Mako Vunipola gave away four penalties alone. His yellow card could’ve been very costly too. Mercifully Beauden Barrett missed three kicks at goal which kept the Lions in striking distance. Had he kick them, the All Blacks would’ve been out of sight on the scoreboard. Instead the Lions responded not once but twice.

IMG_0653Tries beat the All Blacks

It has been said all tour that to beat the All Blacks you have to score tries against them. Even in the poor conditions of a Wellington winter the Lions managed to score two exceptionally well crafted tries. These were needed because the Lions had allowed the All Blacks to build a decent lead. But when it really counted players’ handling was spot on. The finishing was also clinical, first from Taulepe Faletau and then by Connor Murray. When composure was required the players in red delivered. Whilst the Lions scored two tries they crucially managed to keep the All Blacks out from crossing the tryline.

IMG_0656Defence helps too

Certain changes in the starting fifteen were designed to win the collisions, particularly on the gainline. The back row, particularly O’Brien and Warburton combined well to make their tackles. Itoje and Alun Wyn Jones put in big hits, stopping the men in black from gaining momentum and yards which they had managed with ease seven days previously. It was a colossal effort. With Sonny Bill Williams off the All Blacks’ tactics changed somewhat. They themselves reverted to a ‘Warrenball’ style. Heroically the red defensive line held firm. A fluke occurrence of poor pass and a tackle in the air alllowed the Lions to sneak ahead and see the game out. Massive credit to Owen Farrell for slotting the vital penalty too. It levels the series up at 1-1 with a return to Eden Park in Auckland to decide the Test series.

IMG_0655The Decider

The Lions have proved that they can beat the All Blacks. Sometimes professional sport is just about belief. Momentum too. Both will now be on the side of the Lions. It was refreshing to hear Sam Warburton say the job was only half done following the final whistle. This is a player who has never beaten New Zealand and yet his first thoughts were of repeating the result next week. That is a real leader. All of these players will realise that an opportunity to become immortal legends has been earned. They’ve proved to themselves they can win. They’ve shown that they can score tries. If the British and Irish Lions players put in the performance of their lives once again then maybe, just maybe, the impossible can become reality.

The All Blacks will be a very different proposition next week. They might even keep fifteen players on the field. But they will also be under pressure and how they cope with that pressure will be a deciding factor. Ultimately the All Blacks wanted a competitive test series and a challenge. They’ve sure as hell got one now!

Why I am voting Labour on June 8th

What are my reasons behind voting Labour this Thursday?

As is traditional during election campaigning all the political parties present similar desires but different methods to achieve those same goals. For instance, all the politicians are promising to pump money into the NHS and increase the numbers of police officers. However, the Labour Party pledges some additional policies which, if delivered upon, I think can really benefit the country. There are also a number of other issues which have brought me to consider that right now after seven years it is time to return to a Labour Government.

IMG_0547Renationalise the Railways

Have you been on a train in recent years? That train will probably be delayed. If you need to use it at peak time then you probably won’t get a seat and you’ll feel a lot like a sardine in a tin. In addition the price of your train ticket goes up every year with no change to the standard of your service. This happens whilst the companies responsible for delivering your shoddy trip to work rake in huge profits.

A friend of mine recently complained about an overcrowded train to Arriva Trains Wales’ Twitter account. She was met by a generic response blaming limited rolling stock availability. This from a company who made nearly £30million worth of profit in 2016. Whilst ticket prices continue to rise, the service deteriorates. Imagine if those profits were pumped back into the service instead of lining the pockets of shareholders?

IMG_0545Renationalise Royal Mail

Ever wondered why you get so much junk mail through your letterbox each week? This is because companies pay vast amounts of money to Royal Mail to deliver these to every household. Does this money go back into the service? No. Just like the railways, profits go to shareholders. Now these do include employees who also have some shares and benefit from the company doing well. However they would happily forgo having to carry back breaking weights of leaflets and pizza menus on a weekly basis.

BBC News reported that Royal Mail’s pre-tax profits rose to £335m in the year to 26 March 2017. I’m sure the shareholders appreciate this but again, imagine if that money was reinvested in what used to be a public service. Having mail delivered to every address in the UK is a necessity. Hospital appointments, energy bills, important correspondence all need to be delivered. An extra £300million invested into the service could mean more jobs and also lessen the burden on postmen who have to contend with the growth of internet shopping.


The Labour Party have been very open about their desire to raise taxes. However this policy will only affect the top 5% of earners. I’m sure they’ll survive. Similarly they are looking to raise corporation tax. This increase to 26% will still be a lower rate than it was in 2010. It will also be lower than the USA, Argentina and Australia, for example. Whilst some countries do indeed have lower rates of corporation tax, do they have the infrastructure and skilled workforce to support their business? The Conservative Party will look to lower corporation tax but still promise extra money for the NHS and security services. This explains why their manifesto included no costings.

Tory Manifesto and Social Care

Even with the benefit of knowing in advance of a need to prepare a manifesto, the final product from the Conservatives has been ridiculed for failing to include any costings for their plans. Labour however included a document which demonstrated that theirs had been fully costed. Then came the social care u-turn. First there was no cap mentioned. Then there would be a £100,000 cap. On Friday evening that £100,000 was now a floor. I know I’m confused. Is this really a party that can be trusted to solve social care?

Let’s not forget that under the Tory government the desire to deliver a seven day NHS has been so badly handled we saw junior doctors on strike. This plan has seemingly been abandoned for the time being. Instead Teresa May has decided to pursue a vote that would lift the ban on fox hunting. Therefore instead of concentrating on planning changes to social care she has chosen to pursue the barbaric practice of hunting foxes. This is terrifying prioritising of issues by our current Prime Minister.

IMG_0543Teresa May

The former Home Secretary became Prime Minister almost by default. As leadership candidates dropped out of the race she took on the role uncontested. Her party didn’t even have the opportunity to vote for her as leader. When she did come to power she was very clear that there was not going to be an election until 2020 as planned. How quickly that changed. She refused to attend the Leaders debate last week and when questioned arrogantly claimed that she was too busy planning Brexit. This indicates where Teresa May’s mindset is. She doesn’t think that she needs to campaign to win this election, it’s already won in her mind and she is looking forward to the task beyond this election. With the exception of Friday evenings Question Time, she has avoided appearances with the public and was clearly not comfortable in that situation. Instead she has hidden, surrounded by approved audiences.

Yesterday she tried to claim that “enough is enough” and that the country has been too accepting of extremist views. May is correct, enough is enough. As Home Secretary and now Prime Minister she has overseen the reduction of the police force by 20,000 officers. Whilst all political parties promise restoration of police numbers, the Conservatives campaign of austerity brought them down in the first place. But she is correct. Enough is enough. She asks voters to judge her on her record. Immigration targets have not been met under her watch. Similarly radicalisation in prisons has not been addressed. Seven years of Conservative government has left the country vulnerable. The security services and the NHS both need money pumped into them. Cutting corporation tax won’t achieve that. Their austerity policy built upon the desire to lower the deficit has failed spectacularly and has been pushed back further to 2025. So what is the alternative?

IMG_0544Jeremy Corbyn

Although the Tory friendly newspaper media have been battering him, the more Jeremy Corbyn has presented himself in front of the camera the stronger he looks. He is a man of principles. Some gave him a rough time for not clearly stating that he would press the red button to fire a nuclear weapon. This reveals a man who is not simply providing lip service to campaign promises. He realises what such an action means. Although an audience in York might be happy to condemn this planet to nuclear war the man who would be responsible was more burdened by that responsibility. His belief that peace comes with communication is also commendable and accurate.

He has been supported by Labour members, winning two leadership contests. Teresa May hasn’t won any. She wanted to make this a campaign about who you wanted to lead this country forward. The longer this campaign has gone on, the more that has been diluted. This is because we’ve now seen who is truly strong and stable and he’s wearing red.

For the many, not the few. Let’s make June 8th the end of May.