Tag Archives: Hideo Itami

NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III – Barclays Centre – 19/08/17

NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III logoOver the last two years WWE’s developmental brand NXT has made its big summer show, so far always held at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, into their annual focal point.

This seems to have been fairly organic, by WWE standards, with the first event headlined by the genre defining match between Bayley and Sasha Banks for the NXT Women’s Championship and acting as the confirming launch pad for the WWE careers of both Kevin Owens and Finn Balor with their main eventing NXT Championship ladder match.

Two years later and NXT is firmly into what could be classed its third wave and, so far, they’ve had an arguably bumpy ride. While there have been some great high moments there has yet to be a whole show that has stood out like some of the earlier TakeOver event.

On paper, while I was quietly optimistic, NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III looked like it might have its work cut out standing up to some of the past events in the way that was really needed to cement the new set of upcoming superstars.

With the main WWE stage in place this instantly felt like a bigger show with the 14,000 (approx) crowd clearly up for a lively show things kicked off with metal band Code Orange playing live in the arena with one of the edgiest feeling opening videos, intercut with the live band, in a long time before the announce team of Mauro Ronallo, Nigel McGuinnes and Percy Watson welcomed us to the show.

Johnny Gargano vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas w/ Zelina Vega

Almas and Gargano

Almas locked in the Gargano Escape

While Johnny Gargano was greeted by huge chants of ‘Johnny Wrestling’ it was hard to escape the feeling that, despite the great fan reaction, this match felt a little thrown together as the pair haven’t had a huge amount of interaction until the last couple of NXT TV shows.

Really most were expecting this be Gargano squaring up against his former tag partner Thomasso Ciampa before the latter was injured a couple of months back.

Added to this the artist formerly known as La Sombra has had trouble finding his feet with a consistent character, though the recent addition of Vega as manager has begun to help Almas with that.

From the opening bell though it was clear there was nothing to worry about as the pair went at it with fast paced chain wrestling, which showed why Gargano has picked up the Johnny Wrestling nickname, while Almas showed more of his side of things with a nice ‘Tranquilo’ pose during a head scissors (I just wish they’d capitalise a little more on the Los Ingobernables link in someway).

Almas and Gargano

Almas hits the running knees on Gargano

While the match was, largely, fast paced they kept a nice story going with Gargano in his traditional role of underdog babyface and Almas the cocky heel.

They threw in a couple of nice twists including Gargano countering Almas’ pose in the ropes with a superkick and getting on a role to hit a series of trademark moves including a tight slingshot DDT and the Lawn Dart.

A titl-a-whirl headscissor into the Gargano Escape crossface-armbar led to a sequence that got the crowd chanting ‘NXT’ for both men, but it was a distraction from Vega that allowed Almas to hit his hammerlock DDT and continue both men’s independent stories while acting as a great showcase for both and warming the crowd up excellently both in the arena and at home.

NXT Tag Team Championships
Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar) w/ Paul Ellering (c) vs Sanity (Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe) w/ Eric Young and Nikki Cross

Sanity and Authors of Pain

Wolfe flies at one of the Authors

This was another match where the set up had felt a little rushed and left the challenging team falling somewhere between face and heel, though the champs remained firmly the aggressors, meant again it was hard to know how this was going to work.

Once AOP rushed the ring and a pre-match brawl erupted though it was quickly clear this match was going to be as chaotic as can be.

While the brawl went back and forth it was the champions who came out on top at first and things settled down into the match with the Authors of Pain working on Alexander Wolfe on their side of the ring.

As expected Wolfe eventually reached his corner but, rather than tagging Dain, Eric Young tagged in and, as the big Ulsterman hadn’t yet been in the match officially the switch was allowed and things again went chaotic.

AOP again gained the upper hand, including a fearless Young taking a back drop into Dominator double attack, things again settled down before another hot tag to Wolfe after which the chaos returned and never let up.

With impressive suplexes on both champions Wolfe put in the best showing he has to date, before all four men ended up on the outside and even Nikki Cross got in on the action with a top rope dive before Dain drove one of the champions (and Cross) through a table, allowing Sanity to hit a double team attack and finally topple the previously invincible Authors.

reDRagon attack Wolfe

reDRagon attack Wolfe

As a whole the match told a great story through the chaos giving Sanity a win they much-needed to make them a legitimately powerful stable while maintaining the strength of Authors of Pain who only fell after all four members of Sanity got involved.

The real ongoing story though happened after the match as recently debuted pair of Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, aka former Ring of Honor tag team reDRagon attacked both teams leaving them all laying in a genuinely shock moment that feels like the beginning of something big to come.

Hideo Itami vs Aleister Black

Black and Itami

Black with a stiff knee on Itami

Following Itami’s natural feeling heel turn after his return from long-term injuries and matches for the NXT Championship, his feud with relative newcomer Aleister Black has had a fairly organic feel based around the fact everyone knows these two men are two of the best striking fighters in WWE today.

It’s nice to see Itami in what feels like a more natural heel role, while Black is still running on the energy of his debut, combined with the unique look and feel of his character and all this has combined to make this bout simply about who is the better and more honourable fighter.

With that in mind the pair wasted no time going straight to the stiff kicks that are their trademarks and as guest commentator JR pointed out this match is all about who can kick their opponent their hardest.

The combination of a Japanese and Dutch fighter squaring off really adds to WWE’s recently developed international feel (continued throughout the weekend with Sanity earlier and of course Nakamura vs Mahal at SummerSlam) which is something that often felt missing from a company with ‘World’ in their name in the past.

Back to the match and with Black’s nose busted early on it had a real fight feel that grew as Itami settled into the heelish antagonist role and more pro-wrestling than striking for the middle section – before the big moves came into play.

Black Mass

Itami feels the Black Mass

Highlights came with Itami’s tornado neck snap and flying clothesline spot, a top rope Falcon Arrow and a Falcon Arrow in the ring before Itami went for his GTS fireman carry knee strike.

After Black’s escape an angered Itami got distracted by the crowd giving Black the chance to hit his Black Mass heel kick, which is one of the most devastating looking strikes in WWE, for the hard-fought win.

While Black got the duke both men came out of this looking great with Itami’s angry heel character developing nicely in a way that solidifies him in the roster in a way he has struggled to find for the last two years, while confirming Black in the NXT top flight.

NXT Women’s Championship
Asuka (c) vs Ember Moon

Asuka and Ember Moon

Moon hits a step up Enzugiri on Asuka

With a longer build than usual thanks to a shoulder injury suffered by Moon, combined with Asuka’s 504 day title reign (and even longer undefeated streak) this match probably felt like the one with the most story going into it with a real sense of importance.

With a quick start from Moon this feeling was brought into the match and stayed throughout as Ember got the early advantage before Asuka took control on the floor with a hammer lock suplex on the ramp.

That move alone shows how far women’s wrestling has come in WWE in the last couple of years as we head toward the screening of the Mae Young Classic tournament in coming weeks.

The mid section of the match saw Asuka focus on Moon’s previously injured shoulder in brilliantly effective fashion that even got a Minoru Suzuki comparison from McGuinnes (I know I’m a sucker for references to wrestlers outside the WWE universe).

This led to a great sequence based around the Asuka Lock that drew duelling chants from the crowd despite the now clearly defined heel/face dynamic.

With Moon hitting the Eclipse top rope twisting stunner it felt it could all be over but, thanks to the injured shoulder, Asuka fought free and again the ref came into play as had happened in their past match back in Orlando.

Asuka and Ember Moon

Moon dives over the referee onto Asuka

Unlike that match though, Moon survived this to hit a superkick that again looked set to defeat the Empress of Tomorrow but didn’t getting a huge reaction from the crowd.

Another nice sequence of submissions led to an extended Asuka Lock that eventually led to the tap out from Moon and, while I thought this might be the night, once again raises the question, who can beat Asuka?

After the match Moon received a standing ovation and ‘thank you’ chants as the pair delivered one of the best women’s matches since that Bayley/Banks bout two years ago and provided one of the true highlights of a show packed with great moments, though I’m once again left unsure where the NXT Womens’ Division goes from here.

NXT Championship
Bobby Roode (c) vs Drew McIntyre

Throughout the show various past NXT performers had made appearances in what seemed to be an attempt to give the event more of a special feel that, as i referenced earlier, it had developed of its own accord and leading into this match we saw Kevin Owens in the crowd. While I get the point of these they always feel a little false and unneeded when what’s happening in the ring is what really matters in NXT and is as on point as it was here.

Anyway onto the main event.

Roode and McIntyre

McIntyre with a clothesline on Roode

With a story that while only short harks back to the challenger’s past time in WWE as ‘the chosen one’ along with Roode’s ever present arrogant, Glorious, persona it had all the makings for something great.

This was only added to as McIntyre made his entrance to a live ‘pipes and drums’ accompaniment.

The match itself was a more traditional WWE main event style affair than the evening’s earlier bouts but, with Roode so good at playing the kind of arrogant heel that Ric Flair made his name with and McIntyre being such an imposing force, it was instantly engrossing as power stood up to psychology.

A deadlift release suplex gave McIntyre the momentum for a time before a pair of neck breakers switched it back to Roode and the two men went back and forth throughout before a Future Shock DDT led to the match’s first legitimate feeling near fall.

Drew McIntyre

Drew McIntyre wins the NXT Championship

This was followed by a Claymore from McIntyre that left Roode too near the ropes for the win. The Claymore has been an interesting move for McIntyre but here for the first time felt like a legitimate winning strike, possibly down to Roode’s selling but also, I suspect, given the higher stakes of the match.

After a moment entirely out of character for a perfomer of his size as McIntyre delivered a Tope Con Hilo to the floor, Roode took the advantage back with a spinebuster and Glorious DDT for a near fall.

McIntyre survived a second of the implant style DDTs and escaped a third to hit a second equally impressive Claymore kick to secure his first NXT Championship in fine style that would have made for a great ending to the show, but…

Adam Cole attacks McIntyre

Adam Cole attacks McIntyre

With speculation running rampant about a big new signing to NXT there was hope he might appear and, as reDRagon made their second appearance of the night distracting the new champ, now was the moment for former ROH World Champion Adam Cole to attack.

He delivered a devastating superkick, laying out the new champ in an echo of his firing from the Bullet Club, and ending the show with Cole and his new team mates standing strong and setting a whole new set of wheels in motion that I can’t wait to see turn.

As a whole NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III did exactly what it needed to do solidifying the new crop of performers as genuinely players in the WWE Universe with one of the strongest shows NXT have put on in sometime, probably since last November’s TakeOver in Toronto and once again setting the bar high for SummerSlam.

Photos from wwe.com

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WrestleMania 31 – 29/03/15

Westlemania 31 poster31 years since the birth of Hulkamania WWE brought its ‘Showcase of the Immortals’ to San Jose, California for one of the most hyped WrestleManias of all time.

Clocking in at 6 hours, including the two pre-show segments, it was also the longest WrestleMania to date and the first to be almost entirely reliant on the existence of the WWE Network and in this, and other respects, it seemed to be the beginning of a new chapter in the history of WWE and mainstream pro-wrestling – following last year’s subsequently somewhat stalled attempt at the same.

Pre-show

The first hour of the pre-show was essentially the standard warm-up fare with hype packages for the big matches and few backstage segments. The only real thing of note was the nicely played cameo of Vince McMahon’s old pair of stooges, Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, as they had a brief run in with J&J Security, their current equivalents who stand alongside Seth Rollins.

Also the appearance of Lana with Rusev continued their storyline nicely leading into the match later with John Cena and the video package for Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt, using Johnny Cash’s When The Man Comes Around, showed what WWE can do with hyping matches when they are at their best.

The second hour of the pre-show is where things really began as it moved from the free format of YouTube and onto the WWE Network (that’s $9.99 a month, as they have been drilling into us for the last year!) and we got a couple of matches along with some more hype and some #AskLita segments which, while it’s always good to see Lita back on-screen, were a bit pointless.

Tag Team Championships: Tyson Kidd and Cesaro (w/ Natalya) (c) vs The Usos (w/Naomi) vs The New Day (w/Xavier Woods) vs El Matadores (w/ El Torito)

Cesaro takes a superkick

Cesaro takes a superkick

With the doors having only been open for an hour the near 80,000 strong crowd were still making their way in as the teams made their way out with slightly truncated entrances, but it wasn’t long before the audience really got into this.

An injury to one of the Usos was well covered as Cesaro threw him into the barricade and he was helped out leaving his brother to go it alone, but, with the amount of people already around the ring, this really didn’t matter.

The crowd really got into it with chants for the Swiss Superman and some great clap along ‘New Day Sucks’ chants as Woods tried to get a positive chant going for his team.

The match flew from spot to spot excellently with only one or two minor loose moments and no major botches to speak of, which is always impressive for a spot fest like this.

With bodies flying over the ropes and all sorts of other spots it was a fun, psychology free, affair that warmed the crowd up a treat and ended on a great double-triple-top-rope superplex spot and showed that Cesaro and Kidd are by far the most over team on the main roster and really none of the other teams came across as potential contenders at all.

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Hideo Itami eliminates Bo Dallas

Hideo Itami eliminates Bo Dallas

After an initial big build up this match was dropped to the pre-show and, once it got going, it was obvious why.

Battle royals are always a challenging affair as, with so many people in the ring, the first three-quarters of the match are generally hard to follow and this was no different, though there were a few nice spots featuring Zack Ryder, Hideo Itami and others.

The crowd also seemed really into Itami which was great to hear and a bit of a theme for the whole show of just quite how over NXT has become in recent months.

Unfortunately most of those being cheered for were soon eliminated (Curtis Axel, Itami, Ryder and others) and it became an excuse for the bigger guys to show off despite the crowd clearly not being into them.

Sandow sends Miz over the top

Sandow sends Miz over the top

The exception was Ryback who got some good cheers, though I’ve yet to work out why, but even he didn’t seem over like the more ‘underdog’ performers and his elimination of The Ascension continued to prove that once on the main roster no one seems to know what to do with the NXT performers.

The match ended with some nice stuff between The Miz and Mizdow which will hopefully lead to a career making feud for the highly talented Sandow (Mizdow) but it was all ultimately won by Big Show in an inexplicably pointless bit of booking that saw an old, past it, out of shape, performer go over at the expense of future stars who could have been made here.

Main show

After a decent rendition of America The Beautiful which didn’t go on too much or feel too xenophobic (they were saving that for later) and an odd intro video featuring LL Cool J, for reasons I’ve yet to fathom, the main show kicked off with a bang as Daniel Bryan made his way to ring for the Intercontinental Ladder match.

Intercontinental Championship: Wade Barrett (c) vs Daniel Bryan vs Dolph Ziggler vs Dean Ambrose vs Luke Harper vs R-Truth vs Stardust

Ambrose take a dive

Ambrose take a dive

Much like the tag team title match this was clearly positioned as a high energy spot fest to get the crowd warmed up and kick off the show with something strong as the audience continued to file into the stadium.

It was clear the Ambrose, Bryan and Ziggler were the wrestlers the crowd cared about and, if I’m honest the presence of Truth, Stardust and even Harper was mostly window dressing.

All men hit some big spots over and around the ropes to the floor early on and it all look surprisingly, and thankfully, safe. As things went on Stardust pulled out a sparkly ladder and, in a nice new spot, Barret broke off one of the rungs and used it as a particularly stiff looking weapon.

Sick powerbomb on Ambrose

Sick powerbomb on Ambrose

Much like many multi-person ladder matches this one suffered from two things.

The first is that we have seen so many of these matches now the spots are often just retreads of what we’ve seen before and the other was something that would mar the whole show – that the commentary team seemed totally in over the heads to actually explain anything that was going on in an exciting and coherent way.

That said there was some nice stuff as Wade Barret hit a nice range of Bullhammer elbows, Dean Ambrose took a sick powerbomb through a ladder, that clearly had both the audience in the stadium and at home concerned, and the matches climax of Bryan and Ziggler slugging it out on top of the ladder was simple, stiff looking and effective and I hope sets up a future feud between the two.

Daniel Bryan

Daniel Bryan

Bryan winning the match felt very odd at the time, as did the outcome of other early matches on the card, but in context of the show as a whole, it seems like a good thing as it gives Bryan a (hopefully) solid position.

Having a slightly bigger star as champion should also help elevate the Intercontinental Championship a little more.

It may be wishful thinking but this state of affairs could easily see the belts put back into their rightful positions like they are in the current NXT setting.

Randy Orton vs Seth Rollins (w/ J&J Security)

Rollins hits Avada Kedavra on Orton

Rollins hits Avada Kedavra on Orton

After the IC title match we were straight into what felt, in the build up, like it should have been one of the top matches on the card as ‘The Face’ squared off against ‘The Future’.

Unfortunately I’ve always found Orton hard to take as a face, his general cocky nature, even here, and the whole ‘hearing voices that make him hurt people’ gimmick isn’t really a good guy thing so this felt like heel vs heel, but thankfully two heels who can both do different and engaging things.

As the match went on J&J Security got dealt with effectively by Orton and Rollins really put in the lion’s share of the big moments (as was to be expected) with suicide dives, Asai moonsaults and an attempted phoenix splash all being memorable ‘high spots’.

Orton prepares for an astonishing RKO

Orton prepares for an astonishing RKO

Story wise the match also went well with each man surviving the others finisher and it built to a great climax and one of the best reversals into an RKO I’ve ever seen leading to Orton picking up the win.

As Orton posed in victory this felt like another moment of the new stars being pushed down in favour of already established names, a counter intuitive thing to do, but this became less of an issue in this match thanks to what was to come.

In the end, while this was a good match it didn’t quite electrify like it seems it should have, though several moments, particularly that RKO, will go down as classic WrestleMania moments.

Triple H vs Sting

The build up to this match had felt like the build up to a story that began in early 2001 when WWE finally saw off its main competition WCW, and, as was hyped here, this was ‘the last remnant of WCW’ finally facing off with the man at the top of WWE, sort of.

Triple H and Sting prepare for battle

Triple H and Sting prepare for battle

We didn’t get to this though until after both men had come to the ring, first out was Sting, which felt a bit backwards. His troupe of Japanese drummers didn’t really make much sense and seeing the dark, Crow-style, character come out in daylight also felt wrong, so we were off to an odd start.

The crowd also seemed more intrigued and interested in him than genuinely excited, so he wasn’t greeted with as big a pop as I was expecting, but maybe we’re just 13 years too late – this is a feeling that would recur at the conclusion of the match.

After a baffling Terminator promo video Triple H emerged from the stage surrounded by an army of the cyborgs in his most ridiculous and least effective WrestleMania entrance yet. Obviously linked in with the previous night’s induction of Arnold Schwarzenegger into the WWE Hall of Fame, this whole sequence felt forced and again didn’t work in the broad daylight of a Californian afternoon.

Sting applies the Scorpion Death Lock

Sting applies the Scorpion Death Lock

Once Motorhead’s The Game kicked in though we were on more familiar ground and Triple H, as always, looked the part of a conquering barbarian king as he marched to the ring.

Once that was all done and the two men faced off in the ring things started well with the two going back and forth and Sting hitting a great dropkick and generally looking amazing for a man of 56 as “You’ve still got it” chants from the crowd backed this up.

This back and forth reached a quick crescendo as, after some outside brawling, Sting went for the Scorpion Death Lock submission hold and D-Generation X’s music hit.

Triple H hits the Pedigree

Triple H hits the Pedigree

The New Age Outlaws and X-Pac ran in and Sting fought them back but, as Triple H capitalised and went for the Pedigree the nWo theme kicked in and out came The Outsiders and Hulk Hogan, somewhat slower than their DX counterparts.

From here on in the match became a surreal mess as Shawn Michaels showed up too, just to cap things off, and Triple H picked up the win, while commentators JBL and Michael Cole buried WCW, a company that went out of business over a decade ago.

If you’ve read my review of WrestleMania X8 you’ll know my view on the nWo becoming obsolete by 2002 and here, what seemed geared to be a nostalgic moment, fell totally flat for me.

Sting connects with the Stinger Splash

Sting connects with the Stinger Splash

This was because we’ve seen all of these men (except Sting) in similar ‘nostalgia act’ situations so many times before and the link between Sting and the nWo is far from the tight relationsip between Triple H and D-X, so it just came across as an overbooked mess where it should have been a triumphant moment for long time pro-wrestling fans.

I can only think this falls into category of a McMahon family ego trip moment, but unfortunately felt rather like the sort of event that was happening in the dying days of WCW…

Following that we got a musical performance that, as ever, went down like a lead balloon with the crowd who treated this time, half way through the show, as a rest break, and, to be honest I don’t blame them. Though a regular part of WrestleMania now, live music performances never really work in context and this was no different.

AJ Lee & Paige vs Nikki and Brie Bella

Superkick from Paige

Superkick from Paige

After the Sting/Triple H fiasco it was going to take something to get me back into it and, as Paige made her way out I was hopeful, following the recent development of the ‘Divas’ division, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Across the match the four ladies told a great story and, while it didn’t live up to what’s happening on NXT, it is clear that the stellar women’s matches there are having an effect. In that regard we got some nice moments including a top rope dropkick and a steel stair spot and the match as a whole probably last longer than the last five years worth of WrestleMania Divas matches.

Brie Bella with a flying dropkick

Brie Bella with a flying dropkick

Once again the commentary entirely failed to add anything to the match but the in-ring action stepped up well and, while the bigger story isn’t the most clear, it was an enjoyable and well put together match and hopefully a sign of things to come for the ladies on the main roster.

The traditional Hall of Fame recap came next and, while the ceremony itself was a bit on the long side, it was great seeing some of these guys on stage here.

Bushwhacker Butch in particular deserves respect for even making it onto stage and still being a lot of fun and into the whole thing despite his obvious ill-health, Lanny Poffo was hugely respectful and respectable representing his brother Macho Man Randy Savage and even Kevin Nash managed to not milk it too much showing that, like Scott Hall, maybe he has changed and once again sees his place within pro-wrestling in a more humble light.

United States Championship: Rusev (w/Lana) (c) vs John Cena

Rusev on a tank!

Rusev on a tank!

One of the moments of the night came next as Rusev made his entrance as part of a mock, Soviet-style, rally complete with marching troops, an artillery salute and Rusev himself riding in on a tank.

Moments like this, where pro-wrestling steps beyond regular logic and into a world of utter silliness, are hit and miss but here, it was all delivered with such a straight face it was amazing and actually got me into the feud more than anything else over the past few months and had me rooting for the Bulgarian Brute throughout.

Cena had an equally over the top entrance video, but, unfortunately, it came across like a jingoistic, pro-American, Republican party political broadcast, and only served to amplify my dislike of Cena and his Never Give Up washcloth thing he brings to the ring (doesn’t quite match up to riding in on a tank does it).

Rusev and Cena face off

Rusev and Cena face off

The match itself started well with Rusev in monster mode before Cena got into his moves of doom and then it was a good back and forth with both men focusing on their respective submissions, The Accolade (Camel Clutch) for Rusev and STF(U) for Cena.

As it went on the crowd seemed to get behind Rusev and he hit a great top rope diving headbutt for a near fall.

It all ended, after Cena broke out of the Accolade, with a very loose and unconvincing AA (is there any other sort?) that saw Cena win the US Championship and Rusev go off on his manager Lana, who’s attempted interference caused the loss.

Cena's first move of doom

Cena’s first move of doom

Much like the Daniel Bryan win earlier in the night I’m hoping having a bigger star with a lower belt is used well to elevate the title and breathe some new excitement into the mid card scene.

This section of the card, while it has a lot of good performers, hasn’t had much for them to really get their teeth into in for a while, and it would be nice if it breathed some fresh life into the painfully stale John Cena character.

Following this we headed back up to the pre-show team for some highlights of those matches and all the while the crowd are letting loose with some huge ‘N-X-T’ chants – I get the feeling that the ‘developmental’ brand is a lot more over than anyone in WWE thought and the whole WrestleMania weekend has proved it, and then Triple H and Stephanie McMahon are in the ring.

Rhonda Rousey with a hip throw on Triple H

Rhonda Rousey with a hip throw on Triple H

As they announce the ‘official attendance’ for the event of 76,976 Stephanie went into an excellent heel promo that put The Authority back into position of top heels following the confusing ending of Triple H’s match earlier and showed that she really is her father’s successor – though a Shane-O-Mac chant later in the segment was nice to hear.

Mid flow she was interrupted by The Rock who was on fire on the mic, as always, and the segment culminated in a tease of Rock vs Triple H (for next year’s Mania maybe?) and the involvement of UFC star Ronda Rousey was surprisingly effective and made this segment much more than I think anyone expected when it started.

Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt

Undertaker squares off with Bray Wyatt

Undertaker squares off with Bray Wyatt

The ‘New Face of Fear’ made his way out next with a great entrance involving zombie scarecrows that continued to build the creepy character that Wyatt is so good at delivering.

What we were all waiting for though was the man who came out next, a year after his last appearance Undertaker’s walk to the ring was surprisingly simple, but, even in the still day light conditions, was as effective as always and it was clear Taker was looking better than he was 12 months ago.

Along with this Wyatt’s performance of staring down The Deadman really helped set the psychology and story of this match up long before the bell.

Undertaker and Bray Wyatt

Undertaker sits up after Sister Abigail

The match itself was a great example of using strengths to tell a story, we know Taker is now fallible but he is still somewhat of a monster, but Wyatt also came across stronger than ever before and some nice moves like a big uranage really putting him over.

With finishers hit and kicked out off the best moment of the match was when Taker sat up mid-Wyatt spider walk and, with a second tombstone, The Deadman went 22-and-1.

This was a fine example of how to make a new guy look great, while keeping the legacy of the Undertaker alive. How much life is left in Taker’s career remains to be seen and, personally, I’d like to see one more match next year to round it off and send him out on a high in his home state as WWE finally establishes its new generation.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Brock Lesnar (w/Paul Heyman) (c) vs Roman Reigns

Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns get ready for a war

Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns get ready for a war

To say this match had stirred up its fair share of controversy and debate among pro-wrestling fans would be an understatement so, as ‘face’ Roman Reigns made his way out, flanked by a legion of security and to a chorus of boos and ‘heel’ Brock Lesnar strode out to cheers, this had a genuine big fight, main event feel, that even WrestleMania main events sometimes struggle to attain.

As soon as the bell rang the match was a stiff showing of strikes and throws with Lesnar dominant as expected, but, unlike his match with Cena at SummerSlam last year, this felt like a pro-wrestling match with a story to tell.

German suplex to Reigns

German suplex to Reigns

Roman got his licks in, cutting Lesnar early on, and then smiling and laughing in the face of the beating, infuriating The Beast, and both men played it off brilliantly, and even the commentary, finally, helped develop the story.

With more than 10 suplexes, three F5’s, a number of superman punches and two spears, and Brock Lesnar bleeding more than anyone in WWE has in a decade, the match was reaching a climax point that was genuinely hard to call when Seth Rollins’ music hit and Mr Money In The Bank hit the ring and cashed in.

With Curbstomps for both men, Rollins’ pinned Reigns for the title and took his place next to Edge as best and most convincing use of the Money In The Bank yet rounding off a mixed WrestleMania on a real high point and ushering in a new top level of talent for the company

Rollins sets up to Curbstomp Lesnar

Rollins sets up to Curbstomp Lesnar

Conclusions

A year before WrestleMania 31 a lot of seeds were sown for a new era in WWE and many of those have now begun to reach fruition. This show felt like a WrestleMania, which they don’t always, and while it wasn’t the best ever (that honour still goes to 17) it was a strong one.

What it really left me thinking though was that it has acted as a reset for the main roster with new and (for the most part) fresh champions and angles coming out of the show and, generally, without making anyone look weak – with the exception of the pointless booking of the battle royal and the stand alone exhibition of Triple H and Sting.

With the set up as it is now we can look forward to a great heel World Champion on TV regularly giving Rollins and Reigns a chance to elevate themselves further, and hopefully add some legitimacy to the so far forced character of Reigns.

WWE Championship belt customised for Seth Rollins

WWE Championship belt customised for Seth Rollins

We can also see Daniel Bryan rule the mid card with great newer performers like Ambrose and Harper (and Ziggler as well) while John Cena can, hopefully, find something new in his new mid card role.

While this is going on Lesnar remains a monster who can do his part-time destruction thing far more effectively, though quite who in WWE can face up to him now he’s gone through Triple H and Undertaker remains to be seen.

Now all we need are some reasonable tag teams to contend with Kidd and Cesaro.

As a show, WrestleMania 31 took a while to make sense, but once it did and the pieces fell into place it was very enjoyable, with the exception of the nonsense of Sting vs Triple H and the battle royal, but it has succeeded in getting me far more invested with what could be coming next than I thought I would be when the show began.

On top of this, let’s be honest, there isn’t another wrestling company in the world who can put on a show with this much star power, performances and spectacle all rolled into one – now, let Rollins run with this and WWE could be heading into another heyday!

Seth Rollins - WWE World Heavyweight Champion

Seth Rollins – The new WWE World Heavyweight Champion

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NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way

nxt takeover logoI don’t usually do full reviews for pro-wrestling events, preferring to ‘live’ tweet them as I watch over at @TomGirard, but as this is my first proper taste of NXT I thought it would be worth it.

Coming in, I had heard all the hype about NXT being where the best of WWE’s output now is and, for the most part, its hard to disagree as this show combines the small arena vibe of an indie show with the high budget and high concept that has become WWE’s trademark along with some great in ring action.

Onto the actual show and its all action straight from the get go, as the NXT Tag Team Championship is defended by The Ascension against Sin Cara (mk.2) and Kalisto. As the luchadores come to the ring, with a great reaction from the crowd, we get a nice quick recap of their tournament wins to get here before the Ascension come out looking every part the big, tough, mysterious guys they want to.

Kalisto flies at The Ascension

Kalisto flies at The Ascension

The match itself is pretty non-stop with the big guy heels getting to show some power, but the lion’s share of the impressive moments going to Sin Cara and Kalisto with a bunch of high-flying offence you’d expect from a lucha-gimmicked team.

It was also nice to hear the masked men get some mic time and good to see Sin Cara (or Hunico as I guess this now is) getting some good time to work and not just get squashed or ridiculed.

This was a great way to start the show with action throughout and set up exactly why NXT has been so hyped for a newcomer like me. It also saw the first of a few botches of the night but none were really so much as to detract and mostly came off as the guys trying to impress rather than sloppiness or laziness like botches on the ‘main roster’ often appear.

Next was the first of four promo packages focusing on the guys in the titular main event of the show. All four of these do an excellent job of hyping both the match and the wrestlers letting us know who they are, what they do and why this is an important match for each of them, while not giving away so much we know what’s going to happen in the match.

Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin

The second match is the first squash of the night with the debuting Baron Corbin destroying CJ Parker in seconds. Corbin seemed over and Parker looked interesting but as the match was two moves long it was hard to get much out of it, other than Corbin sure has a look, but it will be interesting to see what they can do with it.

More main event hype (that is actually making it feel like a ‘main event’) before the hair vs. hair match. With a French team here, a pair of Mexican luchadores earlier, a British champion and the upcoming debut of Kenta, I was amazed at how international the NXT roster feels, especially for WWE who are usually a very ‘USA, USA’ kind of organisation.

The hair vs. hair match itself is ok but the promos before outshine it a bit as Enzo Amore and Big Cass are very over and have something of Shawn Michaels and Diesel to their characters that is good to see again. The match tells a good story and, even if they bottle out a bit on the actual head shaving, it does save us from the often slow, crowd killer moment, of trying to shave someone’s head on live TV.

Hideo Itami aka KENTA

Hideo Itami aka KENTA

Now its time for one of the big moments of the night as new ‘General Manager’ (and wrestling legend) William Regal comes to the ring to introduce ‘international superstar’ Kenta.

Its clear here, if it wasn’t before that this crowd know their stuff as they give Kenta a great reception, although they quickly seem to tire when he delivers the first half of his promo in Japanese – though I liked that, especially as this was going out live on Japanese TV.

Once he’s speaking English the crowd are back into it though and we find out he’s now going by the name Hideo Itami, an odd choice after hyping Kenta, but I’ll go with it for now. He gets ambushed by The Ascension but then cleans house and physically says, to quote the Undertaker, “this is my yard” and the crowd seem to get the name change with a few Hideo and Itami chants amongst the Kentas. This was a nice segment and got Itami over big, although I’m not sure how good it will be for The Ascension as they just got bested by one guy…

Bull Dempsey's flying headbutt

Bull Dempsey’s flying headbutt

Another squash match next which pretty much just fills the space after Kenta’s appearance but manages to give some heat to Bull Dempsey and show that NXT isn’t afraid to be hard-hitting as some of the shots here look stiff. Then we get a follow-up to the hair vs. hair match with Amore and Cass finding Marcus Louis and revealing his newly shaved head and again being generally entertaining.

Now its time for what the commentators refer to as the first part of the double main event. It’s first mention of that but its nice to hear and generally the commentators are on much better form than I expected – they don’t really call moves a lot but they help tell the story and don’t just talk about Twitter and the Network all the time and having a female voice adds a nice new dynamic too.

Charlotte's moonsault

Charlotte’s moonsault

The match in question is for the NXT Women’s Championship (I was very pleased not to hear Diva’s used in that context) with underdog Bayley going up against the daughter of Ric Flair, Charlotte.

Bayley does a good job playing the enthusiastic underdog, but it was hard to tell whether she’s actually a bit green or was just playing the part, while Charlotte has all the arrogance you’d expect from the offspring of The Nature Boy and clearly got a lot of the wrestling talent from her dad that David didn’t.

The match is good, and up there with the best main roster Diva’s matches I remember seeing in years, so, while it’s not perfect, it is entertaining, has some nice spots and tells a good little story, that builds in the post-match.

And now its time for your main event…

The titular fatal 4 way pitting high-flying face champion Adrian Neville against hard-working face Sami Zayn, arrogant heel Tyler Breeze and comparative veteran heel Tyson Kidd.

Tyson Kidd, Taylor Breeze, Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn

Tyson Kidd, Taylor Breeze, Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn

This is a match of two halves as the first half is something of a boring ‘schmoz’ (thanks OSW review) on the outside of the ring, followed by an extended beat down from Kidd on Zayn. There’re a few good spots here but mostly it drags and had me wondering if these four would pull off a fatal 4 way that could live up to the hype.

Once they properly get back in the ring though it really picks up with Zayn on the receiving end of pretty much everything and building a huge amount of face sympathy from the crowd that is perfectly worked for his character.

With some great spots, including the always scary looking four man superplex/powerbomb from the top rope, the match manages to get all four men over well with signatures moves from each of them, though I felt Breeze lost out a bit compared to the others and the cameras cut away from Zayn’s Helluva (Ole) kick.

Top rope superplex powerbomb

Top rope superplex powerbomb

The ending was equally well done so as not to have anyone come out looking weak while not being a ‘bullshit finish’ and launch a new angle with Zayn and Neville.

With Itami booked for the next NXT show and a bunch of interesting angles being developed here, I certainly intend to keep watching and, while there were a few botches and the squash matches weren’t up to much, this was a much more consistently entertaining show than pretty much any WWE shows so far this year.

Photos by WWE.

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