Royal Rumble 2014: Will We Ever Get Our Yes-gasm?

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Batista pointing at the WrestleMania sign, the traditional celebration of Royal Rumble winners. I’d have had a picture of Daniel Bryan, but he wasn’t in the match. Credit: wwe.com

Last night saw the 2014 edition of WWE’s staple PPV attraction, the Royal Rumble, and I, like many of you, watched along with excited interest as the Royal Rumble match routinely makes giddy children out of the most hardened and cynical wrestling fan. The enthusiasm was even-more apparent in Pittsburgh where it seemed clear that unacknowledged People’s Champion, Daniel Bryan, was on his way to a career-defining moment. That was until the mood changed; in the space of about 5-10 minutes in the mid-late twenties of entrants to the match the atmosphere soured more palpably against ‘the product’ than I may have ever seen before in wrestling, as it became clear that Bryan wouldn’t be in the Rumble, wouldn’t have his moment, and neither would we, the fans.

I, and seemingly most of my fellow fans who I respect greatly, couldn’t have been more disappointed as we saw a returning Batista sucking air, celebrating his Royal Rumble victory and his guaranteed title match at WrestleMania. That being said, and because it will get lost in the rest of what I have to say, I feel it is important to paint some context and some other points that could be lost in the instant revisionism surrounding the event. For instance, I think it is important to note that WWE never advertised Bryan for the Rumble, and though we took cues from his first match to deduct that he would take part, there could be a case for saying part of our contempt was based on us fantasy-booking. That is not to exonerate WWE though, because I would add that this wasn’t just fantasy booking – something felt like it was building, and WWE helped facilitate that. Otherwise, there were high-notes, like the fact that Roman Reigns deservedly continues to be treated like a future WWE Champion, Kane’s 13-year record for eliminations in a match and looking more and more like a ‘star’. It wasn’t perfect, and I think it got lost in the Bryan-fog somewhat (initially, waiting for Bryan’s entrance, and then furiously realizing he wasn’t coming), robbing it of some impact, but the fact that the raucous Pittsburgh crowd chose to latch on to him as their vehicle for protest against Batista rather than, say, a returning Sheamus, bodes very well for his babyface future. Secondly, and most importantly for the rest of the article, it must not be forgotten that the opening match of Bryan vs Bray Wyatt was absolutely incredible, and instant classic – and by that I don’t even men a match you realize is a classic once the decision has been announced, I mean the sort of halcyon classic where you realize just how great it is as it’s happening. Both men gave the best of their respective selves to that match: Bryan, the self-sacrificing house of fire was delivering moves like he was genuinely trying to destroy Wyatt for good, leaving Bray bloodied and battered; and Bray posting his greatest in-ring performance of his young career, being Bray Wyatt down to every inch of his skin, somehow making his motions even more explosive and creepy, putting an extra eccentric power behind every move and settling any arguments about whether he can live up to his literally awesome gimmick. To have all that, and then to have it finish as shockingly as it did, with a hellacious Sister Abigail on to a guard-rail followed by a bullet point second Sister Abigail in the ring for the three just worked perfectly. Twitter’s foremost corgi-obsessed wrestling authority, Thomas Holzermann (@tholzermann) called it the best non-Rumble match the PPV has ever produced, and while there are a lot of matches I love from Rumbles past, including most memorably, Cactus Jack vs Triple H from 2000, this match is certainly right up there and possibly even surpassed it.

Tellingly, he also tweeted, as soon as Wyatt’s hand was raised, that Daniel Bryan was confirmed to win the Rumble; it was a view shared by me, and seemingly a lot of everyone else watching judging by the reactions of those watching both live and on twitter. Here is what seemed to e hiding in plain sight: having lost a match at the very start of the card, Bryan, who had taken a lot of abuse to his head in the aftermath of suffering a concussion, would reappear in the Rumble to power through it all and fulfill his destiny by winning the Rumble and guaranteeing himself the WrestleMania moment he deserves and that has been denied him ever since his abrupt loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28 which catalyzed a protest wave of ‘Yessing’. It seemed like he was on a course, indeed, similar to Bret Hart in 1994 where he overcame a leg injury inflicted by his brother Owen in the opening match to go on and co-win the Rumble to end the night. As predictable as it seemed, it was the exact model that seemed to fit Bryan and his story perfectly, and so the one everyone started to imagine and desire the fulfillment of. Bryan losing clean as a sheet was ok, because it was part of this larger narrative, and while the negative connotations of a loss for Bryan would be forgotten in the glow of Bryan pointing at the firework-ridden WrestleMania sign, for Bray Wyatt, he would have a huge victory to hang his fedora on and grow, much like Owen was able to after beating Bret in 1994. It is truly perfect booking in that it flatters and raises everyone involved, at least when it is seen through.

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Bryan’s not winning AND we’re not going to the lake, are we? This is legitimately how Bryan not winning felt to me. Credit: Uproxx.com

Unfortunately, as numbers 27-30 entered the Rumble match, and I started deducting the number of people I knew were yet to enter, plus Bryan, from the remaining spots, and the numbers stopped adding up, that dream dissolved in front of me, and everyone else begging for a Bryan win. I’ve genuinely never heard anything quite like it – I’ve heard jokey chants, sarcastic chants, ‘end this match’ chants, but never blanket, frustrated boos at the product. Sheamus, who returned to a deservedly big pop, and REY MYSTERIO who, while being kinda milquetoast at times, is universally beloved, both got booed – there were even boos during the 619! It was truly surreal. Everyone had bought in to the first half of the narrative – Bryan being beaten and injured, and while waiting for the culmination of that and a Bryan win, instead saw Batista, who was returning after years of absence, out of shape and blown up, coming in to sight as the increasingly clear winner. It was enthusiasm for Bryan mixed with sheer disappointment at being given more of the same, and essentially told, as Batista said, to ‘deal with it’.

There are already a lot of angles being taken with this; all are very valid, and most represent great dissatisfaction. The first response is just anger and disbelief that while we witness a genuine phenomenon of organic, white hot support for Bryan that we want to ride in to the future of wrestling, the ‘powers that be’ both in kayfabe and in real life are continuing to support a status quo of prototype stars like Orton, Cena (and Batista, for that matter) that is starting to outlive it’s use, at least as the only answer to the question ‘what is a top star like?’ and denying what is plainly the truth – that while those stars will always have a place, the fans want something, and someone, new. The infinitely likeable, charismatic, and talented Bryan represents this new desire of the fans just like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Stone Cold Steve Austin have in the past, and yet the top brass seem to be not just ignoring this, but arrogantly asserting their righteousness by frustrating their own fans – the ‘Universe’ who they claim to serve above all else – with enforced reassertions of their former chosen stars – Cena, Orton, Rock, HHH, and now Batista. This is nothing new; the ‘Summer of Punk’ was the first outbreak of this fan-led protest as we saw Punk speak the minds of the fans, frustrated at the old status quo in what was, in retrospect, absurdly supposed to be a heel-like offering, but turned in to a rallying point for fans who wanted to see the passion, skill, and different style of Punk and his like prevail. Of course, Punk was only allowed so much slack by WWE before being given a placating 434 day Championship reign ended by who else but The Rock exactly a year ago today. Punk represented a lot of what Bryan represents now, and though they are not exactly the same (Punk is less likeable than Bryan, but more edgy; and slightly below Bryan’s in-ring standard, but above him in terms of mic work), they have both become the representations of the genuine fan support, as well as, conversely, fan frustration.

What is worse is that this isn’t simply a choice between one path that works against another, it’s a choice between what is hot and sustainable being passed over for a status quo which achieves short-term ratings and the odd buyrate, and could also cripple the future of the business. What happens when there are no more workable Cena’s, Orton’s Batista’s etc and only wrestlers we have been conditioned to see as secondary and less important? It is a dogmatic choice which flies in the face of not only profit, but sense, and the desire of their fans, all to protect the out-moded beliefs of the family which happen to hold the destiny of wrestling in their hands. They know people will keep watching because they are the only real game in town for most viewers (and indy fans who love wrestling and not just the WWE will keep watching because it represents something important to wrestling, and, it must be said, often features great wrestling). The fact that this is all so seemingly obvious and that we are being refused it is incredibly frustrating; all WWE need to do is pull the trigger on this, on Bryan, and watch a new and exciting era begin, but every time it seems like they might, something happens to make it seem that they just wont, and its so frustrating. I came up with the term ‘Yes-gasm’ as a jokey way to explain what its like to witness an audience connect so strongly with Bryan and the Yesses, but I think there may be something unconsciously accurate about it. It may seem crazy to compare what I’m about to speak about to an orgasm (it probably is), but there is definitely something to it. While there have been many instances of mass Yessing, they have mostly been in protest form, going back to the initial incarnation at WrestleMania 28. Since then we have been waiting for Bryan to finally make it as Champion, but we have always been frustrated by the booking of Bryan, and we have been waiting nearly two years for that relief, that release of being able to Yes enthusiastically in celebration without just waiting for the interruption that will frustrate us. Perhaps WWE are just teasing us to make the eventual Yes-gasm even more powerful (because that is indeed how it works, ladies and gentlemen). It gives WWE a lot of credit, and that is the angle i’ll discuss next.

After the shock and fury comes the attempts to understand and justify what might be happening. We have been subject to the usual ‘wait and see’ responses where people verbalise their hope that this is going somewhere and to wait and see what happens on RAW. As a wrestling lifer, I have taken this position many times in the past only to be disappointed, but maybe for the reasons I have outlined above, I am more unwilling to take that stance this time. Some of the theories I have seen suggested are that Batista is playing a heel, and WWE are deliberately frustrating us, not for their own dogma, but because they understand the fans, what Batista represents, and that the longer they frustrate us, the bigger the pop will be when Bryan finally goes over. In a vacuum, that makes sense, but then we have to ask ourselves why Batista is currently due to face top heel, Randy Orton at WrestleMania. A face vs face man event can work as we have seen with both Hogan-Rock and Rock-Cena, but heel vs heel doesn’t work, at least as a main event because people can’t get as invested in a match where they are at best forced to support someone by circumstance. The answer to that is that either Bryan could win the main event privilege from Batista, or the WWE World Championship from Orton, at Elimination Chamber. Again, that in  vaccum makes sense until you consider what exactly a Bryan victory would be working towards – a moment, perhaps and era-defining moment, and it starts to fall apart. Him winning the title in the Chamber is the easiest to disregard because the moment is greatly diminished by hot-shotting it before WrestleMania and potentially in an environment where fortune plays a role. Now, while Bryan having to overcome another challenge in Batista on his way to WrestleMania is Romantic, they already had an even more satisfying option on the table in having an injured Bryan go on to win the Rumble which is, after all, their second-biggest and most important PPV of the year, and so more powerful than beating one man – even if it is Batista – at Elimination Chamber. This doesn’t mean this, or a three-way between Orton, Bryan, and Batista won’t happen, but if it does, it will be because they have been given no choice by the fans, who will tempted to Yes-protest WrestleMania unless they get what they want. I don’t think any of this will happen though – while the Rumble should be a major wake up call, the signs have been there for a long time. From his WWE Championship win and Authority screwjob right up until now, it has been clear that the fans will only really happily accept Bryan at the spotlight guy, at least at this year’s WrestleMania. Watch this video for instance, which gave so many people ecstatic chills, and watch a man who has an audience in the palm of his hand, watch what is clearly the hottest act in the business:

That was two weeks ago. If the WWE were all willing to change their plans for what was clearly the right booking decision, they would have changed their booking and had the man in that video win the Rumble. That is why I have no faith that we’ll get anything other than Orton vs Batista at WrestleMania. In WWE’s mind, that will further solidify who their ‘A’ stars in their own logic and in the mean time, both Bryan and Punk, as well as others with similar plights will never be in that last match main event, will never be the guy. We will be told that Batista-Orton is one of the biggest matchups in WrestleMania history just as we were told that Orton-Cena was one of the most anticipated rematches ever, and though Cena-Orton was better than the audience treated it, and though Orton-Batista will be fine, the assertion will be just as absurd. As esteemed tweeter and author of The History of Professional Wrestling books, Graham Cawthon (@TheHistoryofWWE) tweeted astutely, WWE believes in their canon so much that they ignore monster reactions for Bryan and Punk, and then present them as secondary to the apathy and rejection of matches like Orton vs Cena, and with a straight face, insist that they are the important attractions.

In this environment then, can we ever get our Yes-gasm? The answer is probably, yes, but never at a WrestleMania. With attitudes the way they are, people like Bryan will never be given that stage even if they deserve it, and even if it may be ‘Best for Business’. He could get the title again, and have a proper reign at, say, Over the Limit, or whatever PPV comes after the Orton-Batista blowoff, but by then, who is to say the momentum will be the same? This is the preverbial boat, and it is being missed. Ultimately though, this wont affect WWE’s business. To sound – justly – negative, while the more ‘casual viewer’ cares for Bryan an awful lot, they are just happy to see him most of the time, and for the there are very few fans who care about wrestlers futures and general righteousness beyond that, to the degree outlined above who would ultimately turn away from wrestling; it’s a cruel mistress at times, but it is a mistress nonetheless. So sound – justly – positive, the emotion we feel for Bryan is valuable, and with our support he will be a very big star, part of the ridiculous wrestling world we love so much, and that so often loves us back in the form of matches like Bryan vs Wyatt. Like RAW tonight where we will tune in to see how WWE will try and get out of this mess, if they try at all; it will always be there, and we will always be watching.

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Night Of Champions Preview & Predictions

WWE Night of Champions, 16/09/2012, from the TD Garden, Boston, MA

WWE Night of Champions, 16/09/2012, from the TD Garden, Boston, MA

This PPV will be an odd one to watch. Happily, Jerry Lawler is recovering as quickly as you’d imagine the King would, but the manner of his accident has dulled the build to the PPV quite significantly (as well as much of the build being quite lacklustre in any event). Thankfully, Cena and Punk managed to hold it together to perform a fiery final segment which helped sell the PPV. Add in to that the nice build between Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio, and the burgeoning chemistry between Kane and Daniel Bryan, and this could certainly be an entertaining PPV!

Match 1) Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz (c) vs Rey Mysterio vs Sin Cara vs Cody Rhodes
Whether intentional or just a sad afterthought, there hasn’t been much build to this match. After Rhodes sneakily hit CrossRhodes to Miz on RAW, I was looking forward to that match, with one man possibly turning face. The addition of Rey and Cara to the match is interesting given their recent tag team success. This is usually the sort of booking that sees the beginning of the end for a tag team, but I doubt that will happen as they’ve only been established for a couple of weeks. I think, especially with Rhodes and Rey, there’s a lot of talent in the ring, and with the other guys, it’ll make for an exciting, unpredictable match. If it would have been just Miz vs Rhodes, I may have picked Rhodes, but now he’s in this sort of situation, and hasn’t been champion for long, I can see Miz surviving it to book him and the title strongly.

Winner: The Miz

Match 2) United States Championship: Antonio Cesaro vs ???
I like the idea of a battle royal determining a #1 contender to championships. It’s a good way to freshen up the title picture, and gives the champion a chance to look good against an unexpected opponent. Of course its hard to speculate about the match, seen as I don’t know the opponent, but I can’t see Cesaro dropping the title after just losing it. He’s a bit unproven so far, but hasn’t had much of a chance. They’ll give him a chance with the title and so he’ll win.

Winner: Antonio Cesaro

Match 3) Randy Orton vs Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler is in preparation to be World Heavyweight Champion, there is no doubt about it. He’s beaten Chris Jericho and ‘sent him packing’ and now he’s already beaten Orton on TV. But predictions like this depend on his plans with the Money in the Bank briefcase. They will only have him lose if they have immediate bigger plans for him. It just so happens I think that they do tonight, and so I think Orton will be going over to help protect him a little too. Make no mistake though, this will be forgotten from Ziggler, and they’ll have a long match which could steal the show, them both being fantastic talents – as long as the chemistry is there.

Winner: Randy Orton

Match 4) Divas Championship Match: Layla (c) vs Kaitlyn
In a perfect world, this sort of storytelling would be prevalent in the divas division, and also followed through. Kaitlyn, as a rookie, surprising the fans with a victory to win the #1 Contendership against her veteran champion  ‘friend’ (for five minutes before the match). Its a shame that that has just been repeated over and over since then and not developed. Layla is a very good wrestler, and Kaitlyn in incredibly endearing, so it makes for a good match and an interesting dichotomy. I’d like to see this turn in to a friendly rivalry, with Kaitlyn determined to beat Layla and eventually possibly doing so with one of them maybe even turning heel. I think Kaitlyn will come close enough to legitimise a further title shot, but Layla will come out on top.

Winner: Layla

Match 5) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Sheamus (c) vs Alberto Del Rio
The story between Sheamus and Del Rio has grown pretty fiery and heated over the last few weeks. It started off as a nice interpretation of a noble/peasant dichotomy and grew due to memorable interactions on the part of both men (ADR attacking Sheamus with his car, Sheamus joyriding ADR’d car). Recently, the story has shifted its parameters to be about the Brogue Kick being banned. It is a classic heel move when desperate, but Del Rio has played it very well. You feel his concern for Ricardo Rodriguez is real, which makes him a more compelling character, even if it’s not quite as sincere as he presents. That, mixed with Sheamus’s reaction of just incorporating a brutalist Texas Cloverleaf  to his arsenal has made for interesting build, and the banned Brogue Kick will make for an interesting match. They’ve had a lot of good matches before, and it will help them create a fresh one. Usually, ther’d be two main schools when booking this: 1) Sheamus retains with Cloverleaf; 2) ADR wins after Shemus uses the Brogue Kick. But I think something else will happen. Its incomprehensible that ADR taps Sheamus out, but I think he’ll win, basically, for the reason I was cagey about the Orton/Ziggler match. I think this could happen: ADR has two people in his corner (Otunga/Rodriguez) and between them, they’ll help ADR win with his enziguiri. Sheamus gets up, and realising he can no longer lose his title for it, Brogue Kicks ADR/all three. I’M HERE TO SHOW THE WORLD as Dolph Ziggler comes out and finally cashes in. With Orton having a win over Ziggler, and Sheamus and ADR both deserving automatic rematches, it leads to a Fatal Four Way at Hell in a Cell before Orton and Ziggler go on to feud for the title. The only problem with it is that Ziggler cashing in on ADR gets him less heat, but with the Brogue Kick being so central to everything, I see it being involved. The real victim is Del Rio though, having a 5 minute title reign. It will keep him in the title picture/main event though.

Winner: Alberto Del Rio

Match 6) WWE Tag Team Championships: Kofi Kingston & R-Truth vs Kane & Daniel Bryan
There is no way that top guys like Bryan and Kane, who are having some of the best, most enjoyed segments on TV, with burgeoning chemistry have been thrown in to this match last minute and are not winning the titles. They’re hot right now, which is the exact opposite of the champions. I actually think i’ve shot my wad there; there isn’t much else to say about this match. Kane and Daniel Bryan will hopefully continue to work as a dysfunctional tag team made up of world champion wrestlers, winning despite themselves, and Kofi and Truth will hopefully get a rematch and move on to ANYTHING else.

Winners: Kane & Daniel Bryan

Match 7) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs John Cena
CM Punk’s first main event in months; a fact which underwrites the storyline of this match. The absolute worst thing that could happen, in my opinion, is for Punk to have been ‘Best in the World’ Champion for over 300 days and then lose as soon as he’s heel. Unless there’s a REALLY good story behind it, it would be the most boring, formulaic outcome ever. You want to make Punk as a white hot heel? Have him be one who can beat Cena, not just another cowardly heel. There are thousands of them, and Punk shouldn’t be the same. ‘Cult of Personality’ suits Punk so well because his heel/face position centres around his personality, not his actions or who he beats up. Sure, let him do some heelish stuff, but make him a dominant champion who is an asshole about it because he knows how good he is; who demands respect but gives none. Cena and Punk have had great in-ring chemistry in the past, and I doubt this will be different. Use this to make Punk as a top heel, not to undermine him and his remarkable reign. Luckily, I believe WWE will know this. Not even they are so formulaic. I also believe they will see the value in having Punk keep the Championship past a year and having Rock end the reign in another intriguing match-up in Punk-Rock. With Punk as heel and Cena as Cena, the book would say dusty finish, but i’m actually not so sure. Having Punk win clean would shake things up a bit, and shake up Cena quite a bit, whilst adding prestige to Punk and the Championship. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but whatever happens, I think the money is in Punk retaining.

Winner: CM Punk

Summerslam Review, 2012: Lesnar Dominates But Triple H Is Still The Story

HHH stands humbled before the WWE Universe after being forced to tap out to Brock Lesnar

HHH stands humbled before the WWE Universe after being forced to tap out to Brock Lesnar

‘The Biggest Event of the Summer has happened, and it was a very strong PPV, though i’m less sure whether it felt like a 25th Anniversary of the second biggest PPV in wrestling. We’ll see how I feel once i’ve finished writing about it … Match 1) Chris Jericho def. Dolph Ziggler I was initially surprised that this match opened the show, but in retrospect, it seems a very good choice. The first obvious reason for this was that Jericho and Ziggler were always going to put on a great match, and get the crowd going for the rest of the show. The other good reason for (in some people’s eyes), burying it at the bottom of the card, was the result in which the next big star loses. This wasn’t a match of spectacular originality, but it was one of near flawless technical prowess. I’ve noticed that as Y2J, Jericho’s technique is at but more blunt, crossbodys, flying elbows, and his stronger style worked well with Ziggler’s selling especially and his working Jericho’s stomach. This strong story built and built towards its climax, with Jericho and Ziggler both getting good near-falls, including the best one where Ziggler got his knees up for a Lionsault before hitting his fame-asser before Jericho kicked out! Trying to follow up, Ziggler charged Jericho, but the veteran Jericho managed to dodge, sending Ziggler in to the ring post and back in to the Liontamer Walls of Jericho, making Ziggler tap! At first I was shocked (if you read my review you’ll remember I said it only makes sense for Ziggler to go over), but I realised soon how good Jericho had made Ziggler look, and how little Ziggler had lost, especially with the MITB briefcase. Even better was the fact that Ziggler beat Jericho the next night in a match that got Jericho ‘fired’ in a match way further up the card – the last match in fact. This, with the match the next night was not only fantastic, but helped Ziggler’s profile an awful lot! Match 2) Daniel Bryan def. Kane This was a match that wasn’t too well built, but nonetheless succeeded in being entertaining. The real story was about Bryan using his speed and smarts to take on the raw power of Kane. There was a lot of back and forth with Kane brutalising Bryan and Bryan hitting the monster and moving. The match twisted on Bryan slapping Kane to make him furious, trying to coax Kane to get disqualified, and that nearly happened, but I was glad when it didn’t because its been done quite a bit of late, and would be a bit of a kop out on a big 4 PPV. The finish was good as Bryan managed to down Kane with a roundhouse before going for a Benoit headbutt, only to be caught by Kane round the throat for a Chokeslam. Unsatisfied, he wanted a Tombstone Piledriver, but this was too much, and AmDrag managed to roll up Kane for the win, leaving a furious Kane storming around backstage, assaulting Josh Matthews and looking for revenge on Bryan. By the time the match was over, a nothing feud had become more tense and meaningful, while Bryan had scored a big, high-profile victory over Kane at Summerslam – so a good job by all!

Match 3) The Miz def. Rey Mysterio to Retain the Intercontinental Championship
This was a very very good match, with Miz working hard and using Rey’s size and skill to be able to look great. Miz also seems to have learned a lot from Jericho when it comes to Rey, including that surfboard style backbreaker Jericho used which is ideal for Rey. Now, a man I grudgingly respect, Luther Blissett, has been very complimentary of this match, and I do indeed remember it being good. I can’t, however, remember too much from it for the most part. Rey made Miz look great while looking great, but the real memorable moments only came at the finish (which to be fair, is the most crucial point of the match!). Indeed, the finishing sequence was great as Rey countered being shouldered in to a DDT, headed to the top, only to be stopped by Miz, who only got hurricanrana’d for his troubles in to the 619 position. After eating a 619, Rey went to ‘drop the dime’, Miz countered, looking for the Scull Crushing Finalé. Rey reversed this – again, due to his size – in to a roll up for a good near fall. But Miz was just strong enough to send him to the turnbuckle and catch him back with a SCF for the win. Rey has nothing to lose now. He’s so respected and adored, and he really helped put Miz over here in a good match. It was a clean win too, so hopefully both can move on to new opponents. I’d like to see Kofi Kingston given a chance to shine against Miz. That would be a fresh and potentially interesting feud given how over they both are, and as for Rey, its harder to determine; he’s something of a journeyman now. Both main title pictures seem sown up … so i’d put him in an attraction feud with Big Show perhaps, or even better, if Damien Sandow has finished civilising Brodus Clay soon, have him against Rey w/ mask storyline (easy I know, but with Sandow, it could be great, “savage civilisations worship masks. I am enlightened, and I will enlighten you by removing your uncivilised and cowardly visage.” IMAGINE.

Note: This is where I got up to in my review before returning to it on Monday. Because time has passed and I really want to get this done, so from here on in, this review might not be the most detailed. My apologies.

Match 4) Sheamus def. Alberto Del Rio to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
I found this match very good. Del Rio’s classy technicality is usually the counterpoint to Sheamus’s ‘hooligan’ brutality, and at times it was, but what made this match work even more was the fact that Del Rio was fighting as brutally as Sheamus. It was a true fight, and back-and-forth encounter between the two. It built well too with near falls becoming more and more believable, especially the one Del Rio earned after dropping Sheamus on the exposed turnbuckle and following up with an enziguiri for two. This frustrated Del Rio, and Ricardo Rodriguez went to toss a shoe at Sheamus; however, Sheamus caught it and hit Del Rio with it himself before hitting the Irish Curse backbreaker. Del Rio saved himself by putting his foot on the ropes – only for Sheamus to remove it to get the three count. Now I did think that this made Sheamus a bad babyface and a bad role model; but then I thought about his character. As a friend pointed out, this is Sheamus as a better character than a bland babyface, and he is right. We know instinctively that Sheamus is a better person than Del Rio, even if he does cheeky, non-admirable things. This carried on on RAW, and Del Rio earned the #1 Contendership again in impressive fashion by tapping out Randy Orton on Smackdown. The heat in this feud has only gotten hotter, and I expect their future together to be captivating.

Match 5) R-Truth & Kofi Kingston def. The Prime Time Players (Darren Young & Titus O’Neill) to Retail the WWE Tag Team Championships
Not much to say about this match. The PTP’s are a charismatic team, but I didn’t expect much from them in the match, but to be fair, they did their part well in the match, facilitating mainly Kofi’s spectacular offense. In the end, Kofi and Truth managed to overcome the  PTP’s to retain the titles. This seemed strange boobing to me, as the PTP’s seems the hottest thing in the division, while Kofi and Truth have been vanilla champions. Nonetheless, since then, there was that multi-team backstage brawl which suggested – I hope – at a spicing up of the division!

Match 6) CM Punk def. The Big Show and John Cena to Retain the WWE Championship
While, objectively, this match should have been the main event (i’m hoping it not being was to play to Punk’s ‘Respect’ angle). This was a fun match as Big Show is such a different opponent to Punk or Cena. Early on, Show used his sheer power to gain control early on, and forced Punk and Cena to put their differences aside to work on Show, both trying – unsuccessfully – to shoulder Show for their finishers. Indeed, Show was central to the success of this match, including the spot where he went for  Vader Bomb on both men, only for Punk to move out of the way, and leaving Cena to take the hit – a move which foreshadowed the finish of the match. As time went on, the ascendancy moved between the three before Cena and Punk moved back to working together against the Giant, Punk slapping on a Kuji Clutch (I believe) while Cena added an STF, making Show tap. This led to a bit of a dusty finish with Punk and Cena both claiming victory and AJ having to restart the match. I would have liked Show to be eliminated at this point and let Cena and Punk go at it (of course that would have ruined the finish but how was I to know), but it was quite a nice swerve anyway. This allowed Show time to recover enough to double Chokeslam the two, not being able to keep either man down. At this point, the finish was building nicely with Show attempting a WMD on Cena, only for Cena to duck it and hit an AA. You’da thought Cena was going to get the win here, but the wily Punk threw Cena out of the ring, outsmarting him, to cover Show for the win. Good finish in that it was shades-of-grey Punk proving he was Best in the World in terms of smarts too. Hardly noble, but still a fair and clean win, leading to him and Cena facing off again next month.

Match 7) Brock Lesnar def. Triple H
There is no doubt this was a brutal match, so respect for that. For what it was too, it was entertaining. Seeing HHH repeatedly dominate  Lesnar out of his ring made me groan for a while, but I did appreciate the sheer pain Trips must have gone through during the match, getting beat down by Lesnar. A very good brawl with not much else to say about it other than that. Finally, Lesnar started breaking Trips down and got him to tap to the Kimura Lock. My reaction was “Great! HHH does a job for the best of the company in a pretty compelling match!” But then we got 10 minutes (minutes apparently taken from other matches) of Triple H sad face. When everyone realised that this story was all about super brave HHH and not as much about Lesnar being a destroyer (though we got that story on RAW) the fans started turning on him with ‘you tapped out’ and ‘na na na na’ chants. This is because HHH hasn’t seemed vulnerable in years, He shakes off broken arms, is the only one to really take it to Lesnar (excluding a flukey Cena win), so he didn’t earn the compassion. Good match, but the wrong story at the end, and the wrong match in the main event.

Altogether, Summerslam was a good PPV. I enjoyed it, but was that good enough. This is Summerslam – the second most important PPV in wrestling, and not only that, but the 25th Anniversary of that event. It should have been special, memorable, and it just wasn’t; unlike last year, or the year before, which is ultimately, a shame.

Summerslam Preview & Predictions, 2012

Summerslam 19/08/2012, from the Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Summerslam is one of the biggest events in wrestling, and a big attraction in itself. I must admit, however, that I haven’t been quite so taken with the line-up this year. Punk;s shift has been interesting, and a move back towards the sincerely snarling Punk of around a year ago, which is welcome, but the move has lacked the power of other Summer angles like The Nexus or The Summer of Punk itself. I’m looking forward most to the WWE title match as I expect some sort of major furtherment to that angle, as well as Jericho-Ziggler because those two are destined to have a great match just due to their abilities.

Match 1) Intercontinental Championship Match: The Miz (c) vs Rey Mysterio
This match may open the card just because it’ll be a strog opener for a prestigious championship, and a good way to get the show open with a bang. I also think the result points to it too. Rey has no problem putting guys over, and the Miz has only been champion for a month or so, so he wont be dropping it surely. However, with Mysterio being back, and seemingly totally healthy, he should be able to have a very good match with the Miz who is one of those guys who can’t really make a great match, but can be a part of one. Whether or not Miz wins clean will depend on if they have a feud going. I think there’s potential for him to go over clean here and move on, although it would probably be in Rey’s interest to lose to some sort of dastardly method and have another match at the next PPV.

Winner: The Miz

Match 2) Kane vs Daniel Bryan
This is a weird one. The match itself I have little to no interest in; although these two have ‘a history’, it just feels like they’re two guys they want on PPV who have just been thrown together. And I can’t blame them for wanting Bryan there. His ‘Yes/No’ chant has brought out the troublemaker/bully in the crowd, who love to taunt him with it, and it makes for an electric atmosphere (in fact, maybe this should be the opener for that reason!). It is also better as a heel phrase because when he was chanting yes, it was affirmative, and because of the support for him, it almost became inspiring; by rejecting that, and chanting the negative, he’s rejecting all of that good will, and ruining (though he’s really only supporting) the fun of the audience. Bryan’s a great wrestler, and Kane works his character well. It could be a good match just due to that and the atmosphere. As for the winner, its a hard decision. They may want Bryan to slide more in to an angry fervour, but I decided to plump for them wanting to give him a big win on a big stage.

Winner: Daniel Bryan

Match 3) Tag Team Championship Match: Kofi Kingston & R-Truth (c) vs The Prime Time Players (Darren Young & Titus O’Neill)
This is a match besieged by backstage politics. In one hand you have the Prime Time Players; at one time the hottest commodity in the tag division though starting to level off and hindered somewhat surely by the firing of AW. And in the other, coasting champions Kofi and Truth, and in the next stage of what must be an unlucky run of partners for Kofi, Truth has seemingly been embroiled in the backstage politics and may not have endeared himself much to management. Seemingly, neither are top prospects right now, but I think the hype will carry the day here. Kofi & Truth have done nothing for the titles simply because they havenm’t been booked prominently, and with speak of the very talented JTG becoming involved with the PTP’s, I think we have a potential way for the champs to drop their titles without looking too bad. I’m afraid the match wont be much. I’ve never liked Kofi and Truth’s chemistry, and while the PTP’s are charismatic, they’re pretty stiff in the ring. Have JTG help them pick up the win and give those three a bit of a moment of the big stage. As for the champs – especially Kofi – MOVE ON!

Winners: The Prime Time Players

Match 4) World Championship Match: Sheamus (c) vs Alberto Del Rio
This match has had very good build. Apart from the fact that Sheamus if the primary prick in the tale and not ADR, the tension has been built really well between the two. Though its a bit hacky, peasant vs aristocrat is a nice model, and they play it out well. The two bits of build I remember most fondly are Del Rio brutalising Sheamus with the hood of his car, and Sheamus practically begging for the match to take place. Stripping ADR of his match and then restating it added an extra urgency to the encounter, and if that can be replicated in the match, it could be a stand-out. Sheamus is solid with anyone, and ADR is a great. They have good chemistry, and especially with Del Rio’s even newer viciousness (we’ve seen them try this before (Black Scarf!)), this should be a brutal match, with touches of technical class from ADR. Part of me still thinks they want to give Sheamus a huge run as Champion, but I think by now, he’s beaten an awful lot of people, and should be chasing the title. Plus, I think his dynamic with ADR is so good that it warrants a rematch. I would give ADR the title here, have Sheamus chase the title with a rematch, and see how they go.

Winner: Alberto Del Rio

Match 5) Chris Jericho vs Dolph Ziggler
This is a match i’m salivating over. Jericho is one of the best ever and my personal favourite vs a man who tries to (and often does) steal the show every night. At Summerslam, they have every reason to steal the show, and they are most likely to do so. Where Sheamus-Del Rio will be brutal, this should be beautiful and technical. There’s not much more to say than that, it’s self-evident that both guys will look a million dollars. And while I want a win for Jericho who has put EVERYONE over during this run, I want him to put Ziggler over and help make him. Not only do I like Ziggler, but its crucial for him to look good now, as and up-and-comer, and as a Mr. Money in the Bank. Jericho’s pedigree and legacy is proven and set. He can lose countless times and still be a powerful force, so while I want a win for him as he leaves the WWE (hopefully not for the last time!), it only makes sense for Ziggler to go over, move on to another high-profile guy (Randy Orton? Kane?), perhaps until/if Sheamus wins back his title, and Ziggler cashes in with a lot of momentum? Just an idea.

Winner: Dolph Ziggler

Match 6) Triple H vs Brock Lesnar
There is no place for this match. Only in HHH’s head is this a Summerslam attraction. Brock Lesnar is, against a lot of people, but not Trips. There were several things I was worried about here: 1) That this would Main Event and 2) That HHH would HHH his way to a win. Thankfully, i’m now convinced neither will happen. Well, I hope. The thing here, is that neither guy needs this for the good of the company/talent – both being part time guys. That’s not the only thing that matters in wrestling: if something is an exciting attraction (Rock-Cena) that it is merited; but as discussed, that isn’t the case here. The only claim to needing a victory goes to Lesnar. He is there as an attraction and to put talent in need over – and both of those jobs require him to seem as deadly as billed (something not helped by Cena beating him on his first match back), so I especially since Mr. Hall of Fame and HHH Sadness exhibit Shawn Michaels (probably wont be there), have Brock destroy Trips. Even if it takes a Ricardo Rodriguez-esque distraction to get Lesnar the upper hand, once he has it, have him destroy Trips, and lets have it not take long either for extra impact.

Match 7) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs John Cena vs The Big Show
This match is something of an enigma, partly because the CM Punk angle is too. Its been a rollercoaster in away: my immediate reaction was that it was too soon to turn him heel, then I realised he wasn’t really heel, and was closer to the Best of CM Punk. Now, i’m still happier with him as he is, but I feel it isn’t much of an angle. Summerslam, however, is the ultimate place to make that bang. Could that involve Heyman? While it sound great initially, I doubt it – Punk is a lone wolf right now, and certainly doens’t need a mouthpiece; it could also lead to an awkward association with Lesnar. I wont try and guess or fantasy book beyond that, in case nothing comes to passi, i’m disappointed, and it isn’t there fault! As for the match, I love Cena and Punk’s chemsirty (see, their swapping of each other’s moves on RAW as well as everything between them since last summer) and I can’t wait for their interactions. Complicating the matter is The Big Show. Usually, that’s a terrible, heartbreaking sentence to write, but The Big Show has refound an aura that he is best under, using his limited skills to seem deadly. He’s playing his role well, and will be interesting as a destructive force to Punk-Cena. I think Big Show may have another role too. Many people think Cena could go over (the idea being that Cena takes on Rock at the Rumble, and Punk faces Rock at Mania), but i’m still clinging on to the notion of a year-long reign for Punk, and I don’t think both are mutually exclusive. A year long reign is so special these days, especially in WWE, so don’t ruin it now! If this was Punk-Cena, it would be a great match, but Big Show’s involvement makes a clean Punk victory more plausible. It takes the heat of both Cena and Show in losing, and makes Punk look even better in winning. This is important, because it would be really lazy to have Punk lose as soon as he stops being a smiley babyface, and while i’d like Punk to renew some of his Cena-Status Quo material, I think he needs the win to help get his tweaked character over. Could be a great match, and if the booking/storyline follows that up, could hale make a great PPV.

Winner: CM Punk

 

Money in the Bank Review, 2012: Cena Muscles Through Again

Cena after winning a Money in the Bank briefcase at the first attempt

Cena after winning a Money in the Bank briefcase at the first attempt

Money in the Bank was put on the map after 2011’s seminal effort in which CM Punk became a proverbial GUY after mesmerising Chicago and the so-called WWE Universe. Without such a hook this year, it would be hard to live up to that effort. While it may not have achieved that, it was entertaining and fun in the right places. Though card placement, it seems, was the most controversial aspect of the show.

Match 1) Dolph Ziggler def. Christian, Damien Sandow, Tyson Kidd, Santino Marella, Tensai, Cody Rhodes, and Sin Cara to become Mr. Money in the Bank for the World Heavyweight Championship
This, I believe, was the most packed, if not the most stacked, Money in the Bank lineup to date. I think, realistically, that I shouldn’t call spots in this match (or in fact most of the matches because, realistically, time isn’t on my side just now), but what I can say is that two days removed from the event, I don’t remember there being quite the frequency of spots in this match. The two moments that really stand out are (unfortunately) the Sin Cara/Dolph Ziggler botch which could have broken Ziggler’s neck, and (fortunately), Tyson Kidd’s sunset flip powerbomb. That, and Ziggler’s bump over the announce table was spectacular. It is only fitting then, that most if not all of the most memorable moments featured the eventual winner of the match. Make Ziggler central to the match and then have him win. This is how you make a guy. Everyone played their part here, and fitted different roles. Sandow showed some good aggression on a big stage, which is a slow but steady step in the right direction, though perhaps it would have been more adventurous to have given him some more offense against the others and a bit more of his character, but nonetheless, he seemed to fit in to the field. Tensai provided a wrecking ball for the smaller talents (see again: throwing Ziggler over the announce table). Christian was a great workhorse, as was Cody Rhodes. I love Santino, and Santino did his job as a comic wrestler, though I thought the fear of heights counteracted by the cobra was a little bit too comic in tone when compared to the seriousness and brutality of the rest of the match, so while I enjoyed it in a vacuum, that is the only real genuine criticism I would have. Meanwhile, I was heartened by Ziggler’s post-win interaction with Chris Jericho on ‘RAW 999’. While I think they could have gone along with the later cash-in that night, and it could have worked, it is probably sensible to let Ziggler grow with the briefcase, and who better to do that with than Chris Jericho. The matches will be fantastic, as will the interactions; and it’s fresh! That is most important, and it’s going to make Ziggler a top guy.

Match 2) Sheamus def. Alberto Del Rio to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
I was looking forward to this match, and for the most part, it delivered. In keeping with Del Rio’s new aggressive attitude, this was a brawl, though with Alberto mixing it with technical prowess to beat down Sheamus’s arm in preparation for the cross arm-breaker. It was great to see this, and Sheamus sold it as something that might actually make him tap. Like often with Sheamus, he is a powerhouse with a smaller guy hitting and running against him, and against someone like ADR, with his talent, this is certainly entertaining. As it sounds though, this provided exactly what we would expect. The problem with that was that the Brogue Kick for the win was, for me, the wrong result. The fans love Sheamus, but as champion, he has become a little staid. He has beaten a lot of people and in non-too-dramatic fashion, to the point where it has become formulaic. That is why I was calling for Sheamus to drop the belt to Del Rio. I thought Sheamus chasing Del Rio would be a lot more intriguing than the current situation. On the plus side, I hope that the thinning field of contenders means there will be some fresh upstarts. I’m thinking specifically of Cody Rhodes, who could easily legitimately learn a title shot, a returning Wade Barrett if he’s ready or maybe even The Miz.

Match 3) Primo & Epico w/ Rosa Mendes def. The Prime Time Players (Titus O’Neill & Darren Young) w/ AW
One of the positioning worries from Money in the Bank was that the tag team champions, Kofi Kingston & R-Truth wrestled Hunico & Camacho on the preshow, while the #1 contenders wrestled the former champions live on PPV. This seemed like a RAW match building to a title match between the champs and the Prime Time Players, a match we eventually got the next night on RAW. The tag team championships, I think most people agree, should have been defended on PPV to make them seem more important.  Nonetheless, I think this match was enjoyable. I’m outspoken as a big Primo fan, and Primo really stood out here again, with loads of high-flying, springboard combinations. Epico is in that league too, and together, they are a great team. The Prime Time Players are more jockish powerhouses and so compliment them well. One big talking point recently has been AW and his headset. Of course I find it irritating, and a lot of smart fans have been critical of it for that reason. It is important to remember though that this is his job. Just like Vickie Guererro’s screeching ‘Excuse Me!’s, he does it get heat for his team, and it works. The only problem is when it distracts from the match, but overall, I think it’s different and working. This compliments their characters well, and along with their attention-grabbing characters make them seem like a fresh force, but since becoming #1 contenders, they have only lost that momentum. The result of this match might be seen to add to that, but I don’t actually think it did. Primo & Epico have become faces by merit of AW’s betrayal, and so their ongoing feud with the Prime Time Players gives depth to the division without necessitating the tag team championships themselves (something that was holding the division back). Yes, the matches should have swapped places, but it was a fun, entertaining match with storyline significance, so there’s only so far I can criticise it, especially seen as it gets Primo on PPV!

Match 4) CM Punk def. Daniel Bryan (w/ Special Guest Referee AJ) to Retain the WWE Championship
Daniel Bryan and CM Punk have had a lot of matches now, and every one has had a slightly different flavour. When it was announced that this would be a no DQ match, I had visions of WrestleMania X7, but what it really meant was that Punk and Bryan could use weapons this time – that was the twist. That element made the match more of a brawl than the techical clinics that had occurred before, but that didn’t make it any less impressive or innovative. Before the weaponry could come out though, Punk and Bryan brawled around the ring, and in the process of coming back in, AJ was knocked from the apron and taken to the back. A lot of people had a problem with her leaving the match for a while, but I didn’t as it was a sensical dramatic move to make; the only problem was that AJ is a wrestler and shouldn’t be taken out by being knocked off the apron once. It was soon that the weapons became involved. An interesting thing happened early on, the crowd wanted tables, and I guess as ‘The Voice of the Voiceless’, Punk obliged by getting one out. Given the finish of the match, it’d interesting to know whether the finish was an audible based on that moment, or whether the chant was just a convenience that allowed Punk to get a pop with him knowing the finish. The table wouldn’t be involved yet though, as Bryan grasped the kendo stick and set about Punk brutally, relentlessly in to double figures, which was enough for a near-fall.  Later, after fighting out of a Mexican Surfboard, Punk was able to reach for the kendo stick and turn the tables. The real joy of the story of this match came when AJ returned with both men downed. When she pulled out the steel chair and placed it between the two downed men for her enjoyment, it hit the apex of what the AJ story was at its best – not just a ‘crazy chic’, but someone essentially playing with two of the top wrestlers in the company and the world for her own amusement; having them in the palm of her hand. Bryan won the race to the chair, and gave Punk a good working over with it, but it was Punk who really used it well. In a move I haven’t seen before, Punk cradled on Bryan’s back and slammed him. Around this time, still desperate for attention, AJ went about inserting herself in to the match, blocking Punk from whipping Bryan in to the chair, and standing on the kendo stick when Bryan reached for it. She was showing no favouritism, not competing for their affections, and was instead trolling them for her own entertainment, which is the best this angle could be for her and me as a progressive. Then came the breathless closing stages, starting with a Yes Lock from Bryan, using the kendo stick for more leverage. This looked brutal, and with AJ calling the shots, I believed Punk might submit, or be said to have submitted. He didn’t though, and slingshotted Bryan in to a GTS for a big near fall after an exhausted Punk was slow to make the cover. This was finally where the table came in to play as Punk and Bryan again played with the format by having Punk place Bryan on the table looking for a Macho Man elbow, only to have Bryan disrupt him, looking for the reversal through the waiting table. Eventually, Punk re-wrestled the advantage away from Bryan and hitting a back suplex through the table which was enough for a three count. Nice finish as something outside of finishers makes it more surprising, dramatic, and unpredictable. Another really great match between these two to end their epic feud, well booked with AJ being involved, but not too much. Punk continues as champion, and is looking great. Moving on to John Cena at RAW 1000, he puts it on the line again. I’m confident he’ll keep it too. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Punk made even more of a MAN and continue his run up to the full year. Just a shame they had to mess around with the title after last year’s Money in the Bank, otherwise he’d have had the title for a year already!

Match 5) Ryback def. Tyler Reks & Curt Hawkins
There isn’t much to say about Ryback’s matches. They’re repetative but entertaining, and short. Recently, he has stopped jobbing out jobbers and moved on to main roster talent. It is hard to make the switch from jobbing spectacles that gain simple noteriety to dramatic matches where the talent is challenged, and we have to invest in him, but WWE are doing a good job with Ryback. Like his later match with Jack Swagger on RAW, Ryback took some offense, and even looked vulnerable at points. That in itself is interesting when its never been seen before, but when he pulled himself together to get back in to his usual routine and beat two quality (in relative terms) talents, it added a new layer of resilience to his character. The way I always judge talent is whether or not you can see them having a dramatic match in a WrestleMania main event; downed, and battling with the fans on the edge of their seat. Right now, the answer is still a clear ‘No’ for Ryback as he is still being pushed as almost unbeatable, but this subtle change in booking has brought him a tad closer to that WrestleMania image.

Match 6) Layla, Kaitlyn, & Tamina Snuka def. Beth Phoenix, Natalya, & Eve Torres
Initial thoughts regarding this match were that it was a shame we weren’t getting a Divas Championship match, but then I realised it was another bit of necessary filler between the Punk-Bryan match and the main event as it was a hard act to follow. Its a shame that talents like Layla, Beth, Nattie are involved in such a meaningless match, but on the plus side, it was entertaining, so its hard to be really upset about it.

Match 7) John Cena def. The Big Show, Chris Jericho, The Miz, and Kane to Become Mr. Money in the Bank for the WWE Championship
On its own, this match was better than I ever expected. I thought this would be a disappointingly bland edition of Money in the Bank, but I think it rivaled the earlier effort in terms of entertainment – helped of course by the fact that it was the main event (but more on that later). I had predicted that both The Miz and Rey Mysterio could/would return for this match to add some shock value and also some talents more suited to the match, and i’m pleased to say I was half-right. The Miz’s promo halfway through the PPV was exciting for a lot of reasons. During his own MITB/WWE Championship run, he earned a lot of good will from the audience that has stuck despite  his more recent slide on the card, and so when his music hit after a c. two-month absence, the reaction was encouraging, and made him seem important. His new look essentially makes him look more mature, and a more composed competitor, which is also good news, even if it does just result from a new haircut. Finally, his actual promo was well executed – he spoke like he believed what he was saying, which is crucial to promo success, and had something interesting to say about reclaiming his spot and no longer being overlooked. Also, he added another smaller body to the match to bump around for the bigger guys and make a more entertaining match. Before Miz’s return, all we had for that role was ladder match master, Chris Jericho, who was also the man that would steal the show for this match. There weren’t too many memorable spots, though Cena’s AA to Big Show through the Spanish announce table was fantastic and spectacular, but when there were, Jericho, characterised accurately as a wily veteran, was always above it and able to capitalise. For example, Big Show being buried under ladders was a fun but cartoonish spot to get Show out of the match/give him a rest, but once everyone had contributed to the pile and were pleased at their handywork, in came Jericho with a ladder of his own to knock down Miz and Kane. At times he seemed in absolute control of the match, and perfectly at ease with the stipulation, as soon after Miz tried to prevent him from reaching the case with a threatened Electric Chair Drop, only for Jericho to counter in to a Lion Tamer Walls of Jericho that he knew he didn’t have to break for the ropes, before stopping an advancing Kane with a dropkick to the ladder. Again, after some suitably cartoonish spots from Cena, including a double five-knuckle shuffle to Miz and Jericho on the ladder, and an AA to Kane on Miz on the ladder, Jericho again took control by hitting Cena square with a ladder and climbing a ladder – only for a returning Big Show to stir and stop Jericho. At this point, we saw the worst of the Big Show. While his giant(‘s) ladder is impressive, it just goes to highlight the awkwardness of his frame which WWE should be trying to hide in a monster heel, and reminds us of his time as more comical babyface. Atop the ladder, Show was fighting off allcomers, including Kane and Cena, but again, it was Jericho with the wherewithal to  save the match, learning from their mistakes trying to fistfight a man with a KO Punch and instead using a chair to neutralise him. At this point, we saw Jericho giving his everything to win this match, battling John Cena with a sleeper for literally minutes before sending him to the mat, battling Miz atop the ladder, literally clinging on to the case for dear life in one of the matches best spots where Miz headbutted him and sent Jericho swinging perilously but refusing to let go of the case and finally getting the best of The Miz. Seeing this determination was infectious. I’m a huge Jericho fan, but I could sense the whole crowd supporting him, seeing just how hard he was fighting. It seemed at this point that he had the will of the whole crowd, and was going to keep fighting until he won. Unfortunately, this distracted Jericho enough that a recovered Big Show managed to surprise him at the top of the ladder. Knowing his fate, Jericho took the KO punch, and sold the drop amazingly, putting him out of contention. Finally we were left with just Cena and Show atop the ladder, fulfilling a story that wasn’t sold well enough during the build – that Cena was there, in part at least, to stop Show from winning, and that he did by bashing the case against the giant’s head. The finish with the broken handle was a minor botch, leaving the case in Cena’s hands, but I actually think it was in some ways fortutous, representing exactly how Cena is successful, with brute force. So not the ladder match that the first one was, but arguably as entertaining. The only shame was the positioning. It seems that this match went on last because it was felt the end was more memorable than a championship retention with no cash-in. I disagree still though, because what does that say about championship matches generally? In a PPV with no big marquee matches, give the man who should be regarded as the crown jewel of the company (your WWE Champion), who will also be in the best match on the card, top billing. To not do so shows an over-reliance on Cena when it is clear that Punk can draw. It isn’t good for the title, and it isn’t good for Punk. Hopefully, however, it will give “The Voice of the Voiceless” some good ammunition for hos future match with Cena. We already know Cena’s plans for his MITB case; he’s cashing it in honourably, which is the only way he ever could, against CM Punk at RAW 1000. My personal feeling is he will fail, but it will be interesting to see, and I expect a RAW classic in the tone of Cena vs Shawn Michaels from 2007 to help MAKE CM Punk more than he already is.

So overall, a good but ultimately unspectacular PPV. Not many surprises, but predictability can be a good thing when the moment is a good one. It was only let down by the positioning of the champions. I feel that is the WWE Championship, and WWE Championship MITB matches were swapped, this PPV would be significantly more satisfying. In order to grow more sustainably, WWE need to know that while Cena will always be centre-stage, the men they pick as WWE Champion – especially when they’re as over as CM Punk – have to be considered on that level too.

Money in the Bank Preview & Predictions, 2012

Money in the Bank 15/07/2012, from the US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ

Money in the Bank 15/07/2012, from the US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ

WELCOME to my preview and predictions for the Money in the Bank PPV! As i’ve gotten busier my activity on RTV’s WOW has gotten lesser and lesser, but one thing for sure is that I will always provide PPV previews and reviews! Not only that, but there is frequent undates on twitter @RTVWOW as well as live-tweeting RAW and WWE PPV’s, so i’m still providing that pro-wrestling knowledge you all crave!

Even better is this is a Money in the Bank preview – one of the most exciting and most unpredictable PPV’s of the year. Even more, after last year’s event, the vanguard of the Summer of Punk and one of the best PPVs in recent memory, this event has become a ‘destination’ PPV, and I would even argue that the so-called ‘Big Four’ is now a ‘Big Five’ including Money in the Bank.

Match 1) WWE Championship Money in the Bank Match: John Cena vs Kane vs Chris Jericho vs The Big Show
I have to say, this match is the one i’m least interested in so far on the card, and that is despite it featuring my favourite pro wrestler of all time! While Jericho is a ladder match master and innovator, the others, I fear will be cumbersome and blunt with the tool. One saving grace for this match could be the small field. A four-man field provides a unique psychology for a MITB match, but it may be that the field will thicken out to six with some surprise entrants. There are certainly some to choose from: The Miz could show up to restart his career, even if he didn’t win, it could be a good launching pad for a new era for him, and then you have Rey Mysterio, who is cleared to come back and would get a great pop. Both guys are more adaptable to a fun ladder match, so if they are added, it could make the match more interesting. While many would like to see Jericho take the briefcase he invented, I think we’re going to get a Punk-Cena rematch, and so that makes Cena the favourite for me. As simple as that i’m afraid! He’ll cash it in honourably and take on Punk at Summerslam, hopefully giving Punk some ammunition to recapture some of his “Voice of the Voiceless” aura. Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid this spoiling my main event prediction (oh boy, there goes my prediction for main event too)!

Winner: John Cena

Match 2) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Sheamus (c) vs Alberto Del Rio
This one should be a solid match. The build has been poor in that it hasn’t really progressed in any logical way. Last week on Smackdown, Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriquez brutally assaulted and bloodied Sheamus with the bonnet of one of his luxury vehicles, and then on RAW, Sheamus was absolutely fine and there was no talk of the memorable incident. Why should we care about what’s happening between them now? Well one reason is that both are good to very good wrestlers and they’ll probably have a good back and forth match. This is one of the hardest matches to predict, partly because of the hazy build it has received, but at this point, I think Sheamus’s reign is getting tired while ADR has been mired due to injury and other elements. I think the bigger money is in the popular Sheamus chasing ADR, cementing their respective face/heel positions even further as a whole. Sheamus’s reign has been just about good enough so that the loss wont hurt him, especially as he’ll almost certainly lose under controversy.

Winner: Alberto Del Rio

Match 3) World Heavyweight Championship Money in the Bank Match: Damien Sandow vs Tyson Kidd vs Christian vs Santino Marella vs Tensai vs Cody Rhodes vs Dolph Ziggler vs Sin Cara
This is almost the opposite of the WWE Championship MITB match in that it is brimming with talent. I’m a huge Sandow fan and think this is a good place to give him a platform to perform. He has a lot to prove in the ring and may do it through sheer sacrifice. He’s a dark horse. Most talk has been about the eminently talented Tyson Kidd; legitimately one of the best wrestlers in the world and finally getting a chance to shine in a match that should suit him to the ground. Not only that, but with news that he is due for a push of sorts in the near future, he too has to be considered a dark horse. I’m not pleased about the two secondary champions being in the match; while both are very talented, and will help the match itself, it undermines the prestige of the championships to be traded in so easily for an opportunity at a world championship. Relatedly, their booking here also costs us US and IC Championship matches on the card, which also damages the prestige of either championship. I think both of their statuses as champions probably negates their chances at the briefcase. Tensai will be a welcome different style to this mainly cruiserweight field and could provide a few shocking moments amongst the high-flying highlights. He wont be winning though; while they still might have some faith in him, it wont be enough to put a title on him yet after his bombing in matches with Cena and Punk. Sin Cara is a nice addition, and is another with lots to prove. If he can’t amaze in a MITB match, the question will be where exactly can he (in WWE)? That question mark remains over his head, meaning he’s not really in the running – a good performance could be a building block though. Finally, we have my two favourites, in terms of talent, and chances to win the match: Cody Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler. These are the two men I have anointed a future top guys, and both are very deserving of the briefcase. I wouldn’t be surprised if either man got it, but right now, the weight of momentum and expectation is firmly behind Ziggler now. While Rhodes could do with some more momentum, there is absolutely NO reason not to pull the trigger on Ziggler now, and with Cena sure to cash in sooner, Ziggler will later, giving him time to grow with the case (ala Miz).

Winner: Dolph Ziggler

Match 4) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs Daniel Bryan; Special Guest Referee: AJ
Like last year, CM Punk is in the main event of Money in the Bank, and that’s great. It’s just a shame this isn’t a regular thing! Punk and Bryan have served up some great matches in the past, and this will be no different. Apart, however, from the influence of AJ, the young woman who has quickly become the franchise player of WWE. Now i’ve already spoiled my prediction as to who will win the match, but I should say here that is against a lot of good judgement. That judgement is that Bryan is OVER, and WWE seemingly want the belt on him at some point, as well as the fact that AJ has already helped Punk retain before, and in order for him to do so again, she would have to help him again (presumably), which seems less likely. Nonetheless, I believe we will have a Cena-Punk rematch at Summerslam, as well as Punk being given the opportunity to verbally spar with ‘D-wayne’ now that he’s stated he’s after the title. I don’t know how this will play with AJ in that she’ll have to count for Punk, but i’m sure they’ll find a way, perhaps AJ favouring Bryan and being replaced? That could be disappointing, but it shows the booking dilemma here. Whatever happens, Punk will have to get seperated from AJ as he’ll be moving on to Cena, where AJ doesn’t seem to fit. It’s difficult, but with it being almost certainly the main event, and with it involving someone as fastidious as Punk, I trust that they’ll at least try and do something interesting with it! Punk’s fantastic reign continues!

Winner: CM Punk

No Way Out Review, 2012: Big Johnny Hot-Shotted To the Unemployment Line

Mr. McMahon said those two famous words to John Laurinaitis, but was it all too soon?

Mr. McMahon said those two famous words to John Laurinaitis, but was it all too soon?

This PPV felt a lot like Over the Limit; a versy strong PPV right up until the end, where the ‘bombshell’ wasn’t all that exciting. Usually, I would blame the Big Show, but he’s doing the best job the Big Show can. The problem is the storyline – it is more Cena being vulnerable; something less interesting when he overcomes the apparent threat at the first attempt. But more on that later …

Match 1) Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler to Retain the WWE Championship
The first match of the night is meant to get the crowd pumping, and often that means a Dolph Ziggler match. This match certainly achieved that as the styles of these two gelled perfectly, with Ziggler selling the smashmouth nature of Sheamus’s offense with typical fervour while Sheamus allowed himself to be outwrestled by Ziggler, allowing the resurgent challenger to look like a legitimate challenger at that level. There was, indeed, a lot of equal back and forth as both men played to their strengths and the match built. The match progressed even more nicely when Ziggler seemed to tweek his knee. At that point Ziggler was forced to show more resiliancy than his usual in-ring flair, and it made his continued defiance against Sheamus all the more impressive, and so when he hit the Fame Asser on Sheamus and fist pumped the air mightily, the desperation of  the act completely sold me on the near fall. It’s things like that that make for great drama. Both men where really impressing with expanding movesets, most notably Ziggler with his giant DDT and Sheamus with his swinging neckbreaker. Nothing mindblowing, but still a progression. As expected, Sheamus took the win eventually, but with a good finish to a match which made Ziggler look great even in loss. I’m flogging a dead horse here, but surely Ziggler will only get more and more spotlight now he’s proved – again – that he deserves it.

Match 2) Santino Marella def. Ricardo Rodriguez in a Tuxedo Match
I had high hopes for this meatch. Hopes that only got higher whan Santino came out in his ‘best’ all powder blue tux, but something was missing. Apart from a few funny quips, it was just going through the motions, not helped by the crowd shitting all over it. That’ll kill any match … Its fine that Santino won, but especially with no title seemingly on the line, it would’ve been cool to give Rodriguez a win. Saying all that, the foot Cobra nearly redeemed the whole thing.

Match 3) Christian def. Cody Rhodes to Retain the Intercontinental Championship
Christian and Cody Rhodes should have been one of the best matches of the night, and unsurprisingly, it was. These two had a very even back and forth match that started off very smooth and technical. I really enjoyed Rhodes attacking of Christian’s arm, incorporating the stomping on the bent-back wrist and then something i’ve never seen – a key lock using his legs. It makes him look brilliant and inventive and dangerous while Christian continued his trend of an ever-expanding moveset by incorporating a hurricarana. The match then stepped up in terns of drama with near falls becoming more frequent, including another great one where Rhodes managed to kick out of a Killswitch. I was totally sold on that because babyface finisher should usually equal win over heel, at least in a mid-card match, so when it didn’t put Rhodes away I was shoot shocked and very impressed with Rhodes. This I think was the entire purpose of it. Rhodes was going to lose to move on from the feud, but he needed to show his steele and quality, so that he could go away leaving a strong impression for his surely bigger and better challenges. The finish came after a really cool, smooth back-and-forth sequence too, ending in the Spear, which made the whole thing seem almost down to luck as one would inevitably falter. It was Rhodes, and Christian won to retain the title. WITH MOre defences like that, the title can only be in good hands. As fr Rhodes, surely he’s on his way to bigger title opportunities.

Match 4) The Prime Time Players def. Primo & Epico, Justin Gabriel & Tyson Kidd, and The Usos to Become #1 Contenders for the WWE Tag Team Championships
Refreshing it was to see a major tag team match on a PPV that didn’t even need the (limited) draw of the titles. It also meant we got to see eight talented mid-card guys who barely get TV time in that spotlight. They certainly made the most of their time, including that awesome spot where Tyson Kidd Hurricarana’d Primo in to the other six wrestlers outside the ring! I’ve never seen that, and it really showed off the division’s potential, as well as Kidd’s alone. The main talking point – if that was the main visual memory – was AW’s turning on Primo & Epico. Earlier, during the preshow, we got the curious news that AW had let the former Tag Champs rematch clauses lapse, but that he had got them in to the match. Odd, but ok: a way to shoehorn the booking of this match I thought, but no, it was much better than that! It was all a ploy by AW to get his real team in to ‘prime time’ position. He had decided to side with O’Neill and Young because, as is self-evident, they are the hottest team in town right now. So after removing the current #1 Contenders, he helped them to win by feeding Primo to Young and stopping Epico from intervening. It was brilliant, basic storytelling, that made me care about what would happen in the future. Its a fundamental that’s been missing from the tag team division, and i’m glad its back. Now Primo & Epico are instafaces, and that’s fine because seriously, they’re great and will be easy to get behind – and the champions haven’t had to be involved! It’s all good here.

Match 5) Layla def. Beth Phoenix to Retain the Divas Championship
This was another very strong outing from these two ruined only by the attitude of the crowd, who absolutely made no sound. I don’t blame them after WWE themselves have spent years systematically telling us they aren’t important with 2 minute matches and lack of storyline. Nonetheless, I felt the crowd detracted from a strong divas match. Yes Kharma’s return will be great, but it isn’t the be all and end all of female wrestling. Layla is as good as the best of the lockeroom, and that is quite impressive. She put on a great match with Beth and showed some genuine character other than ‘bitch’ or ‘smile’ with that flapper taunt to get the upper hand over Beth. And I like that after a grueling match, they weren’t afraid to put Layla over strong again. That makes for at least 3 divas we thing are legitimately powerful instead of 2 (Kharma, Beth), and that is a good thing. More of this please.

Match 6) Sin Cara def Hunico w/Camacho
It feels like i’ve written those words a million times, and that’s a problem. I like Sin Cara, I really like Hunico, but their time is up! They’ve fought so much on Smackdown that this just felt like Smackdown, and that’s bad for a PPV you’re asking people to pay a lot of money for. Saying that, I enjoyed the match. I enjoyed Hunico giving Cara a really good run for his money in the match, arguably dominating and being the most impressive of the two. Decent match as you would expect, but nothing special, and certainly nothing PPV quality.

Match 7) CM Punk def. Kane and Daniel Bryan to Retain the WWE Championship
The onus on the match, in a way, was on Kane. After a series of great matches between Bryan and Punk have renewed their great chemistry, and to some, Kane was seen as a bothersome obstacle to greatness. Kane, however, performed as he does at his best, knowing his role and dominating. The clash of styles between him and the others is notable, but that become a laudable aspect of the match and part of its narrative instead of a flaw. The match started out with a bit of an indiriffic spot where Punk and Bryan traded kicks on the Big Red Machine in a test of (kicking) strength – a bit of passive aggression that told a good story about the nature of Bryan and Punk’s rivalry. Triple threats are hard to get right in terms of pacing as there are constant interchanges between three guys, but again, this worked here – partly because Kane is such a behemoth. There was a lot of good back and forth between them all, fighting between each other with great fluidity. This led to a nice triple threat spot where Bryan was left sat on the turnbuckle while Kane and Punk brawled ostensibly for the right to superplex Bryan. With there being no outcome, Bryan was able to recover, and hit a double missile dropkick to the both of them. Another nice triple threat moment came when Punk shouldered Bryan only to walk in to a big boot for a near fall. They were finding the best ways their movesets fit together to create progressions between the three of them that made sense and flowed well. With that in mind, this was followed by an attempted elbow drop, only for Kane to move, and for Bryan to follow up with a flying headbutt. As the match continued, Kane and Punk were left in the ring. After failing to shoulder Kane for the GTS, Kane got the upper hand. It was at this point that the pivotal actor in this story arrived: AJ played a thankfully small role in the action of the match, being knocked off the apron after Punk unknowingly pushed Kane in her direction. This was enough to distract Kane, and he walked in to a GTS with Punk now able to do it and pick up the win. After the match, a concerned and more human every day Kane carried her to the back, revealing a wry smile back at the celebrating Punk. I’ve actually pictured that sort of scenario, and I think AJ played it well. This went against what most people suggested would happen – thinking that AJ would help Bryan. Does this mean that she’s on Punk side? Possibly, but ultimately, I think he’ll reject that sort of help as a good, fighting champion. Nonetheless, I think either Bryan, Kane, or both of them will use it as currency for a future title match. A very entertaining match then that the fans were really in to, booked well and utilising AJ without ruining the match. Very well done all round.

Match 8) Ryback def. Two Jobbers
Not much to say here. Like the Sin Cara match, this was just filler that could just as easily be seen on Smackdown as live on a paid-for PPV. I understand the reason for it; its a palette freshener for the main event. Ryback’s matches are still entertaining, but they are meaningless at this level as their purpose are just as easily served on TV.

Match 9) John Cena def. The Big Show in a Steel Cage Match; John Laurinaitis Was Fired
I was tired during this match I have to say, but this match was very unremarkable to me. I honestly can’t remember a spot from it, and that’s not a good thing. Stripped down, this was just John Cena vs the Big Show, and that’s not going to be that entertaining. The match only became memorable when the people Big Show has vanquished returned to cost him the match. I liked how different people had varied success; Ryder was knocked out by a WMD through the steel cage, while Kofi Kingston, who seems to be getting pushed subtly, managed to fight his way against Big Show, and actually downing the Giant, sending him back in to the cage, and Brodus Clay managing to deter Show from climbing the cage. All this helped to stop Show from winning. This, I suppose, will be sold as Big Show’s chickens coming home to roost, and that makes sense in a way because it helps protect his reputation, but I think vanquishing him on PPV so soon seems like a bit of a waste given his build and booking as a legitimate giant. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s booked from here on out. There is scope to keep him as a monster, but I don’t know if its preferable. What was definitely hot-shotted was the firing of John Laurinaitis. Since gaining power, he has been building more and more heat, and has been a unique and entertaining figure on WWE. While McMahon shouting the infamous ‘You’re Fired! in his face before being AA’d through the Spanish Announce Table was entertaining, and a sure-fire memorable moment for the year. Cena looking like a suckup by doing it aside, given the success of the John Laurinaitis character, means that firing him is far too soon. He’s been in the post for less than a year, is getting more heat, and is seemingly – after watching RAW – being shelved as a character already before given the chance to develop to his summit of success before then being fired in a moment that would be memorable in history, and not just for this year.

A strong PPV during most of the scheduled matches with the World Title matches again standing out as well as the Intercontinental Championship match and the tag team #1 contendership, but there was a lot of filler in between which is already forgettable. Once again, too, the main event featuring Big Show and John Cena fell flat, the finish aside. Its a feud that doesn’t work, and until its shelved, PPV’s will continue to finish in an underwhelming way.