Catapulted to the Glass Ceiling: The Bottle-Neck of New Stars in WWE (+ Some a Preview of Payback 2013)

The Wyatt Family - causing a stir and set to be the newest stars of WWE, photo credit to WWE

The Wyatt Family – causing a stir and set to be the newest stars of WWE, photo credit to WWE

WWE is increasingly finding it in a seasonal cycle. Precisely, a cycle of two seasons: WrestleMania Season, and Transition Season. WreslteMania Season is the period from (roughly) the TLC Pay-per-view until (roughly) the RAW after WrestleMania and is characterised by big-drawing part time stars and WWE’s toppermost talent being booked in dream matches, with only rare and fleeting appearances by full-time lower level talent and ‘divas’ who enjoy much less meaningful spotlight and feature time on WWE TV. This is a sea change from only recent years (up until WrestleMania 26 perhaps) when WrestleMania was traditionally a showcase for every active WWE talent to get a spotlight and a pay-day, even if it was just a spot in the preshow battle royal. WrestleMania 27 saw the return of The Rock to the WWE and the onset of part-time stars returning for WrestleMania builds and matches. During this time it becomes incredibly hard for non-established wrestlers to get any significant TV time to get over as top stars themselves. A recent exception to this has been The Shield who became firmly one of the most exciting, compelling and spotlighted acts on WWE TV in the build-up to WrestleMania 29, and even with that they were still only featured on an undercard match (though still a significant high-point of the show). This has led observers to criticise this new era of WrestleMania build for a short-sightedness regarding their year-round product and the state of their card after WrestleMania when the part-time stars are gone and they are left with spots to fill and only talent they haven’t deemed important enough for major spotlighting for 4 months previously (and so who the audience equally don’t deem important).

So after the post-WrestleMania RAW, with the part-time stars gone, WWE enters its Transition Season where they need to fill the vacated spots and – without the pressure of WrestleMania business – start to experiment with new stars and pushing stars to try and make more stars for the top of the card.

This roundabout summary of the WWE calendar is a way to set the scene for the topic of this article – the way fresh talent is pushed in WWE; and more specifically, how the way WWE cycles work is impinging on the potential of debuting new stars. In the past, around the time when – simultaneously – Brodus Clay, Ryback, and Lord Tensai debuted as unbeatable monsters (though of differing character), I had considered writing an article about how all these features basically guaranteed the failure of at least one of these unstoppable ‘big guys’ because they all had similar acts. I didn’t write that article but both Brodus Clay and Lord Tensai did indeed fall in to insignificance, together, as Tons of Funk. This article is about a similar danger. On top of Fandango, who only debuted towards the end of WrestleMania Season, WWE has introduced Curtis Axel and are set to introduce Bray Wyatt and his family in the coming weeks; and though they aren’t all similar acts, they all share the characteristic of being shot to prominent positions instantly upon their debut (Wyatt hasn’t debuted yet, but I think it’s clear that he’s only going somewhere prominent fast).

But because only this transitionary period from after WrestleMania until around Survivor Series is a time when WWE will put significant effort in to making and pushing new stars, these prospects find themselves trying to justify a top spot, and the creative team trying to write them in to top spots simultaneously, and when there simply aren’t enough top spots for them all. I think when you consider the push that Fandango got and the shine he got from being flavour of the month, that took him to a WrestleMania moment and a big victory over Chris Jericho, but when Curtis Axel debuted a few weeks later, he took the flavour of the month shine from Fandango before Fandango had really gotten over as a top star; and within weeks, Fandango seemed like an afterthought from the top of the card, stuck as he was in a triple threat with The Miz and Wade Barrett. Axel has replaced him in this feud, but that is more of a hotshot to make up for Fandango’s injury and is a match Axel will almost certainly win, giving him the title his father was one of the most celebrated champions of, and propel him further. Though Axel’s build has been based on somewhat sullied victories over top stars, he has been positioned among them, and certainly has the ‘new star glow’ that Fandango was enjoying before him. It will be interesting to see then what will happen to Axel and Fandango when Bray Wyatt and his Family debut (maybe even as soon as the next RAW). Wyatt has been the most hotly anticipated debutant in years having set imaginations alight with his genuinely scary, creepy, yet infinitely watchable preacher/cult leader character, and equally fascinating vignette’s introducing him. When he, his two Family members and his rocking chair finally debut on RAW, it isn’t difficult to imagine him being one of the brightest spots on the show, as well as the inheritor of that ‘new star glow’; and like Fandango before him, there is a risk that Axel could lose the rub that being the hot new star provides before he and WWE have capitalised enough to make him a top guy. This isn’t to criticise Fandango or Axel, who still very well may have bright futures ahead of them, it is simply to say that the frequent rate of debuts at this time of year, mixed with the simultaneous pushes of new stars handicaps their chances of success whereas if debuts were spaced out affording each new star the opportunity to grow in that valuable period where they are the freshest act on the show. Imagine if ‘another big thing’ debuted after Brock Lesnar – in retrospect, Lesnar would probably have made it anyway, but it would certainly have taken some shine away from him.

This isn’t the only problem though. As new debutants join the card, they join existing talent supposedly destined for success while much fewer leave or are fired. So while Fandango, Axel, and Wyatt have arrived to an opportunity to make themselves, their spot comes at the cost of another star deserving of a shot at the top. The two foremost examples of this in my mind are both members of Team Rhodes Scholars, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow, but also Sin Cara, who had a chance to capture the erstwhile WWE Universe’s interest before being overshadowed by others. Perhaps this is an intentional state of competition, bred to encourage performers to stand out, as Daniel Bryan has recently, above the rest of the roster. Bryan undoubtedly deserves, and will get, a push thanks to the overwhelming, infectious reaction he has been receiving of late, but that kind of reaction is a rare gem, and just because one stands out, doesn’t mean than those that can’t match up aren’t deserving of an opportunity. Considering the current crop of new stars, to my mind, no act will be able to live up to that of Bray Wyatt and the family, and given the fact that all three can’t long be sustained with simultaneous winning streaks, one or both of Axel and Fandango may have to slip in estimation and could slip in to irrelevance like Tensai and Brodus Clay before them. Though this fits the ‘survival of the fittest’ model, both Fandango and Axel have interesting acts that deserve attention, and could be successful if nourished correctly, or ideally, at different times. If they fail, but are lucky, they might be able to keep a spot for further down the line where their talent could shine through and they get another shot (though that’s more unlikely with is a gimmicky act like Fandango’s). This is where Rhodes and Sandow are – incredibly talented but overshadowed by a cycle of new acts coming and being given the spotlight; and while they are occasionally given prominent matches it seems right now that they might have to wait – possibly forever – for their next opportunity where they are given a push and attention.

This is what I mean by talent being ‘Catapulted to the Glass Ceiling’. WWE has enough faith in these talents to push them hard to the top, but usually not to the point where they win or even compete for top titles straight away, and especially with competition, they are almost doomed to failure to meet their expectations apart from the most notable of exceptions. To make things worse for the current up-and-comers, a bonafide top star in CM Punk is set to return to the WWE this Sunday at Payback, taking a top spot right away and creating even more competition for spots at the top and below as potential top stars are displaced. And so without further ado, some WWE Payback thoughts …

WWE Payback, 16/06/13, from the Allstate Arena, Chicago, IL, photo credit WWE

WWE Payback, 16/06/13, from the Allstate Arena, Chicago, IL, photo credit WWE

This wont be quite in the detail of the PPV previews from what i’ll go ahead and call the ‘RTV Era’ but you will get predictions in match order:

Match 1) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler (c) def. Alberto Del Rio
A sleeper match because Dolph has been away and the build has had nothing to do with him – a mistake seen as he could have been a visible presence on TV at least. These two could have a very good match together though to kick the show off hot, but Ziggler is champ to stay for a while.

Match 2) United States Championship Match: Dean Ambrose (c) def. Kane
Difficult o place it so early, but despite Ambrose’s talent and Kane’s veteran abilities, this will probably be the least intriguing match of all. After the strange decision to hand The Shield their first six-man loss ever on Smackdown, and seen as Ambrose has only been champion for a month, I don’t see him dropping the title because that would seriously damage one of the hottest acts on WWE TV.

Match 3) WWE Tag Team Championship Match: Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns (c) def. Daniel Bryan & Randy Orton
I feel we’ll get the ol’ Shield one-two here. Daniel Bryan is now the hottest act in wrestling, and the reaction in Chicago may well even match Punk’s, but saying that, I don’t think that leads to another tag title. I haven’t read any spoilers but an Orton heel turn seems possible – turning on Bryan maybe due to him stealing the show? At the very least they wont be able to stay on the same page against the ‘Hounds of Justice’, who will retain for the same reason Ambrose will.

Match 4) Divas Championship Match: AJ Lee def. Kaitlyn (c)
The Kaitlyn and AJ saga is one that has lasted, organically, for years. That makes it a welcome relief in the Divas division – an actual storyline that isn’t based on one simply calling the other a bitch. It’s telling that i’m eating it up and hoping Kaitlyn kicks the bejesus out of AJ for her treatment, but in my head the better story is AJ beating the emotionally broken Kaitlyn, holding a title alongside Dolph, and then having Kaitlyn, with the crowd right behind her, chase the title.

Match 5) Intercontinental Championship Match: Curtis Axel def. Wade Barrett (c) and he Miz
This was a terrible build made instantly more interesting by the introduction of current ‘hot new act’, Curtis Axel. In short, Axel can’t lose and i’ll be absolutely flabbergasted if he does. This is his first PPV match and that is a crucial spotlight and even if he didn’t take the fall, it would damage his shine. On father’s day, Axel will win the title his late father was one of the greatest champions of.

Match 6) CM Punk def. Chris Jericho
This is the most intriguing match of the night, and only not the main event because a Cena match with that stipulation is almost main event by default. When this match was made, it came without warning out of left field as what otherwise seemed a throwaway segment on Jericho’s Highlight Reel, and for that reason I then didn’t believe for a second that we’d get that match, and i’m still not sure if we’ll get a straight-up match between the two, but the degree to which they’ve advertised the match makes me think Punk will certainly appear and may well wrestle. What actually happens is up in the air though – it really smells like some sort of twist will have to happen. I don’t think Jericho turns because he wont be around to follow up on it soon as he goes on tour, but think Punk turning on Heyman for exploiting his name and turning face is possible, and that doesn’t rule out a match. Now Axel is in a match, I don’t see him replacing Punk, so I don’t know what would happen is Punk shows but doesn’t wrestle, but if Punk wrestles, he probably goes over (with the outside guess that if Punk turns on Heyman before the match, Axel comes out and costs Punk the match).

Match 7) WWE Championship Match: Three Stages of Hell – John Cena (c) def. Ryback
I think Cena retains here as you’d expect him to retain more than once. I think because he is losing on PPV AGAIN he will win the first fall clean somehow, gives him a rub of a clean pinfall against Cena and gives Cena the mountain to climb, but then Cena wins the next two falls to retain. It also gives Ryback a reason to demand another title match next PPV. Though Bryan/Cena is rumoured, it doesn’t quite make sense to me. I don’t see Bryan going heel seen as he is SO over, and though there is a possibility of a Cena-Bryan respect feud it seems a little off to me on face value. I would finally give Ryback the title at the next PPV and have the much smaller but hotter Bryan chase, and eventually win, the title from the monster.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme Rules Review, 2012: Cena Wins, But Doesn’t Survive the Extreme

A bloodied Cena takes his chance to hit Lesnar with a final blow

A bloodied Cena takes his chance to hit Lesnar with a final blow

God I love wrestling. Yes there are bad times, the celebrity shilling, the occasional and relatively harmless PG racism and homophobia, but most of the time it’s good, and then sometimes you see something special, or a special night, and it’s revelatory. Chicago always provides those nights. There wasn’t a bad match on the card, and the three headline matches delivered different, wonderful stories and some great wrestling.

Preshow) Santino Marella def. The Miz to Retain the United States Championship
I’ll keep this short seen as it was a preshow match. Decent match here and a perfect warm up match for a PPV. Relatively short, with both men looking good. Miz did some nice stuff with the Cobra, big booting the Cobra itself. The Cobra recovered though to hit The Miz and hand Santino the retention. Ultimately, this was the right booking. Santino is way over while The Miz is above the US title now. Let’s just hope Miz can ‘use’ this to progress.

Match 1) Randy Orton def. Kane in a Falls Count Anywhere Match
This was a really good opener. These two have had a lot of brawls, and it would have been easy to have mailed this in. Thankfully they didn’t, and like at WrestleMania, they surpassed all expectations. The main thing with Falls Count Anywhere matches is to use the stipulation to it’s fullest; it’s one of the rare opportunities to see brawls all across the arena, and it is the only opportunity to see pinfalls out of the ring, which can be – at their best – inventive and unique. For the most part, Orton and Kane delivered this, brawling around the arena floor and backstage. This was a great choice to start off the PPV because despite spending most of the time outside of the ring,  them brawling in amongst the crowd in close quarters had them going nuts and really invested them in the match. Not only that, but the fighting was so intense, with dropkicks, body drops and more to the concrete and the running knee to Kane’s head against the wall. When they went backstage, the innovation continued, especially when they came across the WWE Superstars watching the event in the back. It was just refreshing; of course with the superstars backstage, there’s a chance that two people fighting might bump in to them, and bump in to another person who has an issue with one of the brawlers. Maybe this says a lot about Zack Ryder, but him seeing Kane and Orton brawling, and trying to attack Kane, makes more sense than pretty much everything he’s done since getting over. Of course Kane just brushed him aside, but as strange as it was, it was a very intelligent section of the match. Coming back out, they headed to the ring, and it got still more brutal, with multiple chair shots to Kane, which the Big Red Machine surviving. There were also some good, dramatic near-falls for Kane, including a Chokeslam which I totally bit for. The finish of the match was ok, if a little formulaic: frustrated, Kane took the natural next step, looking for a Tombstone to Orton on the chair, only for Orton to reverse in to an RKO on the chair for the return win. The formula of the finish aside, which was fine, the real problem with this was that it finish in the ring. This is the one chance where the match can – and is encouraged to – finish outside of the ring, and they didn’t take that opportunity. Some sort of big spot involving the set or something out of the ring leading to a pinfall in the midst of carnage would have made it great, and the finish showed a lack of imagination. A really good match let down a little by the finish. Time for both to move on now; for Orton, I think Bryan is the right way to go to elevate Bryan and deliver some classic matches, and as for Kane – that’s a harder one. I would go out there and suggest Ryback. He’s been jobbing people out enough now; have Kane attack Ryder once more and have Ryback make the save and let’s see what the guy’s got.

Match 2) Brodus Clay def. Dolph Ziggler
This was an unannounced match, and only 5 or so minutes, but it was really efficiently realised. Clay has lost a bit of momentum recently, partly because he’s not had enough serious competition, and partly because, frankly, Clay has toned down his hilarious campness. Well here we had the first time in his FUNKareer where he did have competition. For a while, with it being the umpteenth time that Ziggler has faced Clay, and with Swagger’s involvement, and with Ziggler being the prospect he is, I started to think Ziggler could get the scalp. Ultimately though, Funkasaurus was still too much for the Show Off, withstanding some great offense before striking Ziggler with that headbutt which Ziggler sells to look a million bucks before taking the big splash for the loss. Unsurprisingly with Ziggler involved, this was the best match Clay’s had yet. Now they have to progress him even more by either moving him up to another feud (perhaps a megapower cartoon feud with Tensai) or progress the stuff with both Ziggler and Swagger obsessed with beating Clay between them, leading to Ziggler finally getting the scalp. We shall see.

Match 3) Cody Rhodes def. The Big Show in a Tables Match to Win the Intercontinental Championship
This match was booked simply, but effectively. I loved the stipulation choice; it was different to the other matches, which tended to be several ways of saying ‘No DQ’. I didn’t see Rhodes winning, until it was announced as a tables match, simply because of how objectively impossible it would seem for Rhodes to get Show through a table. For the most part, the match told the immediate story of Rhodes not being able to get the best of Show, and at one point not even being able to set up a table for Show stopping him. Rhodes got a few moments of offense in, including that brilliant Disaster Kick off the propped-up table to Show, but it mostly consisted of Big Show dominance via chest slaps and some huge, nasty-looking throws in to the barricades. This doesn’t win a tables match though, and Rhodes had enough intelligence to take advantage of Show’s mistake in setting up a table and treating Rhodes complacently. With the table below him, Show was on the apron, and Rhodes dropkicked him so he fell backwards and put his foot through the table. This showed the intelligence of Rhodes, and gave him a legit but technical victory over Show, which also allowed Show an out for losing since he was hardly driven through the table by Rhodes. I was pleased to see Rhodes get the win, but it also makes me wish he hadn’t have lost the title at WrestleMania, and makes me think Show’s victory was given to him out of good will. If Rhodes would have kept the title, he would be on his way to an even more impressive reign than it already was. Ending here, I would have presumed the feud would have continued, but with Show getting the bitter Chokeslam through the table to Rhodes and then the ugly looking bump he gave Rhodes by pressing him from the ring through the table outside the ring, it gave the story a feel of closure. I hope it’s the end for the feud. It was interesting, but it’s run its course. Show should move on, perhaps to a tag team while Rhodes – if he’s ok after that final table bump – should find a new Intercontinental Championship challenger of course; and hey, if we want something fresh, give Tyson Kidd a shot. Wishful thinking I know, but it’d be great!

Match 4) Sheamus def. Daniel Bryan in a 2-Out-of-3 Falls Match for The World Heavyweight Championship
This match always promised to be fantastic, even before WrestleMania, but was finally realised last night at Extreme Rules. This one did a great match of putting on a pure wrestling match while largely ignoring all of the stuff surrounding their feud. They teased AJ involvement, and talked about the ’18 seconds’ victory a little, but for the most part, they let this be what it was: a match to finally determine the winner of the feud. 2-out-of-3 falls always produces interesting, old skool storytelling, and this was no different. I was expecting a very quick first fall for Sheamus, but what we got was better; a long, technically sound first fall, building to the first decision. Bryan was wrestling Sheamus down, working in his arm in anticipation for the YES Lock while keeping some really tough, strong grapples and strikes, while Sheamus was out-powering Bryan when on top, and adapting to Bryan’s style, like when he pulled out a very apt Cloverleaf following from a cool chain wrestling progression. The first fall finish came with Bryan smelling blood after Sheamus ran in to the ringpost and took an ungly spill to the floor with his arm caught in the turnbuckle. After Bryan worked his arm around the ringpost some more, he rolled him in to the ring, and started stiff kicking him to the arm, and in classic 2-out-of-2 falls match style, he played the long game, taking the DQ fall for Sheamus for the benefit of severely weakening his main target in Sheamus’s arm. The dividends came quickly as Bryan locked in the YES Lock. At this point, I even believed Sheamus might tap; but having Sheamus as the fightin’ babyface, it was probably best to have him refuse to tap, only to not be able to continue in the fall, and the second one therefore being given to AmDrag. Here, we had a fall for each without either man looking weak, and telling a great story about a wily heel and a brave face in a war. By this point, the match was becoming an epic saga. With Sheamus unresponsive, Bryan started leading the crowd in YES chants, getting the crowd really hot, and leading to dueling YES/NO chants. Sheamus struggled to get up, but showing both the effect Bryan had on him, and his own resilience, he hit a basic, desperation Brogue Kick which led to a good near fall which allowed Bryan to show his resilience. At this point, it became a blow for blow war as Bryan got a good near fall with a sickening stiff kick to Sheamus’s ear, which was requited with stiff forearms and other blows. Bryan tried to keep on top of him, but missed his turnbuckle dropkick and flying headbutt. With Sheamus back on top he managed to build to his finish; an Irish Curse backbreaker leading to the final, decisive Brogue Kick – sold with amazing backflip from Bryan – for an impressive win in which Bryan also looked great.  Both men gave their all, and the crowd were really into it. A great way to finish this feud and quite probably a Match of the Year candidate. For Sheamus, it looks like Alberto Del Rio will be in his future, which should lead to some good matches. As for Bryan, he needs a high profile feud to move on to now he’s so over. I support my idea about him being given Randy Orton, and I think that against a face so over as Randy, Bryan’s heat will be condensed in to more pure heel heat.

Match 5) Ryback def. Two Local Jobbers in a Handicap Match
Ryback isn’t ready for PPV really, but he had a job tonight in cleansing the palette between the MOTY candidate World Heavyweight Championship match and the Jericho-Punk match which would be looking to follow it. The heel jobbers – which I still don’t really understand other than Ryback can’t get over as a face without them I suppose – were actually quite good heels here with their repetitive ‘2 is bigger than 1’ routine. The crowd wanted to see them get beaten, and Ryback did that job well. Beating two jobbers rather than one is more impressive than his victories so far, but the people he’s beating are still essentially jabronis and his victories aren’t that impressive. Now he’s got this out of my way, I support – again – my own idea, to have him face Kane and see if he can get over as a babyface.

Match 6) CM Punk def. Chris Jericho in a Chicago Street Fight to Retain the WWE Championship
CM Punk emerging in Chicago is always the best. It is something that encapsulates what I love about pro wrestling: well, love. Part of me feels like the Ryback squash didn’t do enough to recharge the crowd from the awesome World Title match, but this reaction was at least it’s equal, and so was the match. The match itself – apart from the unfortunate formality of the Championship introductions – didn’t waste any time in then getting going, straight in to a ‘Pier 6’ brawl and the early introduction of kendo sticks and some sick kendo shots (seriously, look at the welts on Jericho’s back, if you can!). An impassioned Punk was dominating, so it made sense when the cowardly Jericho went to the referee for salvation before the veteran Jericho used the position to give Punk a thumb to the eye followed by a nice dropkick. There then followed some very unscientific but compelling brawling at ringside, punctuated by Jericho exposing the steel of the barricade in front of Punk’s sister and slamming Punk’s head in to it, before eyeing up Punk’s sister, being slapped by her, and looking to go after her. This was an important point in the match, not only in storyline with Punk’s sister’s involvement, but because the heinousness of Jericho’s implied intentions brought Punk’s urgency, and that of the match, up a further gear. Not only that, but this was pretty much her only involvement in the match aside from visual reminder of the personal nature of the feud. Best use of family in wrestling since, well, CM Punk and Rey Mysterio. Forcing himself to recover, Punk leapt on Jericho just in time to stop him before going nuts at ringside and tearing up the announce tables in foreshadowing of carnage. Until this point, i’ve always though attacks with announce table hoods are weak and shouldn’t be done, but in this match, it really worked, when Punk slammed Jericho through one that was propped up against the announce table,  before Jericho would later hit Punk with a tough blow with the broken half of the hood. Punk went on to tease a stomach-churning piledriver on the concrete, but Jericho managed to reverse in to a back body drop before taking the initiative with a shot to the spine of Punk with a monitor. This really was a nonstop, drag-out, brutal brawl, and it was unsurprising that they changed pace a little following it, returning to the ring for Jericho to dominate some. In fact, Jericho got such a hand over Punk that he was able to leave the ring to get a beer to pour on Punk before getting another for himself. The second was too far though, and showed the exact arrogance of a guy who thinks he’s the best in the world despite losing to the best a month prior – it allowed Punk t come back with some sweet, stiff kicks which led to multiple beer spits from Jericho. This was closely followed by more harsh kendo shots, including a brilliantly timed and executed kendo-assisted heel kick from Punk. This was the next step up in gears as the action quickened and we moved towards signature and finisher territory with Punk shouldering Jericho for a GTS which was reversed in to a Liontamer/Walls of Jericho attempt which was really convincing and made Punk look great and resilient to escape from. Shortly after came another, even better progression which could only be pulled off by two of the best, with perfect timing. Again attempting a GTS, Jericho escaped and hit a bulldog; looking for a Lionsault, Punk recovered, and caught Jericho exactly as he hit the ropes, and with Jericho caught on the ropes, Punk grappled him back to his shoulders for another GTS attempt, which Jericho again escaped before sending Punk into a wedged chair in the corner. This section in the ring really started to combine well the brutality of earlier with the drama of great wrestling and near-falls, and this only got more tense after Jericho hit a surprise Codebreaker from nowhere and then locked Punk in another Walls of Jericho, with Punk looking ever more likely to tap before eventually, again, making the ropes. With Jericho exploiting the Street Fight rules, Punk was forced to take what was at hand to escape, and what he used was the fire extinguisher which he first sprayed Jericho with before brutalising him with it. Punk followed Jericho on his escape, with the extinguisher, to the outside, a final shot laying Jericho out on the Spanish Announce Table. It was obvious what was coming, but that anticipation in pro wrestling, like with a lot of great spectacles, only makes the event sweeter, and so (despite the exhausted Punk barely being able to stay on the turnbuckle) when Punk finally flew through the air to connect with a Macho Man elbow through the table with Jericho, the crowd went mad and were simultaneously even more amazed by what they saw, especially given the table crashing looked even more devastating than usual. Punk then – after recovering himself- pushed Jericho in the ring and went for a count. This signified the beginning of the end. Punk only got a good near fall, but obviously unsatisfied, he went straight for an Anaconda Vice. Now I don’t know if this was intentional, but this section mirrored HHH in Undertaker’s Hell’s Gate from both WrestleManias 27 and 28 in that it involved the victim reaching out for, and then dropping a nearby weapon; the only difference here being that Jericho managed to keep a hold of the weapon and used it to bash Punk over the head to escape. Following this came the best near-fall of the night, and a really inventive one. Punk tried to keep control of the match, reaching for a chair he had tossed in to the ring ages earlier; driving it in to Jericho’s gut, Jericho grabbed the chair in that position, and used it for an amazingly smooth, chair assisted Codebreaker. I was convinced of a Jericho win, nut no! Punk survived! A frustrated Jericho, ever the meglomaniac, then picked up and shouldered Punk as if looking to beat him with his own move, only this time, Punk escaped, slingshotted Jericho in to the exposed turnbuckle before finally (after setting it up for the whole match, several times) hitting his GTS for a great, Match of the Year worthy, win! It was the best finish of the night by far in its inventiveness and unpredictability, and let Punk add another great defense to his ever-swelling reign. It was a totally different match to their masterpiece at WrestleMania, and just goes to show the breadth of their capabilities. I loved the carnage left behind them after the match: weapons, broken wood, a stripped and a destroyed announce table, and two spend warriors. This was another war. The only problem is, it’s going to get hard to justify the continuance of this great feud. Jericho was ‘given’ another shot after WrestleMania, but it perhaps needs too much grace for him to get another one, especially given Punk has now beaten by pin and submission. I hope they do get ‘one more match’, but if it does, it will need a significant progression from the alcoholism angle, most righteously involving Jericho ‘needing’ to beat Punk. If not then both men will need new opponents. For Jericho, it’s wide open, but I would figure he’d move on to a young up-and-coming face (and there aint too many of them! – Kofi Kingston, again?). As for Punk, I figure there could surely be only one man in line for a title shot, and i’ll speak on that later in the report.

Match 7) Layla def. Nikki Bella to Win the Divas Championship
This match was more of a rollercoaster before it began than it was once it began. Initially, it seemed we’d get Beth vs Nikki for the title and Kharma would come out to dominate. Then it seemed we’d get Kharma vs Nikki and Kharma would dominate. Then what we got was Nikki Bella defending against the returning Layla (though I initially thought it was Michelle McCool given the music)! I’m a huge fan of Layla, so I was in no way disappointed to see her return. Both she and the Bellas are very underrated wrestlers, and for the limited time they had, they put on a decent match (ring rust etc permitting for Layla). Some good, impressive moves from both women, but especially Layla, who was being showcased – including a crossbody from the top rope. This was all after some good, scientific focusing on Layla’s rehabbed knee from Nikki, but after Layla got control, they attempted Twin Magic. Usually, that spells the end, but Layla managed to simply beat Brie with her tough neckbreaker finisher for an emotional win. Yes, the fans were disappointed, but this was the right way to do things. This was an intense PPV, and a Kharma return wouldn’t have had as much impact, while her being mentioned and thought of as a generally terrifying prospect will only make her eventual return more impactful. Meanwhile, the belt is now back on a babyface that Kharma can terrorise when she returns, and hopefully, Layla will be able to have some impressive, Gail Kim style matches with her before Beth returns for the showdown! Oh yes, and come back soon, Bellas.

Match 8) John Cena def. Brock Lesnar
It should be noted that I was highly skeptical about this match before it took place, and after it, I disliked Brock Lesnar slightly less, so that bodes well. My main concern was about the MMA influence and how that could make the match a bit of an eyesore. The first bit of positivity came when Lesnar’s sponsored gear didn’t actually look quite as stupid as it seemed beforehand (though it was still kinda stupid). More importantly, I was worried we’d have long period of grounded grappling, MMA style, so imagine my dismay at the first few minutes of the match which was just that. Saying that, the MMA influence was, for the most part, well incorporated in to the professional wrestling match, and Cena being so bloodied, so early on, gave the match a distinct, uneasy feel, but in all the right ways. In many ways, this would be emblematic of the whole match, or at least most of it; Cena looking kind of incapable and defenseless against Lesnar. Doctors swarmed around Cena, and not for the last time while Lesnar seemed to relish his animalistic destruction. Lesnar was brutalising the face of WWE, and putting him in some pretty horrifying looking holds, especially that Kimura hold, and all Cena could muster was some pithy attempts at AA’s, which were quashed as quickly as they ever began. Otherwise, Lesnar was just finding inventive ways to torture Cena, including using Cena’s own chain to lock Cena’s feet together before assaulting him unprotected; and hanging him upside down from the turnbuckle by the chain and beating on him. As time went on, Lesnar only became more animalistic, thriving in the blood, wiping Cena’s all over him and licking it off his gloves. The match turned, however, after a big move which must actually have been a botch. With Cena hanging on to the apron, Lesnar sprung off the ropes and launched off the steps (which had been moved to the ring), but instead of just knocking Cena from the apron, he overshot and while knocking Cena off the apron, spilled over himself, taking a nasty tumble. Nonetheless, he got back up soon, remarkably, and went for the move a second time. This time, however, Cena had managed to grab his chain, and when Lesnar launched himself this time, it was in to Cena’s chain-loaded fist. This busted Lesnar open and allowed Cena to finally hit the AA, on to the waiting steel steps for a three-count few people saw coming. Some people were annoyed at this finish, and I understand why to an extent; the ultimate definition of SuperCena is when he wins a match after taking a lot of offense and hitting a few moves out of no where for the win. Usually, I hate Cena when he’s SuperCena as much as the next man, but this time it was different; Cena had been tortured, brutalised, and still stayed in the game while Lesnar was a sadistic monster. Cena earned everyone’s respect, which in the Allstate Arena shows just how epic and deeply brutal the match he survived was. A really well thought out match to manipulate the fans in to sympathising with Cena while providing a genuinely different aesthetic for a match, which is something laudable. I may not like Lesnar over a lot of top guys, but he is great in this animalistic killer role, and if he can stick to that, I think him and I will be just fine. A further shock came when Cena seemed to announce he was hurt and would be taking some time off. I think that was a work to justify some well-deserved time off, but whatever it is, it’s interesting. We don’t know how long it will be, but we will have a period of Cena-less time. This will obviously provide a huge spot for some up and comers (hopefully) to fill – i’m looking at you, CM Punk! Speaking of Punk, with him moving on possibly from Jericho, and Cena taking time off, it seems like Punk and Lesnar surely must be on a collision course. After Lesnar beat the hell out of Cena and put him on the shelf, Lesnar hasn’t lost much as a monster heel, and surely the only legitimate challenger for the title at the time of writing is Lesnar. This can make for a great feud, as long as Lesnar doesn’t squash Punk with ease. Punk has a lot to say about Lesnar, and could maul him on the mic while potentially having interesting, great matches. As for Cena, when he eventually returns, it’ll be to face a rampant Lesnar, and he’ll get a huge heroes pop.

Extreme Rules always delivers, possibly because they take the ‘extreme’ mantra seriously, and really push the boat out in terms of innovation and bodily sacrifice. Another plus point is that it coming off WrestleMania, it often provides the definite, concrete end points of quite a few feuds, which adds a a certain satisfaction to the event. All the matches here were entertaining, and at least acceptable in quality; some were very good, and the three headline matches – the most important ones – were exceptional, with the two title matches providing Match of the Year candidates. Another excellent Extreme Rules, and another excellent WWE PPV, which have been of a very high standard for the most part for a long time.