WWE ‘Black Friday’ – Six Releases … So Far

Shad was arguably the most high-profile of those released

Earlier this evening I posted on Shad Gaspard’s release from WWE, which surprised me a great deal. As I said in that post, I beliveved Shad was being repackaged for a push. Evidently, it hasn’t worked out. Subsequently, there have been five further releases: Luke Gallows, Vance Archer, Caylen Croft, Tiffany and Jillian Hall.

Shad, given a bit more in-ring training and a new persona, could have had success in WWE. Cryme Tyme had definitely run it’s course, and the gimmick on Shad doesn’t suit him as an individual, like it does JTG. For instance, I saw a potential pairing with Ezekiel Jackson; though it would have meant another tag team, they could have been dominant and really gotten over (probably as heels). Saying this, and hopefully with due respect, I doubt Shad is such a great loss to the WWE or the fans. He was just always lacking something.

Luke Gallows’ release was the next to be announced. The release of Gallows, again, will barely register, and I don’t think he’d have been able to get over like Shad potentially could have. Saying that, for a man of that size, he was remarkably versatile. No other than CM Punk (the man picked by this website as wrestler of the year) voiced his remorse at Gallows’ release: “Days like today bum me out. Gallows, many times was given chicken shit and turned it gold. He has heart, hustles, and loves wrestling.” I think, to a large extent, that is true. Gallows did a good job as part of the S.E.S., which is remarkable given the sharp transition that provided from ‘Festus’. For Luke though, it was coming. I glimpsed him backstage at this week’s Smackdown taping, and I realised how long ago it was that i’d seen him. His fate was sealed as soon as the S.E.S. split. There was nothing for him.

Vance Archer is also gone. Coming from TNA, there was some buzz behind this guy, but ‘The Gatecrashers’ were one of the most boring tag teams ever in my opinion. Billed as edgy and threatening, all they did was jump some people in the ring a few times and win some unremarkable tag matches. They split not too long ago, and for Archer, I assume the writing was on the wall. Hawkins is more established in WWE, and has had modest success, which is probably why he remains.

Caylen Croft was fired also. This one was weird to me. I thought he and Baretta had some mileage as a tag team. Initially they were a little goofy, but I think they grew in to a good tweener team and somewhat comparable to Edge & Christian. I think they should have stuck around in the tag division at least for a while. I saw that Baretta had a match on Superstars as a singles competitor. I do think Baretta is the better wrestler, but he could do with a tag team vehicle.

Tiffany was finally released. It makes you wonder why they waited until now, really. That’s meant respectfully – many people were speculating that she would be fired after that domestic disturbance with husband Drew McIntyre, but I figured that, since they hadn’t by now, perhaps she would be on probation for a while before returning. Before it all happened, WWE seemed pretty hot on her. Again though, she was no great wrestler, and will be no great loss, unless McIntyre chooses to follow her (which I doubt he will).

Finally, Jillian Hall. I respect her as a character, but I hated the character. She was recently removed from TV, and I thought she was going to be utilized more like an agent and diva-trainer. Perhaps this is just a change of contract. I’m sure all will be revealed.

There are rumours that there will soon be further releases. We’ll have to wait and see about that.

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RAW Recall (23/08/2010): Star-Studded Six

The wolves will be at Sheamus's door at Night of Champions

Our show started out with an indignant Sheamus hitting the ring to cut a promo on his recent treatment by latest challenger to his WWE Championship, Randy Orton. Sheamus again showed that he has really matured in to one of the most adept promo-cutters in the business as he talked about Randy Orton being a spoiled child (even lambasting some of the kids at ringside by way of comparison). The anonymous GM seemed to approve of what Sheamus had to say, rewarding his latest defence with a throne and the opportunity to pick his next championship opponent. Like a king, Sheamus would sit on his throne and watch over the night’s matches, selecting from the competitors a new #1 contender. 
The first men to compete for his attention would be Edge and R-Truth. I say this, but it was clear that in each match, the focus was only on one of the competitors. Edge and R-Truth had a good match together, with Edge helping Truth look strong and somewhere in his league (if not quite in it). Edge has been doing a good job of this helping up-and-comers, as he did with Heath Slater last week. Eventhough the result wasn’t in any doubt, Truth got in a lot of offense and showed his particular kind of charisma throughout the match, with the effective story of Truth flamboyance (or maybe I should say inexperience) costing him dearly in a match with Edge taking advantage of the opportunity for a rest. The match ended with Truth attempting his scissors kick, which Edge avoided before hitting the spear. Edge then cut a very good promo to Sheamus, making his case for meeting him at N.O.C., saying that, until he’s beaten the 9-time champion and Rated R Superstar, he hasn’t beaten anybody.

 Next up was Chris Jericho, who was given the tough task of putting on a watchable match with the Great Khali. He achieved this by telling a strong story of constantly working on Khali’s knee injury. Khali did his part well, following Jericho around the ring and consistently overpowering with sheer size and strength. Eventually, Jericho pulled off the respectable feat of turning Khali on his stomach for the Walls of Jericho and the win. Jericho, like Edge, then made his case to Sheamus with the strong argument that he, as the first ever Undisputed Champion and ‘best in the world at what he does,’ deserves a title shot most of all. This was followed by an angered Khali knocking Jericho from the ring (an action I saw no point in!). Personally, I would love to see a Sheamus-Jericho title match. That has quality written all over it. Not only that, but it would finally be a RAW main event without Cena, Orton or HHH. We would have to wait for the announcement of the N.O.C. main event though. Incidentally, Cole reused what he has apparently turned in to his new heel catchphrase: ‘and I quote.’ I like it – it really hammers home his almost bureaucratic quality as a petty heel.

In some surprising booking, there followed a Divas Championship match between Melina and Jillian after the intense build-up of … one week. This seemed destined to be a N.O.C. match, but apparantly not. I wonder whether management quickly changed their mind on Jillian? As for the match, it was pretty good. For two wrestlers without much chemistry, they were clearly trying to put on a good match. In the end, Melina retained, making her look a strong champion. Afterwards, co-Women’s champions, LayCool appeared on the tron, hyping their appearance mext week on RAW with something to do with Melina. Given the shock release of Serena (which had been decided by monday), I can only think that this and Jillian’s premature championship match has something to do with this. Now Serena’s gone, WWE will surely have no choice but to bolster the divas on Smackdown. Perhaps Melina will be switching shows with Layla? It wouldn’t bolster in terms of numbers, but it would add a new talented female wrestler to the roster. (That is meant as no disrespect to Layla, but as a member of a team, her loss doesn’t hurt as much). Anyway, all will be revealed next week! Lucky they have that 900th show coming up to justify the booking of Smackdown talent on RAW!

We then learned that Nexus had their ban on competing for championships lifted. This was news to me as I thought (as you will have seen in previous posts) that Wade Barrett still had a title shot up his sleeve. I thought they lifted that ban ages ago … but that’s wrestle-logic for you, and a fine use of it too! (The reason why this is so timely will be revealed later). Barrett promptly informed Sheamus that their long-running truce is now over – turning a smug-looking champion in to a suddenly nervous target.

In the first main event of the night, we had the best match of the night, pitting John Cena against The Miz. The Miz has now taken on top stars Randy Orton and John Cena in quick succession, and looked strong against both. To my mind, this was his best match to date, justifying future PPV main events. It started off normally enough, with Cena and Miz having a lot of back and forth. Initially, you’d think there was no way Miz could go over, but as the match progressed, the prospect became all the more cerdible, with Miz gaining the upper hand in offense and having believable near falls against Cena and avoiding his best attacks. Before this could conclude, down came Daniel Bryan to retaliate against Miz for last week’s attack. Cena courteously left Miz to Bryan, who locked him in a crossface for so long that a team of officials had to pull him off of Miz. Not much camera-time for Bryan, but a good attack nonetheless. Hopefully he’ll get some strong booking leading up to a US title match with Miz. It seems innevitable, but not in a bad way. As for the match, I have no problems with it being a DQ. It was the best way of keeping both looking strong (not that Cena particularly needs that, but what the hell …), and making Miz look perhaps even unlucky not to get the win.

After this, we had a tag match which ostensibly had WWE Tag Team Championship ramifications in which the Uso’s took on Santino and Vladimir Kozlov. This was a surprisingly good match in which Santino and Kozlov managed to leave their comedy at the curtain and have a good match. They were likeable, but serious – more akin to, let’s say, Edge and Christian (in approach, not size!) than to all-out goofs. After a decent match, they went over against the Uso’s, though nothing more was said about the tag titles. Post-match, Tamina stopped an attack on Santino, continuing their growing ‘romance.’ She even blew an affectionate kiss to Santino, though like a poison dart. It was all a bit weird, but i’m willing to let that go as some comic relief, especially seen as the match was good. As for the tag titles, I would actually like to see a team from Smackdown take on the Harts, maybe Luke Gallows and Joey Mercury?

Our main Main Event saw Randy Orton in a triple threat match against John Morrison and Ted DiBiase. It was nice to see Ted and John in such a high-profile match. It’s a good way for them to gain experience and credibility as main-eventers, which they surely will be in the future. This match wasn’t quite as good as Miz-Cena, but they worked well with the chemistry of a triple threat match. Morrison and DiBiase managed a lot of offense against the almost unstoppable Viper, and gave a very good account of themselves. I would, however, would have liked to have seen a Legacy stand-off between Orton and DiBiase, but I suppose that was besides the point of the match. In a nice-triple-threat spot, Orton was about to hit his spiked DDT on DiBiase before Morrison went for his chuck kick, which Orton ducked while retaining DiBiase in his clutches and hitting the DDT. The end of the match saw another cool RKO spot in which Morrison tried to hit a springboard attack on Orton, which Orton caught for the super-RKO and the win.

Sheamus saw none of this, however, as he disregarded this match, not even considering Orton as a contender to his championship. Instead, he came out and said he wanted to offer an opportunity to someone who had never had a title shot before, and he was going to have it right then and there! I had visions of Hornswoggle or a diva or something, which would have been terrible in this context, but instead, he called out Zack Ryder! I quite like Ryder, and was interested to see what kind of rub he’d get from being in a WWE Championship match. Even now, i’m not sure how his participation affected him … He did indeed get his first ever WWE Championship match, but it lasted approximately six seconds, with Sheamus hitting a Brogue Kick straight away for the pin. I’d like to see Ryder get a deserved rub for this, but then again, it’s hard to look at his challenge as anything much more than a joke.

It was good that the show didn’t end there, because it would have made the past few minutes meaningless. Instead, Sheamus invoked the WWE rules which state that a champion only has to defend every 30 days (in another nice piece of wrestle-logic, ignoring the jurisdiction of the GM etc) and so he was going to ‘take Night of Champions off.’ This fitted in nicely with the paranoid Sheamus that had come around due to the restrictions on Nexus being lifted, and indeed, Nexus leader, Wade Barrett was the first to challenge Sheamus’s decision. He quite rightly said that as NXT season 1 winner, he had the right to challenge Sheamus to a WWE Championship match at whatever PPV he wants, and he was challenging Sheamus at N.O.C. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. I was glad that we would be having a main event without Cena, Orton and HHH (with respect to them), but I was unsure how ‘big’ a match the two could put on together at this stage of their careers. At this point, the GM agreed to Barrett’s challenge, but said that he was adding another FOUR challengers to the match: Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, Edge and John Cena. In a minute or so, this main event became surely the most star-studded main event in years! It struck me then how clever this booking was. N.O.C., obviously, only catering for championship matches, would leave most of those involved in the Nexus storyline (i.e. some of WWE’s biggest stars) off the PPV. This was a way of including them in what has the potential to be a huge match. In a nice bit of vengence towards Barrett, the five WWE superstars surrounded the Nexus leader and attacked him, before turning on each other, hitting their various finishers on each other, leaving only Orton still standing. I look forward to seeing the booking leading up to this match. One obvious match would be the five WWE guys trying to keep on the same page against the five man Nexus (now that Sheffield is injured) at the ‘go home’ show. The jeopardy that Sheamus is under was well highlighted here, and it’s an occasion where a Championship Scramble might be a nice fit. Saying that, that could take away from the idea of a clear-cut victor from six top superstars.

RAW Recall (16/08/2010): Nexus Are One … Less

Young is exiled from Nexus after losing to John Cena

In the fall out of Summerslam, this episode of RAW was nearly uniformally dominated by the – thankfully – ongoing Nexus storyline. The downside of this is that the usually showcased young talents of people like Evan Bourne and Ted DiBiase didn’t appear. Nonetheless, it was vital booking to keep alive – and fresh – the Nexus storyline, and this episode turned out to be a very good one.

First out was Nexus, talking about how they would only be stronger following their defeat at Summerslam. Pretty standard, but a good way of legitimising their survival. Cena came out to confront them, and question their confidence. Cena’s usually good on the mic, but usually he pulls out genuinely very funny promos and this was one, taking the time to undermine them all individually as opposed to as a group – highlights including comparing Heath Slater to the Wendy’s Girl. As a Brit, i’ll have to take his word for that, but the crowd loved it; and another playing on his similarity in appearance to Darren Young (this has been noticed by many fans who describe him as Cena if he blacked up) and saying that his mother’s stories about having a lovechild with Buckwheat – again, the reference is lost on me, but I enhoyed it nonetheless, and more importantly, so did the crowd. He also took the time to put over Daniel Bryan for his efforts the previous night. Young was highlighted divisively by Cena as ‘the weakest link’ of Nexus, causing a bit of turmoil in the group, before the General Manager informed us that each member of Nexus would take on each member of team RAW, with Barrett adding his own stipulation: any losing member of Nexus would be ostracised.

The first of these matches were Nexus leader Wade Barrett against his former mentor, Chris Jericho. This was probably the match of the night between these two whose history makes a match between them all the more interesting, as well as providing them with a good in-ring chemistry. Both men looked very strong in this match, and we saw some fresh, innovative stuff, especially at the matches end, where Barrett attempted a springing backdrop which Jericho sup out of to hit an enziguiri before attempting a Codebreaker which Barrett caught and seemlessly manoevered in to his Wasteland slam for the victory. Barrett getting a victory over someone like Jericho immediately re-enlivened his credibility as a threatening presence. Meanwhile, Jericho didn’t look overly weak and gave us a good match.

Nexus would follow the example of their leader in other matches as the night went on. Next up was quite a mouth-watering match-up for me between Michael Tarver and golden boy, Daniel Bryan. Like many of the RAW-Nexus matches from now on, this one was a relatively short affair, but one that nevertheless gave us a taste of what the two performers can do in the ring. Again, Bryan was all over the ring, leaping about and causing devestation when on the offensive, while Tarver was brimming with his usually brawling intensity. The match was cut short by Miz and his current rookie, Alex Riley, who interfered in the match, causing Bryan to lose and Tarver to remain in Nexus. This was probably the best finish to this match, as it didn’t hamper Bryan looking strong while Miz was allowed some TV time to further renew his intense feud with ‘The American Dragon.’ No doubt Bryan will be competing for, and winning, the US title at Night of Champions. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why this match was only second on the card. You’d have thought Bryan, with how hot a superstar he is now, would warrant a higher position, especially with Miz’s involvement. Also, that would have given them longer to put on a fantastic match in my view.

Next up came Justin Gabriel to take on Bret Hart, apart from the fact that our anonymous GM changed the billing, showing a new disdain for a superstar, by trashing Hart and replacing him with Randy Orton. This new tone reasserts the possibility that Michael Cole – who has been acting more and more like a heel and has trashed Hart on commentary as well – is, in fact, the GM. Anyway, with the two squaring off, I knew there was no chance that Gabriel would be pinning or submitting Randy Orton. However, Gabriel showed a lot of heart in the match, having a decent amount of offense against Orton. The kid has shown so much more since his boring babyface routine on NXT. He has a lot of potential as a heel. If any Nexus member was going to lose, it wasn’t going to be halfway through the show, so cue the interference of Sheamus, looking for vengence for Orton’s brutalisiation of him the night before. Their fight spilled in to the crowd, allowing Gabriel to claim a count-out victory. Orton was none too pleased a this and returned to the ring to RKO Garbiel before again beathing the holy hell out of Sheamus with a chair before returning to RKO him on the outside of the ring. The crowd were going wild for Orton, which shows me that if Cena were to turn heel, Orton could definately carry the load as top face. Again, good booking for everything concerned. I’m interested to see who – as we didn’t find out – will face Sheamus at Night of Champions. This sort of angle would usually point to Orton getting the shot, but i’m still sure he’s no longer eligible.

Earlier in the night, the Hart Dynasty had been presented with a new set of tag team titles, renamed the WWE Tag Team Championships. This is probably a good move, and the new belts were ‘old skool’ and pretty good looking. Anyway, this is relevent because the next match was Skip Sheffield & David Otunga against Truth & Morrison. This was a pretty good tag match, again making the Nexus contingent look strong. Indeed, Sheffield and Otunga looked good as a potential tag-team of powerhouses in their own right (let’s say … like the Steiner Bothers). Watching this match made me think about the extent of Nexus’ involvement at Night of Champions. Would they nominate Sheffield and Otunga to go get the tag titles? I’d like to see it, especially seen as Wade Barrett has a guaranteed WWE Championship shot. A few title could really make them look like a dominant, intimidating group. Unlike the other matches, this one didn’t do much for the WWE participants, with Truth & Morrison getting beat with relative ease. It was important for the Nexus guys to go over, but it’s a shame that the WWE guys couldn’t have quite the showing that Jericho, Bryan and Orton had.

This was followed by a six-diva tag team match pitting Melina, Gail Kim and Eve Torres against Alicia Fox, Maryse and Jillian Hall. This was one of the higher quality divas matches, on TV at least. Each of the faces got a lot of offence in, with Melina and Eve continuing to show good progress in expanding their move-sets. Jillian got the victory for her team, suggesting she may be next for a Divas Championship match. Perhaps some almost random booking, but fresh nonetheless, so I don’t mind. Fox should surely be getting her rematch though.

Heath Slater then took on Edge next up in a match which was prefigured by a backstage confrontation between the two in which Edge mocked how Slater, no matter how much he fashioned himself in Edge’s image, he is basically a cheap knock-off. A judgement which is pretty accurate. Despite this, Slater gave a good accounting of himself in the match, to the point where I thought he may well go over (relatively) cleanly, so again, job done in making the Nexus guys look strong. Edge was spared that potentially weakening fate by winning wia count out after a nice spot where, at the count of 8 or 9, he attempted a Spear outside the ring, which Slater avoided by diving in the ring, seeing Edge lose by count-out. You could argue that these technical victories don’t do much for the Nexus guys, but their winning at any costs strengthens the characterisation of them as devious and focused forces.

Our main event saw Darren Young take on long lost brethren, John Cena. This being the final match of the night, featuring a guy who was previously described as ‘the weakest link’ in Nexus, it was clear that Young wouldn’t be winning, but again, like Slater, he put on a good showing for himself, especially seen as he was taking on Cena. Indeed, Young had the majority of the offence, and in the end, the story was one of Cena simply outlasting and overpowering the youthful Young, who eventually tapped out to Cena’s STF. Nexus had been watching avidly from the stage, ostensibly to intimidate Cena, and as soon as Young lost, they made their way to the ring. Instead of attacking Cena though, they gave him an exit route before surrounding Young in familiar fashion. Ignoring Young’s apologies, the Nexus set upon the loser, obliterating him with various finishing moves, finishing with the 450 Splash, and with that, Nexus was a man lighter, but sold as stronger than ever having gotten rid of their ‘waek link.’

It will be interesting to see what happens to Darren Young. During the beat-down, I half expected to see Daniel Bryan attempt a save. I could certainly see them teaming up in the coming weeks (maybe against Miz and Riley), but apart from that, it’s difficult to see where he will figure in the shuffle. Despite his good showing, it’s difficult to see where the relatively small fish will survive in the gigantic RAW pond.

RAW Recall (26/07/2010): ‘You’re Either Nexus, Or You’re Against … Each Other’

Members of Team RAW start to splinter

The unity between Team RAW of last week instantly and almost completely collapsed this week during the opening segment of the show. Cena came out to maintain momentum following his announcement last week of an opposing team to Nexus, however, after referring to it as ‘his team’ once too often, consumate egoist Chris Jericho hit the ring to put Cena in his place. This promo solidified really well some of the most important themes of this storyline. Most importantly, Cena talked about how the battle was ‘for the business,’ and not about him – quite a relief. Jericho also added an interesting dynamic: saying that Cena is just as destructive to the industry as Nexus, in terms of fighting and pushing others aside for his own prominance (echoing the IWC perhaps?). This sentiment sets the Summerslam match up for the betrayal that many of us want to see.

Then, in some of the most surprising booking this year, Randy Orton took on Jay Uso. Every match on this week’s card was more about promoting Summerslam angles, and this was the same. This was little more than a squash to make Orton look strong, but the booking was refreshing, and the Uso’s will have gotten something of a rub from it. All the while, Sheamus was at ringside, and in the post-match afters he tried to get one up on his #1 contender, instead, hitting his Brogue Kick on Jimmy Uso who was also trying to make a name for himself and eventually eating an RKO. Cue the celebrity stalker, The Miz, again attempting to cash in his MITB contract, well, at least he was going to, until Orton hit another RKO on the (probable) future WWE Champion. I really like the Miz-MITB abgle, in which he’s always on Sheamus’s back, though I hope Miz’s continuous scupperings don’t point to a lack of success in cashing in.

For the first time in years, The Great Khali was meant to look like a big-time player, as he had a verbal and physical confrontation with Edge. This led to a typically (for Khali) in-ring encounter which ended rather strangely. Nexus came towards the ring, apparantly looking to feed of the scraps from Team RAW’s disagreements. Edge fleed and Khali stayed, and after forming the familiar surrounding formation, Nexus let him go. This was out of character for Nexus, and while I would think Khali would be the last person to be given the post of traitor, make a note of that moment.

In what was billed as a taster to the big Summerslam main event, Nexus took on the slightly less impressive RAW team of Evan Bourne, Tyson Kidd, DH Smith, Yoshi Tatsu, Golddust, Mark Henry and Jerry Lawler. Surrounded by splinters in the RAW team, this match was a great metaphor for the contrasting tight-knitted nature of the Nexus. One-by-one, each Nexus member got to put away a RAW superstar, cleaning house. This was followed by a strong set of promos by Wade Barrett, Michael Tarver and Skip Sheffield, really growing in to their roles. On another note, I noticed during the eventual beat-down of Bourne that Justin Gabriel (who I had no interest in during NXT) is growing in to a very striking heel.

We then had an uninspiring divas match between Alicia Fox and Brie Bella. The only up-sides being a nice conceit where Jillian Hall stopped the Bella’s ‘switcheroo’ move, helping Fox claim the win; and A. Fox was made to keep looking strong with her deadly axe-kick.

In another match that was more about the splits in Team RAW, Ted DiBiase took on John Morrison. The match was ok, with a very effective finish. R-Truth was on commentary, and on-hand to first save the match for Morrison and then inadvertantly cost him the match. Despite seeing on the tron that it was all an accident, Morrison seemed pissed at Truth, and even looked on the brink of a welcome heel turn, and one that would set up the rumoured MNM reunion to come.

Our main event was quite a breath of fresh air, with Jericho tagging with Cena, and Sheamus tagging with new main-eventer, The Miz. Throughout the night, Miz had been chipping away at Sheamus’s patience, with Sheamus seeming genuinely distraught at Miz’s actions – making Miz seem credible as a main-eventer. The match was pretty good, with some good and unique storytelling between the four superstars. Finally, Jericho, a’la Invasion, 2001, turned his back on his partner, hitting him with a Codebreaker. Miz also demonstrated his prowess as an opportunist, tagging out Sheamus and getting the cover on Cena, making him look very threatening as a MITB brief-case holder. All this dissention made Team RAW split apart yet further, as Jericho locked the Walls of Jericho on Cena, then Cena using his STF on Jericho, before Khali and the rest of team RAW came out to try to calm the situation down, only worsening the situation, with pushing, shouting, finishers, disagreements and inter-fighting. The egoism of Team RAW contrasted completely with the perfectly unified Nexus, still harbouring their secret agenda.

The momentum is now squarely with Nexus, and a nice bit of storyline progression thoughout the night, rightly placing the invasion central to the RAW climate.