Over the Limit Review 2012: Over the Limit and Jumping the Shark

Punk drops the Macho Man elbow on Bryan in the middle of a great battle, but this wasn’t the enduring image of the show.

Right, I don’t know what I just saw, other than a surprisingly consistently high quality PPV with a bit of pro-wrestling sureeality tacked on the end – and not a good, interesting kind of surreality. Thankfully, I am able to put the truly great match between Punk and Bryan at centre stage to the event in my own little way by making it the cover picture of the review. So, let’s talk this through, shall we?

Match 1) Christian Returned to Win the ‘People Power’ Battle Royal and to Gain an Intercontinental Championship Shot
This match was actually announced and started (or at least the entrances did) on the Youtube preshow. This was basically a fantastic move; the Kane-Ryder match was fine and probably got some people interested, but the last 10 minutes of the preshow thereafter would have been very convincing for undecided fans as we had introductions for the commentators (setting the PPV scene itself), but especially all the intros for the battle royal which would start the show. They offered you the match and then cut out before the PPV started. I doubt many bought the PPV just for the battle royal, but I think it would have whetted the PPV appetite enough to get buys. Another great thing about the battle royal was the amount of young talent it spotlighted: Tyson Kidd, The Usos, JTG, Yoshi Tatsu, among other who are better known but are struggling for TV time, like Alex Riley, Tyler Reks, Curt Hawkins, Michael McGillicutty, and especially Drew McIntyre. A clever aspect of this stipulation was that the winner could pick either the United States Championship or the Intercontinental Championship to challenge for, making it hard to narrow down the potential winners because it could be either face or heel. I don’t like to do play by play on battle royals, but it was one of the better ones. They can often be slow and clunking, but this was fast-paced and exciting. Especially Tyson Kidd made the most of his minutes with some great high-flying action with which he managed to get a reaction from the crowd, including most notably a springboard double dropkick. Eventually though, it was down to -as I thought – three heels: The Miz, David Otunga, and Christian; but then something unexpected happened: Miz and Otunga teamed up on Christian. This seemed like clear babyfacing characterisation, which I wasn’t expecting and wasn’t sure if I liked, but then he managed to eliminate Miz (around the turnbuckle with both of them on the apron) and seemed to pick Santino to challenge for the US title, which would make him heel, so I chalked it all up to the audience favouring Christian because of his return.

Kofi Kingston & R-Truth def. Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger to Retain the WWE Tag Team Championships
I saw some good responses to this match, notably from a wrestling writer I respect (@AKATheMaskedMan), but I didn’t really see anything special here, apart from after Kofi’s hot tag, the few minutes thereafter being very explosive. It just felt to me like going through the motions. Admittedly for these four, going through the motions is entertaining, but I just feel like i’ve seen these guys together thousands of times, and it felt like just another time. Until the hot tag that is. Kofi has one of the best comeback’s there is, and from then on, it all built well around his incredible leaping attacks to an eventual Trouble in Paradise to Ziggler for the retention. No surprises here, but I think both teams have problems. Kingston and Truth’s chemistry is still implied at best while Ziggler is losing all the credibility he earned in his high profile title matches at the turn of the year. Kingston and Truth can still improve, but I think it should be the end of the line for Ziggler and Swagger. They can’t keep this up and be interesting. I saw Abraham Washington hinting about taking over their services from Vickie Guerrero, but here’s what should happen: Swagger and Ziggler break up, Swagger joins All World and Ziggler gets himself in to a #1 Contender match at No Way Out and wins impressively to take on Punk at Money in the Bank. As for the tag champs, I think i’d give them Titus O’Neill and Darren Young next.

Match 3) Layla def. Beth Phoenix to Retain the Divas Championship
This match was a surprise in many ways, but luckily, in the right way this time. I had hoped for them to be given time in the preview, and I was very pleased when it actually happened. Given the (relatively, for divas) good time for this match, both Layla and Beth put together a solid, entertaining match. It showed a technicality not often shown, or not often given the time to show as Beth worked Layla’s legitimately hurt knee brutally, using the ringpost, focused power moves and submissions. Layla showed a great deal of gumption in staying in the fight, and really took it to Beth herself with some well executed strikes, dropkicks and reversals. Indeed, as the match went on, there were some cool sequences as Beth tried to finish Layla off, with Layla being too quick and determined until The Glamazon walked in to a stunning Lay Out neckbreaker to earn Layla the retention. This is bittersweet though. I am very pleased that Layla has been afforded some big legitimacy by beating Phoenix clean, as well as the knock-on legitimacy that gives to the championship; but though the Kharma chants annoyed me during this match (seriously fans, at least give what you’re watching a chance!), I, too am desperate to see Kharma vs Beth Phoenix. This result doesn’t help Phoenix’s credibility as an opponent for Kharma and so either Beth will have to go up against her sooner without really showing her power (recently), or we’ll have to wait. What I would do is bring Kharma back to feud with Layla. The Kharma-Gail Kim feud in TNA has become very well thought of, and I think Layla could help replicate that, with Kharma eventually taking the belt. Meanwhile, give Beth the chance to build up her own sense of invincibility (again), and have her face Kharma when she becomes champ.

Match 4) Sheamus def. Chris Jericho, Randy Orton and Alberto Del Rio to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
Fatal Four Ways can go either way: clunking messes, or high octane masterpieces – this was the latter. Going in, the main narrative was about Sheamus and Randy Orton and their tense oneupmanship, but for me, the star was Chris Jericho. Everyone was great here, and made a fantastic, breathless match, but Jericho was a magician here, doing little things which seemed so fresh and innovative throughout the match which really helped build the matches drama. The start of the match was a bit more formulaic, with the heels teaming up on the faces, getting the upper hand for the most part until one of them (Del Rio) went for a cover. Then the honour amongst thieves was gone, but the match also went to the next level. There was a distinct period in which either Jericho was allowed to look fantastic, or just looked fantastic anyway after he hit a signature enziguiri to Orton and then a baseball slide to Sheamus sending him flying rapidly in to the announce table, leaving Jericho standing alone in the ring like a mastermind. Jericho and Orton entered in to some really great back-and forth, before being cleared by Del Rio and Sheamus, who effectively replaced them in the ring after Sheamus shoved them both off the top turnbuckle for a nasty spill, and showed their own wares, with Del Rio using Ricardo Rodriguez to gain an advantage and work Sheamus’s injured arm. The interaction between them all grew faster, more innovative and unpredictable as the match went on. The first of the really spectacular sequences came when Orton hit his Hangman DDT on Sheamus and turned in to a really wrenching cross arm breaker from Del Rio, before Jericho went to break it up with a Lionsault, only for Del Rio to get his knees up, Orton to hit Jericho with his signature backbreaker, and Sheamus to recover to hit Orton with the Irish Curse backbreaker for a good near fall. The match would continue in this vein until it’s end. After more fast-paced action, including a double Hangman DDT to Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez together, Alberto managed to get Jericho in the cross arm-breaker, but the veteran managed to use that position to reverse in to the Walls of Jericho. With the Walls of Del Rio, Sheamus tried to break it up with a Brogue Kick, but Jericho ducked the kick while keeping the hold on Del Rio! Amazing, and then even better as Sheamus went to shoulder block Jericho, but Jericho rolled through to secure the Walls on Sheamus. Again, Jericho was looking invincible with sheer skill and experience. An RKO put paid to him momentarily though as Sheamus and Orton renewed their rivalry in micro form for a little while, with a breathtakingly quick call-and-response of  Orton ducking Brogue Kicks and Sheamus avoiding RKO’s until, finally, Shemus hits the Brogue Kick. I’d have bet on the three count there, but in classic Jericho fashion, he popped up out of nowhere to roll Sheamus us, and i’d have bet EVEN MORE on that near fall, but Sheamus managed to kick out and secure Jericho for the White Noise and the victory. It was seriously one of the best match finishes i’ve ever seen. Everyone looked phenomenal in it and for the first time, Sheamus looked like a champion and not just someone carrying the belt between Brogue Kicks. I would like to see Jericho get another match with Sheamus as I think his effort was central to this match, but if he is leaving (please no!), it’ll be interesting to see who will get the next shot. I know he and Orton have a friendly rivalry going on, and Orton has currency having not being pinned, but surely it would be bad to have one of those two tap talents turn heel at the moment. Maybe Del Rio? I don’t know, I would have picked Christian were it not for what would happen later on in the night.

Match 5) Brodus Clay def. The Miz
Another bad night for the Miz in kayfabe and in reality. Having come close but lost in the battle royal, Miz was sent out to dance. I actually enjoyed his thread about being the best dancer in the WWE, simply because of how irrelevant it was despite his sincerity. His dancing was quite entertaining though, even if it was regressive to his career (seriously, it was like the sort of thing he was shown doing on his way to WrestleMania in that epic video package of WrestleMania 27). I’m being very positive here when I say that it’s good he was on the PPV twice because when Brodus came out, it was little different to most of Brodus’s matches. Ok, Brodus had a bit of work to do, but there have been others who have provided the smallest of tests before being literally squashed, and Miz was one of those. As for Brodus, nice to see him incorporate a new move in the super fall away slam type move from the turnbuckle; give it a dinosaur name and let’s carry on. As for Miz, I don’t know what to say. In the past, people were suggesting this run would lead to him ‘snapping’ and becoming a destroyer, but now he just seems lost. I think he needs time away from TV (and I don’t just mean being left off RAW) – he should get frustrated and try to entreat Laurinaitis for a spot again, but while Ace is angry about something, and get himself ‘fired’ for a month or two. Give him a return and I think a lot will be forgiven.

Match 6) Christian def. Cody Rhodes to Win the Intercontinental Championship
Speaking of returns, previously, on Over the Limit: Christian, a heel returned and got teamed up on by heels, making him appear sympathetic, but then he seemed to target babyface Santino’s US title – a heel move, so he seemed to be still a heel. Now he was backstage as Cody Rhodes bragged about Christian being lucky he didn’t choose him, so Christian chose him to face and in so doing became totally babyface. This left us in a bind. Rhodes only won the title back three weeks ago, but Christian as a returning babyface who earned his shot earlier in the night should win the match hands down otherwise, according to wrestling rules. Despite the awkward situation, I was still looking forward to the prospect of these two having a match. It was good for sure, but a little understated, which can probably be put down to Christian being away from the ring for a while and he and Rhodes not really wrestling each other before. There were some nice progressions, and some surprisingly brutal moments outside the ring, but I think my favourite bit about this match was when Rhodes hit his spectacular moonsault to the former World Champion and only got two at which point Rhodes started ranting, including the quite powerful “I’m 26 damnit, name somebody who’s better than me?!” Well quite. Unfortunately, this lack of focus cost him the match as Christian recovered and hit the Killswitch for the win and the title. The positives: I like Christian. He deserves gold and being a main event calibre guy, he will be good for the title generally. Also, this could lead to a Rhodes-Christian feud, which could be superb. The negatives: Rhodes shouldn’t have won the title just to lose it three weeks later. It isn’t good for anyone. I get that Big Show was probably given it as a ‘lifetime achievement’ thing, but that really messed everything up. Rhodes should have retained at WrestleMania and kept it til now. His reign would have been even longer and impressive that it was until WrestleMania, he wouldn’t look transitional now, and this title loss would actually mean something. Also, as great as the IC title is, Christian may potentially suffer from being booked at that slightly lower level. Let’s see and try not to chant Kharma and/or Colt Cabana … yet.

Match 7) CM Punk def. Daniel Bryan to Retain the WWE Championship
The fact that this match wasn’t on last is some sort of sick joke – a bit like the main event, but more on that later. This match was the complete opposite to our main event. No nonsense, full of passion, effort and sacrifice. There are some times when I don’t want to write up play by play of matches because it can’t live up to the action. This is one of those matches. If you haven’t just watch it, and you can read the rest of what I say about it and hopefully agree! It was clear that the crowd were here to see this match, and probably this match alone, because they were alive for it, duel-chanting ‘CM Punk’ and ‘Daniel Bryan’ for most of the duration, and who could blame them. As usual, a good audience made a great match a awe-inspiring Match of the Year candidate. These two wrestled a great WWE style match, but with lots of influences from their more free indy past, with Punk going beyond his normal (admittedly already large) arsenal to make his offense completely unpredictable, including rareties from him like the curb stomp, A Perfect Plex, and more submissions than he usually goes for. In fact, against submission expert Bryan, Punk was wise to show his own prowess to protect his ‘Best in the World’ crown, and so he worked Bryan’s legs, following up with Figure Four Leg Locks and Indian Death Lock’s looking for the submission. For Bryan’s part, he was everything of Punk’s match, working stronger than even he usually does with kicks and knees to Punk’s neck and back, and using more of his over a hundred submissions than usual, including that amazing Mexican surfboard he executed while pulling Punk down further in to a chin lock which looked incredibly painful. This back and forth didn’t come in phases, but was constant, and gave the match a real urgency. While I said I wouldn’t detail play by play, I will talk about a few, including this amazing progression where, after trading headbutts and kicks, the two artfully and with beautiful timing, missed a roundhouse each before Punk shouldered Bryan for a GTS. Bryan then countered in to a roll up, which Punk reversed in to his own roll up, which Bryan then maneuvered in to a YES Lock attempt. Punk escaped this and managed to slingshot Bryan over the top rope, only for Bryan to skin the cat, straight in to a huge roundhouse from Punk which would have got 3, but Bryan managed to get his foot on the rope. Phenomenal stuff! At this point, the action was relentless and the crowd were going out of their minds! A Macho Man elbow drop got another 2 count, but Bryan wouldn’t stay down. Indeed, he came back with more relentless knees and soon after reversed Punk’s running bulldog, amazingly, in to the YES Lock. Punk sold it well, looking like even he may well tap. Indeed, knowing this, he had to roll Bryan over for the pin while Bryan kept the hold on trying to make Punk submit. Punk didn’t submit until after the referee had counted 3, when it was safe to. These man were equal in this match throughout, and Punk’s win was by a very narrow margin forged in grit and determination to withstand the YES Lock. At first I thought we’d been given one of those simultaneous pin/submission finishes, which lead to confusion and a lack of clarity that hurts the package of the single match, but it was later clear that Punk was wise enough to only tap after Bryan was pinned. Excellent, simple premise. Without much accompanying storyline, this was all about the wrestling, which is a great way to have a first match, and boy, the wrestling was great! This is a sure-fire Match of the Year candidate! And given the closeness of the contest, and the fact that Punk seemed beatable to Bryan, they could well have one more dance together at No Way Out – something i’m sure we all want to see. The story writes itself with Bryan having come so close. It’s these sort of defences which make a championship prestigious. Unfortunately, that was somewhat undermined by the jokes that followed it …

Match 8) Ryback def. Camacho
I realise this was intended to cleanse the palette, but as The Masked Man (again) said “Thank god that Ryback match was there to wash the taste of good wrestling out of my mouth.” One point here is that we didn’t need a palette cleanser, because the main event was hardly a super-serious main event that lots of people cared about; it was, itself, a joke. The next match was John Cena and John Laurinaitis – I doubt they were worried about trying to follow Punk-Bryan. I like Camacho, and I think if WWE were smart, they’d make more of him and Hunico, but the fact is, Camacho is pretty much nothing – there is no far anticipation to see what he might do to a guy, so he makes a great jobber, ridiculously. So not only was this match not good for Cena, Ace, or the show, it wasn’t good for Ryback or Camacho either, as Ryback didn’t look any better than we’ve seen because he only beat Camacho! For this to have any meaning, he would have needed to move up the chain a bit; give him Jinder Mahal or something. Even then, it was just a waste of time in my estimation, and not needed.

Match 9) John Laurinaitis def. John Cena
First of all, my most sympathetic reading of this: The WWE believe Big Show to be very popular, which he is, and John Laurinaitis to be very unpopular, which he is. So seeing Big Show side with John Laurinaitis and help him beat John Cena should be shocking right? It should feel like a betrayal that the fans will respond to emotionally, right? Wrong, and it’s because of the execution. WWE did everything to make the result of this obvious, from Show being fired only this week, to adding the ‘if you don’t win, you’re fired’ stip to John Laurinaitis, a man which a lot of the audience could work out wasn’t about to be fired, and further, the stip that no one could interefere or they would be fired, meaning that if someone not employed (kayfabe) by WWE was to show up, their intentions would be obvious. This match was going through the motions until Big Show … showed, and when he did, it was like most Big Show appearances, a little empty. And that’s the best thing you could say about this match. In order to redeem this at all, WWE needed to clear a lot of the telegraphing stipulations; John Laurinaitis, lauding all his power about special referees and changing stipulations to make it seem that, somehow, he could beat Cena, but not think it a foregone conclusion. He also should have ‘fired’ Big Show much longer ago – at least a month – so he wouldn’t be the first person people were thinking about when they were wondering how Ace could win. Have Laurinaitis throw everything at Cena, special refs, Lord Tensai, David Otunga, even restarting a match is Cena wins but have Cena endure through it all until Laurinaitis goes to run. Then, as they did, have Big Show … show, and have everything play out as it did, and there you have it, all the consequence, betrayal, and emotion you were aiming at. Oh boy, how far we were from that! I have said in the title that I felt the end of this PPV ‘jumped the shark’ and that refers solely to this match. For those not familiar with the expression, it means a few different but closely related things; the definition i’m using here is along the lines of when a particular scene, episode, character or aspect of a show in which the writers or actors use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate – and unsuccessful – attempt to keep viewers’ interest. I’ll explain the exact moment when this happened later. The match started with about thirty minutes left, and that was when alarm bells were ringing. I know Ace is a wrestler, but his character is a joke; he wasn’t going to have a straight up match with Cena for thirty minutes. I knew something bad was coming, but I had no idea how bad! I don’t want to waste my time talking about it. It doesn’t deserve it, but if I was to say it made me feel like i’d had water poured all over me (and down my pants), like i’d been sprayed with a fire extinguisher for a full minute, and had trash dumped on me, among other things, for about twenty full minutes, you’re close to how I felt when watching this. Then we got to the point where Cena and got an unconscious Johnny on commentary with himself and started to act out roles, him being Cole, and Ace being Booker T, AND ACE WENT ALONG WITH IT mumbling ‘five time … five time …’ that I couldn’t work out what the hell I was watching. That was where it jumped the shark. It broke the fourth wall in a jokey, inappropriate way, in a main event of a PPV that had earlier featured one of the best matches in recent memory yet was being deemed less important than this. Now maybe all of the genuinely clownish nonsense was supposed to set us up for what WWE expected to be a big, hurtful fall, but we’ve already established that it didn’t happen, and why it didn’t happen. Twenty minutes of Cena and Laurinaitis acting out a horrible three stooges impersonation, followed by a heel turn by the Big Show that everyone expected and no one cared about. It was flatter and stupider than a pancake. I don’t know what to say about it, it was a travesty, should never have happened, and certainly shouldn’t have been the main event over any of the top title matches. One saving grace is that Big Show is a heel now, and should (should) be more interesting as a character and a wrestler. They should Mark Henryfy him (eventhough he wouldn’t be as good) and when Henry comes back, make them Ace’s ‘3 Minute Warning’ style bodyguards/tag champions and we might be getting somewhere. The one thing I couldn’t get out of my mind the whole time was that Cena was just behaving strangely, like he was on RAW. I hope he wasn’t just allowed to go out and ‘have fun’ like he was seemingly on RAW, because as funny as it was (in context, in the middle of the show, some of it would have been funny), it’s no place for RAW main events, and certainly no place for PPV main events. If this is some reaction to his personal problems, I really think it’s time he takes time off. He needs it. We need it. See this for more: https://rtvwrestling.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/john-cena-your-newly-likable-heroic-underdog-is-in-danger-of-becoming-unlikable-again/

A very good show then, punctuated with two fantastic World Title matches which was ruined by the main event. This is why Punk/Bryan should have been the focus. The crowd obviously wanted it, the crowd obviously loved it, and it would be better for everyone, the WWE Championship, and the WWE.

In the mean time, for more opinions and live tweeting of RAW and PPV’s, follow me on twitter @RTVWOW!

WrestleMania XXVIII Review: Rock Beats Cena! End of an Era?

An iconic image: A despondent Cena following his loss to The Rock on the grandest stage

An iconic image: A despondent Cena following his loss to The Rock on the grandest stage

With the caveat that I have enjoyed every recent WrestleMania, I can quite confidently say that this was the best WrestleMania in years, and can less confidently suggest (without the benefit of historical hindsight) that it will stand out as one of the best ever. That’s not to say it was perfect, but each of the top three matches delivered in their own unique way, while being backed up by decent enough to strong matches pretty much throughout. The set was also ‘da bomb’. But more on all that, well, NOW! (It should also be noted that I only predicted one match incorrectly here, so my opinion must be worth something, right?)

Match 1) Sheamus def. Daniel Bryan w/ AJ to Win the World Heavyweight Championship
What to say about this match? Well, nothing, as it lasted one move and eighteen seconds. That doesn’t, however mean there’s nothing to say. My initial reaction to Bryan being pinned before I was even really prepared (never mind Bryan!) was like everyone else on the internet -fury, indignation, a feeling of being cheated because Daniel Bryan deserves to show his wrestling wares on the grandest stage and be given time to shine. However, it is important to realise that the IWC isn’t the only audience, and is in fact probably the minority audience, especially for WrestleMania, when more people are watching generally. Daniel Bryan, completely unlike Daniel Bryan the wrestler, deserved what happened to him. His reign was characterised by escaping title defences in the least satisfying ways possible, and constantly dodging challenges. Sheamus, as Royal Rumble winner, and a very popular wrestler, was destined to finally end all that and deal out ‘Art of War’ style justice in blunt fashion, and this effect was achieved with perfection. Sheamus came out without too much pomp, but Bryan came out with a brand new robe for the occasion, chanting the now iconic ‘YES!’ chant, and insisted on an ceremonial kiss from AJ before the match, only for all that to be met with a kick to the face and pin to undermine it all. The more I think about it, the better it was for Bryan, allowing him a memorable moment that will actually add to his character and help him move to the next level, but more on that in my RAW post following this, where i’m sure ‘YES!’ will be typed a lot.

Match 2) Kane def. Randy Orton
This was the match I was looking forward to least going in to WrestleMania, and it seems the fans felt the same as the match started, showing solidarity with Daniel Bryan, who everyone felt slighted, by chanting his name just as they did when he was fired in 2010. It should be said though, that this match was pretty good. Not great, especially when compared to the top three matches, but good. The first half was some very equal and watchable brawling, and the match built in the second half, achieving a dramatic feel I wouldn’t have thought possible. After kicking out of a Chokeslam, I was sure of a tokenistic RKO victory, but instead it was just helping Orton’s reputation, as soon after he climbed to the second rope, only to be Chockeslammed again, this time from the greater elevation, a move he couldn’t kick out of. I think Kane winning makes a lot of difference here. In my preview, I spoke of how the story was boring and lazy, and that a Randy Orton win would only add to that, and at least a Kane victory would make people take notice and hopefully save the Kane character from industry burial (I differentiate because with Kane, ya never know!). Luckily, that is exactly what happened, and guess what? I’m actually interested in what happens next between them. This match did a good job of saving two cool characters from a lackluster feud.

Match 3) The Big Show def. Cody Rhodes to Win the Intercontinental Championship
And now to the only match the result of which I was wrong about. Rhodes-Big Show was thematically very similar to Bryan-Sheamus in that Rhodes had been scoring victories and psychological points against Big Show while usually avoiding a one-on-one physical confrontation. For that reason, the story of this match was Big Show finally getting his hands on Rhodes, just as the earlier story was Sheamus finally getting his hands on Daniel Bryan. The main difference between the matches (time aside) was that Rhodes was taking on a Giant. Rhodes had built to this in a very well-imagined match with The Great Khali in which he systematically took the Punjabi (Wrestling) Nightmare before beating him. In this match, Big Show swatted Rhodes away in the early going before Rhodes went back to his Khali strategy, targeting the leg of Show and applying heel hooks and other submissions to it. Of course The Giant wasn’t going to tap, but it weakened him, allowing Rhodes to hit more impact moves, including a thunderous Disaster Kick. Instead of going for the pin though, Rhodes went for another, only to be (kind of awkwardly but still devestatingly) speared by Big Show. This left him vulnerable to what Big Show has wanted to do for months: knock out Rhodes – which he did momentarily to win the Intercontinental Championship. A good match with a strong story there with Rhodes doing as well as he could against Big Show. I was disappointed that Rhodes lost, and lost his title, but I see this as an opportunity. He had the title for one of the longest reigns in it’s illustrious history, and that’s a good start; now he can take the traditional route of moving on to a top title. My worry is that the title will languish in the hands of the Big Show, but on the other hand, he is a big name to be holding the belt, and could only add to it’s prestige. Hopefully he can drop it to a hot up-and-comer like a Drew McIntyre.

Match 4) Maria Menounos & Kelly Kelly def. Beth Phoenix & Eve Torres
Where did it all go wrong? I remember Beth & Nattie tearing through the divas division for a while, and now Maria Menounos walks off a set with broken ribs and rolls up The Champazon on the biggest stage of them all. Now, credit where it’s due – I really like Maria Menounos; she seems really nice, she genuinely likes wrestling, and she’s actually at least as good as some of the divas currently employed, even selling her ribs rather well. She’s also really pretty, so strictly-speaking, she belongs in a WrestleMania divas match, but it was still unnerving. It again shows the state of the division that showing the strength of the celebrity comes before getting the champion over. Menounos gets her moment if she pins Eve or if Kelly Kelly pins either (Kelly being a former champ), but to have Menounos pin Beth clean was the worst outcome for the champion and the championship. Not only that, but it was pointed out to me that Beth and Eve came out to Eve’s music and not the champion Beth’s! Our dominant divas champion was literally the least important competitor in that match, and that makes it a travesty. It was fun, and seeing Menounos in a WWE ring is a boon, but these plusses are only momentary; the continued death of women’s wrestling on WWE is chronic. Please, please let us have Beth, Kharma and Nattie (or a combination thereof) work together in the near future! It’s desperately needed!

Match 5) The Undertaker def. Triple H in a Hell in a Cell Match with Special Guest Referee Shawn Michaels to Bring his WrestleMania Streak to 20-0
“Don’t worry, ‘The Streak’ always makes for a good match. It has to.” I said to best friend and Mania watching-mate Luke Healey before this match began. This was said because the build to this match had grown a little tiresome and staid in the weeks running up to WrestleMania, leading to it not being quite as anticipated by us as perhaps it should have been. Indeed, this match deserved all our attention, becoming as it did, an instant classic of wrestling, theatre and emotion. Not only that, but it will be instantly added to my list of nominees for 2012 Match of the Year, just as it’s predecessor was last year. HHH’s entrance was as grandiosely medieval as ever, and Undertaker’s was the same as always, never having to change to remain the most eerie, thrilling entrance in history. The only change, in fact, was Undertaker’s hair. Many knew he had shaved off his iconic jet black long hair, but I worried that this would make Taker look more elderly and vulnerable than phenom; boy was I wrong as, if anything, it made him look more threatening than ever, and provided a necessary alteration to the character that was needed to prefigure what would happen in the match. Indeed this, more than any other match I have seen, was incredibly self-referential in regards to their history and especially their WrestleMania match last year. No more was this more apparent, perhaps, than with the inclusion of the Hell in a Cell structure. Usually, this structure is intended to be used as a prop in an ultra-violent match, with people being thrown in to, off of, and through the walls and roof of the cell, all while providing a rather uneasy, ominous atmosphere to do it all in. The atmosphere was sure there in this match, but aside from a move or two, the cell played no part in the match; it was almost irrelevent to the physical match. It wasn’t, however, irrelevant. Instead, the cell was used as a scene-setting prop that helped ground the occasion as the end of an era that it is symbolic of. The cell was created for The Undertaker, and he has had numerous amazing, iconic, and important moments in it, while Triple H has become almost equally connected to the cell, being extremely successful in matches involving it. As the announcers pointed out, before this Sunday there had been 24 cell matches, with only 6 of them not featuring either Undertaker or HHH. Another piece of trivia: between them, Undertaker and Triple H have won 11 of the 24 matches. They own this match, and it is only right that the end of their era featured the cell. Not only all that, but as I said, the cell brings with it an ominous atmosphere; an atmosphere perfect for the constant, knife-edge jeopardy of ‘The Streak’.

The match itself started normally enough, with the two brawling in the ring, and a little outside with the cell, but it was notable that at this stage, Undertaker was in control, having his way with HHH and reasserting, crucially, his dominance after being humbled last year including using Old Skool, a move associated with the best of the Undertaker. The scene shifted though when Trips managed to reverse Taker in to a spinebuster on to the steel steps; a sickening bump made more sickening by the way Taker cracked his head on the steps. Following this, we went in to an almost hold for hold reply of segments from their match last year. With Taker down on the steps, Triple H approached him only to find himself caught in a Hell’s Gate. Last year, Triple H was supposed to pick Taker up and powerbomb him, but couldn’t due to exhaustion. This year, with a fresher Hunter and the boost of the steps, he managed the maneuver to finally take control of the match, and when he did, the scenes were eerily similar to last year. Triple H taking the opportunity to beat Taker down to a pulp, doing so with numerous, sickening times, leaving horrific welts on the Deadman’s body and a cut to his face. This was where Shawn Michaels came in. Up until now he had been simply fulfilling his duties, but Michaels is known for his incredibly earnest human emotion and conscience. Indeed, it is this trait which canonically contributed to him not being able to beat Taker on two separate occasions, and not one that his best friend shares. With Trips mercilessly pummeling Taker, Shawn was begging him to stop, and remarkably, Triple H was asking him to ring the bell: “You end it.” And indeed, HBK had the power to, and really looked like he may do it. The tension was unbelievable, Michaels was downright unstable, and somehow, someway, I was convinced, again, that The Streak could be in jeopardy. This was perhaps the best theatre WWE and wrestling has ever produced, and again, Shawn Michaels was stealing the show. HHH was telling Shawn to end it, Taker was telling him not to, and Shawn was conflicted between honour, compassion, and loyalty, and it was amazing. HHH then took it to the next level. He had seemingly learned from last year when even a glimmer of hesitation cost him the match, and this time he took no time in nailing Taker in the head with the sledgehammer. Even that couldn’t keep Taker down, so he moved to crush his head with a straight down-swing to Taker’s head, a motion which led to a gasp from the fans, genuine fear in JR and the announcer’s voices, and a thankful intervention from HBK. With things escalating, it looks like Shawn’s about to genuinely end it, leaving a somehow supernaturally Taker with no choice but to incapacitate him with a Hell’s Gate. HHH broke it up, but only ended up in the move himself. At this point, the callbacks continued as the finish of last year’s match was replayed. With HHH in the Hell’s Gate, he was reaching for his sledgehammer, but unable to get it, and looked like he might tap. From here, Taker regained the momentum, but couldn’t put HHH away with either a Chokeslam or a Tombstone Piledriver as the tension and drama only grew! Indeed, in the best near fall of the match, a conflicted Shawn Michaels  Sweet Chin Music’d Taker straight in to a Pedigree before counting him, but only for a two! Shawn looked shocked, at Taker kicking out, and at his own actions. Amazing storytelling. With both men spent, HHH tried to pick up the sledgehammer, but Taker stood on it to stop him, and this time, Taker was the one dishing out hard chair shots. Again, they started echoing last year’s match, but this time, with Taker in complete control, and HHH a spent, almost pathetic force. Like when HHH simply refused Taker Chokeslamming him last year, Taker simply refused HHH’s sledgehammer shot, catching it, shaking his head, and knocking him away. Now like Shawn at WrestleMania 26, HHH gave Taker one last sign of defiance, a crotch chop for him, which led to Taker nailing him with the sledgehammer before Tombstoning him decisively for the win, finally, counted by Shawn.

Unlike last year, Undertaker was the one standing as his record flashed up on the stage brandishing his remarkable 20-0 record. Taker looked emotional, and despite what has been speculated, it really felt like an ‘end’ for him, and for HHH too, just as it already is for HBK. These three men, so indelibly linked in their recent careers and in their generation, finally stood on the ramp together, looking back at the ring after Shawn and Taker had tenderly helped HHH up the ramp. Truly, this felt like the closing shot to an era. About that, we’ll see, but don’t you ever tell me wrestling isn’t real; this match is one of the realest things i’ve ever seen, and certainly some of the best art i’ve ever seen. A 5-star in anyone’s book.

Match 6) Team Johnny (The Miz, David Otunga, Mark Henry, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger & Drew McIntyre) def. Team Teddy (Zack Ryder, Santino Marella, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, The Great Khali & Booker T) to Win Control of Both RAW and Smackdown
Well, after that mammoth write up for Taker-Trips, i’m going to take it easier with this match, partly because this match effectively did what it’s job was, a nice palette-cleanser following the intense Cell match, preparing us for the WWE Championship match. This was a really fun match and exactly what we needed. Dolph and Drew stood out to me, bumping around like masters and really selling the atmosphere of the match and making it exciting. After lots of trading of big moves, including a double plancha from Kofi and Ryder. Finally, Ryder was left in the ring with Ziggler. He fist pumped signalling the Broski Boot, it was his WrestleMania moment with Eve by his side. Unfortunately, this distracted Zack and he ended up taking a gorgeous Skull Crushing Finalé from The Miz to pick up the loss and hand all the power to John Laurinaitis. Obviously this was a great moment for Miz, and I see things only getting better for him (again, wait for my RAW write up), especially given the potential for Big Johnny to favour him following him taking him to victory. Meanwhile, Zack Ryder was a picture of defeat, especially when Eve kicked him in the grapefruits! Not to worry though, Ryder got his big Mania moment and will gain sympathy for how Eve has treated him (though the ‘hoeski’ chants were a little off – if you kick a man in the ballski’s, it doesn’t make you sexually promiscuous!) As for Eve, she’ll get more heat because of it, which will help her too. Everyone a winner!

Match 7) CM Punk def. Chris Jericho to Retain the WWE Championship
And so CM Punk has done it, he’s won the WWE Championship match in the main event of every one of the ‘Big 4’ PPV’s in the PPV calendar. I believe the only man to do that previously was … John Cena. Punk is certainly being positioned for that level of ‘guy’, and WrestleMania just showed again why he deserved it. There was a lot of talk of this match being akin to Savage/Steamboat, and indeed, it was. I wont actually compare the two separate matches, but they certainly had the same role at their respective WrestleManias, and they certainly were both fantastic matches. There was one problem with this match, and it was the recycled ‘if you get DQ’d, you lose your title’ stip added five seconds before. I realise it was to sell Punk’s absolute fury with Jericho and to add another layer of tension to the match, but it didn’t really pull that feeling off. The selling point of this specific match was that two of the best wrestlers ever were going to wrestle. Compared again to Savage/Steamboat, there was no DQ and you lose the Intercontinental Title to Steamboat at WrestleMania 3, and that was good because it kept the match a simple story of wrestling. Punk-Jericho could’ve done with that, and if i’m being overly-criticial, I would have liked them to have saved the entire ‘You’re a drunk’ stuff for after WrestleMania and kept this match pure, as it were. So while the first five minutes or so of this match was good, and told an interesting story about Jericho goading Punk and Punk controlling himself, it was only after that first portion that the match became great; and boy, was it great! In fact, i’ve said in the past that it doesn’t really make sense for two matches from the same show to be in Match of the Year contention, but after this event, I feel I have to ignore that this time. Yes, this will be the second match from WrestleMania 28 that will make the list of nominees for 2012 Match of the Year.

Once Punk dropped that chair, this match became 5-star worthy. Because of the sheer involvement of the moves, and the amount of time I spent writing about HHH-Taker, but mostly because in a pure wrestling match like this, writing about it doesn’t really do it justice, and so I wont be going over it hold for hold. Early on came a sickening sacrificial spot where Jericho hit the rarely seen actually-achieved suplex from the ring to the floor, the start of one of the sub-stories of the match – Jericho destroying Punk’s back throughout. We then entered an amazing section of hold and counter-hold, mostly seemingly improvised, punctuated by well-timed and dramatic near-falls. Each man also hit their most powerful moves, the GTS and the Codebreaker, but were unable to capitalise, but because of each man’s ingenuity and skill, rather than their own lack of luck or skill; after Punk hit the GTS, Jericho escaped losing because he was able to grab the rope while Punk was able to escape a pinfall after a Codebreaker because he managed to use the momentum from the move to take him out of the ring and out of harm’s way from pins. One of the greatest moments of the match came shortly after when Punk had Jericho sitting on the turnbuckle, and went for a Frankensteiner, only for Jericho to catch him, step off the ropes, and lock him in the Walls of Jericho to which Punk responded by showing a true champion’s grit and determination by slowly crawling to the safety of the ropes. Having escaped, thrown Jericho out, and hit a suicide dive, Punk then proceeded to hit a sickening version of his running knee, using it to smash Jericho’s head in to the ringpost. Indeed, for all the technical charm of this match, it was punctuated by appropriate brutality like this which made it stand out for other reasons. While earlier, both guys were allowed to escape the other’s finisher through ingenuity, Punk was about to be able to kick out of Kericho’s finisher, not to make Jericho look bad, but to make Punk look great, which he certainly did after springboarding towards Jericho only to be caught by a SuperCodebreaker, which Punk again kicked out of for a great near-fall. Soon after, we entered in to the final exchange of the match, and it was brilliant in terms of wrestling and storytelling. After a slightly presumptive shout of ‘Best in the World! from Punk (he don’t wear no white hat), Jericho reversed an attempted GTS into another Walls of Jericho (Liontamer version), and from here on in, the two were constantly connected in a chain of wrestling leading to the eventual finish of the match. After clawing towards the ropes and being pulled back, Punk rolled through between Jericho’s legs and traded small cradle attempts before Punk eventually managed to lock in the Anaconda Vice. Jericho rolled for another pin, but when unsuccessful, had to escape by kneeing Punk in the head – a really intuitive and good reversal to the move. Having weakened Punk, he rolled through going for the Walls of Jericho again, but Punk fought him off with kicks from his free leg before re-locking Jericho in the Vice. Jericho tried the same knees to Punk escape, but Punk was wise to it, and showing logical storytelling, shifted himself up Jericho’s body and out of reach of his knees. With Punk’s weight on him, and no way out, Jericho was forced to tap to hand Punk a famous and impressive match to be proud of (though Jericho of course should also be proud). The match started out well and grew phenomenally to the crescendo of a submission; the right way to finish a match about who the best wrestler in the world is, and you know what? Maybe Punk is exactly that.

I loved this, and am surprised to see the level of dissatisfaction with it. Funkasaurus is great, and fun, and is outrageously camp enough to warrant a place at WrestleMania. I didn’t want to see him job out Heath Slater, not at WrestleMania, I wanted Funkaspectacle, and that is what we were given. It also served it’s purpose; after an intense, 25 minute technical wrestling match, we needed another palette cleanser for the main event. This was it, and it was funny, so thanks.

Match 8) The Rock def. John Cena
Undertaker-HHH was about tension, history, and drama; Punk-Jericho was about breathtaking wrestling; and Rock-Cena was about two people from (slightly) different times who represent different things and don’t like each other. In some ways, this match wasn’t about what these guys did to each other, it was just about seeing them face off. The holds didn’t mean much. In fact, the biggest wrestling story came early on as the two locked up, finally visualising what their whole feud is, and reaching deadlock. This isn’t to play down the excitement of the match. While no Punk/Jericho, the wrestling was pretty good, and the match as a whole was great. What I mean by that is the atmosphere (embellishing the build and story of course) made this match great, and instantly iconic. Some of the ‘greatest’ matches in WWE history (Hulk/Andre, Rock/Hogan, for instance) weren’t good technical matches. This was better than those matches technically, and, I think, managed to match those two in stature. And like in a lot of these matches, it soon became something of a signature fest early on, with Rock and Cena kicking out of AAs and Rock Bottoms seemingly all over the place. As flippant as that sounds, the occasion made every single one dramatic, even if some where more believable than others. One criticism would be that both men’s submissions (the Sharpshooter and STF) were executed rather poorly, making those moments less believable. Nonetheless, as time ran, the tension was building. The finish to the match was very considered and very good. We should have known something was up when Rock climbed the turnbuckle. He leaped at Cena for a cross-body, but Cena rolled through and in a legitimately impressive feat, picked up the jacked People’s Champ and hit a big AA. A lot of people would have predicted the match over, including me, but it wasn’t. Cena got complacent, visibly so, wanting to make a statement to The Rock. This is uncharacteristic of Cena, but it fits him situationally after over a year of build between the two, and wanting to get one over on Rocky, Cena set up to finish him with his own People’s Elbow. But smirking, complacent Cena (representing what a lot of people dislike about him!) ran in to a Rock Bottom from the Rock, which, this time, saw him go down for three.

Now at the time, I had no problem with this; it was a great spectacle, and I knew it was just delaying Cena’s eventual overcoming of The Rock. I still feel that way, but i’m worried. I’m worried about how Brock Lesnar may ruin it all, but more on that in my RAW post too. If Cena does eventually overcome The Rock – which surely he must – then this match is justified as a classic to cement The Rock even further, but if he doesn’t, it shows a shocking disregard for Cena and the future of the WWE as it is pointless glorification of a man who doesn’t even work here being favoured to the guys who hold the future in their grapplin’ hands. We will see. But being confident that Cena will at least get to beat Rock clean (its only fair!), I would like to say I hope you guys enjoyed WrestleMania like I did. Of course, like any wrestling show, it wasn’t perfect, but as a spectacle, it was as sublime as we could want, and the three marquee matches were all classics while fulfilling their very unique briefs.

Plug!: Follow me @RTVWOW. I try to be entertaining and give quality commentary on wrestling, so if you like this, you’ll like that!

WrestleMania XXVIII Preview & Predictions

WrestleMania XXVIII, 01/04/2012, from the Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL

WrestleMania XXVIII, 01/04/2012, from the Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL

What more to say? This is WrestleMania. Always iconic. Almost always brilliant – This is WrestleMania, and I couldn’t be more excited. The card is very good, and if I may be controversial, certainly better than last year’s (already stellar) card. It will be a privilege to witness Rock vs Cena; it is truly what the hype says – icon vs icon, arguably the biggest match in the history of wrestling. Aside from that, we have Taker-HHH, which is a match I didn’t look forward to last year, but which delivered in the end. More crucially, my two favourite wrestlers ever, Chris Jericho and CM Punk have alligned and are wrestling one of the top matches on the card. All that, mixed with a strong card almost throughout makes this a really mouthwatering spectacle, and I, like any true wrestling fan, can’t wait!

Match 1) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Daniel Bryan (c) vs Sheamus
Yes it’s a shame that this match, for one of WWE’s most prestigious titles will only be defended during the first match on the card, but, like last year, this actually is quite a boon, helping to frame the event with a feel-good finish. Indeed, the result has a lot to do with me placing this first on the card, though I should also say that my prediction has become less confident of late given the sheer brilliance of Daniel Bryan recently. I was of the opinion that Bryan was just being given a run with the title until dropping it to Sheamus in order to provide the Celtic Warrior with his ‘moment’ at WrestleMania to really cement him as a top guy. However, this narrative may have been altered by the fact that Daniel Bryan has become one of the best characters in the whole of the WWE since becoming champion. His slimy, overly-confident, overly-congratulatory, wily champion character has brought him tonnes of heat, and he has really shone brighter than even Sheamus. With this in mind, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they extended AmDrag’s run. I am, despite this, sticking with Sheamus, and that is for the simple reason that a Sheamus win allows for a feel-good moment, the continuance of the feud as well as Sheamus’s moment in the spotlight. The match could be really good given time, and I imagine AJ will reluctantly get involved, will be banned from ringside, and as a result, D. Bryan loses the title clean, allowing for his rematch clause to be activated and the feud continuing.

Winner: Sheamus

Match 2) Intercontinental Championship Match: Cody Rhodes (c) vs The Big Show
Usually, I have no interest in a match involving The Big Show, but this match involves the eminently brilliant Cody Rhodes, and that gives me an instant degree of interest. While Show is a one-dimensional void of charisma (albeit a popular one), Rhodes has been growing in ring and in character for over a year now, and has done some great work with not very much material to add genuine tension to this feud. His delivery of the packages detailing Big Show’s flops at WrestleManias has been achingly callous and smarmy, and added to this have been efficient displays of stealth and intelligence, using anti-Big Guy tactics against Khali to show he could beat giants before trapping Big Show and humiliating him with a series of blows to the head with boxing gloves – a move also sinister in it’s brutality. Rhodes has played a perfect heel here, creating actual heat for what could have been a lacklustre feud, and providing a platform where people will really want to see Big Show finally get his hands on him and snuff him out. Indeed, i’ve seen some predictions where this very scenario is favoured, but I don’t see it happening. It’s great for Rhodes and the prestige of his title that Big Show is facing him for it, but there is absolutely no value in actually giving the title to Show. By WrestleMania, Rhodes will have held the Intercontinental Championship for 236 days, making Rhodes the longest-reigning IC Champ in nearly 8 years (only 8 days behind Shelton Benjamin), and 9th-longest-running IC reign of ALL TIME. Very impressive, great for Rhodes, great for the championship, and too much to waste on a momentary pop for a Big Show victory when Show is (in historical billing terms) above the title anyway. Even if it’s through cheating, give Rhodes the WrestleMania rub and help create a legendary reign for a future star.

Winner: Cody Rhodes

Match 3) Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos vs Beth Phoenix & Eve Torres
Ok, so this is undoubtedly the weakest match of the card. There were dreams of Beth vs Kharma, or Beth vs Natalya, or similar, but it hasn’t materialised. Nonetheless, WrestleMania thrives on celebrity involvement, and Menounos is a keen wrestling fan who will give her all (despite a rib injury), and her involvement may actually afford the divas more time than they usually get. The shame is that the babyface celebrity is surely almost certain to go over, and that harms our Divas Champion a little. I just hope she isn’t the one to get pinned (or, that i’m REALLY surprised, and Beth Glamslams Menounos for the win – you never know, Menounos could return down the line …).

Winners: Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos

Match 4) Randy Orton vs Kane
I’m a big Randy Orton fan. He’s a great wrestler. But to my memory, since wrestling a series with classics with Christian last year, and putting Mark Henry over as champion, Orton has struggled to get embroiled in a really good feud and, consequently, has suffered from less intriguing matches. He has apparently been lined up for a bit of a dream feud with Alberto Del Rio in the future, but for now he has been lumped with the freshly unemployed (in storyline terms) Kane after the Big Red Machine was dispatched by John Cena at Elimination Chamber. The feeling that these two big names have been thrown together because they kinda have to be at WrestleMania wasn’t helped by the arbitrary-feeling nature of their feud, justified as it is by Kane being angry that Orton humanised him last year on Smackdown by shaking his hand on Smackdown, a moment that has haunted Kane ever since, supposedly. It’s paper-thin, but I don’t want to bury this match before it’s started, so it’s also important to remember that Orton can put on great matches with anyone, while Kane is a seasoned veteran, and is always capable of shock. I expect Orton is probably the favourite for this, but I have the feeling Orton, Kane, and WWE will want to salvage something from this; so I think Kane might gain a shock win. If Orton was to win, Kane would have been polished off by two stars in as many PPVs, and would lose all of his credibility as a ‘monster’, while a win for Kane will completely reinstate all the credibility lost when he was dispatched by Cena. A loss could fire up Randy to come back at Kane in future matches ready to move on to ADR looking great. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, and Orton will just RKO Kane in minutes, but it’s what i’m going for.

Winner: Kane

Match 5) 12-Man Tag Team Match To Decide the Future General Manager of Both RAW and Smackdown: Team Johnny (David Otunga, Mark Henry, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger & Drew McIntyre) vs Team Teddy (Santino Marella, Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, Zack Ryder, The Great Khali & Booker T)
There’s a lot to talk about regarding that match, though not that it carries that much importance in many ways. This match was a good idea in that it gives twelve (mostly) deserving superstars a WrestleMania spotlight. I’m especially pleased about Zack Ryder (who deserves it for his hard work despite his shortcomings) and Drew McIntyre (who deserves it in every way) getting the call to Mania, though for people like Dolph Ziggler, Mark Henry and The Miz, it’s a shame that this match was the best they could do – especially Dolph and Henry, who have been some of the brightest stars in the company this year. I have absolutely no doubt that this will be a really fun match. Ther’ll be great spots from guys like Dolph and Kofi, while Santino, Zack, Teddy, and Laurinaitis will no doubt provide some swell comedy. What is more, at least one person will be given a good rub here, i.e., the person who gets the final pin (though the whole winning team will look good. That team will be, surely, Team Johnny. John Laurinaitis, flanked by David Otunga, have quickly become hugely effective at what they do, growing in to engaging and easily dislikable bureaucrats, while Teddy Long – with all due respect to the MacMilitant -has become a staid cliché (search for the comical Teddy Long flowchart, which illustrates the point). With that in mind, I can’t believe WWE  would back Teddy over Johnny, and so I think the heels will go over here. Which leaves us with the question of who will get the final pin. Well, it’s hard to rule any of them out. Apart from probably Jack Swagger, each man has a lot to gain from the rub, and a lot of currency to take it; Dolph as the fastest-growing star among them, Otunga as captain and fast-growing heel who has been doing some great work of late, Mark Henry, who is in the midst of renewing his dominance of a few months ago, The Miz, who main evented last year’s WrestleMania, and who seems to be on his way back, and finally, Drew McIntyre, who could use this rub as a catalyst back to his push of a year or so ago. My heart says McIntyre, but my head says Miz, who has a distinctly Jericho-esque tendency to sweep up the pieces to gain high-profile wins, and who’s success would be all the more poetic given the lengths he went to to even get on the team.

Winners: Team Johnny

Match 6) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs Chris Jericho
Ok, so it’s a shame that the WWE Championship match, and the match i’m most looking forward to, wont be the main, main event, but it is the right call. Not only is Rock-Cena one of the biggest matches ever, but as great as this match will be, and despite the fact that it will almost certainly be the stand-out wrestling match, it will struggle to follow the sheer mangitude of The Streak and Rock-Cena. Jericho at least will be smart to this following his experience at WrestleMania 18; this matches best chance for success is if The Streak and Rock-Cena have to follow them. That aside, it’s hard for me to properly express how much this match means to me. Jericho and Punk are not only two of the greatest wrestlers and sports-entertainers ever, but also happen to be my two favourite ever. This is my dream match, and it’s hard to say more than that. Give these two time, which I believe they will, and these two will dish up a bonafide classic. The build to the match has been great, with Jericho trolling us all with ‘the end of the world’ before launching in to this battle of Best in the World vs Best in the World. Tantalising enough, but Jericho then plunged the depths of the Reality Era by bringing Punk’s troubled family in to the mix to get under the champion’s skin. This is how the Reality Era should work. By playing off Punk’s history with an alcoholic father and difficult upbringing, Jericho in fact framed the Punk we see today wonderfully, making him and his straight-edged, stand-offish and rebellious character one we as an audience one we can really understand and see in a sympathetic light. Jericho is extremely popular with the fans, and from day 1 of his return he has been frustrating and annoying us to get heat, and he has been successful. With each passing week, his attacks on Punk get more personal, and more childish, and from huge pop at his return, Jericho is now hated again by the fans; he sure is a master puppeteer. As for Punk, he has shown a more vulnerable, but determined side, which mixed with the traits that got him over during the ‘Summer of Punk’, will make him even more of a top top star. That is how well considered and crafted this feud has been so far. I can only see one winner here though, and that is, rightly, CM Punk. Punk is the next person to be properly ‘made’. He already has been, it should be noted, ‘made’ as a top top star on par with John Cena, but he is still lacking his big WrestleMania moment like Cena had at WrestleMania 21. Also like John Cena, if Punk wins, he will join an exclusive club (only him and Cena) to have succesfully wrestled for the WWE Championship at all of the ‘Top 4’ PPVs in a single year. Quite the vote of confidence, and quite the change from this time last year. As for Jericho, I feel he’s deserving of another WWE Championship run, and believe he will get one down the line as his feud with Punk hopefully continues beyond WrestleMania. Jericho has been avoiding Punk, and getting shots in cheaply. The story of this match will be Punk finally shutting Jericho up and proving himself the Best Wrestler in the World!

Winner: CM Punk

Match 7) Hell in a Cell Match: The Undertaker vs Triple H w/ Special Guest Referee, Shawn Michaels
This is The Streak, and therefore it is exciting, and emotional, and the rest. Every year, arguably nothing more is on the line – a history that is literally perfect and untainted (just showing the genuine prestige involved in wrestling, despite it’s pre-ordained nature). Last year, I wasn’t so excited about this pairing going in, and it turned out to be a classic between to legendary veterans. I expect no less this year. What is more is that, somehow, WWE managed to rescue the aura of Hell in a Cell from the grasps of its PPV namesake, simply by playing to it’s strengths – announcing it unexpectedly, and using it to clean up a long-lasting rivalry. Perhaps the stip, and indeed, the introduction of Shawn Michaels, is so much smoke and mirrors, but it is certainly intriguing, and does a good job differentiating this match from last year’s. For that reason, a good job has also been done, along with playing to the memory of the beating Trips gave Taker last year, in renewing the feeling that HHH really could beat the Undertaker this year. That is all great, and my heart will be in my mouth during the inevitable near-falls HHH gets over Taker, but ultimately, I don’t think it will happen. There is absolutely no benefit to having Triple H end The Streak, except for H’s much-mythesised ego. So the question becomes, how will Taker maintain The Streak? The answers are limited, as they both have – by way of stipulation – have to relate to HBK, so either Michaels calls it down the middle and Taker wins legitimately, or HBK jealously screws his friend. I don’t know which it will be, but I certainly don’t want it to be the latter. Not only would it tarnish Taker’s win, and therefore, The Streak somewhat, but it would play in to a storyline that has been rumoured of late for next year’s WrestleMania: a main event match between HHH and HBK. That happening would be wrong for so many reasons, but most immediately, these two: 1) HBK is retired, and as much as the fans want to see him wrestle again, they want to see him not go back on his word for a pay day more, and 2) and HBK-HHH match is not only something we’ve already seen before, but it takes a spot away from the full-timers, who are already squeezed at WrestleMania, without being special enough to warrant it. But enough of that unpleasantness – The Undertaker will return, he will win a fantastic, dramatic match, and everyone will have another classic Undertaker-WrestleMania memory to hold as he takes it to a ridiculous, beautiful, 20-0.

Winner: The Undertaker

Match 8) The Rock vs John Cena
In many ways, this match is perfect. The Rock and John Cena are natural enemies from different spheres of the same world; one the ‘attitudinal’ electrifying and hyper-masculine Rock, and the other the ‘PG’, family friendly but unstoppable, never giving up franchise, John Cena. It is, for once, not hyperbole to call this ‘the biggest match of all time’, and ‘icon vs icon’, as well as any other superlative you may want to think up for it, and so the wrestling aside, this is destined to be an unforgettable match, and possibly the best of all time. For the longest time, I was convinced that Rock would win in his home-town, leading to futura battles between the two, but now it doesn’t seem quite so clean cut. If Rock wins, why would he come back to wrestle Cena again? Also, if Cena loses, and Rock goes away to film movies, what does that do to the credibility of the WWE roster? I think the second question is actually the most troublesome for a Rock prediction (after all, the same could be said the other way regarding the first). My answer to the second question is flimsy, but I think potentially good enough: Cena has won literally (not literally) every match he has competed in for the last seven years, and although wrestle fans have, of necessity, short memories, this one loss wont add up to undermining the whole roster. After all, Punk beat Cena twice this year, and is the WWE Champion, so Cena isn’t the only representative of the best of WWE, and Cena losing certainly doesn’t lower the bar for the roster. Actually, that isn’t so flimsy! The outcome of this match basically depends on how you think the whole Rock-Cena feud will pan out, but the constant is that the lasting image that needs to be created, is Cena overcoming the Rock. If you think this is their only match ever, pick Cena, if not, it’s so easy. Rock has already been announced as having a role at WrestleMania 29, and there are rumours that Rock-Cena will turn in to a trilogy of WrestleMania 28, Summerslam 2012, and WrestleMania 29. That seems good, and even likely to me, and so that is the framework i’m going to work from, and if that is the case, The Rock HAS to win. If the end-point of all this is Cena finally proving himself against Rock, that can only happen at the end of the feud, at WrestleMania 29. Cena can’t win at WrestleMania 28, because that gives us the moment of Cena proving himself prematurely, and renders the other matches essentially meaningless (at least in the Cena proving himself thread, and only if he wins clean). And so the sequence has to be this: Rock over at WM28, Cena over at SS, Cena over at WM29 to win the series. Given my earlier shakiness with my prediction, i’m now certain, The Rock will win on Sunday, in his home town. Cena will continue to evolve as a character, questioning himself and perhaps becoming obsessed with beating The Rock. The problem then becomes how to coax the Rock back to Cena’s ring, but then again that may necessitate something desperate and shocking from Cena, which in itself could be great. The journey could also be one which sees the fans come back to Cena as they watch and sympathise with him against an arrogant and gloating Rock. Maybe. But enough analysis. Whatever happens on Sunday (touch wood), this match will be, and indeed, already is iconic, and featuring two guys in their prime, will be a great match, as well as surely timeless.

Winner: The Rock

RAW Precall (26/03/2012): Booking the Go Home Episode for WrestleMania 28

So, the weeks leading up to WrestleMania are always the most exciting in a wrestling fans calendar – even for those, dare I say it, that usually carry an ideological distaste for the WWE. This post is simply a manifestation of my own excitement leading in to WrestleMania XXVIII. Now, ‘go home’ shows can be hit and miss, and there is a reason for this; at this point your building to very specific matches, and it doesn’t make sense to venture outside of the established feuds, so they are often limited in booking terms. Not only that, but in order to sell PPV’s, you want to build expectation, rather than give the action away on free TV, so the people feuding can only go so far as relates to physical violence. This, of course, doesn’t mean ‘go home’ shows are necessarily tame, in fact, often the best ones are the exact opposite, it’s just a case of finding a balance between building tension and giving content away, while hopefully doing it in an interesting, entertaining way.

This is what i’m going to attempt to do. I’ll also leave some notes for the ‘go home’ Smackdown – though it should be remembered that go home Smackdowns are often very limited in content due to the tradition (one I like) of featuring a lot of content from WrestleMania Axxess to really give that feel of WrestleMania almost being here.

Here are the matches which need to be built:
Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos vs Beth Phoenix & Eve Torres
Randy Orton vs Kane
Intercontinental Championship: Cody Rhodes (c) vs Big Show
Team Teddy (Santino, Kofi, Truth, ?, ?, ?) vs Team Johnny (Otunga, Mark Henry, Christian, Ziggler, Swagger, ?)
World Heavyweight Championship: Daniel Bryan (c) vs Sheamus
The Undertaker vs HHH (Hell in a Cell, Special Guest Referee: Shawn Michaels)
WWE Championship: CM Punk (c) vs Chris Jericho
The Rock vs John Cena


At the start of the show, the announcers run through some of the advertised matches: HHH vs The Miz (w/ Special Referee, Shawn Michaels), Daniel Bryan vs Sheamus in a ‘WrestleMania Preview’ match, CM Punk & Big Show vs Chris Jericho & Cody Rhodes, plus, both John Cena and The Rock ‘in action’.

Cut to arena and Jericho’s music hits. He comes to the ring and cuts a promo about being the best in the world and how he doesn’t want or deserve to be in the ring with CM Punk, a man so delusional due to drink that he thinks he’s the Best in the World, more than he needs to be. He’ll wrestle him at WrestleMania, and that’s all. At that point, Bryan’s music hits and he comes down with AJ. He says he can relate to Jericho’s problem as he has been put in a match with a drunk too, a brute from Ireland, Sheamus, and he doesn’t feel he should have to wrestle him at any other time apart from WrestleMania either. He doesn’t care who Sheamus wrestles, he can wrestle AJ if he wants, just not me. He goes to leave but then Sheamus charges the ring and beating on Bryan and Jericho too. At this point, HHH comes out and explains that with the GM’s fighting, and superstars from both shows in the ring, he’ll sort out the issue. He says Sheamus will have a match later, and so to will Bryan and Jericho. He agrees that they shouldn’t face their WrestleMania opponents, and that he’s got something else in line for them. Jericho will go one on one with John Cena. Bryan looks smug, until Trips announces he’ll go one on one with The Rock in tonight’s main event.

Beth Phoenix and Eve to the ring. They brag about not needing TV stars to help boost their profile and call out their WrestleMania opponents. Kelly Kelly comes out alone, and Eve asks where her partner is before answering that ‘oh yeah, she’s not here. Still wanna face us?’ Resolute, Kelly makes her way to the ring to face them in a handicap match. A few minutes of the heels dominating. Beth goes for a pin but holds Kelly up for more punishment. Natalya comes out to aid Kelly and she and Beth end up brawling to the back (which can also set up a post-Mania feud for them). In the distraction, Kelly hits a K2 to Eve for the win.

Kane promo from inside his red-lit boiler room. He says his powers have Orton on the back foot and lacking confidence like never before. He promises that what he does to Orton at WrestleMania will be BURNED on to his retina just like that moment he was humbled and humanised with a hand shake is to him. Kane is about to continue, but Orton appears behind him in the boiler room and quips ‘You’ll burn in hell’ or some such before attacking him and getting the best of it.

HHH’s match with Miz. Miz out first, and he asks why he should wrestle someone like HHH when he’s not even getting a WrestleMania match. He’s no tune up, he’s a main eventer! HHH comes out and promises him a match of some kind at WrestleMania if he can win. Miz agrees. Decently long match here so Miz doesn’t look too bad, but Trips in control eventually. At this point, the lights go out and the bells of Undertaker toll. Taker on the tron who simply says in six days, you will meet your end (or some Taker-y stuff like that) and when the lights come back, Miz ambushes a distracted HHH with a Skull Crushing Finalé and goes for the pin. Only, Shawn doesn’t count the pin, at least not straight away, and HHH kicks out before getting the upper hand and winning with Pedigree and Taker-taunt pin before he and Shawn do the ‘Suck It’ taunt to Miz and the announcers speculate about whether HBK is on Trple H’s side at WrestleMania, and the Streak being in dire jeopardy.

Sheamus beats Jinder Mahal after a bit of offense from Mahal so it’s not a squash, but shows Sheamus’s strength against a decent opponent. At that point, Sheamus gets a mic very quickly, says Daniel Bryan does a lot of talking, while he lets his actions show that he’s a champion.

Next up is CM Punk & Big Show vs Cody Rhodes & ? Jericho comes on the tron and gloats about not having to compete before introducing his replacement, former tag team champion with Rhodes, Drew McIntyre. Give Punk a lot of time with both heels in the ring respectively while having Rhodes avoid Show throughout the match in a cowardly kind of way. Punk and McIntyre in the ring. McIntyre goes for his Future Shock DDT, but he’s wrestled on to Punk’s shoulders, but just before he delivers, Jericho interrupts on the tron, saying ‘Hey Punk. what are you doing fighting my replacement when i’m right back here?’ Furious, Punk puts McIntyre down and goes after Jericho. Big Show is distracted by this and calls after Punk, but with his back turned, he’s rolled up by McIntyre who grabs the tights, and for extra leverage, Rhodes pushes on Show’s back out of the referee’s line of sight, and Rhodes and McIntyre win it. All this happens before Punk has left the stage, and incensed, he storms back to the ring while Jericho says ‘You’ll have to do better than that on Sunday, Punk’. He walks around the ring and grabs a mic, and enters the ring as the heels are still celebrating. He goes to talk, but instead drops the mic and GTS’s both of them. He then picks up the mic again. Now it’s kinda cynical to say ‘Punk shoots’, because that can’t just be a fall-back, but in this scenario, to build for the match, it’s a good call. Let him go off on Jericho for whatever he wants before having him say. I am the Best in the World, but this is about more than that now. You’ve insulted me, my family, and gotten under my skin, but that’s the worst mistake you’ll ever make. At WrestleMania, you wont be able to troll, and you certainly wont be able to hide from the ass-kicking you’re in line for. CULT OF PERSONALITY.

A bit of relief from that in the form of Team Long vs Team Johnny. First off, Long’s music hits, and out he comes with Santino, Kofi, and Truth. He has two more members to add to his WrestleMania team tonight. First off, out comes Brodus Clay! I don’t know if this is the best way to use the FUNKASAURUS, but he needs some sort of catalyst to progress, and his entrance would be great at WrestleMania. Secondly, he says he has heard the fans at arenas and through twitter, and the fifth member of Team Long is Zack Ryder! Ryder comes out and thanks Teddy very strenuously. At this point, out come John Laurinaitis with the rest of his team so far ‘ Otunga, Mark Henry, Christian, Dolph Ziggler, and Jack Swagger. Big Johnny congratulates Teddy on convincing five people to fight for him, but, as usual, he has out done him. ALBERTO DEL RIO’s music hits! I think it’s important he’s given a big entrance like this. With everyone still on the stage, Del Rio makes his full entrance, with pyro and stands with them all on the stage. He shakes hands with Johnny and Johnny holds up one of Del Rio’s shirts. Del Rio cuts a promo about how Teddy hampered him on Smackdown, and how his destiny on RAW took him to the WWE Championship. For that, he is forever loyal to Big Johnny and more motivated than ever to fight if it means ridding the WWE of Long.

Now to the joint main events. First up, John Cena vs Chris Jericho. Cena out second, but before the match starts, Rocky’s music hits and he comes down to commentate. Both of these matches need and deserve decent time, mainly because neither man can look weak. After a while Jericho gains control and slams Cena in to the announce table, but he and Rock have history too, and Jericho talks trash to Rocky, saying stuff like ‘what are you doing here, i’m the best in the world’, etc and shoves Rock. This is too much for Rock, who punches Jericho. The referee sees though, and this costs Cena the match, who looks angry and then gives a wry smile to Rocky. Jericho celebrates on the turnbuckle meanwhile, and Punk dives out from the crowd to attack him, and beats on him until Jericho escapes and backs off up the ramp. Punk stares a hole through him before chasing after him to the back. After this, Cena gestures to the ring for Rock to enter for his match, while Cena goes to joing commentary.

Out comes Daniel Bryan. This was one of my first ideas when booking the show. Not only could Bryan vs Rock be amazing and fresh, but most importantly, it gives a helluva rub to Bryan, which only helps legitimise Rocky’s involvement in WWE. The match has to be similar to the first in that both men need to look good, which against Rocky, will make Bryan look awesome! The match, like the first, ends up out of the ring. Now because Rocky’s more douchey, he would throw Bryan over the table and in to Cena. Cena and Rock shout at each other with the referee trying to seperate them. Meanwhile, Bryan grabs the ring bell from where he landed, and with the referee distracted, nails Rock with it and crawls in to the ring to gain a count out victory. YES! YES! YES! celebrations. Rock, who has recovered, then goes to attack Bryan, but Bryan escapes and runs to the back while celebrating. Meanwhile, Cena stands right behind Rock, and once Bryan’s escaped, Rock turns round right in to Cena. Staredown. Fade to black.


Some less detailed Smackdown thoughts now. Now, people like The Rock, John Cena, Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, and probably Triple H, aint gonna be appearing on Smackdown, so this opens the floor for everyone else even more. So, in rough chronological order, but not necessarily:

Eve vs Natalya, for costing her the match. Kelly in Nattie’s corner, Beth in Eve’s. Beth interferes with Nattie throughout the match until Kelly confronts her. This time, Eve takes advantage of the distraction and rolls Nattie up for the win.

Tune up matches for both Kane and Orton. Kane beats Khali pretty quickly while Orton later beats Hunico (I really like Hunico, so I don’t like jobbing him out, but he deserves an appearance) in similar fashion. Only, Orton gets interviewed after the match, and is attacked and glovehanded by Kane.

Cody Rhodes is at Axxess and shows us ‘Big Show’s Hall of Blame’ showing pictures of Big Show embarrassed at WrestleMania in picture frames with a photoshopped picture of Rhodes with his foot on Show’s chest in the final frame.

Team Teddy are out to announce their final member … Evan Bourne! Now, I’m not in favour necessarily of Bourne appearing at Mania as he shouldn’t be rewarded like that right now, but he is popular and would get a pop. This is with the caveat that Rey Mysterio isn’t fit to wrestle. If he is, replace Bourne with Rey. Team Johnny appear on the stage, and he motions for them to rush the ring. A brawl between all 12 men in the ring that can’t be stopped as they go to commercial!

As for the two heavyweight title matches, Punk and Bryan have wrestled a lot, so it’s not that original, but having them face-off in the main event is better than a tag match. So inter-twine the matches and have Jericho vs Sheamus first. Bryan distracts and costs Sheamus the match to Jericho but again, in a match that makes everyone look good. Main event, Punk vs Bryan. Eventually, turnabout is fair play as Sheamus comes out and costs Bryan the match. Show ends by highlighting Punk at the end of the show as he celebrates. Everyone looks good, but no one better than their opponents (both Punk and Jericho won, and both Bryan and Sheamus lost, though still looking strong).


So I hope you enjoyed this bit of fantasy booking. I think it’s pretty strong, but i’d love some feedback, so don’t hesitate to comment, suggest booking of your own, and follow me @RTVWOW for more opinions, info, and live-tweeting, including coverage of WrestleMania’s past which i’m doing in the run up to this year’s extravaganza!

Royal Rumble Review 2012: Sheamus Wins to Preserve the World as We Know It

Sheamus celebrates his Royal Rumble victory next to the iconic WrestleMania XXVIII sign

I don’t think many people expected to see that sight at the end of last night. Indeed, if you were to look at my previews, you’ll see he was barely on my radar, though I know he was mentioned by a minority as an outsider. But more on that at the end of the review …

Match 1) Daniel Bryan def. The Big Show and Mark Henry in a Steel Cage Match to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
I liked the set-up to this match, with Bryan being trapped in a cage with two monsters, and Bryan certainly played up to this, first of all trying to escape instantly from from the cage before being dragged back in for punishment. Indeed, Bryan was the star of the show, bumping in an overblown way and really selling the punishment he was party to. Bryan was the star of the show again, but Henry and Show had moments of their own, such as Show repeatedly splashing Henry against the wall. Bryan had a period of legitimate dominance when he had both Henry and Show down, and was going back and forth between them, but most of the match was him trying to slip out of the cage with minimal effort, and after Show had delivered a WMD to Henry, Bryan saw an opportunity, and climbed the cage to the brink of escape. He and Show fought on top as Bryan slinked ever closer to victory. We were left with the remarkable sight of nothing but air seperating Bryan from the floor with Show holding him only by his wrists. At this point, I expected the brilliant sight of Show pulling and placing Bryan back in to the cage, but instead, Bryan just kinda freed himself and fell to the floor for the retention. This was strange as it was a victory that was more well earned than I would have expected; I was expecting something like  him climbing over Show while he was fighting with Henry, or perhaps that he would loosen the attachments between the cage panels to escape in a way that would again show him as a cowardly champion hanging on by the skin of his teeth. Instead, he kinda earned it, and because we weren’t expecting it, and it wasn’t quite as innovative as all that, it was a bit anticlimactic – to the point where I wonder whether it could have been a botch. That doesn’t mean it was a bad match, it was just a bit of a disappointing finish. This wouldn’t be the first time that previous fantasy booking would render a match finish a little disappointing initially.

Match 2) Beth Phoenix, Natalya & The Bella Twins def. Kelly Kelly, Eve Torres, Tamina & Alicia Fox
I was pleased to see the divas get some PPV time, but was kinda disappointed that it featured the Divas Champion, but was a tag match instead of a Divas Championship match. The match was pretty good when compared to the usual quality of divas matches; kinda formulaic, but certainly watchable. It improved from there towards the end, when Kelly dove from the turnbuckle to all the divas congregated on the floor. It’s not that impressive in itself, but it certainly shows the commitment Kelly evidently has to improving her craft. Then, with the match having broken down, Beth – who has been dominant with every appearance for some time – almost got frustrated with the traction of the match, took charge by fiercely tagging herself in from one of the Bellas, grabbed Kelly and Glam Slammed her for the win. I liked this because it was an uncomplicated story of Beth forcibly rising above the rest of the divas with sheer dominance. Hopefully, this trend will continue and again help recharge the divas division. Otherwise, with the re-emergence of Kharma, maybe this was a deliberate positioning of Phoenix as her natural opponent.

Match 3) John Cena vs Kane Ended in a Double-Countout
I feel like i’ll be under-selling this match because it was quite a long match, and certainly a pretty good match. The problem is I can’t really remember that much about the match, simply because it consisted mainly of brawling, for obvious reasons. Apart from the five-knuckle shuffle from the top rope, the match itself was brutal, but ultimately, kinda bland. It was only when the two got counted out that any vaguely memorable stuff happened. After the two were counted out, the brutality began as Cena hit Kane with some sort of industrial box. Kane and Cena brawled backstage until Kane got the upper hand with one of those chair shots which look like a sick shot the head (without having to do it). With Cena out, Kane came across Zack Ryder’s personal dressing room, which he busted in to to find Ryder (who could move an awful lot for a man with a broken back!) but still couldn’t put up much of a fight. After being stopped, Ryder was driven to the ring in his wheelchair where he was dumped in to the ring, and with Eve Torres looking on, was Tombstoned on his already injured neck and left prone on the mat. Cena soon recovered and made his way out, but only received a Chokeslam from Kane, leaving us with the powerful image of Cena left strewn on the mat next to Ryder. It was certainly a shocking sequence, and was very good for Kane who is one of the few to simply beat up Cena clean. Though I understand why neither Kane or Cena lost, hoping that neither would look weak in loss, it did give us another match with an anticlimactic feel; and though the afters were pretty cool, it could easily be mistaken for one of their recent RAW climaxes. Certainly not much more was achieved.

Match 4) “The Funkasaurus” Brodus Clay def. Drew McIntyre
Not too much to say about this match, other than it was another fantastical outing for Clay, this time in green (FOR $$$) against Drew McIntyre. I’m a huge fan of McIntyre, and with him out first, fighting for a Rumble spot, I expected him to snap his streak and start his renewed push in the Rumble match, then I heard the funk and knew it was all over. Seriously though, at least it was Funkasaurus – perhaps the only one i’d accept beating McIntyre. McIntyre got in a lot more offense than anyone to take on Clay yet, and his psychology was great too, shouting how Funkasaurus was an embarrassment to his livelihood. Ultimately of course, it still ended up funky for him as he got beaten with ease. This was good, but it was another match that could have happened on RAW as, well, it has been happening every week on RAW. The other downside was that this apparently robbed the Rumble match itself of Brodus Clay, and his entrance, which would have been a great Rumble moment.

Match 5) CM Punk def. Dolph Ziggler to Retain the WWE Championship w/ John Laurinaitis as Special Guest Enforcer
This was a very good match, but it has to be said that the actual story of Punk vs Ziggler was secondary to Punk vs Laurinaitis and Laurinaitis trying to keep his job while screwing Punk, and while that was eminently watchable, it did hurt the wrestling match some. The two have very good chemistry, and this match was their best outing to date, starting out slower and more methodical, trading blows and some chains, and looking pretty much evenly-matched. Each man, arrogant in different ways went out of their way show their dominance, be it Ziggler with his regular spots of stopping an Irish whip to strutt, or Punk’s slightly more original spoof of Ziggler by scraping his hair back and flicking the grease at Ziggler while he was in an abdominal stretch. Meanwhile, Ziggler was doing a great job of working Punk’s arm, including a brutal move where he bent Punk’s hand back on the mat, with his elbow facing up, before stamping on the elbow to hyper-extend it more and sharply. As with most of the best matches, it burned slow but steady, and all this built to the point where Ziggler went for the Fameasser only to be reversed, cleanly, in to a spinning powerbomb by Punk (I assume, to correct their slightly awkward one in their first meeting). Up to this point, the match was very even, and after a lot of near falls for Punk, the champion (I think, deliberately) looked surprised/impressed with Ziggler’s resiliency – a rub he would need to make up for the credibility lost in the latter section of the match. Indeed, soon after we had the ref bump which was almost inevitable as soon as Johnny Ace provided a referee to oversee the match in the ring. From this point on is where the story becomes less about Ziggler and more about Big Johnny. With the ref down, Punk ended a slick progression with the Anaconda Vice, which saw Ziggler tap out. Unfortunately for the champ, Ace was clearly diverting his attention from the decision by busying himself with the referee. Punk then reverses Ziggler for another pin attempt that would otherwise have been successful had Laurinaitis not been still distracted. Again, Ziggler goes for Punk, but is reversed, and Punk swings Ziggler round to knock Ace off the apron (but not incapacitate him) before delivering the GTS, and again Ace isn’t there to make the count. Distracted, and with the King calling out Laurinaitis for not getting a new ref, Ziggler reversed another GTS attempt brilliantly in to a Fameasser in mid-air for a very close near fall. It seemed at this point that Ace would cost Punk the title through sheer (deliberate) ineptness when Punk had the match won on three separate occasions. Finally, Punk hit a second GTS to Ziggler coming off a reversed dropkick in to a slingshot, and with the ref compus mentus again, Ace realised there was no way he could cost Punk the title in a way that wasn’t explicit, so decided instead decided to brown-nose a little and over-do his ‘fairness’ by sliding in the ring, and counting along with the referee to hand Punk the match. While I like the subtlety of this story as perfect for Laurinaitis, I think the degree of his involvement distracted from Ziggler’s challenge, which was growing until the ref bump. The fact that Punk beat Ziggler so clearly in the end initially upset me a little as I thought it made Ziggler seem weak, but re-thinking it, he did get some good offense and near-falls on Punk, as well as several pins over him in the build up; and meanwhile, it just makes out champion look great. However, given that the PPV was 10 minutes short, I’d have liked to see them both go at it for ten or so minutes more before the ref bump and maybe cut down the dusty near-falls just a little, and we would have seen a truly great match, where Dolph was equally a star, and Punk was even more impressive in his defence. As we had it, it was the second Punk-Ziggler match in which what was becoming a great match was stunted by timing and/or booking.

Match 6) Sheamus Won The Royal Rumble
Ok, so this match is too big, and too much happens in it to call it play by play in chronological order, but I can certainly talk about the memorable moments: the good and the ugly. The good news is that this was a really fun, memorable Rumble, and so there weren’t many ugly moments at all. In fact, it’s difficult to think of one horrible bit of the Rumble match. One criticism is that the roster was lacking in star power, which I understand, but my only problems were the Kane broke his 13 match entering streak, Brodus Clay didn’t appear, and Big Show was our #30. Apart from that, the comparitive lack of star power is no problem for me; if younger talent can’t get a shot at the Rumble, then who can!? Of course, the come back is that all three of the announcers (including Cole) got a shot and took up three precious spots, but even that played out in a really fun, comical way, with none of them seemingly knowing they were in the match, or noticing they were in their gear. The timing was great, and I think it added to the fun of the match.

This year’s workhorses were The Miz and Cody Rhodes, and I think they did a good job and shone quite well. The Miz was out number one, and was to face Alex Riley, and when Miz eliminated him before #3 came out before animatedly counting one on his finger, I was interested in Miz’s booking in the match. He was the longest running participants in the match anyway, and certainly impressed, but I would have liked to have seen more of the determined aggressiveness in his match, eliminating more people and counting every one on his hand; which I don’t think happenned.

Cody Rhodes, I believe, eliminated the most people in the Rumble, meaning he holds another of the most impressive stats for this match-type; not only that, but if you look at most of the people he eliminated, you’ll see how consciously designed his booking was to get a rub and heat: Mick Foley, Jerry Lawler, Booker T, Jim Duggan, all respected legends. He also eliminated Santino which brings with it it’s own heat.

Another honourable mention goes to Kharma, the 3rd woman ever to enter a Royal Rumble. When her music hit, everyone popped, and then everyone did the mental maths to work out that it was possible that she’d had her child and could be back. In the context of Beth Phoenix’s dominance, I was very excited about her return, and I would be surprised now if we see anything other than Kharma vs Beth at WrestleMania. Kharma’s rumble performance was great, and was probably better than the female’s before her, whose very appearance was great and eliminated someone, but never lasted as well or as strongly as Kharma to my mind.

A final specific shout-out has to go to Kofi Kingston, who had had an average showing until The Miz attempted to eliminate him. With his hands already on the floor, Miz pushed him out, but instead of falling to elimination, Kingston showed remarkable coordination, balance, and strength in balancing vertically, and hand-walking backwards to the ring-steps to save himself! It was absolutely remarkable and a great Royal Rumble “moment” which wont be forgotten. It’s being compared to John Morrison’s ‘Spiderman’ escape from last year, and it seems that this sort of remarkable elimination escape will become a Royal Rumble trope going forward for the most gymnastically gifted, and it’s something I welcome as long as it doesn’t get too formulaic.

Another Royal Rumble “moment” came when Mick Foley and Santino Marella found themselves in the ring together squaring off. Then came the most unexpected, but perfectly brilliant stand-off between The Cobra and Mr. Socko! With just those two active in the match, this moment was framed brilliantly, and like Kofi’s handstand, will be remembered forever. Before this was yet another “moment”: At #8, Alberto Del Rio’s music hit, and the crowd came unglued, which is a great sign for Del Rio as it reiterates that people care about him at a time when perhaps his drawing power was being questioned. People expected a Del Rio quickly healed from injury, but they popped even more for what they actually got: Ricardo Rodriguez, trying to emulate his employer, coming to the ring in the same gear as Del Rio and in a horribly beaten-up car. Fired up, Rodriguez pithily attacked a downed Cody Rhodes before running in to Foley, who he seemed to show respect for, which Foley seemingly warmed to. This led to the remarkable situation of Mick Foley taking Rodriguez under his wing and coaching him to eliminate Justin Gabriel before Santino – a rare time when he was the dominant figure in a ring – eliminated him via wedgie; leading to the sock-pupper stand-off.

Now moving on to the result, business picked up in the early twenties with the arrival of eventual winner, Sheamus. From this point on, the memorable comedy portion of the show was swept away by people like Sheamus, Wade Barrett, and Randy Orton. The action didn’t become particularly interesting again until the man who prophesised ‘the end of the world’, Chris Jericho, arrived at #29. The lights went out, as they have been doing for him since he returned, which cleared some of the ring, and for the first time ever, Jericho entered a Royal Rumble as a house of fire, eliminating David Otunga very quickly, and Randy Orton shortly afterwards for the home-town heat. Indeed, I had seen those two as the final two, so already my best laid fantasy booking was not coming to pass. Eventually, it was down to the unusual pairing of Chris Jericho and Sheamus, most people expecting Y2J to go over (Sheamus, not the top rope). Thus began an exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat one-on-one battle royal with all the marbles on the line, with lots of near-eliminations. Jericho came very close to elimination a few times, especially when he was hanging on the ropes, I think consciously emulating Shawn Michaels from 1995, before saving himself. Watching it live, I was thinking that they were getting Jericho as close to elimination as possible so that when he won, it would be all the more dramatic. And then he got Brogue Kicked, his feet touched the floor … the 2012 Royal Rumble winner had come second … or something. What? I won’t lie, I was disappointed. When it was just Jericho and Sheamus, I was convinced Jericho had it won, and I was pleased to see how he’d do it, how he’d end the world, and I just couldn’t comprehend how Sheamus winning was better than all of the finish scenarios I had in mind (see: my Royal Rumble preview).

Poring over reaction to it was like a rollercoaster, but slowly, i’ve come round to the result. Especially following RAW, in which Jericho was firmly positioned to take on CM Punk anyway. Admittedly, there have been no answers or response to the ‘end of the world stuff’, and Jericho’s involvement in itself wasn’t mind-blowing, but other than the fact that he doesn’t have the accolade of the Royal Rumble on his resumé, him not winning really isn’t that big of an issue now. Sheamus, on the other hand, needed something new. He’s super-over since turning face, but hasn’t really done anything of note storyline-wise. Going towards WrestleMania, one of the company’s biggest, though not solidified as such, stars has nothing really on his plate. The Royal Rumble can be used to ‘make’ someone, so why not let Sheamus take it and give him a feud (most likely with Daniel Bryan) to get his teeth in to. Not only that, but looking at the match aside from all other conjecture, Sheamus is a very popular face, and it pleases the normal fans not obsessed by online gossip because he is one of their favourites and clearly loves the business and the opportunity he’s been given. Though i’m still upset Jericho didn’t win, i’m pleased and see the value in Sheamus winning. I just hope he takes the spotlight he’s been given.

The IWC is a passionate community, part of the ‘dysfunctional family’ of wrestling that Mick Foley has spoken of, but it also demands the highest of standards, often contradictory, based on the fumes of conjecture. Before this Rumble, we learned that there were big plans for Punk and Jericho, and so we all started thinking of how Jericho would position himself against Punk, and what cool things he could do at the Rumble. Jericho gave a great performance at the Rumble, one which played off our expectations for him by coming close but not winning and ending the world, but because it didn’t live up to our individual expectations, our wildest fantasy booking, it has been very deflating to some fans and has led to an unfair backlash on the Sheamus win. The IWC and fantasy booking is something I love to feed on as a fan, but this shows the downside of that side of the business.

Overall then, I enjoyed this Royal Rumble PPV. A few of the matches misfired until the WWE Championship match, which was very good, and the Royal Rumble itself was one of the most fun and enjoyable Rumble matches I can remember watching!

Smack of the Week (14/10/2011): Orton and Show See Out the 634th Episode

Big Show and Orton stand tall over the (formerly?) monstrous Mark Henry

Randy Orton Defeated 40 Others to Win the Biggest Battle Royal in WWE History and Earn a Championship Opportunity of His Choice
Regular readers will know that I rarely have much to say about Battle Royals, those matches never offering too much in technicality or storytelling other than chaos. This was quite a good one though as it was very visually stimulating; indeed the ring wasn’t cleared of many competitors within a couple of minutes (as is customary and I expected it would be again). I also liked that the succession of eliminations didn’t seem to be based on backstage favour. Indeed, possibly Smackdown’s goldenest boy, Cody Rhodes, hit the deck first, and while John Morrison was out before half way, he wasn’t booked embarrassingly. Again, Drew McIntyre was allowed to look stronger than his recent history has allowed, taking it to some top stars during the match, lasting a long time, and most hopefully, being mentioned by the announcers in a complimentary light before being eliminated in the second half of the match. The big difficulty when booking this would be the question of how to get the top stars (especially folk like Sheamus and CM Punk( eliminated without making them look bad, and happily, this too was achieved, with Punk falling victim to a quick draw elimination after he himself had eliminated R-Truth, and in the case of Sheamus, being eliminated by an already-eliminated Christian after some Kane-esque  dominance. The weakest part of the match came at the finish though. The final two were Miz and Orton, and on the apron, Orton hit an awkward RKO which saw him land on the apron and Miz on the floor. Maybe it was just a good spot, awkwardly realised, but seriously, does Orton have to end every match, even battle royals, with RKOs these days? This being ‘the biggest battle royal in WWE history’, I would have liked to have seen it be hyped more. In fact, I think it could have served as a PPV I think. The fact that it was to commemorate Smackdown becoming the second-longest running weekly episodic TV show in history provides an occasion more than worthy enough, but I wish it would have been promoted more as a big deal  maybe as this week’s main event going in to the ‘go-home’ show.

Beth Phoenix def. Kelly Kelly to Retain the Divas Championship
I wasn’t even aware that this was a title rematch. Another case of poor promotion? The main headline from this match was that Beth beat Kelly clean, which is something Pheonix has needed to do for the good of her credibility for a while now. If anything though, it makes me more surprised that it was a title match. This being the statutory rematch, surely now Kelly has to get to the back of the line? That maybe a good thing, though I think more can be squeezed out of her feud with the ‘Divas of Doom’ (‘Sisters of Salvation’) now that her character is starting to grow and gain more nuance. Perhaps the fact that Kelly lost and Eve has been by her side the whole time can provide currency for this: after all, Eve has shared in a lot of Kelly’s success but has had none of the opportunities Kelly has. Perhaps if Kelly isn’t out of the title picture, it could be enough for Eve to snap herself and turn to the spiky side.

Sin Cara (Negro) def. Justin Gabriel
I’m not really talking about this match because of the result, though I will say I have no problem with Justin Gabriel effectively jobbing. He was at his best as a heel in Nexus I think, eventhough he appears to be most naturally a babyface. His clinical deployment of the 450 splash was always naturally sinister. As a babyface though, even down to his music, they’ve gone too far down the bubblegum route with him, and he’s just a smiling, boring babyface, and unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have the charisma to progress his character. So for now, I don’t have a problem with him jobbing. What I was interested in was the Sin Cara backstage assault and the mask switch. I liked the idea behind this. It has been made clear that Sin Cara (Azul) has the successful, populist (and popular) career, and that this identity was one that was ‘taken’ and used by Azul from Negro. This is a nice parallel to the (supposedly) true story about the use of the ‘Mistico’ identity in Mexico; I just wish WWE would have acknowledged this on TV (they did on wwe.com, so I don’t think there’s a legal issue). Anyway, I liked the metaphorical appropriation of identity through the stealing of the mask; it is an interesting and natural progression for the storyline. It will be interesting to see in Negro keeps the Azul mask going forward; I would like that sort of blatant hoarding of something so precious to Azul. My one criticism is that we saw the switch, which I think it made the removal of the mask seem less shocking and impactful. I would have preferred seeing Negro remove Azul’s mask before cutting to the stage and seeing Negro come out with Azul’s mask on, which also would have made the switch seem more jarring. Perhaps i’m nitpicking though – I liked what I saw!

Alberto Del Rio def. Sheamus
I enjoyed this match for what it was – two big stars basically being put together. I wouldn’t say they enjoyed much chemistry, but they’re both so good in their respective styles that it was made to work. The match wasn’t that long though, and while Del Rio had started his default line of working the arms, and Sheamus was trying to fight him off with brute strength, Christian was shortly on the scene to interrupt Sheamus’s advances and cost him the match by tripping him on the turnbuckle, which allowed Del Rio to hit his fantastic step-up-the-ropes enziguiri before hitting another stiff kick for the win, all while Christian was smartly hiding in the blind-spot behind the apron. This shows up the one weakness in the Del Rio package. His only finisher is a submission move. I love submission wrestling, but whenhe faces up to a babyface who can’t afford to tap (like Sheamus) he has to resort to a much weaker-seeming secondary signature. It was the same when he cashed in on Punk, and it makes the whole pinfall seem a little underwhelming. The only thing Del Rio needs to become a true total package is a strong impact finisher – for the hell of it, i’d suggest a specialist suplex with a bridge, like a Northern Lights Suplex for example. Following the match, Christian suckered Sheamus even more with a Spear, but as he was walking away, grinning, Sheamus showed incredible ‘heart’ and will by getting back to his feet. This was a very powerful image, and a nice accent to leave the Sheamus-Christian feud going until next week. Unfortunately, they kept the angle going, and a frustrated Christian went back and delivered another Spear. Now I liked this in theory, but the problem was the Sheamus got up again ‘with the greatest of ease’ this time, and by now, Christian and his Spear just looked weak. It was just a bit of over-egging the pudding in my opinion.

Zack Ryder & Kofi Kingston def. Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger
Having destroyed Evan Bourne with a powerbomb on RAW, Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler were booked to take on Kofi (the ‘boom’ in AirBoom) and Zack Ryder. Zack Ryder is no Evan Bourne, and that is no criticism of his talent, but he simply can’t offer the same high-flying abilities as Bourne. However, he and Kofi are a good fit nonetheless and Ryder can certainly keep up with the quick pace these four have been achieving of late. I’ve enjoyed that Ryder and Ziggler’s feud has been playing out on Z: True Long Island Story (if dominating it a little too much), and it seems to me only a matter of time until Ryder takes the championship from Ziggler, allowing Ziggler to move up the ranks. This week, after another good match including these guys, Ryder managed to get yet another pin over the US Champion, following a rather cheap and technically illegal Trouble in Paradise to Ziggler from Kofi, who then draped Ryder over the champ, allowing for the victory. Usually, I wouldn’t be in favour of a babyface challenger going over a heel champion like this, but in this feud, I approve. For one thing, Ryder has gained one or two totally legit pinfalls over Ziggler in recent weeks, and secondly, Ryder pinning a champion fits his ‘up-and-coming’ status very well. On RAW, i’d like to see Ryder given his title match for Vengeance  before having him lose to Swagger in a singles match with the unlawful help of Ziggler.

Randy Orton def. Mark Henry via DQ
Given that Henry had rightly declared that he was ‘done’ with Randy Orton, and Orton had concurred, i’m glad this booking had the legitimacy of Orton earning the match by winning the battle royal. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have been too happy with the repeat booking. These two have worked very well together (Orton works well with others, despite what his character says!) and he really, completely, put Henry over. This continued in this match, having Henry in categorical control at some points, with Orton doing his best stick and move, looking great himself. Cody Rhodes, however, had been conspicuous by his absence so far (such is the rise of his star currently), and finally made his appearance during this match as Orton was arguably starting to get the match going his way. He attacked Orton for a straight DQ, costing him the championship opportunity. After a beat-down, Rhodes looked to re-bag Orton. But then came … The Bore Show (Big Show, to be fair to the man) to interrupt the beat-down and turn the tide for the faces. Obliterating Henry again, he and Orton got the upper hand. Show shoved Rhodes in to a vengeful RKO before Orton did the same for Show, throwing him Henry for a huge Chokeslam. To be fair, Big Show wasn’t as disappointingly boring as last week, simply because he didn’t get to talk (and constantly repeat the phrase ‘physically and emotionally hurt’ like a robot who had been watching too many soap operas), but I really don’t like how he’s being booked with Henry. Not only does he act as a black hole to all of Henry’s raw charisma and intrigue, but he goes quite some way to undoing the work that’s been done on making him seem like a genuine monster. At his peak against Orton, I was actually frightened of Henry, but now, not so much. Of course someone would have to stop Henry eventually, but it’s all too soon. I don’t think, at the moment, that Show will take Henry’s championship, but he’s damaged the dominance of his reign prematurely in my view. Hopefully, Henry will be allowed to regain some of his aura going into Vengeance, and keep his title for as long he deserves and as long as his character merits, i.e. a long time yet.

The RAW View (03/10/2011): HHH Loses Confidence

The (almost) entire WWE lockerroom voting ‘no confidence’ with their feet

Randy Orton def. Drew McIntyre
Cold open to the show saw wounded Viper Randy Orton aiming to redeem himself after again losing to Henry at Hell in a Cell, and, to my surprise, his opponent was woefully underutilised ‘Chosen One’ Drew McIntyre. I was very pleased about this, but I was worried that he would go out and job. I have been lauding McIntyre incessantly since he largely disappeared from TV because he has a unique, furiously emotional character, is an underrated talker and an excellent wrestler. His move to RAW has seen him barely even in the shuffle (perhaps due to his relationship with former diva Tiffany), but it is my hope that his efforts last night promote him right back in to the push he was on previously and that he deserves. It struck me straight away just how similar workers these two are, and to open the match, the two locked up in a way that was awkward in a way that made it seem a lot more ‘real’. After that though, Orton enjoyed significant success against McIntyre, throwing him around the barricades ‘with the greatest of ease’, again worrying me that the Sinister Scotsman was about to job. However, back in the ring, McIntyre managed to take advantage of a corner-break to hit Orton with a huge big boot. He followed this up with mounted punches, a snap suplex, and choking across the bottom rope – a real beat-down. That wasn’t McIntyre’s only flurry; there was more back and forth between the two, and when Drew wrestled back control, he got one or two convincing near falls. Finally, Drew went for a huge top rope splash (in a manner reminiscent of Orton’s standing knee-drop, but Orton avoided this and then went on a huge offensive, hitting his hangman DDT before a huge, emphatic RKO (which of course, looked so good partly because of McIntyre) for the win. Orton then followed this up with another post-match RKO, presumably to send a message to the lockerroom. Very good match, and it was right that Orton won going out of a defeat to Henry, but I was so pleased that McIntyre was given this ball (albeit a modest one). I can only hope that this is a sign of things to come for McIntyre, because he really deserves a shot. My suggestion is that he joins Vickie’s stable, not only because he has worked well with Swagger before, but because I believe him to be at the same level of the two current members, i.e. on the bubble of the main event.

Following this, Mark Henry came out to try and hurt Orton even more. The two didn’t waste any time in brawling and they got a lot of heat from being held back from each other. They group of security trying to hold them off weren’t enough to stop the clash, and to make concrete that Orton would get a rematch, he eventually managed the impressive feat of dropping Henry over the barricade.

Mark Henry def. John Morrison
Similar to when McIntyre showed, when Morrison appeared, I was expecting to see a job, especially given that he was taking on the unstoppable Mark Henry. This was very short, but surprising. Henry started out tough, but after a nice counter from Morrison, landing on his feet following a toss, before going to to hit his three main moves on Henry in a dramatic row, leading to a very convincing near-fall. Morrison genuinely looked like he might have won. Saying that, Henry kicking out of all that was for the good of Henry, showing him as nearly indistructable and kinda undermined Morrison’s finishers. Henry threw Morrison off him, hit a huge big boot and a World’s Strongest Slam to put JoMo down. He then went to match Orton’s earlier actions by hitting a second World’s Strongest Slam to JoMo. It’s difficult to call this a squash when Morrison hit his finisher, but the way it was disregarded kinda counteracts that. He then went on to cut another awesome promo where he said he was ‘done’ with Orton (the traditional signal that the heel is a little worried about the face), all but confirming, again, that he isn’t.

The Conspiracy Theorists Made Their Case to HHH and the WWE Universe
Alberto Del Rio, Christian, Cody Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, Vickie Guerrero, and David Otunga gathered in the ring for an extraordinary, obviously rehearsed  pitch about their grievances with HHH as COO. They were playing up to their role as the cowardly rebels, trying to get their way through the back-door by claiming an unsafe working environment (a patently ridiculous argument for a wrestler), and that HHH was fostering this to hold them back, showing an egoism they would accuse only HHH of. These sorts of accusations were made by each member of the group in very short bursts, giving this a very formal, worked feel, which helped to show the ‘seriousness’  of the situation very well (and by the way, Vickie Guerrero got nuclear heat on the mic, showing again why she is one of the greatest managers in WWE history). Otunga brought the whole thing round by talking about his legal background before threatening to, effectively, unionise. I was going to criticise this a little because I don’t like the portrayal of union members as heels (WWE presenting what is, at base, moralistic stories, they shouldn’t be making judgements about genuinely partisan things like unions), but it has since become clear that faces also support this. In fact, after RAW, of all people, John Morrison played an important storytelling role, taking to twitter (as did Jim Ross), to support the collective bargaining. What was even better about his input was that it engaged with the Reality Era in a shoot manner which actually reminded me of CM Punk in it’s blunt honesty; here’s an extract: “If the WWE universe is paying our checks maybe the pay scale among us independent contractors should be a bit more evenly distributed…maybe forming a union is a good idea… all other entertainment and sporting entities have them…getting an individual health insurance policy after neck surgery is not easy.” These are facts and hypocrisies that are well known about WWE, and so it just lends more gravitas to the whole angle. Back in the ring though, HHH appeared right at the moment unionisation was threatened, and called the superstars out for the reasonable reason of not living up to their job description of entertaining the fans and working when told to, and with that in mind, he told the people in the ring to get ready for their main event. While Trips’s points were valid, even JR suggested that Hunter had swept the issue aside too flippantly. This whole thing was good for several reasons, but mainly because it was so effective at clearing up a little what the tensions were for the main event segment.

Beth Phoenix & Natalya def. Kelly Kelly & Eve via DQ
Approaching the ring, there were shades of LayCool from the Divas of Doom as they both lifted up the divas title together. And for the first few seconds, they showed dominance as Beth, almost routinely kicked Kelly in the gut before throwing her out of the ring. Cockily exiting the ring though, she got complacent, and an out of control emotional wreck of a Kelly Kelly set upon her. Now at first, her ‘beat down’ looked rather tame and unbelievable, but once she started slamming Beth’s head in to the announce table, it started to seem very real. Kelly, primal screaming, was all over Beth, showing a mean streak we’ve never seen before from her. Natalya would have intervened, but she had been taken out by Eve, but even Torres went to interrupt Kelly’s attack once it was clear it was going too far. A lot of people have complained about how this make Beth and Nattie look, and I admit that Kelly having any sort of physical advantage over Beth is a little hard to believe, but Kelly did surprise Beth, and it did come after Beth had manhandled her (so to speak), so I don’t think it’s that bad. In fact, it gets over the importance of the championship (at least to Kelly) as well as the fact that Kelly can now ‘hang’ with some of the more powerful divas on the roster. Not only that, but this new plateau of violence and passion in this feud only adds to the drama of it. Hopefully that will complimented by more talking, specifically from the Divas of Doom, but also from Kelly, who needs to work the mic more.

Miz and R-Truth’s Youtube Video Was Shown
After recapping the events of Hell in a Cell, we were shown an interesting video made my Miz and R-Truth regarding their recent actions and the situation at WWE. This was a simple, but interesting video in which Miz and Truth reverted to their mawkish earnestness of a few weeks ago, apologising that ‘it’s come to this’, while explaining their one-sided account of events. Ok, so this was a rather strained attempt to wedge social media in to programming, but it is important they do that nonetheless, especially as a characteristic of the Reality Era. They didn’t offer much new in terms of content, but it did do more to explain the lockerroom split, and to add compound tension to the atmosphere of the show, just as they had the night earlier at Hell in a Cell.

CM Punk, John Cena, Evan Bourne, Kofi Kingston, Sheamus & Mason Ryan def. Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes, David Otunga, Jack Swagger, Christian & Alberto Del Rio
Tag matches with this many people are usually chaotic, formulaic nonsense, even if they are fun. This match, however, was fantastic. There’s not much to say about the action of the match. Like other tag matches of this grandeur, there were few great bits of wrestling, it instead being about the flow of the match and the drama of the different match-ups therein. This was just a beautifully put together match, perfectly played out. Not only that, but the crowd were absolutely lapping it up, so much so that the camera was shaking on several occasions, especially for Punk, Sheamus and Bourne, but for everybody else too (not to do them down), and this visibly roused the wrestlers, who were working with an intensity that can’t be faked, and in turn, this got the crowd hotter, and so on and so on.  Even the stand-off was amazing because of the atmosphere (eventhough usually, it’s quite a cliched spot used to set up a commercial break). Just everything about this match clicked! So with Sheamus and Ziggler the legal men, the finisher breakdown began, with each man taking it in turns to hit their finisher on another, until it had made its way back round to Ziggler and Sheamus, allowing Sheamus to hit the Brogue Kick for the win! The match had little to no consequence, but it was such an amazing payoff nonetheless simply because of the amazing crescendo it had reached.

The WWE Lockerroom Votes ‘No Confidence’ In HHH
This was another beautifully staged bit of WWE programming. Having the superstars come out with their respective brands, including the divas and even the referees, gave the event, which had been built to for the whole episode, even more apparent importance. And then, out came Triple H to face the music. Initially, his speech seemed quite rousing, repeating his earlier sentiments about how the wrestlers work for the WWE Universe and not him anyway. At this point, I thought Trips would probably survive, but then the workers got their chance to raise concerns. First up, surprisingly, was Wade Barrett. He talked about the WWE being an unsafe working environment and how HHH himself said he enjoyed chaos. Mike Chioda was next, saying that referees can’t perform in an environment where they are under threat, and they feel that way now. This was good because him being a non-worker showed that the problem was systemic, and not only with the wrestlers. Beth Phoenix was next suggested that something ‘intentional’ may well be happening, and may well happen – again suggesting some sort of conspiracy or behind the scenes antics that could lead to more anarchy in the WWE, and effectively blaming WWE for allowing it. Finally, Lawler returned to RAW to give his two cents. He said that while the chaos isn’t HHH’s fault, it is because of him. Importantly (for me at least), he noted CM Punk’s point about how someone was trying to play people off each other to sabotage him, but that that was causing the chaos in WWE, and so to alleviate that, Trips should go. Finally it came to crunch time, and Christian insisted on a vote, with him and his associates voting ‘no confidence’, and this was followed by every group voting the same way until King, finally, and with residual respect for HHH, said that actions spoke louder than words. At this point, I have expected everyone to dive in the ring and beat HHH down, but luckily, their actions were more in tune with the tone of the segment, as King led a walkout. How’s that for union politics! This was followed by the final, beautifully crafted moments of the episode as, one after one, some tormented by the decision and others not, groups of employees walked out of the WWE to show that they felt Hunter could no longer continue in his capacity. The lone man left was consummate company man, Jim Ross, and as Triple H stared at him, Ross finally stood up and left himself. Finally, the man most hotly suspected of screwing HHH, John Laurinaitis came out to the ramp only to shake his head and turn his back on HHH, leaving Hunter alone in the ring, looking lost and apologetic as we went off the air.

You’ll have noticed that there were some prominent wrestlers at ringside, namely CM Punk, John Cena, Sheamus, Kelly Kelly – i.e., the biggest babyfaces they have to offer. This wasn’t an oversight, and it shows an important division among the talent. The division will be across how the wrestlers want to improve the company, and they will be represented, I think, by HHH on one side, and Vince/Laurinaitis on the other. The kind of guys who will support Vince will be the heels, the self-interested guys who try to forward themselves by pursuing loopholes and indirect action – people like Miz and Truth who flourished under Vince’s rule; while the kind of guys who will support HHH will be the guys who want genuine change, rather than just self-preservation, people like, specifically, CM Punk (remember, Punk showed true grit and honesty by admitting he was wrong about HHH). This is where the lines will be drawn: status quo vs change. Recently, I argued that Punk needs to be placed back in the centre of all this; his pursuit of change started all this when he left WWE with the title and got Vince fired, and so he should be a part of ending it. The good news is that, if the battle lines are drawn as I expect them to be, he will be. With that in mind, as I type, CM Punk has started tweeting, and he has the megaphone back: “I think a lot of people are missing the point. Fans and coworkers alike. Walking out is a pussy move. There’s a huge difference in what I did. I want change, and I can’t change shit from my couch. I’m in the fox hole. I’m getting it done. I stayed to fight and I’m fighting for change. You can protest, violently or peacefully without actually showing up. Walking out isn’t a solution at least not one that I’ve ever seen work. Hold ’em up. Make them change. Don’t just walk out, or lay down. Fight. This goes for fans as well. Bored? Don’t like @johncena ? Want more @ZackRyder ? Show up and be heard. Don’t be a pussy and just tweet about it. I want change, and I’ll stand and fight for it even if I’m alone. Popular or unpopular, I could care less. Take your voting and shove it. Actions speaks louder than words. Except mine. My words are pretty awesome. No think about all that, and hopefully you’ll get it. Too many tweets from me. Misspellings abound. You CAN’T protest without showing up. I am not Gandhi. I will kick your face. Don’t like HHH as COO? Punch him in the face. I did. It’s wrestling, not the NBA. Next high kick to Johnny “Funkhauser” Ace won’t be an accident.” This doesn’t mean that the guys who walked out will be heels, or even that they were bad (people like JR and Evan Bourne etc walked out for good reason, to support their peers and because of the chaos) but the story will be about which of those guys decide to fight. I’d just love to see them let Punk go out there and say that – let him shoot (or work shoot) on the status quo!

That was really another great RAW in my book, with great choreography and emotive, believable storylines. So what next? The big question is whether or not HHH will step down as COO. You’d think he has to, but then how can he come back? Without getting too far in to fantasy booking, perhaps Trips could step down and Vince or Johnny Ace (or even the anonymous GM) could return for a while, only for the ‘conspiracy’ to be discovered and HHH to return to fight for the company at Survivor Series. Anyway, like after Hell in a Cell, the chaos here was interesting and intriguing – a cliffhanger rather than sheer confusion – so much so that i’m conidering looking up the Smackdown spoilers this week because I feel I need to know what will happen next!

The RAW View (26/09/11): Del Rio Thrives in Hell

A furious, envigorated, Alberto Del Rio stands over his two competitors inside the cell they will return to on Sunday

One of the most pervasive themes in WWE of late has been chaos, and the chaos surrounding COO Triple H specifically, and this was certainly the mood on RAW last night. It started, as if often has recently, with Trips himself coming out to address the Universe. He was out to explain why he fired Miz and Truth last week. Last week, I speculated that, because of his apparent change of mind, any bombshell to be revealed would be about why his mind changed so abruptly. That, for the moment, seems like it isn’t the case as Trips brushed it off by saying that he only stalled the firings to keep them main event players around for another main event. I don’t think this was a sign of nonsense though. I think it was a move to show HHH’s reckless and even hypocritical management style. Here are some tweets from The Miz himself that are not only based on truth, but follow this vein of storytelling:
“Triple H fires us for “savagely attacking a WWE official” I wonder if Triple H ever put his hands on a WWE Official. Let’s see../Triple H vs Stone Cold No Mercy 1999 Triple H pushes ref. #hypocrite Triple H vs Y2J April 2000 Triple H beats up n pedigrees ref #hypocrite/And my favorite Triple H vs Kevin Nash Judgement Day 2003 Triple H “Savagely” hits ref with a SLEDGEHAMMER. Just to name a few.#hypocrite.”
This shows a sort of storytelling that engages more with the Reality Era; the ‘reality’ here being a cogent memory of storyline history, but presented as more true than historical storylines usually are. It shows the characteristic malleability of the burgeoning Reality Era, which spans from the storyline reality of Miz to the shoot reality of CM Punk. Meanwhile, the chaos continued as superstars were not afraid to confront HHH and air their grievances, which is an interesting, and makes complete sense in the crazy world of WWE. Not only that, but rising talents like Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes interacting with HHH and to a lesser extent, Christian, can only be good for him. It’s not something that can or should be done every week, but it fit the atmosphere of last night perfectly. HHH’s reaction to this was brilliant too, making seemingly arbitrary, rushed decisions, which not only fed in to the idea of him being a bad leader, but led to some great and unusual booking, foremost of which was the match following immediately after, the 10-man battle royal for the Intercontinental Championship.

I was so pleased to see Drew McIntyre in the match (apparently with a Rangers crest emblazoned on his trunks), because he deserves it. Seriously, every time I see him, i’m more and more impressed. I think not only that he can get over, but that he, in a way, already is over. After all, how many superstars would trend so high and so long after being eliminated first for a battle royal? Hopefully what i’m about to point out suggests that WWE recognise this (though it may just be wishful thinking). Around a year ago, McIntyre was Tag Champion with Cody Rhodes, and on RAW, the two were seemingly conspiring before the match started. At the very least this is good continuity, but perhaps it suggests a way back to the limelight for McIntyre. Indeed, as the match started, it seemed that the two had agreed on Cody rolling out of the ring, and, perhaps as a reaction, the other eight guys all piled on McIntyre and dumped him out. At the time I was disappointed (and I still am), but it again suggests a link as the other competitors were booked to see McIntyre as some sort of confidant to Rhodes and so threat to them. Anyway, enough hopeful speculation! The match itself was really fun and really well-booked, with interesting match-ups and cool eliminations. Sin Cara being scuppered by his imposter, Big Zeke backdropping Bryan and Morrison over the ropes and to either side of the ringsteps. The end of the match saw Rhodes (who had been wily in vacating the ring early on) retain his title against the huge star of Sheamus, though with the help of The Great White’s new nemesis, and with the tool of his mask. Despite this, Rhodes again looked fantastic, not only because he beat Sheamus, but because he defied the ‘punishment’ of HHH.

After a lot of frustration, Beth Phoenix finally got a win over Divas Champ Kelly Kelly. Hopefully this is the sign of a landmark part of this storyline. Not only that, but Natalya INVENTED a new submission move, and it was awesome; some sort of modified surfboard which she’s calling the Pin Up Strong. That just goes to show how great she is. That is all.

That opening shot with Mark Henry’s back enveloping the camera shot, with Cole verbalising our awe, was amazing and just the perfect way to shoot Henry as this monster heel. I was so pleased he just beat up Khali (with another amazing show of strength in World’s Strongest Slamming Khali) instead of having an awkward match with the Punjabi Pensioner. He is doing the best work of his life now, and is always ‘must-see’, not that you can help it!

John Cena continues to be something of a interest void to me. He came out to promo under the Cell, which is a good idea in itself, but Cena didn’t sell much to me. I liked him referring to the controversy surrounding the title, but the rest, I wasn’t too keen on. For one thing, while he was trying to ‘sell the hell’, he was smiling a lot, which to me is completely the wrong demenour to have underneath that structure. His match with Christian was pretty good, as it allowed him to get more ring time with a top top talent and position himself around that stature. What was really good about this match though, was CM Punk on commentary. Again, he was just brilliant on the mic – and so much easier to listen to than Cena – talking up the match while being hugely entertaining, be it just be wearing his sports coat, by calling Del Rio out on commentating while ‘half naked’, or by renewing his ‘you spilled my diet soda’ line. Excellent. After Cena did this by throwing Del Rio in to the announce booth, Del Rio blind-sided Punk before attacking Cena to get a small but definite upper-hand feel. This would only be built on later.

Next up was Zack Ryder’s United States Championship Match against Dolph Ziggler w/ Vickie Guerrero … and Jack Swagger! Yes indeed, it seems Vickie’s management stable may have taken a step towards fruition, and I couldn’t be happier. Guerrero brings a shine to whoever she’s associated with; she’s already been a great help to Ziggler, who, to me, is ready for the main event, and will hopefully  do the same for Swagger. As for the match, Ryder took this opportunity by the scruff of the neck and had a good match with Ziggler, taking him right to the limit with his bravado-laced signatures. So much so that it took help from new apparent partner, Jack Swagger, who hot-shotted Ryder, allowing Ziggler to hit the Zig Zag for the retention. This wasn’t all though as Vickie’s men set upon Ryder. Fortunately the heroic AirBoom were around to literally boom out to Ryder’s aid. This led to some apparent kharma booking (from Teddy Long, again, instead of the RAW GM or HHH) pitting Ryder and AirBoom against Ziggler and Swagger. This is the second time Ziggler and Swagger have been given double-duty, and I don’t quite understand why they are booked in this way; maybe it’s to lend them a unique sense of spontaneity? Nonetheless, I didn’t think the second match was necessary. It seems it’s goal was to reintroduce Mason Ryan to TV, as he came out seemingly to join Team Guerrero, only to turn on the heels.  A lot of people were critical of this as it seemed like they were providing minimal build for a cheap pop for a face-turn, but the way I saw it was that Ryan came out with the intention all along of helping the faces. Anyway, this allowed Ryder to pick up another non-title win against Ziggler and put him in line for another US Title shot. Hopefully it will lead instead to a #1 contender’s match instead, but whatever happens, I think Ryder is almost anointed as the next US Champion (which he could rebrand as the Internet Champion). As for Ziggler, he could make a great tag team with Swagger going forward before the final push to the main event. Finally, I don’t know how well Ryan will get over as a face. I don’t know if he has the natural charisma to do so, but that’s not to bury him; turning him face right now makes sense as he couldn’t possibly match up to Mark Henry as a monster heel right now.

The David Otunga pre-tape has gone down very well with the fans it seems to me. As for me, I was a little knocked for six by it. For ages, Otunga has been a stalwart of the tag team division and of Michael McGilicutty. But this week he abruptly shed that character for a much more reality-based character – namely a knowledgeable lawyer come wrestler. Indeed, it is this nod to reality which I think is behind the success of this small tid-bit. He was holding court with the other conspiracy theorists of Christian, Cody Rhodes, and Dolph Ziggler (though i’m sure Miz and Truth will align with them whenever they return too), and apparently conspiring to bring down HHH through technical legal means. This being the case, what can we expect going forward? A factional fight for the company? Maybe, but it would either necessitate some awkward bedfellows (Punk, Cena, HHH (though the tension inherent there can be good for engaging drama)), or a third faction, setting the sides as the Conspirators vs the Management vs the Truth-Tellers (engaging with stark reality). This could, of course, be a huge over-reaction to what was a short backstage seg, but it was definitely an intriguing piece of intrigue to witness. Incidentally, if Otunga is to receive a push of sorts, and it means he is to be separated from McGillicutty, could the latter start making himself known by his real, prestigious name, Joe Hennig?

Finally, we hand CM Punk take on Alberto Del Rio in the main event of the evening, with the Hell in a Cell eerily hanging above the ring; and like his competitors did earlier, John Cena attended the match at ringside. Del Rio and Punk are two of the best workers in the world today, and so obviously this match was wonderful to watch. To carry on the echoes of Cena’s earlier match, Punk tossed Del Rio over the announce table and in to Cena before wryly mocking Cena’s salute to The Champ. This match had a wonderful, technical flow to it, flavoured with some stiff, strong style wrestling. This was no accident. Although both guys (Punk especially) already work quite a lot in the strong style, it was even more highlighted here, and it was to underline the sheer toughness and resilience of the two going in to the match which requires more toughness and resiliency than any other. As the match ‘rolled on’, there were some great, believeable near-falls for either man, without either hitting their finishing move. Usually, the finish would come when one man managed to hit his finisher, but these two aren’t ‘usual’ and after all these near-falls, Punk hit his roundhouse kick which he’s recently been using as one of his signature moves, and out of the blue, won the pinfall. Immediately following this, Ricardo Rodriguez attacked Punk, but to no avail as he was dispatched by a GTS followed by an AA, but as this was hapenning, the Hell in a Cell began to lower around everyone. As Punk and Cena tried to get metaphorical victories over each other by hitting their respective finishers, but to no avail. All the while, Del Rio had recovered and had picked up a chair before preceding to beat the hell out of either man with multiple chair shots! It was at this point where Del Rio looked as he does in the header picture to this post; full of furious intensity in a way that his usual demenour has not allowed (him being a more sly, self-confident aristocrat). It was great to see this side of him, and it completely overshadowed the unfortunate fact that he lost the match, and garnered attention for the Hell in a Cell min event. Meanwhile, the other guys weren’t made to look weak – this was the reasoning for having Punk win the match, and it must also be remembered that Del Rio’s attack was a blindside and so something the faces could never defend against. So going in to Hell in a Cell we have the WWE Champion, a man who just won another RAW main event in CM Punk, and Del Rio who had just absolutely destroyed the other two surrounded by the Hell in a Cell. This PPV’s only had two weeks of build, but this RAW did a good job of making up some for that.

The RAW View (05/09/2011): Cena Fends Off A Good Episode

Last night, we saw the ultimate in SuperCena ruining a show

Seen as i’ve been been on hiatus for a month, I thought i’d give some quick thoughts about the product over the month until now. I liked the build going in to Summerslam, and thought that was, on the whole, a good PPV. Undoubtedly the ending felt like a bit of an anticlimax, but the main event matches were great. I also think it’s important to remember that Punk doesn’t need the title to spearhead this storyline – indeed, him being the WWE Champion while being the company’s main antagonist would undermine his position as insurgent somewhat. I was also very impressed by the pacing of the story post-Summerslam. Punk had to be rushed back, and that’s fine because he was needed for the second biggest PPV of the year, but it left the unfortunate ‘hotshot’ feel that many have described. Luckily, without quite the same pressure as a looming Summerslam, the Punk-Nash-HHH story has been developing steadily and, for the most part, sensically. I also don’t mind Cena moving on to face Del Rio for the title – in theory that should create two huge feuds. The problem is, their feud has been an absolute cancer on the product! Cena’s ‘issue’ with Del Rio is not in the least bit compelling to me. He came out furious at Del Rio for cashing in on Punk? Really? Not only is it unheroic to whine in the way he has being, but it pales in comparison to the continued work of Punk, and is starting to work to it’s determent. The company’s top face is acting without justification, and not in an interesting way that may signal a heel turn (not yet at least), but in a way which makes the ‘heat’ in their feud seem less believable. Since Cena became #1 contender, he has been the main story again. This is the soul-crushing status quo Punk talks of; whatever Cena does, whether he deserves to be or not,  he is the main focus of the show. In fact, after losing a #1 contendership match to Cena two weeks ago (which I have no problem with), Punk was almost literally swept out of the ring to make way for a run-of-the-mill beat down by Del Rio on Cena. With the exception possibly of last week, Cena has been wedged in to the main focus of the show, eventhough their feud is based upon almost no legitimate issue. There have been some bad RAW ratings recently, and I attribute it totally to people being put off by that crushing status quo that is supposedly a ‘cliffhanger’. I would be amazed if anyone is more interested in Cena-Del Rio that Punk’s saga, and this week’s RAW will only make that worse.

The start of the show was good. They didn’t repeat HHH’s music opening the show and instead gave Punk the mic, which is never a bad thing, and again, he spoke in his relatable, conversational style and told everyone the truth – that he’s different, and he’s going to fight against people who want to stem his growth because he is different. Now I like Nash being involved because of the rich possibilities and history of The Kliq, but Nash on the mic has been a disappointment, so him being fired, eventhough it almost certainly wont mean the end of him, is a good thing for now. Indeed, when Nash admitted to sending the text himself, it seemed like an anti-climax, but i’m willing to accept it, as long as one of the two following things happen: Nash explains exactly what his beef with Punk was when he initially attacked, or if it turns out Nash did it, but at the behest of someone else (Steph, Lauranitis) to cover them. I think we’ll see him next at Night of Champions. Following Punk’s comical Nelson-from-The Simpsons style mocking (and wishing him the best in his future endeavors, we saw a very interesting sight; Johnny Ace leaving the arena with Nash. Tongues should wag and imaginations should race following that one. A nice tit-bit which adds to the storyline and initiates interest.

AirBoom beating Khali and Mahal was expected, but a good thing. Great to see strong champs, and good to see them ‘come down the aisle’ together, like a team. If it was me, I would just fire Khali now. Mahal has potential, but no where near reaching it now with this under-developed story. Kofi and Evan together make a great, exciting tag team. Shame the Smackdown talent that come to RAW (bar Randy Orton) are there to get buried and put the RAW guys over.

Thought the divas work this week was a huge success. When I saw that it was Eve vs Beth for the #1 contendership, I called on twitter (@RTVWOW btw) that if Eve won, she’d turn on Kelly, and that is Beth won, it would be generally good for the divas division, so I was happy either way. Now the match was a little sloppy in places, but entertaining. The real focus was on commentary, but for once, for the right reasons. Watching the match from the booth were Kelly and Natalya, who aired their respective positions, and therefore, the reason for the violence, as it was happening. I think everyone loved  Nattie’s analogy about the model divas being candy that rot viewers teeth (or at least the divas division) while she and Beth are vegetables who know what’s good for the division and the viewers. It works especially well seen as I assume both sides would agree with the analogy of candy vs vegetables. Good to see Beth go over with relative dominance before Nattie took Kelly out too. Seems we’re about to eat our vegetables, and I can’t wait!

DREW McINTYRE WAS ON RAW! Shame it was just a short backstage segment, but Drew deserves to be on TV dammit. He has everything! It seemed popular on twitter too, as he was trending almost instantly. I just hope this is the start of him getting a chance on RAW. He doesn’t need a reboot – he’s ready now!

I liked R-truth’s segment, and I like how he can go from comedy to deadly serious in a split second, psychotic style, and I must admit that Miz and Truth’s comedy section together was funny, but for weeks I’ve been publicly worrying about this pairing. It’s good for Truth, but is it for Miz. He main-evented WrestleMania and now he’s in skits in the tag team division. Yup, the somewhat expected happened, and ‘The Awesome Truth’ will be challenging Air Boom for the titles at Night of Champions. I like the match, but i’m worried that Miz’s (and to an extent Truth’s) profile necessitates them going over and taking the titles. I hope this doesn’t happen. I would like to see Air Boom gain momentum with some big PPV defences until the point when the Kings of Wrestling debut to take the titles. We’ll have to wait and see, but i’m happy that, for the first time in a long time, we have a high profile tag championship match on a card!

Truth’s match with Punk was pretty good, but a step down from Punk’s latest matches. This is a theme for Truth, who hasn’t been able to really bring the house down when given the chance. A note on the commentary: again, Cole was distracting tool. You have one of the company’s top stars in the ring with an up-and-comer, and Cole was ruining it with his bickering. When the divas did it, it was to get talent over, when Cole does it, it buries them as insignificant! Anyway, I liked how Truth worked Punk’s left leg after Miz chop-blocked it, which not only showed the tag team chemistry between the two, but made Truth look strong. Indeed, Truth had the better for Punk for quite some time, but because Punk is such a natural seller, he perhaps looked a little too weak during the match. Saying that, I think ultimately, all that was forgotten once Punk managed to win authoritatively by the end, avoiding a Truth pounce in the wake of Miz being ejected and delivering a GTS with ease for the win. Instantly, HHH’s music hit, in a move which seemed heel-like in it’s surprise factor. He told Punk he wanted the match to be no-DQ because he wanted to hurt Punk. Now I like that, but have a peeve: It’s the same as No Holds Barred (and many other stips to be honest), so why not call it that – it just sounds more menacing. Anyway, Punk agreed, but as HHH was leaving, Punk, in characteristic fashion, undermined the expected, conditioned progression of events by telling HHH he has a stip of his own, that if he beats the COO, HHH has to resign from the permission; something the empassioned COO agreed to. Now, this will be discussed more in the Night of Champions preview, but the general consensus now is that this necessitates a HHH win and heel turn, and I agree with that. The question then, or the selling point, becomes who will help HHH win? Some others calling this another hotshot as it’s definately a WrestleMania calibre match and stip, but my opinion on that is that we should wait and see … Very interesting though!

We then saw another backstage segment with underutilised talent – this time Curt Hawkins and Tyler Reks, who were telling of how they would be making a big impact together going forward. Now i’ve been critical of Reks in the past, but repackaged, he seems a natural fit for Hawkins and they could make for a good tag team. Hawkins especially deserves a shot. I like the side-focus on such talents and indeed, there was a palpable sense of such ‘forgotten’ guys taking the opportunity to get their voices heard. Perhaps we could see some edge storylines related to this in the future. I hope so, especially seen as its a nice fit for a ‘Reality Era’.

Next up was Jerry Lawler and Zack Ryder against Otunga and McGillicutty preceded by an excellent video package about Ryder and Z True Long Island Story which showed finally what had been hinted at recently, that Ryder has been noticed and is getting a chance. Though he’s appeared on RAW and Smackdown a lot recently, this package seemed to fill a lot of people (at least on twitter) with hope regarding his future. I like this feud between Lawler and the former champs because it would be hard for them to stay relevant in the wake of losing the titles otherwise, and compels them to become interesting in the face of their detractors. The match was nothing much; the nostalgia of King and the excitement of Ryder meant they went over rightfully. My worry was that Lawler would get the pin and bury the tag team, but seen as it was Ryder, all is fine. I’m sure Otunga/McGillicutty will continue their feud with King in the wake of this, which can only be good for them.

The one thing that really bemused me was Orton vs Slater. This match helped nobody and nothing. A RAW guy couldn’t job to Orton, so they got a Smackdown dunce to? What a waste of time. Guys like McIntyre and Hawkins have to claw to get a backstage seg and this meaningless match goes on instead? If Henry would have shown, it would have at least helped the Smackdown brand and garner interest for their main event feud, but no, just Orton looking strong, and therefore failing to sell any injuries from Henry’s beat-down last week. If anything, this match was just detrimental to everyone. Horrible.

Not a bad promo from Cena to start the main event seg, talking about Del Rio always ducking him. For the first time, the antagonism between the two made some sort of sense, which is a good thing, and I liked the spot where Cena predicted what Del Rio would do, exposing him for what he is, a classic slimy heel. Throughout the night, Del Rio was trying to recruit people to take out Cena, and, somewhat unbelievably, they tried to do it for him. Christian, Barrett, Ziggler and Jack Swagger, who started beating down the #1 contender. Luckily for Cene, his more morally discerning friends Sheamus, Alex Riley, and John Morrison (with a slightly ridiculous bit of parkour in tow) came to his aid. At this point, out came Teddy Long to make it an official elimination tag match. Now, why, if it couldn’t be HHH, did Teddy come out!? What exactly does the RAW GM do now? I hope (but not optimistically) that his/her absence has some kind of storyline reason, because otherwise, not using it (while keeping the podium there) is just plain ridiculous! Anyway, the match got underway, and in-the-dog-house John Morrison was first to be eliminated by Jack Swagger. Indeed, Swagger was booked very strongly in this match; stronger than I would have expected as he went on to eliminate Alex Riley too! In both cases Swagger capitalised on Ziggler’s offense to gain the decision, so it’s also interesting nuggets for their continuing storyline. Perhaps we’re about to see a Swagger resurgence as part of Vickie Guerrero’s stable? Either Ziggler turns face or the tag together as Vickie’s heels. I’d prefer the latter. Later during the match, Christian slapped Sheamus in the face in his inimitable manipulating style, leading to a chase around ringside and through the crowd leading to a double count-out and a rather mouth-watering feud between the two on Smackdown you have to think! This was a clever way of getting Sheamus out of the picture while maintaining his strength too as the ending saw Swagger and Ziggler go two on one against Cena. Great, some jeopardy for Cena! Well, not quite. What i’d have liked to see is the two have basically the better of Cena with Cena periodically fighting back but failing to get an advantage, and the two heels eventually going over with the help of Del Rio interference before a beat-down to close the show a bit more shockingly. While Del Rio is champ and has been booked strongly for a heel, Cena is the top guy in the company, and, objectively-speaking, the favourite in the championship match, so why not make Del Rio seem to have an upper hand of sorts against Cena, even if it is through callous means while making these two up-and-coming heels look strong and credible? Well, that’s not how WWE feels apparently. I knew it too. While the heels looked ok, they eventually just got beat by one man. Admittedly that man is Cena, but still, he was against two! Not enough that Cena beat two future prospects with relative ease towards the end, but when Del Rio rushed the ring to try and get some of Cena, only for Cena to fight him off with ease before posing with the usual smile on his face. That sums this ending up: ‘usual’. After watching that, why do I want to watch next week? If my scenario happened, Cena wants revenge, and we want to see that, but instead, we’re asked to participate in the mindless status quo.At least I suspect Del Rio will retain at Night of Champions, so that might mitigate all this somewhat, but you can’t forgive unexciting, predictable TV being the main event when CM Punk is so watchable.

Regular readers will know I often defend Cena. He is passionate and hugely underrated as a wrestler, but recently he’s been in full SuperCena mode, and its BORING! Yet again it’s the same story with Cena. Instead of him being in jeopardy, instead of having to doubt your hero, the audience expects him to win. This would be fine if it wasn’t the only emotion connected with the man, but unfortunately, it is. Under these circumstances, it is just difficult to make credible new stars because, especially if they are heels they will all, inevitably, fall to Cena. This is the crushing status quo Punk talks of, and because of this week’s booking, I can see no other alternative than the same happening again next week. Nash and Laurinatis in cohoots is interesting, Punk and HHH is interesting, especially with this new stip, so why not have that more prominent in the show and make it seem like CM Punk: different.

RAW Recall (11/07/11): CM Punk: The Voice of the Voiceless

Punk, speaking for the people, berates the out of touch Mr. McMahon

Well we’ve been here before, y’know, two weeks ago. I’m forced to try and write cohesively about one of the most compelling broadcasts i’ve ever seen, and thanks to CM Punk; something that was even more impressive given it followed the big bang of his initial shoot.

Punk, in fact, opened the show, his presence alone instantly creating a tangible buzz in the arena, especially  considering how Punk came out with a megaphone – a symbol surely that Punk was going to position himself as a sort of grassroots voice of the people. Once arriving in the ring, he had the megaphone, a microphone, and even a headset to the producer, in to which he warned them not to shut off his mic. Again, there was something about Punk’s hands, full of communication devices, which again, made him seem like the embodiment of a voice, something he explained he equated with power. Indeed, Punk said all he ever wanted was this mic, and now, he’s getting it because he has made the WWE socially relevant. This was again Punk in full ‘truth-teller’ mode, and he told one very poignant truth when he mentioned how WWE – so desperate to be a big part of pop culture – is only ever mentioned on mainstream media when someone dies (think especially of Benoit). But, and this is true, Punk has made a positive pop-culture impact for WWE and professional wrestling more widely, and that makes him the biggest wrestling star in the world. Add this to the freedom that Punk exudes, and which allowed him to treat Vince McMahon – the archetypal heel authority – almost like an equal, or even less. I’ll discuss this later in conjunction with the closing seg, but it was shown when Punk foreshadowed his demeaning of Vince by suggesting he’ll get him to join the CM Punk ‘Kiss My Ass Club’ as part of his contract negotiations. This drew Cena out, to whom Punk responded by shouting through his megaphone by saying ‘Sir, i’m afraid your music is just too loud’ in his usual dry way, but Cena wasn’t dry, he was deadly serious, making a fair point about how some of the greatest wrestlers of recent history (including Kurt Angle!) had all underestimated him, and so, even if Punk thinks he’s the greatest wrestler in the world, he shouldn’t underestimate Cena. Cena managed to hold his own here for sure, and this managed, if anything, to make Cena seem even more beatable because it seemed like he was aware of the sheer momentum behind Punk, while adding to the great personal psychology between the two.

The GM then chimed in and booked Cena in a handicap match against Otunga & McGillicutty of CM Punk’s Nexus. This match was a pretty good because Cena did not simply dominate the tag champs, and indeed, the tag champs seemed like a cohesive unit, taking apart Cena, utilising their new Atomic Drop/Dropkick double-team at one point where they showed complete control over ‘The Champ. Cena eventually went over with a recognisable burst of energy, but at least it wasn’t one that necessarily buried the champs as one received an AA and the other was thrown over the top rope in a way that made sense. Now, usually (on Smackdown at least) if I discuss commentary, it’s in a critical way, but this match was announced superbly! Cole and King weren’t talking about themselves, but the central jeopardy of the MITB: whether or not Punk would leave the WWE with the title, and what that could mean for the company, sounding clearly affected and even panicked as they did. Cole, a pragmatist, was defending McMahon’s worries about placing the symbolic legacy of the company on Cena’s shoulders, while the more simplistic face King asserted that Cena was the perfect candidate as one of the greatest WWE Champions of all time. Again, we were hearing doubt that Cena (colloquially known, remember, as SuperCena) could beat Punk, and not from the mouth of Punk. Like last week, what a great way to get Punk over as a viable winner on Sunday. It was also interesting to hear their reflections on why the GM would put Cena in a handicap match, given the importance of his healthiness on Sunday. Could we finally be about to learn more about the GM?

Good to see Melina in the ring, who had some nice early moves against Kelly, but another nothing match which saw Kelly go over. This is why the Divas title means so little (certainly less than the shamefully defunct Women’s Championship); because no-one really has to work for it. I’m only bothered that Kelly has won the title because here desire to really work and progress in the industry means it genuinely means something to her – it’s certainly not because of her in-ring journey! It doesn’t have to be this way either – watch WWE Superstars and you will see. Love the Bellas. They fluffed their lines a little this time, but usually they are cool, fluent heels, and as I always say, very underrated as wrestlers. Eve Torres making the save is same old same old, but it was at least refreshing to see the Bellas come out best. I think now it would be best to create an actual storyline here. Eve has been defending Kelly, but perhaps it’s time for her to turn? After all, despite all the work she has clearly put in, the WWE Universe chose Kelly for the title opportunity – definitely currency for bitterness there!

Miz is a great talker, and he had to work hard to be heard over that sense of Punk-inspired awe I described earlier, but I think he did an admirable job, talking about himself as the most dominant, experienced competitor in RAW’s MITB match, and the future of the company, which is, of course, all true. Cue Swagger to take issue with Miz, but, bless him, Miz cut him right down with one of the lines of the night: ‘If someone cashes in MITB and no one remembers, did it really happen?’ Don’t get me wrong, I like Swagger generally, but as of right now, he just doesn’t have ‘it’. Anyway, cue everyone bloody else in the match! (To be fair, you can’t complain; it’s the best way to promote it, if a little frustrating when the same thing just happened on Smackdown!) First we had Bourne who it was great to hear from (if he’s going to progress, he needs more mic time) with a no nonsense line about how the past doesn’t matter over what will happen, just before Kofi comes out and literally repeats the sentiment, though to be fair, he goes further getting over the danger involved in ladder matches, using Edge’s premature retirement as his example, which was poignantly met with ‘The Truth Shall Set You Free’. Truth went off on one of his off-the-wall promos about how he hoped there were no spiders on the ladder or in the briefcase because he was frightened of them, and adding that if there was, the grits would hit the pan (great line); but as usual with Truth’s current character, there was a point to this. He was pointing to how the conspiracy against him continued, and how he had, in fact, recently beat John Cena and that that made him a favourite for the match. Riley was next out, and he chased after Miz. This annoyed me – not only because Riley needed to be on the mic, but also because Miz was first out; if Riley wanted Miz so bad, why did he wait for four other superstars to talk before coming out! Finally we had Del Rio, who managed to stand out fantastically, claiming that Cena chose Punk (eventhough he won a #1 contenders match) because he was scared of Del Rio, and that he was right to be. He also seemed to suggest that he had taken out Rey (who was notable by his absence) – perhaps grist for more MITB intrigue. This was followed by a decent and inevitable 6 man tag which saw Riley go over for the faces. Nice build, but real identikit stuff (not that I can think of a better way to build the match!) Following the match however, Del Rio really solidified his position as favourite by storming the ring with a ladder and taking out all participants; not in the same, slightly unbelievable way as Sheamus did, but as a blindside, and looked great doing so.

Earlier on, we saw a slightly strange seg where Dolph Ziggler, Vickie Guererro and Drew McIntyre were speculating about the night’s events and mocking Mr. McMahon (and his breath), before becoming stoic and seeming frightened as he actually turned up to book them in a punishment match against the Big Show. Well, this wasn’t much of a match but a brawl/attempt to survive for Dolph/Drew which ended in a double count-out. With Ziggler hiding, Show went about mauling McIntyre, slamming him in to nthe metal WWE sign at the top of the ramp before motioning to chokeslam him off the stage. This, I think, made a lot of sense; we’ve seen Henry basically mauling people on every show,  so it’s important that we saw Show doing the same thing to make their match seem more like, well, a match. Before he could chokeslam McIntyre, however, he was charged by Henry, apparently with no thought for his own wellbeing, as it sent all three off the side of the stage and McIntyre, unprotected, to the concrete floor. Loved seeing McIntyre on TV, and I hope his sacrifice is rewarded. As for Show and Henry, this was more excellent build – it really does seem like ‘the irresistible force meeting the immovable object’ and, for once, i’m interested in one of these monster vs monster matches!

Next up was our final seg, the unprecedented contract negotiation between McMahon and Punk. I wont detail everything because there was just too much happening, but i’ll discuss the parts that really stood out to me. First off, McMahon came to the ring, trying – deliberately I think – too hard to please the audience, and in full diplomatic executive mode, even shaking hands at ringside statesmanlike. He then invited Punk out, who completely undermined McMahon by imitating his trademark strut. Punk offered his own contract, with his own new provisions, the first of which was to be able to literally push Mr. McMahon. This was one of the most striking moments of the whole angle. People have been comparing Punk to Austin, and that’s a more than fair comparison, and Dave Lagana even suggested on twitter that Punk might, Austin-like, GTS McMahon by the end of the segment. That would have been a little surprising, but not shocking; when Austin first stunned McMahon, it was shocking, it was a physical, brash challenge to McMahon’s authority, but that only works for one man, after that, it loses effect. Last year, Nexus attacked McMahon, and yes, it was noteworthy, but not shocking, and a GTS would fall in to that category. What Punk did was more subtle, but also incredibly effective: he lent down to Vince, and pushed him, not down, but in a demeaning way. The Stunner was powerful, and challenging to McMahon, but it was a move he used on other wrestlers, and hurt Vince’s body, not his pride; Punk pushing Vince was demeaning, and shocking, because no one’s seen that sort of treatment of the behemoth character to date. Fantastic stuff. After this, Punk became almost a union type figure representing the people, confronting this obnoxious, oblivious chairman; he said he wants an apology from Vince for his hypocrisy: running an anti-bullying campaign while being a bully himself and unceremoniously firing talented people like Luke Gallows and Colt Cabana. Here, McMahon’s veil slipped, he retorted angrily that they deserved it, but CM Punk only continued, saying that Vince was out of touch with the fans while he knew exactly what they wanted in 2011: for the WWE not to be embarrassed by pro-wrestling and to embrace it. Vince returned, shouting that he doesn’t care what these people want only for Punk to instantly respond that that’s the problem. By now, Punk was simply a representative of the people, as he said, a voice for the voiceless; he was turning face in front of our own! Eventually, Punk won his grudged apology, and just before Vince could sign Punk’s contract, out came Cena. That in itself could be interesting – think about it – Vince signs that contract and the WWE is saved, but Cena stopped it. Anyway, Cena was out to confront Punk for his own hypocricies (which really are hard to detect at this point) and to go down his own well-trodden babyface path of fighting for the fans etc etc, but Punk completely undermined this, by stopping Cena’s routine and saying that, actually, it is Cena who has lost his way. Cena claims to represent the WWE Universe, but Punk questioned this, after all, Cena now is a dynasty, a ten time champion, the poster-boy. It is Punk who is the wrong size and shape, the underdog, the guy who rode on the side of Cena’s car at WM 22 (for those who don’t know, completely true) as a prop for his entrance, but who dreamed of being in the ring with Cena and defeating him. Cena may love the fans, but he doesn’t understand them as well as Punk, and just as the most successful sports teams in the recent history of US sports, no matter how much he might try to convince himself, he is no longer the underdog, but the New York Yankees. This illicited a punch from Cena which Punk flew from, but this wasn’t an offended punch, this was an overly-defensive punch, like Cena saw truth in what Punk said, and didn’t like it one bit. Again, we were made to believe we were getting another classic ending, with Cena’s music hitting, only for Punk to interrupt it again. Punk said he had something to say that the people wanted to hear, that at Money in the Bank, you can say good to John Cena, the WWE Championship, and CM Punk.

So where does this leave us? Punker is turning face – i’m 99% convinced. Not only because of his populist actions, but because RAW needs a new top face. I was sure that Cena would stay face, simply because RAW needs more than one top face, which it doesn’t have now; but now i’m not so sure. Down to the comment calling Punk, who had such a connection with the fans, a ‘terrorist’, Cena was in full OTT Americana mode – he seemed out of touch, and finally, his character, and complacent routines were challenged. He seemed shook by the realisation of his position as a dynasty. That all in mind, if Punk is a brand new face, will Cena be the heels he works against. Nothing is clear at this point, and I wont speculate beyond this. I also wont speculate more about MITB; i’ll save that forthe daunting task of the preview post!