Smack of the Week (25/11/2011): American Dragon Riled Up

Daniel Bryan Tried to Cash in His Money in the Bank Briefcase On Mark Henry
To start the show, Mark Henry came out with his Championship title and a crutch. I really liked how Henry sold this, showing that it hurt, but showing real heart at the same time by just struggling his way to the ring and promising to defend his title despite his injury, though he did mention he wasn’t cleared fight (an important point). This made him seem really brave and formidably strong, something Big Show seemed the opposite of when he came to meet Henry. He brought up the way Henry retained his title and insinuated (correctly) that Henry knew that his title was in jeopardy. A defensive World’s Strongest Champion started calling Big Show a two-time loser, to which Show responded with a cheap WMD, knocking the injured, unexpectant champion out. This seemed to be the end of a pretty textbook segment (Henry’s testicular fortitude aside), but then, D. Bryan’s music hit, and this time, there was no doubt that he was compus mentus when he cashed in this time. His main task was to get the behemoth over on his back, and it certainly took him some time, but he managed it and got the 3 count to become champion! He celebrated like he really had won the championship, and looked very emotional while the celebration went on for a long time, taunting Cole and the fans lapping it up. This emotion was quite a feat as it was soon to turn out that his championship win wouldn’t stand because Henry was not cleared to compete. This was obviously quite a striking moment, and the honourable Bryan eventually handed the Championship back. HOWEVER, if he wasn’t to win the championship, why did he try the cash-in (especially given the later results)? It seems to me that the only reason for it is to hint at a less honourable Bryan who might cash in before WrestleMania. I just hope the story stays as many imagine it – him cashing in on Henry at WrestleMania.

Hunico def. Justin Gabriel
Man, Justin Gabriel sucks right now. He cooms out all excited to his teen-bob music, and he comes across as completely lame and unintimidating. He’s just not working, and that might explain this result. This wasn’t a bad match between the two high flyers, and I think it’s great how Hunico has altered his style since failing at being Sin Cara in to a less pretty style that can still be explosive. I think, surprisingly given his genesis after the failed imposter (seriously, those guys rarely go anywhere), that he has a real future, and so it was right that he beat Gabriel. I don’t know if much will come of this, but a nice enough match anyway.

Natalya & Beth Phoenix def. AJ & Kaitlyn
Squash matches are rarely pleasing, but given how low the ‘Divas of Doom’ got a few weeks ago, i’ve enjoyed their recent resurgence. AJ is a great bumper for the DoD’s too, and again, she made Nattie look great by tapping out to the Sharpshooter. Again, Kaitlyn seemed unimpressed with AJ’s performance, not trying to break up the submission, berating her after the match, and not helping her after the match when it was ‘Cry Time’. Alicia Fox, who had been characteristically unconvincing on commentary, had to eventually save AJ, but it seems they’re going ahead with this break-up of the Chickbusters. This is bitter-sweet. On the one hand, it means an actual story for these two to get involved in – on the other hand, I don’t think the they’ve been established enough to make the break-up truly pleasing. We can but wait and see. Could Kaitlyn join the heels? It’s not out of the question given her size. More importantly, could AJ get a Divas Title shot? I’d love to see that.

Zack Ryder & Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger
Seems like Dolph has a slightly new nuance to his character as the tron had ‘SHOW OFF’ emblazoned on it, and then the commentators insisting on associating the term ‘show off’ with Ziggler. I like this because it plays in to one of Ziggler’s best characteristics: how he knows how good he is, and likes to taunt the audience with it to make them hate them, because he wants them to hate him. These guys all had a pretty good top hour main event, and one in which Ryder showed me a bit more than usual. Indeed, although I already know he’s good in the ring, it was nice to see him pull off a new move in the Ryder Revolution plancha (I don’t know if that’s what it’s called, but Matthews said it as he did it, and it fits well!) which he landed beautifully in to the ‘Woo Woo Woo’ fist-pumps. Ziggler for his part, was really amping up the ‘show off’ side of his persona. He was still doing awesome wrassling including his amazing selling of Sheamus’s reversal of the Zig Zag, but his taunts were getting even more and more (brilliantly) ridiculous taunts, like his feigning of amateur wrestling moves after taking Sheamus down. Talking Sheamus, he provided some nice smashmouth moments, especially with his equal in stature, Jack Swagger. Again, Swagger managed to have some strong offense against The Great White, which made him look really good, and when he and Sheamus traded their varying shoulder tackles, it looked like a real battle of forces. The real story of the match though, was Zack Ryder’s continuing odyssey to a United States Championship match, and his claim got even stronger with a victory over Ziggler. It looks good for Ryder but doesn’t affect Ziggler too badly coming off some great in-ring work of late and a big title retention at Survivor Series and it came in a tag team match anyway. A nice, simple bit of progression. What i’d like to have seen though is, seen as Johnny Ace wont give Ryder a title match, and seen as he’s broski’s with Teddy Long, Teddy Long should have given him the title match for the live Smackdown next week – draw some ratings. What an idea! Someone gimme a job!

Ted DiBiase def. Heath Slater
Especially given that Slater had just returned from a wellness policy violation, and because DiBiase’s posse has gotten him a push of late, I expected a simple squash. Instead, we saw a Jinder Mahal on the tron criticising Ted for fraternizing with commoners. I quite like this because though I don’t have much time for Mahal, I think he deserves a second chance with the ball, and I like the idea of one being more philanthropic, and the other being more elitist. As for the match, it was another decent match. Slater had some good offense and him and Ted went back and forth quite a bit, but there wasn’t much doubt about the outcome as DiBiase hit Dream Street for the win. Slater is like Gabriel – he was at his height with Barrett and his groups, but now his lack of development is showing, and for now at least, he is only really good as a jobber.

Daniel Bryan def. Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett, and Randy Orton to Earn a World Heavyweight Championship Shot On Next Week’s LIVE Smackdown
Fatal four-ways are always hard to review because of the ensuing chaos, and the success of the match lives or dies on the inventiveness of the interactions between the competitors. Luckily, this match had no problem with that, including as it did, arguably Smackdown’s four finest workers. What was a little strange about this match was that it was more like a tornado tag match as, for the most part, Rhodes and Barrett co-operated with each other while Bryan and Orton largely stayed out of each other’s way – the exception being a rope-assisted DDT to Bryan. There was lots of great, quick action between these guys, though admittedly not that many memorable moments. One high point was an explosive, out-of-nowhere suicide dive: Barrett completed a normal irish whip to AmDrag, but Bryan ducked the ensuing attempted clothesline, but instead of rebounding off the ropes, he just continued and leaped through the ropes at the unsuspecting Cody Rhodes. The finish was pretty cool. Orton looked to be in control after the rope-assisted DDT to Bryan while setting up Rhodes for the RKO, but at this point, Barrett pulled Orton from the ring and hit a DDT, which also took him out for a while. This left Rhodes in the ring with Bryan, and he trued to roll-up Bryan, but Bryan reversed in to the LaBelle Lock for a quick submission. A big big win for Bryan – maybe even career defining – not only because he beat three of the WWE’s top stars (earning a nod from, but because he gets his first one-on-one match for the World Title and is about to break through to the top tier of stars. As for Rhodes, I was surprised he tapped quite so quickly, but then again, he has done it before, so perhaps his desire to protect his face and body from pain is just continuing. These four are great future superstars (Orton aside as he’s established), and when Sheamus and Mark Henry are considered too, it is clear just how healthy the Smackdown roster is now.


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.

Smack of the Week (22/07/2011): Kane Beaten and Broken

I hadn’t really thought about this until approaching the write-up, but this was an odd Smackdown, and odd in a way that I didn’t actually like that much. All will be (hopefully) explained …

The show opened with Randy Orton in a position which could be described as a stock heel position – sat down in the middle of the ring, refusing to leave until he was acknowledged by Christian. Of course, when Orton does it, considering the way he lost the World Title, it is more understandable, but it’s still not very heroic. Christian was great, with classic heel hypocrisy, criticising Orton for whining. It was announced that, as is statutory, Orton will get his rematch, at Summerslam. It is fitting that this, until now the best feud of the year’ will end at Summerslam and I think we can expect a great match to round it off. Implicit in that last statement is basically an early prediction regarding the result).

Christian followed up with a match against behemoth Ezekiel Jackson which was better than you might expect from a Jackson match. Jackson showed a bit more vulnerability (as you would hope when he is taking on the World Champion) while still looking strong. The central story was simple but successful – Cristian not being able to negotioate the massive arms of Jackson to lock in the Killswitch. Eventually, however, Christian managed to throw Jackson in to the ringpost, which was enough to debilitate the IC champ enough to get him in to a Killswitch for the win. Usually, I might complain about the IC champ going down, but there’s nothing shamesul in going down to the World Champion, and I like that Christian was helped to look strong by going over clean. This was the last we saw of Christian though, something i’ll discuss when I discuss the close of the show.

I really liked Daniel Bryan getting an in-ring interview following his Money in the Bank win. Everything D. Bryan said was on point, and I think it’s clear that when he says he wants to live out his dream of wrestling the main event of WrestleMania, he means that with more vigour than most. I think it fits Bryan’s face persona very well to ‘set a date’ for his cashing in. If it’s straight-up, then we have the prospect of seeing Bryan grow in to a main-event character, which will surely include of necessity some great stories and matches. But there are other possibilities; that he loses the briefcase to someone (which I don’t like) or he cashes in early, taking advantage of a downed opponent to break his word and turn heel, which could be more interesting.

Heath Slater was brought out to face Bryan, and actually put on a nice match with AmDrag, with some nice progressions. If anything, Slater looked a bit too strong (the idea being to make Bryan look), but Bryan looked good too, and finished the match with a great application of a dragon sleeper which started looking like a tornado DDT, only for Bryan to swing and bring Slater to the middle of the ring for the submission. Unique and ingenious.

Sheamus vs Wade Barrett was a weird bit of booking. They’re both big guys but nimble and in possession of nice technical abilities. They worked together well, but this was really more of an angle – the violent double count-out surely just the beginning of a feud – a weird feud given that both are heels. Perhaps they’ll eventually start working together or perhaps one will turn heel, though I don’t yet know which one – there are up-sides to both.

Kane insisting that he wants to rediscover the demon within doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, but i’m hoping for a big payoff, possibly with a return of the mask? In the main event the ‘Big Red Machine’ took on Randy Orton in a street fight. This was a pretty run-of-the-mill match in the first half, but it really picked up in the second half, with the use of chairs and stairs and the like, including Orton accidentally falling through the announce table in quite a scary moment. Kane seemed to grow in power, even – almost unbelievably – kicking out of an RKO (the one moment when he seemed at all monstrous) and then as he got more command and Chokeslammed Orton, I actually thought he might gain a win. About to Tombstone Orton on a chair, Orton escaped and hit an RKO for the win. Kane looked good here, but certainly not close to monstrous, while it makes sense that Orton, still in the title picture, remained strong-seeming. What I didn’t like was the two shaking hands at the end; Kane is trying to be a monster and Orton, who crushed Kane’s ankle with the steel stairs, is notorious for his ‘anger issues’ – it just doesn’t make sense that the red mist would clear after the match and they’d have gained that respect for each other.

With Orton gone and Kane struggling to stay up, Mark Henry just appeared. Kane, who seemed to relish the prospect of the violence (and pain?) smiled and squared up to Henry, but after what Orton had done to him, he stood no chance and eventually was on the wrong end of a World’s Strongest Slam, some splashes, and the same sickening ankle-breaking spot to Kane that he hit on Big Show. He followed it up with one of his brutally evil lines he’s so good at: “Why don’t you try and walk on it?” Though it was shocking, other than Kane and Big Show being tag partners, I don’t really see why Kane was attacked too, so hopefully we’ll get more explanation going forward. Mark Henry attacking someone else isn’t a cliff-hanger as there’s nothing really to follow up on.

Meanwhile, though Christian opened the show and looked good doing so, it’s weird that we didn’t see him for the rest of the show. He’s the champion, yet we still see Orton as one of the closing guys and seeming more important. It’s much maligned how Eddie Guerrero won the title and wasn’t at the forefront of the show, and this is what happened this week. It was also a shame that Cody Rhodes, one of the hottest rising stars on the show, couldn’t get booked. A decent show, but with some questionable booking, and one that built very little in terms of stories or for Summerslam.

Money in the Bank Review, 2011: CM Punk, Unemployed WWE Champion, Kisses Vince Goodbye

CM Punk shows Mr. McMahon his newly-won title before blowing him a kiss goodbye

Well, I think we’ll all be watching RAW tonight! As happy as I am about what happened last night, there is so much to pore over i’m worried that I wont be able to verbalise it all too well, so i’ll stick to WWEs genius of last night, keep it simple. Indeed, the Punk story drew scores of imaginative fantasy booking from fans around the world. I myself could barely contain myself, posting on here a new idea I had only hours before the event. But instead of going with an overly-complicated scenario, WWE gave us, basically, what we wanted, and in a compelling, dramatic way. The best way to really understand exactly what happened is to watch it, and pay for it. Indeed, i’ll be buying the DVD when it’s released – not  only because of the quality of the PPV, but because the best way to show WWE that we want this sort of honest wrestling, driven by the people is what we want, is with cold hard Dollar.

Match 1) Daniel Bryan Won the Smackdown Money in the Bank Ladder Match
One thing I noticed about the ladder matches last night was that, although there were some nice spots, they were more about sheer brutality and storytelling based upon the sheer amount of people. Early on there was a nice repeated spot involving baseball slides to people using a ladder, only for the previous aggressor to be hit with the same spot. Also, there were lots of sequences where, while backs were turned, a lone competitor tried to climb the ladder. It just got over a bit more of a sophisticated psychology where the competitors realised that stealth may be more helpful than fighting in trying to get the coveted briefcase. The place for stealth is quite limited though, and this was shown in probably the most memorable spot of the match where Sheamus powerbombed Sin Cara through the ladder in what is now a familiar spot. Cara sold this fantastically, staying in a crumpled heap for just longer than you would expect. When he was brought to the back, however, I became convinced that it was just a conceit allowing for Cara to rush the ring at the end and directly affect the finish. Unfortunately, it seems like this was a kayfabe injury angle after Cara failed breached the wellness policy and is now suspended. With him out of the match, rest got on with eliminating each other; Cody Rhodes had a decent period of dominance hitting Cross Rhodes on several people, Barrett performed a great spot hitting Waste Land to Kane (I think) over the top rope, and Justin Gabriel hit a springboard-style 450 Splash from a ladder on the turnbuckle to Kane (again) before they all started to fight for the briefcase more intently. This was a case of survival as wrestlers would climb the ladder, only to be eliminated and another guy join the race. The final two were former NXT/Nexus brethren Wade Barrett and Daniel Bryan. With Barrett a favourite at the start, i’m sure the fans were expecting Barrett to dispatch Bryan, but instead, Bryan got the advantage, and got the briefcase! That genuinely was a shock, and a pleasant one! That’ll be very pleasing for the IWC fans, and i’m sure for the many others who can relate to a genuinely likeable and very skilled wrestler and who like him whether they’re a nerd or not. I think people feared Bryan, as a winner, may have been used as a luckless foil for the Punk story, but seen as that was not the case, we are faced with the exciting prospect of Bryan as a future World Champion. Bryan winning is great, not only – obviously – for Bryan, but for Smackdown, where the roster is now re-jigged and has a new top face added to back up Orton and make it less one-dimensional (hopefully), while also maybe speeding Cody Rhodes’ rise to the top by association. Excellent, surprising, refreshing booking!

Match 2) Kelly Kelly w/ Eve Torres def. Brie Bella to Retain the WWE Divas Championship
This was a decent divas match and, unfortunately, they suffered from the understandable fatigue audiences suffer from after seeing an intense ladder match. There were some nice moments here, most notably Kelly Kelly taking a faceplant bump to the outside off a reversal of her tarantula-like head-scissors. There were, however, some sloppy moments too. We all knew Kelly would win, and she did so with relative ease, as a top babyface diva should.

Match 3) Mark Henry def. The Big Show
This was the best monster vs monster match I can recall seeing – at least in recent times. It wasn’t a lolling, slow, drudging  affair, but started out intense, with the big guys hitting huge resounding chops against each other and quickly falling out to ringside, where they brawled some more in a well choreographed section. There was a lot of nice back and forth here as one power rallied, only for the other force to produce an equal reaction. I didn’t much like Henry working Show’s knee – that sort of technical wrestling doesn’t fit with the raw dislike the two are meant to have for each other, but that was the only flaw of the match. Eventually, Henry managed to get the win, but it required the World’s Strongest Man to hit the World’s Strongest Slam twice and several splashes, proving the sheer power of Show and the power that was vanquished. It was good that the match was relatively short because it just got over the threat and power of Henry. In case that wasn’t enough, Henry set about the prone Show post-match, with a crunching Vaderbomb to Show’s ankle, which was wrapped around a chair. This seems to be writing Show off TV for a while, which I have nothing against because he is rather stale just now (this last feud really being about Henry). Hopefully when he returns, he’ll be able to make an impact again – for one thing, I think he would make a great challenger for Christian, with Christian being a smaller guy. Because Henry’s a heel, I don’t see him challenging for the title, but he is only going to move up the card. Maybe he could work with Bryan (for the same reason as Christian) trying to force the MITB briefcase away from him. God, he might win too – let’s hope not!

Match 4) Alberto Del Rio Won the RAW Money in the Bank Match
Immediately, I didn’t like that each competitor brought their own ladder to the ring. They all entered and squared up, but it made no sense that they didn’t try and use them. Why wait for more armed competitors to arrive? What can they do, DQ you!? I was also a little unimpressed by the repeated spot (possibly from last year’s event, possibly from Legacy-DX) where one guy is buried under a pile of ladders, but then Rey Mysterio was thrown out of the ring on to the mangled mess of ladders in a horrible (in a good way) bump. Recently, Kofi Kingston has been the king of the MITB match, and last night, one of the first things that really impressed me last night was his spot with Evan Bourne, showing remarkable balance by each climbing a still folded ladder in the middle of the ring! Amazing stuff. This was followed with more … amazing stuff, a plethora of outside dives of various kinds: Alex Riley (yes, A-Ry) with a suicide dive, R-Truth with a somersault plancha, Kofi and Rey with simultaneous cross bodies to the outside, and topped with a Shooting Star Press from Bourne on to everybody. Amazing, heart-in-mouth stuff, well paced and built to a climax. Skipping time a bit, there was another, amazing, perfectly simultaneous pair of hurricanranas from Bourne and Mysterio to Truth and Del Rio. Before the match, I predicted that the Smackdown match would by the high-flying master-class, but this match really took my breath away in that category. More great stuff came with a sequence starting with Kofi using the ladder on the top turnbuckle as a springboard for a Boom Drop before R-Truth was caught with a 619 from Rey, on a ladder, in the middle of the ring! Unbelievable balance! The scramble for the briefcase did a great job of selling how important the ‘golden’ opportunity is to the competitors; with several ladders set up, seven superstars fought atop them, eventually all crashing and burning, with no one up, there was a huge pop for the return of The Miz, who looked to possibly legitimately hurt his knee after falling from the ladder on his feet (he did go on to take a sunset flip, so maybe it’s not too bad, but if he was hurt, major kudos for finishing the match!), and sprint-hopped to the ring and up the ladder. It was Rey that stopped Miz, and as he climbed the ladder there was huge heat as the audience saw that he could win and therefore shows the staleness of Mysterio’s character right now. The one man left, ADR, managed to scale the ladder and swipe Rey’s mask in a clever bit of booking which saw Rey rather cover his face than challenge for the briefcase. In his fever to do this, he knocked Del Rio’s ladder over, but that small botch didn’t affect the end, and Del Rio won the briefcase to hasten his path, you have to think, to the WWE Championship. Now this made me, and i’m sure many others, worry that this only pointed to Del Rio (rather than Punk) leaving Chicago as champion, especially when he promised to prove how great he was later in the night,

Match 5) Christian def. Randy Orton to Become World Heavyweight Champion
This match was excellent in terms of in-ring content, but even better given the intelligent booking of it considering the stip that if Orton was DQ’d, he would lose his title. The first thing Christian did was to leave the ring and hand the famously unstable Orton a chair to hit him with. Even Orton though, was not hot enough yet to contemplate that. This was Christian’s schtik throughout the match, and he continued by shoving Orton. In the early going though, that only made Orton mad enough to dominate in the ring. I was fatigued, as I said is possible, after watching the second MITB match, but as this match went on, I started waking up – no doubt with the help of the red hot Chicago crowd! The match became a great back-and-forth encounter (better than at Capitol Punishment, which was good, but probably their weakest effort), with Christian still looking heelish, but this time more Randy Orton’s equal. This was exemplified when Christian managed to wrestle Orton in to a Killswitch for a great near fall which the audience, and I, went nuts for. This was where the match headed for it’s crescendo, with more and quicker back-and-forth, leading to a vintage hangman DDT from Orton. With Christian backed in to a corner, he led Orton after him before spitting in his face. An understandably furious Orton went after Captain Charisma in a noticeably new and brutal way, eventually hitting a low blow on Christian to hand Christian the match and the championship in the perfect way regarding their storyline. It gives Christian the title in the least honourable way possible, and really reignites the tension between the two. As I write, this is before the Smackdown tapings and I don’t know what will happen with the World Title. The reason I mention this as a factor is that given Christian’s first title reign was so short, and with Daniel Bryan crowned the MITB holder, there is a real possibility that he could cash in on Tuesday to further frustrate Christian. I don’t think Bryan, as a WWE character, is ready for the title. I think he needs a good story to build him up and let us get used to the idea of him as champion.

Match 6) CM Punk def. John Cena to Win the WWE Championship
The empty ring, the canvas, literally, where history was about to unfold. I love it when WWE allow a pause to let the fans’ voice be heard, and it was genuinely spine-tingling hearing the Chicagoans chant ‘CM Punk! CM Punk!’ as loud as they could, only to be validated when his music finally hit to the biggest pop i’ve ever heard! Punk, with a quiet confidence at first, stepped through the curtain in a shirt commemorating the day and himself as the ‘best in the world’, but when he shouted the familiar ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’ he became a shaman of the crowd, with them in the palm of his hand. He was literally controlling them at points, telling them how to react and directing them. As a face, he was producing such great pops, and finally, sitting down as his music reached a crescendo and the camera panned out to show the crowd and how Punk is with the crowd, equal to them, a part of them, waiting for the New York Yankees to come out to face him. Punk didn’t say a word, but here, even more than before, he was the voice of the voiceless, the fan’s representative. Again a pause, signalling, as if we didn’t already know, how we should react to Cena, who came out stoic and without his usual Americana-pomp, visibly aware of the power of the crowd that were almost baying for him. Punk played up to this even more by leaving the ring and standing by the guard-rails with the fans, including Colt Cabana. In fact, one minor thing that I thought was missed was the announcers refusing to acknowledge Colt (or perhaps being ignorant of him). Mentioning him would have played well with the story and added yet another fantasy booking red-herring to the mix.

Then there was the match, a match which, even without the context, would stand out as a very good match, but with the context in mind, and with the wall of noise created by the Chicago fans, following the ups and downs of the match, and specifically, of CM Punk. The two started off respectfully of each other’s abilities with some sequences followed by stand-offs, but CM Punk did mock the character of Cena, telling him that he can’t see him, and theatrically directing the ‘You Can’t Wrestle’ chant at Cena, who is unfairly well known for being a bad wrestler for 5 moves (obviously not true). Early on, it was a real collision of forces as there would be regular and even back-and-forth, but the roles played by either man were remarkably different. Cena was all business, almost ignoring the fans while insisting on using all his face taunts – that here seemed to be distinctly aimed at mocking the audience’s support for Punk. Punk, on the other hand, was showing the two-way equal conversation between babyfaces and fans by reacting to them and seemingly letting them direct his own actions. With Cena on the outside, for instance, he gestured to the crowd, obviously suggesting some sort of diving move to the outside, and when they responded rapturously, he went ahead and hit a great Suicide Dive to Cena on the outside before slapping hands with Colt Cabana. The two also traded highly aggressive outer-ring moves; Punk with a brutal guillotine knee to Cena on the apron, and Cena with the first suplex to the outside that i’ve actually seen land correctly. The second half of the match, very interestingly, was booked similarly to a Cena match, but with Punk taking the part of Cena; indeed, by the second half, he was almost completely on the receiving end, hanging on and showing his resolve. He took, and kicked out of, two Attitude Adjustments, while also escaping an STF and reversing one in to the Anaconda Vice. The difference was that, like on the previous RAW, Punk continually frustrated Cena’s usual routines: his shoulder blocks/slam/5 knuckle shuffle/AA progression was constantly interrupted by Punk with ingenious reversals/interventions. It was in the wake of this that the finish came. With Punk finally in control after a GTS to the chest which dropped Cena out of the ring, out came Mr. McMahon and the ‘glad-handing ass kisser’ stooge, John Laurinatis (Johnny Ace) to watch the action. At this point, I became worried that we would get some over-booked whitewash finish putting Cena over, but rather than that, we were given something much better that simply hinted at the possibility of that nightmare ending. Punk stared them down before re-entering the ring, right in to an STF (quite importantly, as I will make clear momentarily), at which point, McMahon started calling for the bell in a red herring for a lame over-used screwjob finish. Laurinatis, who had been sent to ring the bell presumably, was met by the honourable Cena, who floored him, not wanting it to finish that way, and told McMahon the same thing. Re-entering the ring, he walked straight into a GTS. This mirrored Cena taking advantage of Punk’s distraction earlier, and therefore maintains the cleanliness (if you will) of Punk’s victory as he picked up the 3-count as a result. There then followed yet another rapturous pop and for unlike a lot of recent similar announcements, the ‘and NEEEWWWWW WWE Champion’ announcement felt important and historic as the crowd shouted ‘CM Punk’ along with Justin Roberts, and CM Punk could barely contain himself while at the same time maintaining that righteous cockyness that has effectively turned him face of late, posing with the belt, and displaying his new possession to McMahon, who had just, of course, lost it. Vince still had another trick up his sleeve that was also another red herring – and the most believable one – of Del Rio coming to cash in so that Punk could win, but not keep the title and keep it all very tidy. The tidyness of this false finish was interrupted when a prepared Punk hit Del Rio squarely with a roundhouse, realised that he should quit while ahead, and so made the very sensible decision to vacate the arena. Punk climbed the guard-rail and, surrounded by his worshipping fans, blew Vince a knowing, cocky kiss goodbye, before being immersed in the fans. As Punk made this final movement, we saw some wonderfully subtle acting from McMahon, who made a desperate step towards Punk as if trying to will him back, and as Punk left the arena, we saw a broken McMahon with his eyes closed, barely believing the loss he had just suffered.

Finally, the Money in the Bank closing logo appeared, and I knew the integrity of the PPV was safe; we had just, quite possibly witnessed the birth of a new era – one based on some sort of truth/reality embellished with artistic licence and the desires of the fans. The WWE has finally, it seems, committed to giving us a significant change. Yes, i’ve enjoyed WWE from the so-called PG Era very much – loved it a lot of the time, in fact, but never before (or at least for a decade) have I felt this sort of genuine connection to the ‘product’, where I feel there is a wrestler that really represents us. I mean, when was the last time there was a babyface this cool and connected with the fans at a level beyond catchphrases etc? I would argue not even Austin or Rock managed that to this extent. As for the PPV on the whole, it was supremely booked with mostly fantastic action (save for the poor divas!). It was nearly perfection, and we want more!

Money in the Bank Preview and Predictions, 2011

Money in the Bank July 17, 2011, Allstate Arena, Chicago, IL

For the past 3-4 weeks, Money in the Bank has become the most highly anticipated PPV in recent memory. At it’s inception, I was skeptical about the idea of a MITB PPV, simply because I thought the MITB match was great as a unique attraction for WrestleMania, or would serve better in a similar role at Summerslam. After last year’s event though, and a new-found belief that the concept will never get boring and will always create great intrigue, I have been brought round to the concept. Indeed, even before the #SummerofPunk  even began, I was starting to consider Money in the Bank as on par with the so called ‘Big 4’. Indeed, I think it wont be long before we start speaking of the ‘Big 5’, and it’s great to see that at least one of the new concept PPVs has worked. CM Punk and his current shoot-style ‘storyline’ has and will dominate the build up of the PPV though, as well as almost completely overshadowed the ladder matches, which just speaks to the firestorm it has created! As for the matches, six seems quite few, and I wouldn’t rule out one being added on the night, although the world title matches and the MITB matches should take up a lot of time. If a match is added, I would imagine it would be a tag title match with the Nexus defending against the Usos, which I think would be great!

Match 1) RAW MITB Ladder Match: Rey Mysterio vs Alberto Del Rio vs Kofi Kingston vs Alex Riley vs R-Truth vs The Miz vs Evan Bourne vs Jack Swagger
If I were choosing the match order, I would put the RAW ladder match out first because obviously the fans will always wonder how it could possibly affect the CM Punk angle, and so having a winner in place will give fans the licence for their imaginations to run wild for the rest of the show. That in mind, I guess my prediction is based on what I think could happen on Sunday, mixed with a large degree of booking the story myself! First, let’s rule people out; firstly, Alex Riley. I know Riley may well be the next big new face, but him having a shot at the WWE title at this time is patently ridiculous, but at the same  time, he can’t cash in and lose because if he is intended as a future champion, thatc could be quite a stigma to someone with a so far incidental career.The only other person i’m going to rule out is The Miz. That may sound surprising, but I think his last title reign cemented him as a top talent, and to have to regain the title with the MITB briefcase would actually damage his profile. I think all four of the others are possibilities, but my favourite is Rey Mysterio. Rey has been mysteriously absent as of late, and would be a surprising winner for that reason as he hasn’t made any ‘statements’ on TV. Now the reason I haven’t picked hotly tipped favourite Alberto Del Rio might become clear after my preview of the main event, but it’s basically because I believe there’s a chance the RAW winner could cash in and lose, and that certainly wont happen to Del Rio; whereas it could happen to Rey, who seems to be going nowhere, and could do with stimulus of any kind. He fits the role I believe he could take the best out of the other competitors, and so, I’ve picked Rey.

Winner: Rey Mysterio

Match 2) The Big Show vs Mark Henry
I think this match, which has been built very nicely, would usually be higher up the card, but on a card with world title matches and MITB matches, it slips down. This is one i’m more sure about the outcome of. Though Big Show has been impressive, it’s clear that the fire is really behind Henry right now, and a loss would completely kill it. I think this will be a brutal match, which hopefully isn’t too turgid. From their previous outings, i’m confident it wont be. Henry will win after some sort of insane feat of strength, possibly involving breaking the ring in some way.

Winner: Mark Henry

Match 3) Smackdown MITB Ladder Match: Kane vs Sin Cara vs Daniel Bryan vs Cody Rhodes vs Wade Barrett vs Sheamus vs Heath Slater vs Justin Gabriel
Obviously I have a storyline in mind with this prediction, but seen as my preview of the RAW match was all about what could happen storyline-wise, i’ll talk a bit more about the in-ring side of things. What is exciting about this is that it features  six people who have never taken part in this match, and five guys who really could, and really need to shine in this environment if they want to progress with the company. I expect some of the most innovative stuff to come from Daniel Bryan, because i’m sure he can come up with some genius spots, but it will be Sin Cara with all the pressure on him to impress, and I expect him to pull out some sweet spots. Him not being able to speak really holds him back from being a world champion in the immediate future though I wouldn’t completely rule him out. The only ones I would rule out are Slater and Gabriel, who really aren’t even in consideration for this level yet you have to think. Wade Barrett and Sheamus are probably the favourites amongst most people, but i’m going for Cody Rhodes, simply because he doesn’t have to cash it in that soon, and so can grow as a character with the briefcase and Ted DiBiase at his side. Regardless of what happens Sunday, i’m sure Randy Orton will be champion again on Smackdown within the next year, and given his history with Rhodes, it could make for a great storyline based on where the characters are years after Legacy. So while i’d love to see Bryan get a shock win, i’m picking Rhodes, which would be awesome anyway.

Winner: Cody Rhodes

Match 4) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Randy Orton (c) vs Christian
These two have had some excellent matches together, though I think they had better matches when they were face vs face. Nonetheless, I have high hopes for this one, which will be part of arguably the feud of the year to date. It is clear though that this either this feud ends here, or there is a title change; there is no way Christian could lose and justify another shot (literally, given the stip about a DQ or a bad refereeing call meaning Christian wins the title). With that caveat in mind, I think given the huge public support for Christian, and his performance as a heel, means that the plan has always been for Christian to win the title back and set up an Orton face-chase for a while. I think to make it extra heat-drawing, he’ll win it on the technicality regarding a DQ. This could either come from Christian organising someone coming to the ring and hitting him, causing the DQ intentionally. More likely, a disgruntled Sheamus (if he doesn’t win the MITB match) comes down to the ring. He has been in confrontations with both guys, so him attacking Christian for having a title shot makes sense and would draw huge heat because Orton would have nothing to do with the decision (the angle that Orton might get angry and DQ himself being a red herring).

Winner: Christian

Match 5) Divas Championship Match: Kelly Kelly (c) vs Brie Bella
This match will basic be a break between the two world title matches. Hopefully they’ll get more than a few minutes, but i’m not sure how well Kelly can perform. Brie Bella I trust to put on a good match, but Kelly i’m not so sure about. Nonetheless, Kelly is the postergirl currently, and seen as she only just won the title, there is no way she’s dropping it in the rematch.

Winner: Kelly Kelly

Match 6) WWE Championship Match: John Cena (c) vs CM Punk
Jeez, where do you start with this … There is so much potential, and the best bit is, no one has any informed clue as to what Punk’s status is, and therefore what will happen. What I would suggest is that WWE and Vince wouldn’t let Punk say all the things he have is he is leaving, which leads me to think he will probably be staying. I also think that, after all this build, if Cena just wins clean, ther’ll be a backlash. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another ‘If Cena wins, we riot’ type sign. So I think either of these results have to happen: Punk wins, or Cena wins dirty and turns heel. Anything else, unless completely out of left field, will be a disappointment. There are countless dream scenarios possible here, and i’m sure you all have your own, so I wont reel them off; what I will do is describe one storyline I would like to see. CM Punk goes over, preferably clean and starts to leave the up the ramp with the title. Cut to backstage where Mysterio is there with the briefcase. Vince or Steph or HHH or any combination of them burst in to his lockerroom, begging him to cash in for the good of the WWE. Mysterio does this, but either because of help from Nexus or because of Mysterio’s injuries from the ladder match, he loses to Punk. On RAW, Vince holds a ‘crisis meeting’ in the ring, he calls out Cena and, as he warned, fires him, with the condition that he can only come back with the WWE Championship. The next RAWs over the next few weeks show guerrilla-style footage of Punk, flanked by Colt Cabana and Luke Gallows, defending a new WWE Championship belt in places like ROH, New Japan etc with Cena showing up trying to get the belt. Maybe even have the RAW main events be footage of Punk’s matches in the indys (that might be a bit too much of a dream), though it might lose some of the live edge from them being on RAW. Eventually, with Cena being unable to capture the belt back, Vince organises a four-person tournament for a new WWE Championship featuring Miz, Del Rio, Kofi Kingston and possibly a returning HHH, but just as a new winner is crowned at Summerslam, Punk returns as a face, saying that Vince has been begging him for weeks to return, and now that someone’s going to dump on the title by being awarded a new one, he’s returned to wrestle as the true champion. Cena also returns, doing Vince’s bidding trying to cost Punk the title, and from there, the story continues. It doesn’t sound that great now i’ve just written it, but something along those lines. As for the match itself, Cena is capable of putting on good matches, especially when he wont be doing his whole SuperCena routine, while Punk is what he calls himself, arguably the best professional wrestler in the world. I will have, like I did when Cena was feuding with Wade Barrett, my heart in my mouth the whole time, and that, mixed with everything else, could make this a blowaway match of the year. Lets hope the winds of change genuinely blow this time, and the Summer of Punk begins!

Winner: CM Punk


Smack of the Week (15/07/2011): Money in the Casino

This one will have to be short. I have the daunting/exciting task of writing a Money in the Bank preview post later on (hopefully tonight). We opened with an interview, in the ring, with Randy Orton. This only picked up, however, when Christian appeared on the titantron, and continued on his great run on the mic. He started by offering Randy the ‘gift’ of a picture of Christian standing over him holding his world title aloft. Orton thought this pretty tame, but that only provoked Christian into a diatribe about his joke of a father, “Cowboy” Bob Orton being in the joke wing of the Hall of Fame. This got to Randy, and he called Christian to the ring, calling him a joke of a champion after his five day reign. Christian, however, had other things on his mind, namely vandalising Randy’s now-famous tour bus with the words ‘Christian = Uncrowned World Champion’., and apparently stealing Randy’s wallet and betting all of it’s contents at the casino, all with a callous veneer of trying to help his opponent. All this was fine, and entertaining, though the only aspect of it that actually built tension between the two protagonists was the opening interview seg. More was to come, however, in the main event.

I didn’t like that there was a seemingly throw-away Intercontinental Championship match this week. I understand DiBiase pinned the champion, but so did Cody Rhodes, and the match just wasn’t built in any way. The IC title deserves better, especially given that the fact it was a title match wasn’t even important. It was a decent match, which bodes well for Ted – because it certainly wasn’t down to Zeke – as it showed he can put on an entertaining match. Ted was booked to hang with the powerful champion, which made him look better than he has in ages, and there was a nice finish with each guy trying to get their finishers and failing until Zeke finally got him in the Torture Rack to retain his title. This didn’t fly with Rhodes however, who berated DiBiase after his loss, threatening with a humiliating paper bag if he lost just one more time. Rhodes later went out to lead by example against Daniel Bryan. These two had a nice match together, as you would expect from all the matches they’ve had together, though I must admit, I didn’t like the attempted LaBelle Lock on the top rope. It didn’t really make sense and Bryan fell off the rope very quickly. I liked better Rhodes hanging Bryan up in the middle of the top rope and following up with a Beautiful Disaster for the win. I liked this; not because of Bryan losing, but because it was a match that complimented the DiBiase one and the story of how Rhodes expects victory and practices what he preaches as a good role-model (of sorts).

We also had a ‘face to face’ between Mark Henry and The Big Show which really fell down I think. OK, there was tension between the two, but it wasn’t as intense/ on a knife-edge as their appearances have been of late. Kind of a shame.

Sin Cara vs Sheamus was a good match and provided great build for the MITB ladder match. There was some very nice back and forth, and they told a great small guy vs big guy story. Sheamus looked great in the match, and very powerful, but Cara hung with him and eventually went over. All the while, the very erudite Wade Barrett fought through the nonsense Smackdown commentary we’re used to and ended the segment by flooring Sheamus. I thought this was great because last week, the only guy that looked good and viable as a winner was Sheamus. Now, at the very least we have Sheamus and Barrett as protagonists directly linked to the MITB match, and with Cara and Rhodes looking good, the match seems a lot more open now.

The Johnny Curtis preview’s have been panned across the board, but I like them, they’re unique, they’re pretty funny, they make him stand out, and when he does debut, it’ll catch people’s eyes.

I was surprised to see Justin Gabriel take on Heath Slater, unfortunately in a bad way. Right up until Slater came out to face Gabriel, there were no indications that this tag team would be taking each other on! I know why they did it, however. Up until today, neither of these guys have looked at all strong, and it’s telling that The Corre were keeping these guys powerful-seeming! So giving these guys a run-out made sense because they could show off a bit more. They wrestled, to my surprise, a real catch us catch can match; some really nice chain wrestling, and as a match, it worked. The problem is that these skills aren’t that relevant to the MITB match. It helped them, but not much. Also, i’m not sure whether this tag team is splitting up. It seemed that way, with Gabriel spinning out as babyface, but then again, the announcers treated it like a transient tiff. If they are splitting up, it hurts also what has been a bit of a resurgence in the tag division. A good match, and helps the MITB match, but just a bit lazy and sloppy in terms of booking.

When I saw Kane was being booked against Randy Orton, I was really underwhelmed because since last year, despite being called ‘The Big Red Machine’, has been in no way intimidating. So I was pleased when Kane himself said all of that to Teddy Long. His match with Orton didn’t last too long, though it was full of some nice spots – unfortunately, Kane didn’t seem to take his own advice as relates to becoming a monster again. Soon in to the match, Christian entered the arena to distract Randy, which he did successfully, leading to a count out victory for Kane. Kane, presumably trying to be monstrous, attacked Orton in the aftermath, but when Christian tried to join in, he turned on him too. Chrristian escaped and tried to attack Orton with a chair. Orton blocked this, but again, the deliberately pesky Christian escaped and so Kane kopped the brunt of the chair from a furious Orton. This worked at selling the stip of the MITB match in that it showed that Orton can lose his temper, which puts his title in jeopardy on Sunday. It also only amped up the tension between the two as Orton never really got his hands on Christian. It certainly made me more keen, even in the aftermath of Punk stealing the whole show, to see their match at MITB

Abridged Smack of the Week (08/07/2011)

This really will have to be a short entry. After watching Smackdown, I went away for a couple of days, and while Smackdown was pretty good, it didn’t give us that much for me to remember in great detail. There was indeed, a lot of booking repetition or very simple tweaking to the booking, which simply exposes the lack of established talent on the brand. There are two answers to this: give people like Tyson Kidd, Trent Baretta, Yoshi Tatsu etc more of a role; or bring people from the more saturated RAW mid-card (McIntyre, Swagger, for instance) over to add more options to the top of the Smackdown card. Eventhough the booking was perhaps over-familiar, as I say, it was still a good broadcast.

I quite liked the opening seg with the MITB competitors, and how Barrett, Bryan and Rhodes got an opportunity to speak about their prospects in the ladder match. This was great because those three guys are good talkers – especially Rhodes and Barrett. The problem was that Kane, Slater, Gabriel, and Sin Cara never got to say anything before Sheamus came and cleared the ring. This did a great job of making Sheamus seem like a big threat, but, to me, it completely buried the other competitors – especially those who didn’t get to speak – the seven of them running away from one man. For instance, who really can imagine, say, Heath Slater winning the match now? It is worth noting that four of the 8 competitors in the Smackdown match are former NXT stars, It just goes to show the potential of that show and how it should be taken more seriously. This was followed by a decent promo from Sheamus about wanting to hurt Orton for punting him in the head, by injuring and taking his title at MITB, and Christian coming out to confront him. Christian was again great on the mic, but I didn’t like how he made fun of Sheamus by calling him Ronald McDonald’, simply because it’s a clear face move and got a pop, which isn’t what Christian should really be aiming for. He also explained that Sheamus ripping up his contract meant he could draw up another one, which said that if Orton is counted out or DQ’d, the championship will change hand. While I like this and the jeopardy it creates for Orton, it renders the whole contract tearing from last week pointless to me. It seems like a contrived way to get this stip, when it could have been included anyway when Christian first brought his ‘lawyers’ in.It does however make Christian even more of an irritant of a #1 contender, which can only draw more heat.

Our first match was Daniel Bryan & Ezekiel Jackson against Cody Rhodes & Ted DiBiase. I wont talk about the match too much because, while it was good, it was a little samey given how familiar this booking is. Last week, I wasn’t too happy that Rhodes went over Jackson because the new IC champ lost a match, and Cody was seemingly being pushed as his next opponent when that person is destined to lose. Funnily enough, DiBiase beating him too made me feel a little better about it in a way. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like Zeke being beaten, but something about Rhodes and DiBiase both doing it makes it seem like they have helped each other to do it, rather than simply seeming stronger than Zeke individually. After gaining the pin, DiBiase seemed to look for approval from Rhodes, but the Grotesque One seemed less than pleased, walking from the ring at pace away from Ted. It looked to me like the seeds of a split between the two already (and a DiBiase face turn), with DiBiase realising that Rhodes is manipulating/exploiting him etc. If that is the case, it’s patently ridiculous that it’s happening so quickly, given the heat behind Rhodes right now and their history together.

Even after announcing the reason for Khali siding with Mahal, Khali still doesn’t show any sign of having the least problem with the situation. It’s just stupid. Glad to see the uber-talented Trent Barreta on TV, and I can’t really argue with him being squashed in this situation. It really is time, however, for Jinder to get in to a proper feud.

Love AJ getting pushed as a diva. She has all the potential in the (divas) world. Get a story going and get her on the mic. I predict the audience will relate to her very well, especially if people like Tamina or Alicia Fox are victimising her.

Henry vs Kane was a very good example of a monster’s match. It had lots of sensible back and forth, storytelling, and good drama from near-falls, without being too sluggish. We have seen Kane and Henry together before, so again, there was nothing much new offered here other than a decent match, at least not really for the PPV.

Sin Cara vs Tyson Kidd is one of those Cruiserweight dream-matches that make you wish the Cruiserweight Championship was still around. This match was certainly not disappointing either. There were no specific PPV-style spots, but it was just great timing and chemistry. In the end, Cara went over, as he had to going in to MITB and after losing last week to Christian. Depending on what happens at MITB, I would like to see these guys work together properly in a feud; the only problem with that being that Kidd hasn’t got a name worthy of the aspirations for Sin Cara.

I’m absolutely loving the direction the Usos have gone in. The haka could otherwise come across as hacket, but it isn’t; it is gelled with their slick entrance music and projects an image of a modern Samoan youth. They have a great look; as brother’s they come across as a cool, traditional tag team, and the can work really well in the ring. They were taking on Gabriel and Slater in a match which saw some cool tag team wrestling which had a great finish. First off we saw that fantastic move which is essentially an alley oop in to a Samoan Drop, which is only even better as a double team move. The finish came when Gabriel looked for his 450 Splash and asked Slater to turn one around (which itself was great storytelling), only for one Uso to catch Gabriel on the top rope which set up a superplex followed by a top-rope splash from the other Uso, which could work as another great double-team, for the win. It’s a shame that Slater and Gabriel lost, being as they are in the MITB match. Again, these two just don’t look like they could possibly win that match. I’d have preferred to have seen all this, but then Gabriel and Slater cheat to win (using a ladder?) and when they (probably) don’t win the briefcase, they can return to something we need to see more of: tag team feuds.

Sheamus vs Orton was a pretty cool match, and the booking made sense seen as Sheamus is being pushed as another highlight for MITB and definite favourite for the match. With that in mind it is also true that neither man should lose, providing perfect motive for having Christian interfere by attacking and, for a short while, brutally assaulting Orton, before receiving a huge Brogue Kick from the Celtic Warrior, the time that took only allowing Orton to hit an RKO on Sheamus before standing over both heels to close the show. I can’t, in one breath, complain that champions haven’t been booked strong enough, and then that Orton looks dominant, but it was a bit of a cookie-cutter ending and not terribly interesting. I’m interested in the PPV (where these 3 will surely be the main focus of the MITB hunt, even is Sheamus doesn’t win the ladder match), but not next week’s Smackdown, and that’s a problem.

Well, that wasn’t too short now, was it!? Anyway, i’ll be live-tweeting RAW tonight. Follow it with me @RTVWOW