Category Archives: Wrestling

The Resurrection of Jake the Snake

The Resurrection of Jake The Snake coverIn the late 1980s, while Hulk Hogan stood atop the world of professional wrestling, many other men less famous but (arguably) more hard-working formed the remainder of the ‘sports entertainment’ pyramid of the World Wrestling Federation.

One man who always stood out, captivating audiences with a sinister, quiet menace in the face of all the bluster and bombast, was Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts.

If you’ve seen Darren Aaronofsky’s film The Wrestler you’ll have an idea of part of the story of what happened to Roberts, the man born as Aurelian Smith, once his time in limelight faded as he was one of the inspirations for Mickey Rourke’s Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson.

Some of this decline was also documented, in allegedly sensationalised and unfairly represented form, in late 90s documentary Beyond The Mat.

The Resurrection of Jake the Snake, a crowdfunded project, acts as something of a sequel to that documentary as it picks things up in 2011/12 as Roberts made headlines on celebrity gossip site TMZ following a particularly tragic performance at an indie wrestling show that was videoed and shared online.

Jake The Snake Roberts and Diamond Dallas Page

Roberts and Page

From there, former wrestler and now life coach-cum-fitness guru, Diamond Dallas Page, who was mentored by Roberts early in his career, makes contact with The Snake and we follow their progress to the titular ‘resurrection’.

The film itself is fairly basically constructed with semi-talking head interviews with the protagonists and associates along with ‘fly on the wall’ footage ranging from yoga sessions to doctors visits to rather ‘reality tv’ level public confrontations which at times feel a little too invasive.

What this is does very well though is paint a picture of a man who, after a lifetime of abuse of varying descriptions, is finally beginning to overcome his own issues and learn about himself in a way he never had, while also shedding light onto the less glamourous side of the world of pro-wrestling that is rarely seen if all you watch is WWE sanctioned programming.

Diamond Dallas Page, Scott Hall, Jake Roberts and Steve Yu

Page, Scott Hall, Roberts and director Steve Yu

While the many moments of burly men crying and hugging could easily be ridiculous, much like the profession they all come from, there is a real heart and honesty present alongside an inspirational streak both in Page’s zeal and Robert’s struggles, both internal and external and his, eventual, overcoming them.

This gives us a great insight into the nature of addiction and overcoming it which is backed up by interviews with other wrestlers who’ve had similar problems such as ‘Goldust’ Dustin Runnels and the addition, half way through the film, of ‘Razor Ramon’ Scott Hall going through a similar situation to Roberts.

This all makes for a fascinating story, that, while it feels a little like an infomercial for Page’s DDP Yoga health system at times, is far more than the sum of its parts shedding light on the somewhat absurd world of professional wrestling and also issues around addiction that are frequently glossed over or not made in such an abrupt and impactful fashion.

Jake The Snake Roberts

The Snake in his late 1980s heyday

It also acts as a truly redemptive story for Roberts and Hall and triumphant tale for Page as, by April 2017, all three will be members of the WWE Hall of Fame which is, amongst other things, a sign of respectability for many former performers (despite what a few others have gone on to do since).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Royal Rumble 2017 – The Alamodome, San Antonio – 29/01/17

Royal Rumble 2017 logoWhile there’s no denying that WrestleMania is the WWE’s, and all of pro-wrestling’s, biggest event of the year, what comes second could be debated, is it NJPW’s January fourth show (this year WrestleKingdom 11), is it SummerSlam (WWE’s WrestleMania of the summer) or is it the Royal Rumble where WWE kickstarts its year and the ‘Road to WrestleMania’?

If be hard pressed to argue against the Rumble, not only is it a launching off point for WWE’s hottest season its name has entered the pop culture lexicon like few things from pro-wrestling ever have and, with supposedly more than 50,000 in attendance the 2017 edition of the show could well confirm my argument.

Even in the pre show it was clear that The Alamodome was a vast arena and a far better scale of this was given than in the 1997 event which also took place here and even as the warm up matches got under way the crowd was already huge.

Kick Off Show

Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella and Naomi vs Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and Natalya

While a women’s six-man tag match screams throwaway warmup match it was clear that all six competitors, Superstars if you will, didn’t want this to be seen that way as all were obviously giving it their all.

Naomi flies at Alexa Bliss

Naomi flies at Alexa Bliss

Seeing Mickie James back on the main shows was great and gives a boost to the Smackdown roster that is otherwise made up of many lesser experienced performers or those moving out of the Diva-era into new WWE women’s wrestling.

As the match went on several storylines were developed or set up that could all feed into WrestleMania but it was the startlingly athletic Naomi pinning the Smackdown Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss after a split legged moonsalut that was the biggest story moment and I expect to see this play out as we head toward April.

WWE Raw Tag Team Championship
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (aka The Club) vs Cesaro & Sheamus (c)

Following a bit of a flat run in the middle of 2016, the new year has started with former IWGP Tag Team Champions, The Club, on great form while the development of the tag team champions has been equally great to watch so this felt like a natural match about who of these two rough and tough teams is the best.

The Club win the gold

The Club win the gold

As expected the action was hard-hitting throughout with The Club playing the classic heels and Sheamus and Cesaro’s teamwork growing to new heights, including some nice tandem attacks.

The gimmick of the second referee of course came into play in the conclusion as one ref ate a Brogue Kick from Sheamus allowing The Club to hit their Magic Killer finisher in the Irishman before Anderson rolled up Cesaro with a handful of tights to capture the gold.

This left stuff nicely open for the feud to continue on to Mania and showed The Club as they should have been all along, hard-hitting, dastardly heels of the old school.

Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax

While this match felt like it had come a little out of nowhere over the last few weeks Banks’ history shows she is rarely less than a good performer and Jax has developed into a solid, if slightly one-dimensional performer and that about sums up how the match went.

Nia Jax locks a strech muffler on Sasha Banks

Nia Jax locks a strech muffler on Sasha Banks

With a typical big wrestler vs small wrestler story it wasn’t anything special but Sasha is great at getting sympathy as Nia beat her with size and strength at every turn.

Sasha got a brief comeback after Jax went shoulder first into the ring post including hitting a nice double knee dive. Like Nakamura last night at NXT Takeover though this was Bank’s downfall and her knee injury allowed Jax to hit the pop-up Samoan Drop for the win.

While it’s no surprise to see Nia Jax get pushed (she is after all both an imposing presence and a cousin to The Rock) I’m not sure where she can go now as a dominating heel and Charlotte Flair also sitting atop the mountain as a dominant heel of a different flavour.

Main Show

As I’ve said previously the Royal Rumble is arguably the second biggest show in the pro-wrestling calendar and with an opening hype video like this it really got that across. Unlike many other shows which focus on all sorts of things it was clear that this was all about champions and contenders.

All the matches before the Rumble were for a title and then, of course, the Rumble itself is for a shot at the WWE World or Universal Championship at WrestleMania and from the off its clear this huge crowd was an excited for the show.

WWE Raw Women’s Championship
Bayley vs Charlotte Flair (c)

As her music hit and she made her way onto the stage in her ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage colours and tassels the crowd erupted for Bayley, showing the ongoing potential she has to be a top-level babyface like few female performers her.

Bayley attacks Charlotte Flair

Bayley attacks Charlotte Flair

Charlotte was greeted by a similarly loud reaction but suited to her heel persona as she has, over the past year, really grown into her role as a Flair to great effect.

As the heel champion Flair set the tone with a slow and steady pace, working down her faster more exuberant challenger before Bayley came back with speed and pace including a baseball slide hurricanrana, springboard cross body and Savage style diving elbow drop, before Charlotte regained the advantage with some brilliantly heelish use of the ring apron and steel stairs.

After that it was nearly all Charlotte as she continued to build her dominant persona culminating in a Natural Selection cutter on the ring apron. While this wasn’t the stormer I thought it might manage to be it was still a good, classically paced, contest and it remains great to see the women’s matches given the same level of importance and respect now as the men’s.

WWE Universal Championship
Roman Reigns vs Kevin Owens (c)
No Disqualification with Chris Jericho suspended above the ring in a shark cage!

While the gimmick may sound ridiculous it has its history back in the old territorial days and WWE have recently revived it with the same being used back at NXT Takeover: Toronto in November with Paul Ellering in the cage. Now it was Jericho’s turn to stop him from interfering in the match.

Kevin Owens frog splashes Roman Reigns

Kevin Owens frog splashes Roman Reigns

Owens and Jericho’s arrival got a very positive response (despite their heel role) while the reaction was typically very mixed with the lower, louder boos winning out.

The match itself was a great brawling affair starting with a walk and brawl through the crowd before Owens got the upper hand with a cannonball into the barricade and attempting to powerbomb Reigns throw a pyramid of steel chairs.

Back in the ring the pace slowed as Reigns took control in a far more heel way than anything Owen was really doing before ‘The Big Dog’ headed out the ring and set up a table. It wasn’t long before the table came into play with Owens getting the upper hand and hitting a top rope frog splash on Reigns through the table on the floor to a huge reaction.

After some more back and forth as Reigns survived the table splash Jericho dropped some brass knuckles into the ring and Owens attempted to use them to no avail before taking a Samoan drop onto a steel chair but coming back with a Stone Cold Stunner.

Roman sends Owens through the table

Roman sends Owens through the table

In what felt like the climax of the match Reigns again returned fire driving Owens through the announce table after sending him flying from the top rope through the pyramid of chairs as the crowd continued its mixed response to his every move.

As it looked like the win was secured though Braun Strowman appeared from nowhere chokeslamming Reigns through the table before powerslamming him through another allowing Owens to retain the Universal Championship.

While this felt like a great high stakes match it was once again a strange one with Reigns role as something of a ‘tweener’ still not really working in a satisfying way, though he is constantly putting on decent matches now. With most of the big bumps being taken by Kevin Owens really showed him as the more dedicated worker and the input of Strowman felt like it didn’t totally make sense given what came later in the night.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Neville vs Rich Swann (c)

Another match that had a great build through both Raw and the 205 Live show it was no surprise it got off to a fast start with Neville reinvigorated as the heel and Swann far more on the warpath than we’ve seen to date.

Neville hits a superkick on Swann

Neville hits a superkick on Swann

Neville looks like a beast now and after Swann getting the upper hand early the Geordie came back with a powerful missile dropkick from the top rope before slowing the pace down and using his strength to take the advantage.

Swann came back with a series of stiff kicks, showing he can play Neville’s game too, and hit his spinning heel kick finisher too close to the ropes to get the win.

The end came with a nasty looking superplex (it shows why smaller people doing this move is more dangerous) before Neville locked in his Rings of Saturn style double armbar to claim the Cruiserweight crown.

While the math was decent it didn’t sizzle quite as I thought it might but with the crowd in recovery mode from Roman/Owens and gearing up for Cena/Styles that’s not too surprising and with a solid heel at the top of the Cruiserweight roster now it can only help elevate the 205 Live brand further.

WWE World Championship
John Cena vs AJ Styles (c)

The build up to this match has been bubbling away since last summer and really hit a final burst in the last couple of weeks with an intense war of words between the pair that saw Cena take a darker turn than we’ve seen in a while and Styles’ role as well-travelled legit ‘world champion’ elevated even further.

Styles hits a Phenomenal Forearm on Cena

Styles hits a Phenomenal Forearm on Cena

As the pair were announced both received a mix response (showing how well tweener characters can work) before Cena got the early advantage with a, for him, vicious and physical attack.

For the whole match the crowd were loud and animated as the pair went back and forth time and again with both hitting their big moves early for near falls.

In a very nice sequence the pair traded holds from Cena’s AA to Styles Calf Crusher then STFs from each man and finally a figure-four leg lock from Cena referencing the fact that if he won this Cena would equal Ric Flair’s record number of world championships before AJ revered again into a cross arm breaker.

From there it was a flurry of big moves from both including powerbombs, an avalanche AA, the Styles Clash twice, an Ushigoroshi and more.

The crowd was going nuts for all the near falls as Styles set up for another Phenomenal Forearm before Cena countered, hitting a pair of AAs for the win to equal Flair’s record and, in a nice touch, the referee was long time Flair compatriot Charles Robinson.

Cena hits the AA on Styles

Cena hits the AA on Styles

While the match was very good (I don’t think it was ‘the best WWE Championship match ever’ as some have claimed) the logic of putting the belt on Cena again is lost on me.

He is a star with or without the belt both in the ring and out and he can’t be elevated any further in the wrestling world by having the championship again. While I respect his work and work ethic I will admit to never getting Cena but I am, as if it wasn’t obvious, a wrestling nerd not a casual fan, though I would have thought keeping the title on Styles going into WrestleMania would have helped elevate him while Cena remains the same star level he has been for the better part of a decade.

Royal Rumble
30 Man Battle Royal For A World of Universal Championship Match at WrestleMania

With more than 50,000 fans singalong to Enzo Amore and Big Cass the Rumble this year got going with the 7-foot New Yorker squaring off against the WWE United States Champion Chris Jericho.

Jack Gallagher gets eliminated

Jack Gallagher gets eliminated

With this being one of the most star-studded Rumbles in its 30 year history there was a real sense of anticipation and as Kalisto and Mojo Rawley entered the pace picked up and it got a nice flow going.

UK cruiserweight Jack Gallagher was a nice highlight early entrant and got up to some fun with his umbrella but was sadly the first man out at the hands of a returning (again) Mark Henry before the arrival of ‘The Monster Amongst Men’ Braun Strowman.

Strowman cleared most from the ring with Jericho sneaking away to hide with the announcers like the classic heel he is. It was clear at this point the first ‘story’ in this year’s Rumble would be based around Braun Strowman but his recent rival Sami Zayn survived the initial attack to stay in.

Entry number 10 was, as many had predicted and hoped, NXT’s ‘Perfect Ten’ Tye Dillinger and he and Zayn took the attack to Strowman while James Ellsworth provided a nice amusing moment leading to a nasty landing getting sent over the top rope by the monster.

The Wyatt Family explode

The Wyatt Family explode

Things became a battle of the big men as Baron Corbin hit the ring and after a flurry from all, including a stiff looking Helluva Kick from Zayn, Corbin sent Strowman out in something of a shock moment.

With Kofi Kingston’s usual survival spot not living up to past efforts the next part of the match saw Sheamus hit the ring in stiff mode battering his way through everyone before his tag team partner Cesaro arrived and hit his Giant Swing on anyone that got too close.

The pair soon eliminated The New Day, reinvigorating their rivalry, before being eliminated themselves by Jericho.

The next section of the match was built around the ongoing collapse of The Wyatt Family with Randy Orton hitting RKO’s on many before Luke Harper turned on Bray Wyatt and the feud hit a new high.

At this point it was clear the big name part timers were all coming late in the match and the crowd were getting impatient for it with regular Goldberg chants filling the Alamodome until Brock Lesnar’s music hit and the crowd erupted. The presence of quite so many part timers getting quite so much glory here is something that irks me a bit but I can see the draw they have to more casual fans, especially the three big names here Lesnar, Goldberg and The Undertaker.

Goldberg spears Lesnar

Goldberg spears Lesnar

Lesnar did what he does with multiple eliminations, suplexes and F-5s before the comparatively tiny Enzo Amore hit the ring all brash bluster and did one of the best sells on a clothesline I’ve seen in a long time before going over the top rope at the hands of the Beast.

With the field clear (or at least all downed at the hands of Lesnar) the epic music of Goldberg blared and he stalked to the ring face off with one of his greatest rivals. In a repeat of Survivor Series in November there’s a spear, a clothesline and Goldberg sends Lesnar packing in another shock moment that looks to be leading to a rematch at WrestleMania.

With an open moment Orton and Wyatt attack Goldberg before Goldberg gets the upper hand but the lights go out and The Undertaker appears in the ring attacking and eliminating Goldberg in another shock.

The final man out is, of course, Roman Reigns to another unbalanced reaction and he and Taker face off and go at it before Reigns sends Taker to the floor and I can only assume that WWE is finally pushing Reigns as an all out heel as the crowd chanted ‘bullshit’ at quite some volume.

Reigns stares down The Undertaker

Reigns stares down The Undertaker

With Reigns, Orton and Wyatt remaining Roman fought back eliminating Bray before Randy countered a spear into an RKO and got the, to me, surprise win to get a shot at John Cena at WrestleMania.

While I will admit to not being too hot on the idea of Cena vs Orton again at Mania the end of the match was nicely delivered but as a whole the match felt unbalanced.

The presence of the part timers in the final chunk added little to the overall match while their interactions with the main performers did nothing but make them look weaker leaving things on something of a downer

Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble

Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble

That said I remain hopeful that WWE have some good things planned heading into WrestleMania  as, while this whole show was certainly good, it lacked the magic thing to take it to the next level – maybe its too much hype that could never be lived up to?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NXT Takeover: San Antonio – Freeman Coliseum, San Antonio, Texas – 28/01/17

NXT Takeover: San Antonio logoWWE’s developmental brand is starting 2017 in an interesting place. After years of being undeniably the best part of the wider wrestling, sorry Sports Entertainment, company’s output it finally seems as if the ‘main roster’ shows have started to catch up as the performers from NXT have moved up to the bigger shows.

So NXT Takeover: San Antonio comes with slightly less of a hype filled feel than some of the past events and sharing a weekend with what is often WWE’s most anticipated event for dedicated fans, the Royal Rumble, means I went in with slightly lower expectations than I might usually, though given the performers on the card this is slightly odd.

Tye Dillinger vs Eric Young (with Sanity members Killian Dain and Alexander Wolf)

It’s safe to say that starting the show with Tye Dillinger, aka The Perfect Ten, was a great way to get the audience excited from the start and, with his current feud with Sanity stable leader Eric Young having had a nice build there was some anticipation for the match to see if Dillinger could break his losing streak and to see Young making his first real appearance at a Takeover event.

Tye Dillinger and Eric Young

Tye Dillinger hits the Tye Breaker on Eric Young

As ever Dillinger was firmly in the underdog babyface role with Young getting the advantage early on thanks to outside interference from the recently arrived Northern Irish monster Killian Dain (aka Big Damo).

A nice comeback sequence was highlighted by a running top rope belly-to-belly suplex from Dillinger before outside interference really kicked in and The Perfect Ten cleared the ring hitting a Tye Breaker Ushigoroshi neckbreaker on Wolfe and a superkick on Dain. Further focus on the men outside though led to Young having the chance to hit his Youngblood wheelbarrow neckbreaker and get the win.

This match perfectly set the tone to open the show with a fast pace and the ever popular Dillinger really continuing to make a mark. Young came off as an excellent deranged antagonist and I can only see him moving up the card from here as Dillinger’s opponents tend to do.

Dillinger’s future though is still looking uncertain, he seems stuck in a perpetual cycle of losing out to the new bigger indie names in NXT. I hope this is rewarded as he has become one of the most reliable and popular performers on NXT and I can only hope that he moves up in the Royal Rumble tonight.

Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs Roderick Strong

Both Almas and Strong have had a bit of a bumpy introduction to NXT, despite both being stars on the independent scene or in Japan and Mexico, it certainly felt like both had something to prove here.

Roderick Strong and Andrade Cien Almas

Strong delivers a backbreaker to Almas

From his entrance Almas looked better than ever with his new (to NXT) heel persona really coming across and seemingly suiting him far more than the bland good guy he had portrayed previously and moves like his Tranquillo rope counter now making far more sense.

The match itself was stiff and athletic from the start with both men showing their best and getting in a great set of moves and seemingly doing their all to make each other look as good as possible.

With a nickname like Messiah of the Backbreaker it was not surprising that Strong got in a few nice variations of the move. Almas meanwhile mixed his famed highflying (including a very nicely done double moonsault reversal moment) and some more body part focussed attacks to create a nice story around injuring Strong’s arm and leading to a nice looking armbar submission spot.

With the whole match being a back and forth exhibition the ending came with the best looking Sick Kick single leg dropkick we’ve seen from Strong since he joined NXT, which looked like a real finishing manoeuvre at last, but really it should be both men who win here as they were given a chance to shine and, arguably, stole the show.

NXT Tag Team Championship
The Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar with Paul Ellering) vs #DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa) (c)

Following the build of #DIY in feuds with the likes of The Revival as well as the Cruiserweight Classic across 2016 this felt like a big shift in things for them as they defended their NXT Tag Team Championships agains the monstrous winners of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, The Authors Of Pain.

Authors of Pain and Tommaso Ciampa

Ciampa with a stiff kick

Coming to the ring bedecked in battle gear and masks made the Authors look even more terrifying and set the mood for the match with the question of ‘how can Gargano and Ciampa combat this?’ firmly established.

Despite initial attempts the Authors soon got the upper hand, though throughout #DIY kept making impressive comebacks which built and built. Once again Gargano proved himself to be terrific at getting sympathy as he was subject to the most prolonged attack before finally outsmarting the bigger duo to tag in Ciampa leading to a stiff series of attacks that looked to be making a difference.

Hitting a double slingshot spear and redoing the climax of their epic battle with The Revival from Toronto in November it looked like #DIY might do the unimaginable. The power game of the Authors proved too much though leading to a Super Collider double power bomb and then The Last Chapter Russian leg sweep/lariat combination on Ciampa giving the titles to The Authors Of Pain.

Seth Rollins

Rollins is escorted from the ring

I have to say while I hoped to see #DIY get the win there really wasn’t any other way this match could go, but it was far better handled than I expected. Akam and Rezar showed a lot more than they have to date and Gargano and Ciampa proved why they are two of the best in NXT at the moment giving the match a great balance of story and action and hopefully setting up more great stuff to come from both teams.

Following this there was a genuine surprise moment as Seth Rollins hit the ring from the crowd and called out Triple H, who, in typical Authority heel fashion sent out security to throw Seth out of the building to a reign of ‘Let them fight’ and ‘Bullshit!’ chants from the lively crowd.

While this went exactly as I’d expected it did a great job of bringing back some of that sense of surprise that has been a hallmark of NXT over the years and added something different to this show.

NXT Women’s Championship
Nikki Cross vs Peyton Royce vs Billie Kay vs Asuka (c)

On paper this looked like a strange one with the champion, Asuka, and Cross having genuinely formidable fighter personas (of a sort) and Kay and Royce being more traditional WWE women’s wrestlers, but the build and story had made it into something with a lot of potential.

Asuka, Peyton Royce and Billie Kay

Double German Suplex!

From the start it was clear, as previously said, this would be a match of two halves and as Royce and Kay left the ring Cross and Asuka started out with Nikki really looking like a real contender to the champion – something there hasn’t been in a while.

Once all four got back in Asuka hit a great double German suplex on Kay and Royce before Cross got the upper hand with an elevated spinning neckbreaker on the floor to Asuka.

She followed this up with a top rope to the floor dive onto the Australian duo before the three fought their way to the announcers position leading to Cross crashing through a table in one of the biggest spots I’ve seen NXT women do in a while.

Asuka and Nikki Cross

Cross hits a spinning neckbreaker

With the two on one format established it looked like Asuka’s unbeaten run would be in trouble but she came back to overcome the dual assault with her startling array of kicks.

While this did nothing for Kay and Royce individually their work as a team was great and the match left things open for Cross and Asuka to face off one-on-one which, at the moment, is the only way I can see Asuka facing a convincing challenge – one for Wrestlemania weekend I would imagine.

NXT Championship
‘The Glorious’ Bobby Roode vs ‘The King of Strong Style’ Shinsuke Nakamura (c)

In less than a year its fair to say Shinsuke Nakamura has done everything its possible to do in NXT with several NXT match of the year candidates and two reigns as champion.

Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode

Nakamura flies at Roode

Roode on the other hand has arrived and made a big splash in his modern-day Ric Flair, ‘glorious’, heel persona, so the build to this match felt entirely natural and like the two best in the company facing off (something that may well have been planned since way back in the summer when I saw them face off at a live event before Roode’s official debut).

Starting with some very nice chain wrestling and mind games the match had a very classic ‘American’ wrestling feel largely led by Roode but with Nakamura showing his talent by matching it and revealing, if not a new side, then more developed side of the Champion’s performing than we’d seen before in NXT.

This was followed by more faster paced striking which is Nakamura’s game but in great storytelling and psychology Roode seemed to have an answer for all of Nakamura’s trademark attacks even leading to The Glorious One hitting a double knee lungblower of his own.

Nakamura and Roode

Roode locks in the half Boston crab

Nakamura came back with his classic comeback moves including both his rolling armbar and triangle choke (slightly less seen in NXT) before hitting a Kinshasa on the apron and seemingly injuring his knee.

This was the story of the final third of the match with the wrestlers and officials doing a great job selling it as a legitimate injury (I’m hoping it wasn’t).

Despite the injury Nakamura still survived a first Glorious DDT (which he sold like Finn Balor’s Bloody Sunday/1916) and a single leg Boston crab.

A second big DDT though brought about the end, crowning Roode as new champion but in a way that there’s still a story to tell.

Bobby Roode

Roode is the new NXT Champion

This had a slightly different feel to many of the recent NXT Championship matches but was refreshing for it and did a great job of culminating the establishment of Roode as the ‘top guy’.

While I can see the feud with Nakamura going on to Wrestlemania weekend, I could also see this as being the change to move The King Of Strong Style onto the main roster, and with the Royal Rumble we all know anything can happen!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament – Empress Ballroom, Blackpool – 14-15/01/17

WWE United Kingdom Championship TournamentWith WWE’s mainstream programming featuring a stronger wrestling element than in a long time, the development of NXT and last summer’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament, along with a genuinely stellar line up at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 and the boom in the British wrestling scene (from Progress and ICW to the return of World of Sport to TV), it’s fair to say that in some ways professional wrestling is in something of a peak period, at least in terms of quality available and accessibility to it.

Within this WWE have now responded to the British wrestling boom in particular with the first ever United Kingdom Championship Tournament, held over two nights at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool.

I will say that going in to this my expectations and hopes were high, particularly following the disappointment of World of Sport, so when Triple H emerged to kick off the show with his customary ‘Are you ready?’ things certainly seemed to be in the right track.

Night 1

Nigel McGuinness

Nigel McGuinness

The introduction to the show by commentators Michael Cole (on the best form I’ve possibly ever heard) and newcomer, modern Brit-wrestling legend, Nigel McGuinness only helped to develop that before, without much further ado, we cut to the introductions of the first two competitors.

Before each match we were treated to short videos about each wrestler that told us just enough to let us know who they were but not so much to dictate everything we would expect to see, leaving it up to the performers to tell the story in the ring.

First round
Trent Seven vs H.C. Dyer

Being one of the most recognisable competitors Trent Seven entered to a strong reaction backed up by comparisons on commentary to legends like Fit Finlay and Marty Jones and the fact Seven holds the Progress Wrestling tag team championships (with fellow competitor Tyler Bate).

Trent Seven hits the Seven Stars Lariat

Trent Seven hits the Seven Stars Lariat

The match itself was solid stuff from both men but it never felt anything but Seven’s show with the crowd chanting ‘Moustache Mountain’ for him and he being the centre of attention throughout.

The pair told a nice story around a hand injury to Seven and Dyer hit a nice pop-up spinebuster for a near fall, but it was the Seven Stars Lariat (a close relative of Kazuchika Okada’s Rainmaker) that secured the win for Seven who came across as true star with huge charisma and great in-ring skills.

Being in the Empress Ballroom gave the event a genuinely impressive feel and this was backed up by exterior shots of the Blackpool tower bringing a real sense of authentic grandeur to things. Something of a big WWE show but with a twist, helped by an English ring announcer and the presence of McGuinness of commentary.

Jordan Devlin vs Danny Burch

Danny Burch is a face familiar as something of a jobber on NXT TV shows who has never really shown a great deal of character beyond being a generic British hard man. While that was still present here his overall presentation built on this before the match even started and he felt like a legitimate contender.

Devlin with a superkick on Burch

Devlin with a superkick on Burch

Equally legitimate was the much younger Irishman Jordan Devlin, however even before the match started the comparisons and references to fellow Bray native Finn Balor were becoming a bit tiresome.

The match itself was slower getting going than I expected with a more ‘sport’ feel than many. As it went on though Devlin’s reaction to the crowd saw him grow into the match’s heel and the pace picked up as Burch made a comeback with speed, strikes and an impactful lariat.

A spinning enziguri roundhouse-kick busted Burch’s head open leading to a controversial pinfall win for Devlin that didn’t impress the crowd and was confusing as a TV viewer as well. While this was probably the weakest moment of the whole tournament a swift superkick after the match from Devlin did a great job of getting him firmly across as the villain while I would hope his performance here will see Burch elevated back in NXT.

While this match wasn’t the best it could have been it began to inject a little story into the tournament that was much-needed, while not at the expense of the wrestling. I can only think this is something WWE have learnt after the near total lack of story in the CWC that has made it hard for some the wrestlers to establish characters as they have moved on.

‘Muscle Cat’ Saxon Huxley vs Sam Gradwell

Huxley and Gradwell

Huxley and Gradwell

Being the first competitor to not be wearing black trunks made Saxon Huxley stand out from the pack though the mish-mash of appearance and character didn’t gel well and it wasn’t long before the crowd leapt on his long hair and beard with a fine range of Jesus related chants that were hilarious and showed exactly what British fans are good at (even if they caused a bit of controversy across the pond).

Gradwell on the other hand looks like a legit young hooligan and with more comparisons to legends like Marty Jones and Johnny Saint he came with a pedigree.

While the pair put on a solid match this one was all about the fan interaction with Gradwell certainly getting the better of it and getting the win with a Dynamite Kid style flying headbutt.

‘The Bruiserweight’ Pete Dunne vs Roy Johnson

Since the announcement of the tournament one name and face has stood out from the pack across all the promotion, that of Progress Wrestling world champion ‘The Brusierweight’ Pete Dunne and, as he made his entrance here looking like a pissed off pit bull ready to tear his opponent apart, it was obvious why.

Pete Dunne stretches Roy Johnson

Pete Dunne stretches Roy Johnson

Roy Johnson on the other hand was a far flashier looking performer and rare in this contest for being a sportsman before becoming a wrestler as a former power lifter.

Both men played their parts here very well but it was, of course, Dunne who was the highlight as he gradually picked apart the tenacious Johnson in a way reminiscent of the men whose colours he wore, Daniel Bryan and Blackpool’s own William Regal. This culminated in Dunne’s trademark pair of moves the X-Plex release vertical suplex and The Bitter End pump-handle flatliner that got him an unsurprising but emphatic win.

Having not seem a lot of Dunne before but being aware of his reputation, even at this early stage of the tournament he surpassed my expectations as he came across like a legitimate star and genuinely terrifying grappler.

Across the show as a whole it was very encouraging to hear WWE promoting some of the smaller independent British promotions and this was highlighted by the owners of both Progress Wrestling and ICW getting some screen time on the show. This points to good things for the future of WWE’s presence in the UK and relationship with both wrestlers and fans alike as it’s fair to say the fans of Progress and ICW support their ‘team’ just as much as the individual competitors.

‘The Last King of Scotland’ Wolfgang vs Tyson T-Bone

Wolfgang delivers The Howling

Wolfgang delivers The Howling

After quite a number of matches featuring smaller competitors, this one had the makings of a classic big man brawl and it didn’t disappoint. T-Bone came across as an impactful fighter from the start hitting a headbutt over the handshake before the pair went back and forth.

As the match went on it was ICW World Heavyweight Champion Wolfgang who really stood out with an incredible turn of speed for a big man giving the match a good dynamic of flashy stuff mixed in with the brawling.

Wolfgang though never looked like he was going to lose and sealed his win with The Howling Swanton Bomb.

Joseph Connors vs James Drake

While these two guys seemed to have a fairly similar look and style, it was Connors who stood out thanks to a partially missing ear that was used really well to tell his tough man story as he was reportedly left for dead after a fight in a night club leading to the disfigurement and he played up to it well – a bit like a modern Mankind.

Connors receives and enziguri kick

Connors receives and enziguri kick

After a great strong collar and elbow tie up opening, the match was very even and the ear came into play from both sides with Drake trying to attack Connors’ ‘injury’ and Connors looking to inflict similar brutality on his opponent.

After a very equal match it was Connors who got in his finishing combination of a reverse-elbow backbreaker (a very slick move I’ve not seen before) and his Don’t Look Down uranagi DDT to move on to the next round.

Mark Andrews vs Dan Moloney

Having had quite a storied career already, including a foray into US wrestling company TNA, Cardiff’s Mark Andrews (aka Mandrews) was something of a known commodity as a top-level high flyer. His opponent on the other hand, while perfectly fine left little impression and really that was the story of the match.

Mark Andrews

Mark Andrews

Throughout there was probably the clearest face/heel dynamic of the first round and Mandrews certainly looked like a star from the moment he stepped through the curtain. Getting in some nice high-flying action he got the win with his Stundog Millionaire counter (transforming his opponents’ suplex into a Stunner in slightly over convoluted fashion) and a very slick Shooting Star Press.

Tyler Bate vs Tucker

At just 19 years old it was very impressive to see Tyler Bate, the third member of British Strong Style with Dunne and Seven, headlining this first night – though he was playing the out-and-out babyface here.

Tyler Driver 97

Tyler Driver 97

Tucker was also playing face and the crowd loved both of them, but Bate just a little more as they put on a great show. The duo delivered a good back and forth but it was Bate’s slightly old school stylings that stood out with an airplane spin particularly marking this.

Tucker connected with a brutal super kick that looked like it would get him the win but Bate fought through and connected with his Tyler Driver 97 (a high angle Tiger Driver) to round of an excellent opening show of the tournament with real feeling wrestling matches accompanied by great character work and an amazing atmosphere.

The show concluded with the matches for the quarter finals being announced with the competitors on the stage and it was Pete Dunne who confirmed his impact with an attack on Sam Gradwell culminating in an X-Plex on the ramp and William Regal calling for his disqualification as the show went off the air.

Night 2

After the close of the previous night’s show it wasn’t too surprising that Pete Dunne featured strongly in the intro for night two and we didn’t have long to wait as, after recap from Cole and McGuinness, the first match got underway.

Quarter Finals
Pete Dunne vs Sam Gradwell

Gradwell and Dunne

Gradwell and Dunne

With his back taped up due to the previous night’s injury Gradwell was in fine angry form and he and Dunne kicked the night off with an intense brawl both inside and outside the ring leading to Gradwell getting a modicum of revenge with a butterfly suplex on the ramp.

Things turned soon after though with Dunne sending Gradwell tumbling to the floor further injuring his back before hitting a nasty looking slam into the turnbuckles, landing Gradwell on his head, for the win in a short, sharp, stiff and effective match.

After a post match Bitter End, Dunne cut a short promo on the stage and proved that he was a complete all round package of a pro-wrestler and at this stage was my pick to win the championship at the end of the night.

Mark Andrews vs Joseph Connors

Andrews hits a Shooting Star Press

Andrews hits a Shooting Star Press

In contrast to the last match Andrews kicked this off with a fast and athletic back and forth with Connors before the bigger man slowed it down and got the upper hand.

With more action outside the ring Andrews hit a nice cannonball off the barricade before being on the receiving end of a slingshot flatliner as the crowd cheered both men on.

Much like the first round though it was Mandrews who reversed a suplex and hit his top rope dive to progress. While I and the crowd would have been happy with either man winning Mandrews really feels like he deserves this, though maybe he didn’t deserve to have to face off with ‘The Bruiserweight’ later.

Wolfgang vs Trent Seven

Wolfgang absorbs the Seven Stars

Wolfgang absorbs the Seven Stars

With the two biggest remaining competitors facing off this one promised to be a hard-hitting affair and it certainly was.

Both guys come with big characters the crowd loved and that seemed to fuel them through a brawl outside the ring, including a moonsault off the barricade from the 250lb Wolfgang and low-level suicide dive from Seven.

Back in the ring Seven called for his ‘Lariatooo!’ but was revered leading to Wolfgang’s Wasteland and a missed moonsault followed by a nasty dragon suplex. With his nose streaming blood and possibly broken Wolfgang shocked everyone by surviving the Seven Stars and hitting The Howling to progress after a match that, at this stage, was a sure-fire highlight.

Jordan Devlin vs Tyler Bate

Another Tyler Driver 97

Another Tyler Driver 97

With more comparisons to Finn Balor, Devlin really played up his antics from last night as the crowd chanted ‘Your just a shit Finn Balor!’ in their typically unsubtle fashion while Bate was clearly the tournament’s fan favourite.

Despite this all becoming a bit too heavy on suicide dives the technical stuff here between the two was spot on as it built to a great airplane spin spot, developing on last night’s, before Devlin used the ropes on Bate’s eyes to regain the advantage and hit his spinning kick.

Surviving that though Bate hit his Bop And Bang sucker punch to set up the Tyler Driver 97 and win, showing himself to be a fine technical performer with even more excellent character work.

Semi-Finals
Mark Andrews vs Pete Dunne

Heading into the semi-finals this was the second match of the night for both men and it was clear that Andrews had the tougher path here, but the duo went at it at a pace from the off with Dunne showing another side keeping up with Andrews speedy high-flying.

Andrews and Dunne fight on the top rope

Andrews and Dunne fight on the top rope

With arm drag reversals and big moves galore, including a huricanrana from the ring steps, Andrews had many close falls before Dunne turned the tide with a modified X-Plex onto the ring apron.

Dunne’s strong style attack continued with some vicious looking stomps to Andrews head and neck building on a nice little neck injury story that developed across the match but Andrews still managed to counter an X-Plex into the Stundog and go for the Shooting Star.

Driving his knee’s to Andrew’s gut, Dunne countered and sealed his place in the final with a German Suplex into the turnbuckle another X-Plex and The Bitter End to round off what was arguably the match of the tournament.

Wolfgang vs Tyler Bate

On paper this was a huge mismatch with the biggest guy in the tournament squaring off against one of the smallest, but, thanks to a shoulder injury and broken nose, things were more even and a swift jab to Wolfgang’s face only helped Bate’s cause.

Wolfgang and Bate trade strikes

Wolfgang and Bate trade strikes

Despite the injuries Wolfgang put on a power display against his smaller opponent and even missing an early attempt at The Howling didn’t seem to slow him down.

As the crowd reached a crescendo that would barely let up for the rest of the night it was Bate who shocked everyone by hitting his Tyler Driver 97 on the big man to win a shorter but still sweet contest and earn his place in the final.

The celebration was short-lived though as Pete Dunne continued his tear across the tourney by attacking Bate from behind and twice driving him shoulder first into the ring post before being run off again by William Regal and setting up a final with great heat and a great story between these two superb performers.

Exhibition match
Adrian Neville vs ?

Having been missed out of the Cruiserweight Classic last summer and now not in this tournament, Newcastle born grappler Adrian Neville was on hand to continue his very successful heel turn in front of this comparatively local crowd, and turn well he did.

Of course having this match gave Dunne and Bate a chance to have a break but also worked well to further establish Neville’s new bitter bad guy persona which is far better than his past bland baby face superhero and the crowd ate it up as he claimed no one could beat him, not just in the UK but all of Europe.

Tommy End with a bridging German Suplex on Adrian Neville

Tommy End with a bridging German Suplex on Adrian Neville

At this challenge new WWE signee and regular performer on the UK scene, Amsterdam born fighter, Tommy End appeared making his on-screen WWE debut (before becoming Aleister Black in NXT full-time).

The pair put on a great little exhibition that, even if not at full pace was still hugely entertaining and seemed to merely hint at End’s capabilities. After some amazing strikes from End, Neville got the upper hand with a standing top rope hurricanrana that set up for The Red Arrow giving the Englishman the win to a rain of boos.

Following an appearance at a Progress show in Birmingham earlier in the day Finn Balor was on back in Blackpool ahead of the final and, while the ‘We deserve this’ chant from the crowd was a little grating it was hard to argue that the UK really has deserved something special for a long time being such a hotbed of wrestling action over the years.

Final
WWE United Kingdom Championship
Tyler Bate vs Pete Dunne

Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate

Bate works on the arm of Dunne

With Bate selling the shoulder injury and Dunne the confident and vicious heel the scene was well set for a British Strong Style final that didn’t disappoint.

The crowd was chanting ‘British Wrestling’ early, clearly still split over who they wanted to win of these two rather different (here at least) grapplers.

Soon though the story took over and they got behind Bate as the pair delivered some stiff work that built and built to a crescendo for the whole weekend.

Once again Bate’s airplane spin grew into a back to back to back trio of them and a 450 double stomp looked set to finish off Dunne, but it didn’t.

Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne

Bate eats a forearms from Dunne

Dunne came back with a Bitter End before locking in a Kimura double wrist lock that Bate reversed into a nasty looking brainbuster that still didn’t get him the win.

With things hitting their peak another stiff striking exchange came to an end with a pair of rolling wheel kicks from Bate setting up a Tyler Driver 97 for the three count making him the first ever WWE United Kingdom Champion.

With Balor, Regal, Fit Finlay and Triple H all on hand Bate looked brilliantly shocked, and I don’t think it was entirely an act, as the crowd gave the performers a standing ovation to close off an amazing two nights of properly structured professional wrestling that built to a raging climax of passion and power.

Triple H, Tyler Bate and William Regal

Triple H, Tyler Bate and William Regal

If this is a sign of things to come I can only be incredibly happy and I hope WWE take some of this into their other regular programming as it is some of the best I have seen from that company in some time, of course a lot of the credit for that is down to the excellent wrestlers coming out of the UK and Ireland right now.

Now to investigate more Progress, Rev Pro, ICW, etc…

All photos from WWE.com

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wrestle Kingdom 11 – Tokyo Dome – 04/01/17

Wrestle Kingdom 11 posterFor as long as I have been a fan of pro-wrestling (coming up to 25 years later in 2017) the idea of Japanese wrestling and of New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) in particular has been present in the background.

In recent years I’ve sought out matches featuring specific performers, usually those making a mark in WWE such as Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Kota Ibushi and Prince Devitt (aka Finn Balor). Now though I have watched my first complete NJPW show, the 25th edition of their ‘equivalent to WrestleMania‘ the 2017 ‘January 4th show’, Wrestle Kingdom 11 in Tokyo Dome.

The more than five-hour event started with a pre-show featuring a warm up match, the New Japan Rumble, in much the same way as its American alternative starts to build hype and warm up the crowd to encourage more to purchase the main programme.

Staring off with ‘Unbreakable’ Michael Elgin (returning from injury) and veteran Billy Gunn, the match loosely took the format of WWE’s Royal Rumble but with the addition of elimination by pinfall and submission and with less of a serious, high stakes tone.

Across the match young performers and legends squared off in mostly scrappy action with Elgin really looking like the only serious contender.

Michael Elgin

Michael Elgin

Nostalgia was served with appearances from many legends including WCW main stay Scott Norton, a former headliner here, Tiger Mask (IV) and Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. Most of the action was unspectacular though Tiger Mask and Liger had a few nice moments while the climax came with a nice sequence seeing the monstrous Elgin going against the minuscule Cheeseburger culminating in a nice powerbomb from Elgin giving him a solid return victory.

From there we got an excellent intro package to the main show hyping all 10 matches and, even though I don’t speak a word of Japanese, I got the general idea and it certainly worked to get me excited as English language commentators Kevin Kelly and a particular ECW favourite of mine, ‘The King of Old School’ Steve Corino welcomed us to the Tokyo Dome along with the 40,000 or so people in the cavernous arena.

The wide shot of the arena was the first place where it really struck me that while a near equivalent to WrestleMania this was going to be a very different show. Most of the set up looked like it could have come for anytime since the 1970s with the ring central and well-lit while the audience were in comparative darkness. The only exception to this was the spectacular stage that did live up to the US comparison though in a very different way that comes into play more as the show goes on and things get more spectacular.

Tiger Mask W vs Tiger The Dark

While the general tone of NJPW is more serious and sporty than the ‘sports entertainment’ of WWE the opener looked, on paper, like it could be straight from the mecca of pro-wrestling commerciality as two cartoon characters faced off in a match as much designed to plug the new series of the Tiger Mask anime series as be a match.

Tiger Mask W with a German Suplex

Tiger Mask W with a German Suplex

Once the action focussed on the ring though it was clear though that what happened between the ropes was the most important thing with both characters being portrayed by legitimate competitors and the commentary making the point that regardless of the ‘gimmick’ both men were trying to make a point with their performance here.

As the match went on it became clear that the heroic masked tiger was, in fact, Kota Ibushi as he hit a range of his signature spots across the serious and fairly stiff junior heavyweight (NJPW’s version of Cruiserweight) contest. There was some good back and forth but it was clear both men weren’t quite firing on all cylinders, no doubt down to the masks and the early slot, and the end came with Ibushi’s excellent sit-out Last Ride powerbomb so, while not spectacular this was a nice warm up match and scene setter for what was to come.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Beretta) representing Chaos vs The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) representing Bullet Club (C)

The junior heavyweight action continued next, demonstrating as I’d heard that this is a mainstay of NJPW’s undercard, with a match for the junior tag team titles.

Before they even got to the ring The Young Bucks magic was working on me as I at once hated their cocky attitudes but was loving their work – there is clearly a reason they were carrying multiple championships belt with them.

Roppongi Vice and The Young Bucks

Roppongi Vice and The Young Bucks

This was a nice touch and the first time that NJPW’s willingness to cross promote was noticeable tonight really making this feel like an international showcase far more than WrestleMania ever has.

Roppongi Vice on the other hand were more understated but still great in the ring.

In the 10 minutes they had, both teams showed a great range of their skills with great tag team and high-flying moments and some spectacular trash talking from the Jackson brothers. The Bucks had the upper hand for the most part but both teams had their moments and a lot of super kicks (the Bucks trademark) before a well executed last-minute turn around saw the bad guys get their comeuppance as Rocky Romero got the roll up pin in counter to the Bucks high-flying finisher.

This felt like a great shock win given the brashness of The Young Bucks but Roppongi Vice are certainly not a team to ever over look both being veterans of this division. As well as being the first title change of the night, something that was to become part of the show’s full story, it was also the first of the gang warfare type matches between the various factions that vie for control of New Japan.

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet

The idea of gang warfare grew even more next as the NEVER 6-man tag belts were on the line in a four team gauntlet that kicked off with…

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs Chaos (Jado, Will Ospreay & Yoshi-Hashi)

Will Ospreay and Chaos make their entrance

Will Ospreay and Chaos make their entrance

If the opening match had felt a bit PG with the cartoon characters as soon as Bullet Club’s resident pimp Yujiro Takahashi made his way to the ring with a bevy of scantily clad young ladies that thought was put aside for good, although the sheer number of lesser members of Bullet Club couldn’t help but remind me of later NWO in WCW, which isn’t a great thing.

That said as soon as the match got going that was forgotten as both teams put on a great show. The highlight of this section of the match came when ‘The Ariel Assassin’, Essex-boy, Will Ospreay came up against Hangman Page and the duo’s contrasting styles really made for a good match up. It was also great seeing and hearing Ospreay get a lot of respect from both the older performers in the match and the commentators before veteran Chaos member Jado lost the first fall to Takahashi seeing them eliminated from the match.

Bullet Club vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (Bushi, EVIL and Sanada)

With what appeared to be two heel teams facing off this match continued the trend of absorbing competition playing up the gang element though much of it didn’t stick with me right away.

EVIL takes a chair to Takahashi

EVIL takes a chair to Takahashi

That said LIJ’s characters definitely did and Bushi was impressively fast. The win came for LIJ in a nice heel tactics moment with the help of a chair and, one of my favourite moves, a dragon suplex.

Los Ingobernables de Japon vs David Finlay, Ricochet and Satoshi Kojima (C)

Again a more varied match up like the first part of the gauntlet the veteran Kojima was the first to really get the crowd properly alive with his classic trademark moments. That said he wasn’t my highlight of the match as Ricochet’s high flying work was simply astonishing to behold and LIJ had some excellent three-way offence often missing from WWE’s version of 6-man tag team wrestling.

Bushi’s classic mist blinding Kojima spelt his doom as EVIL connected with Evil (his finishing move) to get the win and claim the championships for the LIJ.

As a whole the match as expectedly very much spot-to-spot but was entertaining none-the-less and the warring gangs story built as it went on as we saw another set of belts change hands.

‘The American Nightmare’ Cody vs Juice Robinson

Making his in-ring debut for NJPW the artist formerly known as Stardust, the son of ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes, Cody was a standout reason for a WWE fan like me tuning in to Wrestle Kingdom 11 and from the moment he stepped through the curtain it was clear this wasn’t quite the same guy who’d been getting bored on the other side of the Pacific.

'The American Nightmare' Cody Rhodes

‘The American Nightmare’ Cody Rhodes

That said Juice Robinson (NXT’s CJ Parker in a past life) also seem more energised than when I’d last seen him, but there was no way this was going to be anything but Cody’s match.

Throughout Corino on commentary hyped Cody having feuded with the Dream back in ECW and this, along with Cody’s heel attitude as part of Bullet Club, set him up excellently.

The match itself was far more in the American heavyweight style with Cody focussing on Robinson’s knee as the main story, though Cody still found room for some nice athletic moments only hinted at in WWE.

Some highlights of the match were a very nice inverted figure-four leg lock/Indian Deathlock type hold (apparently dubbed The American Nightmare) and a wink to Randy Orton with a top rope draping DDT that looks particularly nasty before Cody countered Juice’s Pulp Friction finisher into the Cross Rhodes for an emphatic debut win in a match that was a nice change of pace to the openers.

Ring Of Honour World Championship
Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly (C)

Once more this match had a more American feel to the story with former partners who have been battling over the Ring of Honour (ROH) gold for the last few months facing off.

This also continued the international and cross-promotional flavour of the show with this being a championship from one of (if not the) top independent wrestling company in the USA, and it came complete with its own ROH referee.

Cole with a thrust kick to O'Reilly

Cole with a thrust kick to O’Reilly

Cole and O’Reilly met in the centre of the ring to shake hands, apparently observing the ‘code of honour’, until Cole spat in the face in O’Reilly and so it went from there.

O’Reilly came across like an American Dragon for a new era with a great mix of strong strikes and tight holds before Cole hit his Last Shot neck breaker early but only garnered a two count.

If it hadn’t been a heated fight before it was from there and the pair put on a very strong showing highlighted by a powerful ‘hockey fight’, a brutal looking standing ankle lock and many thrust kick and shining wizard variations.

A third Last Shot sealed the deal for Cole to become the first ever three-time ROH World Champion and his shocked reaction was great for a cocky heel of the Bullet Club. The inclusion of the ring attendants rushing in to aid O’Reilly after the match also helped to sell this as the powerful affair it was and if it hadn’t been obvious before the ‘sport’ element of pro-wrestling here was clearly much stronger than I’ve seen in many other promotions.

IWGP Tag Team Championship
Chaos (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) vs G.B.H. (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) vs Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa) representing Bullet Club (C)

With Toru Yano having stolen both the Guerrillas of Destiny’s (GoD) title belts and G.B.H.’s tag team trophies there was a strong story to this from the start with both teams out for revenge on the comparatively humorous looking grappler.

Toru Yano

Toru Yano

Before we get to the match though its worth noting how intimidating GoD look on their way to the ring and during the match with them channeling the reputation of their forebear Meng (aka Haku) and adding to it genuinely scary war paint – Uso’s take note, this is how this gimmick is done.

Anyway back to action GoD were far and away the highlight of this match and it being a three-way did seem hamper the action at a few points. That said all three teams had their moments; Ishii is a beast of a man and his stiff shots were impressive while G.B.H.’s slightly more old-school looking approach was a nice contrast.

Another thing worth noting here was the language coming from the ring with some many f-bombs and more dropped Corino lost it to laughter on commentary but it really helped to sell how much these guys were going for each other.

The climax of the match felt like a disappointment but served to develop the story with Chaos getting the win after some rule breaking though it was GoD I came away from this as a big new fan of and I will be investigating them more that’s for sure.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi representing LIJ vs Kushida (C)

It was at this point in the show that the competitors entrances really started to escalate so Takahashi’s ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ gimmick really came across strong in the visuals while Kushida’s Back To The Future referencing was excellent before they kicked off with some high-flying action before the bell even rang.

Kushida goes for the Hoverboard Lock on Takahashi

Kushida goes for the Hoverboard Lock on Takahashi

After a bit of more ground based work Takahashi hit a sunset flip powerbomb to the floor on Kushida and real jeopardy came into play as this was sold as an almost match ending spot with the referee and doctors checking on the champ.

From here he was clearly the injured underdog but fought valiantly with the crowd behind him strongly. As well as a crazy top rope senton spot from Takahashi the pair put on a great fast match with some real fighting over holds that is something often missing in WWE and sells how painful and damaging some of these MMA style holds can be, particularly Kushida’s ‘Hoverboard Lock’ Kimura style arm bar.

As the match went on the crowd really became lively and a straight punch spot really added to this before Takahashi hit a spectacular spinning victory roll driver from the top rope (I can’t think of any other way to describe it) for the win and to become the new Junior Heavyweight Champ in the fifth title change of the night.

NEVER Openweight Championship
Hirooki Goto vs ‘The Wrestler’ Katsuyori Shibata (C)

Even before he got the ring I was impressed with Shibata’s no gimmick gimmick as ‘The Wrestler’ in basic black gear and carrying not only the contested NEVER championship but also the RevPro Championship from the UK-based promotion (yet more international representation).

Shibata and Goto

Shibata and Goto

As the match got going both men impressed hugely with a match that I could only describe as being exactly what sprang into my mind when I first heard the words ‘strong style’.

Excellent mat work, stiff striking and a sense that this isn’t entertainment anymore, this is sport through and through – though with it remaining hugely absorbing and entertaining.

The drama culminated in a GTR from Goto to Shibata giving him the championship after a flat-out excellent, hard-hitting, contest that could easily have been the highlight of the show if there wasn’t more to come.

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tetsuya Naito representing LIJ (C)

With IWGP Intercontinental Championship having gained a reputation putting it on a par with the Heavyweight belt this really felt like the start of a main event and the feeling of the stakes involved and the spectacular entrances really added to that.

Tanahashi flies at Naito

Tanahashi flies at Naito

Naito in particular brought something of what Nakamura brought to this with his entrance coming across as a kind of manga character underworld mob boss as leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon and while the production isn’t quite as slick as WWE it feels the better and more realistic for it.

The match itself was an excellent example of an all out good guy facing off against and anti-hero with the crowd divided between the two fighters throughout just adding to the drama and action that was both technical and hard-hitting if a bit more mainstream feeling than the preceding NEVER championship bout.

There were too many highlights to mention but a slingblade from Tanahashi on the apron followed by a top rope ‘frog style’ plancha was quite a moment. Both men delivered in fantastic ways at least equaling the previous contest before a series of Destino from Naito saw him buck the night’s trend for title changes by keeping his grip on the IGWP Intercontinental Championship and further confirming his position and reputation while Tanahashi’s place was being called into question.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
‘The Cleaner’ Kenny Omega representing Bullet Club vs ‘The Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada representing Chaos (C)

Okada and Omega

Okada and Omega

If the previous two matches hadn’t stolen the show the promo package that aired here upped the stakes further as it was made clear this match wasn’t just for a championship and the individual competitors but the very future of New Japan could hinge on the outcome.

It genuinely felt like it from not only the competitors but the commentators and the crowd as well – something I’ve not felt in a long time on other wrestling shows.

Aping The Terminator (and WWE”s Triple H), Kenny Omega made his way to the ring in genuinely spectacular style before a more traditional but still impressive entrance from the champion Okada which set the scene for what was to come.

Starting with some smooth and flawless chain wrestling both quickly went for their respective finishers, for Omega the One Winged Angel and for Okada The Rainmaker, before breaking off. Both displayed great story work early on that continued and the throughout the wrestling was back and forth and nothing but excellent.

Omega with a springboard moonsault on Okada

Omega with a springboard moonsault on Okada

The contrast of Omega’s cockiness and speed with Okada’s confidence and more traditional but still dangerous approach was great to see and as the match went on both men stuck with their styles and characters excellently.

At 46 minutes it would be impossible to pick out everything worthy of note in this match but a terminator riffing senton dive, a draping DDT on the floor, a brutal missile dropkick and a huge springboard moonsault to the floor were a few.

As the match seemed to be nearing its a climax Omega hit a top rope dragon suplex that could easily have ended not just the match by Okada’s career before an extended signature counter sequence with both men struggling to get the upper hand before a final Rainmaker folded Omega up giving Okada the win.

It sounds like hyperbole and enough people have already said as much before me, but this is one of the best and most consistent wrestling matches I have ever witnessed and I could be picky about the amount of finisher kick outs that happened but that would be churlish as both men did something I would never have though possible, especially in a match of this length and I urge anyone with a passing interesting in pro-wrestling to check this out.

Kazuchika Okada

Kazuchika Okada

In the end Wrestle Kingdom 11 did get off to a slightly shaky start but it built throughout its duration with both the title changes and the gang warfare element to a real climax that all came together far more than I would have thought at the half way mark.

Also as my first experience of a full NJPW show I was happy to see it treat wrestling more seriously and maintain the sport feel often lost elsewhere (and it was a thankful antidote to ITV’s recent World of Sport special). The production was more basic than WWE but this gave it a more real and organic feeling and with a climax like that I defy anyone to not enjoy this show – and in Los Ingobernables de Japon I think I have a new favourite wrestling stable.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

World Of Sport Wrestling – 31/12/16

World Of Sport WOS Wrestling logoBefore Vince McMahon and Hulkamania swept away the old world of professional wrestling in the 1980s and became a world-wide phenomenon if you were a grapple fan looking for a fix of a soap opera in spandex living in the UK, World of Sport was where you looked.

Between the 1960s and late 1980s Saturday afternoons on ITV meant wrestling, with the likes of Mick McManus, Adrian Street, Johnny Saint and Jim Breaks (amongst others) providing wrestling action while Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks provided notoriety and spectacle. Then in the late 80’s the ‘British style’ fell out of favour for the big budget, glossy American product and wrestling in the UK headed to the holiday camps.

Over the last couple of years professional wrestling in the UK has had something of a resurgence thanks to the likes of ICW, RPW, Progress and others and, with the announcement last summer that they were bringing back World Of Sport (WOS) Wrestling with Jim Ross on commentary and a selection of indie stars lined up, it looked like ITV were looking to cash in on this, 30 years after last airing British grappling.

I had been looking forward to WOS Wrestling since the announcement, but tried to maintain a sensible level of anticipation. This was after all going out early evening on ITV so I wasn’t going in expecting ‘strong style’ or ‘hardcore’ wrestling, but more family friendly fun stuff, with some good action built-in. From the opening music and styling though I was dubious as it had the ring of everything that makes ITV’s output problematic – shiny and cheap with a lowest common denominator audience in mind.

Grado and Dave Mastiff

Grado and Dave Mastiff

The first bout was announced as being for the World Of Sport Championship with two contenders chosen by an unknown ‘committee’, so far ok, this is an old trope of the NWA and WCW, and even the choice of Grado, a perennial good time babyface (blue-eye, fan favourite) seemed to suit the show, even if comparisons to ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes felt a bit laboured.

His opponent was Dave Mastiff, a terrifying looking 300 pounder who is every part the pro-wrestling heel (bad guy, villain) to counter Grado’s fun loving persona. On his way to the ring, accompanied by Sha Samuels and Johnny Moss as a very imposing team, he cut a promo interrupting one from Grado, both of which felt over simplified and over scripted leading into a short match that felt the same.

The pairing and references on commentary felt self-consciously reverential to the Big Daddy/Giant Haystacks feud but its fair to say pro-wrestling has moved on since then and this was a problem across the show as a whole, along with the fact that the crowd reactions felt false. With such a short match and no real story to it until an interference ending, this didn’t start things off well despite the best efforts of the performers.

After the match we cut backstage to a brief interview with the ‘general manager’, the mysterious Mr Beasley, which felt like an attempt to emulate WWE’s similar backstage segments but fell down on almost all aspects, including the announcement of a Battle Royale at which point the smell of the low-budget mid-90s wrestling shows I remember seeing touring began to get a bit too strong.

WOS Wrestling ladder matchAfter an ad break we heard from some of the genuine British Wrestling legends further hyping the appalling work of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks and ignoring their own great grappling, before a ladder match in some ways akin to WWE’s Money In The Bank gimmick.

The match itself was too short to really get into with four men fighting to reach a briefcase hanging from the ceiling. While I got the feeling at least some of the wrestlers had talent it was lost here as neither character nor any real action got across, largely thanks to some appalling camera work and editing. Anyway the winner, Kenny Williams, advanced to the Battle Royale.

Next up was a women’s match, hyped as the first of its kind on World Of Sport as in the past female wrestlers like Klondike Kate would compete against men, pitting Alexis Rose against Viper. At first I worried this may veer too far into the ‘titillation’ side of women’s wrestling but once they started this wasn’t the case as they put on the hardest hitting contest so far.

Viper and Alexis Rose

Viper and Alexis Rose

Both women’s characters came across and the story was simple but effective with the smaller baby face against the bigger heel. The bigger Viper won and after the opening pair of matches this started to bring me back on board (though the presentation was still all wrong).

Another qualifying match for the Battle Royale came in the form of a tag team match as Mark & Joe Coffey squared off against Rampage and Ashton Smith.

Like the women’s match this was a solid bout with both teams getting across characters and a range of hard-hitting looking action telling a fairly typical but well executed tag match story.

The Coffeys may have looked like they were aping WWE’s The Ascension at first, but I soon got over that and all four men impressed with the brother team getting the win with a nice double team strike combo.

Coffey flies at Rampage

Coffey flies at Rampage

While I was new to most of the wrestlers appearing here Zack Gibson and El Ligero came with something of a reputation that had me excited to see them in action and, once again despite the production, they didn’t disappoint.

Mixing styles of ‘lucha libre’ (Ligero) and a more submission style reminiscent of classic British grappling (Gibson) instantly made for a good story with Ligero looking for his highflying spring-board DDT finisher and Gibson working on Ligero’s arms to set up for his Shankly Gates finishing hold.

Ligero seemed to be slightly hampered by the looseness of the ropes a few times but worked through it like a pro (he wasn’t the only wrestler dealing with an unfamiliar ring, the 20ft WWE sized  ‘squared-circle’ seemed far too big for most of them) and the duo told a fine story with real pace and psychology.

Ligero picked up the win with his DDT and really came across as a true fan favourite character that the small audience actually seemed to genuinely get behind while Gibson’s throwback heel character clearly also got to the crowd in the way he should.

After three matches that seemed to be getting things together we got the Battle Royale that instantly switched back to the poor booking that had marked the start of the night.

Davey Boy Smith Jr

Davey Boy Smith Jr (while wrestling in Japan)

The initial section was set up to get over Sha Samuels and Johnny Moss, both of whom look like great heels, before surprise entrant ‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith Jr (aka Harry Smith) came down to sort out the heels.

Smith has a genuine heritage here as son of the original Bulldog and nephew of Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, but he was oddly soon eliminated by the heel duo after a few big signature spots, leaving them open for Grado to eliminate destroying any sense of threat they’d built.

After the win Grado suffered a hugely unconvincing knee injury thanks to a beat down from the heels supposedly calling the return match with Mastiff into question…

…of course there was never any real question as Mastiff returned to the ring before Grado made his third entrance of the show and they proceeded to have less a match, more an angle, that saw Mastiff attack Grado’s injured knee before Grado came back to hit his ‘Grado Cutter’ neck breaker for the win and a feel good ending.

Grado is awarded the WOS Championship

Grado is awarded the WOS Championship

In the show’s favour it had three good (one particularly so) matches in the middle with Gibson, Ligero, Rampage and the Coffey brothers coming out looking particularly good and it had Jim Ross on commentary as it’s always good to hear ‘Good Old JR’ back on the mic.

Unfortunately an inconsistent tone and terrible production work meant it looked cheap and above all silly, and when you’re dealing with a product that can already look inherently silly, emphasising this is never a good idea.

Pro-wrestling should suspend disbelief as we invest in characters we love or love-to-hate but all this seemed to do was poke fun at the formula and set back the cause of British pro-wresting 20 years to the dark days of the mid 1990s.

Much like then there are some good performers doing their best who I will investigate elsewhere where their work is respected, but with WOS Wrestling, ITV have created a product that, while it was never intended to appeal to die-hard wrestling fans, I can’t see appealing to anyone else either.

Lets just hope WWE’s United Kingdom Championship Tournament in a few weeks does a better job (I’m confident it will)…

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The True Story of the Royal Rumble – Blu-ray

The True Story of the Royal Rumble - blu-rayIn January 1988 WWE (then WWF) started their year with a TV special show featuring a new type of match. Based on the traditional ‘all in’ Battle Royal that has been a part of professional wrestling for decades, the Royal Rumble took the basic format of many men in the ring at once trying to throw each other out and, with a few tweaks, made it into something that is still one of the most anticipated and well-known pro-wrestling formats as we head to its 30th occurrence next month.

To mark what they are calling the ’30th anniversary’ WWE have released a ‘documentary’ looking at the ‘true story’ of the match and the surrounding event and, much like most other recent WWE productions it is a mixed bag, too focussed on short attention spans to present anything genuinely revealing.

In a conceit they’ve used a few times recently, most memorably in Daniel Bryan’s autobiography and accompanying video set, the historical story is interspersed with behind the scenes moments focussing on the most recent event (in this case 2016). While this behind the scenes stuff is vaguely interesting most of it is either things you’ll have seen before if you’ve seen anything about how WWE stages one or their shows or is clips of the actual show you’ve already seen, just with a bit more clever editing involved.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan wins the first Royal Rumble

Hacksaw Jim Duggan wins the first Royal Rumble

The most interesting elements of this are around the ‘surprise’ entries and how the surprise is maintained, though a few brief clips with AJ Styles do little more than suggest that somewhere in the WWE archive is a very interesting interview with one of the greatest wrestlers on the planet that we’re not being shown.

The historical segments are the most interesting part of this with the match’s creator, WWE legend and ‘Vince McMahon’s right hand man, Pat Paterson and NBC executive Dick Ebersol giving some insight into its creation (Ebersol stands out massively as a non-WWE figure on one of these documentaries though the archive shots of him promoting the XFL suggest he’s someone trusted by the McMahon machine) and the first event with that matches winner, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, actually speaking quite well on what it meant at the time and how the match came together in the ring.

From there it’s hard to escape it feeling like an hour-long trail for the next event with many current performers talking about how big and important the match has been over the years in clearly scripted ‘interviews’, with obvious accompanying clips.

Roman Reigns and The Rock at the 2015 Royal Rumble

Roman Reigns and The Rock at the 2015 Royal Rumble

The aforementioned Duggan interview, along with interviews with Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and a few others do give a bit more context to the past events but, for various reasons (some obvious, some not), many of the key players are missing making it hard to get past a superficial or one-sided feeling to all this.

Unfortunately it makes the main ‘documentary’ feel like something of a wasted opportunity as there is certainly an interesting story to tell about this most famous of matches, but it feels as if the surface is barely scratched here with a chronologically muddled film that doesn’t seem to want to do anything but stress the importance of the event without any real back up to this while fitting into the current WWE network format that will do nothing but date it badly in the coming years. And with all of this phrase ‘make Roman look strong’ is never far away…

Chris Jericho and AJ Styles in the 2016 Royal Rumble

Chris Jericho and AJ Styles in the 2016 Royal Rumble

The Blu-ray set also includes a few ‘exclusives’ that are interesting asides in a few cases, particularly Duggan discussing his confrontations with The Undertaker at an early Rumble and then much later, Ric Flair talking about his return to wrestling in the WWE in the early 2000s and Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch discussing the idea of a women’s only Royal Rumble in the future.

Also included are a series of matches from Royal Rumble events over the years including four full Rumble matches. While all are interesting and a few are referenced in the documentary, there is a lack of any sense of coherent curation or explanation of ‘why these matches’ leaving it all feeling a bit disjointed, something that really sums up the whole package.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

WWE 205 Live – 29/11/16

WWE 205 LiveOver the summer of 2016 WWE did something unprecedented for them by staging a tournament for Cruiserweight wrestlers from around the world, whether they were permanently signed to the company of not, the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC).

Taped at the same venue as the NXT Arena in Orlando, Florida the small, intimate, knowledgable crowd, combined with some of the best wrestlers I’ve seen in a long time, made for a special series of events that climaxed with the crowning of a new WWE Cruiserweight Champion.

While the likes of Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr stole the tournament, and for the most part Ibushi looked like a favourite to win, the whole concept was really what stood out as it seemed to something of a throw back to a time when we could believe that professional wrestling was a sport and who won and who lost really mattered, combined with modern sensibilities.

Triple H, TJ Perkins and William Regal

Triple H, TJ Perkins and William Regal

The tournament was finally won by TJ Perkins, while not Ibushi or Sabre still a worthy winner and crucially recently signed to the WWE (something neither of the aforementioned grapplers agreed to), and the Cruiserweight Division was moved to the WWE’s flagship show Monday Night Raw.

On Raw it retained some aspects of the CWC shows with handshakes and its own purple colour scheme, including ropes and matt, while more ‘sports entertainment’ aspects were introduced attempting to give some of the performers more developed characters.

Most successful of these was past WWE Superstar and now veteran, ‘The’ Brian Kendrick, who defeated TJ Perkins for the championship at the Hell In A Cell special in the build up to what I’m looking at here, 205 Live, a new show focussing specifically on the WWE Cruiserweight Division and airing live on the WWE Network, kicking off on Tuesday 29th November following Smackdown.

WWE 205 Live superstars

WWE 205 Live Superstars

Being filmed in a far bigger arena than the CWC instantly gave the show a different feel, as did the rather quiet crowd as commentary team Mauro Ronallo, ‘The Saviour of Misbehaviour’ Corey Graves and ‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived’ Austin Aries hyped what was to come, before we were introduced to the ‘Superstars of 205 Live’.

While Perkins, Kendrick and current number one contender Rich Swann got a decent reception, most of the rest of the line up were greeted in a muted fashion which was a bit concerning before we got a video hyping the Sihra brother tag team duo, The Bollywood Boys.

These hype videos were something that worked really well on the CWC to introduce the competitors in a snappy way, but there the gimmicks were less pronounced and the competition more to the fore, here it was hard not to see The Bollywood Boys as yet another bland, babyface duo who are confusingly at once from India (hence the name) and Canada (hence the wrestling skills), this led to them making their way to the ring to a fairly quiet reception in the cavernous arena.

Sihra and Neese

Sihra and Neese

Their opponents, already in the ring but thanks to appearances on Raw already established as heels, were ‘The Premier Athlete’ Tony Neese and Drew Gulak. This choice of adversaries thankfully told the crowd all they needed to know and they soon got behind the Indian/Canadians.

The match itself set the scene well with a mix of high-flying spots and groundwork along with some stiff looking, almost ‘strong style’, striking from Neese and Gulak before the faces got the win with a nicely delivered double-superkick. Of the spots a highlight for me was a tandem clothesline/DDT that was something I’d not seen before and, if a little contrived, looked great.

Following the match the heels were interviewed in the aisle bringing back in an element of the ‘real sport’ style of the CWC, though Gulak showed why he’s not been given any live mic time before while Neese did his best to rescue it and just about managed.

After a hype video for Gran Metallik, apparently he’s coming soon despite having been on the stage with the rest of the crew at the start, and a backstage interview with Kendrick it was time for one-on-one competition between fairly typical heel Ariya Daivari and ‘The Extraordinary Gentlemen’ Jack Gallagher.

Gallagher and Daivari

Gallagher and Daivari

Gallagher headed to the ring to a pleasantly positive reaction and is one of the performers I was most looking forward to seeing following his outings in the CWC and his reputation from the recently revived British wrestling scene. The match itself was mostly an exhibition for Gallagher’s ‘unique style’ derived from his training at the Wigan Snakepit as well as his own take on showmanship.

Throughout the match Gallagher showcased some of his trademark moves including an impressive range of chain wrestling counters, a ‘Jim Breaks special’ and the ridiculous but somehow impressive ‘Windsor Knot’ submission hold which has to be seen to be believed, before Gallagher scored the win following his stiff looking corner dropkick. Aries on commentary came into his own here with what I’m hoping sounded like a set up for a feud between the veteran and Gallagher once Austin is cleared to wrestle again.

Kendrick and Swann

Kendrick and Swann

While I’ve enjoyed Rich Swann’s work since the CWC I will admit that seeing him as number one contender for the Cruiserweight Championship didn’t have me convinced as it seems to have come around very quickly – also I am a big fan of Kendrick’s work both recently and from his past time in WWE. None the less they did a good job of building at least a mild sense of anticipation for the main event championship encounter.

Going back and forth for the best part of 20 minutes Kendrick and Swann put on a great match that showed the best of both men and it wasn’t long before the crowd were really getting into it, rooting for the good guy against the genuinely dastardly heel. Both men hit their big spots and seemed to be pushing the envelope further than they had on their outings on Raw with the likes of Kendrick’s turnbuckle neckbreaker, a dragon suplex and a top rope ‘avalanche’ version of his Sliced Bread #2 being particularly strong moments.

Kendrick and Swann

Kendrick and Swann

Swann also held his own, convincing me of his position at the top of the card, picking up the win with a trio of impressive spinning heel kicks.

The end of the show came with more of the ‘real sport’ style post match interviews with Swann being the good babyface and dedicating his win to his late mother, while Kendrick showed why he really is the jewel in the crown of WWE’s Cruiserweights with a bitter heel promo that suggested a follow-up to this throwing TJ Perkins back into the mix.

In the end the premier edition of 205 Live was a bit of a mixed bag. The action in the ring was consistently good and at times great and at least three of the competitors ended the show being very much over with the crowd. Unfortunately staging it in an arena with an audience already tired from the previous two-hour Smackdown programme sapped some of the energy and excitement from the show as a whole.

Rich Swann

Rich Swann

While it didn’t quite live up to the excellence that was the CWC, 205 Live is a bold move for WWE and one that I hope develops from here into something special, which based on this it certainly has the potential to do.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NXT Bournemouth – Bournemouth International Centre – 16/06/15

NXT view

My view at the show

A couple of days removed from the event this isn’t going to be a definitive blow-by-blow account of NXT’s recent show in Bournemouth, but a bit of a run down and my thoughts on the show.

Arriving at the BIC I wasn’t sure what to expect given my previous experience of live WWE shows was a Monday Night Raw taping at the O2 in 2015, a much larger crowd and, theoretically, broader in scope as ‘sports entertainment’ and prior to that a non-televised show at the Royal Albert Hall in early 1994!

Instantly it was obvious the crowd here was slightly different, more black t-shirts, more males aged 18-35 (thankfully I’m still just in that demographic) and much more ‘serious’ wrestling chat, giving it the feeling of many of live music shows I go to and a bit of a hint of WWE’s (somewhat inexplicably) revered Attitude Era of the late 1990s, just a bit less drunk and raucous.

That said, there were still some families there and, after the men in black t-shirts, the largest contingent was youngsters in purple Bayley t-shirts (and some of the adult men proudly rocking them too). I thought this might make the crowd a bit imbalanced but it didn’t as throughout, from what I could see and hear, everyone was polite and respectful (both in terms of language used and phrases chanted) and clearly out to have a good time, which it seems everyone did, to a huge degree.

Entering the venue’s Windsor Hall and finding my seat, fifth row from ringside and facing the entrance way, I realised I’d struck gold as I had a great view of everything from the ring to the entrance way while also feeling part of the energetic crowd.

Before the show started host and ring announcer Dasha Fuentes headed to ringside to chat with a few fans, it was clear that despite this being near the end of the tour the difference between American and English crowds hadn’t quite sunk in and people were a little more reserved than it seems Fuentes expected but it was still all fun and then, to warm us up for the in-ring action, we got to vote on which classic NXT match to watch highlights of.

With the options being Seth Rollins vs Jinder Mahal, Sami Zayn vs Adrian Neville and Bayley vs Sasha Banks the crowd picked the Bayley/Banks face off from Takeover Brooklyn which just goes to show the way this pair have helped build the reputation of women’s wrestling in WWE and NXT to being on a level with the men’s matches as this is an indisputable classic.

No Way Jose vs Angelo Dawkins

No Way Jose

No Way Jose

With the crowd warmed up the lights went down and we got the WWE TV intros on the big screen, both the ‘Then, Now, Forever’ ident and NXT opening titles which finished setting the mood perfectly before No Way Jose hit the ring and had everyone clapping and singing along to his excellently catchy theme.

Jose is a character I thought I was really not going to like before his debut, dancing gimmicks are very much not my thing, but something about his enthusiasm and the innocence with which it is delivered really works and I was instantly onside with him as babyface and that just grew seeing him live.

His opponent was one of NXT’s roster of unfortunate jobbers, Angelo Dawkins who got little reaction until someone noticed he looks like a low rent version of Attitude Era stalwart D’Lo Brown. From that point on the crowd got on his case about this and he played up to it excellently as a heel should.

The rest of the match was more good fun, all very loose but that’s to be expected in the opening match of a non-televised show and really didn’t spoil things as Jose danced rings around Dawkins before hitting his cobra clutch slam finisher for the win leading to more chanting, dancing and singing and setting the tone nicely.

Bayley & Carmella vs Nia Jax & Alexa Bliss

Bayley

Bayley

As Alexa Bliss made her way to the ring for a tag team match it seemed like we were going to get to see some big names early, and we did as Bliss and Nia Jax (a genuinely imposing presence in person), both greeted to a suitable level of good-natured heat made their way to the ring followed by Carmella, who did her whole Enzo style entrance, and Bayley completely with walking waving inflatable tube men and one of the biggest pops of the night.

Getting to ‘sing-along’ with Carmella was a great moment as we all joined with her ‘My name is…’ schtick complete withe ‘Bada-bing, hottest chick in the ring!’ and just feeling the positivity Bayley brings to the arena is amazing and she is a credit to the WWE. I’ve heard people suggest she could be the female John Cena and on the basis or a response like this I could see her being even more than that and the crowd was all on side in an entirely genuine way.

Bayley and Bliss lock up

Bayley and Bliss lock up

The match was a good back and forth with the heels beating down on both faces, all the great Bayley chants (which she seemed genuinely enthused by) and lots of ‘How you doin’’ chants. it was mostly Carmella suffering at the hands of the heels building to a hot tag to Bayley which again got a huge response.

With all four competitors involved Carmella and Bliss headed to the floor distracting Jax and allowing Bayley to hit the monster heel with her Bayley-to-Belly Suplex finisher for the three. This move was a big surprise and probably amplified the winning pop even more and it was sustained as Bayley made her way around ringside giving out hugs to anyone with an ‘I’m a hugger’ t-shirt.

Tye Dillinger vs Hugo Knox

Tye Dillinger

‘The Perfect 10’ Tye Dillinger

Being from Manchester it was clear that Knox was expected to be the hometown hero in this match as he is English, unfortunately for him and despite the best efforts of both Dillinger and WWE, Tye is getting huge reactions for his perfect 10 gimmick and this continued here, with his work in the ring and natural charisma coming through despite his best efforts to play the bad guy.

The match was good, with newcomer Knox coming across well with some great athleticism for a bodybuilder type guy but he succumbed to Dillinger’s Perfect 10 fireman’s carry neck breaker and the imbalance of the heel/face work did spoil it a little, but Dillinger is just too good at what he does to boo and chanting ’10’ along with his is a great crowd moment.

Austin Aries vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas

Austin Aries

Austin Aries

As Aries stepped out, complete with a cape that should be an instant heat winner, he was getting cheered hugely.

As he picked up the mic in the ring though he proceeded to cut an excellent heel promo that did a great job of getting across the cocky side of ‘The greatest man that ever lived’ and almost totally counteracted the initial cheers to set the stage nicely for a fast paced match with NXT newcomer (but seasoned performer elsewhere) Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas.

While having a reputation from CMLL in Mexico and NJPW in Japan as La Sombre (amongst others) Andrade hasn’t quite found his place in NXT yet but, working with a veteran like Aries, it was clear the two brought out the best in each other.

This was the first match to feel genuinely competitive with both men looking for big moves and feeling a bit tighter than what had come before.

Austin Aries vs Andrade Cien Almas

Cien reacts to a dropkick in the corner

Andrade’s springboard moonsault feint into a standing moonsault is hugely impressive as was pretty much everything Aries did, even if he didn’t hit any of his big high-flying trademarks (again fairly expected these wouldn’t be used on a non-televised show).

With a great back and forth and both men playing things excellently the end came with Cien countering what looked like it would be a brain buster and connecting with his running double knee in the corner. This looks far more impactful in person but with Shinsuke Nakamura’s range of knee strikes being present on the same show it feels like an odd choice of finish.

While on paper Aries doing the job sounds strange it worked in the context of this show with everything being very feel good and this was one of those matches where both men came out well regardless of who took the fall.

Shinsuke Nakamura vs Bobby Roode

Bobby Roode

Bobby Roode

To start the next match, scheduled, of course, for one-fall (ONE FALL! – I’ll never quite get why the UK crowd shouts this each match but its fun) some unfamiliar music hit and the screen displayed some nondescript lights so, as former TNA standard Bobby Roode headed out the crowd were initially caught off guard before popping pretty big for this long teased newcomer to NXT.

As Roode entered the ring, looking like a classic wrestling heel a la Ric Flair in his sequined robe, his cocky heel persona really came through and without even taking the mic the crowd was already accepting him as a bad guy when the lights went out and Shinsuke Nakamura’s already familiar theme hit and crowd exploded at the proposition of this ‘dream match’.

Being relatively new to Nakamura I’m already a huge fan but as the lights came up and he strutted his way to the ring it was clear that his charismatic presence is even bigger in person than on-screen and he received the biggest reaction of the night.

Nakamura hits the Kinshasa

Nakamura hits the Kinshasa

With the crowd chanting for both men the duo circled each other but eventually the Nakamura chants (along with ‘Shinsuke Bomaye’ and singing of his theme song) won out and the pair put on the match of the night going back and forth and hitting the fiercest looking strikes and some of the biggest general moves of the show.

Throughout occasional shouts of ‘BEER!… MONEY!’ in reference to Roode showed that this crowd knew they were watching something special and, for a non-televised show we were not disappointed and both men hit a series of big spots culminating in Nakamura’s inverted exploder and Kinshasa/Bomaye knee strike that was the move of the night and rounded off the first half of the show in a huge way that wasn’t to be bettered.

NXT Tag Team Championship
American Alpha vs The Revival (c)

American Alpha

American Alpha

With the crowd re-energised after the emotional drain that was Nakamura/Roode the second half opening with a rematch from last week’s Takeover: The End as American Alpha headed to the ring to challenge The Revival for the NXT Tag Team Championship.

Despite their all American gimmick the work of Jason Jordan and Chad Gable has endeared them well beyond the US and they got one of the biggest reactions tonight as they made their way out and it was clear both they and the crowd were ‘Ready, Willing and Gable’ (sorry I couldn’t resist).

While not such a big reaction Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder were greeted as heels should be with  good-natured negativity that continued throughout the match with many different ways of playing up to the running joke that no one knows who is who out of the two.

American Alpha vs The Revival

Gable arm drags Dawson

It wasn’t all Revival heckling though and Alpha got many renditions of 2-Unlimited’s Euro-pop classic No Limit as reworked with Jordan and Gable’s names – I’m not sure if this chant makes any sense outside of the UK, or even to the two wrestlers, but they seem to love it as much as the crowd does.

Despite it being pretty obvious the belts weren’t going to change hands here both teams did a good job of selling that it might, putting on an excellent exhibition with Dash and Dawson being excellent at playing the old school heels, distracting the ref so cheating could occur, engaging with the crowd and generally being a great modern-day versions of classic teams from the NWA in the 1970s. American Alpha on the other hand are their antithesis being excellent ‘pure wrestlers’ like a more sane version of the Steiner Brothers crossed with Kurt Angle (we got another ankle lock tease spot from Gable), giving the two teams a perfect chemistry together.

The Revival

The Revival – victorious

Of course The Revival came out on top but, with it being thanks to some foul play from Wilder helping Dawson get the pin it left American Alpha looking good and strong and was as pitch perfect a tag match as your likely to see, even if we didn’t get to see the Shatter Machine or Grand Amplitude.

After the match American Alpha stayed in the ring and appeared genuinely touched by the huge reaction they got from the crowd which was great to see.

NXT Women’s Championship
Peyton Royce vs Asuka (c)

Asuka

Asuka

As soon Royce was announced as the challenger here it was clear where this was going which spoiled it a bit as a contest but, despite that she put on a good show and we got to see more from her than we have so far on TV and she worked effectively as a heel including a nice referee distraction spot leading to a tarantula-like hold in the ropes.

Asuka on the other hand was excellent in her silent killer kind of role, despite which she is a face, but she still let the match go back and forth a little before unleashing her ranger of strong style strikes and holds, including a great looking Shining Wizard, before getting the expected win with the Asuka Lock.

NXT Championship
Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe (c)

Finn Balor

Finn Balor – 2 Sweet!

By this point it was clear what the main event was going to be but the greeting for Irish grappler Finn Balor was immense as he stepped through the curtain and threw the hand signal for the Bullet Club/Kliq to be greeted with most of the crowd returning it.

Another unassumingly charismatic performer Balor had the audience in his hand throughout and the positivity of his reaction was matched only by Nakamura tonight and, from a heel side, his opponent Samoa Joe.

Joe in person is genuinely fairly terrifying when he wants to be. Built like a tank the so-called Soman Submission Machine is a real monster and played the part to a tee here as he seemed impervious to much of Balor’s offence in the early going. Both guys hit a lot of signature spots, most of which looked nice and tight continuing the story of their ongoing rivalry brilliantly and the crowd, though somewhat divided in their support, were engaged throughout.

Samoa Joe

Samoa Joe

With Finn starting to make a come back on the champ, Joe bailed from the ring and found a steel chair and, after a bit more offence from Finn, Joe smacked him with it in the gut, then the back leading to a disqualification. This, of course, saved his championship, but felt anti-climactic until Balor retaliated and went back and forth with Joe leading to a Coupe De Grace from the top rope sending the champ to the back.

After the match Finn got on the mic and cut a great promo, initially it felt like a standard, ‘thanks for coming, this was the best night of the tour’ kind of thing, but as we all started chanting ‘Thank you Finn’ it seemed to change to something more heartfelt as the Demon said we shouldn’t be thanking him or any of the others wrestlers, they should be thanking us for supporting them and coming out to see the shows.

Samoa Joe vs Finn Balor

Joe with the facewash on Balor

Coming from a guy who’s truly worked his way up from the bottom (including moving from his home to the UK, then Japan, then America to pursue his dream) this was genuinely quite something and as this maybe Balor’s last tour before he moves to mainstream WWE it gave it something of an extra special ‘farewell tour’ moment and ended a great show on a real high, even if Roode and Nakamura put on the best match of the night.

For me, other than reenforcing my love of pro-wrestling, what this show did most was show just how fun wrestling shows can be and that it takes everything from the dancing of No Way Jose to the ‘strong style’ fighting of Shinsuke to Nakamura to the genuine, heartfelt performance of Finn Balor and Bayley to make a wrestling show, making it about as close to variety as you really get in this day and age.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NXT Greatest Matches: Volume 1

NXT Greatest Matches blu-rayOver the last four years NXT, WWE’s ‘super-indie’ (to quote Jim Smallman of Progress Wrestling and the Tuesday Night Jaw podcast), has gone from being a training ground for stars of the future to one of the most respected and interesting wrestling brands or promotions in its own right.

Taking a lot of the conventions of the independent wrestling scene and marrying it to WWE’s big budget look and highly formatted approach has created something different to both, that now not only allows new WWE performers to learn their craft but is providing a new route for already established indie stars to transition to the somewhat different ‘WWE style’ of wrestling and (whisper it) sports entertainment.

With all that in mind WWE have put out a DVD/Blu-ray collection of highlight matches charting NXT’s development from the crowning of their first champion in August 2012 to their Takeover: Respect event in October 2015. Most sets like this WWE release would be described as a mixed bag, but here is a solid collection of more than 8 hours at least good and predominantly pretty great matches, as has become NXT’s stock in trade.

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

The first disc charts the brands evolution from internet based show watched by a handful through the arrival of the WWE Network and up beginnings of NXT’s evolution into its own entity.

So we see a few matches from Seth Rollins that show just why he was to become the star he now he is. His championship match with Big E Langston may be the better of the two here but the tournament final for the first championship with Jinder Mahal is, of course, the more historically significant.

With this we also see Bray Wyatt, before he made it to the ‘main roster’, in a match with Chris Jericho that is again interesting. Notable in these early matches is the commentary team led by ‘JR’ Jim Ross and often featuring William Regal, that is exceptional and really serves to elevate and highlight all the performers strong points – if only the commentary on Monday Night Raw and the monthly WWE specials would do the same!

One of the most talked about early NXT matches, that set the reputation not only for the brand but for one its stars who came in from the indies is included, as Sami Zayn (who some say previously performed under a mask as El Generico) goes to war with Antonio Cesaro in a 2-out-of-3 falls match that is fantastic.

Sami Zayn and Antonio Cesaro

Zayn with the Koji Clutch on Cesaro

Zayn is the performer who’s path most tracks alongside NXT’s so we see him develop with his journey to the NXT championship in a classic against Adrian Neville and the renewal of his storied feud with Kevin Owens in a brutal show stealer. As I write this Zayn’s time in NXT has recently culminated with a match destined for Volume 2 of this collection (should it happen) as he tore the house down in Dallas against a debuting Shinsuke Nakamura.

Alongside the story of Sami Zayn we get potentially the even more influential story of NXT, its Women’s Division. While WWE was still mostly focusing on models ‘wrestling’ under the banner Divas, NXT was breaking this mold with some of the best female wrestlers in the world, including one as their lead trainer, leading to the revolution of the form that has come to the main shows at with the return of the WWE Women’s Championship at Wrestlemania 32.

Here we get the beginnings of this with Paige and Emma clashing for the NXT Women’s Championship followed by the emergence of the ‘Four Horsewomen of NXT’ Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley (the last of which is essentially a female Sami Zayn within NXT).

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

Disc one features classics pitting Charlotte against Natalya Neidhart and the Horsewomen squaring off in a Fatal-4-Way match for the championship, before on the second disc we see the Sasha Banks and Bayley feud highlighted with their show stealing performance from Takeover: Brooklyn that even eclipsed that night’s main event between indie heroes Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.

Disc 2 of the Blu-ray set sees NXT grow into an internationally touring brand as we see the Florida based show move out to the Arnold Classic sports expo, Wrestlemania 31 in San Jose, Beast in the East in Tokyo and Takeover: Brooklyn.

With this the third generation of stars come to the fore with Owens and Balor squaring off in a Japanese classic, Hideo Itami showing his credentials in San Jose and the aforementioned face off between Sasha Banks and Bayley in Brooklyn.

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

As well as the string of great matches we get an insight into the show from not only the wrestlers but the man leading the show, former WWE World Heavyweight Champion and heir apparent to the WWE as a whole, Triple H, aka Paul Levesque.

These are an interesting set of largely out of character talking heads that shed a light on the organic approach taken to NXT’s development and the apparent surprise and genuine appreciation for its growing popularity.

Notable here as well is the respect shown to the late Dusty Rhodes who seemed to steer the NXT ship in its early days and lay a lot of the groundwork for what it is now. As a parting gift from The American Dream, they don’t come much better or more suitable given his long-held hard-working, common man character.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Owens and Zayn continue their epic feud

The Blu-ray comes with five bonus matches which, while more curios than essentials, are all at least very good and its nice to see CM Punk and Kassius Ohno (aka Chris Hero) featured given their less than great relationships with WWE today and the chance to see Corey Graves in the ring before his concussion issues is also appreciated.

While many of the matches contained here are available on the WWE Network, what this collection does, and does well, is present a potted history of NXT and its best moments in one easy to find place. Along with that are the early matches not currently available elsewhere which make this a real must own for fans of the brand, and especially fans of British wrestler William Regal as his last televised match (a stormer with Antonio Cesaro) is also included.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,