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

No Way Out Preview & Predictions, 2012

No Way Out, 17/06/12, from the IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ

No Way Out, 17/06/12, from the IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ

Above is the best PPV poster ever!

Anyway, it’s time for No Way Out (tomorrow)! The main matches have had adequate build, but it seems like No Way Out as an event hasn’t been built that much. It feels like it’s just creeping up on us a little and like it’s just another show. That shouldn’t be a good thing, but in the past it has meant good shows have occurred when least expected and surprised us – it wont translate to a special buyrate though.

Match 1) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Sheamus (c) vs Dolph Ziggler
Despite the fact that this match was seemingly booked on the fly when Alberto Del Rio became concussed, but, if anything, this match is more interesting and anticipated than the original. With the stiffer style Sheamus has been adopting of late, I hope it mixes well with Ziggler’s awesome selling and both men’s ability to put on a good, dramatic match. Everyone expects a good match, and everyone expects a Sheamus win. However, a part of me wouldn’t be surprised to see the change of plans lead to a complete twist and a shocking but also therefore memorable victory for Ziggler. There are still more competitors waiting for Sheamus though, and his reign hasn’t been long enough for someone I think WWE are trying to make in to a blockbuster star. So while i’d like to see the Ziggler moment, I think this match will help build him up to that level without giving him the gold.

Winner: Dolph Ziggler

Match 2) United States Championship Match?: Santino Marella (c) vs Ricardo Rodriguez in a Tuxedo Match
Santino and Ricardo are gold-dust together and are providing some of the best comic wrestling i’ve seen in a long time. Genuinely fresh and genuinely entertaining, and with it being something so ridiculous as a tuxedo match, I expect great things. With Del Rio out of the picture, he’s losing some of the heat from the classic heel, and despite being a heel to Santino’s face, is becoming more and more popular. Bear in mind as well then that the prospect of Rodriguez losing isn’t going to ‘put any asses om seats’, and I start to wonder whether this match being booked on PPV might be because Ricardo will pull of the upset win, be it for the United States Championship or not. I can actually see him and Santino bonding over this and maybe even Ricardo Rodriguez turning face, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves shall we? Simply because there was no demand I can see for Santino to beat Ricardo, i’m backing the ring announcer, though obviously by complete accident!

Winner: Ricardo Rodriguez

Match 3) Intercontinental Championship Match: Christian (c) vs Cody Rhodes
Christian and Rhodes are two very good workers who are fighting over a sometimes very prestigious championship. That in itself is a good sell for this match. Their build has been solid if a bit mailed in with the best narrative being about who is better for the prestige of the title. Rhodes has said that Christian undid all his good work when he beat him for the championship at Over the Limit and that now he’s back to restore honour. Quite unique, certainly, but the stops have hardly been pulled out. Lets hope the match speaks for itself. I can’t see Christian dropping the title back to Rhodes after Rhodes only had it for a month, so I see a retention here, and perhaps – hopefully – a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship for Cody Rhodes in his future.

Winner: Christian

Match 4) WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs Daniel Bryan vs Kane
This is one of the two matches to get most of the attention for tonight’s show, and rightly so, but the attention has been some of the strangest I can remember, featuring as the protagonist WWE Diva AJ Lee. For the most part i’ve enjoyed AJ’s role in that she’s taken Punk and Kane out of their comfort zones and really upset the apple cart as classic PPV build goes. Whatever you think about the portrayal of AJ, which is at times a little troubling, it has made this match feel different, and that’s a good thing. Now the question seems to be, how will AJ pull the strings of this match and who will she help to win or retain the title? The prevailing thinking seems to be for Bryan, and I tend to agree. Punk has had a very long and strongly booked reign, beating the likes of pretty much everybody. He’s running out of challengers and maybe needs the change of pace that chasing the title allows. Not only that, but without the title, he may be able to act as a more edgy, pipebombing character – having the top title around your waist kinda undermines that. Step in Daniel Bryan. He’s been the hottest star of the past few months and could be a great WWE Champion; even better – his matches with Punk have been great, and his win would mean a continuation of that. If it does go this way, it will mean AJ helping Bryan and them becoming the power couple I always wanted them to be; either that, or it will a continuation of the original relationship between Bryan and AJ – of unconditional love and manipulation that I found so interesting originally. Of course, all this means that a spanner will be thrown in the works and Kane might win, but we’ll just have to wait and see about that! Speaking of Kane, he will disturn be natural technical flow of Bryan-Punk, but I don’t doubt that the experienced veteran will help to embelish the match somehow and make it a unique match in their feud.

Winner: Daniel Bryan

Match 5) Divas Championship Match: Layla (c) vs Beth Phoenix
Despite the fact the build this has received is the less significant part of a comedy match and some very brief promos, I am looking forward to this match. At Over the Limit they did a great job, and I expect they will do again. As for the result, that still seemingly pivots on when Kharma returns, which was the same as at Over the Limit. With that in mind, I will literally copy and paste it here, and probably will every PPV until Kharma returns!: The returning Layla has some momentum and fan support behind her, while being a very underrated wrestler. Her smaller size against the also interesting story of Phoenix returning angry from losing her championship could be make for a interestingly and impressively booked match. If given time, this could be an unexpected hit for the PPV. There is a problem though. With Kharma surely to return imminently to feud with Beth, WWE seem to have booked themselves in to a corner. Before Layla returned, most expected Kharma to be first back, take the Divas championship, and call out Beth. Layla as champion obviously throws a spanner in here. If Beth beats her, she loses a lot of credibility, and could fall out of the spotlight which is a shame for a very popular and talented wrestler who has a lot of good will on her side after an injury return. On the other hand, Beth certainly can’t lose to Layla if she’s to be a credible challenge to legitimate monster, Kharma. So neither can win without causing significant damage to the other. The only option, as I see it, is to give them decent time for both to shine, but eventually have Beth seem dominant, and in an aesthetically dominant position (press slam position or similar), about to win the match, when Kharma’s music hits, she comes to the ring and attacks Beth. Beth wins by DQ and Layla keeps her title. The Beth-Kharma feud is exciting enough to not need the title, so it would protect Layla and add more depth to the division with her in championship feuds and Beth-Kharma happening separately.

Winner: Beth Phoenix

Match 6) Steel Cage Match: John Cena w/ Mr. McMahon vs The Big Show w/ John Laurinaitis
After Over The Limit, the Era of Big Show was a prospect that worried me, but, to his credit, Show has settled in to a strong narrative as the put upon freak show finally rebelling and taking charge. This would be full on antihero babyface had it not been for his abandoning of the WWE Universe along the way because they endorsed his treatment. He has a point – which is best for most heels. Saying that, Show as he is now vs John Cena just can’t interest me much. He’s the right opponent in the sense that he’s the company man, but perhaps that’s also the problem. Without fail, that has been the reasoning behind every single one of Cena’s foes for around 2 years now. Perhaps in Big Show they’ve finally found someone who just isn’t fresh or interesting in that role … That’s not to do down the job he’s been doing – as I say he’s been impressing me – its just its not quite clicked with me. The match itself will live or die on the booking. If they just have a Show-Cena match in a cage it’ll be fine, but not extraordinary. A classic match, and moment, will depend, I think on well thought-out, surprising outside interference from someone that would cause a good cliffhanger. I don’t want it jinx it, but I would suggest Mr. McMahon turn and betray Cena. Yes, it would mean wheeling out McMahon again, which isn’t very progressive, but when mixed with Johnny’s heat, could get a real buzz going. The result doesn’t seem much in doubt; once again, the stipulation has made it obvious because it’s so similar to Over the Limit’s stipulation. If Laurinaitis/Laurinaitis’s Proxy loses, Laurinaitis is fired, Laurinaitis aint getting fired, so Laurinaitis/Laurinaitis’s Proxy will win. The fact that the result is so predictable wont help the enjoyability of the match. It seemed to be suggested on Smackdown after Cena punched Laurinaitis that is Laurinaitis remained GM, then Cena’s job would be in danger. This is an admirable attempt to make the stipulation less revealing, but it isn’t enough i’m afraid because – again without jinxing it hopefully – Cena taking time off is getting more and more realistic. His involvement has become too formulaic: an new and powerful threat appears and beats him and makes him seem more vulnerable. But after Punk, Rock, Brock, and Show, who else could do this? Maybe he would enter in to further matches with Big Show after Show beats him surely with some outside help, but I don’t know how much life there is in that unless Cena has to go up against the potential heel faction of McMahon, Laurinaitis, and Big Show et al. That is all pie in the sky though. There is potential for it to be good, but on the basis of how this story is going since Over the Limit, i’d be pleasantly surprised.

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.

Extreme Rules Preview & Predictions, 2012

Extreme Rules, 29/04/2012, from the All State Arena, Chicago, IL

Extreme Rules, 29/04/2012, from the All State Arena, Chicago, IL

Chicago audiences are amongst the best in the world, and among the very best in the US. Passionate and loud, they are an extra performer in any wrestling show, and invariably, one that improves the show. It’s just a shame that Chicago’s favourite son, and the crowd’s most over babyface generally, almost certainly wont be in the main event and isn’t featured on the poster. I understand it, but it doesn’t make it right. But I shouldn’t rant on Lesnar just yet. His match with John Cena is a bonafide attraction, even if it’s not one i’m personally too interested in. I’ll be live-tweeting the event, so follow me for that, and more personal insight @RTVWOW!

Preshow) United States Championship Match: Santino Marella (c) vs The Miz
This is a fairly new feature to WWE, and obviously it has a different function to the other matches, to whet the appetite for people undecided as to whether to buy the PPV and to get the crowd hot, and that affects somewhat the booking, and therefore, the predictions for the match. The other primary aspect of pediction is what is currently happening to The Miz. The former WWE Champion and ‘Next Big Thing’ (pardon the pun) now finds himself struggling to make PPV, to get wins, and to get anywhere near the title picture. His cause hasn’t been helped by starts like The Rock or Brock Lesnar returning, but it also is a possibility that Miz’s downfall is to be used as a storyline. He had a resurgence at WrestleMania, getting the pin to establish ‘People Power’ under John Laurinaitis, but he’s again disappeared. Perhaps this is all leading to a response from The Miz that will see him re-surge to the top, possibly – possibly – as a babyface. I don’t think that starts with him taking the US title from the hugely beloved Santino Marella; it would just be more middling for The Miz. Not only that, but remember the function of the match. If they want a hot crowd, get the babyface over; if they want to whet the appetite, have a championship match, not a championship changing hands. So because it’s essentially a dark match for the PPV, and because they don’t want to give away a championship change for free, I see a Santino retention here. I have no idea how, but I hope it isn’t clean via Cobra! Now the only question here is, do I include this in my prediction stats, it being a preshow match. I suspect that will depend on how right I am!

Santino Marella

Match 1) Falls Count Anywhere Match: Randy Orton vs Kane
I mentioned on twitter how hard I was finding picking the opening bout, and was close to predicting Punk-Jericho. In the end, I plumped for this match because of the Randy Orton pop being a strong enough start to the PPV. As for the match, I have among the least to say about it. I’ve said before that Orton is the inheritor of the Shawn Michaels ability to not put on a bad match, and like at WrestleMania, i’m sure this will be a good match for what it will be: brawling. I think the real success of the match will hang on the inventiveness of the booking outside of the ring. If they do unique things backstage and really push the boat out, it could be great; if it doesn’t go far beyond the ring, it could be disappointing. I think the result is pretty clear. After losing at Mania, I don’t see Orton losing this match. This should be the end of this feud, which has really ran out of material I think, and so Orton should win, and move on. That doesn’t rule out a swerve of course, as happened (arguably) at WrestleMania, but I see less value in Kane going over this time now that he has a high-profile victory over Orton.

Winner: Randy Orton

Match 2) Intercontinental Championship with Stipulation To Be Determined By Roulette Wheel: Big Show (c) vs Cody Rhodes
Since Rhodes dropped the title to Big Show at WrestleMania, the value of both Rhodes and the championship has depreciated, and that in itself suggests that Rhodes re-winning the title would be the right way to go. I don’t see it happening though, not to the Big Show. I’d be pleased, but it doesn’t mean as much for Cody as a win at WrestleMania would, and the bright side is that if he loses, he can move towards the spot he deserves – the World Title picture. The quality of the match of course depends on what stipulation it is given, and, though there is absolutely no real logic to this, I have a feeling it’ll be a goofy stipulation rather than an ‘extreme’ one – something like a pillow fight. It would be a shame for the wrestling purist, but there would be a plus side. It would give Rhodes an excuse of sorts for the loss while giving Show a stipulation he can have a bit of fun with (e.g. WMD through pillow). Of course, they could be given a cage match or something, which would be pretty cool, but whatever happens, I doubt it’ll affect the result.

Winner: The Big Show

Match 3) 2 Out of 3 Falls Match for the World Heavyweight Championship: Sheamus (c) vs Daniel Bryan
The most immediate thing i’d like to say about this is that Daniel Bryan will be the de fact babyface here, and Sheamus the heel, just because of the crowd. This match could be absolutely great is the second thing i’ll say. 2 out of 3 falls matches always invite interesting booking, and there’s a lot to play off between these two, especially with the 18 second loss at WrestleMania. I don’t think we’ll get a 36 second retention here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the champion gets the first first fall in up to 18 seconds. It would be a nice echo of their recent psychology without actually costing Bryan the match early. After that, obviously Bryan will get fall 2, and I think it will be relatively clean, though a lot of that depends on it there are any DQ’s. If so, Bryan might try and get himself a DQ fall, if not, he might to it via weapon. Although falls are easier to come by in these matches, I can’t see Sheamus going down straight up to any Bryan offense, so it’ll be interesting to see how it comes about. I like what Seth Mates has suggested for the third fall, especially after what Bryan did to Sheamus on RAW, that Bryan becomes obsessed with making Sheamus tap out to one of his 100+ submissions (as acknowledged by WWE announcers) and in so doing, ends up losing the final fall. That would make Bryan look great, while explaining his loss. Whatever happens, this will be one of the best matches on the card. I can’t see Sheamus losing though – they’ll want to get him over as a champ against Del Rio going forward.

Winner: Sheamus

Match 4) Divas Championship Match: Nikki Bella (c) vs Beth Phoenix
I am very vocal in my praise for the Bellas. As twins, they make a unique attraction and are underrated as wrestlers (I also unashamedly really, really fancy them), and I think Nikki would make a good champion. Unfortunately for her, this match has nothing to do with her. The return of Kharma has been much anticipated, and we saw at the Royal Rumble four months ago that she was on her way back. It seems Nikki Bella has the title so that Beth Phoenix doesn’t have to lose it to the returning Kharma, and that makes sense. It seems the story will be Nikki retains against the injured Phoenix before Kharma reappears and destroys Nikki with Beth looking on. Kharma actually has unfinished business with the Bellas after the way they berated her when she left, so I see Kharma getting the belt back at Over the Limit, dominating the diva scene before a Phoenix return for the dream feud we’ve all been waiting for can begin. Letting Nikki keep the belt for a month will also make Kharma’s victory seem a little more meaningful (though that all depends on The Bellas’ contract status). For what it’s worth, it’d be nice to see Nikki and Beth having some time for a good match; it would be good for everyone: It makes Beth look brave and strong, fighting through her injury, while Nikki will be allowed a good victory on PPV, which again will benefit Kharma when she eventually wins the title.

Match 5) Chicago Street Fight for the WWE Championship: CM Punk (c) vs Chris Jericho
This, again, is obviously the match i’ll be most looking forward too. This will be a brawl more than a traditional, scientific wrestling match like at WrestleMania, but I trust these two to make gold of anything. One of my favourite moments ever is watching Punk emerge to face John Cena in Chicago last year to a thunderous ovation. This will happen again, and that is a great thing. I have no idea what to expect from the match itself, but their feud is personal, that if they can fight with that urgency, it will be fantastic. That is easy to predict, what isn’t so easy is the winner. Jericho certainly could win, but then either Punk would just win the title back, rendering it a little needless, or Lesnar would challenge him (see next match prediction) and that would be a heel vs heel feud with no build. So what is Punk wins? Does Jericho win another battle royal to get in the title picture? Maybe. Wrestling can facilitate anything, but it would be quite cynical to do it two months in a row. Would Lesnar take on and beat Punk for the title? After Lesnar is down with Cena, the only thing it would make sense for him to pursue would be the Championship. That could be great, but I don’t know how wise it would be to have Lesnar go over Punk with ease. These are some of  the calculations in the complicated title picture, but it makes it hard to predict. Ultimately, despite WWE’s history of jobbing out home town stars, I just can’t see them doing it to Punk in Chicago. If it is Lesnar’s destiny to take the title, Punk will need the best reign possible before dropping it, and at the least, dropping it to Lesnar is better than dropping it to most other heels on the roster just because of his monster-esque booking and a feud with him could allow Punk to flourish on the mic, especially since it seems he has some shoots in hand for Lesnar. All this nonsense aside, the match in hand will no-doubt steal the show, especially with Punk’s family to be at ringside. They are a big part of the feud, and as master psychologists, Punk and Jericho will make the most of it before handing Punk another memorable victory.

Winner: CM Punk

Match 6) Extreme Rules Match: John Cena vs Brock Lesnar
I’m intrigued by this match, but I wouldn’t say i’m looking forward to it. I’ve made my feelings about Brock Lesnar abundantly clear both here and on twitter (@RTVWOW), and I don’t relish seeing him wrestle, especially in those goofy MMA-inspired shorts which suggest its only real when it’s Lesnar. As usual, Cena is handling this all brilliantly, and it’s been refreshing seeing the attitude adjustments (cheap pop) in Cena’s character – even showing straight fear for the first time in pretty much ever. For some reason though, i’m just not pumped for the match. I think it’s partly because the result seems so sure, and also because of my worry that Lesnar will be doing MMA style grapples and beating the s**t out of Cena for a lot of the time. That style is not something I think lends itself to pro wrestling, and it isn’t one I want to see. The only result that makes any sense is Lesnar winning, and that’s fine; Cena going through a crisis of confidence is interesting, but Lesnar winning wont be of interest to me. Again, Seth Mates has come up with the sort of scenario which makes me wish he was still on WWE Creative: that after Lesnar eventually, inevitably decimates Cena, Cena is either written off TV through injury, or simply by ‘walking away’ in shame and a lack of confidence. Lesnar goes on to run rampant while Cena takes a much deserved rest until finally Cena returns to a huge reaction to save the day. It would be genuinely different and surely not that much of a risk with people like Punk, Orton and Sheamus around on the babyface side. That’s all wishful thinking though; lets just hope something more interesting than Brock Lesnar = beast that’s always on our TV happens.

Winner: Brock Lesnar

With the crowd on it’s side, I expect this PPV to be a big hit for the most part, and who knows, if the crowd is hot enough, I may even enjoy the main event (which shouldn’t be the main event) more than expected! One more time, for live tweets and more, follow @RTVWOW on twitter!

 

The LIVE RAW View (17/04/2012): Lord Tensai Moves Up The Card – In the Flesh!

My view of Lord Tensai clawing at John Cena's face

Ok, so this RAW View will obviously employ a different approach than usual because I had the pleasure of viewing the taping LIVE at the O2 in London, so while i’m going to talk about RAW as a broadcast, I will be focusing too on the live experience.

Before the Show
Coming out of the tube station at North Greenwich, I started feeling the electricity. Wrestling fans are the greatest, and being among thousands of them and chatting about our passion is the greatest. In terms of merchandise, I said on twitter that I thought Punk edged Cena, but looking around the arena when everyone was sat down, there was a sea of green Cena shirts, so i’d say that the two are about even, and quite far ahead of anyone else. There were smatterings of Ryder, Mysterio, Kingston, and Ziggler, but they simply weren’t on the same level.

There’s been a lot of talk about the ‘Yes!’ chants replacing the ‘What?’ chants, but that isn’t the case. ‘Yes!’ (and also ‘No!’) are specific preferential responses to what the fans see; like the ‘Yes!’s when Bryan was kicking Kofi, and the ‘No!’s when Kingston was on top. ‘What?’ is something the fans chant to psyche out characters they don’t like. What ‘Yes!’ may be replacing, from my experience on Monday, is the ‘woos’ i’ve often heard before live shows. There were still smatterings of ‘woos’ before the event, but they were dwarfed in popularity by spontaneous ‘YES!’s’ before the event, especially when they finally opened the doors.

It’s an infectious atmosphere, and while it makes little sense, the chants that happen around the arena before anyone’s even appeared are great, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them – like the ‘Let’s Go Cena’ chants being dominated by the ‘Cena Sucks!’

Dark Match: Dean Ambrose def. Alex Riley
Alex Riley is either still over and potentially deserving of some renewed TV time, or the crowd was hot and would have popped huge for whoever came out first, but Riley got a great reception when he came out for the dark match. Meanwhile Ambrose came out and cut a great heel promo, telling everyone to quiet down by the time he got to the ring, while calling himself the real ‘Hardcore Legend’, which was obviously a knock on Mick Foley as a part of the burgeoning feud; one that I would actually really enjoy watching. The match itself was fine, but I don’t know whether it was the green-ness of ‘A-Ry’ or what, but it didn’t impress me quite as I expected. Ambrose eventually went over with a Regal-esque running knee (another wrestler he’s been linking himself with) to get good heat.

Superstars Match: Eve Torres def. Kelly Kelly
Surprising reaction for Kelly Kelly. It was certainly positive, but it was also kinda muted, and there were smatterings of boos, most probably from the ‘smart’ fans (more on them as the report goes on). Eve, meanwhile, got some strong heat, though I hate the ‘Hoeski’ chants that were most popular for her, because especially when you’re encouraged by your peers, it really does feel that machismo bullying. Of course its good for fans to mock the heels, but when it’s such an offensive, sexist term, it’s not really acceptable to me. While Eve is improving, and Kelly was trying hard, the match was pretty flat to be honest, and I was glad to see it end to be honest. I don’t know how well the cameras caught it, but the finish, with Eve using the ropes to assist her pin was really quite sloppy. Still, the match had the desired effect of getting heat for Eve and sympathy for Kelly.

Superstars Match: R-Truth def. Jack Swagger
This match must have been the main event for this week’s Superstars simply due to the profile of the superstars involved. Something that speaks to that is the reactions each man got. Truth is incredibly over in his niche and got a nice pop mixed with some chuckles as he mimed playing with Lil Jimmy. Meanwhile, Swagger got a lot of heat, making for a great, old-fashioned wrestling dynamic. The match was very good, with the two of them gelling well – even if the match wasn’t that spectacular. What made it good was it’s length and the well manufactured near-falls. After a few of these on either side, making each man loog strong, Truth finally hit the Little Jimmy for the win, pleasing the crowd greatly.

RAW
CM Punk def. Mark Henry to Retain the WWE Championship
First of all, I should mention the pyro! Seeing it live is amazing and really gets you (even more) excited for the show – and the bonus this time was that it wasn’t so loud that it legitimately shook me up. What was strange though that this all came after Mark Henry had come to the ring. Did he get a jobber’s entrance? I haven’t watched back to keep this live report pure … Anyway, the pop Punk got was HUGE, and surely the biggest of the night. I really hope that came over on TV, because it was great to be a part of. On the other hand, sometimes crowds can start to spoil the spectacle somewhat by completely ignoring the action or characters in favour of jokes – like the ‘Sexual Chocolate’ chant that fans seem to love now. I suppose it works in that it belittles the heel, but at the same time, it also undermines his current incarnation as an unstoppable strong machine! But I digress. The match was fantastic, and played really well on their recent history and the match stipulation. My one criticism would be that Punk never seems to learn about stuff like crossbodys simply not working on the behemoth. Still, as I say, at least that played on their two previous matches and gave Punk a real narrative mountain to climb as he kept on literally running in to a human wall, yet still coming back and back. They also used the no count out stipulation well, with Henry brutalising Punk on the outside and frustrating most of Punk’s more spectacular high-flying moves, apart, that is, from the suicide dive, which is always great to see live. There is one different aspect about  watching live though – I feel you get so swept up in the live experience that some of the intricacies of the match don’t register as much in favour of a much more visceral response; and consequently, i’ll be doing much less hold for hold reviewing here. In the general progression of the match, however, it built fantastically as Punk managed to grind down Henry, and was finally rewarded for his resilience (including surviving a vile chair shot form Henry straight to his back) when he managed to knock down the World’s Strongest Man by sending him in to a chair wedged in the turnbuckle (by Henry himself, unsurprisingly). This left Henry down and the crowd chanting for Macho Man, which Punk provided with the added punch of the same chair. He connected, and that was good for the three count, which I really enjoyed. It played to the stipulation by incorporating the chair, and it gave us a finish that wasn’t necessarily a finisher, which is something I always enjoy being surprised by. It made total sense too as Henry submitting to an Anaconda Vice would kill him as a monster and there was no way (I pressume!) that Punk could get him up for the GTS! Really good match then, by the guy who was probably most over in the company (well, save for Daniel Bryan perhaps!). Just one thing then …

This is a WWE Championship match, the most important match the WWE can show, featuring one of your top guys in CM Punk, a guy who could legitimately be the guy is positioned correctly, on a night when Brock Lesnar wouldn’t be appearing in person, and it goes on first, and isn’t really followed up on later on? There is absolutely no reason why this match shouldn’t have closed the show. I know Cena losing was a shock, and gave Tensai a good rub, but that being the case, leave Tensai going over for next week! CM Punk, your next big guy, in a WWE Championship match which he wins after a lot of toil, when Lesnar isn’t there and doesn’t have to be the centre of attention, absolutely has to be the main event. There is simply no good argument about that.

Chris Jericho Confronted CM Punk About Going In To a Pub
At least this was up next and continued their story. With Punk stood proud in the ring with his Championship which he had finally retained fairly against a monster, I liked the way Jericho used a genuinely suspicious bit of footage of Punk entering a pub because it adds that cloud of doubt over whether or not Punk is actually being affected in his emotional and personal lifestyle by Jericho. That being said, I can’t stress enough that Punk should on no account ‘turn alcoholic’ or something like that. While i’m sure they would portray it well, and it would be revolutionary, I don’t think wrestling is the right arena for that sort of narrative. The idea that Punk may be faltering is much more powerful than wrestling-tinted soap alcoholism. Punk’s response was very good too. While the ‘its not about me being the Best in the World any more, it’s about kicking your ass’ line was a repeat, the rest of what he said was great, about how Jericho was going to get hurt in a Chicago street fight because he will be in front of his family and friends, and most powerfully, his father and sister, who have been so central to all of this. It’s powerful, and while Jericho is the monotone, incessant roll, Punk only becomes more humanised, and more ‘real’ every week. Not only that, but referencing fish and chips was a great move, and led to a wonderful, much more acceptable ‘fish and chips’ chant.

Santino Marella def. David Otunga to Retain the United States Championship
David Otunga is a very good character, is a great talker, and is improving as a wrestler. This could be seen in his in-ring work this week, but what also could be seen this week was that this improvement isn’t an exact science as he got a good near-fall following a horrible looking version of his spinebuster. The near fall was good, but it would have been great had the move been executed right. At first, from the crowd, I didn’t realise Santino had his foot on the ropes to save the pin, which is actually quite a good aspect to the performance – I was sold on the Otunga victory, and was quite pleased about it actually, but with your attention not being directed for you, it makes false finishes like that all the more confusing and surprising, which is of course, the exact effect they aim at. Following the related confusion, Santino managed to take control and hit a Cobra for the retention. I was also happy about this outcome, because Santino is great and really over as champion.

Brock Lesnar Revealed Why He Returned to WWE In Shocking Fashion
It’s hard for me to admit because I don’t like any bit of Brock Lesnar, but this was … really good. Not because it was a great promo, and not even because Lesnar delivered it well, but because it was different, aggressive, and delivered just as Brock Lesnar should deliver it: thoughtlessly crassly. I hate this idea that he brings legitimacy to the WWE because he was an ultimate fighter because WRESTLING CATEGORICALLY ISN’T A SPORT AND SHOULDN’T BE TREATED AS SUCH BECAUSE IT RUINS WHAT WRESTLING REALLY IS: A FIGHTING SPECTACLE. Still, the sheer brazen dickishness of Lesnar’s interview suited him down to the ground, as did his cheap swearing; seriously, the line: “I don’t know what’s running through Cena’s head. What’s important is what’s running down his leg. Piss.” was fantastic, and then he took it one further, like a total idiot jock (which again suits him) by adding that Cena is shitting himself. There was really a much more ‘Attitunal’ (for lack of a much better phrase) feel about it, and that was fresh. From the crowd’s perspective, Cena was already getting nuclear heat whenever his face was on the tron, and this only made Lesnar more popular. In that sense, as good as this interview was, I don’t know how wise it was seen as Lesnar’s supposed to certainly be the heel to Cena’s face in a way The Rock never was. On another, more confident stance is that I hate, like many people do, the billing of him as the saviour to legitimise the WWE because, as everyone realises, that buries the whole company and the whole business even, and wrongly so. MMA is only more legitimate than wrestling when considered as a sport; but worse, it just points out that the rest of what we are seeing is a scripted non-sport, and that’s just terrible for the whole suspension of disbelief. I still don’t like Lesnar, but I have to say, this showed me that he can, potentially, be used well. Finally, with Lesnar not obliged to appear on every RAW, this is the right way to use him when he’s not on RAW – i.e. covering up his absence.

Kane vs Zack Ryder Ended in a No-Contest
This was a real waste of time. This was an example of how no commentary can hinder the live experience (of a TV taping specifically). Before hand, they showed footage of Kane terrorising Ryder from the Road to WrestleMania, but then they also showed Kane’s engagement with Randy Orton from last week’s Smackdown, but all without contextualising commentary. And then in the match, Kane Chokeslams Ryder and that’s just it? I would have liked to have seen a pin. It wouldn’t have hurt anybody and would have saved the confusion. In the stands there was certainly a lot of indignant confusion. And then Kane just cut basically the same promo as he did from last week and didn’t progress anything. A waste of time others could have worked with. Still, Kane’s pyro live is still the best!

Daniel Bryan def. Kofi Kingston With the Renamed YES Lock
First off, renaming the move the LaBell Lock the YES Lock makes an awful lot of sense. Not only did it give Bryan currency to get heel heat by mocking his mentor, but most importantly, it is a sign that WWE aren’t trying to quash his success in favour of their picked champion, Sheamus. It wont stop the crowd from chanting ‘YES!’ a lot, but it will concentrate it a little in an appropriate moment of the match – when a man may actually say ‘YES!’ to submitting. This was coupled with a great moment of sheer insolence from Bryan as he firstly accused Kofi of moving in on his ex-girlfriend before threatening to make him submit; and in doing so stood right in front of him shouting yes, with arm gestures, and when Kofi tried to leave, Bryan moved in his was an continued. Unbelievable douchebaggery, not that it’ll make him less popular. Seriously, from a fan’s point of view, Bryan was getting the biggest and most sustained reaction of the night. Counteractively, I don’t think he’s more over than, say, Punk, but he is certainly over as whatever he is now. Ultimately, surely he’s simply a face now; just a face with with a … unique character. I mean, look at this, from the show:

Yes! Chants in London

As for the match, it was one of the two best alongside Punk-Henry, and it made Bryan look fantastic. The first half of the match was Bryan dominating Kingston (as he should as a former World Champion), hitting all his strongest moves very powerfully, and in the mean time, Bryan was taunting away. In the second half of the match, Kingston did deservedly get some offense in, and even a strong near-fall following an SOS, to show the legitimacy of Kingston somewhat. Finally though, he missed a crossbody and Bryan took control with the YES lock for the win as the crowd chanted Yes! along with Kingston! After the match, too, Bryan locked Kingston in the YES Lock. For the first time, the fans didn’t know how to react. They were supporting Bryan throughout the match, but despite their nominal booing of Kingston, the fans are well disposed to him and weren’t going to cheer it. They didn’t boo it either though, so it was effective in curbing the super overness of the heel. However, if this is an attempt to get him over as a heel, I think it’ll be pretty fruitless.

Brodus Clay def. Dolph Ziggler via DQ
This was a piece of nothing significant. A way to get a Funkasaurus pop and some Ziggler heat, and while the DQ managed to nominally further the mini feud between Clay and Vickie’s team, it barely did anything. Saying all this: FUNKASAURUS.

Big Show & The Great Khali def. Primo & Epico
I don’t know if there is a redeeming factor to this … and I don’t particularly want to talk about it. On the plus side, the giants winning made a lot of fans happy.

Lord Tensai def. John Cena
Earlier on, Cena had cut a pretty good promo that was classic heartfelt and intense Cena, reassuring us he will fight. This was good, but it pales in memory to the Brock Lesnar interview. This was a weird match to watch. It was a good match, but it was power vs power, and it perhaps didn’t seem as fresh as it should for that reason. Cena helped Tensai looked great, but I didn’t feel I was watching something new, which is unfortunate, since I was. God I hate the ‘Albert/A Train’ chants. That’s an example of a damaging chant – in wrestling we need to suspend our disbelief, and that shouldn’t even be hard here because as cartoonish as Tensai looks, he has a legitimate Japanese background and his backstory is basically drawn from reality. Stop this please. Whether you like Tensai or not initially, he deserves a chance to work in this character. Back to the match, it was pretty good. Cena sold more than he was on the offense, but he had his moments, and there were some good near finishes, including when Cena had the STF on Tensai. It was here that the finish came in to motion as Big Johnny sent David Otunga to interrupt. Otunga got an obligatory Attitude Adjustment, but the confusion allowed Tensai to get Cena with the green mist! I love the use of the green mist in wrestling, and this allowed Tensai to hit what used to be known as the Baldo Bomb (it must have a new name, surely!) Now i’ve heard a lot about the crowd not reacting to that. All I can say is the crowd was hot all night and weren’t suddenly cold. I think we were just shocked to see it. Also, with Cena getting so much heat (that added to much more for Tensai who instills more awe than anything …), it was hard to gauge who the fans really wanted to win, only adding to the confusion. I think that explains the reaction. As for me, i’m not even sure … I think it was way too early for Tensai to be in a match of this magnitude; it’s too soon to go from dominating jobbers to beating the company’s top star clean in the main event of your flagship show. I was actually convinced Laurinaitis would give Cena Jericho, and Punk would come out and get a measure of revenge. Perhaps that would have been better.

But wait …

Dark Main Event: WWE Championship Match – CM Punk (c) vs Chris Jericho Led to a No-Contest
So far, I had seen my three favourite wrestlers, but I hadn’t seen one of them wrestle. Well perhaps the fans felt the same way, or perhaps Jericho is as loved by everyone else as he is by me, but when his music hit, he got a pop comparable to that of Punk, which is impressive given that it was a dark match (though at the same time, i’m not sure how clear it is to some of the fans what is on TV and what isn’t). Nonetheless, I knew fine well the taping was over, but my favourite wrestler ever got a huge pop from me! It being a dark main event, it wasn’t designed as a great match. Punk did what I expected to see on TV, which was attack Jericho at the end of the night, this time as Jericho was approaching the ring. The two brawled for a while before Daniel Bryan came out. My three favourites wrestling each other! Though Bryan and Jericho were teaming up on Punk. From here on in, it was an entrance and finisher fest. Sheamus repeated his run in from earlier on in the night to even the odds, and then out came Rhodes, evened by The Big Show, and then out came Alberto Del Rio to a big pop, and finally, that was evened by Orton. By this point, Jericho and Punk had brawled to the back, but the action continued with Brogue Kicks, Chokeslams, and finally an RKO to send everyone home happy.

This was a very good RAW in which I got to see my three favourite wrestlers ever – something which is truly a privilege; and especially when among a hot crowd like that, it’s just the best experience, for me at least. Genuinely one of the main things I live for.

The RAW View (02/04/2012): YES! YES! YES!

Brock Lesnar was obviously the closing talking point of RAW, but I refuse to acknowledge it as good. This will be an unfortunate trend in this post.

Brock Lesnar was obviously the closing talking point of RAW, but I refuse to acknowledge it as good. This will be an unfortunate trend in this post.

This week’s episode of RAW was hot. It showed perfectly how a great crowd can make for great action, and the fans, mixed with some big re-debuts, made for one of the best RAW’s in recent memory. Hey, i’m writing about it, aren’t I!? I really only write about specific shows when they feature something notable these days. Speaking of which, I will be ATTENDING the RAW taping in London on the 16th, so i’ll be writing about that and the live experience soon after. Now, to business …

John Laurinaitis Heralds a New Era of ‘People Power’
The opening shots of RAW struck me as very fresh-looking. When HHH, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker soaked in their deserved applause and adulation at WrestleMania XXVIII, it really felt like an era was ending, and I had speculated that, to even my surprise, that strapline might carry some significance for the WWE. Since the ‘Summer of Punk’, there has been a lot of talk about a ‘Reality Era’, and there was something more consciously realistic about the way the opening backstage segment was shot. It’s hard to approximate, but it reminded me somewhat of the way Curb Your Enthusiasm is shot – a sort of glossy realism. Not only that, but booking CM Punk against Mark Henry in front of the whole roster, and showing both men’s reaction also offered a strange emotional realism to the shot. Speaking of Punk, I liked the mischievous way he delivered his ‘toolbox’ line, though perhaps would have wished something a bit more meaningful. As for ‘People Power’, i’m sure Big Johnny will offer us quite the opposite, but that is exactly what we would expect from him. It felt like, perhaps we had a new era, one with Punk and Laurinaitis as it’s players. As you’ll soon see though, that fate remains up in the air.

Era’s Collided as The Rock Vowed to Become the WWE Champion Again. Yes! Yes! Yes! He Did
Rock’s promo was a lot of recycled goosebumps for quite a while, though at least he had the good grace to put Cena over in so far as saying he was the biggest challenge Rock has had to date. All pretty standard, but then two remarkable things happened; one intentional, and one unintentional. The first thing was most remarkable, unintentional thing to happen in wrestling in a long time. The Rock was talking away about an impossible dream, but when he asked the WWE universe whether they wanted to hear it, something unexpected happened and Rocky was no longer the centre of attention; the crowd started chanting the Daniel Bryan trademark ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ Like the chanting during the Orton-Kane match at WrestleMania, I believe this was being done in part as a show of solidarity for the apparently wronged Bryan, but more than that, it was a pure, organic show of support for Bryan, not just because he was ‘wronged’ at WrestleMania, but because he has captured their hearts. For that moment, Bryan, a full-time wrestler, was more over than The Rock, and this chant only got louder, and more spirited as the night went on, to the point where if Bryan would have come to the ring, the crowd would have full-blown Austin popped for him! Remarkable!

I’m sure The Rock wasn’t annoyed at what happened, but it can’t have been planned, and it slightly distracted from the second remarkable moment of the promo: Rock vowing to become WWE Champion again. Now this may be all smoke and mirrors, like it was when John Cena suggested that Rock vs Cena might be of the right stature if it was for the WWE Championship. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and allowed Punk-Jericho to fight over the title, and hopefully this vow will be treated similarly. I understand the value of The Rock, but he starts to depreciate the value of the rest of the roster when he becomes their part-time champion. Think of it this way: CM Punk is our current champion, and in order for The Rock to get the title back, Punk is going to have to drop it for him, or even worse, to him. While The Rock facing Punk or another WWE star would be good for them, losing to The Rock doesn’t help them that much. What is worse is the person who would later re-debut, and the person rumoured to be Rock’s prospective opponent for the title at WrestleMania 29 …

Santino Marella def. Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler to Retain the United States Championship; Brodus Clay Backs Him Up
This match was a fun match, and designed to show Big Johnny’s abuse of power as well as babyface’s striving against their stacked deck to win through. All three are good workers, and so the match was technically good, but not allowed to get any better because of lack of time and commercial interruption. Santino prevailed via the classic triple threat story of the two heels being unable to cooperate, allowing the face to take advantage for the win; a win good for his, and the Championship’s credibility. This in itself wasn’t too noteworthy, but it became so when Ziggler and Swagger started to beat the United States Champion down. They chased Santino up the ramp, but then suddenly, as if from a nature documentary, THE FUNKASAURUS! We’ve been waiting for Clay to do something new for ages, and it seems that he’s been slipped up a gear following WrestleMania. Ok, so he only headbutted Ziggler (a headbutt which led to a sickening Ziggleresque bump on the steel ramp, no less!), but it is a signal that Clay could get involved in some sort of storyline with possibly Ziggler or Swagger, a prospect which is certainly interesting. Let’s hope the Funkasaurus can really bring the funk going forward.

Lord Tensai def. Alex Riley
Our first re-debut came from Lord Tensai, the former Prince Albert/A Train. There was a lot of anticipation about Tensai, being as he is a decorated Japanese veteran with a cool gimmick. Now don’t get me wrong, his power and his moves (especially the Double Underhook Stalled Suplex) gave him a unique, Japanese flavour, but I found something about Tensai a little unsettling, and not in the way that was intended. He was, perhaps, a little too gimmicky, a little goofy even, especially if his rumoured feud with gritty realist CM Punk is to go ahead. I don’t want to get ahead of myself though, Tensai is fresh and deserves a chance. He is what the nixed big bad Brodus Clay would have been, right down to the post-match head crush, but obviously more proficient. This is definitely a better version of that character. And oh yeah, Alex Riley deserves this.

Mark Henry def. CM Punk, Allowing CM Punk to Retain the WWE Championship
When this match was booked, I thought it was about repositioning Punk at the top of the card. What actually happened was it was top of the second hour; still decent positioning, but not the spotlight I thing was required. What was required, for both me, was a good match which made them both look good, and broadly, this achieved that. This match had a good story of Punk using his skilled strong style to try and chop the monolithic Henry down. It was the unstoppable (but believeable) force meeting the immovable object. The action wasn’t spectacular, but it was very well thought out, with Punk sometimes besting Henry with momentum, but Henry often being able withstand Punk’s attacks, and in moments of domination, we got the best of Henry’s scary unstoppable force persona characterised by his blunt, brutalist barks: “Who told you to move!? You move when I tell you!” Henry really is the scariest heel in recent memory. The crowd really added to all this, loudly supporting Punk (and, again, Daniel Bryan) with “Yes!’s” after every Punk strike and oohing after Henry’s knock-downs. This gave the match a feeling of building momentum, and the crescendo came when Punk seemed to be getting the best of Henry after a Macho Man elbow and a running knee. Punk sold the size of Henry’s threat by going after a second knee to further weaken him, but when he went for his customary bulldog, the World’s Strongest Man overpowered him and threw him over the top rope on to the champion’s back, which had been under attack since the night before. This final, shocking fall on his back was enough to keep Punk down for ten seconds and the count-out. Initially I was a little disappointed in this, thinking that it made Punk seem a little weak, but soon after, I realised the righteousness behind it all. Punk just won a classic title match on the grandest stage of them all against Jericho at WrestleMania, and so there’s no way he can realistically be described as weak; and on the other hand, I have been, like many, begging for Mark Henry to return to his days of unstoppable heel, and beating Punk this way is another step in that direction. Really good match.

Chris Jericho Assaulted the Downed CM Punk With Alcohol and an Alcohol Bottle
After the match, John Laurinaitis came out to add further insult to Punk, saying he will be giving the people what they want, CM Punk defending his championship on a regular basis, and that he sees dark clouds in Punk’s future, a natural disaster. Now, ironically, this is both what Punk, and what the fans will want, though Big Johnny is only doing it to try and get the title off of Punk. Apparently, this is supposed to relate to Lord Tensai, but I had thought after Henry’s win, he would be owed a title shot. And now, another contender entered the scene. Chris Jericho, the loser at WrestleMania, and he began to berate Punk, sarcastically referring to him as the winner at WrestleMania, and the WWE Champion before calling their match a classic, and saying he wanted to celebrate with a drink. Well, we knew where this was going, but it played out more effectively than I could have imagined. Jericho went and got a bottle of Jack Daniels (well, probably not real Jack Daniels) and poured it all over Punk and in to his mouth. After this, Jericho put the boots to Punk and, unfortunately, slipped in the puddle of alcohol. This was embarrassing, but Jericho covered it up as best he could on twitter saying he was impersonating the drunk CM Punk. All this was shocking enough, but it was about to get worse as Jericho got another bottle. Instead of pouring it all over Punk, he smashed it over Punk’s head, totally incapacitating him, leaving him in the care of medics, aand taking this whole feud to the next level. I said in my WrestleMania review that I kinda wished the Jericho-Punk feud would have been Best vs Best up until WrestleMania, and then progressed post-Mania to the Drunk ROH inspired stuff. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the power behind what happened on Monday, and thought it a good way to forward the Punk-Jericho feud, which could be a classic overall. Meanwhile, i’m sure Punk will have to defend his title almost every week against people like Henry and Tensai, and this will be great for Punk and the Championship as Punk continues to overcome the odds. If there is a new era of WWE, a huge Punk reign (already standing at 133 days as of WrestleMania), would be a great way to christen it. At the moment, however, there seem to be countless suitors, and that can only be a good thing.

Alberto Del Rio Confronted Sheamus
This saw the next stage of the remarkable Daniel Bryan Superova Express Train, as the fan’s embracing of him became a weird, and as far as I can tell, unprecedented double-turn based in no way on personal character traits. Sheamus, who had been super babyface, and had put down the weasily heel the night before was surely expected to come out to a chorus of cheers. Instead, he was met as if he was the top heel in the company! The smiling Irish giant was left in a very difficult position by this, having to act as if he was a man of the people, while the people were obviously not willing to support him. This was downright surreal, especially given how over Sheamus was before WrestleMania. If Bryan would have come out at this point, the roof would have come off the place! This phenomenon almost overshadowed the presence of ADR, who was entering the World Heavyweight Championship picture, and was given an awful lot of exciting fanfare to make his return seem significant, but which was forgotten amongst the Bryan support. With the crowd in sheer support of the American Dragon, they were left in the strange position of kinda having to prefer Del Rio to Sheamus, and this led to the best chant of the night: “Si! Si! Si!” God I love wrestling, and wrestling fans. Sheamus then got on the mic – big mistake as the fans booed him down, yet he tried to keep up the babyface pretense, saying that they wanted to see a Brogue Kick to someone. The camera, out of necessity, cut to Bryan, to show that he was still involved in the title picture, and eventhough he wasn’t even on stage, this led to a huge pop. They had to do it, but it only added to the fan-led undermining of each character’s role. Then, in a weird set up, Del Rio’s mic started cutting out, and when he got a new one, he turned round in to the foreseen Brogue Kick! I mean what can you say about this? I like the prospect of Del Rio entering the picture, but especially now, Bryan has to be a part of this, and maybe even the main bit. Could the unthinkable happen, and WWE be forced to officially double-turn on Sheamus and Bryan? I don’t think so, partly because a face Bryan chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” changes the dynamic of everything, so not yet at least.

Kofi Kingston def. Cody Rhodes
Not too much to discuss with the actual match. Cody looked good and strong, and looked to be heading for a relatively quick win, when Big Show came out and confronted Rhodes with an embarrassing WrestleMania moment of his own. Now I know turnaround is fair play and all that, but if it’s douchey when Cody does it, it’s douchey when you do it too, Show – and Cody’s the one who is supposed to be douchey, Show. You’re doing it wrong. Obviously, Cody then turned around in to a Trouble in Paradise for the lost. The upside of the this kinda mailed in story was that it gave Kofi an impressive win over Rhodes in a way that didn’t make Cody look bad and showed that his feud with Show would be continuing. Fine, but a little unspectacular.

Abraham Washington Offered Mark Henry His Managerial Services
The second re-debut of the night went to Abraham Washington, and he seemed to be setting up for becoming Mark Henry’s manager. Now, I see the potential in Washington, and I love the ideas of more managers kicking around, but I strongly feel like giving one to Henry is a bad idea! Henry is an almost unstoppable force, and the way he talks is more believeable and intimidating than any other heel on the roster. It suits him, and giving him a polished mouth-piece will detract from his image. With that in mind, i’d rather they left Henry alone, and gave Washington to someone who does need a mouthpiece, perhaps a newly heeled Ezekiel Jackson?

The Miz def. Zack Ryder
I usually don’t write about everything from RAW in my reports, but in this RAW, this is the only match that I don’t really have much to say about, but seen as it’s the only part of RAW without much to talk about, I feel bad leaving it out. So this wasn’t that long a match, but it was an entertaining brawl between the two more than anything. Miz continued his momentum from WrestleMania with another clean win, and seen as it was again against Ryder, perhaps those two will begin feuding. I quite like the sound of that actually.

John Cena Addressed the WWE Universe, Was Interrupted by the Returning Brock Lesnar
This was an odd segment. Cena came out to address his loss at WrestleMania to The Rock, and in the wake of that event, I was sure that we’d have to see some sort of change out of Cena; not necessarily a heel-turn, but some sort of change, leading to his return match with The Rock. What we got was an almost characature of SuperCena – humble, even thankful to The Rock for having the match with him, and promising to come back stronger and ‘Never Give Up’. He addressed fans like me who wondered how he was going to react to his loss, breaking the 4th wall somewhat to suggest that he might finally lash out at the fans, but again, reiterating that he would ‘Rise Above’ all of that. This was met, again, with “Yes! Yes! Yes!” By this point, Bryan was more over and important than everyone! Crazy! At first I thought Cena was getting a little repetitive and boring, possibly intentionally so, but as it turns out, John was stalling for the man who would returning to face him. Although he asked for The Rock, to congratulate him and tell him that the better man won (more “Yes! Yes! Yes!”), what he got was the returning Brock Lesnar! See that exclamation mark there? It was exciting, I did pop, but mainly for the surprise of it (I had avoided the spoilers), and his return is certainly intriguing. There’s no denying the huge pop. Lesnar was over and when Cena (kinda goofily) offered Lesnar his hand, and Lesnar punished him with a huge (if kinda sloppy) F5, they loved it even more, and with Lesnar walking off without saying anything, he certain left a lot of mystique behind him. That’s the good news.

Now for the bad news, and there’s a lot of it. I wont go too much in to my personal feelings about Brock Lesnar; i’ll set out what I see to be facts about him, and leave it there. When he arrived in WWE originally, he was a beast, genuinely intimidating like few others, and made to feel significant because of who he beat, which was basically everyone. He became the youngest ever WWE Champion and was only getting bigger – he was getting pushed to the stars. And then he apparently decided he wanted to reject all that and throw it all back in our face for a career in the NFL. The fans realised what he was doing, and realised that he wasn’t worth their attention at WrestleMania XX where they booed him and Goldberg out of the building. He failed in the NFL, broke a no-compete clause at New Japan – a further finger to the WWE, and went to UFC for years; a move which I can’t criticise other than saying that I hate the UFC and think it’s the stupidest, most needlessly sadistic sport in the world. People hurting each other artistically while trying to protect each other > People trying to kill each other. Brock Lesnar has now come crawling back to WWE for a paycheck following his UFC retirement, and that’s fine, I guess, but I don’t want to see him.

The guy is a good wrestler, fine, but he’s by no means the best, and the guy simply cannot talk charismatically or captivatingly. He simply doesn’t fulfil the characteristics of what makes someone a top wrestler, and I don’t understand why people liked him so much then, and are so excited about him now.

In recent months, i’ve been critical about The Rock as something of an asshole towards the incredibly genuine, if imperfect, Cena. Well, Lesnar is seemingly fulfilling the same role now as The Rock with the downside of absolutely not being in Rocky’s league. Even that, in itself, is ok, because I see the attraction of Lesnar facing Cena again, but here’s the problem with that: The point of The Rock returning, surely, was for Cena eventually to go over, but all of a sudden, Cena has to deal with Lesnar, and it is being rumoured that Lesnar will be taking on The Rock at WrestleMania 29. When is Cena going to get his moment!? At the very least, not to bury the whole full-time WWE roster, Cena nees to beat Rock still, and preferably twice!

I hinted there that Rock could be facing Lesnar at WrestleMania 29 in the main event. So, now that Lesnar’s back, are we seriously going to get a main event between two part time wrestlers who may instantly disappear? Apparantly, yes. And it gets even worse when you remember Rock’s vow to become WWE Champion again. Could that be out championship match!? Surely not! That’s the most misguided idea i’ve ever heard from the WWE! Two part timers fighting over the most prestigious title in the business, featuring none of the people who will be building the company once they leave, with-holding the star-making main event slot from the full-timers that really need it!

Indeed, to those of you that chant CM Punk, that chant Daniel Bryan, to those chanting “Yes!” who also chanted for Lesnar, do you not see what’s going to happen this year? Lesnar showing up every couple of weeks (admittedly more than Rocky, but still not full time), and stealing the show (not in an HBK way!) whenever he does, and being the main focus of the show; and where will that leave Bryan and Punk? Significant, but not as significant as they should be. To be fair, Punk is being given some mic time and a good reign, but he should be the company’s #1 focus right now for the future. Treat him right, and he’s going nowhere but the top! What i’d want at WrestleMania 29 is any of the following:

Cena-Rock III rubber match, second or third from last on the card
Punk-Bryan main event
Punk-Stone Cold for the WWE Championship – Punk over
Punk-Rock for the WWE Championship – Punk over and Bryan-Lesnar for the World Championship – Bryan over (WrestleMania 21 thematic replay)

But no, once again it seems that the full-time future stars of WWE (Punk, Bryan, Rhodes, Ziggler etc) will have to wait to be fully invested in, and it sucks. The nights started off feeling like one era had ended and another started. Perhaps that is true, but if we are entering a new era, it’s one that’s a lot like the one from around ten years ago …

This should, of course, come with a caveat that i’ve obviously seen nothing of what will happen with Rock, Lesnar, Cena and our favourites, and I am being too quick to condemn. I just have a bad feeling about this … Still, you know what makes me feel better? THE UNDENIABLE FACT THAT DANIEL BRYAN WAS MORE OVER THAN PRETY MUCH EVERYONE IN THE WORLD ON MONDAY!

If you agreed, or disagreed but was intrigued, by what I wrote, then come to @RTVWOW on twitter for more thoughts and livetweeting!