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.

FUNKASAURUS AND HIS MOMMA’S BRIDGE CLUB
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!

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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

TLC Review, 2011: Bryan Cashes in and Punk Breaks Out

Punk celebrates atop of the ladder which he climbed to victory

Before TLC, there were backstage worries that the buyrate for TLC would be low, and I hope those worries don’t turn out to be well-founded, because the TLC PPV was another excellent PPV offering from the 2011-12 ‘season’ and deserves to be considered a success, featuring as it did, lots of good matches, two underdog crowd-favourites reaching new championship heights, and the best TLC match in years which saw the ultimate cult of wrestling personality stay atop the mountain.

Match 1) Zack Ryder def. Dolph Ziggler to Become the WWE United States Champion
This match, in terms of in ring technicality, was good, but in terms of sheer storytelling, it was … dare I say it … ‘perfection’. For months, Ryder and Ziggler have been feuding in ring and out, on TV and off, and have become perfect counterparts, with Ziggler as the best heel on TV against the underdog with the most meteoric rise in recent wrestling history. Ziggler was doing anything to put down this ‘kid’, leaning on the ropes for leverage, pulling tights, all the while, trying to embarrass Ryder by showing off. After a while though, his manager Vickie Guerrero became too intrusive in the match, saving Ziggler from a pinfall by placing his foot on the rope for him. This saw her ejected from ringside – a big indicator that Ryder was going to win, accented nicely with her screaming back to Dolph in warning. Ziggler continued to dominate offense, but Ryder continued to stay in the match, and eventually gained momentum on the champion. As Ryder reached Ziggler’s l;evel in the match, the pace quickened as the two wrestlers who by now know each other extremely well traded attempts at roll-ups and finisher attempts before Ziggler finally ran towards his fate. Indeed, Ziggler whipped Ryder to the corner, and as soon as this happened, his fate was sealed. I really did know what was coming: he ran in to Ryder’s knees, almost comically stumbled backwards in to the perfect position for the Rough Ryder, and got git with a Rough Ryder for the loss. Now i’ve said a few times that milestones in the match pointed to Ziggler’s loss and Ryder’s victory, and this might be seen as me calling it predictable. That is no bad thing – if something is the right result, and wanted by the people (on the whole), it will be enjoyed whether predictable or not. This was the perfect performance of not only good overcoming evil (so to speak), but of a downtrodden underdog completing a journey from obscurity to championship gold. As for Ziggler, that man is (almost) perfection (whether his song says it or not). He is destined not only for the main event, but for a WWE Championship in the future. Unfortunately, to take that step up, you have to drop the weight of the midcard – go from a big fish in a small pond to a big fish in a big pond. You need to lose to progress, but this doesn’t affect Ziggler in any bad way; it just recognises Zack Ryder, officially, as a success.

Match 2) AirBoom (Kofi Kingston & Evan Bourne) def. Epico & Primo to Retain the WWE Tag Team Championships
I was a big fan of this match being added because, due to Evan Bourn’e suspension, the re-flourishing tag team division had taken a knock in quality (perhaps condemning WWE’s decision to not have AirBoom drop the titles), and so it was important to re-establish the two as a great team and great champions. As for Epico and Primo, they have come from nowhere to become another really formidable and accomplished tag team. I’ve always wanted to see Primo back on WWETV because he categorically deserves it, but I was also massively impressed with Epico, who performed a number of unbroken, really impressive, beautiful maneuvers, including a double back-suplex followed by a German suplex. The tag champs, while away, must have been working together as they innovated some more double teams, including an amazing move where Kofi swung Evan in to his opponent, who then hit the hurricanrana on said opponent. These two teams really showcased the spectacular skills which could save the tag division, and the end of the match was a fantastic, fast-moving flourish as Kofi got a hot tag and became a hous of fire, hitting a sweet spingboard crossbody from the turnbuckle to Primo. While Bourne took out Epico on the outside, Primo was surprised by Kofi, who in a nice variation of his finishing spot, pushed Primo in to the ropes and hit him with the Trouble in Paradise for the retention. Its a shame Primo & Epico had to lose, but they did so in style, and hopefully they wont be precluded from the tag team picture going forward, which is starting to look more and more attractive.

Note from RTV: I’ve just seen the time. I wont be around the computer tomorrow, so expect some quicker reports so this is published in any sort of timely fashion at all.

Match 3) Randy Orton def. Wade Barrett in a Tables Match
I did enjoy this match, but perhaps given some of the other matches, this was pale a little in comparison. There was some very impressive storytelling surrounding the tables, which is right given the stipulation of the match. I liked the idea of the superplex from the stairs to the table on the floor spot, even if we didn’t see it. I liked even more Barrett’s intelligent approach to the match, as he managed to avoid Orton’s offense for a long time around the tables, the best time being at the stage area, where Orton looked ready to pounce with Barrett near a table, which Barrett responded to by pushing the table over and therefore neutralising it. A really nice embracement of the table stipulation. The end of the match was also pretty good, with Barrett placing Orton on the table, perfectly placed for a dive through it on top of Orton, but with Orton playing possum, Barrett instead dived in to an RKO through the table, which looked cool, even if Barrett’s knee did awkwardly go through the tabl before Orton even touched him. The only problem with it is the relative obviousness of Barrett’s fate, which came, unlike Ryder, not at the end of a mammoth journey. Also, I don’t think I agree with Orton winning. It’s always difficult when a guy like Barrett is getting a ‘wins all the time’ push, but its even worse for Barrett given that the ‘Barrett Barrage’ is the whole basis for his prominence. As the announcers debated afterwards whether the Barrett Barrage had been stopped or merely slowed, I did wonder how Barrett would come back from this. Though that’s not to say I think he’s a hopeless case; he just maybe should have won on Sunday.

Match 4) Beth Phoenix def. Kelly Kelly To Retain the WWE Divas Championship
This was the second of three (yeah, seriously) impromptu matches of the night, and it was surprisingly good. This story was different to most divas matches of late, and infinitely better as Beth Phoenix absolutely obliterated Kelly for the most part, and despite a few moments where Kelly botched it up, this was a very pleasing match. Indeed, Kelly did a great job being beaten up, and seeming genuinely terrified and in pain. Indeed, Kelly is much better at being beaten up, than beating people up. Her moves look like she’s just a passanger, especially when compared to the power behind Beth’s offense, which included a Spinebuster! Also, this match went far longer than most divas matches, allowing it the kind of drama that the division seriously needs. Feeling #PinUpStrong have started to fall flat of late, I worried they’d give the title back to Kelly as a divas reboot, but instead, though they teased that with a roll-through from the Glam Slam, Phoenix fought against it and beat Kelly with a nice version of an Electric Chair Drop. A well earned victory in a competitive match from a dominant diva. THIS IS WHAT WE WANT!

Match 5) Triple H def. Kevin Nash in a Sledgehammer Ladder Match
This match was pretty much mocked going in with both being derided as dinosaurs, but after this match, I had a lot of renewed respect for both. This match was absolute brutality, a real pier six brawl, if you will, as both moving better than expected, and taking big hard bumps. Indeed, their aged bodies looked even more poetic in suffering I have to say. The use of the ladder was good, especially the awesome figure four through the ladder (which is much more arresting than the arm-breaker through the ladder), but I must say, I wasn’t pleased that the ladder could be used as a weapon. When the ladder is to facilitate retrieving a title, fair enough, but when the goal is another weapon, it seems to water down the victory of reaching it. Imagine how I felt then, when a table was introduced! That had nothing to do with anything! Nash bumping from the ladder through the table was very impressive though I guess. The botched Pedigree, where Nash kinda collapsed aside, the finish was very nicely done too. With Nash begging for a friend’s forgiveness, holding up the Kliq/Wolfpac signal as Trips stood over him with the fatal sledgehammer, Triple H would not show that weakness (as befits the character of ‘The Game’), he blasted him with the sledgehammer for the win, and surely the blowoff of this blown feud, of which this match was by far the highlight.

Match 6) Sheamus def. Jack Swagger
Though this was a good match, it was my least favourite of the card, just because it didn’t seem very meaningful – probably just a way to get two bigger stars (especially Sheamus) on the show. Sheamus won in the end with a Brogue Kick, as he tends to do, but I don’t want to say more about it (partly for brevity, and partly because it didn’t move me very much). It was indeed a good match, but what comes from it? At least if Swagger could have won, via cheating, he would have something to brag about for a while, while Sheamus would have a legitimate ‘beef’ with him, allowing for a decent mini-feud going forward.

Match 7) Big Show def. Mark Henry to Win the World Heavyweight Championship
This was a short match, but a gem in many ways. It started off with the bold visual statement of Show tossing chairs in to the ring, EC-DUB style (sorta I guess), at which Henry baulked and tried to leave. Show, however, wouldn’t let his chance at his first top championship gold in nine years just walk away, and he took to beating on Henry with chairs and his faux-boxer punches. Impressively (which could have been Henry’s middle name this year), Henry recovered from this quickly and managed to turn the match around instantly with one, smart move, a chairshot to Show’s hand, the centrepiece of his most powerful offense. After this, Henry was in complete control, teasing Show and brutalising him more, and even when Show seemed to recover, he couldn’t use any of his offense on Henry, with the World’s Strongest Man brushing Show aside. But as he went for another swinging chair shot, Show reached deep down, beyond the pain to hit his WMD for the win. Just as I was enjoying the match, and the story behind it, I was furious, not only about Show winning, but about it being cut short so abruptly. In retrospect, it appears Henry is injured, making this more acceptable, especially given the next result …

Match 8) Daniel Bryan def. The Big Show After Cashing in His Money in the Bank Briefcase to Become the World Heavyweight Champion
After losing the World title, a bitter Mark Henry attacked Show from behind with a chair before DDTing him on to more chairs, at which point, the crowd started chanting ‘Daniel Bryan! Daniel Bryan!’ to which I kinda scoffed, before seconds later, his music hit! All he had to do was pin Show, and before Show was obviously cleared to compete that night (I find that’s the best way to rationalise his first cash-in being nixed in a sensible list of rules surrounding the case), it counted! After years of being arguably the best wrestler in the world, he finally fulfilled his dream – one that he sorely deserves, and his emotion, and the fans emotion, was palpable. His sticking it to Cole too was a great feel-good moment. Not only is D. Bryan being champion being very pleasing. but its also very intriguing as there’s a bit of a championship mess going forward. Not only is Henry owed a rematch, but so is Show. Not only that, but Bryan took the championship from a babyface who had a emotional longing for the title. It’ll be interesting to see what happens between them: which of them will turn heel? Will either of them? Depending on Henry’s health, I guess we can expect a triple threat match for the title at the Royal Rumble, and I just hope Bryan can hold the title for a while, hopefully through to WrestleMania, and he’s given a chance to showcase his skills even better than before!

Match 9) Cody Rhodes def. Booker T to Retain the Intercontinental Championship
I said in my preview that this match was one of the more hotly anticipated, by me at least, and by this point, I wasn’t sure if we’d even see it; but we did, and man, how well was it built! After the first match, Rhodes had beat-down Booker backstage, after which there were doubts as to whether he could compete, then later, as a defiant Booker came out to face Rhodes, he was brutally again attacked from behind by Rhodes, this time even worse as he was thrown in to the barricades by Rhodes. This just shows how great Rhodes is as a smart, cocky heel. Knowing he could essentially do what he wanted to Booker before the bell rung to both injure him and get in his head, he kept on being one step ahead of Book until they finally had the match (I guess they had Rhodes come out first to guarantee it actually happening). This also made look great, as he showed up for a match after two beatings throughout the night, and again, showed he hasn’t missed a step in that ring as the ‘You still got it’ chants rung out. His flamboyant style complemented Rhodes’ flamboyant heelism very very well, and the two, as expected, had an excellent match. Despite his (kayfabe) physical condition, Booker gave a game showing, and the two, it seemed, were consciously trying to appear for a while to be exact equivalent forces.The finish was strange but interesting as the two traded blows; Booker went for and missed his Scissor Kick before running in to a Beautiful Disaster for a good near-fall. At this point, Rhodes took time to talk to the referee, as if he had been slightly inconvenienced before hitting a second Beautiful Disaster for the win. Rhodes’ cocky demeanor here was conscious and cool, just as if Booker was being obstinate in not staying down while Rhodes didn’t seem to want to use CrossRhodes on Booker, as if he didn’t deserve it. It is this kind of storytelling which makes Rhodes so great. Hats off to Booker too, who can hang with anyone still it seems, and is giving Cody a great rub.

Match 10) CM Punk def. The Miz and Alberto Del Rio in a TLC Match to Retain the WWE Championship
As I said in the opening, this was the best TLC match i’ve seen in years. Central to this match was Punk being against the odds, but crucially, in a much more interesting way than John Cena ever is, and not only that, but he overcame them in a much more interesting way. I mentioned in the opening how I was worried about the heels ganging up, and Punk beating them both up and winning anyway, Cena style, but luckily, that’s not what happened. While the heels teased working together for a while, that soon broke down. I don’t want to go too much in to the match-details (again, for brevity and not because I didn’t enjoy it!), but Punk went through a period of wrestling where he was on top, and certainly centre-stage, seeming like a true champion. After the heels alliance broke down, Punk faced his second form of adversity as Ricardo Rodriguez, who was trying to get the belt for his employer, got in to a scrap with Punk, and though coming off second best, managed to handcuff Punk to the ladder, at which point I truly became worried for Punk’s prospects. In fact, it reminded me of when Punk was trapped in the ladder many years ago by Jeff Hardy in a losing effort, and now, being attacked by a furious Del Rio, Punk’s position seemed helpless. If this was Cena, he’s have used brute strength to tear the handcuffs away from the ladder, or even dragged it around him for the rest of the match (which would, I add, be pretty sweet for Cena), but Punk, the more cerebral superstar, just kicked the brace to free himself, before using the cuffs as a weapon himself. There then followed a period of great TLC action including all implements, most effectively, by Alberto Del Rio. In retrospect, and memory jogged by regular friend to the blog, Luke Healey, Del Rio had been in an especially foul mood throughout the night, and it was now that this really came out. Firstly, as Miz was preparing to superplex Punk through the table at the outside, Del Rio hit a sharp enziguiri to Punk which sent him through the same title he was destined for. After this, Del Rio smashed Miz with a ladder and then a chair, before using his cross arm breaker on the prone Punk through the chair, before laying a chair over Punk and hitting him with another. Del Rio was dominant at this point, but when trying to capitalise, he was foiled while on the ladder, with Punk and Miz making an unlikely and desperate pairing to tip the ladder and send Del Rio crotch-first in to the ropes. Shortly after, Ricardo Rodriguez proved loyal again, climbing the ladder for the title. This time, Miz and Punk worked together again to tip Rodriguez over for an even more spectacular spot; a throwback to the early noughties as he fell from the top of the ladder to the tables outside the ring. Somewhat upsettingly, he missed one of the two tables, making for a much more painful seeming spot. Down to Miz and Punk for now, and Miz took centre stage (the way the three shared centre stage was really impressive) as he managed to handcuff Punk to the corner turnbuckle before goading Punk, so confident was he that this spelled victory. Howevr, while he was out of arm-reach, he wasn’t out of kick-reach (if you will) and he nailed Miz with his roundhouse. Now Punk really seemed trapped, and it was even more urgent as Del Rio and later Miz fought for his title. Again, Cena would have ripped the turnbuckle away. Punk however, as an indy ‘schmuk’ knows how to dismantle a ring, and did so to escape and interrupt their attempts. So desperate was Punk that he fought with even more passion, hitting both with rights. This knocked Del Rio down before he pulled Miz down for a GTS, allowing him to climb the ladder for his title. This wasn’t Cena taking offense all day and winning out of nowhere, this was Punk scrapping through a brutal match, and using his skill and wiles to come out victorious. After all, he is the best in the world, and this match showcased that. Del Rio and Miz looked great too, and more competitive than they do against Cena – its matches like this which make the WWE Championship interesting again.

TLC Preview and Predictions, 2011

TLC, December 18th, 2011, from the 1st Mariner Arena, Baltimore, MD

This is an interesting PPV for several reasons. Not only does it feature some of the most spectacular match stipulations in wrestling, but more shockingly, its the first PPV in forever that Jeeeeeerrrrrn Ceeeeeeenaahhh isn’t booked to feature on. It’ll be interesting to see is this affects the buys in a negative way, or possibly even, in a good way. The fact he isn’t booked, though, doesn’t mean he wont appear. In fact, Cena tweeting about watching from home makes me worry that the lady doth protest too much. If he does appear, here’s what might happen. Given the re-debut of 1997 Kane on RAW, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him involved in a match (Mark Henry’s again?) which would draw out indignant honor-lover John Cena to confront the Big Red Machine, successfully or not. The other lingering question is whether the tag titles will be defended as Epico and Primo (who need some sort of ‘Puerto Rican Connexion’ type name) have been raging towards the titles of late picking up high-profile victories against the Usos and champions, AirBoom. If this happens, it could go either way, and is likely to be a wonderful, explosive match.

Match 1) Chairs Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Mark Henry (c) vs The Big Show
I think the TLC, tables, and ladder matches will all be later on the card, while thinking that WWE will want to assert the PPV theme early on, so I predict that the chairs match will start out the match. Two giants wielding chairs is certainly a draw, but i’m unsure as to how good this will be. I don’t have a problem with the sensible limitations put on the use of chairs these days in WWE, but in a match where they are the only legal weapons, there is a risk of one-dimensionality. Still, if not Big Show, Henry can be trusted to do remarkable things with weapons at PPV, so he may be able to provide a saving grace. I think my reasoning behind my prediction for this match is based on the impact Big Show has had on Mark Henry, i.e. upset a lot of his momentum and reputation as unstoppable by … stopping him several times. Nonetheless, Henry still remains, thanks to his own way of carrying himself, a dangerous-seeming, powerful champion. Indeed, while Henry remains magnificent, it is in spite of Big Show, and for that reason i’d be amazed if WWE had any faith at all in him as champion. I think this’ll be the end of this feud, and Henry will move on to another challenger.

Winner: Mark Henry

Match 2) Intercontinental Championship Match: Cody Rhodes (c) vs Booker T
I said during my twitter-view of this week’s Smackdown (@RTVWOW by the way) that this match is one of the ones i’m most looking forward to on the card simply because the interactions between Booker and Cody has been surprising, fresh, and engaging. Booker as the consummate semi-retired legend with the ‘itch’ for the ring and expecting respect, against the brash and talented upstart. Apart from the fact that Cody at least is so much more than that. He is an exact mix of his ‘dashing’ and ‘grotesque’ gimmicks, with some amazing fresh talent mixed in. His berating Booker as ‘a lowly ANNOUNCER’ while Booker wrestled with himself whether or not to respond has been on of the best things on WWETV of late. Rhodes is obviously dependable in the ring, but Booker definitely looks like he’s still ‘got it’. Even better though, seeing Booker wrestle a full match again, and Cody wrestling someone completely new to him is also a big draw. The only reason this match is happening, however, is to get Cody over, so i’d be surprised to see Booker put down the upstart with a win. Cody will win, but it doesn’t need to be clean – in fact, a dirty victory might be ideal as it would give currency to a continued feud between the two while making Rhodes look great.

Winner: Cody Rhodes

Match 3) Tables Match: Randy Orton vs Wade Barrett
Another intriguing story has been developing between Orton and Barrett. It’s a bit of a wrestling cliché, but never before has anyone seemingly gotten in Orton’s head like Barrett has with his Buzzword Barrage. His outsmarting of Orton on his irresistible charge to the top has been great, and again, refreshing on TV as Orton has been humbled without being weakened. Both are good wrestlers, but I must say i’m not too sure about how good this match will be. Though Orton has a moveset that suits a tables match, he seems to only wheel out his powerbomb when he’s building to and wrestling in tables matches, while Barrett’s moveset is even more awkward for a tables match. I like the feud though, and hope to see this continue as a feud for a while. This was one of the harder matches to predict, but I think the Barrett Barrage has too much momentum right now to stutter, and indeed, would suffer too much from a loss.

Winner: Wade Barrett

Match 4) United States Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Zack Ryder
This match is the culmination (so far, at least) of one of the most natural storylines in wrestling recently, as the self-professed, self-made ‘Internet Champion’ Zack Ryder has been on the face-chase against wonderfully internet savvy #heel Dolph Ziggler. Indeed, their feud has been going on for quite some time now and has been incorporated nicely in to the Z True Long Island Story web-series. Despite them trying to stretch history, this is not Ryder’s first title shot, and if he doesn’t win on this second occasion, its difficult to see how he’ll get a third shot. For a while, I imagined WWE keeping up the face chase for a while, but I now see Ryder taking the title finally this sunday. Not only do I know how they would legitimize a third shot for Ryder, but I see Ziggler featuring on the outskirts (at least) of the title picture going forward. The way I see it, Ziggler drops the title on Sunday, fails in his rematch, participates in the Royal Rumble (maybe doing double-duty at that event), competing for the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber, and from there, wherever! These two should have a great match, especially Ziggler who has been consistently stealing the show for months now. I placed this so high up the card because of the feel-good-factor of Ryder finally winning his first singles championship, and maybe taking it all the way to WrestleMania.

Winner: Zack Ryder

Match 5) Sledgehammer Ladder Match: Triple H vs Kevin Nash
This is probably the least anticipated match on the card for everyone. Nash coming back didn’t do any favours to the ‘Summer of Punk’, and has then been stuck in a post-attitude era quagmire in a feud that happened simply because of too many loose ends being left after his failed involvement in the angles of the summer. Despite some real attempts at serious drama and eye-catching brutality, the personal issue between the two simply hasn’t caught the imagination of the WWE Faniverse. I must say, however, even if Nash’s (and to a lesser extent, Hunter’s) body can’t take all of what a ladder match promises, this unique new match-type involving the sledgehammer does interest me. I hope the ladder itself isn’t legal as a weapon, but if it isn’t, there are lots of great storyline possibilities for either HHH or Nash when either of them get the sledgehammer. Both are certainly capable of living up to the brutality of the weapon and stipulation, and the finality of that as a weapon (especially when it has been treated as more devestating than before of late) means that this could well be the culmination of this feud, which in itself promises another wrestling cliché of ‘it all being left in the ring’. This’ll be an excuse to end the feud, but maybe this match could be a bright spark out of the ashes of this misfiring feud. This doesn’t necessarily point to a winner, but simply because I don’t see Nash sticking around, wrestling on the TV, I see him being put down by Trips.

Winner: Triple H

Match 6) TLC Match for the WWE Championship: CM Punk (c) vs Alberto Del Rio vs The Miz
For a while, I was worried about Punk being booked too similarly to the SuperCena style of being almost invincible, but I was heartened by his booking on RAW as he was pinned clean by Miz before being beatdown and having his arm worked by both Miz and Del Rio. A vulnerable champion is infinitely more interesting than a superhero, and that is what Punk has promised, and that has made this match much more unpredictable too, which can only be a good thing. It looks like Punker’s damaged arm will be the central story of the match, for him at least. As for Miz and Del Rio, I imagine they’ll do the classic ‘hey, lets work together against the good guy, but wait … who’s gonna win … oh snap, let’s fight!’ While i’m sure they’ll put on their parts of an excellent match, i’m unable to shake the feeling that they’re just championship fodder for Punk. Del Rio will certainly be moving on to pastures new, while Miz may well stick around the title picture through to the Rumble. That being the case, perhaps it’ll come down to Punk and Miz, with Punk going over. This wont be good because of the great technical acumen of Punk, Del Rio and (to a lesser extent), The Miz, but it should be good because of the talent of all three in the unpredictable, violent, and breathtaking environment. The build has been pretty good, but this match always promises much in terms of quality and excitement. Punk wont be losing the title this week, and I doubt he’ll be losing the title until WrestleMania, at the very earliest, as (hopefully) the first truly memorable and interesting champions in quite a while.

Winner: CM Punk

Anointing: Cody Rhodes

When I returned to the World of Professional Wrestling sometime after WrestleMania XXIV, Cody Rhodes was one of the many people I had no knowledge of, other than finding his surname familiar. At the time he was tagging with Bob Holly who was acting as his mentor, and though he split with Hardcore and turned heel soon after, you can see aspects of his influence remaining in Rhodes (the Alabama Slam, his kick to the stomach/low blow while holding opponent against ropes thing). Rhodes’ heel turn was actually quite innovative (even if it employed a lot of artistic licence/Wrestle-logic to allow it); the debuting Ted DiBiase claimed he was going to win the Tag Team Championships from Rhodes and Holly, and he would do so because his money and influence had allowed him to get a partner to guarantee it. As it turned out, Rhodes was that partner:

Him and Ted DiBiase (Priceless) made for an excellent tag team; one of the best of that period for sure, but it was in Legacy that both DiBiase and Rhodes started to shine noticeably bright. Obviously, most immediately, Rhodes got to associate, on a weekly basis, with Randy Orton. But that came with a lot of related positives: more mic time, longer matches, more promotion, and of course, better opponents – often the marquee adversaries of Orton like Triple H and John Cena. Their highest point, arguably, came at Breaking Point, when not only did they get to take on the legendary DX in a memorable PPV match, but we saw a really rare sight – Shawn Michaels tapping out, and it was to Rhodes and DiBiase.

Unfortunately for the two younger members of Legacy, Randy Orton was getting pops every week, despite supposedly being a psychopathic heel. He had to turn face, and he did so, in part, against his ‘Legacy brethren’. Being in a high profile match at WrestleMania XVI against Randy Orton seemed like a great opportunity, and it was, but they were never really allowed to capitalise on that opportunity and fell away from the main event picture. It has become an urban truism that in most prominent tag teams there is a Shawn Michaels and a Marty Janetty (one being the star, and the other … not so much), and in Legacy, post-WrestleMania, most expected DiBiase to be the former and Rhodes the latter, but instead, it has turned out the other way round (though DiBiase is by no means a ‘Janetty’ yet). While DiBiase has gotten lost in the shuffle for the most part, Rhodes has gone on a long but sustained journey to credibility, and now it seems he is destined for the absolute top.

So, What Sets Him Apart
Rhodes is different, and in a lot of ways. Even more than other second/third generation wrestlers, Rhodes is a throwback to the ‘glory days’ of legends like his father, ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes and the territories. He just has such a refreshingly classical style, right down to the lack of knee-pads and re-birth of the classic Intercontinental Championship. Rhodes is smaller and not a natural talker, at least for the WWE mold. He could have allowed this to let him get lost in the shuffle, but instead, he used it to make him a palpably ‘different’ character to the rest of the roster, and has done so by making the most of his gimmicks. After WrestleMania XXVI, he was given his ‘Uncommon Son of the Common Man’ gimmick, which he did his best with bit obviously didn’t connect. His ‘Dashing’ gimmick, which seemed to have a lot more of Rhodes the man in it (apparently he got most of his grooming tips from Randy Orton). That gimmick, inspired in part by graphic novel characters, was unique (and again, something akin to more old-skool ‘pretty boy’ gimmicks) and he really made the most of it, rapaciously defending his face and bolting the ring to check his face in the mirror whenever it got hit. He was doing well with this gimmick, but when he changed to the masked ‘Grotesque’ gimmick, he really thrived, and he’s embraced that most of all; using his mask as a weapon, covering his face during pins so people wont stare at him when everyone’s attention is on him, and his use of paper bags to humiliate and cover the lying eyes of fans and opponents. Add in to that his general, delusional Mr. Hyde demeanor, and you have a unique, stand-out gimmick. He’s finally found his voice on the mic with this gimmick, which is again unique, and his wonderfully polished, classic in-ring style has never been an issue. He has finally become the full product.

When Did Rhodes Become Part of the Future of Wrestling?

Rhodes holds aloft his freshly revived and defended classic Intercontinental Championship

There are a few moments in Rhodes’s career which might be called ‘break out’. Joining Legacy, feuding with DX, WrestleMania XXVI against Orton, the beginning of the ‘Dashing’ gimmick, beating Rey Mysterio at WrestleMania XXVII, to name just a few great ‘moments’ from Rhodes.

The moment I started to believe that Rhodes was an absolute shoe-in for future ‘top guy’, however, was when he re-established the classic Intercontinental Championship (pictured above), a belt worn by the likes of Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, Bret Hart, and Randy Savage. On the surface, it was just a token gesture, but it was more than that. It was an instantly recognisable gesture of intent about making his championship prestigious again, about making his career notable, and about standing out as a special and elite talent. He is succeeding with all of these goals, and in doing so, is making himself a must-see at the top of the card.

The Future
If you watch Rhodes in the first video embedded in this post, and compare it to the Rhodes in the video above, you can see the amazing growth of him as a sports entertainer. Rhodes is currently feuding with Randy Orton, and it doesn’t seem like that will end too soon. This is different to his previous feud(s) with Orton as it is on his own, and not with DiBiase, yet plays more on his whole, storied history with The Viper, right back to Legacy.The only way this can go forward though is if Orton actually challemges for the title. A higher calibre of challenger only helps the prestige of the title, and I think this should, and hopefully will continue for some time. I’d like to see Rhodes keep the title for quite some time, successfully defending against high-card talents like Orton, Sheamus, Sin Cara etc and really keep the prestige of the title, and him as champion, sky-rocketing. Perhaps he could be champion for Daniel Bryan to challenge at WrestleMania – it’s certainly a match-up i’d like to see. Saying that, I can’t see it happening. More likely he’ll keep the IC title even longer, and at some point in the new year, finally become the World Heavyweight Champion, and one of the faces of the Smackdown brand.


Hell in a Cell 2011: Hell is Raised (and Lowered Again)

Miz and Truth being led away from the scene of their destruction

The stage was set for Hell in a Cell within moments of the show commencing. During the introductions of Christian and Sheamus, the recently fired conspiracy theorists, Miz and R-Truth pulled the very familiar conceit of arriving at the arena with tickets. Usually, the presence of such interlopers causes a building tension at ringside, but this effect was, I think, deliberately  altered by having them thrown out of the arena almost instantly, But as the old wrestling proverb goes: ‘If they leave the arena before the show is finished, they will return’, and boy did their return make an impact.

Match 1) Sheamus def. Christian
This match was something of a simple affair: Sheamus’s brute strength versus Christian’s pace and experience. It was a case of Christian sticking and moving and trying to keep the Great White down. This was something, however, he rarely looked close to achieving. Despite that, it was a pretty good contest, showing a large degree of chemistry between the two and building nicely to a crescendo. Indeed, as the match approached it’s conclusion, there were some really good near falls. The best one was also the only time Christian looked able to beat Sheamus which came after he Speared the Celtic Warrior outside the ring, and then again inside the ring. But, again, Sheamus survived, and this time went on to win the match with a devestating running Brogue Kick. Though it wasn’t mentioned, it seems like this could well have been effectively a #1 contendership match (in fact, I wish it was because we need more). As for Christian, I don’t think it will affect him too badly. Hopefully he’ll have a spot with the conspiracy theorists.

Match 2) Sin Cara (Blue) def. Sin Cara (Black)
This match was, as I expected, a visual feast. Blue Cara came out first to his usual entrance, but Black Cara came out to a darker, more sinister, version of the Sin Cara music and darker lighting. It was a great touch to characterise these wrestlers who rarely talk. The match, I thought was really good, and a truly legitimate lucha match (perhaps explaining the quality of the match). However, this match showed how an audience can detract from a good match. Despite them hurting it quite a bit, there were lots of fantastic, death-defying spots, which really deserved more reaction from the crowd: arm, drags, ranas, planchas, and unique progressions surrounding them too. This one could have gone either way, so equally-matched was the match (surely intentional, given they are identical characters), and i’m sure, therefore, that it wont be the end of their feud. Hopefully they can have more quality matches, and hopefully the crowd wont do their best to ruin them.

A quick note: after this match, there was a backstage pretape with CM Punk and David Otunga, and I was glad to see Punker brush off any offers of allegiance from Otunga and his cronies, because both the conspiracy theorists and Punk claim to rail against the system, but both do so in a very different way (a difference which delineates them as heel and face respectively). Indeed, while Punk tells the truth in a very direct way, Otunga and his clients are hoping to change things through loopholes and red tape. This was just a good way of making sure these two activists (if Otunga can be called that) are fundamentally different.

Match 3) AirBoom (Evan Bourne & Kofi Kingston) def. Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger to Retain the WWE Tag Team Championships
This was the first tag team match in a long time which genuinely seemed like an important event. AirBoom continue to grow as a team, and introduced more nice double-teams, such as their hurricanrana double-team, while Ziggler and Swagger have a natural chemistry together already, bound together even better with Vickie Guerrero. This was really a fantastic match which was fast-paced and high flying. These two teams simply worked very well together, and had the crowd going from the start with lots of unique progressions and deft, dramatic storytelling, using the hot-tag to perfection. Early on, Swagger moved the middle rope to do a version of a low-bridge on Kingston which saw him tumble to the outside in a pretty sickening spot. I was pleased to see Evan Bourne break through his screen of harmless-seeming offense (it has always been powerful, but often so beautiful, it doesn’t look so), with some more brutal delivery, especially including his double-knees, which had never looked impactful to me, but when performed last night, looked like a devastating move to receive. A lot of the time, however, Ziggler and Swagger were using their size to control the match, and were brutally cocky about  it, including especially when Ziggler  performed his trademark standing elbow drop after what must have been at least ten seconds of gloating. Perhaps this is why the two heels work so well together – they exude the exact same kind of arrogance (as well as having similar looks). In control, Ziggler and Swagger looked to hit a double team of their own, with Ziggler handing Bourne up to Swagger for a huge powerbomb (you would presume) from the turnbuckle, and Bourne did look in terrible peril, but somehow, he managed to reverse the maneuver in to a brilliant hurricanrana and pin, while Kingston grabbed and removed Ziggler to protect the pinfall. AirBoom move on, as does the prestige of the tag titles. As for Swagger and Ziggler, I really hope they stay together for quite some time, but I do fear, given recent trends in WWE, they’ll be split prematurely, which is unfortunate, especially for Swagger, who is again thriving with Ziggler.

Match 4) Mark Henry def. Randy Orton in Hell in a Cell to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
I had high hopes for this match simply because of how brutal Henry has been of late and how great Orton tends to perform consistently. There used to be a tendency for people to be able to power out of Mark Henry’s holds, and it would always annoy me because he is literally the strongest man in the world and they shouldn’t be able to. But on this occasion, I noticed that Orton repeatedly showed greater strength than orton, consistently reversing irish whips and the like. One spot that was great for showing Henry’s strength and the dangers of it came when Orton had his arm wrapped around the ringpost, with Henry pulling it away from him mercilessly; and knowing Henry’s strength, with great selling from Orton, it looked intolerable. Probably the most impressive show of strength was when Henry threw the steel steps half-way across the cell with great force. Again, he looked superhuman, and with Orton having to duck and cover, he looked like he was in a hellish environment. Nonetheless, I must say this match was lacking in the sheer brutality one expects from a genuinely memorable cell match. One moment of brutality was when Henry, with Orton in his clutches, slammed The Viper in to one side of the cell, then another, and the the ring post, all in one move! For Orton’s part, he was sticking and moving, shown best with his inventive escape from what would have been a devestating Worlds Strongest Slam to the ringsteps by climbing up the chain-link wall. Indeed, Orton has been the first person in a very long time to look even close to felling Henry, and he himself managed the very impressive feat of hitting his hangman DDT on Henry, and Orton went even further when he managed to hit his (usually match-ending) RKO, after which, everyone thought Orton was about to regain the World Title, but then, Henry kicked out! The RKO has been known as a move that barely anyone (if anyone at all!) ever kicks out of the RKO. This background turned a good near-fall in to an almost iconic one, again showing the power and sheer presence of the World’s Strongest Man. After this, it was only a matter of time until Henry would Orton (who had now exhausted his usual offense). Orton looked shocked, and decided to go to his extreme measure, the punt, but as he ran at his opponent, Henry rose and met him with a huge World’s Strongest Slam for the pin and retention. This was great drama in theory, but it was ruined a little by Henry giving away by his posture that he would be avoiding the punt. Nonetheless, a very strong title match. That didn’t make for a memorable Hell in a Cell match i’m afraid to say, given the hugely iconic history of this match, but enjoyable nonetheless, and providing us with the correct outcome, showing faith in Henry as champion. If it had finished here, I would have locked Sheamus in as the next challenger to Henry, but Henry then proceeded to try and add Orton to his Hall of Pain with the sickening chair shot which has so far taken out Kane, Big Show and Khali. For a second, it seemed like Orton might actually fall victim to the spot, but at the last moment, with the chair in tow, he moved out of the way, leaving Henry to ‘crash and burn’ and allowing Orton to gain some vengeance with the chair meant for him in conscienceless fashion, including a rare and horrid chair-shot to the chest! These afters may well provide currency for another match between Orton and Henry, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Match 5) Cody Rhodes def. John Morrison to Retain the Intercontinental Championship
When Cody Rhodes made his way to the ring, I was excited because he has been one of the best performers in the WWE recently, but – especially because he was in his street clothes – I had no expectaions for a match. First though, we got a promo which at first drew cheap heat by telling the audience they needed his bags, but after that, came sheer magic. I grew up watching the Intercontinental Championship with its blue, round design, and so when Rhodes did his equivalent of ‘binning the title’ I was genuinely stunned, and was worried about what he would pull out as the new belt. Luckily, the belt he chose was the only one that would not make me angry; in fact, I think it’s a great idea using the classic Steamboat-era IC belt. Rhodes is very classical in both look and style, and associating with a belt which itself is associated with some of the greatest IC champions in history, only helps raise his stock. Since becoming Intercontinental Champion, he has made the championship seem very prestigious again, and his claim that he would defend the title ‘veraciously’ , and the following match would also help that. A few times in recent weeks, Johnny Ace has come out and made matches ‘per order’ of HHH, and it has turned out not to be the case. This happened again as Trips would later dress-down Laurinaitis for making this match. It’s very interesting that Laurinaitis keeps doing this, and on the surface, it seems he’s doing it to help stir the discontent among certain WWE superstars. The opponent he lined up for Rhodes was on-the-bubble John Morrison. Now, with Morrison as babyface and Rhodes as helpless heel in street-clothes which hampered him, the textbook would say that Morrison should go over, but that isn’t what happened. Luckily for Morrison, he wasn’t just squashed again, and he gave Rhodes something of a competitive match, something especially hard given that Rhodes was doing whatever possible to avoid competing – including a smart spot where he clung on to the ringpost to try and end the match with a harmless count-out. Rhodes seemed up a creek, but after a missed chuck kick from Morrison left him recovering on the mat, Rhodes took advantage with a roll-up for the successful retention. Another great result for Rhodes, defying the ‘conspiracy’ that stacks the deck against him against all the odds. As for Morrison; is he about to get ‘future endeavored’? I doubt it, but his career is going nowhere, at least while he’s with WWE.

Before the divas match, we saw a pretape featuring Miz and Truth. Johnny Ace approached HHH saying they were beating up talent, and we followed them to the lockerroom to find Miz and Truth pounding on and decimating Evan Bourne and Kofi Kingston. HHH seemed to blame Laurinaitis for this because he didn’t get cops to detain them rather than security, again pointing a big red finger at Johnny Ace as central to all this. A wonderful precursor to the finalé of the PPV.

Match 6) Beth Phoenix w/ Natalya def. Kelly Kelly w/ Eve to Win the Divas Championship
Kudos to both divas here for a very good match. While i’m sure Beth carried Kelly for the most part, Kelly certainly did her part and is improving all the time. This match was booked better than the others from the Divas of Doom perspective, and not only because Beth went over. It was a match which saw a game Kelly Kelly trying her heart out against the more powerful Pheonix. The match, for the most part, consisted of Beth beating the tar off Kelly, with Kelly periodically trying to pinch a victory with a rollup or schoolgirl, but unlike in their previous encounters, not succeeding. I said in my preview that I hoped Beth and Nattie would share the new Pin Up Strong submission, and so I was ecstatic to see Beth use the move on Kelly. I also enjoyed Nattie berating Kelly while she was in the hold after taking out Eve at ringside. At first, I just thought this a unique and memorable conceit, but it also played in to the finish of the match. Kelly, the John Cena of the divas division, would never give up, and didn’t, infuriating the DOD’s, and so, with the refs back turned, Nattie clocked Kelly with the mic she was using, allowing Beth to hit the  Glam Slam unhindered for the win. I saw some people were upset with the manner of Beth’s win, the suggestion being that having to cheat to win, ruins any notion of her being insurmountably powerful. I understand that feeling, but i’m willing to give the booking the benefit of the dount. There’s no money in burying Kelly at this stage, and it’s not as if Beth struggled in the match, dominating it from the start. Now that Beth is champion, I am hoping to here more from her and Nattie about what sort of champions of the divas they will be!

Match 7) Alberto Del Rio def. John Cena and CM Punk in Hell in a Cell to Win the WWE Championship
Going in to this PPV, I didn’t expect this cell match to be the more brutal one, but that was the way this match turned out! I was also worried that we would get smiling Cena cutting through the uncivilised brutality of the structure, but, to his credit, we got instead his usual run to the ring, but with him pulling up before he reached it, looking up at it in awe. The triple-threat story of this match, rightly, was immediately asserted on to the match, with the chaos of the situation being shown by Del Rio flying from his competitors in the early going, as well as Cena and Punk brawling for the opportunity to beat on Del Rio before Punk tried a schoolboy on Cena for an early near-fall. But soon after this opening salvo, the match started to get really violent. The first memorable spot was again centred around the thriple-threat stipulation, with Cena trying to irish whip Punk in to the ringsteps; Punk avoided this, stopping on the ring steps, only for Del Rio to blindside him, pushing him roughly in to the cell wall, causing a pretty sickening, bleeding gash on Punk’s back. After recovering, Punk re-entered the brawl with a beautiful technical move, a combined neckbreaker/ddt combo on the two of them. In control, Punk sets up a table outside the ring, and then charges Cena with a unique version of his running knee on the apron, looking for te bulldog through the table. I would have been incredibly inventive, but the sheer force of Cena overcame him, and sent Punk back in to the cell wall, if anything, even harder then before. No rest for Cena though, who walked straight in to a chair attack from Del Rio, who back suplexed him on the chair, completely crushing it! There was something wonderful about Del Rio in the Cell with a chair, and he went on to attack his two opponents shockingly with a chair, just as he had on RAW, culminating in a great spot where he placed a chair in between Cena and Punk before landing a senton to effectively give them both a compound chair shot. Del Rio’s seething brutality only continued, assaulting the two of them environmentally and mercilessly, to the point where JR called him the ‘alpha male’ of the contest. Following a GTS to Cena, Del Rio pulled Cena out of the ring, slammed him right in to the cell wall and then the ring steps before throwing a chair right at Punk’s knee and choking him. Indeed, Del Rio would continue to brutalise the two for quite some time, using a chair periodically. It wasn’t all one-way traffic though. Punk looked equally impressive, taking it to Del Rio despite the sheer abuse he’d been put through with clotheslines and massive Macho Man elbow drop for a great near-fall. However, there is another ancient proverb in pro-wrestling: ‘he who sets up the table, will usually go through it,’ and this was the case for Punk, who was pushed from the turnbuckle through the table at ringside, a spot which looked all the more sickening because of the lack of room between the ring and the cell.

This is where the match changed significantly. Following all this, Cena managed to lock Del Rio in an STF, and during the moments of pain for Del Rio, his trusty ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez, assaulted a referee and took the keys to the cell, allowing him to enter it and save the Mexican Aristocrat. Cena, understandably annoyed at this, dealt out some justice by AAing Rodriguez through the cell door. This would have been good for him had he not walked straight in to a steel pipe shot from Del Rio, knocking Cena out of the cell. Next, in a wonderfully simple piece of storytelling, Del Rio locked the door behind Cena, leaving him alone there with a devastated CM Punk. I was worried Cena would hulk up and force open the door, but I was pleased to see him fail and retain some realism. Unable to save his championship, Cena had no choice but to look on. This was made even better by consumate actor Del Rio taunting Cena (but aggressively, rather than cockily) by scraping the pipe along the cell wall. Turning his attention back to the heavily-damaged Punk, Del Rio hit a nice German suplex with a bridge for a good near fall before trying another one, only for Punk to reverse it in to a role up for an even closer one. Given the condition Punk seemed to be in, he was being booked to show tremendous heart and resiliency at this point. But there was only so long Punk could continue, especially once Del Rio got a hold of the pipe again. Punk would have hit a GTS on Del Rio and maybe got the win, but Del Rio fought out with a shot to the kidney followed by a straight and horrible shot to Punk’s face for the three count and the championship.

Now, this would have been a great and memorable match, even by Hell in a Cell standards, if it would’ve finished here, but it didn’t. As the Cell raised, Cena charged the ring to get his Vengeance (wink), but before he could really get his hands on Del Rio, two masked thugs with pipes – revealed as Miz and Truth, completing their journey of the night – of their own charged the ring; and as the cell again lowered, they beat the holy hell out of all three, referees, and cameramen as the whole lockerroom spilled out and were surrounding the shaking it ostensibly in protest, but possibly in some cases, in support. After quite some time, with J.R. screaming ‘unlock the damn door’ in vintage tones, the door was forced with bolt cutters, (‘get in there, get in there all of you!’) but instead of anarchy, Miz and Truth simply surrendered with their hands behind their heads. I’m usually not a big fan of cops in wrestling, but the fact that Miz and and Truth succeeded in selling being fired, it seemed more realistic than it usually does. Not only that, but their surrender was such a quiet departure from what you would expect, it worked beautifully at seeming real. It was also shot beautifully with a sweeping notion reminiscent of a helicopter police chase. It gave the whole thing a grandeur befitting the cell and the situation. Miz and Truth were then paraded out of the cell with the lockerrom watching on, again with some shouting at them, but maybe some shouting for them. Then, out of nowhere came the COO of the company acting anything but calm and professional, beating the hell out of Miz and Truth with quick-draw shot after shot on either man. Finally he was held back and Miz and Truth were taken away. All this was captured in the same beautiful way to the beat-down and surrender in the cell. We were witnessing chaos, but an interesting chaos, unlike that at the end of Night of Champions, which was more confusing than anything. Beautifully choreographed and shot, we were witnessing the COO of the entire company acting like an animal as the whole company seemed to be disintegrating around him. Wonderful.

So what are we left with? The fall out from Del Rio winning back his title, witnessing the continued downfall of the company, and of course the continuing question of who is pulling the strings behind the scenes. Is the person who sent the text the same person who lowered the cell on RAW, and who raised and lowered it at Night of Champions. It’s important to remember that CM Punk is behind all this chaos. It is because of him that Vince was fired, that the WWE Championship became mired in controversy, and arguably that there is now a culture of questioning. I would like to see Punk himself try to steer this questioning and steer change, while questioning the actions of those that say they are acting for change. Saying that, we can’t just insist that Punk is central to it. It can be good without that. But with him at the centre, as he has been, it will be great!

Really good PPV. Continuing a vintage 2011-12 season of PPVs!

A Quick Look at Night of Champions, 2011

The break-down of the main event of Night of Champions

Ok, so I was in no position to write a Night of Champions review yesterday, and since then, we’ve had another RAW, which has cast a different shadow on everything, so i’ll take less time here to write a more snappy post about the PPV, and the main points of interest which came from it. For more, go and check out my tweets from Sunday night (@RTVWOW) and follow me otherwise for LIVE reaction to the world of wrestling as it rolls on.

A quick note on the Intercontinental Championship match. A perfectly respectable match here to start what will probably, and rightfully, continue for some time. These two obviously have good chemistry together and the story of the match was neat and simple. Ted was equal to Cody but got too impassioned with his quest for revenge and removed Cody’s mask. While holding it triumphantly aloft, Cody took advantage to pin Ted with a roll-up. Nothing truly memorable, but enjoyable.

Really enjoyed the US title match too. It was as expected; fast-paced and spectacular at times, we saw some of the most exciting up-and-coming superstars WWE has to offer. Before Sunday, I was a little tired of the Dolph/Swagger before this Sunday, but this match really invigorated their feud a lot, and it was all because of the booking. Swagger, impressive, was a dominant force in the match, and after hitting a Gutwrench Powerbomb to Morrison, he looked destined to be the next US Champ. Before he could even cover Morrison, Ziggler moved in, Jericho-style, and pushed Swagger out of the picture and stole the victory from the All American American. A great way to show the competitive nature between the two and it is something that will lead, I think, to a face-turn for Swagger. As for Morrison, who was pinned and had a hard time on RAW, his future doesn’t seem too rosy.

Mark Henry was straight-up awesome. I was expecting him to lose but be impressive, but he was impressive instead in victory. It was blissfully simply booked to retain Henry’s enduring power. The in-ring story was fantastic with Orton being beat down and having his leg damaged by Henry, so much so that he couldn’t hit him with the RKO, and after Henry swatted the Viper away, Orton walked straight in to a World’s Strongest Slam for the win and the important distinction of becoming only the third ever black World Champion. His brilliance didn’t stop there though. His post-match promo was the best I have ever heard, full of passionate and righteous anger. He was shoving his win in everyone’s face, but not in a cocky way, but simply full of sheer, furious force. It needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

A lot of upset among fans that Beth Phoenix adhered to the home-town rule of often not winning. At the time, I felt the same, and to an extent I still do. After Natalya lost to Eve on RAW, it seems that the ‘Divas of Doom’s’ losing streak may be leading somewhere in itself. Perhaps they will hit such a low that they snap even more and go forward destroying the barbie-doll divas. Kelly Kelly has been escaping and surviving so far, and so perhaps when either Nattie or Beth finally win the title, it will be refreshing. In fact, perhaps Kelly could eventually become a heel persona, damaging the title by avoiding the genuine challenges (the problem with that being that Kelly would be a horrible heel). Another route would be for more divas to joining the ‘Divas of Doom’ (I had this idea after seeing a wwe.com article imagining that scenario). Either way, i’m sure the story isn’t over.

Cena won. It is ridiculous that he won. I almost can’t bear to discuss it more. One thing I will say is that I think it was so representative of (to use Punker’s phrase) ‘the soul-crushing status-quo’ that, for those who felt the show was bad, it was this matches fault, because those who have, like me, ‘CenaNuff’, the bad feeling from this match probably bled over in to the main event. Cena doesn’t need this title, and Del Rio certainly didn’t need a short joke of a reign, and though I think he’ll regain it soon (which is right), it just makes the championship seem less and less prestigious.

Finally, the main event, which, as I say, was tarnished by the mess of the Cena-Del Rio outcome. The match itself, at least when it was just Punk and HHH together was fantastic; in fact, I would go so far as to say it was among the best ever no-DQ matches i’ve ever seen. Brutal, but with an excellent flow, it was a joy to watch as these two huge (but very different) stars went to war. The match started quickly, with Punk knocking Trips off the apron during his entrance, and never looked back. HHH’s merciless attack on Punk’s knees were truly brilliant, be it slamming them patella-first in to the ring posts, or sandwiching them between the post and a chair-shot. Punk was HHH’s equal though, culminating in his Macho Man elbow drop through the announce table. It was at that point that things got complicated. Out came Miz and Truth who started beating down on both competitors, seemingly trying to get Punk to cover HHH and have Trips removed from his job as COO. At this point, I liked how they beat-up and dragged Punk on to HHH because it presumed that Punk wouldn’t accept their help and so they would make him accept their help. What didn’t make sense was when Punk covered HHH after a GTS, and in the confusion, Truth pulled Punk off HHH (this was so nonsensical, in fact, that I can only assume it was a mistake on Truth’s part). We then saw John Laurinaitis summon Kevin Nash back to the ring with a text message (the strong suggestion therefore being that it was he that did the same at Summerslam). He too beat up on both guys, and it got to the point where the heels were conspirators seemingly without a cause. Together though, Punk and HHH managed to fight the heels off and Punk succumbed to a Pedigree to lose the match. Now a lot of people called this a burial, but that is not the case. It took a jack-knife powerbomb, a huge beat-down from Miz and Truth, and three Pedigrees (not to mention the brutality of the match) to keep Punk down. No match with this level of interference can be ‘clean’. The problem with this was that it all seemed so unfocused at the time. In retrospect, I suppose the ‘big story’ was that Miz, Truth, and probably Nash and Laurinaitis were trying to cost HHH his position as COO, but when mixed in with such indiscriminate violence, that aspect only became clear the next night on RAW. So it was a very good main event in some ways, but needed a more clear point of storyline progression, or a twist of sorts to really make it feel like a satisfying ‘event’.

Overall then, a pretty good show tarnished by the very worst of SuperCena but memorable for the crowning of Mark Henry and the first major match between Punk and HHH being a memorable and brutal war.