REVIEW: WrestleMania XXXIII

Kevin Owens defeats Chris Jericho (C)

WM33_JerichoOwensAs anticipated this match fully delivered. Two former best friends able to deliver counter after counter and an awesome match overall. When the end finally came it came with a muted response as all the moments you thought would bring about the fall produced kick outs. Crowds then don’t anticipate the successful pinfall, denting their reaction. That aside it was a great match. It also made me consider that Chris Jericho really has been around for so long but still continues to have superb matches on the top show. Now time for him to enjoy his Fozzy break.

Bayley (C) defeats Nia Jaxx, Sasha Banks and Charlotte

IMG_0435Predictably Nia Jaxx did her dominating thing before being eliminated first. I like Nia but everything she does looks less skilled. I don’t want to say clumsy but less refined for sure. Charlotte on the other hand is smooth and executed everything perfectly. Even the exposed turnbuckle was utilised to perfection. Sasha was however largely memorable for having a lift to the ring, a wise move given the enormity of the ramp, but I don’t really recall anything else she did with Charlotte being the standout. The finish was solid with the marketed underdog Bayley getting her WrestleMania moment, eyes full of tears, that was a nice moment.

The Hardy Boyz defeat Anderson & Gallows (C), Sheamus & Cesaro and Enzo & Cass

IMG_0440Where to start with this one. As many probably knew the Hardys had dropped their RoH tag titles the night before, said their goodbyes and were heading back to WWE. However few expected them to show up at WrestleMania. Personally I was convinced they were going to be on RAW. So for them to show up and win tag title gold again was an incredible moment. From the deafening ovation that greeted their theme tune hitting I don’t think the crowd came down from the ceiling at any point. The match was subsequently a bit of a blur as viewers struggled to believe what they were seeing. It’s a shame for the six other individuals involved to be usurped in such a manner but they must’ve enjoyed the electricity in that moment which only a surprise entrant of that stature can deliver.

John Cena & Nikki Bella defeat The Miz and Maryse

WM33_tagSooooo predictable. Even Nikki struggled to look surprised. The reality era strikes again and Total Bellas dictates booking. If you’re into that show then you probably got a kick out of it. I’m not so I didn’t. But congratulations to the future John & Nikki Cena anyway. Also Maryse did very little in the ring, has the former champ really lost all her skills?

Seth Rollins defeats Triple H

IMG_0436In terms of story telling this was a great match. Lacking the bloody brutality the fight probably deserved it was instead all structured around a supposed knee injury. However Rollins was able to perform manoeuvres which defied a knee problem but sold it expertly. Anyway, the finish was perfectly executed with a number of smooth interchanges. Stephanie going through the table was notably quite shocking, I didn’t expect that at all, and it took her out of the picture neatly too. Then Rollins delivering a pedigree to defeat the Game provided a perfect conclusion.

Randy Orton defeats Bray Wyatt (C)

WM33_BrayOrtonI cannot for the life of me understand this booking. A victory for Bray Wyatt would’ve cemented his spot in the main event picture for the foreseeable future. We even had an impressive wielding of Bray Wyatt’s power with some impressive projections onto the ring. But no Randy Orton wins out of nowhere. What does that even accomplish? Just to emphasise that a Royal Rumble win practically guarantees you a title? No wonder the crowd reaction was pretty much total silence.

Brock Lesnar defeats Goldberg (C)

WM33_GoldbergBrockThen we were back to the utterly predictable. We all called this way back in January/February when the Kevin Owens/Goldberg match was made. The match with Lesnar at ‘Mania had already been made. It was so obvious that Goldberg would win the title only to drop it to Brock. Part of me hoped that they wouldn’t go through with it but they did. That being said I enjoyed the physicality of the encounter and was clearly better than the Survivor Series debacle. Of course it’s WrestleMania so for the first time in history, as far as I’m aware, someone kicked out of the jackhammer. Finishing moves somehow lose their devastating impact at the big show of the year. Perhaps it’s an adrenaline thing? When that happened and Goldberg went for another spear it became all the more apparent that he only had two moves in his arsenal. However why change a winning formula? Similarly Brock had the german suplex, quite a few of them and the F5 which worked for him. Anyway, title belt handed over, job done.

Naomi defeats Alexa Bliss (C), Natalya, Becky Lynch, Carmella and Mickie James

IMG_0439Continuing with the predictable, hometown girl Naomi won back the title she’d had to relinquish due to injury a few weeks ago. A single fall also stopped the match going on too long. I think 4 hours in, plus the 2 hour kickoff show on top of that, and intense Florida heat the audience was getting pretty fatigued. Only one match left though…

Roman Reigns defeats The Undertaker

WM33_UndertakerReignsThe clues were all there. It went on last. JR came out from the cold to provide commentary. Those observant will have noticed Taker’s wife in the crowd too. The ‘No Holds Barred’ stipulation opened things up even further. And yet Reigns kept hitting the awful superman punch. Five times I think it was in the end and it’s just absurd. It’s a rubbish move done far too often. It also took multiple spears to keep the Undertaker down for the pinfall. The crowd reaction was muted rather than being vociferously angry which I had anticipated it would be. The reality was there for all to see. The Undertaker looked old and spent. In the end the result was inevitable. The torch was passed on.

When the end came it was emotional. It was nothing short of devastating really. Quite rightly ‘Taker had his moment. For possibly the first time ever he seemed to break character as the enormity of saying goodbye washed over him, looking visibly choked up. Perhaps he should’ve gone out with a flawless undefeated streak at the biggest show at the year. But wrestling tradition is that you retire on a loss, you do the favour. The legacy of the Undertaker will live on for a long, long time. Personally I’m looking forward to an epic interview series on the WWE Network where his epic career is dissected and we finally get to hear from him properly about some of his greatest moments and matches.

RAW

imagePredictability returned on Monday night RAW with Kurt Angie becoming General Manager, as expected, and Finn Bálor returned from injury, as expected. The highlight however was the opening segment with the raucous crowd chanting ‘Undertaker’ for an extended period. Then Roman Reigns came out. Credit to him for simply standing there whilst the Universe vented their rage. “F*ck you Roman!” was a particular highlight. The “Roman sucks” chants also returned as the fans shared their opinions with Vince McMahon. Not that that will change things. When Reigns did speak, he nailed it. However the hangover from events at WrestleMania the night before seemed to drain the audience’s energy. The Undertaker’s retirement had had an instant impact.

SmackDown Live

imageNot to be outdone the blue brand also held their own post-Mania show in Orlando. The show started strong and continued throughout. SmackDownLive has consistently been delivering good television. Each segment is meaningful with no need to pad out a third hour. The highlights were undoubtedly the debuts. Tye Dillinger’s was great but Shinsuke Nakamura brought genuine spine tingling chills. There’s just something about that violin music! Styles v Nakamura is a thrilling prospect but will probably get messed up by the impending superstar shakeup. We will have to wait and see…

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Why WrestleMania XXXIII is set to disappoint

WM33WrestleMania XXXIII is approaching this Sunday and the matches on the card have been set. Unfortunately the maneuvering of talent to set up these clashes has been largely predictable and none of the match-ups are inspiring sections of the WWE Universe. Just look at Bayley’s promo from this week’s RAW. When asked who was excited for Wrestlemania, the WWE Universe gave what can be best described as a muted response. Similarly on SmackdownLive it took a few seconds for the yes chant to get going and even then it was hardly rapturous. It is an event being promoted as ‘The Ultimate Thrill Ride”. But yet none of the matches are thrilling on paper. By analysing the card I shall explain why each contest is failing spectacularly to generate my personal interest in the ‘show of shows’ this year.

Goldberg (c) v Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship

Where to start with this one. So back in November Goldberg returned to the ring to take on Brock Lesnar one more time. Fantasy warfare became reality. Unfortunately all the hype was misplaced as Goldberg squashed Brock in 1 minute 26 seconds. Although rumored to be a decision made by necessity due to an injury in the build up, it made Brock look terrible. This was accentuated in the Royal Rumble when Goldberg eliminated Lesnar with ease. So after losing two recent encounters, plus the Wrestlemania XX bout, it made little sense for Brock to issue another challenge. Even then he’d still be unable to overturn the current 2-0 scoreline in singles matches. Acknowledging this flaw the only strategy was to put the top RAW title up for grabs, taking it from an unfortunate Kevin Owens, in a desperate attempt to make fans care about this match. The only logical outcome is that Lesnar will win as you cannot see Goldberg having a continued title run after ‘Mania. Goldberg even posted a cryptic message on his instagram that suggested this match will be his last. How the contest will work in the context of the recent squash jobs is anyone’s guess. On RAW this week Goldberg again crushed Lesnar with a spear. But yet we all expect Lesnar to defy logic and win. A victory for either man is likely to be met with total ambivalence from the capacity crowd. Speaking of crowd reaction…

The Undertaker v Roman Reigns

If Roman Reigns was to win this match then the whole of Orlando might very well riot. Now whilst few question Reigns’ abilities many are irritated by the way he is presented to the audience. Personally the overuse of the Superman punch is what really winds me up. He is so often portrayed as the man who can overcome all obstacles, even in failure. Most recently it was his defeat of the colossal Braun Strowman on Pay Per View that emphasized this point. Strowman himself was very respectful in his backtracking out of the ring when faced with the Undertaker. Reigns did the opposite and if he was to win at ‘Mania he will get booed out of the stadium. Think Hogan turning heel levels of animosity. Although two victories have followed since the streak was broken, Undertaker’s continuing Wrestlemania run must be drawing to an end as his advancing years are obvious. With fewer and fewer appearances the selection of Roman Reigns as an opponent feels like a missed opportunity. Sadly the alternatives are few and far between. The dream match with Sting for instance has gone, we are not likely to see that now due to injury. In that context at least Undertaker is still on the card. Similarly at least Reigns isn’t entering the event as the Royal Rumble winner…

Bray Wyatt (c) v Randy Orton for the WWE Championship

The title of Royal Rumble winner goes to Randy Orton. It was a strange selection back in January but one the WWE Universe were mercifully content with when given the prospect of another Roman Reigns victory. At the Rumble event John Cena won a historic 16th world championship. The lineup of Orton v Cena yet again made everyone wince. So rather predictably Cena dropped the strap in the Elimination Chamber, making his fortnight reign as champ utterly pointless. It was equally apparent that Bray Wyatt was going to pick up the win in the Chamber given his long running storyline with Orton to set up a clash at the top show. The inevitable was prolonged further with Orton’s Rumble triumph being made redundant when he had to face AJ Styles to confirm who would battle Wyatt. When Orton aligned himself with Wyatt and Harper I didn’t buy it. Putting his hood up didn’t speak to me of Randy fully embracing the ways of Wyatt. Perhaps he should’ve tried growing a beard? So when the turn came, although very well done, it didn’t come as a surprise. Whilst the match will no doubt be solid, the hope is that a Bray Wyatt win will cement his spot at the top of the SmackdownLive brand. An Orton win won’t really achieve much. Both top titles have been snatched from those who have held it for the longest over the past 12 months to create these Wrestlemania matches. Of the two AJ Styles probably has the most to feel perturbed about…

Shane McMahon v AJ Styles

In defeat at the Royal Rumble AJ Styles and the victor John Cena but on a superb match all delivered within the ropes. Given that Cena would drop the belt a mere two weeks later Styles could’ve easily done that job. Having held the title since September Styles deserved better than a loss for the token gesture of giving Cena a record 16th win. Now he goes into Wrestlemania, having delivered a great match with Chris Jericho the year before, with a performer who is not even close to being a part timer in the ring. Make no mistake about it Shane O’Mac is no wrestler and certainly nowhere near the calibre of AJ Styles at the top of his game. I am really surprised that given the brutal attack that triggered the match and Shane’s announce table elbow, that a No DQ stipulation was not added. This was even pointed out on the SmackdownLive opening segment. Ultimately Shane McMahon is a stunt artist. An excellent one at that but a stunt artist nonetheless. Having been ‘the Champ who runs the camp’ for several months this is a real blow to Styles. Having a wrestling match with a stunt artist is a total waste of his talents on the grandest stage of all. But this is not just an occurrence on the blue brand with the red brand also guilty of punishing their most recent title holder…

Chris Jericho (c) v Kevin Owens for the US Championship

One of the highlights of RAW in recent months has been the Jeri-KO segments. Kevin Owens has taken the mantle of heel champion on brilliantly and delivered every single week. Jericho too has been thriving with his slightly pompous and arrogant persona. The List of Jericho was also a hilarious addition. Whilst I do want to see this match, one of very few I can say that of, it should’ve been for the Universal title. Whilst they’ve tried to do the ‘you robbed me of mine, so I’m going to take yours’ angle, it is unquestionably a step down from the main events since Owens’ late August anointing by HHH. Speaking of the COO…

HHH v Seth RollinsIMG_0436

Having been building since that August 29th screwjob this match was thrown into doubt given Rollins’ new knee injury. Losing the contest would’ve been a shame given Hunter’s spectacular promo performances thus far to antagonise the former architect of the Shield. We’ve also finally got ‘face’ Seth Rollins. Fans have been desperate to cheer him since he returned from injury and now they can. We now have an ‘Unsanctioned match’ which could be entertaining to watch but is perhaps a decision to protect the quality of the contest. Turning it into a fight removes the wrestling element and hopefully protects Rollins’ knee during the encounter. Given his inability to use a crutch properly on RAW over the last few weeks his knee should hold up fine. Maybe it will turn out like HHH v Shawn Michaels from Summerslam 2002 but we’ll have to wait and see.

Neville (c) v Austin Aires for the Cruiserweight Championship

WM33_NevilleAriesThis could be a show stealer. Austin Aires gets a chance to showcase his talents at the biggest show of the year and with a solid dance partner. However given that this is going to be on the kickoff show it probably won’t be allotted much time. Instead we’ll have highlights of the Hall of Fame, repetitive video packages and general inane ramblings from Renee Young. At least Shawn Michaels is on the panel with Jerry Lawler and Booker T.

Dean Ambrose (c) v Baron Corbin for the Intercontinental Championship

IMG_0437The futile attempts to get Baron Corbin over continue. However this match might at least give ‘Mania a story. Except if it’s anything like Zack Ryder’s win last year it will be short lived. If WWE officials genuinely believe that Corbin is a future headliner then beating Dean Ambrose at Wrestlemania could be a big step in that direction. Ambrose too was unceremoniously dropped from competing for the top title to the IC title and is currently just treading water. He’s in need of a gripping rivalry but Baron Corbin is not it for me. So whatever happens in this match I don’t really care.

John Cena & Nicki Bella v The Miz & Maryse

WM33_tagTalking of things I don’t care about. I have absolutely no desire to find out who the most dominant power couple of SmackdownLive is. However the Miz/Maryse Total Bellas parodies have been brutal in their genius. Unfortunately that shadow of Total Divas/Bellas has manufactured this matchup but puts the WWE’s biggest name on the card and has brought out the best in the Miz, his promo work. Cena’s responses too have been solid and genuine. But if this match was the plan all along then Cena’s 16th title reign has been made all the more pointless. Oh, and there’s a special guest ring announcer who I’ve never heard of.

Bayley (c) v Charlotte v Sasha Banks v Nia Jaxx for the RAW Women’s Championship

IMG_0435Although Bayley currently holds the gold the majority of 2016 was all about Charlotte and Sasha. In that period the belt exchanged hands multiple times. This was even pointed out by Nia Jaxx on RAW this week. Oh yes, Nia is on the roster so she needs to be involved too. The added elimination element extends the duration of the match but whatever the outcome it feels like the RAW women’s division is in need of a new direction. Nia won’t get the belt for reasons I won’t be crude enough to repeat. However if Asuka was signed from NXT it would spice things up and create new combinations for matches. After all these four women are literally the only four on the RAW roster.

Anderson & Gallows v Enzo & Cass v Shaemus & Cesaro triangle ladder match for the RAW Tag Team Championships

WM33_TripleThreatTagGiven the use of a ladder, of all the available objects in the backstage era, during RAW this week it became obvious that this would be a ladder match. It was logical given the limited number of extreme stipulations on the show. Now ladder matches are always entertaining stunt shows. Wrestlemania has had some classics. But can this match get close to the triangle ladder match at Wrestlemania 2000 for example? Probably not.

Alexa Bliss defends the SmackdownLive Women’s Championship against every woman available

IMG_0439As you can probably tell by this point we’ve reached the point where whoever is contracted to the company gets on the show. This one however is an oddity. We still don’t know if it will be a match to be won by pinfall or submission, or an over the top rope affair. So little attention has been given to the match that they can’t even announce that. What we can tell from the peculiar wording is that a surprise entrant may make an appearance. We’ve already had Naomi return on SmackdownLive this week but perhaps Eva Marie will return to win her first championship? That would be a great way to get the capacity crowd onside(!)

Fourth Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

WM33_AndreAnd talking about getting all contracted superstars on the card the ultimate excuse is the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Expect Braun Strowman to cement his spot as the undefeatable monster, assuming he isn’t up against Roman Reigns of course. It does also provides an opportunity for surprise entrants, such as a rumoured Shelton Benjamin, which could prove crowd pleasing.

Conclusion

Although the list of matches for Sunday night is a lengthy one, few are eliciting anything even closely resembling excitement. Many of the contests I have little interested in seeing. Consistent performers have been sacrificed for either part-timers or to facilitate a storyline ending showdown. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens can feel pretty hard done by but knowing their professionalism they’ll still produce great matches. The main selling point of the Undertaker/Reigns contest is the hope that Roman can’t possibly win. Surely he can’t. They wouldn’t dare. Or would they? Matches like Jericho/Owens and Neville/Aries will be technically solid. Similarly Rollins/HHH and the triangle ladder match will be entertaining fare. But none of them are really grabbing me. As for the Goldberg/Lesnar main event, it was a let down at Survivor Series. You lost me then. So to get me interested in another match is just not happening. Try again next year.

Looking beyond Wrestlemania the post ‘Mania RAW is already being promoted with a special on the WWE Network. Unfortunately we seem to be able to predict what will happen on that show. Kurt Angle will become RAW General Manager. Expect a surprise return from Finn Balor, who also can feel hard done by for not appearing in a scheduled match at the big show. Perhaps Finn will be in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. But the likelihood is he’s being held back for RAW to begin a rivalry with Seth Rollins, who put him on the shelf. Goldberg will step away and Lesnar will hold the title with Roman Reigns likely to challenge him for the gold. I hope I’m wrong and surprised but over the next few days we will see if WWE can deliver and crucially how the diehard fans of the universe will react. So far however apathy has set in at a crucial time which could harm PPV orders and Network subscriptions.

REVIEW: WWE Summerslam

imageSummerslam is WWE’s second biggest show of the year and the first proper Pay Per View (PPV) since the brand split. Both Raw and Smackdown were able to build and present their matches for the ‘biggest party of the summer’. The only exception to this was the main event which featured Brock Lesnar of Raw and Randy Orton of Smackdown.

The matchup had been promoted for many weeks, built as a match 15 years in the making. Unlike the main event of UFC 202 the previous night, this contest failed to live up to the hype. With the exception of an RKO on the announce table, Lesnar physically dominated and abused a 12 time world champion. Now this is not unheard of, a similar fate was endured by 15 time world champion John Cena a few years ago. However with Cena seemingly taking time away from WWE, the destruction of Orton belittled Smackdown’s only other marquee star. With the Miz holding the Intercontinental title and Dolph Ziggler falling short once again, the blue brand surely needs to push AJ Styles to the top-level and challenging for the WWE title to give their top prize credibility.

imageAnyway, back to Lesnar v Orton. The conclusion of the match was shocking and unexpected, even to long-term fans. There was no escaping the obvious. Lesnar caught Orton with an elbow to the head which split him open hard. If that was indeed the intended finish then it was a bold move. Since the move to the TV-PG rating WWE’s output has been significantly watered down with blood loss an obvious absentee. So for the main event on the second biggest show of the year to be stopped in this manner was unexpected to say the least. It was quite grizzly too as Orton clutched his head and when eventually Lesnar was pulled off the third generation superstar he was prone in a pool of his own blood. To complete the finale a F5 was delivered to Smackdown Commissioner Shane McMahon, which will inevitably lead to a storyline suspension. Brock Lesnar’s limited dates contract means that he’ll have some time off, possibly get in another UFC bout and return around Royal Rumble for Wrestlemania season. As a result, this main event achieved nothing whatsoever other than a mildly entertaining watch. Like the majority of Summerslam it was therefore a disappointment.

imageWith the exception of the AJ Styles and John Cena match, which was spectacular, the rest of the card could be described as average at best. Sasha Banks failed to defend her women’s title as a back injury necessitated her dropping the strap back to Charlotte. During the match Banks took a nasty looking bump off the turnbuckle which could easily have broken her neck. It’s no wonder she’s injured her back based on that evidence. None of the other championship matches were much to write home about. One of them didn’t even happen as Rusev and Roman Reigns brawled without actually having a match, robbing those who had bought the event on PPV of seeing another title up for grabs. A new addition to the Championship scene also debuted at Summerslam as the Universal Championship belt was unveiled.

imageThis new title is not just ridiculous sounding, a champion of the entire universe, but now also looks terrible. It is so odd that the current Intercontinental title belt is an old version but at least it has a unique look to it. Now the WWE World, WWE Universal and WWE Women’s championships are almost identical with the only major differentiation being the colouring of the strap. I don’t have a problem with the consistent design but the red leather ruins it for me. What is more important however, and has rightly been pointed out by Mick Foley online, is that two competitors at the top of their game put on a good match for it.

imageAlthough good the match was a little disappointing, there’s no getting around that. The first time Finn Balor and Seth Rollins had met in the ring was hoped to have had instant chemistry but although exciting and entertaining it just lacked a little something. As it has turned out Finn Balor suffered a shoulder injury early on and incredibly popped the dislocated joint back in within seconds. However, this did not seem to hamper his performance. The capacity crowd also seemed more concerned with voicing their displeasure to the appearance of the new belt than following the action in the ring which killed the atmosphere. The moment that Balor won the title should’ve been met with a deafeningly positive reaction. Sadly that reaction was absent. I had concluded that the PPV debut of the Demon couldn’t possibly end in failure. Perhaps the crowd had also reached this verdict. It set things up nicely for a series of Rollins/Balor classics as Seth fails to overcome the Demon, elevating the myth of this dark side of Finn Balor. Depressingly we have now been denied this feud as news broke that Finn would be spending months on the sidelines following surgery.

imageOn Raw just 24 hours after winning the title, Finn Balor relinquished it, causing the intended plan for the next few weeks to be ripped up and a hastily arranged series of matches worked out to crown a new champion. I am a big fan of Seth Rollins. Like most of the WWE Universe I am keen to cheer him despite his persistent heel character. But his buckle/throw powerbomb has not only caused the neck injury that retired Sting but has also embarrassed the WWE by injuring one of the company’s most exciting new talents. The curb stomp was replaced by the Pedigree as that was deemed too violent a move and surely now the buckle bomb has to be culled too.

Following three nights in a row at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn there needs to be a time for reflection. Both rosters need to scramble together and analyse who is left without suspension. As discussed injuries have also struck with even Samoa Joe breaking his jaw at NXT Takeover Brooklyn II. The Dudley Boyz have retired too. But such is the fast paced turn around of the business the show must go on. Bayley made her debut on Raw. Nicki Bella is back and thought to be joining Smackdown. The blue brand will also now start building for their Backlash PPV which starts with Smackdown Live tonight…

Update: Smackdown Live

Opening the show it was announced that the blue brand would have new tag team and women’s titles to be crowned at the Backlash PPV. Continuing the pattern identified by WWE the new belts match the current ones on the Raw brand but with a change to the colours, incorporating the blue of Smackdown. Personally I prefer the blue, particularly on the silver penny tag title design.

 

The episode saw Nicki Bella get beaten up by Carmella, more Heath Slater related irritating comedy and set up an intriguing encounter between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt. There was also the implication that a Shane McMahon v Brock Lesnar stunt match could be on the cards. I also noticed that David Otunga said during commentary, on two separate and unrelated occasions, that “desperate times call for desperate measures”. Otunga is like a confused and bewildered pensioner. Spouting total nonsense. Yet Jerry Lawler is reduced to pre-show duty.

As I hoped AJ Styles was rewarded for his Summerslam performance with a title match. He also proved his worth by defeating Dolph Ziggler in the show’s main event. Styles will now challenge Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Championship at Backlash. Perhaps by then that title belt might have got a blue updated strap.

WWE Brand Split

imageWatching World Wresting Entertainment (WWE) can often lead to a sense of deja-vu. In many respects another brand extension is a good idea. The idea was first introduced in 2002 when the roster was bolstered by acquisitions from WCW and ECW. It successfully served as a way of better utilising the significant talent pool available but, as is frequently the case with the WWE, the execution has been less than perfect.

The influx of talent from NXT has certainly strengthened WWE with fresh and exciting  match ups with individuals such as Kevin Owens, Rusev, Neville, Charlotte and Becky Lynch mixing effortlessly onto the network shows and Pay-per-Views (PPVs). Even more NXT Stars have been brought through post-Wrestlemania with Apollo Crews and Enzo and Cass, for example. In that respect the timing was positive but in the context of the wider picture it could have been better.

imageThe main event of Battleground showcased a triple threat match with the three former members of the Shield battling for the WWE Championship. This was a match worthy of Summerslam but was instead delivered a month early. Circumstances dictated a messy buildup to the contest with Roman Reigns’ 30 day suspension and Seth Rollins’ position as a heel. The audience wanted to cheer for Rollins on his return but he immediately discarded his supporters. Equally the WWE universe has been desperate to boo Roman Reigns for, well, ever since it became obvious he was going to win the title at Wrestlemania. His suspension at least gave them a reason to boo. He violated the wellness policy and yet returned to a main event PPV slot.

imageThe importance of the match at Battleground was also diluted with it being clear that the winner would take the title to the show they had been drafted to. This telegraphed the fact that one of the programmes would be inventing a new title for their top guy. As a result of the WWE World Title becoming the sole property of Smackdown Live last night’s episode of Monday Night RAW introduced the concept of the WWE Universal Championship. In a typical example of oneupsmanship the best in WWE and the best in the world can now be declared the best in the entire universe. Kudos for attempting to create something original but it just sounds ridiculous.

On the plus side, the two combatants competing for the WWE Universal Championship at Summerslam will be Seth Rollins and Finn Bálor. The latters immediate elevation to such a prestigious spot demonstrates the new direction, inticing fans that the proclaimed new era is not just a neat tagline.

Speaking of Summerslam the writers now face the challenge of promoting the Brock Lesnar v Randy Orton match with both participants on different shows each week.

imageRAW did make a bold statement with acquiring the WWE Women’s Champion and in possibly the match of the night Sasha Banks took the gold. The new era had its first new champion. However, despite a new roster two superstar spots were inhabited by nobodies for squash matches to introduce Nia Jax and Braun Strowman. A classic case of one step forward, two back. It will be interesting to see how Smackdown Live responds given a solid episode from RAW, Brock Lesnar making an appearance next week and the cruiserweight also coming to Monday nights.

Looking forward there are still unanswered questions. Regarding PPVs, will there be RAW or Smackdown Live only monthly events as has been the case previously. What about inactive alumni, where might they turn up? Will Smackdown Live create a tag team title division? Has Heath Slater finally been fired? There will also no doubt come a time when the two major titles are unified once again and no doubt Michael Cole will declare the victor as the first ever undisputed champion, forgetting the two previous occasions that such a match has been presented. For now however, it is an exciting time for WWE watchers.

REVIEW: WWE Sumerslam 2015

Summerslam_TakerLesnar

WWE’s second biggest PPV offering, ‘the biggest party of the summer’ and now extended to a 4 hour show. The intention is clear, this is an event to match Wrestlemania. In the very near future I can see Summerslam being held in a stadium, which actually makes more sense, the summer weather and an outdoor venue. Anyway, onto the event, skipping the pre-show for the sake of time and the maintenance of sanity.

Sheamus def. Randy Orton

Two solid performers deliver a solid match. Both are in a difficult point of their careers, having achieved the big prize and not looking likely to challenge for it again any time soon.

New Day regain the Tag titles

First and foremost I cannot stand New Day. 3 guys with nothing in common, besides skin colour, are thrown together and credit to them they have made the most of it. Unfortunately, the tag team division has been dead in the water for a long time but perhaps the return of a classic favourite will reignite it once again so PPV matches are no longer time filler.

Dolph Ziggler Vs Rusez (Double count out)

Huge disappointment this one, purely because there is no resolution to the feud. A double count out is the classic way of prolonging a rivalry but this one didn’t need it. Lana is with Dolph, Russev has Summer Rae, let’s move on. But no. However, it’s not likely we will see a rematch at Night of Champions due to the self-imposed restraint of having to have every championship defended. Therefore it makes little sense to extend it further but sadly the double count out did just that and even worse it wouldn’t be the last occasion at this event where the outcome of a match is completely unsatisfying.

Some guy from a show I don’t watch in a match, yawn, I don’t care, skipped it.

Ryback retains the IC title

As pointed out by the commentary team this was classic triple threat material. I don’t really have much to add other than that. Pleased that Ryback retained the belt, it took him long enough to win his first championship so a decent run is just what he needs.

Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose def. Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper

Almost a throw back match to a time now passed. Makes sense as the upper echelons know not what to do with any of the four so why not go back and revisit their former glory. It is ammusing however to see how the fans boo Roman Reigns, resenting his elevation at the start of the year but now he is in limbo, not popular enough to finish his push, not unliked enough to remove him from TV. As with all those who have gone before the mid-card beckons for Reigns.

Seth Rollins retains the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and wins the US title

What had been a really good match was completely ruined by the moronic conclusion. First and foremost this was a stupid match to book. Cena winning the US title was a great call, elevating the belt once again but really he should’ve dropped it to Kevin Owens in one of their tremendous PPV contests. As a result losing it to Rollins effectively negates the US title all together. Also, the fact that Cena was competing to equal the legendary Ric Flair’s record of (supposed) 16 world titles is insane. Cena has been the face of WWE and their biggest merchandise peddler for over 10 years now and the fact he is on 15 titles is an indicator of how frequent the title changes have been during that time. 15 wins means he has also lost them 15 times. Perhaps it is the age we live in but title changes are often an easy book.

Back to the match itself there were plenty of near falls for one of them to be the proper finale. Instead guest host Jon Stewart, who I know of but have no interest in seeing, having an influence on the outcome of such an important match. The commentators also pointed out on multiple occasions how big a match it was and yet the finish was urinated upon by a rubbish chair shot to the gut by some guy from American television in order to generate press coverage.

Seth Rollins could really have done with a clean win over Cena but he still remains a fluke champion. Despite this he put in another good performance proving that he certainly deserves his position, delivering at the top-level.

Team PCB def. Team Bella and Team Bad, which is a ridiculous sentence.

The Diva revolution has been a tremendous boost for a much derided female division. All the best women’s matches have all been on NXT and it made perfect sense to bring top performers like Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks over to the main shows. The main problem with the division is the dominance of the Bella Twins, they are not the best technical wrestlers, to put it mildly, but to associate their success to be based on their respective high-profile partners is unfair but probably still accurate. However, on the two biggest shows the Bella’s have lost to a team featuring Paige. Surely therefore Paige is the future and matches with other NXT graduates will reignite the division so they are no longer Divas but women once again. The Bellas can then go back to the egofest that is Total Divas.

Kevin Owens def. Cesaro

Two individuals deserving of proper title runs put on a tremendous match. In hindsight Owens had to win the match given he had lost his two previous PPV outings plus at ‘Beast in the East’ and NXT Takeover the previous night.

The Undertaker def. Brock Lesnar

A huge rematch 16 months in the making and it more than lived up to the physicality expected but once again was spoilt by the finish which I don’t imagine was very clear to those in attendance at the arena. When the bell rang first thoughts sprang of Montreal revisited but instead the reality was much more confusing. So instead of getting a clean win and revenge it appears the Undertaker had lost once again, submitting to the kimura lock. However, the beast didn’t submit but passed out, retaining his aura. Basically there is going to be a third match, probably at Wrestlemania 32. It would make sense for Taker to bow out having overcome Lesnar at Wrestlemania but I could also see match 3 at Survivor Series.

RAW highlights

Sting is back! Hurray! Hopefully he will go up against Rollins now for the WWE World Heavyweight Title but will he hold the strap? Probably not but it would final cement him as a legend to WWE fans who didn’t see him at his peak in the 90’s.

Also the Dudley Boys are back and that should be exactly the boost the Tag Team division needs.