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Right, a lot of people have come away from the PPV a little … flat. I don’t blame them, because I did too to a certain extent, but i’ll explain that when I review the individual matches that lest that impression. After the brilliant Night of Champions and Hell in a Cell PPVs though, this was certainly something of a disappointment.
Match 1: Daniel Bryan def. Dolph Ziggler
This was the first match of the night as well as the wildcard to a certain extent, simply because of how alien Dolph and Daniel have been in their career paths to date. However, this was undoubtedly the match of the night. It’s easy to forget (given his ‘perfection’ persona) that Ziggler is an accomplished collegic amateur wrestler and certainly a match to the naturally gifted Daniel Bryan. Given how little they presumably know about each other, it is understandable that the match started out tentatively, with the two guys feeling each other out, but even this was high in quality. As the match grew, so did the performances, and the aggressiveness was also turned up. This started with Bryan’s brutal buzzsaw style kicks to Dolph (which i’m sure included one or two ‘potatoes’) and advanced to Ziggler’s death-defying reversal of Bryan’s attempted big back body drop in to a mid-air cross body, which drew ‘this is awesome’ chants, and then to that horrific mid-air collision as both attempted another cross-body. The announcers suggested they may both have broken ribs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did! Bryan’s ‘heart’ started to frustrate the hot-headed Ziggler who was caught off-guard with the LaBelle Lock and was forced to tap. I was pleased to see Bryan get such a positive reaction from a crowd that isn’t his home town. It’s that sort of fan-backing he’ll need to achieve a deserved main-event spot, and as for Ziggler, it gets harder and harder to deny that the guy could be a future world champion.
Match 2: David Otunga and John Cena (Nexus) def. Cody Rhodes and Drew McIntyre for the WWE Tag Team Championships
This was one match I doubt anyone was expecting to see. During their promo, incidentally, I noticed that Drew McIntyre had really been working on his mic work. It was never bad, but it’s certainly improved even more. Anyway, the prospect of Nexus going after the tag team championships was very exciting to me; given that i’d predicted a Barrett victory, I foresaw Nexus on RAW tonight holding three belts and genuinely being conquerors of WWE. The match itself was pretty good, but nothing special – though, to be fair, the quality of this match would only be judged by the result and it’s consequences. There was a nice in-ring story with Otunga trying to take the glory from Cena who was basically doing all of the work, pepped up by his being let of the leash to wrestle heels. When the Nexus pair won, I thought Otunga was going to hog the belts (which would have been pretty good I suppose, though I didn’t want to see it). In the end it was Cena who left with both belts, representing a nice bit of self-assertion in-between all the cruelty and exploitation he’s suffered. As for Drew and Cody, I have no idea what will happen to them, but there are actually almost endless possibilities which I wont bother going in to. Needless to say they are both ‘big deals’ and will be moving on to something meaningful from this.
Match 3: Ted DiBiase w/ Maryse def. Goldust w/ Aksana
Now i’m more than happy to report that my prediction for this match was very wrong. I predicted a short intervening match between these two which probably wouldn’t be worth much, but instead, it was a serious match with some good time behind it. I was also pleased to see DiBiase get to talk seriously beforehand (something he’s rarely been able to do of late). Huge kudos to Goldie who is among the best in the ring, still. He had a very good match with DiBiase during which they both worked hard and with great fluidity and chemistry. That ultimate compliment to wrestlers can again be applied here: it just seemed completely natural and legitimate. Also, the match progressed their feud more than I expected, with the finish being down, in large part, to either man’s valets. After Maryse attacked Aksana, Goldie showed some genuine concern, only for DiBiase to attack him from behind and hit him with a low DDT for the win. After the match, Aksana seemed to be turning on Goldie, approaching DiBiase seductively with the Million Dollar Championship, but alas, it was just a rouse so Goldust could hit the Final Cut to DiBiase and keep the belt. This will probably lead to a rubber match at Survivor Series to determine the owner of the belt, or at least a match between the two, and it will be interesting to see if Maryse reacts to DiBiase being seemingly so willing to drop her in favour of Aksana and his championship.
Match 4: Layla def. Natalya to Retain the Divas Championship
I’ve really liked LayCool on the mic of late, and last night was no different. They are great at drawing heat, and really getting the fans to support the other competitor. This match was good. It was short, but not too short, and both Layla and Natalya performed very well in the ring. Obviously Natalya is a natural and supremely talented, and probably helped Layla to look good, but there is no question that Layla held up her end too. There were lots of well executed dropkicks and other moves, accomplished holds and grappling,and a few pretty tough bumps. Natalya was too much for the last Women’s Champion eventually, overpowering her and outwrestling her, persuading Layla that she should leave and fight another day. Interestingly, McCool questioned Layla’s decision to leave before Nattie dragged her back to the ring. While they were at the ropes though, Michelle took advantage of te distracted referee to hit Natalya with her Big Boot to hand Layla the victory. It’ll be interesting to see if Natalya stays in the title picture. I have a feeling she will as this feud is clearly well over, and looking at Natalya, if she does challenge for the title at Survivor Series, she would be a very credible next Divas Champion.
Now, up until this point we were having another excellent PPV in my view, and I had been very much looking forward to the two world title matches. Things were looking up. Unfortunately, there was a lot (though not uniformly so) of disappointment to come.
Match 5: Kane w/ Paul Bearer def. The Undertaker to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
Undertaker is clearly pretty beaten up, and all of these gimmick matches have been good, not only because they fit the storyline so well, but because they allow ‘Taker to mask his inability to wrestle properly in his current condition. Understandably, this match was a brawl, but it was little more than that. There was a very long exchange when the two were trading punches, which is fine, but without much else to build on to it with, it’s a little uninspiring. I would also have liked to have seen Bearer play more of a role; rather than just watching ‘Taker choke his son out with the Hell’s Gate, why didn’t he pick up one of those shovels and threaten to hit ‘Taker with it. That would have made the Deadman turning to him with those piercing eyes and duping him in the cold soil, a bit more compelling. Nonetheless, this story lives and dies on the quality of the storyline and the intrigue, and the involvement of the Nexus, not as simple disruptors but actively trying to help Kane win, was very interesting and tantalising. This must be the start of a tangent storyline. Dare I suggest that Nexus’s bigger plans (which they haven’t forgotten about judging by the Survivor Series advert) may be something to do with a ‘higher power’? Whatever their reasoning is, it is enough to save this match from poor reviews. If Nexus do extend that far, it is only good for both storylines (which, let’s not forget, started around the same time) as the deeper they go, the more compelling they are. Nexus involving themself in Smackdown issues only heightens how they should be considered a genuine threat to the industry.
Match 6: Team Smackdown (Edge & Rey Mysterio) def. Team RAW
The problem with this match is that no one cares about who wins. Why would they? Most people who watch one brand, surely watch the other too, and there is little reason for brand loyalty other than personal tastes. For a big elimination match, it was good though. But that’s really all there is to say about it. Ezekiel Jackson and Tyler Reks both didn’t impress enough for my liking. Smackdown won, and no one that wasn’t being paid to be there pretended to care. If they are going to keep up this concept, they have to do something to make the fans care. Again, I suggest making it so that the captain (or at least a member) of the losing team has to join the winning brand; maybe even merge it with the draft and put it after Wrestlemania. If this isn’t done, then the buyrate of this concept will continue to be low.
Match 7: Wade Barrett w/ John Cena def. Randy Orton via DQ
After Nexus won the tag titles earlier in the night, I was even more behind Barrett to take the WWE Championship last night, and this became even more probably when Barrett told Cena that he would be fired if he didn’t win. So much so that I thought it was a spoiler. The match was only ok really. I don’t know whether Barrett’s lack of experience was a factor or not, but it never really seemed to grow. Despite this, it was quite compelling as we, the audience thought that, at some point, Cena would have to impede Orton (even tripping him at the rope would have been amazing and surreal to see). This was never forthcoming though. There was a glimpse of it at best when Cena took out the Nexus members to stop Barrett from being disqualified (which Jerry Lawler rightly said he was disappointed in), and finally, when Cena crept in to the ring behind Orton, we all thought it was going to happen; Cena was going to turn on Orton! But no, he went straight past Orton and hit an Attitude Adjustment on Barrett … After a little bit of conclusion, it became clear what Cena had done; he knew Barrett had to win, but he didn’t want to have to attack Orton, so he attacked him so Barrett would win by DQ. This is by no means a ‘good deed’, at least in the world of wrestling, as Orton was about to RKO Barrett for the victory, but Cena robbed him not only of the victory, but his ability to defend his championship properly (a pretty bad thing to do to a face). So no doubt it was a morally questionable act from Cena, and actually quite selfish, and he ate an RKO for his trouble. The problem with all this though, is that it’s the sort of booking you expect on television. It’s more build-up than turning point/milestone. The main even of a PPV should bring some sort of significant change to a storyline or end it for good, but this did none of that, and provided the fans with a DQ finish to their main event, which is pretty unfulfilling. A pretty static match and pretty static storyline leaves everyone watching it come away feeling a little cheated, and this was almost certainly the most disappointing match of the night, in stark comparison to Hell in a Cell, when it was heart-wrenching. This storyline simply needs to progress at a quicker rate.
Overall, the PPV was split almost down the middle in terms of quality. The first half was excellent; the second half was mostly disappointing, with the notable exception of Nexus’s involvement in the World Heavyweight Championship match. I think what can be learned from this is that, as I say, PPV matches need to offer more than matches on TV do, and if they don’t, they’re going to be criticised, and rightly so. It also shows that we need fewer PPVs, even if only by two or three. I think one of the problems for Bragging Rights was that it was the third PPV in a month (or close enough) and consequently, the storylines just weren’t progressing quickly enough to fulfil big PPV twists. This isn’t the fault of the writers. It is only right that storylines progress at their own pace, though I would add that the Cena-Nexus story is moving too slowly at this point.