Tag Archives: Austin Aries

Wrestlemania 33 – Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida – 02/04/17

WWE WrestleMania 33 logoAfter last year’s controversial and over long show, WWE looked to restore some of the  real grandeur of their premier event as WrestleMania returned to Orlando.

Much like last year the previous night’s NXT Takeover event had set a high target for the wrestling to aim for, but of course WrestleMania is so much more than that, as a broader entertainment spectacle.

Even in the daylight of the pre-show the stadium looked huge with the open air setting and stage making it appear in some ways larger than last year’s show in Dallas (though or course it wasn’t) and as the preliminary matches kicked off the Citrus Bowl was already nicely full.

Kickoff

WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Neville (c) vs Austin Aries

For the first time since 2004 a version of the WWE Cruiserweight Championship was defended at WrestleMania with the continuing rebirth of the lighter weight division of WWE reaching new heights thanks to both men involved here.

Austin Aries and Adrian Neville

Aries goes for a hurricanrana on Neville

As the bell rang there were big chants for Aries before the duo set out at a steady but fast pace. The story of the match saw Neville keep a step ahead of Aries’ well known offence, including nice counters of the challengers trademark low dropkick and heat seeking missile suicide dive, before Aries found a way around the counters.

Neville continued to build in his vicious heel persona that has seen him reach a new level as a performer in WWE, highlighted here with some stomps and sick looking snap and deadlift German suplexes along with some great high-flying in the form of a Phoenix splash.

Aries got his fair share of offence in too with a particularly nice missile dropkick, a discuss ‘five-arm’ out of nowhere and his classic 450 splash.

Austin Aries and Adrian Neville

Neville suplexes Aries

Across the match it was a great example of competition and character coming together to create a compelling story with exciting in-ring action, exactly what all wrestling, but particularly the cruiserweights, should be doing.

The ending came with some more great heel work from Neville as he attacked Aries’ recently injured eye allowing him to connect with his Red Arrow twisting splash to retain his title in a match that allowed both men to show their best and make quite an impact despite the early slot.

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Going into to this match it looked fairly predictable that Braun Strowman would be its centrepiece following his run in recent months destroying pretty much anyone who gets in his way, so, as it began with Strowman and Big Show tossing competitors out left, right and centre all seemed on track.

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Battle Royal

Then, in a real surprise both big men were eliminated in fairly swift fashion, suddenly changing the whole complexion of the match and allowing newcomer, NXT wrestler and Sanity team member, Killian Dain, to put in a great showing.

Along with Dain, Dolph Ziggler had some highlight moments of barely staying in the match but in the end it came down to the improbable trio of Dain, Jinder Mahal and Mojo Rawley.

With Dain incapacitated briefly Mojo and Mahal headed out of the ring and Jinder got in a war of words with American footballer and ‘friend of Mojo’, Rob Gronkowski.

Back in the ring Gronkowski attacked Mahal and Dain allowing Mojo to get the very surprising win.

While the ending was odd and Rawley would have been far from my first choice of winner, it was good to see it at least went to an up and coming talent. Otherwise though the match was largely forgettable and messy, but that is often the nature of a battle royal and why they rarely live up to the hype.

WWE Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose (c) vs Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin and Dean Ambrose

Ambrose delivers a flying elbow to Corbin

As this match was announced my first thought was ‘why is this on the kick off show’, but I guess there is an argument that it would be a good higher mid-level match to encourage more viewers on to the main show. Also it seems to have been swapped with the Smackdown Women’s Championship match following protest from fans.

Anyway onto the match itself and not the surrounding circumstance.

Ambrose and Corbin have built up an enjoyable and physical rivalry in recent months and continued it right away here with a quick and strong start from both before Ambrose was sent ribs first into the ring post giving Corbin the upper hand and slowing the pace to his more deliberate style.

JBL’s commentary did its best to help tell the story of two unpredictable wrestlers facing off but both performers felt a little off pace with each other making it all fall a little flat.

As the match went on it picked up a little and the closing spot of Corbin’s End of Days being reversed into Ambrose’s Dirty Deeds DDT looked nice but was a little bit too little too late giving Ambrose the win in a disappointingly average affair.

WrestleMania 33

The New Day

The New Day

After the standard rendition of America The Beautiful (actually a decent performance this year) and the intro video (along with the first crowd sign of the show saying ‘We hate Roman’) this year’s hosts, The New Day, made their way down the enormous ramp.

As ever the trio were so ridiculous it was just pure entertainment, and they didn’t shy away from hinting at Xavier Wood’s recent unfortunate indiscretion in their own sly way.

Certainly The New Day were the best hosts I can remember for WrestleMania as they were never over indulgent and the segments were kept tight and brief – unlike The Rock last year which still irks.

AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon

Given the fairly hasty set up for the match it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise this was so early on the card, but considering the year Styles has had, I did expect him to be further up the bill, but then it is a stacked line up.

It was clear before both men were even in the ring that the prescribed heel/face dynamic had been switched with AJ clearly being the crowd’s favourite.

AJ Styles and Shane McMahon

Styles attempts to go Coast To Coast

The match started out with some nice psychology with Styles looking to keep it a wrestling match and both men putting in a good, if slightly basic, show of it before things broke down in to more standard fare.

Throughout it was clear that Styles was carrying McMachon through a lot of the match and a great spot highlighted this as AJ went for a springboard 450 splash which Shane countered into a triangle choke before AJ turned it into a modified Styles Clash. All Shane really had to do for this was lie the right way and tuck his head at the right time, but it still looked great.

Following the referee taking a rogue kick to the head, it became a more standard McMahon match with trash cans coming into play and some nice work around the always impressive Coast to Coast from both men before Styles got the win after a second attempt at The Phenomenal Forearm connected.

As always Shane showed himself to have a daredevil streak like few others and both men did their best to try to tell a story, though in the end it all became a little too spot to spot for my liking. With McMahon not the well conditioned athlete he was made out to me kudos must go to Styles for making it all look so good, but this left it a little flatter than expected, especially without a truly death-defying spot from Shane like his Hell In The Cell dive last year.

WWE United States Championship
Chris Jericho (c) vs Kevin Owens

Given the six month build up to this and the fact it features two of the best all rounders in WWE today there was every chance this contest for the United States Championship could steal the show and, as a straight wrestling match, it probably did.

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho

Jericho with a flying elbow on Owens

Following an excellent hype video Owens hit the ring in full heel, prizefighter mode while Jericho, complete with flashing LED laced scarf was doing a more face version of what he’s been doing for the best part of a year.

Starting off with a brawl it felt like a real feud with both men giving their all to come out on top. Jericho gained the early advantage but it was back and forth throughout with an early highlight being a Cannonball on the apron into the ring post from Owens to Jericho.

As always Owens trash talking was loud and on point building the story and character and Jericho did his fair share of that too.

As the match went on the pair countered each other’s high-flying moves in a great sequence that built the idea of how well they know each other, before some innovative versions of their signature moves and holds were traded including a true highlight of the night moment where Owens escaped a loss by getting just a finger onto the bottom rope.

The end came following Owens trademark powerbomb into the ring apron rounding off a match that was tough, hard-hitting, entertaining and told a story that made sense. Certainly on most shows this would have been the night’s highlight, but this is WrestleMania….

WWE Raw Women’s Championship
Bayley (c) vs Nia Jax vs Sasha Banks vs Charlotte Flair

After the ‘evolution’ of WWE’s women’s division at last year’s WrestleMania things have continued to develop with the women’s championships on both Raw and Smackdown becoming more credible than anytime in the last two decades.

Triple powerbomb to Nia Jax

Triple powerbomb to Nia Jax

With this in mind a lot hinged on this match pitting the top four female performers from Raw against one another in an elimination style contest, something the WWE finally seem to have realised is a more dramatic way of doing a multi-person contest than a single fall to a finish.

The champion, Bayley, was first out and, just to highlight how much more store is being set in this division she had a scaled up version of her usual entrance complete with fireworks, while the three other women all had suitable added extras too.

Being out first, though unconventional for the champion, allowed the story to begin well before the bell as Bayley played her young, slightly naive character to perfection looking increasingly concerned as her generally more imposing challengers made their way to the ring.

The match itself began with Nia Jax in dominating form, using her size to out power all three other competitors in a way that, more than ever, established her monstrous character.

This is a totally new story for a women’s match in WWE and was well told with some nice spots from all involved culminating in a pair of triple team attacks to Jax, including a nasty looking back suplex/big boot combination and triple powerbomb, that saw her eliminated first but elevated her character.

Following a spectacular twisting moonsalut from the top rope to the floor by Flair, the second part of the match settled down to the revival of the feud between her and Sasha Banks.

Bayley and Charlotte Flair

Bayley fights out of the Figure 8

It was good to see The Boss apparently back to 100% after six months plagued by niggling injuries and her and Charlotte put on a good show until Sasha’s head connected with a partially exposed turnbuckle bolt to give Charlotte the pin.

The ultimate fan, Bayley, against the regal and entitled Flair is the stuff of wrestling story perfection and, having feuded for most of the year now, this was the perfect pairing to round off this match.

As usual the contest was focussed around Flair attacking Bayley’s leg to set up her Figure 8 Leg Lock but it was Bayley who got the win after a slightly sloppy tree of woe spot saw Flair hit the turnbuckle she used against Banks, allowing Bayley to hit a Randy Savage style Atomic Elbow Drop to retain her title.

While it was a little lose in places and felt somewhat short, all four women gave it their all and some nice new work came to the fore from all of them. Bayley winning felt like the right way to make it a genuinely celebratory affair and Charlotte’s loss should play into the further development of this storyline in a new direction.

WWE Hall of Fame recap

The Friday night before WrestleMania saw the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony take place and, as something of a break in the action, the new inductees were introduced to the crowd. For once it was hard to argue with the deserving nests of all of them with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Beth Phoenix, Diamond Dallas Page and, of course, Kurt Angle amongst them. And it was great hearing the crowd chant ‘you suck’ at Angle once again as we got a truly mind-blowing shot of the 75,000 strong throng over Kurt’s shoulder from the stage.

WWE Raw Tag Team Championships
Ladder Match
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (c) vs Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs Sheamus and Cesaro

The Hardy Boyz

The Hardy Boyz

With all three competing teams in the ring and ready to go The New Day’s music hit and the trio came onto the stage looking ready to join the action, but they were actually there to introduce a surprise fourth team – the returning duo of Matt and Jeff, The Hardy Boyz!

Having been out of WWE the best part of the decade, and having made a new reputation for themselves in TNA and Ring of Honour, the brothers from North Carolina were greeted by one of the biggest responses of the night with plenty of Matt’s trademark ‘DELETE!’ chants leading to the night’s first real moments as even watching from the other side of the world I got chills.

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (c) vs Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs Sheamus and Cesaro vs The Hardy Boyz

As expected the match began with chaos and rarely settled down, but it was the Hardyz who got the first advantage with a flurry of their signature spots as the crowd continued to chant for Broken Matt and Brother Nero (and there was indeed the feeling that they ‘knew you’d come’).

Sheamus, Cesaro and Big Cass

Sheamus, Cesaro and Big Cass

As a match like this always will be it was a non-stop spot-fest, and a hugely enjoyable one with all four teams having their moments and getting close to claiming the belts but, in the end, it came down to Jeffrey Nero Hardy hitting a death-defying Swanton Bomb from the top of the top of a genuinely 20ft tall ladder while Matt unhooked the belts.

Given the fact the Hardyz only lost the Ring of Honour tag team titles the previous night to The Young Bucks in another ladder match, this was truly a historic moment in wrestling – there’s not been something that felt like this at WrestleMania in a long time.

John Cena & Nikki Bella vs The Miz & Maryse

With Miz on the hottest streak of his career as one of WWE’s most genuinely hatable heels we love to hate, and Cena the ever-present guy we hate to love, this match had an interesting dynamic.

The Miz and John Cena

Miz hits Cena with a kick

Miz continued his amazing heel work to such a degree that he got genuine ‘Miz is Awesome’ chants from the crowd and played up to it brilliantly, while unfortunately, Jerry Lawler sitting in on commentary was awful.

The match itself was more about the entertainment side than the wrestling and it was short, likely to cover Maryse’s limitations and Nikki’s potential ongoing neck injury, and the outcome of Cena and Nikki getting the win with their simultaneous finishers was entirely expected.

After the match Cena picked up a mic and, rounding off what feels like it’s been both a TV storyline and real life one, proposed to Nikki Bella.

While the audience in the stadium seemed less than impressed by this to me it brought to mind the Macho Man and Elizabeth story from the late 80s and, while it didn’t connect with me, it’s all part of the big entertainment tapestry that has always made up WrestleMania.

Unsanctioned Match
‘The King of Kings’ Triple H vs ‘The Kingslayer’ Seth Rollins

Following an excellent hype video, accompanied by a less than excellent song from Metallica’s Hardwired… To Self Destruct, Triple H headed to the ring in his usual over the top fashion for WrestleMania – this year on a huge motor-trike accompanied buy a fleet of police motorbikes.

Triple H

Triple H makes his way to the ring

To try to match this Rollins came out, playing up his new Kingslayer moniker, in gold attire mimicking the Jamie Lannister and the King’s Guard in Game of Thrones and with a flaming torch which he used to illuminate the massive ramp in a spot that was probably better on paper than in practice.

The match itself was based around the injury to Seth’s knee which has been the basis of the whole build, but none the less it kicked off with a suitable pace and level of aggression for an intense feud and the pair soon spilled to the floor.

The pace slowed down when Triple H hit a DDT to Seth on the announcers’ table before attacking his knee with a chair and going into methodical hold mode.

Keeping the knee story going Rollins tried to hit some of his signature spots but his knee gave way before he managed to pull out a Buckle Bomb.

Seth Rollins and Triple H

Triple H attacks Rollins with a chair

Things went back and forth with Seth surviving a spinebuster and having his knee stomped on with a chair to hit a Superplex/Falcon Arrow combination as the match properly reached its peak and there was a feeling this was a real career making moment for Seth.

With a sledgehammer in play there was more back and forth with Seth surviving a Pedigree and hitting a Phoenix Splash before the end came as Triple H accidentally sent Stephanie McMahon through a table and Rollins hit his Pedigree to slay the King of Kings.

In all, this was a great match that rounded off a story that’s been going on for several years, mixing the best of what the two men do while still sticking to the legitimate knee injury angle. As I said earlier this felt custom-made to confirm Seth in that rare group at the top of the company for a long time to come.

As something of a break following the first ‘main event’ type match we got the obligatory performance by Flo Rida and his comrades, as ever I really didn’t pay much attention to this taking the opportunity for a break as we were now three hours into the show.

WWE Chanpionship
Bray Wyatt (c) vs Randy Orton

With 75,000 people in the stadium Wyatt’s sea of fireflies was a genuinely spectacular sight as the champion made his way to the ring. Orton on the other hand seemed back to his bland and ill-fitting face persona from a couple of years ago that has never really worked for me.

Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton

Wyatt stalks Orton

While the match started off with a good intensity for this twisted rivalry, it soon became more about Wyatt’s mystical mind games which didn’t quite ring true in context, though projecting writhing maggots, cockroaches and such on the canvas did make for a cool visual.

After that it became a game of who can hit their finisher properly first with Bray winning that but only getting a two count as the match struggled on in second gear.

The end came with an RKO ‘out of nowhere’ in disappointingly predictable fashion, giving Orton the world title and stalling what felt like a promising storyline before it really even got going. For the most part I didn’t have any gripes with the booking of this show but this was an exception and it seems the live crowd agreed – but we’ll see where it goes from here…

WWE Universal championship
Goldberg (c) vs Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman)

With Goldberg having become champion following less than 10 minutes (and that’s being generous) of ring time the crowd were far from on side with the returning ‘hero’ going into this contest.

Goldberg and Brock Lesnar

Lesnar stands over the fallen Goldberg

Again this was far from a lengthy contest, but compared to their last one on one match it was epic and it certainly outshone their controversial bout at WrestleMania 20. 

Keeping it short meant it was all high impact with more than 10 German suplexes, numerous Spears (including one through the barricade) a Jackhammer and, finally, an F5 giving Lesnar the win and the Universal Championship.

While Goldberg took more big impacts than I expected it was otherwise what I would have predicted and was reasonably satisfying for that.

While I’m still not a fan of the belt being on a part-time performer this kind of contest is what these guys are built to do, but the moment of the match went to Corey Graves on commentary for his line ‘Superman was forced to kneel before Zod!’

Smackdown Women’s Championship
Six-Pack Challenge Match
Alexa Bliss (c) vs Becky Lynch vs Mickie James vs Carmella (with James Ellsworth) vs Natalya vs Naomi 

Following the very good, if slightly short, Raw women’s match it was hard to escape the fact that, on paper, this looked a little like a throw back to the Divas days, with all available female performers thrown together between two of the top main events.

Naomi flies over the top rope

Naomi flies over the top rope

While it certainly had hints of that it was also clear that all of these women were giving it their all. While the sheer number of moving parts involved meant a few moments were a little sloppy it was still enjoyable with Becky Lynch getting a good showing and Alexa Bliss continuing to prove why she’s become one of the most valuable performers on the Smackdown roster.

The end came with a nice roll up counter into a submission from Naomi on Bliss giving the hometown girl the win and her second Smackdown Women’s Championship.

As a whole the match was enjoyable but felt a little too much like a break and palette cleanser between main events despite the efforts of the performers.

Continuing the respite before the final match The New Day were back to announce the official attendance, a venue record of 75,245 (though I’m always dubious of WWE’s announced attendances giving the overblown figures quoted in the past).

As a whole New Day were the best hosts I remember for WrestleMania and the setting was one of the best too with the outdoor Citrus Bowl feeling bigger and grander than last year’s 100,000 seater stadium in Dallas.

No Holds Barred Match
The Undertaker vs Roman Reigns

Following a genuinely excellent hype video, and with Jim Ross joining Michael Cole and John Bradshaw Layfield at the commentary table, the scene was set for a match with a lot riding on it.

Roman Reigns and The Undertaker

Undertaker delivers punches to Reigns

There’s a lot of baggage here, not only around the fact that this was going on last, but also Roman Reigns and how his position over the last few years has been the cause of constant debate. While I’m not his biggest fan, given what’s going on here I’m going to do my best to remain neutral and give the ‘Big Dog’ his due as a much improved performer as he faces off against a genuine legend.

Of course Roman was greeted by a huge negative reaction from this die-hard crowd, while Undertaker’s impressive but not overdone arrival was the thing great WrestleMania moments are made of, and hearing JR’s voice over the top just made it exactly what it should be (he remains the voice of pro-wrestling for me).

As expected things started as a brawl with Taker getting the upper hand and quickly throwing Reigns from the ring with a shout of ‘it’s still my yard’. This went back and forth, in and out of the ring, before the big spots came into play with Roman taking a chokeslam on one table before recovering to spear the Deadman through another.

The Undertaker legdrops Roman Reigns

The Undertaker legdrops Roman Reigns

Of course this was Undertaker’s moment to sit up, Michael Myers like, and the match kicked up a gear into a stiff affair before The Last Ride was delivered but only lead to a two count.

A steel chair them came into play with Roman taking the first stiff shots to his back before escaping a pair of chokeslams by rolling out of the ring.

Back in the ring Roman hit a pair of Superman Punches but a third was countered into a chokeslam on a chair following by a Tombstone Piledriver for a near fall and a great shocked reaction from the Undertaker.

At this point it was clear, even more so than before, which way this match was going and the crowd were clearly not happy, finding the energy for many boos and ‘bullshit’ chants nearly seven hours into the event.

Tombstone to Roman Reigns

Tombstone to Reigns

More Superman Punches were followed by a spear but Taker managed to briefly lock in his Hell’s Gate gogoplata submission before Roman again got the advantage and used the chair on the Deadman.

After some stiff sounding shots to the back Reigns implored the Undertaker to stay down before getting another close fall from a spear. 

With Taker unable to sit up but struggling to his feet Reigns connected with a final ‘super spear’ after several rebounds off the ropes to deliver the Undertaker only his second loss out of 25 matches at WrestleMania.

At this point I wasn’t sure if I was shocked, exhausted, disappointed or a mixture of all of these things as Roman left the ring with the Undertaker lying in the centre and we cut to the highlights.

Back from the replays and the Deadman was back on his feet in his trench coat and hat.

The Undertaker

The Undertaker

After taking his time to soak in his surroundings he unfastened his gloves, removed his coat and finally laid down his hat in the middle of the ring in a bright spotlight amongst the purple tinged darkness.

This moment was the real emotional climaxes here as the Undertaker, the last link to the WWE’s Hulkamania era and one who has stood tall since then, passed into history, leaving Mark Callaway to finally head back up the ramp, after acknowledging his family at ringside for the first time, closing not only WrestleMania 33 but a genuine era in wrestling history.

While the match itself was far from either performers best, the no holds barred stipulation allowed them the freedom to successfully tell their old dog vs new dog story.

While the loss didn’t have the shock factor of the Lesnar loss at WrestleMania 30 it still felt enough like a moment. Of course what came after the match is something else and really felt like a full stop on what has been a career genuinely like no other.

Undertaker's gear in the ring

Undertaker’s gear in the ring

As a whole Wrestlemania 33 was a step up on the previous year and a very good, if again over long, show.

With no big name non-wrestling nostalgia acts it felt fresher and even the Lesnar/Goldberg match and Undertaker spectacle worked in context of a show largely championing the current roster even if the ending was rather bittersweet and it felt like the last big hero was finally gone.

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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.

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NXT TakeOver: Dallas

NXT Takeover Dallas logoSince I last looked at an NXT event here, TakeOver: Fatal Fourway, the brand has developed beyond any reasonable expectation to, in a way, rival the main WWE brand by bringing a fresh, modern take on pro-wrestling to a more mainstream platform (and I speak as someone who really only closely follows the mainstream in this regard).

So, on Friday 1st April 2016, NXT reached a new height as it opened WrestleMania weekend and set the bar for what was to follow very high.

The show started off with a package that, once again, drew parallels between the past and today. It highlighted some of the most famous wrestlers to come out of Texas, from The Fabulous Freebirds and the Von Erichs to Stone Cold Steve Austin and JBL and then hyped what we were about to see which, on paper and in the minds of many dedicated fans, is the best show WWE has put on in a long time and surpasses even the WrestleMania to come.

NXT TakeOver Dallas arena

View of the NXT Dallas arena from ‘the crowsnest’

Cutting into the arena we were greeted by the now standard NXT announce team of Tom Phillips and Corey Graves. Graves has grown from an awkward former wrestler to a great heel colour commentator and, while his relationship with the straight play-by-play man Phillips is far from perfect, it is growing and both men did a fine job across the show.

The arena was set up, like all NXT shows in larger arenas so far, with a lower level screen and set that allows the character of the arena to come through. For my money this is far superior to the now all but identical sets we see over and over again on the main WWE shows.

Without much ado as soon as we cut to the arena the theme music for American Alpha hit leading into the opening match…

NXT Tag Team Championship
The Revival: Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder (c) vs. American Alpha: Jason Jordan & Chad Gable

Double German Suplex

Double German Suplex to The Revival

Looking every bit the new Team Angle (for those who remember the glory days of Kurt Angle) Jason Jordan and Chad Gable were greeted like heroes by the Dallas crowd while their opponents, aping the likes of The Brainbusters, got a more subdued but suitably negative welcome.

Early on it was clear this match wasn’t going to follow the standard path of seemingly all WWE tag team matches these days as it was genuinely back and forth between the two teams. In this both had their moments but, while Dash & Dawson are impressive both in moves and character their style, harking back to the past, is less flashy so what stuck with me really in this segment was the work of Jordan & Gable.

Gable, as always, broke out some excellent ‘amateur’ style moves before a fantastic set of double team moves including a double dropkick, double German suplex spot that was a highlight.

The Revival did eventually get the upper hand and, despite a couple of blown spots, worked things well. Even these blown moments were quickly forgotten and glossed over thanks to great work from both teams, though a ‘Botchamania’ chant from the crowd was a special moment.

American Alpha

American Alpha

As the match neared its conclusion we were treated to series of genuinely hot back and forth near falls, but it was some excellent smooth action from American Alpha that led to their finishing combo-suplex giving us new, and very popular, NXT Tag Team Champions to kick of the show on a high.

Despite losing The Revival very much came into their own here as well, finally starting to fulfill on the hype surrounding their ‘throwback’ style.

As the teams left the ring we got a shot of non-WWE/NXT Japanese performer Ibushi in the audience which got a big pop from the crowd and was the first of several appearances hinting at possible things to come.

Baron Corbin vs Austin Aries

Aries flies at Corbin

Aries flies at Corbin

While Corbin’s entrance was largely un-memorable (save for a Mad Max-esque twist on his usual vest) the arrival of Austin Aries, the first of two major debuts, got a huge reaction. Once the match began though there seemed to be a genuine mix of chants for both men in the opening moments.

Very much built around the size difference between the two men, Corbin played the hard-hitting monster heel while Aries had the more interesting and varied offence though his style and hype didn’t really fit the underdog role that seemed to be needed.

This gave the whole match a slightly off-balance feel to it, like many of Corbin’s have had in the past, as his inexperience and what seems to be a limited move set, means all opponents have to work within that. Despite this Aries did his best and got a few nice moves in, including a great looking low suicide dive clothesline, but from either side little has stuck in my memory even six hours on.

Austin Aries

A victorious Austin Aries

The closing spot of the match was a nice one as Aries reversed Corbin’s End of Days ’finisher’ into a roll up, but I couldn’t help coming away from this one thinking it was somewhat hobbled before it even started.

Bringing in a new star like Aries he had to win, but with Corbin being built into a monster he had to stay strong in the eyes of fans, unfortunately this meant that whatever happened would end up somewhat disappointing and lackluster.

Thankfully this was the only match on this show to suffer from this problem while it could be argued that almost every match at WrestleMania could be faced with this.

From the end of that match, that certainly didn’t feel like the end of the feud between the two, but thankfully the sense of excitement suddenly skyrocketed as we saw a great video package hyping the first of three main events…

Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

Nakamura and Zayn

Nakamura hits a stiff knee on Zayn

After the video the one man confirmed to be pulling double duty this weekend, Sami Zayn’s, music hit and the crowd sang along like I don’t think I’ve ever heard. The man dubbed ‘The Heart and Soul of NXT’, was coming off an epic series with Samoa Joe and has staked his claim on the so-called ‘main’ WWE shows as part of the match for the Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania.

Here though part of the excitement could certainly be down to the anticipation for the man he was facing, the second big debut of the night.

As the lights went out a chant of ‘Nakamura’ began and an excellently pitched new piece of entrance music hit, heralding the arrival of the ‘King Of Strong Style’, former IWGP World and Intercontinental Champion, Shinsuke Nakamura.

As he made his way to ring, all his trademark poses and postures flew off the screen and as he let out his ‘Yeaoh!’ cry against the ring ropes I genuinely had goosebumps. A lot is made of Nakamura’s uncanny ‘charisma’ and I had been skeptical of how it would translate outside of the rather different confines of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. But, even before the match began it was clear that it was translating just fine, and even during the match, where he silenced the crowd with a gesture or taunted Zayn as only he can, it was clearly working just fine.

Zayn swan dives at Nakamura

Zayn swan dives at Nakamura

The match itself was as near to perfect as your ever likely to see with both men delivering at a top-level and Zayn in particular upping his game to match that of Nakamura. The contest was back and forth for 30 minutes with the crowd electric and engaged throughout, but it was an extended series of traded forearms, on paper a rather basic moment, that elevated it to a new high.

As Nakamura’s ‘strong style’ approach took its toll Zayn sold it masterfully and gave as good as he got, but the match was booked to perfection with Sami hitting some signatures but, crucially, missing others, while Nakamura eventually hit several of his culminating in the renamed Bomaye knee strike (now seemingly called the Kinshasa) to pick up the win.

After the match Nakamura approached Zayn and the two men shook hands and embraced in a moment that signified, and truly felt like, the ‘passing of a torch’ as Sami heads up to the ‘big’ show and Nakamura comes into NXT.

Nakamura and Zayn

Respect between Nakamura and Zayn

In the end I can’t find the words to quite describe how good this match was so I would advise anyone with even a passing interest to give it a watch as it is clearly going to be a candidate for match of the year, not just in NXT but in all of pro-wrestling, taking Nakamura up to two on that list already, following his clash with AJ Styles at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom back in January.

With very little time to recover another excellent video package cut in to hype the following…

NXT Women’s Championship
Bayley (c) vs. Asuka

Asuka and Bayley

Asuka with an armbar on Bayley

No one could envy Bayley and Asuka having to follow Zayn and Nakamura but the women put on a great show from their arrival in the arena, with a new mask and robe for Asuka’s mysterious entrance, to the upbeat positivity of Bayley.

While Bayley has been involved in some of the best women’s matches in recent memory (if ever), for her NXT career so far Asuka has predominantly squashed opponents in relatively short and repetitious order.

From the off this match had a legitimate and scrappy feel between the two fan favourites (though undeniably Bayley was the stronger ‘face’ of the two). In this both women showed a greater range than previously with Bayley really showing a new side to her game to match Asuka’s style. In many ways this was reminiscent of what Sami Zayn had done in the previous match with Nakamura and there are several parallels that can be drawn between the two.

As the pair traded holds and strikes it came down to Asuka’s self named hold (a version of the crossface chicken wing) that after much fighting finally ended Bayley’s reign as champion. In a well judged piece of booking though Bayley didn’t tap out to the hold, instead ‘passing out’ to its sleeper like properties, maintaining her reputation as a ‘never give up’ style hero.

Asuka is NXT Women's Champion

Asuka is NXT Women’s Champion

With the so-called Diva’s Revolution seemingly back in full swing Asuka taking on the mantel of champion offers a potential new freshness to the NXT women’s division, but I can’t help but think a rematch to this will be coming up in the not too distant future.

Before the promo video for the NXT Championship match begins we get a shot of another non-WWE/NXT wrestler in the crowd, former TNA star Bobby Roode who is currently a ‘free agent’ and rumour has suggested might be coming to NXT – unsurprisingly, this was greeted with great enthusiasm from the crowd.

NXT Championship
Finn Balor (c) vs. Samoa Joe

Finn Balor attacks Samoa Joe

Finn Balor attacks Samoa Joe

Having already fought for the title at Takeover: London in December, since then Samoa Joe has grown into even more of a monster heel through a great series of matches to determine the number one contender against Sami Zayn (and Baron Corbin) while Finn Balor has continued to develop his character as a hard fighting good guy and leader of his ‘Balor Club’ of fans.

Here though it was Balor in Demon mode who made his way to the ring referencing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to a great reaction and genuinely turning up the intensity of his character from the start.

Very early in the match Joe and Finn clashed heads, splitting open Joe’s eye in fairly spectacular fashion. This looked worryingly set to derail the main event as, given the WWE’s now PG rated content this needed to be cleaned up and the cut sealed as quickly as possible.

However, credit goes to both performers for working this into the match as much as possible and Joe really using it to feed the anger of his character while the crowd, in a somewhat disturbing (but suitable given the emotions going on) moment, chanted ‘Let them bleed!’.

Joe gets patched up

Joe gets patched up

While blood used to be a major part of wrestling main events it is far less predominant now, particular in WWE, for two reasons. First is the aforementioned PG rating, that can be debated until the cows come home, secondly, and to my mind far more reasonably, is the potential health issues blood injuries can lead to for everyone involved. I would however be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I think a bit of ‘colour’ can really add something to a big match like this, and it sure did here.

Again the match was back and forth with the crowd invested throughout and the two showed why they were headlining with every signature being hit (with the exception of Finn’s 1916/Bloody Sunday DDT) and a great story being told across the bout that further elevated both men’s characters to new heights.

Much like the Wembley match from December this ended with Balor retaining the belt but in less than dominating fashion. While this may be the end of their feud for now (its been going on for the best part of the last six months) it made both men look great and cemented Samoa Joe as a monster heel in WWE circles that can wrestle and fight like few others.

Finn Balor retains the NXT Championship

Finn Balor retains the NXT Championship

While Shinsuke Nakamura and Sami Zayn certainly was the show’s centerpiece and highlight, it would be hard to argue with the overall quality of the whole show (with the arguable exception of Corbin/Aries).

This has set WrestleMania weekend off on a real high point that I think will please the dedicated fans more than the big show itself, though of course the product of both is vastly different, but no matter how you look at it, I’d be very surprised if anything this weekend comes close to Zayn and Nakamura.

YEAOH!

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