How I Was Blindsided By The UK Championship Tournament and Fell Back in Love with UK Wrestling

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The scenes as Tyler Bate becomes ‘King of UK Wrestling’ Credit: Sky Sports

A recent article of mine considered the WWE’s UK Championship, what excited me about it, but more largely, what concerned me. I won’t rehash that here, but the result was a slight dampening of my excitement for the tournament. Nevertheless, I tuned in like a lot of interested fans from Britain and beyond, live over the weekend, and by the end of night two, I had joy in my heart, great memories, and a new top 5 favourite wrestler.

I have a lot of different interests in my life, as well as an increasing amount of obligations, and the result of that has been a real struggle to keep up with not only just indy wrestling but even WWE shows. On a weekly basis, I try to cover RAW, NXT, and Lucha Underground, and anything beyond that (usually ICW and the odd Japanese match) is a bonus. So going in to this tournament, I actually wasn’t that familiar with most of the field bar fellow Glaswegian, Wolfgang. While that is less familiarity than many of good wrestling twitter friends have with the field, I think it is probably the level of familiarity casual fans might have with the field, and it is from that perspective – among others – that I think this event was a success as many of these unfamiliar talents shone brightly and staked their claim to a future in the business. I will give do an annotated ranking of the field based on my impressions later, but first, I want to talk about the benefits of the tournament structure generally.

Watching the first night, I was enjoying the tournament. The setting of the Empress Ballroom, a place I have visited many times in my life having lived very close to Blackpool for a number of years, was perfect. Blackpool embodies the best flavours of the British style, it has a gritty glamour coming from a mix of carny magic, end-of-the-pier humour, and working-class hard work; and with William Regal overseeing it all, the setting was perfect. The wrestling was good too. Each match was fun, there were some cool, stiff spots, and there were some highlights including Jordan Devlin cheap-shotting Danny Burch for some major heat, and Pete Dunne’s end-of-show assault on Sam Gladwell which provided a nice narrative bridge over to night two. Maybe it is clear from my tone, but while I certainly enjoyed night one, I was by no means blown away. I was intrigued by Devlin and Dunne, but even then, it was still largely just a passing interest. By the end of night two, I was obsessed with Dunne. What I have since realised is that the careful booking of night one set up for a very powerful night two.

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The beautiful, historic, Empress Ballroom in Blackpool which hosted the tournament. Credit: Sky Sports

Tournaments of course build towards a final, so from a practical point of view, it makes sense for them to not blow the doors of night one and have to top it when it matters the next night, but at least in this case, night one played a very crucial role in setting the scene and defining the players. All 16 got to wrestle on night one and all 16 got to set out their stall and define their character and role in the tournament. Some who would go on to play major roles, including the eventual finalists, got to do even more between main-eventing and being the aggressor in the overnight angle, but everyone got to define their place in the tournament narrative.

As the tournament progressed to night two, the matches didn’t get any longer, but the intensity of the matches did grow, starting hot with the intensity of Sam Gladwell seeking revenge against Pete Dunne, Wolfgang and Trent Seven trading stiff shots and near-falls, Tyler Bate shocking himself against Wolfgang, and then stunning himself against the Bruiserweight. Just as the setting hearkened back to traditional British wrestling style (albeit with more contemporary move-sets), the booking was also very traditional, and that was at the heart of the joy of this event. Every match on night two was a pretty black & white face vs heel match up with the exception of Wolfgang vs Bate during which Wolfgang acted far more heelish than before in attitude if not in act; all leading to the undoubted top face taking on the undisputed top heel in the final.

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The tournament final with popular face Tyler Bate facing off against greasy heel Pete Dunne. Credit: WWE

As the tournament progressed and the pieces moved around, it became clear that the likely final would in itself also tell a very traditional story. Heel vs face, tutor vs student, and dastardly cheat vs injured hero. WWE on it’s grandest stages really struggles with this in the modern era, but this tournament and the finals exemplified how to do it perfectly. I want to talk about the individual wrestler’s later, but by the end of the show, Dunne had become a fascinating, must-see character to me. His actions were so cheap and brutal that he brought with him an electric anticipation and the promise of relished violence. Up until the semi-finals, many of the wrestlers had made an impression of me, but no one like Dunne – that was until Bate’s victory over Wolfgang with the crowd rising to their feet in unison as he hits his finish, at which point, Bate started standing out to me too as a great wrestler and determined babyface to counteract him. In the context of this tournament, they were made for each other.

I called Dunne attacking Bate from behind after the semi-finals – at this stage it would have been almost disingenuous for him not to, and that set up a traditional – almost cliche – story of the cocky heel cheating to get ahead and the injured face who is terribly injured and can’t possibly win but by God he’ll try anyway! Before the finals, I couldn’t see past Dunne winning, but as the story set itself up, it was clear it was only going one way, and despite the predictability of the result in that contextthe climax was no less satisfying. Dunne was undoubtedly the star of the show, but Bate became a star too and set up a very intriguing title picture going forward when the weekly shows start. The 19 year old incredible talent having a target on his back and a pissed off Dunne chasing him is going to make for a great challenge, especially as Dunne becomes more desperate.

I also have a more positive outlook about the upcoming UK WWE Network show now compared to when I wrote about WWE being potential cultural appropriators. I think the crucial element will be the the upcoming series will be produced in the UK rather than the US, and as a result, won’t have the same problem at least of unfavourably overlapping with the main roster. There won’t be any ham-fisted British section of RAW and Smackdown with red, white, and blue ropes or something. It will be a self-contained show from which i’m sure talent can be called up to the main roster, but otherwise, like NXT, it will be it’s own universe. It’s disappointing that the smaller home nations only had one representative each, and i’m not sure that Irish competitors should be included at all, so I hope that in future shows and tournaments that is rectified as each country certainly doesn’t have a lack of talent. There are also still issues around WWE defining British wrestling to a mainstream audience, but at the least, I am more confident that the show is going to be entertaining and successful without having to fit in with the whole other world of the main roster.

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Pete Dunne in maroon, fur, and with his mouth-guard which provides a unique look. Credit: Sky Sports

Since the end of the tournament, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, how great some of the talent is, when the regular show will start, and especially Pete Dunne, who’s understated and perfect ring music, I have been playing to myself all day. I started not knowing most of the talent and being a bit underwhelmed by the prospect, to having a new top 5 wrestler and being super excited about British wrestling and it’s place in the world. And all it took was simple storytelling and good wrestling. Fancy that.

So as promised, I will now rank (this is the world we live in) the wrestlers from the tournament, based purely on my memory of the tournament and the impression each man made. Some are at a disadvantage from losing in their first match, but that can’t be helped i’m afraid, and some still made a good impression despite that disadvantage:

16) Saxon Huxley
I don’t want to be too hard on Saxon as this was the first time I saw him, but he dropped like a lead balloon with me. His promo about believing society is an illusion and liking books seemed like a real stretch and didn’t translate to his action at all. He came out with a weird strange that just had me questioning his choices, and mixed with his wrestling not standing out much, he couldn’t get over with me. Maybe it works elsewhere, but this time, Huxley was just a joke – literally with many of my twitter pals.

15) James Drake
Drake suffered from being the second most important competitor in a pretty dull match after Cole couldn’t stop talking up his opponent Joseph Conners. Drake’s promo was by the numbers and he did nothing else to really stand out.

14) H.C. Dyer
Watching Dyer’s pre-match promo, I was quite interested in him. The calm way he described getting pleasure from striking people was interesting and gave him some intensity, though it seemed to be all he had. Though he smartly managed to translate the promo to his match with some nice striking, he got overshadowed by Trent Seven in a short match during which he didn’t do much to stand out.

13) Roy Johnson
Roy Johnson’s lack of experience told quite strongly in his appearance, both in the way he spoke and to a lesser extent, how he wrestled. He wasn’t a bad dance partner for Dunne though and he was at least offering something different to most of his contemporaries in terms of his ‘wavy’ gimmick. With some more experience he could be quite an exciting competitor, and he was a welcome change of pace in the field.

12) Dan Moloney
His high placement is almost exclusively due to his pre-match promo. Again, he was a good opponent for Mark Andrews, but that match was more about showing the high-flying Welshman. Despite that, Moloney’s intense promo about things he’d seen and how he had no regard for anyone else’s safety spoke to the sort of dark promo I generally like.

11) Joseph Conners
Conners was at an early disadvantage when Cole made him his early pick for the tournament. Though Cole gives off the impression of a respected and knowledgable veteran announcer (which he os of course), his history of nonsense and general lack of popularity makes him, for lack of a better term, an uncool person to be associated with. His opening match with James Drake wasn’t much to write home about though he elevated his game against Andrews in the second round. Some decent working, but another somehat bland character that said he was intense more than showed it.

10) Tucker
Tucker didn’t get much of a chance to showcase himself being in only one match, but he was a good part of a good match with Tyler Bate which headlined the show. Bate was the star of it, but he was helped by Tucker who made it a good match and seemed like he could go over. His Super Duper Kick looked good and he could no doubt play a good role in future outings.

9) Trent Seven
This is probably a lot lower than most would have him. Seven is clearly loved by parts of the crowd, and as a wrestler, he has a pretty cool stiff style, but from the start, he rubbed me up the wrong way. His character is that he has facial hair. It’s basically all he talks about, and it’s hardly even unique when you consider there is Tyler Bate in this tournament and Jack Gallagher elsewhere in WWE who gets how to do a full-blooded gimmick that involves that sort of aesthetic rather than the aesthetic being the gimmick. If Trent Seven shaves his facial hair, who is he? Another good wrestler.

8) Danny Burch
Danny Burch made quite a leap here. On NXT, he has had impressive moments, but is basically a jobber. Here, he was in the shape of his life, and played a gristled veteran perfectly. He wrestles very neat and powerfully and seemed a totally different prospect here. I was surprised that he went out early in fact because it seemed there were more depths to mine with him. Hopefully he can take that veteran edge to upcoming shows if he doesn’t go back to NXT.

7) Tyson T-Bone
Tyson T-Bone was totaly unlike the rest of the field, even the ones who stood out because this guy just seemed like a guy who got by with fighting. I don’t know if there are many travellers who have made it to the wrestling scene because it seems like it would go hand in hand with it traditionally, but it seems pretty unique. Tyson had a really warm rogue style character and gave us the line that he asks the Virgin Mother for forgiveness whenever he hits someone. He managed to somehow mesh well with the more traditional style of Wolfgang and had a good match.

6) Sam Gladwell
When I first saw Sam Gladwell, he was a little close to home. As I mentioned I used to live in the area of Blackpool, and he just seemed a little too earnest while seeming quite pale and even sickly. Boy though, Gladwell really got over with me, partly with thanks to others and booking. His first match wasn’t anything too incredible, but after being attacked by Dunne, he came back the next night with a great intensity. His match with Dunne was really good, and he played his character of pissed off victim looking for revenge but falling short perfectly. He went from being a bit of a local goober to being a fiery local hero.

5) Jordan Devlin
Ignoring the fact that Devlin isn’t British, he started off in a bit of hole resulting from his pre-match promo where he talked about being Finn Balor’s student – the problem being that he styled himself almost exactly after Balor. Given how he acted later, that may even have been an intentional setup to a frustrated character. His match with Burch was hard hitting and fun, and though the finish was quite confusing, it made an impression. I thunk the blood was probably a coincidence which further muddied the water, but the dusty finish was something Devlin totally took advantage of. The superkick after the match made an impact, but what I liked more was his post-match promo in which he complimented himself on a ‘convincing’ victory. Great heel stuff and part of a good match.

4) Mark Andrews
I don’t want to be too disrespectful but I found Mark Andrew’s character pretty milquetoast with his high-fivin’ antics. Saying that, Andrews sttod out in the ring. More than a high flyer, he did high-flying things that were extra impressive and crisply executed. Each of his matches were strong to very strong and he got over pretty well. He reminded me a lot of Evan Bourne, leading me to calling him Ifan Bourne (sorry), but that’s certainly no insult.

3) Wolfgang
I’m pretty biased here in that Wolfgang was the only wrestler i’d seen significantly before the tournament, and I generally enjoy ICW, and always enjoy Glasgow folk, but here, Wolfgang sure cemented himself as a big talent. There are a lot of big hairy Scottish guys, and many are talented, but Wolfgang has that and more. He showed off his entire moveset at the tournament, flipping all over the place and no matter how much you see that, it’s always amazing seeing someone with that sort of body do that. We also proved himself really easy to like, but when he went up against Bate who got more adulation, took it in his stride and acted in a more heelish manner. He certainly impressed and was one of the most memorable parts of the show.

2) Tyler Bate
Tyler Bate was a slow burner with me. Though I like the thing in his promo where he names his different fists and showed how he’s sucker punch people with his left (that’s a Stan Laurel move, by the way), the way he delivered it was kinda lame. His match with Tucker was good, but it was really his semi-final with Wolfgang where it all came together. The clash of styles was fantastic, and Bate started to show a really deep and emotional level of wrestling. I will never forget that moment, not when he gets the 3 count against Woflie, but when he gets him up for his finish because the crowd goes WILD with anticipation for him winning. That is a specific kind of magic that only wrestling can create, and it was the start of an emotional final chapter of the night. Him getting over his teacher while carrying a severe injury was, as I say, cliched, but it was the right move and it really worked. He is a great choice for champion, and for crying out loud, he’s only 19. He could be a very big deal in the future.

1) Pete Dunne
And then we have Pete Dunne. In retrospect, I noticed Dunne from the start. It’s just a small thing, but in the promotional videos before the event, there were glimpses of each guy, and with respect, about 10 of them look very similar to each other. The person who stood out to me each time was Dunne with his mouth guard. I didn’t think much of it, but now it’s clear that that’s just part of what makes him great. Dunne had my attention at the end of the first night, but even then, it just seemed like an interesting angle, but by the end of the night, he was the most intriguing, exciting talent by quite a long way. One thing that was clear even after the first night though was the magic chemistry he has with Regal. Wearing maroon, intense, dastardly, and wrestling incredibly stiff, the comparison is impossible to ignore. People come up with dream matches for Regal consistently, but this is the one that makes most sense, and if Regal does have one more match in him, this would be perfect. Dunne is like a second coming of Regal, but with his own edge on the character – he has a lot of Regal’s qualities, but adds a level of impatience and entitlement which make him all the more slimy and easy to dislike. There’s so much more, and I won’t write at too much length about it, but from not being afraid to look slimy and horrible with his hair all over the place and the effect of the mouth-guard, to following through on his character away from the promo which is something a lot of the guys here didn’t do. In his promo, he said that he wouldn’t let anyone get in his way to his title, and he showed this throughout the tournament. He beat up Gladwell to get an advantage, he attacked Bate from behind to get an advantage, and then mercilessly went after them to try and win. For all the talking each wrestler did, too, I would argue that it was only really Dunne who stood out as consistently dangerous and brutal. The short Japanese history he refers to in his promo shines through in the way he suplexes and throws people down or on to things, melding it with the traditionally British trait of using the ring as a weapon. He fell short in the tournament, but I think it could create even more of a monster. To me, this is the most exciting wrestler in my universe right now.

WWE Draft 2011: Reflections On the Annual Shake-Up

Right, i’m going to try to, for the most part, rush through this due to everything I do being a rush at the moment. I’ll basically go through the draft picks as they happened and give my thoughts if I have any. One general point i’d make is that 30 drafts seems too many. There’s a fine line between ‘shaking things up’ and simply switching almost an entire roster to a different show. Less is more guys! I hope and am pretty confident this draft has just about managed to succeed in not crossing that line. To me, the two big drafts were Randy Orton to Smackdown and Alberto Del Rio to RAW, but only one of those is a good idea …

1) John Cena to Smackdown. We all know how this eventually ended, so I wont talk too much about it. Reports are that WWE were going to genuinely draft him, rightly thinking that RAW could be carried by Orton (who gets universal admiration in a way Cena doesn’t), but ultimately nixed that idea. Pretty shocking TV though; cheap shock, but shocking nonetheless.

2) Rey Mysterio to RAW. When this happened in 2008, for whatever it didn’t work. This pick is intrinsically linked with Sin Cara’s move to Smackdown, and keeping them on separate brands makes a lot of sense. Anyway, there’s no reason why Rey fundamentally can’t get over on RAW surely!

3) Randy Orton to Smackdown. The blue brand will undoubtedly be Orton’s show from now on, and as a replacement for Edge, you couldn’t ask for much better. Considering Orton hasn’t appeared regularly on Smackdown for roughly five years, this is a very fresh change of scenery for both brands, and highly welcome. His prestige and experience will make for some great feuds/matches with the younger Smackdown up-and-comers (i’m thinking especially of former Legacy ‘bretheren’ Cody Rhodes.

4) Mark Henry to Smackdown. Initially, this seemed like a bit of a throwaway, but given his dominating heel turn in the RAW main event, it seems that Henry might get a push as a monster heel, again. The repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing though; like a lot of big guys, he just works better as a heel.

5) Sin Cara to Smackdown. Rey’s draft was necessitated by this move, and this was done because Cara was seemingly a little shaky in his opening matches on RAW, and so would be a safer prospect on the taped and edited Smackdown. While I totally understand that, it does seem a bit of an instant lack of faith in Sin Cara. Nonetheless, i’m sure he’ll be able to dazzle just as much on Smackdown!

6) Big Show to RAW.

7) Alberto Del Rio to RAW. Now, I understand that a draft to RAW, especially when you’re a top up and comer like ADR is, is a huge sign of faith, and that’s great, but this just smacks of the pilfering of Smackdown talent yet again. ADR was made on Smackdown without even winning the world title. There was just so much more for him to do on the blue brand and they would rightly have reaped the rewards. RAW is also now very heel-heavy with ADR, Miz, Punk, and up-and-comers Swagger and McIntyre, while Smackdown is struggling for a real top heel (Sheamus probably fitting that bill). I was salivating at the idea of an Orton-Del Rio feud on Smackdown, but alas, it wont happen. He deserves to be on RAW, no doubt, and i’m sure he will do great, but it is to the detriment of Smackdown and probably one or two of those guys that I mentioned who will have to fight for decent spots. I would have saved him for now.

8) John Cena to RAW. Definitely a unique move in the draft (or should I say double-move), but instead of involving Cena, why not publicise two other draft picks (e.g. McIntyre, Swagger, Bryan)

9) Daniel Bryan to Smackdown. Great move for Bryan and a no-brainer in many ways. He was between feuds on RAW, and is more suited to the blue brand and will get more opportunity to put on great matches. I’m desperate to see him feud with Wade Barrett for the IC title, and storyline-wise at least, it makes a lot of sense.

10) Jack Swagger to RAW. I dislike this move. With ADR gone to RAW, there is an opening for Smackdown’s top heel position. Had he stayed on Smackdown, Swagger would have been a strong contender for that spot. I’m sure he’ll do fine on RAW, but he will be behind at least two other heels (ADR and Miz, and three depending on Punk’s status) consistently. He’s definitely improved, and is improving, but I think staying in Smackdown would made for easier success for the All American American.

11) Great Khali to Smackdown. I’d prefer this to be meaningless than him being pushed as a monster heel. I’m confident of the former.

12) Jimmy Uso to Smackdown. Lord knows why they moved the Usos and Tamina separately, but they did. Its a good job they did too, because a change of scenery is exactly what they need. Hopefully they’ll get a good run on Smackdown as one of the few classical tag teams.

13) Kelly Kelly to RAW. She’s very popular, and very marketable, so this makes a lot of sense. I’m very interested in what part she’ll play in Kharma’s debut. The former Awesome Kong has been starring in vignettes in which she tears up dolls. While this could have ramifications for all of the more modelesque divas, it could be a bad sign for Kelly in particular, who’s real name is Barbie (Yeah …). Expect a tonne of heat when Kharma decimates Kelly.

14) JTG to RAW. I don’t see much coming from this. To be honest, I wasn’t actually sure he was on Smackdown to start with … I like JTG. He’s very likeable and has a nice, unique, ring-style. I don’t think it’ll be good enough though.

15) Alicia Fox to Smackdown

16) William Regal to Smackdown. I really don’t get this one. Regal, for all his skills, is practically semi-retired now and commentates (very well) on NXT more than he wrestles (at least on TV). With that in mind, it seems like a watering-down of the draft. Could this maybe be a sign of a feud with mentee Daniel Bryan? He would also make an awesome heel manager for someone. He could even make commentary I suppose.

17) Yoshi Tatsu to Smackdown. I think RAW was just as good for him as Smackdown. Maybe he’ll get some TV time to try to get over on Smackdown, which would be good. I think what he really needs, however, is a gimmick tweak, rather than a draft.

18) Drew McIntyre to RAW. I’m excited about this draft. As a fellow Scotsman and otherwise legitimate admirer of McIntyre, I hope and think he will eventually be a regular main eventer. On RAW, I think he could flourish, depending on who he feuds with. Give him Cena, why not? The only problem is again that ADR and Swagger have been drafted along with him, and he’s jostling with Miz, ADR, Punk, Ziggler, Swagger and Truth for a decent heel spot. Like Swagger, I think he could really have made top Smackdown heel quick. Nevertheless, I think they have faith in him however, and hope he fulfills it.

19) Natalya to Smackdown.  I’m a big fan of Nattie, but I can’t, just now, imagine what she’ll be doing on Smackdown. I’m sure we can anticipate some nice one on one matches with Michelle McCool. Otherwise, i’m sure she’ll feature prominently.

20) Curt Hawkins to RAW. I like Curt Hawkins, and I like his look. Unfortunately, the only way he could get over on RAW is if he completely changes it by reuniting with the buzz-covered Long Island Iced Z, Zack Ryder.

21) Chris Masters to RAW.

22) Jey Uso to Smackdown. Same as with Jimmy …

23) Kofi Kingston to RAW. At first I was skeptical, but on reflection, I think this is, marginally, a positive move. He’s stalled of late on Smackdown, and on the face side, there aren’t many more people above him on the face side there as there are on Smackdown. If he gets a good feud, he could start to climb the ladder again.

24) Ted DiBiase to Smackdown. This was one I was desperate to see (my twitter followers (@RTVWOW) will have witnessed this as I live tweeted the draft!) DiBiase needed to go to Smackdown. Over there he could completely re-boot his career, which was supposed to be advancing as Rhodes’ is now, but never really did. He could either stay as he is or show up as a reinvented face. Either will work, and it is very interesting that he is on the same brand as both of his former Legacy ‘brethren’. Lots of storyline potential there itself.

25) Tyson Kidd to Smackdown. I’d still really like to see Kidd feud with Bryan, and this is still on the cards obviously. Kidd is hugely talented, and seems to have more faith behind him than DH Smith did/does, so hopefully he can make something of himself on the blue brand, where, luckily for him, charisma isn’t quite the pre-requisite as it is on RAW.

26) Tamina to Smackdown. Now she’s been separated from Santino, she can reunite with The Usos and hopefully be a part of their renewal as well as hopefully getting more action as a diva on the more scarcely populated Smackdown diva lockerroom.

27) Tyler Reks to RAW. Reks bores the hell out of me. Generic Generic Generic. The only way he can be used well is as a new member of the Nexus.

28) Alex Riley to Smackdown. This one is fascinating, even if it doesn’t make the most sense (wasn’t Riley fired and only able to show because Miz hired him under some obscure job title). Firstly I think it’s great for Miz. Riley often provided a way for him to win, but Miz doesn’t need that any more. One or two defences without Riley will make Miz look even more credible than he already does. As for Riley, the Smackdown world could be his oyster. He’ll need to work hard at escaping his past with the Miz though, because otherwise, his character is just that Varsity Villain gimmick from NXT, and that needs to be worked on.

29) Beth Phoenix to RAW. Beth deserves all the attention she can get, and I hope she gets it on RAW (having lacked it on Smackdown of late). I have dreams of her working with Kharma, either against her, or maybe in some sort of anti-Barbie team. Each could be great!

30) Sheamus to Smackdown.This was a bit of a shock for many reasons. Sheamus is probably favourite to fill that top heel void, and certainly has the pedigree. The complication, or opportunity, is that Sheamus joins Smackdown, which already hosts Barrett’s Intercontinental Championship, as United States Champion. This could mean one of many things. Either they could be uniting the US and IC titles, or we could be about to see either Sheamus or Barrett drop their belt. I’d say they’re about neck and neck in terms of heel-positioning, and that a top heel should really be above the admittedly prestigious upper-midcard belts. So what I think will happen will be that one of them drops their championship to someone from RAW (someone who has just left Smackdown on their last show? McIntyre? Swagger?) only to go on to become the top heel on the blue brand eventually. Lots of questions here, and excitingly, they should/could well be answered on this week’s Smackdown!

WrestleMania XXVII Review: Atlanta Gets Rocked

The images we've all been waiting for, the Rock Bottom to Cena

It is difficult to sum up a WrestleMania. Each individual fan goes in with a specific vision of what they want to see and what they expect to see, and if they are not realised, it can be a dampener on the whole show. It wont please everyone, especially in the fickle internet wrestling ‘community’, but the show put out last night was, for the most part, excellent, and certainly ‘Mania worthy.

One disappointment, though, was the nixing of the US title match between Sheamus and Daniel Bryan – a match many wanted to see given the high quality of Bryan’s matches and the fact it would be his first WrestleMania. Given the relative brevity of some of the matches, the reasoning that time constraints were such that one match had to be cut makes sense, and I would rather this than Bryan and Sheamus being forced to go out with only five minutes. It’s unfortunate, but for the greater good.

Match 1: Edge w/ Christian def. Alberto Del Rio w/ Brodus Clay & Ricardo Rodriguez to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
For many it was a surprise that the first match out was the World Heavyweight Championship match. This wasn’t the insult that it perhaps used to be. In fact, its a compliment to them, showing that they have the star quality enough to garner immediate interest in the show. This match was very well paced. There was a big match feel with the timidness of the start which built and built as Del Rio worked on Edge’s injured shoulder against the ring-steps. When Del Rio worked his way in to his arm-breaker, the match started to take off. After escaping that, Edge retaliated with a somersault to Del Rio on the outside, the sort of move that he’d only save for WrestleMania at his age. The back and forth continued, with Del Rio hitting an arm-drag and an enziguiri from the top rope, and Edge hitting his signatures, The Edge-o-matic and the Edgecution for near falls. Towards the end of the match, the outside participants started getting involved. One excellent spot was when Edge tried to stop a pin by putting his foot on the rope, only for Ricardo Rodriguez to take it off and force Edge to kick out properly. As everyone outside the ring took each other out, Edge and Del Rio fought to finish the other. Edge, having escaped an arm-breaker attempt, managed to hit a Spear for the win. This was a little abrupt, and I think the match could have lasted a little longer, but especially in retrospect, this was still a good match. Many will be disappointed about the lack of a Christian heel-turn, but at the very least, it can be called a swerve that made the result more unpredictable. Also, just because Christian didn’t turn heel last night, it doesn’t mean there are no plans for that in the future. A more legitimate gripe might be at Del Rio not fulfilling his ‘destiny’ and going over when it seemed to be so clearly the next stage in his development. I don’t think this is the end of his push though. Like with Christian’s heel turn, I think its just been differed for the time being as WWE seem to feel there’s more to come from this feud.

Match 2: Cody Rhodes def. Rey Mysterio
Cody Rhodes came out next to a bit of a comparatively tepid reaction, but I liked his entrance with the freakshow news clippings. Mysterio, for his part, came out in customary pomp as Captain America. I would have liked to have seen Rhodes wrestle in his hoodie thing as it would have shown even more how he wanted his face covered. In many ways, central to this match was the synthetic extra-bodily appendages each man has been using in this feud. Early on, Rhodes was using his mask with diving headbutts before trying to rip Rey Mysterio’s knee-brace off, something he later managed. Rhodes’ dominance continued, leading to some awesome spots including a Beautiful Disaster to Mysterio as he was tangled in the ropes, and another where Rhodes went for a superplex on Mysterio, but made it a delayed superplex, holding Mysterio upright for quite some time before dropping him to the canvas. Following this, Mysterio gained the upper hand with quite a lot of offense back on Rhodes, including a great moonsault on to the standing Rhodes for a near-fall. It was around here that both the knee-brace and Rhodes mask were ripped off, in an interesting exchange of bodily enhancements, before Mysterio put Rhodes mask over his own. Forcing Rhodes to the outside, the referee was suitably distracted so that Rhodes could hit him with his own knee brace and follow up with a Cross-Rhodes for the pinfall. A very good match in storyline terms, playing off the various enhancements/weapons that have been so key to the story. It was also great to see Rhodes go over on the big stage, with more matches seemingly in the pipeline.

I quite liked the little talent segment. I though William Regal did a good job of rapping in-character while Zack Ryder got a huge pop simply for singing ‘Friday’ on screen – Vince must surely have heard that! It’s time for Zack to make TV.

Match 3: Big Show, Kane, Santino Marella & Kofi Kingston def. The Corre
This was by far the worst match on the card. It was a five minute match which seemed almost completely pointless. It broke down very quickly in to a finish-fest which saw the faces go over, and seemingly without any good reason, while the growing Corre was stopped in their tracks. Even if Vlad was injured, I don’t see why he couldn’t have worked this match. Kofi Kingston being subbed in for Kozlov seemed completely needless. I would rather the extra five minutes or so be added on to the main event than watch this waste of time.

Match 4: Randy Orton def. CM Punk
For me, this was one of the most highly anticipated matches on  the card, and could certainly main-event any WrestleMania in itself. As you would expect from two essentially evil characters, the in-ring psychology in this match was perfectly pitched and very intense. Punk started off with the obvious step of targeting Orton’s injured knee right from the get-go. Orton, however, managed to avoid these early attacks well, absolutely pounding on Punk including some signature European Uppercuts while it was all Punk could do to get away. Outside the ring, Punk avoided being Irish whipped in to the steps and managed to kick them instead in to an oncoming Orton. This slowed down The Viper for obvious reasons, and so began the cat-and-mouse psychology which Punk is the perfect person to play. After working on the knee for some time and in various ways, Punk tied Orton up in the tree of woe, standing on Orton’s knee and looking exceedingly pleased with the pain he was inflicting. Even further, he managed to get the ring post figure-four leg lock on Orton in a way which seemed absolutely excruciating. At this point, Orton seemed almost defenseless against the maniacal Punk, being as he was barely able to stand, but he manged to muster some adrenaline-fueled offense with some clotheslines, his Angle slam and his scoop slam. Punk, however, maneged to recover, and again get the better of Orton with some strong style kicks. As the match started to reach its climax, Orton again got an adrenaline rush and managed to hit his Hangman DDT on Punk, seemingly setting up for the next in the series of Nexus punts. However, like on RAW the past week, Orton’s knee buckled under him, and he collapsed to the canvas. At this point, the complacent Punk returned, seemingly knowing that he was surely to go on and win. Orton truly seemed like a wounded animal, swiping defensively at Punk, attempting an RKO which Punk simply swept aside. However, this complacence, or this ‘faith’ was, as Orton promised, Punk’s downfall, and attempting a springboard-clothesline, Orton managed to muster the energy for a super RKO and the victory.  A great match between these two, deserving of more of a programme, though I’m not quite sure how that could be justified storyline-wise.

Match 5: Michael Cole w/ Jack Swagger def. Jerry “The King” Lawler via DQ
This match was never going to pretty, and indeed, it wasn’t, but it was more entertaining that the simple brutal justice of Hart-McMahon from last year. As I expected, Cole came out in an amateur-inspired Vickie Guerrero-esque comedy outfit. Another cool and funny angle came when Swagger was doing his trademark push-ups on the ramp when Stone Cold’s music hit, leading to the camera panning in on Swagger’s shocked face before Austin charged Swagger on his 4×4, forcing him to dive from the ramp. There was something about that, in it’s craziness, that was quintessentially WrestleMania. I was glad that they reverted to King’s old music, and he came out in a rather spectacular outfit which was more than fitting for Lawler’s big moment under the lights of WrestleMania. This was indeed a comedy match-up at the start, especially when King was banging Cole’s head against the Colemine. As the match went on, King obviously had the early advantage, pounding cathartically on Cole. There had to be a means of prolonging this match, however, and Jack Swagger provided them, attacking King from behind as he was escorting Cole to the ring, before synching in the ankle lock. Cole’s working on the leg was, let’s face it, pretty pitiful, and it did ruin any perception that Cole might be able to conceivably work over Lawler, even with the help of Swagger. Most notably, when working on Lawler’s ankle in the ropes, he was noticeably holding himself off Lawler’s ankle with the ropes. Later, Cole would go for Swagger’s version of the Vader Bomb, purposefully making it look like a struggle for him to do so, and eventually only doing it from the bottom rope. After performing the ultimate insult to King by pulling down one strap, Cole went for the Ankle lock himself, but was not able, obviously, to make Lawler quit. Recovering, Lawler trapped Cole, beating him and stomping a mudhole. At this point, Swagger threw in the towel, but Austin would not allow that. Confronting him, all Swagger got was a Stunner to a huge pop. Nice rub for Swagger in all this. Cole starts to plead with Austin like the slimy heel he is, before turning angry at Austin for not showing any sympathy. Austin pushes Cole in to some huge right hands from Lawler and in to a huge dropkick before going for the pin, only to drag Cole’s carcass up, wanting to apply even more punishment in the form of the Ankle Lock. Although Cole was tapping like a girl, Austin pretended not to see, only acknowledging it when Cole said that he quit. This would seem all well and good, and there was the usual beer-bath in the ring, even involving Booker T, who quickly received a stunner for his trouble; but then the anonymous GM chimed in, saying that Austin’s involvement in the match earned King a DQ and Cole the victory. This was met with great indignation from everyone in attendance (i’m not sure whether you could call it ‘heat’), and pure fury from King, who decided to shoot the messenger, Josh Matthews, who was thrown in to the ring for another stunner. This seemed totally unfair, but there was at least one reason for it. Mainly, it meant that J.R., who joined the announce team along with Booker, could call the rest of the PPV with his old partner, King, alone, but secondly, it could be material for the continuation of this feud, which now seems inevitable. I find it difficult to believe that Cole going over Lawler will be the end of the feud, and indeed, Matthews showed a degree of sympathy for Cole during the match. Perhaps this unjust attack, as well as Matthew’s wrestling training could lead to a Lawler & Austin vs Cole & Matthews match down the line?

Match 6: The Undertaker def. Triple H to Extend The Streak to 19-0
What an announce team in place for this match. What an excellent job J.R. did on commentary along with his old partner, Jerry Lawler. The two competitors gave us a great match, but those two, and J.R. especially, made it even better. I’m almost worried about trying to review this match. I think, like all of the greatest matches, it was a spectacle, and so needs to be witnessed. What I will do then, is go over the major talking points, and then post a video of the match in the MOTY section, so you can see for yourself. Right from the get go, this was an aggressive match, involving two veterans leaving it all in (and out) of the ring to chase their respective interlinked goals. Within minutes, Triple H had been thrown over the top rope, and the two men had gone careening through the Cole Mine, leaving it jagged, poised, and an almost living example of the carnage of the match. Later, Triple H teased a pedigree through the announce table, only for a back body drop reversal right to the floor with a sickening thud. Seeing the downed HHH, Taker then climbed back in to the ring, and hit his no hands plancha spot which he saves for WrestleMania on The Game, who only just catches him sufficiently to save the Deadman from landing directly on his neck. Trying to capitalise on this, Taker looked to hit a Tombstone on HHH on the ring steps. After Hunter escaped that, Taker charged him, only to be met with a spinebuster right through the Spanish announce table. This was all within the space of the first half of the match, and already, the two were tearing their bodies apart. Lots of back and forth after this with Chokeslams, spinebusters, and more near-falls. There was also what has become the familiar exchange of usually match-winning finishers for near-falls which not only create great drama, but amp up the pressure each time one is hit, making every pin attempt more credible as a match winner, as a streak ender, only to be continually reprieved briefly from our anguish. This is never more so than in a streak match where now 19 years of history rides on every count on the mat. There was one point where Undertaker kicked out of three almost consecutive Pedigrees, obviously with less vigour and more shock each time. It is at this point that the end seems imminent for either competitor, and it is also at this point where the history of similar matches from the past started to manifest. HHH was in the definite ascendancy at this point, and started shouting to Taker to ‘stay down’ very much like Taker did to Shawn Michaels last year, while Taker struggled to keep his hands up like Ric Flair did when HBK retired him. All of these visual cues pointed to it being The Undertaker’s ‘time’, which was no doubt a big part in my belief that The Streak was indeed about to end. Frustrated after Taker’s refusal to die, HHH took to a steel chair,hitting him eight times with it like he was flogging a dead horse, before going on to hit him with a rare and sickening unprotected head shot with the chair. At this point, the Undertaker’s power certainly wasn’t bodily – it was all spiritual, psychological, the aspects of his character which gives him a constant edge, and then came the most heart-wrenching near fall. Again, struggling to stand, Undertaker received his own tombstone, and at that point, I was convinced The Streak was dead, but no, not yet – Taker again, somehow, kicked out. At this point, HHH looked actually scared, backing off from the body of Taker. After regaining himself, he went to get his iconic sledgehammer, but even given that short time to recover, Undertaker managed to clutch HHH in the Hell’s Gate, and The Game had nowhere to go. No one has survived that move for more than a few seconds before, but HHH seemed to survive for several minutes before, with nowhere to go and his hammer out of reach, finally, reluctantly, powerlessly, being forced to give up. In many ways it was the perfect end. Two huge iconic powers colliding, and after almost canceling each other out, one slowly expiring out of necessity. It was Undertaker who looked to have the worst of it though, and indeed, his body did go through some horrible punishment. Now i’m sure, with some assistance, Taker may hve been able to walk out, but his lifeless body seemed to have more truth to it than some would think possible. He truly gave us everything he had. This led to one final moment which I found really touching. After the match, HHH wasn’t bitter in any way, but resigned. Being helped from the ring, Undertaker collapsed to the ground, and HHH reacted with an instinctive, concerned motion towards him, eventhough 1o minutes earlier, he was delivering a flurry of chair shots to the man. That shows more respect that even a handshake or anything like that could. Taker eventually left on a gurney, without even his trademark raised fist. More than anything, this leads me to believe that his twentieth WrestleMania match will be his last. The image of the lifeless Deadman shows that between the bells at the big event, he is the best there is (at least in kayfabe terms), but after all these years his body is relenting. All this, to me, points to WrestleMania XXVIII being a release of some sort for The Undertaker. As ever though, we’ll have to wait and see. Some seem disappointed that Shawn Michaels didn’t cost HHH the match, but I think that would have sullied what we saw. For one thing, HHH tapping out in the context of that match is nothing to be ashamed of, while HBK costing The Game his chance of breaking The Streak would run the risk of being treated as a heel turn, surely something undesirable just after The Showstopper had entered the Hall of Fame.

Match 7: Snooki, Trish Stratus & John Morrison def. Michelle McCool, Layla & Dolph Ziggler
There was an awful lot of indignation when people saw that ‘Snookimania’ would be higher up the card than Taker-HHH, and I understand that, but it must be remembered that, as I said earlier, the card structure isn’t as simple as the higher the match, the more imortant it is. This was a good decision because it broke from the trauma of the previous match, gave the main event something much easier to follow, and gave future stars John Morrison and Dolph Ziggler, high spots on the card. This was a short match, and certainly nothing ‘special’, but it was fun, and provided us with the most interesting match-up between the teams, Trish vs Michelle (very much the Rock-Cena of the divas division). Those two were great for the short time they had together, culminating in that brave spot from the turnbuckle to the floor. Its a shame Morrison and Dolph couldn’t have any one-on-one time in the ring, but there was at least a cool spot where Morrison hit Starship Pain from the turnbuckle to Ziggler on the floor. Snooki, of course, went on to get the pin. From here, I don’t see much of a feud continuing. Maybe Morrison and Ziggler will continue for a while. As for LayCool, the hiatus of their split seemed to have ended even before the match started, with Michelle shoving Layla aside so she could face Stratus, and later, accidentally booting Layla in the head. I look forward to that.

MAIN EVENT: The Miz def. John Cena to Retain the WWE Championship
This one kicked off with WWE flexing their production muscles with an awesome video recounting the rise of The Miz, all while the Miz of today watches on as if he never doubted it would happen. Excellent stuff to build for this match. I also liked the inflatable ‘Awesome!’ which he burst through on his way out and the pyro he received. As for Cena, he got a similar video, but one that just made me feel how well trodden his story now is, and stale in comparison to someone like the Miz. His entrance was roundly booed as he was introduced by a full choir and red while and blue titantron, along with new red merch. This is usually a bad sign for those wanting a heel turn, but I got the feeling that more was going on here. WWE were almost knowingly trying too hard to ‘shove him down our throats’ here, and the fans reacted with a chorus of boos. It is worth noting here from the outset that this match was solid, but not 5 star. The two guys were very aggressive at times, but there were no big spots or anything like that. It is also worth noting that the crowd was more than fairly pro-Miz. I’m going to talk about the possibility of a Cena heel-turn later, but it should be said now that if he is not turning heel, the WWE seriously need to listen to their Universe and make plans to turn him pronto. At WrestleMania, it rarely only takes one finisher to put down an opponent, and this was no different. After some palaver, Alex Riley managed to strike Cena’s head into the exposed turnbuckle which was followed by a Skull-Crushing Finalé. Now it will surprise no one that Cena kicked out of Miz’s finisher, but what will surprise many was Miz’s kicking out of the biggest Attitude Adjustment i’ve ever seen! Right then and there, if he hadn’t already arrived, The Miz arrived. Following this, the two men brawl in to the crowd, with Cena crashing Miz over a couple of barricades while the referee counted eventually to 10 and labelled it a draw. The crowd hated it, and there was no way that was going to be the finish. Cue The Rock. Restarting the match, Rocky made it no-DQ, and as the match spilled back in to the ring, Cena turned around and ate a Rock Bottom, the image the world has been dying to see, and which allowed The Miz to pick up the win and retain his title. There’s a lot to be said about this, but it should be said first that it was crucial that Rock also attack Miz, which is exactly what he did, performing the People’s Elbow on him one last time. This was crucial because it shows that the Rock is essentially a benevolent figure. Cena wasn’t attacked by a heel, be was attacked by a face, which makes all the difference, and everyone cheered as it happened. After that, The Rock soaked in the crowd’s approval as the show faded to black. This was a decent match as I said, but I think it was more angle-driven than anything else. It had it’s drama of course, and if given extra time before the re-start, and one or two one-off WrestleMania moves, it would have made it excellent. It leaves questions and plants seeds. Could Cena turn heel? The stars have seemed alligned in the past and it hasn’t happened. This time, however, I think it really could happen. For the sake of argument, here’s how: On RAW, Cena comes out to call out The Rock and goes over what happened at Wrestlemania. He would say something like “I bust my ass 7 days a week, and then this movie star comes in having been away for 7 years and thinks he can cost me the title? And what is more, you, the WWE Universe, cheered. The fans, who have always had my back, turned on me. If that shows me one thing, it shows me that I don’t need the fans …” Instant heel turn. Lets hope so, eh?

It is important, however, not to pin our enjoyment of something like whether John Cena turned heel or not. We have to concentrate on what we saw and how it made us feel. For me, the Corre match and the Snooki match aside, all the others were of at least good quality, and in the case of Punk-Orton and Taker-HHH, they were five star. A little too much brevity in some of the matches, but nothing predictable. The spectacle was exhinited, stars were made, and this was a WrestleMania fit for consideration among some of the best.


Royal Rumble Review, 2011: Destiny Realised for Del Rio


The rise of the new stars seemed to continue last night as Alberto Del Rio, a Smackdown superstar for only around five months, won one of the most important matches of the year. I thought this was a good Rumble and an excellent PPV personally, and have been shocked to see a lot of negativity online about it. The same people who whinge when Cena wins, or someone predictably returns from injury to win, also whinge when a fresh but deserving wrestler gets top-billing. I guess there really is no pleasing some people.

Match 1) Edge def. Dolph Ziggler to Retain the World Heavyweight Championship
Though I didn’t predict it, I wasn’t surprised to see the World Title match go on first. The match was a very good opener to the event too, helped in no small part by the ‘no-Spear’ stipulation. It was an example of a very well paced match, starting out a bit more tenuously and building and building to a finish that has the fans on the edge of their seat. There were very few periods of overly-sustained dominance from either guy, and the match had a real feel of going back-and-forth, which is conducive to an unpredictable and dramatic match, as both competitors looked like they could win at more than one time. As the match came towards it’s fruition, the sequences only grew in intensity, starting with Edge’s amazing counter of Ziggler’s leg drop into a powerbomb for a near-fall. Following that, a great near-fall came after Ziggler hit his leg drop for a very close 2 count. Edge and Ziggler then shared finishers (Edge using his Edgecution), escaping each time. It was at this point that the referee got knocked down. It’s easy, but a good way to tell a story based on the unfair stipulation. With Vickie and the ref down, Edge felt free to hit his Spear, before hitting Ziggler with an Unprettier for the win, to take away from the aspect of his victory that was achieved by cheating and suggested that he needed the Spear to beat Ziggler, while also giving a conspicuous nod to Christian, only solidifying hopes and beliefs that when Christian returns, it will be to work with his former partner.

Match 2) The Miz def. Randy Orton to Retain the WWE Championship
Now, given that the WHC match was first up, I was very surprised to see the WWE title match follow it up. In fact, it made me mindful that a big surprise would occur before the Rumble as a main event angle or something. Alas not. I still don’t understand why it followed Edge-Ziggler in that case, because I think it kinda hurt the match. That it not to criticise it really; it was a good match, but in my mind, not quite as good as the WHC one. Had it followed the divas match, it probably would have been more over. Anyway, the match followed the familiar, but watchable rhythm of a Miz title defence: Orton dominated in the early going before Miz gained an intellectual upper-hand, using smarts and the advantage of Alex Riley. That is not, however, to say that Miz looked weak. He had his fair share of beating on The Viper, and came close to beating him close a few times. If the opening moments were dominated by Orton, Miz had a section of renewal in the middle with a beating of Orton outside and a slingshot to the ringpost. Coming back from such an onslaught really speaks to Miz’s resilience, which is still required at this point. Like the previous match, there was a sure progression to a boiling point that occurred, in this match, following a superplex from Orton to Miz. This culminated, in a way, with a sequence which began with Riley distracting Orton before he could hit a powerbomb on Miz, a situation Orton overcame to get Miz in an RKO-able position, at which point, Nexus came out; again, Orton resisted this, spectacularly throwing Riley over the top rope and on to most of the Nexus, before nailing his RKO on Miz. Orton couldn’t resist, however, CM Punk, who came from under the ring to hit a Go To Sleep on The Viper, before dragging an unconscious Miz on top of Orton for the retention. This was a good finish which, despite being dirty, was conclusive. The Nexus involvement may have slightly hurt what was a good, main-event feeling match, but it made sense for Orton to move on from feuding with Miz to potentially becoming the new target for the Nexus.

Match 3) Eve Torres def. Layla, Natalya & Michelle McCool to Win WWE Divas Championship
Right, this one was weird. I was down for a triple threat match once the GM started talking, and then when we heard it was going to be a fatal four way, I expected Melina, Beth Phoenix or, most tantalisingly, Awesome Kong; but instead, we got Eve. Don’t get me wrong, I think Eve has become a good wrestler, but it just seemed completely unsubstantiated! This match was given pretty decent time it seemed. The storytelling worked well too, with LayCool working together, and facing off in the ring when the faces had been taken out. This is the first time since the tables match at TLC that i’ve felt the divas have stepped up in terms of aggression and innovation like I predicted they would this year, and indeed, there were lots of big hits and bumps for everyone. The ending of the match was very intriguing, as Eve hit an beautiful moonsault on Layla and went for the pin just as Michelle McCool rolled up Natalya for three; the referee only seeing Eve’s pin and so awarding her the match and the title. I expect a triple threat at Elimniation Chamber to sort it out, but there is also currency for a Wrestlemania season split for LayCool. After all, Michelle did accidentally kick Layla in the face while it was Layla that got pinned as Michelle was poised for victory. We’ll wait and see on that. I just hope that Eve’s reign is legitimised in good storylines, otherwise it seems a bit arbitrary.

Match 4) THE ROYAL RUMBLE!
It’s difficult to speak that critically about the Royal Rumble; you can only really gauge it’s success based on how you feel afterwards. Well, the last quarter (roughly) of it, was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, so it seems like it was a success in that sense! My pick, CM Punk was first out, which actually made me think him a more likely winner. Corre and Nexus had an unscheduled face-off, as I thought they might, and it was quite well done, but not as intriguing as I’d have hoped … Thinking he might be assisted through a marathon by his Nexus, that definately seemed to be the plan, as Punk stayed in the match longer than anyone else, lasting until the after the 21st entrant had entered. Many fans, including me, loved that the initial face-off was between him and Daniel Bryan, and indeed, they wasted no time in getting going in to a fast-paced and exciting sequence. A future programme involving these two would be excellent! I liked Punk’s relationship with his group in the match, and they looked genuinely unstoppable, until Cena came in. Of course, in retrospect, I doubt WWE would have booked someone to win the Royal Rumble in such a systematic way. Cena followed his word, clearing the ring of all the remaining Nexus members. The Rumble performance seems to be another thing that Punk excels in, more than anyone else, being able to put together a unique Rumble sort of performance, so despite being eliminated, he was a success. The next thing of note is the awesome spot by John Morrison which saw him avoid elimination in spectacular fashion!  Standing on the apron, it looked like he would be eliminated very quickly by William Regal, who charged him and knocked him to the barricade, but, somehow, and using incredible strength and agility, JoMo gripped the barricade without touching the floor, walked across it towards the ring steps, and leapt to them before re-entering the match. Morrison’s stay in the match was relatively short, but that spot in itself was one of the show-stealers, and is a genuinely spot for the highlight reels of wrestling history. Its that sort of thing that will help him ascend the ladder, simply because it’ll make him ‘must see’. Also of note was Hornswoggle’s involvement. This worked both ways: I hated him being in the match, but his working with Cena, imitating lots of wrestlers and hitting a mini AA on Tyson Kidd was very funny and light-hearted in a Rumble-appropriate way.

Next up, among the obvious chaos of the Rumble, is the surprise entrants. First off, we had Booker T, who got one of the biggest pops of the night. Now, I’ve never been that high on Booker, but I have to say, I marked out like a kid for him. He was in remarkable shape, and was really electrifying! He took it to the Nexus too, which was good for him. A little late, i’ve been converted! The good news is that it seems he has a bit more of a long-term deal, so we might get to see him school some of the young-uns. Secondly, was Kevin Nash (under his old name of Diesel). He also got a huge pop, and looked like he did a decade ago after simply dying his hair brown again. The reaction in the ring to the former WWE Champion was priceless, and he did some nice things in the ring. He is, however, a lot slower and more damaged than Booker seemingly is, and I don’t know how much WWE can do with him at this point. Still, a special moment, as is warranted at the Rumble.

Moving on to the finish, it really began when eventual winner, Alberto Del Rio made his entrance, and by the time Kane entered, we had a ring full of main eventers, all of whom could win with legitimacy. I expected, however, that Cena would win, so imagine my elation when the well thought through elimination of Cena took place, where Alex Riley distracted him so the Miz, on commentary, could enter the ring and eliminate Cena! It’s not that I don’t like Cena, as regular readers will know, but I didn’t want him to win, it would just be uncreative. Also, the way he was eliminated probably means that Miz will be defending the WWE title against Cena at Wrestlemania, in a match which has good build beyond the Rumble, months, maybe even over a year in the making. After that, I expected Orton to win, and that was just as bad as Cena, for the exact same reason, so when Del Rio took advantage of Orton being compromised while eliminating Barrett to eliminate the Viper and, seemingly, to win, I was really excited. Of course, when Santino re-entered the ring and hit the Cobra, I thought the worst, despite the obscenity of a Santino win, and was simply relieved when Del Rio reversed his elimination attempt for the win. I also loved Ricardo Rodriguez’s OTT announcement of the winner, it really added to the atmosphere of a Del Rio win. A great end to a very good Rumble! As for what this means for his Wrestlemania match – i’m sure he’ll be taking on Edge. I don’t see any reason to change that, partly because he also has history with Christian, who could involve himself somehow, which would also explain all the visual invoking of his character. I’m not sure, however, whether I want it to be a triple-threat. I’m a purist with this, and I want the Rumble winner to take on the champ one-on-one. As ever though, we’ll see. It’s all very interesting!

RAW Recall (20/12/2010): The Bite Before Christmas

Orton looks to get one last shot in on Miz following his removal from the title picture

Last night’s RAW was incredibly well received all round, and in many ways, i’m not surprised. As Mark Henry said, there was a freshness in the air, but it was not because of the lack of Nexus, it was the hotness of the crowd for a show which featured the rise and rise of future main-eventers, John Morrison and Dolph Ziggler.

The show started out with what Cole termed ‘The Mizmas Carol’ featuring Alex Riley as Miz’s reign past, Cole as Miz’s reign in the present, and Miz Girl as Miz’s reign in the future. To each of them, Miz reiterated that he will continue to continue being the champion at every defence. It was silly, but it was funny, and when the real future of Miz’s reign, John Morrison, came out to confront him, it turned in to a good set up for the night’s main event, and build-up for their Royal Rumble match.

It was important following the progressive divas match at TLC that the divas match on RAW was also of high quality. It wasn’t as long, but it was fast-paced, athletic, and of good quality from all three competitors, Melina, Alicia Fox and Eve.  Eve especially, who has wrestled little since her Divas Championship run, seemed to have improved yet further, hitting a nice standing moonsault. The ending of the match was good, with Melina rolling through to avoid a cross-body and gain the victory. Then came the much talked about Melina heel turn, slapping a sportsmanlike Natalya in the face. This too was a good move, as Maryse can’t carry the serious heel burden on her own. I have no idea why Gail Kim couldn’t have been in the match though, even as a loser. It’s a damn shame.

Next up was an IWC dream-match between Daniel Bryan and his trainer, William Regal. The first thing I noticed is that Regal seems to have let himself go somewhat. Nonetheless, he managed to put on a good match with his former student, if perhaps a slower paced one. It was a very physical match, with lots of chain grappling and a flurry of European uppercuts. The story was of the student besting the master as Bryan reversed an attempted Regal Stretch in to a Lebelle Lock for the victory. There was a lot of  respect shown after the loss, but I wonder, given the sense that Regal will be retiring soon, he could be a new challenger to Bryan’s US title as a last run in his career. Maybe his initial sportsmanship could turn to bitterness next week. The Bellas continued to fight over a bewildered Bryan after the match – something I though played off nicely with Bryan’s desire to show respect to his mentor. Maybe Regal could take exception to his being distracted by the girls.

Later on, Cena made his first appearance since destroying the Nexus at TLC. The crowd were hot for this, which undoubtedly contributed to it being one of the best segments of recent memory. He was excited, charismatic and funny, especially showing his chairs yanked on Barrett spot from several different angles. This was only interrupted by Vickie Guerrero and Dolph Ziggler, who wanted an apology from Jerry Lawler for his comments at the Slammy Awards mocking Guerrero’s weight. This then turned in to a crowd-baited group bullying of Guerrero which may have gone too far with Lawler and Cena taking turns to make jokes about Guerrero. All this led to a match between Cena and Ziggler which was one of the best TV matches in a long time. Obviously an amped-up Cena had a lot of success in the early going, but Ziggler managed to get in a lot of his own offense, and the match was relatively equally balanced back and forth. There were also lots of good moments of drama surrounding finishing moves and near falls, as Ziggler reversed out of an AA in to a Sleeper, which Cena managed to slip out of. Cena managed to get Ziggler to tap to the STF, but ever resourceful, Vickie managed to distract the referee allowing a stay for Dolph. Unfortunately, he would soon go down to an AA and a loss to Cena. This was obviously no squash though – Ziggler was being tested at that level, and I doubt many would say that he failed. Following this, CM Punk, who had been voicing his anger at Cena’s actions (and the crowd’s approval of them), attacked Cena from behind with a chair, explaining that he was giving him a taste of his own medicine. It seems then that Cena has genuinely moved on, and will enter an intriguing feud with Punk. This has two other potential consequences: firstly that the Cena-Nexus feud is, as I expected, done. It will be interesting to see how and if Nexus continue from here. Also, there is a possibility, seen as there is said to be favour for a three-man commentary team, and a general desire for J.R. to return, that J.R. could replace the now active Punk at the announce table.

The main event say faces Randy Orton, John Morrison and Jerry “The King” Lawler take on The Miz, Alex Riley and Sheamus. This was another strong match, though I did think Miz was perhaps a little too cowardly in the face of The Viper, actually running away from him once or twice. Nonetheless, every one did a good job in this match, even the rookie, Riley, and the aging veteran, Jerry Lawler, who hit a lot of good moves, including a dropkick! Morrison got a crucial good pop from the crowd, and again seemed to be working out of his skin. Miz continued to develop his character as a wily opportunist, and attempted to hit a Skull Crushing finale on Lawler, only to be stopped and RKO’d by Orton, who allowed the pin to the King over the WWE Champion. That’s a nice move for Jerry, as long as he does vacate the main event now. As for Miz, he tried to attack Orton afterwards, getting in a cheap shot before backing off a frustrated Orton. A couple of times, it was mentioned that Morrison would get his title shot ‘some time’ in the future, suggesting that it might not come at the Royal Rumble, though I hope it does.

RAW Recall (22/11/2010): Welcome to Mizville!

Miz after capturing his first WWE Championship

 

How quickly the focus of the WWE Universe changes. This time yesterday, the fallout of Survivor Series and Cena’s firing was all most people were talking about. Leave it the the Miz to get people talking …

Yesterday, I was wondering how Nexus were going to stay relevant as a force in the WWE. Well, the first segment answered that question, for this Monday night, at least. Barrett came out and employed some classic wrestle-logic by suggesting that referees have never before laid their hands on a competitor like Cena did on Sunday, and for that reason, he should get a re-match. Of course, any one who remembers Earl Hebner’s WWE tenure will remember that this is hardly true even at a cursory glance. It was wrestle-logic well employed though, because the GM granted a rematch, meaning Nexus remained central to proceedings for the night, and seemed like legitimate threats to the WWE title, and therefore, the WWE.

As CM Punk came out to rehab at the announce booth, a lot of the night’s attention then shifted to the return of the King of the Ring concept which will take place next week on RAW. The first qualifier saw Sheamus take on R-Truth; two people who would fit in the tournament, making this match more unpredictable than most ‘qualifier’ type matches are. R-Truth had a decent showing, but the match was all about showing a ‘house of fire’ opened up in Sheamus after losing to John Morrison at Survivor Series. Indeed, the spirited Truth eventually seemed to just be being dragged along the ring, and Sheamus used all of his power moves (including the rarely executed Irish Cross) to go over Truth, despite the fact he could have pinned him before that. Bad for Truth (though that doesn’t really bother me), but good for Sheamus, who needs wins elsewhere if he’s going to put Morrison over. I wont speculate on who will/should win KOTR until all eight participants are announced on Friday.

The next qualifying match was slated to be Ezekiel Jackson against the Miz. When I saw the graphic, I thought “what’s the point of Miz being in KOTR, he doesn’t need to be.” Thankfully, therefore, Alex Riley took his place in the match (cue a joke from Punk regarding Riley’s recent DUI). I haven’t been sure up until now, but it seems they’re selling ‘Big Zeke’ as a babyface, which is fine by me as he seems surprisingly over. I think we need to see him do a little more in the ring though (his match against Riley was little more than another squash victory) and have him in some really good matches, all of which can be obtained by placing him in a good feud; for the sake of argument, let me suggest his ex-associate, William Regal. Like Goldust, Regal doesn’t seem to have too much long left in the ring, and, like Goldust, WWE may provide him with one last TV rivalry. A lot of this one would write itself.

Half-way through the show we saw Cena give his ‘farewell address.’ Some people dislike Cena (myself not included, though I thought his character was stale before this whole Nexus thing), but the one thing no one can take away is his knowledge and his passion for the business. Everything he said in that ring, I believe, was straight from the heart. He was sad but upbeat, he knew he’d stayed true to the business, to the community, and was proud and thankful of it. Cena also showed he is more tuned in with the fans than his detractors suggest, pulling out a cheeky curse-word (has Mae Young single-handedly ended the PG era!) and asking the WWE Universe to use their most sincere chant: “Lets’s go Cena/Cena sucks!” He has managed to refine his character of late. He is more than just a face, and that says a lot about his talent. On his way out, the locker-room, and long-time rival, Randy Orton, all paid respect. The last one to see him out, Wade Barrett, however, wished him good riddance with a mocking ‘you can’t see me’ gesture. It is emblematic of the new stars being made, many of which Cena has helped along.

Back to KOTR qualifying, and Daniel Bryan took on new rival Ted DiBiase. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer to have DiBiase go over. Daniel Bryan, as US champ and shooting star, doesn’t need the KOTR, and a loss after a successful title defence wouldn’t hurt him too much, especially if DiBiase gained it unfairly. The other ‘strory’ from this match was the strange accompaniment of Bryan to the ring of Brie Bella. Not that I particularly disliked it, but I thought the comical ‘ladies man’ idea was over before it begun. Apparently not, and Brie seemed quite taken with the American Dragon. Unfortunately for Bryan, this distracted him for the opening part of the match, and DiBiase didn’t let up for some time. However, Bryan got back in to it and managed to beat DiBiase, again, with the LaBelle Lock. Post match, as Brie was attending to Bryan, Nikki Bella  came out to contest for him. Bryan seemed stunned by it, and respectfully removed himself from the situation. At this, Cole called him a nerd, and for once, I have to agree! Another loss for DiBiase doesn’t seem great for his progression, but in a little preview to my KOTR post, I doubt Bryan will be winning, so expect DiBiase to cost Bryan his KOTR match and set up a US Championship rematch at TLC.

LayCool showed up at the arena only to be turned away. Of course Natalya has to now show up on Smackdown, but it may be a sign that there will be no LayCool rematch. Natalya had a classic sort of post-title victory match against Alicia Fox in which she dispatched her with ease to appear a dominant and deserved champion. All will be more clear for her after Smackdown.

The final KOTR qualification from RAW was determined between John Morrison and Tyson Kidd. Now, it’s good for Kidd that he got TV time, but he came out to generic music and lost, which may be a bad sign. The guy needs a good feud with DH Smith pronto, unless he wants to become a Superstars regular. The match was ok, but given the mutual high-flying skills of both, you might have expected more. I suppose the problem for Kidd is that his sort of almost lucha style isn’t that consistent with being a heel, so he might feel he needs to slow down and be more methodical, or risk not getting over. Neither is desirable. Before the match, Melina gave Morrison a flirtation slap on the ass, so to speak, and it seems rumours that MNM were getting back together may have some founding. As for the match, it was ok. None of the qualifiers were spectacular, as you might expect, but none of them were boring or bad, so there’s not much more to say. Morrison looked strong, which was just as important to him as it was to Sheamus.

Our main event saw Wade Barrett getting his championship rematch against Randy Orton. From this point, we had a rollercoaster of emotions and chaos. Initially, I couldn’t see Barrett winning. What would be the point of that after losing the night before? But then Nexus came out and Orton made a point of seeming debilitated for the title match, so at this point, a title change seems more possible. This match in itself was very good. Barrett played the calculating predator brilliantly while Orton sold his injury well while staying mobile, actually resembling a wounded animal (or viper). His eventual success, with the help of the vengeful Cena, was genuinely inspiring and uplifting. It was at this point that I realised there were seven minutes left in the broadcast. THERE ARE SEVEN MINUTES LEFT! … “AWESOME! … I CAME TO PLAY! …” No matter how many times it is done, a cashing in of MITB will always get everyone sat or stood up, as Punk mentioned the crowd in the arena were. An important aspect of the ensuing title match was that it wasn’t simply a Skull-Crushing Finalé and a three-count. Orton was stood up, and Miz had to actually work (though a lot less so than he usually would have) to overcome the Viper. He spent a fair amount of time working over a game Orton. Indeed, it seemed that the speculation (and hopes) of much of the IWC that Miz would be the first to fail to successfully cash in his MITB contract, may have been realised as Orton set-up for the RKO. However, Miz legitimately out-wrestled Orton with a great reversal in to the Skull-Crushing Finalé for the win. It wasn’t a clean victory, but it was one which suggested, as was essential, that Miz belongs on that stage. I have said recently that I thought Miz needed to wait to cash in, but this was very well executed, and made Miz look more like a credible champion. All of that, along with the almost child-like excitement of MITB made for a brilliant RAW! I imagine Orton will receive a rematch, and a simple one-on-one match would surely end in an Orton victory, so I imagine the cheated Barrett may also lay claim to a spot at TLC. Expect a triple-threat.

RAW Recall (13/09/2010): Orton Walks Tall into Night of Champions

Randy Orton stands above John Cena after reversing an Attitude Adjustment into an RKO through a table

Our first match this week saw The Miz get handed a submission match against his Night of Champions challenger, Daniel Bryan. I was glad when this match was stopped early on because it would have been very unoriginal ‘go home’ booking to have had them simply face each other. Miz stepped out due to a bogus ‘hernia’, selling his fear at Bryan’s abilities well, and substituted in his former NXT rookie, Alex Riley. This wasn’t a long match either, but Bryan again looked good, synching in his LaBelle Lock for the victory. Bryan not having had a long match for WWE yet is good build-up for his PPV match which will surely be given a good amount of time (my thinking being that Miz will be losing, but WWE will want to keep him looking strong while showing what Bryan can do). However, his shorter segments haven’t helped him get over properly on RAW. I have, however, no doubt that Bryan will do so when he shows off his considerable skills this Sunday.

Body slam matches are almost always terrible. It is very difficult to get a good match out of that stipulation, whoever is competing, even if it is Edge and Evan Bourne, for instance. I was lifted by seeing Bourne being booked with Edge, but other than one move, he didn’t get to look good. Mark Henry coming out didn’t help. All three guys are above this (even if it does have Henry written all over it!). I don’t like this Edge-Anonymous GM feud either. Without an identity, it doesn’t make for great drama. With that in mind, perhaps this will culminate in the GM being revealed?

RAW ‘specials’ like this season premiere can tend to use, more than usual, gimmicky comic relief. Now i’ve defended ‘comic relief’ in wrestling in the past, but that is with the condition that you only have one comic segment in the show, or face making the whole thing a bit too goofy. RAW Roulette is fine, and can throw up some cool matches, but it also has the ability to churn out crap, and this next ‘match’ was certainly that. It was a Song and Dance ‘match’ between Ted DiBiase & Maryse and R-Truth & Eve Torres. I must admit, Maryse’s dancing to DiBiase’s Sinatra was pretty funny, but other than that it was a meaningless waste of time. Lets hope the post-dance beat-down leads to a feud between the two groups. Let’s also hope that the song Truth sung will be his new theme! Now that’s Wassup!

Following this, John Morrison took on Sheamus in a falls count anywhere match, in an attempt to earn a place in the 6-pack challenge at Night of Champions. This was a very good match (and very welcome after the dancing!) which both used the stipulation very well and was at the same time genuinely unpredictable. After last week, Morrison seemed the obvious pick to replace Jericho at Night of Champions, so fighting Sheamus to get there would have been a tremendous boost to his push. I hate when falls count anywhere matches end in the ring, so I was pleased that this one spilled away from the ring quickly. Morrison used his tremendous agility to perform many innovative attacks on the WWE Champion, and at one point avoided being thrown from the stage with a corkscrew flip of some kind that was really impressive. This side of his move-set is what needs to be pushed to the forefront of his character in my opinion. Sheamus wasn’t just a pin-cushion though, he  looked very strong a lot of the time too. Eventually, Sheamus won the match with Chris Jericho’s help after Morrison hit a huge (though slightly botched) cross-body onto him from the tron for a very close and believable near-fall, and Jericho hit Morrison with a chair, allowing Sheamus to gain the pin-fall on the stage. So Morrison isn’t quite main event yet? That sounds about right to me. He still has to work on his persona. But this match made him look strong and viable, and he will clearly be up there sooner rather than later.

As for Jericho, he had a very characteristic hissy-fit/ultimatum for the anonymous GM. This was very entertaining, but also very in-depth, so i’ll cut to the chase. Jericho would earn his spot at Night of Champions (that Morrison failed to fill) if he could beat the Hart Dynasty together in a steel cage. The match itself was relatively short but absolutely packed, and it was good to see the Harts back on Monday nights. The story, given the eventual result, would have been quite predictable: the two Hart’s utilise their advantage, dominating Jericho to the point where one (in this case, DH Smith) could escape the cage. At that point of course, Tyson Kidd is left in the cage with the veteran Jericho who eventually wins. This is what happened, but it was very good in doing so. At points it looked like Kidd might actually be able to beat Jericho. Eventually, Jericho brilliantly and expertly reversed a hurricanrana attampt in to a Walls of Jericho for the win, and his spot at Night of Champions. Maybe this means he signed a new contract? I hope so.

Our next match was another comic segment. However, this was only genuinely funny one of the night. It was a ‘Trading Places’ match between Goldust and William Regal in which each had to depict the character of the other. In some ways it’s a shame guys of the skill of Goldust and Regal had to do this, but the combination did make it funny. I would have liked to have seen them have more of a match, with them acting like the other and hitting more of the other’s signature moves etc, but unfortunately, it was a quick Power of the Punch from Goldust (depicting Regal) which won the match. I wish some of the time from the song and dance segment could have been given to this instead.

Our main even was the tables match between Randy Orton and John Cena. This was a pretty good match (though nothing special) until the intervention of the Nexus (allowed by the table stipulation). At that point, it became a build-up match for the 6-pack challenge, and rightly so. Cena and Orton worked together to eliminate Nexus (in various, dangerous ways which ended with them going through tables – Heath Slater’s spill being the highlight) and eventually Wade Barrett before Edge and Jericho hit the ring. They too were dispatched, with Cena (I think) avoiding a Spear that actually sent both him and Jericho (though a bit uneasily) through a table. The only person left in the equation was Sheamus, who hit the ring and got some offense on Orton before he too was dispatched by Cena with an AA (which I think was meant to also be through a table, but the table was knocked away accidentally by Cena earlier). The table match was till ‘active’ so to speak, and Orton and Cena were again left in the ring. Cena had Orton up and ready for an AA, but in another unique version of the RKO, Orton grabbed Cena’s neck and sold an RKO (though a little messily) through a table for the win. Again, the Viper stood tall over all challengers. No doubt the commentators will all put him forward as the favourite at Night of Champions. Whether that materialises remains to be seen.