RAW Recall (27/12/2010): We Are One … Under Punk

Punk salutes his new Nexus followers

Jacques Louis David's Oath of Horatii - on reflection, hardly a mirror image, but definately reminiscent to the closing image of RAW, both aesthetically, and in meaning

Like with their initial introduction, though to a lesser extent (simply because no one could have expected what happened that night in June), the re-introduction of Nexus dominates the fallout from last night’s RAW, and so will dominate my coverage of it. I’ll save it for now though.

The first non Punk/Nexus/Cena thing to happen was Ted DiBiase jobbing to Santino. This didn’t sit too well with me. Now, I realise Santino is on a pretty strong push just now, and DiBiase, in contrast, is on something of a storyline losing streak. So far, so good. My problem is that DiBiase is not being helped by it. Of course, the losing streak will undoubtedly lead to some sort of storyline, a split from Maryse and possibly a face turn, but they could have already done that without damaging DiBiase’s status so much. Remember his feud with Goldust? He was humiliated and lost several times. When he eventually realised he was stuck in a rut, he gave up the Million Dollar Title to focus on Daniel Bryan’s United States Championship. Right then was the chance to evolve DiBiase, before having him in a great and respectful wrestling-heavy feud with Bryan that wouldn’t see him win the title, but would see him turn face and progress. Instead, the programme was not long lasting, and he’s reverted back to the bad luck of his Goldust feud. It seems a shame for him, I mean, aren’t people like (with all due respect) Darren Young there to job now?

The Morrison-Riley match to determine all the stipulations of the Miz-Morrison title match was ok, it did the job, but it isn’t really what I want to talk about. I hate that Morrison uses that running knee smash as a finisher. It’s not special or memorable. Think about this: can you imagine the main event of Wrestlemania being won with that move? That has to be a bench-mark, and I can’t see it. I knew, ever since Morrison avoided talking about his shot at the Royal Rumble, that it wouldn’t be at the Rumble. It would have been very brave of WWE to book Miz-Morrison at the Rumble, simply because they want an established top talent to draw for the show, so it’s hard to have many qualms about them pulling it (had it been a PPV like Over the Limit, it might have stuck). What it means is that the result is even more predictable than if it were to take place at the Rumble. It could really be (and needs to be) an awesome match next week on RAW, and i’m sure it will be, but Miz will almost 100% definitely retain. It’s not bad that it’s predictable as Miz’s reign has been fascinating so far, but it means Morrison will be back on the back-burner as far as the main event goes for a good few months (with the exception of a possible Elimination Chamber appearance). The stipulation helps Miz in that it takes Morrison out of the ring, which is often his friend and allows for Miz et al to thrive in an out-of-ring brawl. With the help of Riley, Cole, and maybe even the Nexus, Miz will survive to Royal Rumble, surely setting up the slightly disappointing title match of Miz-Orton at the Rumble.

Now that the slated Punk-Bryan feud is off for the foreseeable future, we were offered a taste of an excellent second-best when Tyson Kidd confronted Daniel Bryan backstage, putting him on notice that he was coming for his US title. This was somewhat undermined by his quick loss later to Mark Henry and the easy demise of his ‘bodyguard’ Jackson Andrews, but I don’t think it’s off the radar. A Bryan-Kidd feud could be excellent. Both are superb in-ring technicians and can really put on high-octane matches. No doubt, all things being equal, they would put on 5 Star Matches. The one problem is one that might hound Kidd, and that is that for an explosive, high-flying wrestler such as himself, it is hard to draw heat as those move-sets garner respect instantaneously from crowds. He does have mat-based skills to fall back on, so i’m not sure it will make him a bad heel, but he will certainly be more limited in his heel powers. I hope it goes ahead, at least to Royal Rumble. As for Bryan, he had a packed match with the under-utilised Zack Ryder. Ryder looked good and aggressive in his match with AmDrag, but he was still put away relatively swiftly, for the good of Bryan, who rolls on.

The Lawler-Miz match was an interesting one. Unlike in the past, it was not a competitive match as Miz did exactly what he said he was going to, humiliating Lawler for the most part. Casually but relentlessly beating on the Hall of Famer and enjoying watching him struggle to continue. I liked this as it further added to Miz’s character and in a way which showed some strength. It was right that something else should happen rather than Miz just pin Lawler. One option would have been to just beat on Lawler until the ref just stopped the match, which would have been good in some ways, but would have ruled out developments that came subsequently. Instead, JoMo came out again to distract his former partner, and successfully as Lawler was able to push a distracted Miz out of the ring to the waiting steel steps. Furthermore, Morrison repeated his knee smash to cause a count out for the WWE champion and another Lawler victory. This obviously was about next week’s title match however, and JoMo’s involvement was more good build up for that. Though Jerry’s put on good matches, I think it really is time now that he step aside from the matches with the WWE Champ. Miz needs to grow against contemporaries. Luckily, it seems that Lawler wont be seeing a ring for some time on RAW.

A quick note on the divas match. Short but ok. I was illated to see Gail Kim booked, and when she appeared – though only for a short time – she really was excellent and a house of fire. She really needs a feud or a title shot!

Later on, during a relatively (and deliberately so) uninteresting announcement from the RAW GM, Miz came through the crowd and attacked Lawler brutally at ringside, looking for revenge for all his tribulations through the night. This segment was really excellent. The shooting, which captured Lawler at the announce desk and Miz coming through the crowd while focusing on the GM’s podium really added to the stealth of the attack, and the brutality of the attack was well played out. Lawler’s head seemed to be taking some horrible bumps on the barricade, the announce table, the steel steps, and eventually the concrete floor following a Skull-Crushing Finale. I doubt we’ll see Lawler on RAW next week, and I hope it’s an excuse for him to step aside. As for Miz, it was excellently executed and drew tonnes of heat. Perfect.

Orton-Sheamus was a pretty good match though it wasn’t particularly memorable or spectacular. A very psychological match, which is no bad thing at all. Both looked very strong against each other in a match with lots of back and forth. Sheamus continues to grow, adopting a sort of over-the-top-rope leaping shoulder-block to his arsenal. In a pretty cool end to the match, Sheamus went to this well an ill-advised second time, and leapt straight in to an RKO (a’la (but not quite equal in quality to) Evan Bourne). This was basically a marquee match, and the result doesn’t really seem to have many ramifications.

Finally, to the final segment. Now, when Cene beat Barrett at TLC and Nexus didn’t show up the next night on RAW, I decided that either Nexus had to end right there and then, or if they were to return (which seemed probable) they needed a big new angle to keep them relevant. It seems they have, happily, chosen the second option. At the top of the show, Punk explained his recent actions to Cena, and the genius of it was that almost all (if not all) of what Punk said was absolutely correct. Cena is clearly not a ‘man of his word,’ he didn’t follow the stipulation of the Survivor Series match and essentially lied to the fans in doing so. There are clearly occasions where Cena has been needlessly brutal in the face of taking a heroic moral high ground, and the two examples Punk cited (of Cena against Batista at Over the Limit, AA-ing him through the stage after Batista had already submitted; and at TLC, dragging a beaten man to a place where he could pull of such a calculated stunt with all the chairs) were clear cases of Cena acting with a brutal lack of restraint, and no differently to his antagonists. As a man idolised as a hero, the excuse of ‘he broke my neck’ or ‘ they made my life a living hell’ just don’t fly when he could have simply walked away after victory. Of course Cena is a more interesting and explosive character for these acts, but they nonetheless support Punk’s P.O.V.

The way Punk kept building up what he would do to Cena, I was worried Cena would scupper him. Thankfully, he didn’t. Cena is predictable, and the more calculating Punk was able to predict his actions (a subtle nuance to the story that I liked) so he knew Cena would come out before Punk could call him out, and he knew that if he didn’t respond, Cena would come after him, and so orchestrated Nexus to come out and meet him. Of course, once Nexus came out in a segment involving Punk and said they were ‘under new management,’ it was almost certain that Punk was the new leader, but it didn’t spoil the atmosphere. Nexus gave Cena one last chance to act with humility and, having already beaten them, let bygones be bygones. Now, while I understand why he wouldn’t accept their truce, it still casts a shadow over his character as a hero face. To this, Nexus attacked Cena again in a manner reminiscent to that of their debut, hitting all their finishers and leaving him immobile. Then, on their way from the ring, Punk’s music hit and they parted ways for their new leader, who swiftly hit a GTS on the fallen Cena. Now this is obviously not morally right, but at least it has a point, to give Cena a taste of his own torment as they see it. In line with a moral high-ground, Punk conspicuously showed restraint in not hitting Cena with the chair and instead sat over him, and slowly and quietly, reached for the Nexus arm band that had been left in the ring by Otunga, making his new position concrete before saluting the Nexus members with the raised arm (that I maintain reminded me of the David painting above) in a way which may suggest a slightly new atmosphere for the Nexus.

This is one of those conclusions that leaves more questions than answers. Punk is gold on the mic and as a counterpoint to Cena, and could really be an excellent Nexus leader, but there are issues to be addressed. What will become of Wade Barrett? Will he simply fall in? Surely he can’t return as a face, it just wouldn’t go over, but it would be odd for him to become a secondary member. Though I love Punk, I also worry that having an established name at the head of the group is damaging to the character of the group. One of the most attractive things about the Nexus was that it consisted solely of newcomers – there was a real sense therefore of change and a challenge to an establishment. I think some of that is lost with Punk as the leader. What will Nexus’s focus be? Punk’s chat to Sheamus backstage made it seem like Nexus would no longer act like an infection and are now only interested in Cena. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s a difficult idea to sell, though it is an interesting one. This would also (probably!) sweep aside their hugely intriguing ‘bigger plans’ which could have dealt with their attacks on the Undertaker – that is a shame. On that issue, it’s a matter of waiting, but even if they have to be forgotten, there is huge potential for a great and interesting storyline. Now that Punk is involved, there is scope for other established wrestlers to bolster the Nexus ranks in an attempt to aid the ostensible motive of checking Cena for his years of recklessness: there’s no reason why Darren Young can’t return, but otherwise, people like R-Truth could also join the anti-Cena camp. Though i’ve said it many times in the past, and possibly driven by wishful thinking, if they are targeting a forced ‘change’ on Cena, this time surely they will succeed. After all, what sense would it make to continue to group, just to repeat what they have already done (i.e. be ultimately bested by Cena) – that’s right, once again, I am predicting (and begging for) a Cena heel turn! There is scope for this, and as I say, I believe it makes sense, but at this early stage, a lot remains to be unfolded. I’d also like to add that I hope they still come out to the Nexus music, instead of Punk’s. As for Punk, i’d prefer him to wear a Nexus shirt, but that’s not quite as important. What is important, ultimately, is that the Nexus have been made interesting and relevant again, and have one of the greatest current personalities in all of wrestling at their forefront.

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Kaval Released!

Say what! In what looks to be an amicable split, Kaval has been ‘future endeavored’ by WWE. Looking a bit closer, however, it seems mutual. Management apparantly had nothing for the NXT Season 2 winner, which perhaps was obvious to both parties after his job to Drew McIntyre on Smackdown, and hence this decision.

Hang on! He was the winner of NXT season 2! You can’t tell me their plans for an NXT winner was to lose a title match and then nothing beyond that! If that is the case, then the fault is with WWE. The guy wrestled his ass off every minute he had on TV, and deserved something decent coming his way.

What he does in his ‘future endeavor’ will be interesting. He is an alum of both TNA and ROH, so naturally, they’ll be in the rumour-mill and obviously, he’ll now be a hot commodity for both promotions. I would certainly like WWE to come up with some ideas for him and bring him back at a later date though.

Smack of the Week (22/12/2010): Season’s Beatings

One clear goal of Smackdown’s showing on USA was to use people like Cena and Orton to draw for the blue brand. Indeed, our first match saw the Viper take on WWE Champ, The Miz one last time in a stellar way to kick off the show. The difference here, as opposed to their match on RAW was that Miz looked a lot more the equal to Orton. Of course he kept his stealthy (if you will) characteristic of sticking and running, but there were times that Miz was on top of Orton without necessarily requiring the help of ‘A-Ri.’ There was even more back-and-forth about this, with Miz’s guardian angel, Alex Riley interjecting when Miz was in danger. Happily perhaps, this was less often than on Monday. Towards the end of the match, there were some great counter/reversal passages which really amped up the atmosphere. As the match came to it’s conclusion, Miz and Orton tussled for position, but after Orton got the upperhand, Riley got involved, taking an RKO and causing the DQ. It certainly makes sense to not hand Miz another clean loss, but I would perhaps have preferred to have seen Miz go over with Riley’s interference. It will be very interesting to see what Orton moves on to now …

I get that Santino’s on something of a rise at the moment, so perhaps a near-squash is fitting, but against Chavo! That guy could wrestle multi-seg matches excellently, and this is what he’s reduced to! No disrespect, but why even keep Joey Mercury hired is he’s not there to job!

Similar, but better was McIntyre’s squash of Kaval. I don’t think Kaval will be a jobber, he was at PPV only a couple of months ago, and seems to be over. While it’s a shame for Kaval, he’s paying his WWE dues and possibly setting up for a feud with the Sinister Scotsman, and McIntyre could do with keeping his profile high, which he is doing with his recent amped-up aggression (as well as his chasing of Kelly Kelly). This was, though it seems an oximoron, an entertaining squash. McIntyre was right on top of Kaval during his entrance, hitting him with a big boot before taunting him by saying “Merry Christmas.” Excellent. A Future Shock DDT was all he needed to finish the World Warrior off.

Though I can’t find much to say about it, the Kofi/Rey vs Del Rio/Swagger match should be mentioned. It was certainly a very good tag match which was no doubt meant to show off a very polished version of Smackdown to first-time viewers on USA. The double splash by Rey and Kofi on to the heels was pretty awesome too. There was a suitably clean ending to the match, with Rey hitting Swagger with a 619 which was followed by a Trouble in Paradise and a West Coast Pop for the face victory.

The main event was essentially a re-match of Dolph Ziggler against John Cena (though Vickie was thrown in, probably to justify the re-match), but if anything, it surpassed Monday’s highly celebrated match and could be a Match of the Year candidate in many ways, at least for television matches. It was really packed, and it’s not worth talking too much about individual moments for that reason, but the match can be characterised (a bit like the Miz-Orton match) by being a lot more packed, and a lot more evenly matched. Ziggler was really on top of Cena for probably most of the match, and at several points, had Cena apparently reeling. Not only that, but Ziggler kicked out of Cena once or twice showing remarkable resilience. What seemed to hold Ziggler back was not Cena, but Vickie, who continuously tagged herself in at inopportune times, disrupting Ziggler’s progress. Towards the end, it is a testament to both men that Ziggler seemed that he might win, and clean. He couldn’t quite overcome the marquee name, however. The ending was perhaps a little silly in it’s use of Christmas camp as Cena finally stopped Vickie’s intrusions by planting a Jericho-to-Stephanie style snog on Vickie, stunning her and allowing him to beat a very game Ziggler, eventually, with an Attitude Adjustment. No doubt Ziggler will be considered for a main event feud in the near future after how stellar his performances have been. I’d like to see him keep that IC title right up to Wrestlemania (or possibly until Extreme Rules to make the dropping of the belt less high-profile) as he wont be main eventing in Wrestlemania season. After that, I think he could challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship.

There was some nice symmetry in CM Punk’s post-match chair-assault to John Cena, in that it mirrored almost exactly the demeanor and events of Monday night’s attack, i.e. chair to the stomach, to the back, before casually leaving the ring and climbing the ramp almost non-chalantly. These two could have a truly awesome feud.

RAW Recall (20/12/2010): The Bite Before Christmas

Orton looks to get one last shot in on Miz following his removal from the title picture

Last night’s RAW was incredibly well received all round, and in many ways, i’m not surprised. As Mark Henry said, there was a freshness in the air, but it was not because of the lack of Nexus, it was the hotness of the crowd for a show which featured the rise and rise of future main-eventers, John Morrison and Dolph Ziggler.

The show started out with what Cole termed ‘The Mizmas Carol’ featuring Alex Riley as Miz’s reign past, Cole as Miz’s reign in the present, and Miz Girl as Miz’s reign in the future. To each of them, Miz reiterated that he will continue to continue being the champion at every defence. It was silly, but it was funny, and when the real future of Miz’s reign, John Morrison, came out to confront him, it turned in to a good set up for the night’s main event, and build-up for their Royal Rumble match.

It was important following the progressive divas match at TLC that the divas match on RAW was also of high quality. It wasn’t as long, but it was fast-paced, athletic, and of good quality from all three competitors, Melina, Alicia Fox and Eve.  Eve especially, who has wrestled little since her Divas Championship run, seemed to have improved yet further, hitting a nice standing moonsault. The ending of the match was good, with Melina rolling through to avoid a cross-body and gain the victory. Then came the much talked about Melina heel turn, slapping a sportsmanlike Natalya in the face. This too was a good move, as Maryse can’t carry the serious heel burden on her own. I have no idea why Gail Kim couldn’t have been in the match though, even as a loser. It’s a damn shame.

Next up was an IWC dream-match between Daniel Bryan and his trainer, William Regal. The first thing I noticed is that Regal seems to have let himself go somewhat. Nonetheless, he managed to put on a good match with his former student, if perhaps a slower paced one. It was a very physical match, with lots of chain grappling and a flurry of European uppercuts. The story was of the student besting the master as Bryan reversed an attempted Regal Stretch in to a Lebelle Lock for the victory. There was a lot of  respect shown after the loss, but I wonder, given the sense that Regal will be retiring soon, he could be a new challenger to Bryan’s US title as a last run in his career. Maybe his initial sportsmanship could turn to bitterness next week. The Bellas continued to fight over a bewildered Bryan after the match – something I though played off nicely with Bryan’s desire to show respect to his mentor. Maybe Regal could take exception to his being distracted by the girls.

Later on, Cena made his first appearance since destroying the Nexus at TLC. The crowd were hot for this, which undoubtedly contributed to it being one of the best segments of recent memory. He was excited, charismatic and funny, especially showing his chairs yanked on Barrett spot from several different angles. This was only interrupted by Vickie Guerrero and Dolph Ziggler, who wanted an apology from Jerry Lawler for his comments at the Slammy Awards mocking Guerrero’s weight. This then turned in to a crowd-baited group bullying of Guerrero which may have gone too far with Lawler and Cena taking turns to make jokes about Guerrero. All this led to a match between Cena and Ziggler which was one of the best TV matches in a long time. Obviously an amped-up Cena had a lot of success in the early going, but Ziggler managed to get in a lot of his own offense, and the match was relatively equally balanced back and forth. There were also lots of good moments of drama surrounding finishing moves and near falls, as Ziggler reversed out of an AA in to a Sleeper, which Cena managed to slip out of. Cena managed to get Ziggler to tap to the STF, but ever resourceful, Vickie managed to distract the referee allowing a stay for Dolph. Unfortunately, he would soon go down to an AA and a loss to Cena. This was obviously no squash though – Ziggler was being tested at that level, and I doubt many would say that he failed. Following this, CM Punk, who had been voicing his anger at Cena’s actions (and the crowd’s approval of them), attacked Cena from behind with a chair, explaining that he was giving him a taste of his own medicine. It seems then that Cena has genuinely moved on, and will enter an intriguing feud with Punk. This has two other potential consequences: firstly that the Cena-Nexus feud is, as I expected, done. It will be interesting to see how and if Nexus continue from here. Also, there is a possibility, seen as there is said to be favour for a three-man commentary team, and a general desire for J.R. to return, that J.R. could replace the now active Punk at the announce table.

The main event say faces Randy Orton, John Morrison and Jerry “The King” Lawler take on The Miz, Alex Riley and Sheamus. This was another strong match, though I did think Miz was perhaps a little too cowardly in the face of The Viper, actually running away from him once or twice. Nonetheless, every one did a good job in this match, even the rookie, Riley, and the aging veteran, Jerry Lawler, who hit a lot of good moves, including a dropkick! Morrison got a crucial good pop from the crowd, and again seemed to be working out of his skin. Miz continued to develop his character as a wily opportunist, and attempted to hit a Skull Crushing finale on Lawler, only to be stopped and RKO’d by Orton, who allowed the pin to the King over the WWE Champion. That’s a nice move for Jerry, as long as he does vacate the main event now. As for Miz, he tried to attack Orton afterwards, getting in a cheap shot before backing off a frustrated Orton. A couple of times, it was mentioned that Morrison would get his title shot ‘some time’ in the future, suggesting that it might not come at the Royal Rumble, though I hope it does.

TLC Review, 2010: The Rights and Rungs

Edge and John Cena celebrate their victories at TLC

The first thing that must be said is that overall, last night’s TLC PPV was another excellent PPV from 2010. It again goes to show the anti-PG brigade that it doesn’t take blood to make excellent and brutal matches. At the very least, no one could say of any of the gimmick matches that they were tame.

Dolph Ziggler def. Kofi Kingston and Jack Swagger in a Ladder Match to Retain the Intercontinental Championship
Considering that there were to be another two ladder-based matches later on the card, this match was an excellent way to set the tone for the rest of the night. An interesting early spot saw Kingston thrust the ladder against Swagger’s wrist/hand – quite an interesting and subtly technical gesture in a match like this which usually sees ladders in the face or body. Ziggler used the ladder a lot in the early going, hitting his fame-asser on to Kingston on to the ladder and (I think it was Ziggler) hitting him with a slingshot into a ladder. Indeed, as you would expect, Kingston was involved in most of the ladder action; and as you would expect, he was involved in some cool spots, most notably jumping through the side of the ladder to hit Swagger with double knees and keeping the ladder standing. Shortly after this, all men were down, and Vickie Guerrero attempted to scale the ladder herself for Dolph. Unfortunately for her, she was caught by Kofi who lifted up his side of the ladder and left Vickie teetering. She was eventually saved by Ziggler’s pleading and Swagger’s attack to Kofi, and wouldn’t be in the ring again. The finish was a unique one, and one that probably wont satisfy all. Atop the ladder, Kofi and Swagger were struggling over the IC championship belt and, tugging it at the same time, dropped it to the floor for the waiting Ziggler for the win (Ziggler was meant to catch the belt, which would have been more effective, but I think we got the idea). Though a little unsatisfying, the match itself – though not the best of the night – was very good, and the end allowed Ziggler’s reign to continue, as well as this interesting three-way feud.

Natalya & Beth Phoenix def. LayCool in a Tables Match
Any worries that this match may be treated as second-class can be thrown out of the window; this was the best divas match in a long time, not just because it was a tables match, but because it was given just as much time as many of the male competitors matches. There were powerful moves, big bumps (notably one or two ones that were difficult to even watch to Beth). This wasn’t just from Beth and Natalya, LayCool more than played there part with some devastating moves on the faces. It was however, always going to be Natalya and Beth’s playground. Nattie’s double sharpshooter was remarkable and legitimately innovative, while the ending involved two spots with both of LayCool landing on the hard table (which wasn’t meant to break) before being put through it by a splash from Nattie. We want more of this, and it looks like we’ll get it.

Santino Marella & Vladimir Kozlov def. Heath Slater & Justin Gabriel (Nexus) by DQ to Retain WWE Tag Team Championships
This match was added to the card on the night, and certainly was the least remarkable in some ways as it seems to be more to do with setting up the Cena-Barret match. That is not to do the match down however. It was a good tag match, with Santino really starting to show that grappling prowess everyone knows he has (seemingly to be explained by him tagging with Vlad). There was really some excellent wrestling from him and the crowd was obviously really behind him. Nexus did well too, but their show of solidarity (with Husky Harris and Michael McGillicutty accompanying them to ringside) backfired as McGillicutty was caught attacking Santino. Nexus just used this as an opportunity to send a message to John Cena with chairs, taking the tag champions apart in the ring.

John Morrison def. Sheamus in a Ladder Match to Become #1 Contender to the WWE Championship
This was arguably the show stealer. I think Morrison especially knew that it had to be. Sheamus performed out of his skin too, and in the early going, it was him that was the innovative one with the ladder. Standing out to me was when he tied Morrison’s injured leg in the rungs of a ladder and proceeded to hit a knee smash to the cansasv ladder and all. That was just the tip of the iceberg. There were huge shots and bumps throughout the match as Morrison tried to fight back from an apparently unassailable position as at one point, Morrison could barely stand and Sheamus just seemed to be piling more pain on the Shaman of Sexy. Fight back he did though, and as he managed to take the ascendancy, it was Sheamus who started to seem indestructible. A huge spot took place where he was speared by Morrison through a ladder propped up between the apron and the announce table; Sheamus managed to get up again though to try and stop Morrison from getting the contract. Trying to push Morrison to the floor, Morrison stopped himself on the rope with his foot, rebounding to hit Sheamus under the chin with a resounding version of his Flash Kick, allowing him to climb the rest of the ladder for the contract. Seriously, one of the best matches of the year, and one in which both men looked superb. It’s a vote of confidence in Sheamus to recognise that he has the gravitas to put someone like Morrison over already.

The Miz def. Randy Orton in a Tables Match to Retain the WWE Championship
The first thing that people need to realise is that a strong champion isn’t a necessity with a heel champion, and a heel champion being strong in terms of cunning as a opposed to grappling or strength is valid and a welcome new focus. This is exactly the case with The Miz. This match was good and though the fury of Orton was something Miz struggled to match up to in kayfabe terms, Miz managed to roughly keep in step with Orton throughout. Indeed, at the start, Orton was a veritable house of fire, beating Miz down early. It wasn’t long before Alex Riley interjected himself in the match to preserve Miz, pulling him out of the path of the Viper several times. Riley played his part excellently, being a constant irritant to Orton, moving and putting away tables that he set up, including the classic spot where he moved a table out of the way of a move that would otherwise would have seen the match end. Miz took advantage of these distractions at several points and did his fair share of beating Orton down with the steel steps and hitting several signature moves, all to huge heat. Miz seemed to have won the match after taking advantage of a downed referee to hit a Skull-Crushing Finalé on Orton and playing him in the wreckage of a broken table (broken by Orton with Riley) and alerting the referee. This was ingenious enough, but the referee saw the instant replay and restarted the match. More than ever, Orton was a house of fire, but again the Miz outsmarted the fiery Viper, escaping to the ring and using Riley as a battering ram to send Orton legitimately through a table. Miz is being cast, uniquely, as a champion that wont always outwrestle his competition, but who will usually outsmart/outmaneuver his opponents. It was a very clever ending to a good championship match.

Edge def. Kane, Rey Mysterio and Alberto Del Rio in a TLC Match to Become World Heavyweight Champion
This match was second only to the JoMo-Sheamus match in my eyes. This was perhaps more of a brawl, but considering the more elderly competitors on the whole in this match, I was surprised at the intensity of some of the bumps and spots (I mean that as no disrespect, but Edge is seemingly a lot more fragile these days, as is Mysterio; well, actually, perhaps not!) I was especially surpised to see Rey be pushed out of the ring on a ladder on to Edge and Kane as he was initially put in to a Chairs match to protect him. Kudos! After that initial spot, I liked how all three put their differences aside to team up on Kane, as I felt it was important that his strength and fury of late was documented. It was also good because Edge, who later said that teaming up never succeeds, showed his TLC veteran knowledge by being the first to turn on his fellow attackers and gain an advantage. Rey however, also showed some veteran instincts that nearly trumped them all. He held Kane on a table outside the ring while Edge climbed most of the way up a gigantic ladder in the ring. In this, the next big spot of the match, Edge literally jumped from the ladder, out of the ring, and on to a prone Kane. This of course, left both men down, allowing Rey the chance to try and climb a ladder for the title. A story developed however, that Del Rio was particularly intent in keeping Rey from winning, and he, not for the first or the last time, got to Rey before he could claim the title. The action then managed to spill to the stage area, where Kane went to town on everyone with chairs before being eventually stopped by Edge. This section also saw Rey climb a table which was part of the set and dive on to Kane way below on the floor before again being the first to realise that the ring was empty and attempting to take advantage, and again being halted by Del Rio. With all four men down, the match started the road to home. Ricardo Rodriguez started looking around like Vickie Guerrero had earlier, and himself started climbing the ladder. Unlike Vickie, however, this guy is trained and can take bumps, which he did courtesy of a Kane Chokeslam. Kane then went on to Chokeslam Del Rio and Edge who he sent through a table on the outside. The end really came when the three losing competitors were esentailly taken out of the running one-by-one. Firstly, Del Rio was sent from the top of the tall ladder through a table outside the ring by Mysterio in a sickening bump (seriously, i’m cynical about how much the table broke his fall). Next up, Rey, in an incredibly athletic effort, attempted a springboard moonsault from the ladder to the ropes on Kane, who caught him and hit a Tombstone Piledriver. Finally, Edge hit Kane with a chair several times to remove him from the ladder before spearing him from the apron through a table, leaving the opening for him to take his 10th world title. A very good ending in that it was believable that the other three were down while Edge wasn’t. Hopefully this will be the end of at least the Rey-Del Rio feud which has been good but run it’s course. As for Kane and Edge, I presume Kane will get a rematch …

John Cena def. Wade Barrett in a Chairs Match
I’m sure to many this will be in some ways a slight tempering of the awesomeness of much of this PPV. I myself thought something big might happen as it was being preferred to both world title matches for main event spot. In that, I was disappointed, but as i’ll explain at the end, this match went as it had to for the greater good. Earlier on, Cena had taken out the rest of Nexus (again), leaving of course, only Wade Barrett. The initial stages of this were suitably tentative, with Barrett and Cena facing off each holding a chair, but the deadlock was eventually broken by Cena, and starting off which would be another impressively brutal match – especially so here given the informal restrictions on the use of chairs these days. This wasn’t about spots, this was about brutality, with the two tading sickening blows to the backs and stomachs of each other. A cool moment came when Cena was setting off on his shoulder block series, which Barrett swiftly concluded with a swing of a chair in to the flying Cena. Barrett continued his attack, following a crawling Cena up the ramp, continually hitting him with chairs and callously discarding them one by one. Barrett then standing up the ring steps at the foot of the ramp in what would become one impressive and, again, sickening spot for the match. Unfortunately for him, it would be turned against him. At the top of the ramp, Cena managed to turn the tide with a back body drop before, sticking with the gimmick, getting a wheeled office chair from the back, placing a seemingly knocked-out Barrett in the chair, waking him up so he could see what was about to happen to him, and pushing him down the ramp smashing in to the steel steps awkwardly and horribly (in a good way!). In many ways, this was the beginning of the end. Barrett tried to fight back and scraped a chair across Cenas throat in a sickening way and sitting on a chair on Cena’s throat. Cena managed to characteristically power out of this though, and ended the match by setting up a bed of six chairs to hit an Attitude Adjustment on Barrett on to for the win. This wasn’t enough for Cena, who chased Barrett up the ramp with chair shots before placing a palate on top of him, trapping him, while, in a pretty awesome moment, he pulled down one of the sections of chairs down from the set, each landing on the palate with Barrett underneath. Now, this was a classic Cena-esque end to a match (e.g. Batista at Extreme Rules). Indeed, the reson I said this was important is because it really should mark the end of this Nexus-Cena feud. Cena vowed to take out every Nexus member, and now he undoubtedly has. There is nothing for him to achieve with them any more surely. If they both move on successfully, then this match, despite it’s slightly formulaic Cena ending, will be a success. The match itself was brutal, and could symbolise important new directions for both parties. It seems a Nexus resurgence will be difficult to realise, but that’s what RAW’s for. Hopefully they will move on to something new and equally shocking. If not, then it’s probably a good, if surprising time (at TLC) to finish the biggest storyline in wrestling this year, and one of the biggest of the decade.

TLC Preview and Predictions, 2010

Tables, Ladders and Chairs, from the Toyota Center, Houston, Texas - Sunday 19th December, 2010

 

The first thing that needs to be said about this PPV is that it has the potential to be a stand-out for the year.  Any PPV featuring this sort of carnage with (mostly) intriguing storylines does, and I think the booking is mostly conducive to a great night with these stipulations. For a while it seemed like the card was getting added to all the time, but after the Mysterio-Del Rio match being essentially merged with the Kane-Edge match, there are only six. There is leeway to book a further Daniel Bryan-Ted DiBiase match, but i’m not convinced they will do so, hopefully to give more time to the other matches; also another ladder match, for instance, could start to detract from the others.

Match 1) Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Kofi Kingston vs Jack Swagger
The most impressive aspects of Smackdown of late has been Dolph Ziggler’s Intercontinental Championship reign and the resurgences of Kofi Kingston and Jack Swagger. Kofi has already created many special moments in ladder matches over his young career, and has a unique style which lends itself to excellence in this environment. WWE will be looking to him primarily to set the tone for this PPV. Another story is Swagger’s success in ladder matches (i.e. MITB) and if he can magnify his size and power with a ladder, then I think he could play his part in a great match. Ziggler is really the wildcard here. I’m unsure as to how innovative he will be, though the run he’s on, I wouldn’t be surprised if he created some gasps too. Ultimately, I see Ziggler holding the championship. He is on a great run right now and I don’t see a way of him moving to the main event during Wrestlemania season. Kingston and Swagger has only scratched the surface of a compelling feud, and will cancel each other out.

Winner: Dolph Ziggler

Match 2) Tables Match: Natalya & Beth Phoenix vs LayCool
If this match isn’t treated like a carnivalesque parody of a ‘normal’ tables match, which i’m confident it wont be, then I am very excited about what it means for the divas division. Though Nattie and Beth are the right and obvious winners, I don’t think it should be a squash. LayCool are talented and will need to show that to really sell this progressive move for WWE divas in to the realm of extreme, so to speak. They are definitely calculating and aggressive enough. The faces will eventually win though, possibly setting up a dream Natalya vs Beth Phoenix ‘friendly rivalry’ type feud for Wrestlemania season. The way I see it is that after beating LayCool, there will be no #1 contender, and Nattie will happily, as a competitor, allow Beth her shot, and so on from there.

Winners: Natalya & Beth Phoenix

Match 3) Ladder Match for #1 Contendership to the WWE Championship: Sheamus vs John Morrison
This could easily steal the show in my opinion. Now that Morrison has stopped trying to mock Sheamus (which he fundamentally can’t succeed at), the build-up has become interesting and intense. When they were brawling on RAW, they succeeded in making it seem like ther is genuine bad blood there, and this being their ‘rubber match,’ has a lot riding on it, especially as it’s to become #1 contender. Sheamus seem to have all the credentials for the win: former champion, king of the ring, main eventer etc, but I think there will be a shock, and John Morrison will win. HHH is due back imminently to feud with Sheamus, and Sheamus being #1 contender would mean at least another month of feuding with either Miz or Orton, or both. Indeed, I thin, ironically, to help Sheamus seem strong, HHH might return and cost Sheamus the match. This doesn’t mean Morrison will go on to become WWE champion – that would be a big mistake, but it’ll essentially be a try-out for that level. As for the match itself – Morrison needs to have the best match of his career. As I say, I think it’s a legitimate try-out for the main event level, and if he doesn’t pull out all the stops, he might flunk it. He has a good history of performances in ladder matches however (that moonsault while holding a ladder at Wrestlemania being a particular highlight) while Sheamus could get medieval (as some say) on Morriosn with the weaponry.

Winner: John Morrison

Match 4) World Heavyweight Championship TLC Match: Kane (c) vs Edge vs Rey Mysterio vs Alberto Del Rio
Up until this week, neither of these feuds had me particularly excited; Edge was repeating the same prank on Kane week after week while Del Rio and Rey were being non-specifically antagonistic towards each other. Combining the two in to one TLC match, however, has been a stroke of genius. Obviously Edge has become almost undisputed king of the match he pioneered with five others, but Rey Mysterio and especially Del Rio should have a lot to offer in this match. As for Kane, his rampage was exciting, and given the fate of his beloved father, makes sense. His rage has become relevant again. Most people seem to think Edge will take the title tonight, and for credible reasons, but to me, it almost seems a little pointless. I personally believe that while Edge has been on top of Kane of late, all this has been a way to justify Kane returning to dominance, something the fatal four way booking helps in that it allows for more victims while stopping Edge from looking weak. I think Kane’s run will last until Wrestlemania. It’s at that point, Edge would have been a good challenger, and with Big Zeke joining the blue brand, perhaps there is another face for Kane to take on before dropping the title …

Winner: Kane

Match 5) Chairs Match: John Cena vs Wade Barrett
Ah, the much maligned chairs match! I understand the criticism, but I think it is defensible. The TLC PPV was created, rightly, to not just have TLC matches, but also Tables and Ladder matches, so it seems odd to miss off the chair aspect. Also, as long as the stipulation is that you can only use chairs, then it can develop it’s own conventions. Now, the Cena debacle (i.e. being fired but appearing on RAW until he was rehired only 2/3 weeks later) has killed a lot of the heat that was inherent to this feud up until Survivor Series. What it needs is some sort of twist. At this point, a Cena heel-turn is no longer really feasible. There is a good chance Otunga could turn against Nexus, but that’s hardly headline stuff. So, it’s difficult to see where this will come from: maybe a new member(s), maybe even grow the seed of the Kane/higher poewr idea which saw Nexus help bury Undertaker? It’s difficult to tell, and it’s difficult to predict the outcome of the match. Barrett, of course, is the final man on Cena’s hit list, giving reasoning for his win. But if he does win, what then for Nexus? Well, presumably they’d have Cena out of their hair, which by now would be a good thing (unless they found a way to recreate the tension of the Hell in a Cell to Survivor Series period), it would also allow a Jericho to take Cena’s reigns as it were and return as a face to take on Nexus (Barrett being a man he, in some ways, created), but that seems like a long-shot too. However, in the face of all this unpredictability, which is obviously a good thing, i’m going to go with that fantasy scenario. So, with the help of the locker-rook and potentially David Otunga …

Winner: John Cena

Match 6) WWE Championship Tables Match: The Miz (c) vs Randy Orton
Though it’s not the technical match in which he actually won his first WWE Championship, this is undoubtedly the biggest match of Miz’s career to date. He is a main eventer by virtue of his title, but now he has to prove his worth at the main event. I’ve noticed Orton incorporating a couple of moves that are advantageous in a tables match lately – the powerbomb and the Angle slam, while Miz’s moveset is pretty bare of table breaking moves. That, however, is the only slither of reason behind an Orton victory. I would be very surprised to see WWE’s newest top heel and champion go down three weeks later. I know this books a controversial Miz-Morrison match at Royal Rumble (in that, usually you would expect an established top star in that match), but Miz is so over now and his history with Morrison is compelling enough to make it credible I think. Miz will have help, from Riley and maybe others, but he will win.

Winner: The Miz

 

 

Smack of the Week (17/12/2010): Free Four All

Amidst chaos, Edge spears a vengeful Kane

 

One of the most interesting aspects of the TLC PPV from the Smackdown side will be the triple-threat ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship. This week, there was a superb tag team match between Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger and Kofi Kingston & future contender Kaval. Dolph Ziggler has really come in to his own as IC champ, and played his role as a heel excellently. In the early going, Kaval was being kept around the heel’s corner, seemingly senseless of where he was. This led to a great moment where Ziggler (the non-legal partner) shouted at Kaval ‘Oh, you wanna tag me, you wanna tag me don’t’cha!’ That’s the sort of heel taunting he has become a master of. As the match went on, the pace grew exponentially it seemed with back and forth and reversals and near falls and everything else you can mention. Eventually, Kofi went on to score his deserved pin on the IC champ to gain momentum going in to the PPV. Kofi, who I was growing bored of lately, really raised his game in this match, jumping high and really getting the match, and the fans, fired up.

It was nice to see JTG get what appears to be a weekly vignette. He was charismatic, topical (regarding the product) and crucially, very funny. There’s no reason why this guy can’t be a strong mid-carder right now, and hopefully, these vignettes will help to get him more over.

The Miz’s singles match with Rey Mysterio was another good match. Though some of it came with the help of Alex Riley, the match centered around a wily Miz keeping on top of Mysterio’s high-octane offense. Miz has become even more aggressive and even more calculating since his title win, and this showed in this match too where he would hit a high-impact move like his running clothesline to the corner, and stop to take it in and consider his next move, before moving on, while – as the announcers mentioned – Mysterio was shown to be struggling to string two or three moves together. Rey did seem eventually like he might get the best of Miz before Alberto Del Rio again provided a distraction which helped Miz turn the tide back in his favour for the win. This led to the announcing of the main event.

One thing stuck out in Natalya and Beth Phoenix’s confrontation of LayCool, and that was a seeming eye to taking the divas division up a notch and broadening it’s horizons. During the confrontation, LayCool (the heels, crucially) said that it was barbaric for a ‘diva’ to have a tables match as they are for men. The faces, however, disagreed. It is the faces which are always the mouthpiece for a company’s ostensible position/direction, and it seems them that the WWE may be allowing their divas to show their skills a little more in the future.

I mentioned last week that I liked the idea of Chavo cycling through partners, failing each time, until he eventually found a good partner. This seemed to continue this week, making me confident of a much deserved storyline for Chavo. I don’t know, however, who he could eventually be tagged with …

The main event was pretty good, but the main thing of note was Kane’s involvement; the most striking thing for me being the strange booking at the end. The match was fine. Miz and Del Rio had (perhaps surprising) chemistry while Mysterio and Edge did well as a face team (playing out all the almost obligatory Rey using his partner as apparatus for assault). It makes sense that Kane would return and try to clean house, and I liked how he made his way through backstage in a seemingly hugely destructive way before coming to the ring, but why would the entire locker-room come to split the two up? Perhaps they were trying to set up a ‘let them fight’ scenario, but doing it this way simply didn’t make sense to me. That isn’t to say it wasn’t the best build-up in weeks for this match – it’s a lot better than the Paul Bearer kidnapping!