Tag Archives: Kevin Owens

SummerSlam – Barclays Centre – 20/08/17

WWE SummerSlam logo25 years ago WWE (then WWF) presented what was then their biggest live event, with 80,000 people in London’s Wembley Stadium for the 1992 SummerSlam event.

While the show was a mixed bag for a few reasons it’s lived in the memory thanks to its location, the only WWE pay per view outside main land North America, and the main event which saw Bret Hart and the British Bulldog fight for the Intercontinental Championship – it was also my real doorway into the world of professional wrestling.

Now, in 2017, for its 30th edition the show has ballooned to six hours of TV time broadcast from Brooklyn New York’s Barclay’s Centre in front of 16,000 fans.

Given the running time I have had neither time, nor if I’m honest inclination, to watch the three matches on the ‘pre-show’ despite them featuring some excellent performers, so I’ll jump straight to the main show, which began with a nice music video package highlighting the night’s main events, though in comparison to the previous night’s NXT TakeOver show, this was the start of things not quite being all they could be.

John Cena vs Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin and John Cena

Baron Corbin and John Cena

With WWE biggest star kicking off the show the crowd went nuclear with a huge ‘John Cena sucks’ singalong before the usual mixed reaction once he hit the ring.

Relative newcomer Corbin meanwhile was treated to an imposingly impressive new entrance with new video effects and music suggesting maybe he still is seen as a next big bad guy character, despite the somewhat unceremonious dropping of the Money in the Bank on last week’s Smackdown TV show.

While Cena continued to get a mixed reaction and Corbin is developing into a brilliantly hate-able heel, the match the pair put on couldn’t have been much more flat. Mostly stalling for time or punch/kick offence and defence it felt like they’d worked out the character beats and nothing else.

Baron Corbin chokeslams John Cena

Corbin chokeslams Cena

It struck watching this as well that Corbin only has a handful of moves in his arsenal so once these were exhausted and repeated several times it was hard to engage – even what could have been a nice chokeslam/backbreaker move was too loose to be anything much.

With a third attempt at his slide around the ring post Corbin was caught in Cena’s AA, giving Cena a win that did little for the part-time megastar and all but killed any legitimacy of Corbin as the killer heel he’s had the look of becoming, making for a damp squib of an opening match.

Smackdown Women’s Championship
Naomi (c) vs Natalya

Natalya and Naomi

Flying headscissor from Naomi

After the first of many cringe inducing commercials featuring WWE superstars we got the culmination of a feud that we never really wanted between Naomi and Natalya.

From her entrance it looked like Natalya was once again basing her character off her heritage as a member of the Hart family with a nice Hart Foundation style jacket and this was carried on through JBL’s commentary and into the match’s conclusion.

Naomi meanwhile was the brightly coloured, neon cartoon with no real substance she has been for the last nine months or so.

Despite a few nice moments it was hard to escape the feeling of the two competitors going through the motions with no real sense that this was for a big prize and more the feeling that it was a casual exhibition.

Natalya applies the Sharpshooter to Naomi

Natalya applies the Sharpshooter to Naomi

That said Natalya has got some of the best snap suplexes in the WWE today and Naomi delivered a nice blockbuster off the steps to the floor, but that was about it for highlights.

The end came following an unconvincing sequence into a first Sharpshooter before Naomi missed a split legged moonsault, allowing the challenger to once again apply the leg lock and become champion.

While it’s always nice to see Natalya rewarded as by far the longest standing member of the women’s division, it’s hard to escape the fact that she never quite convinces as an aggressive champion and once again this match fell flat because of that.

Big Cass vs Big Show
with Enzo Amore locked in a shark cage above the ring

Enzo in the 'shark cage'

Enzo in the ‘shark cage’

Before I get to the match it’s hard to escape the feeling that last year WWE paid a fair amount for the ‘shark cage’ as its come into play at least three times in recent months when the gimmick really is a relic of the old territory system, and I find it hard to remember it being used in the last 20 years or more.

Anyway, the match seemed designed to establish Big Cass as the new mid card big man by Big Show ‘passing the torch’ in a sense, however with Enzo really the focus as the one of the trio who’s particularly good on the mic, it’s been a very unbalanced affair.

That was highlighted here as Enzo cut his usual promo before being hoisted in the cage but it felt like treading water compared to his past highs, just hinting that the split of this team has happened far too soon and done damage to both characters.

With Big Show having a ‘broken hand’ he was limited even further than usual and this made the bulk of the match rather boring, and the crowd let the performers know it.

Big Cass with a big boot on the Big Show

Big Cass with a big boot on the Big Show

Some slight excitement cage came as Enzo squeezed out of the cage only to get a big boot to the head before Cass got the win with his Empire Elbow drop on the giant.

Unfortunately this all left the crowd dead and I’m just hoping it hasn’t entirely derailed both Enzo and Cass’ build, but I fear it may have, while Big Show remains a slightly more than past it novelty act.

Backstage we got a brief skit with Kurt Angle and Daniel Bryan which felt entirely superfluous and seemed to return to trying to hype competition between Raw and Smackdown which always feels pointless as, no matter how much we suspend our disbelief, we all know they are owned by the same company….

Randy Orton vs Rusev

Rusev throws Randy Orton

Rusev throws Orton

It’s hard to not find something a bit distasteful in Orton’s current run fighting stereotypical ‘evil foreigners’ given his appearance as an entitled white man in the current political climate, so, when Rusev attacked before the bell it looked like we might get a good fight to distract from that.

Unfortunately this was short-lived and once both men were back in the ring and the match officially began, Orton hit his RKO ‘from outta nowhere’ for the win in a moment reminiscent of Cena’s earlier victory with an established star going over a newer performer who really should be elevated.

Raw Women’s Championship
Alexa Bliss (c) vs Sasha Banks

Alexa Bliss dives at Sasha Banks

Bliss dives at Banks

With the match originally slated to see Bayley challenging Bliss things were rather rapidly put together but Banks has remained a perennial contender since her arrival on Raw and seems to have regained her old form in recent weeks as well.

Despite a rather ridiculous (even by WWE standards) piece of entrance attire the match soon settled into a nice pace with both women on top form.

While the middle section of the match was a little flat there were some nice spots including a Code Red being reversed into a turnbuckle slam.

Sasha lock in the Bank Statement

Sasha lock in the Bank Statement

It looked like Bliss would retain as she hit her Twisted Bliss top rope spinning splash but Banks survived and, after a slightly awkward but ok sequence got the submission win with her Bank Statement crossface to become a four-time champion.

While not perfect this, thankfully, upped the ante somewhat for the night and Banks winning was a nice twist that hopefully will reinvigorate both her and the slightly flagging women’s division – if I had my way this would slowly lead to a heel turn and feud with Bayley when she’s recovered, but that’s maybe a bit too much fantasy booking.

Bray Wyatt vs ‘The Demon’ Finn Balor

'The Demon' Finn Balor

‘The Demon’ Finn Balor

While I think Finn’s ‘alter ego’ of The Demon should be more of a surprise (I understand that the WWE marketing machine means it can’t really be) it was good to see him back in the body paint for the first time since last SummerSlam and his entrance got a huge reaction and several chants, including a nice ‘too sweet’ one from the clearly knowledgeable fans.

From the start Balor was playing a more intense version of himself to represent the Demon and Wyatt played up to it with shock exactly as you’d want at the start.

After a truly amazing looking tope con hilo from Balor, Wyatt took control with a nasty looking suplex to the floor and then a hanging top rope shoulder/neckbreaker.

Finn Balor attacks Bray Wyatt

Balor attacks Wyatt

Despite a few flurries Bray kept the upper hand and the crowd really started to get behind Finn as they properly came alive for the first time since Cena left.

With a nice story building throughout the climax came when Balor ‘countered’ Bray’s ‘spiderwalk’ taunt and hit his standard ending sequence of Sling Blade, Shotgun Dropkick and Coup De Grace for the win.

While this climax came a little fast given the rest of the pace and it didn’t all seem to be quite running at full force, at this point this was by far the best match and continued the previous one on building the excitement of the show – also special mention has to go to Corey Graves for his Gorilla Monsoon moment in commentary.

Raw Tag Team Championship
‘The Bar’ Sheamus & Cesaro (c) vs Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose 

Seth Rollins with a frog splash on Sheamus

Rollins with a frog splash on Sheamus

One of the most naturally exciting things on WWE TV in recent months has been the build to the reunion of former Shield members Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

This has been well-balanced with their feud with the tag team champions to lead to a match with a real story behind it (in many ways the first of the night).

The match itself was some thing of a masterclass for modern WWE tag team wrestling with near nonstop action from both teams building a great story of the challengers rediscovering their old rapport in the face of the more cohesive champions.

Highlights came with a chaotic flurry from Ambrose in contrast to the more controlled Rollins, a double suicide dive from the challengers and Cesaro heading out into the crowd to dispose of a beach ball (a move which has caused a surprising amount of controversy since).

Rollins hits a superkick on Sheamus

Rollins hits a superkick on Sheamus

As the match went on Cesaro showed his abilities with the best Sharpshooter since the days of the Hart family and the best crossface since Benoit.

The end came with a great sequence that began with a top rope hurricanrana from Rollins and finished with the double attack of Seth’s Rainmaker/V-Trigger rip-chord knee strike into Ambrose Dirty Deeds DDT securing the championships for the reformed Shield members and providing one if the highlight matches of the night while also giving some great fan service for those who remember the hey day of the Hounds of Justice.

WWE United States Championship
AJ Styles (c) vs Kevin Owens
Special guest referee Shane McMahon

AJ Styles and Kevin Owens

Intense action between Styles and Owens

Another match that has come with a good and lengthy build, this felt like a final chapter as Styles and Owens have traded the title a few times now.

Added to this Shane McMahon as referee brings a convincing extra intrigue given his relationship with both men in the past.

While it started off stiff and intense with a pre match brawl, pulled apart by McMahon and setting up his role in proceedings, it was, of course Owens who became the vocal heel aggressor.

Both men got their chance to show their high spots and a particular highlight came with a sequence going form a missed Asai Moonsuslt, a countered pop up power bomb and a huge Ushigoroshi for a two count.

AJ Styles hits the Phenomenal Forearm

Styles hits the Phenomenal Forearm

Shortly after that the guest referee came into play as McMahon was caught in the crossfire of a springboard 450 splash, so missed the count off Owens’ pop up powerbomb followed by missing the tap out to a Styles Calf Crusher.

Following more great sequences and near falls from a Styles Clash to another pop up powerbomb, Owens got into an argument with McMahon allowing AJ to get the decisive victory with a Phenomenal Forearm and another tightly delivered Styles Clash.

Given the ending, I hope this is a full stop on what’s been a great feud that has set up Styles as a confirmed champion (not that he wasn’t before) and built on the dissent of Owens with the management.

WWE World Championship
Jinder Mahal w/ The Singh Brothers (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura

Shinsuke Nakamura and Jinder Mahal

Nakamura hits a spin kick on Mahal

One thing that’s often been said of the WWE is that, for a company with World in its name, it’s rather solidly North America-centric.

2016 and 2017 have seen this change somewhat though with the Cruiser Weight Classic and United Kingdom Championship Tournament through to Black vs Itami the previous night at NXT TakeOver, and this match, pitting the Indian (well actually Canadian but ‘of Indian heritage’) champion Mahal against modern Japanese legend, the King of Strong Style, Nakamura.

Throughout it was clear how over Nakamura is with this crowd and, equally, they were opposed to Mahal in just the right way something that was echoed in their clash of in-ring styles.

Unfortunately, while a clash can sometimes lead to something great, here it just came across and Nakamura doing all the work in both giving and selling in the face of Mahal’s ponderous, traditional WWE muscleman approach.

Kinshasa!

Kinshasa!

There was a nice spot where Nakamura countered a slam into a triangle choke hold and, with a Kinshasa to the back of the head, he looked poised to claim the championship.

This was when the a Singh brothers got involved, only to be removed by Shinsuke, but giving Mahal the opening to get the win with his Khallas cobra clutch slam.

This clearly shocked the crowd as it did come out of nowhere and the concept of Mahal overcoming Nakamura is a stretch of the imagination even with the interference, sadly leaving it all fall a little too flat. But Nakamura came out of things looking great anyway and I have to admit to enjoying Mahal’s run as champion so far, especially now its veered away from purely ‘foreigner = bad guy’ territory.

WWE Universal Championship
Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman (c) vs Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe vs Braun Strowman

Brock Lesnar suplexes Roman Reigns

Lesnar suplexes Reigns

As the challengers came out the responses were all strong and what we’d expect from the New York crowd; a mixed response but with chants for Joe, a mostly positive response for Strowman and a deafening chorus of boos for Reigns.

Then the champion and his advocate, as always getting a positive reaction due to the sheer freakish nature of Lesnar.

The match itself was a non stop chaotic battle between all four, literally a human demolition derby to steal a phrase, but as soon as it spilled to the floor it became Braun Strowman’s showcase.

While keeping Joe and Reigns at bay ‘The Monster Amongst Men’ drove Lesnar through two tables before dumping another on top of the champion causing him to be stretchered out with a laughing Strowmam shouting taunts after him in a moment that will be remembered for a long time.

Braun Strowman drives Brock Lesnar through a table

Strowman drives Lesnar through a table

For a while it settled down into a triple threat style, but largely with Strowman maintaining the upper hand (despite the use of steel stairs by Reigns) before Lesnar returned, squared off against his new nemesis, and proceeded to fight off Joe and Reigns with his usual attacks.

Strowman again gained the upper hand only to be hit with a Superman Punch from Reigns, but this allowed Lesnar to hit his F5 spinning slam on Reigns and, somewhat unexpectedly, retain the gold.

While the match itself was the highlight of the show in just the way a main event between four heavyweights should be, and was an insane exhibition from Strowman, all four men looked great and even Lesnar felt reinvigorated now there is a real looking challenge in his path which is just what the WWE needed at this stage.

Brock Lesnar lifts Samoa Joe for an F5

Lesnar lifts Joe for an F5

As a whole, while the show was horrendously overlong (something it shares in common with WrestleMania), but from the Raw women’s match on it was at least enjoyable or better and with the Raw tag team title match, the US title match and the Universal title match being some genuinely great bouts all in different styles.

So, while the 30th SummerSlam could have been better, the good points were exactly what WWE does best, delivered by the performers in the best way and setting up at least the next three months stories very nicely just as it should, and it created a new star in the form of The Monster Amongst Men, Braun Strowman.

Photos from WWE.com

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

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

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

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

Kick Off Show

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

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

Naomi flies at Alexa Bliss

Naomi flies at Alexa Bliss

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

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

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

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

The Club win the gold

The Club win the gold

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

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

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

Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax

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

Nia Jax locks a strech muffler on Sasha Banks

Nia Jax locks a strech muffler on Sasha Banks

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

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

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

Main Show

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

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

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

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

Bayley attacks Charlotte Flair

Bayley attacks Charlotte Flair

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Owens frog splashes Roman Reigns

Kevin Owens frog splashes Roman Reigns

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

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

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

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

Roman sends Owens through the table

Roman sends Owens through the table

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

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

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

WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Neville vs Rich Swann (c)

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

Neville hits a superkick on Swann

Neville hits a superkick on Swann

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

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

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

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

WWE World Championship
John Cena vs AJ Styles (c)

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

Styles hits a Phenomenal Forearm on Cena

Styles hits a Phenomenal Forearm on Cena

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

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

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

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

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

Cena hits the AA on Styles

Cena hits the AA on Styles

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

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

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

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

Jack Gallagher gets eliminated

Jack Gallagher gets eliminated

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

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

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

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

The Wyatt Family explode

The Wyatt Family explode

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

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

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

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

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

Goldberg spears Lesnar

Goldberg spears Lesnar

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

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

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

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

Reigns stares down The Undertaker

Reigns stares down The Undertaker

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

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

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

Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble

Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble

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

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NXT Greatest Matches: Volume 1

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

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

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

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

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

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

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

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

Sami Zayn and Antonio Cesaro

Zayn with the Koji Clutch on Cesaro

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

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

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

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

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

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

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

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

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

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

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

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Owens and Zayn continue their epic feud

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

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

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WrestleMania 32 – Dallas, Texas – 03/04/16

wrestlemania 32 logoSince I first started watching pro-wrestling in 1992, following the then WWF’s SummerSlam at Wembley (before this weekend their highest ever legitimate live attendance of around 80,000) the ‘sport’ has had its ups and downs.

WrestleMania 32 comes at something of a transitional time for the WWE in particular, but also comes when the company is arguably the biggest it’s ever been.

In 1993, for WrestleMania IX, the ‘show of shows’ was a three-hour long, pay-per-view event featuring a string of single and tag team matches and the odd celebrity appearance. Now, in 2016 WrestleMania 32 lasts, all told, the best part of a week if you include all the side events from the Axxess fan festival, to NXT Takeover and the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony.

Meanwhile the main show itself is a seven-hour marathon, if you include the ‘Kickoff’ show, with matches, celebrities (in and out of the ring), musical performances and more all in front of (allegedly) 101,763 people.

Kickoff Show

Wrestlemania 32 kickoff panel

The kickoff panel

The pre-show itself was, for the most part, as expected with Renee Young (currently one of WWE’s finest presenting talents) chairing a panel of ‘legends’, Booker T, Lita and Corey Graves, discussing and hyping the matches to come.

Out of the ring the highlights of the pre-show came, somewhat predictably, from promo masters Paul Heyman and Kevin Owens.

Heyman’s slightly creepy, supremely arrogant ‘advocate’ character really came to the fore in an online Q&A segment, while Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owen made everyone in the upcoming seven man ladder match sound good while maintaining his not to be messed with, out their to win at all costs, persona.

WWE United States Championship
Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback

Kalisto and Ryback

Kalisto and Ryback

Coming out in the face of a not even half full arena (reports suggest getting in was a slow process) defending champion Kalisto still got a decent recent and the match itself started out with some good big man/small man psychology between the two competitors.

As always it wasn’t long before Ryback was doing some dangerous looking throws on the much smaller luchadore before we cut to an advert for WrestleMania – this felt fairly pointless as everyone watching this match would be doing on a platform already showing the main show, anyway, back to the fight.

After some back and forth and nice moves from Kalisto, Ryback hit a brutal but nice looking running Michinoku Driver before a stalling vertical superplex got reversed for a near fall.

Ryback hits a Michinoku Driver

Ryback hits a Michinoku Driver

At this point new play-by-play man Mauro Ronallo mentioned that Kalisto’s tights were designed in tribute to Japanese legend Hayabusa, which was a nice touch and shows Ronallo’s ability to make even minor factors sound interesting and relevant.

The match ended with a nice little sequence involving Ryback hitting an exposed turnbuckle and falling into Kalisto’s Solida Del Sol finisher giving the champion the win.

While nothing special the match exceeded my expectations and was a solid start to the show with a feel-good finish with the Lucha Dragon retaining his title against all the odds.

Total Divas vs. Team B.A.D. & Blonde

Natalya and Paige hit the Hart Attack

Natalya and Paige hit the Hart Attack

Despite all the talk of the ‘Divas revolution’ since last summer this ’10 Diva tag team match’ felt like something of a throwback with a few able wrestlers teaming alongside glorified fashion models.

The match started out relatively flat until a nice Hart Attack from Paige and Natalya and Emma coming in against Paige and delivering a nice wheelbarrow suplex before the standard spot of everyone hitting their signature moves.

Here it became obvious that Lana (the ‘Ravishing Russian’) was only being trusted to hit a version of Rusev’s jumping superkick and Eva Marie, despite being put on the face team, was still receiving the levels of negative crowd response she always has.

I’m going to try to avoid so-called ‘political’ talk where possible, but the case of the hate for Eva from large sections of the crowd is representative of a problem, to which there are certainly two sides, seen across this show and, as a fan, I can’t help but feel I’m being driven away from the product by some of this.

A fitting send off for Brie Bella?

A fitting send off for Brie Bella?

Back to the match and things culminated in a much better sequence between a genuinely fired up Brie Bella and Naomi finishing in Naomi tapping out to the Yes Lock.

After the match Brie’s injured sister Nikki came out and the Total Divas team celebrated with Brie and Nikki in particular sharing a moment that maybe the pair’s swansong in the ring.

While I’ve not always been their biggest fan, both had upped their game over the last year and it’s a shame to see them go, but, as ever a happy, healthy life should always be put above the damage that can be sustained in the wrestling ring.

Lita unveils the new Women's Championship

Lita unveils the new Women’s Championship

In a slightly related segment, that in many ways I hope will do away with matches like the one we’d just witnessed, WWE Hall of Famer Lita was in the ring to unveil the new WWE Women’s Championship belt which, it was announced, would be contested in the women’s match on the main show, replacing the Diva’s belt.

I’ll go into more detail later but this has been a change that’s been a long time coming and shows a lot more respect to the female wrestlers in WWE who over the last couple of years have reached impressive new highs, particularly following the lead of the Women’s Division in NXT.

The Usos vs. The Dudley Boys

The Dudleys and The Usos

The Dudleys and The Usos

Acting as the climax of what had felt like a fairly lackluster feud two teams of different eras clashed to round off the pre-show. The match started well with Bubba Ray Dudley in particular providing some highlights with his self commentated beat down on whichever of the Uso twins was in the ring. This is something Bubba has always excelled at and what has made this team one of the best bad guy duos of the last twenty years.

Unfortunately things didn’t go much further than that as, after a few superkicks (seemingly the only moves the Usos were allowed to do tonight) the match was over in barely five minutes. A post-match table spot looked good and popped the crowd for simply existing, but felt forced and what had been a feud without a lot of heat finished in the same way.

Dudleys go through the tables

Dudleys go through the tables

As the countdown clocked neared zero we got a final hype package for the night’s main event that actually did a decent job of making it a compelling story and, while it didn’t make me side with Roman Reigns, it got me more invested than I had been previously and set the scene well for what was to come. So now, after two hours of warm up, onto…

WrestleMania

After the customary America The Beautiful rendition, this year from Fifth Harmony (a girl group I’d never heard of and hope never to again, if I’m honest) we got a genuinely excellent opening video highlighting the history of WrestleMania that gave the event a genuine feel of heritage. Featured were Andre The Giant, Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and Daniel Bryan giving a span of the modern era of wrestling and showing how tonight’s big matches fit in that context.

I love this kind of thing so was suitably hyped as we cut back to the arena and a ring surrounded by ladders so its time for…

WWE Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Stardust vs. The Miz vs. Zack Ryder vs. Sin Cara

Owens frog splashes Zayn

Owens frog splashes Zayn

Ziggler was out first to a big pop followed by Sami Zayn. His arrival and the crowd reaction was a genuine goosebump moment given his storied journey to the ‘grandest stage of them all’ and was matched only in this match by the reception afforded to Kevin Owens who has had a very similar path.

Throughout the match it was mostly the story of Zayn and Owens with things always seemingly defaulting back to the two facing off, though that’s not to say everyone else got their moments too.

As expected it was a spot-fest but all paid off well from Sami’s dive through the ladder to the outside to Ziggler’s ‘superkick party’, Stardust’s polka dot ladder (in tribute to his late father Dusty Rhodes), Owens’ huge frog splash and Zack Ryder’s even bigger ‘El-bro’ drop off the ladder.

The conclusion came when Sami and Owens fought themselves out of the match with a sick looking half-and-half suplex into a ladder that I worried had caused Owens a legitimate injury, before Zack Ryder provided the night’s first real shock by shoving Miz off the ladder and grabbing the belt to make a real WrestleMania moment.

Zack Ryder

Zack Ryder

Though clearly shocked, the crowd, who’d given Ryder a mixed response earlier, seemed to love it and, while I find it hard to see how this will fit into the bigger picture, I couldn’t be happier for Ryder who’s been one of the hardest working most overlooked performers for years, starting the night off on a feel-good high.

Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles

From fighting Shinsuke Nakamura (who debuted for NXT at Takeover the preceding Friday) at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in January to debuting for the WWE at the Royal Rumble to now making his first appearance at WrestleMania, its been quite a year for ‘The Phenomenal One’ AJ Styles so far.

His feud with Chris Jericho has been going on since the Rumble and, while never white-hot, has had a nice build and both men are veterans and have had some good matches so, there was an expectation that this could be a show stealer.

Styles dives in a Jericho dropkick

Styles dives in a Jericho dropkick

Things started off with some good back and forth, albeit with a slightly slow pace, and as the match went on both guys hit their non-finishing signature spots and the crowd got hotter and hotter as this went on.

AJ provided the real high spots, as expected, with his springboard 450 splash, his selling on Jericho’s Codebreaker and his general style which nicely combines elements of the WWE style with things his time in Japan has added to that.

The end came, again as something of a surprise, as Jericho countered the Phenomenal Forearm into a Codebreaker leaving, for me, something of a sour taste to the match that I had assumed would be used to build Styles in the eyes of the more casual WWE fans.

That said the match as a whole was a good one and, if not an all out show stealer was one of the better offerings.

The New Day vs. The League of Nations

The New Day

The New Day

The last year has seen the WWE Tag Team Champions Big E, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston, aka The New Day, grow and grow in popularity through a mix of comedy, in-ring skill and all round fun that makes the perfect package for WWE’s brand of sports entertainment.

So it was fitting that they were the first to receive a special entrance here as they emerged from a giant box of ‘Booty-Os’ cereal in Power Rangers style attire.

Suitably the somewhat lackluster heel faction, The League of Nations (who have the feel of four guys with nothing better to do rather than a real team) just walked to the ring as usual – though I will admit that they make a physically imposing line up.

Rusev superkicks Big E

Rusev superkicks Big E

The match itself was something of a scrappy six-man tag that felt odd given it included the tag team champions not defending on the biggest show of the year.

The New Day got their popular spots in early, highlighted by the delightfully silly ‘Unicorn Stampede’ complete with trombone accompaniment before things descended into ‘chaos’ including a nasty looking jumping superkick from Rusev to Big E that the cameras all but missed.

The conclusion came when King Barrett interfered, hitting a Bullhammer from the outside and Sheamus connected with his Brogue Kick for the seemingly meaningless win. In all, this match would have been a good match on Raw, but at WrestleMania fell short, until…

The Unicorn Stampede

The Unicorn Stampede

After the match Barrett cut a promo suggesting no three-man team could beat the League of Nations at which point Shawn Michaels music hit and he came out dressed to fight (for the first time since his retirement several years ago), he was followed by Mick Foley in semi-Cactus Jack gear and then the glass smashed and the crowd erupted for Stone Cold Steve Austin.

While a bit random all three men have strong ties with Dallas wrestling being from Texas or having wrestled at the Sportatorium for WCCW in the late 80s and they proceeded to ‘open a can of whoop ass’ (to steal a phrase) on the League of Nations before celebrating with The New Day. Suitably Austin didn’t get involved in the dancing, instead hitting a stunner on Xavier Woods before the Hall of Fame trio shared some beers in classic Stone Cold style.

Austin with the Stunner on Woods

Austin with the Stunner on Woods

This segment was all good fun but led to the problem that WWE often has with these things that it has rendered any threat or power the League of Nations may have had null and void and they have now been bested by a trio of retired performers.

I could go on at length about this but I have to say I enjoyed the segment for what it was but worry it will continue to affect WWE’s already challenged weekly shows by rendering a set of potentially top class heels as a comedy side-show.

So, with the undercard now well and truly out-of-the-way (with one arguable exception), its time for the first of four matches that feel like main events.

No Holds Barred Street Fight
Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose

Ambrose gets thrown

Ambrose gets thrown

While this looked like a huge mismatch, given Lesnar’s ‘beast’ status, the build to the match felt like it could give Ambrose a chance based on his history as a hardcore wrestler and the nice touch of getting endorsements and ‘weapons’ from some hardcore legends like Mick Foley and Terry Funk.

With that in mind most of the body of the match had a good back and forth feel; Lesnar looked dominant with his suplexes and MMA style knee strikes, while Ambrose found moments to use kendo sticks and steel chairs (and a well-timed low blow) to fight back.

A nice spot in the middle of the match saw Ambrose counter Brock’s F-5 finisher into a version of his Dirty Deeds DDT onto a steel chair, but ultimately Lesnar proved too much to overcome.

Ambrose canes Lesnar

Ambrose canes Lesnar

Despite 13 suplexes, a gimmick that grown tired over the last year and half, the end of the match felt a bit sudden and incomplete once again leaving an up and coming performer loosing out in a way that seems to kill the momentum of both the performer and stories involved.

Tellingly it was at this point in the night I first thought the whole show seemed to have a very odd sense of the booking with good matches being left on down points and, judging by reactions both in the stadium and online, I wasn’t alone in this thought.

Its become tradition that, the night before WrestleMania, WWE celebrates heroes of the past at its Hall of Fame induction ceremony, at this point in the show they were introduced in the stadium and, while a mixed set, it felt like a good year for the Hall of Fame.

Sting

Sting

Stan Hansen and The Fabulous Freebirds were there representing Texas (though quite why Freebird Michael Hayes was wearing a bum bag is beyond me) while Snoop Dogg felt like an actually fitting inductee in the ‘celebrity wing’.

The headliner though was Sting, who got a big reaction and its good to see him getting honour that many thought he wouldn’t given his long time refusal to work with WWE.

WWE Women’s Championship
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch

Sasha Banks with Snoop Dogg

Sasha Banks with Snoop Dogg

With the earlier announcement that this match would be to crown a new Women’s Champion and see the retirement of the Diva’s Title what already felt like one of the most anticipated matches on the show, went up yet another level.

For years WWE has insisted on calling its male wrestlers Superstars and its female wrestlers Divas. Understandably that has always felt like something of a gender imbalance and, given the recent resurgence in actual legitimate feeling women’s wrestling in NXT and creeping onto the main WWE shows, this imbalance has felt all the more pronounced.

This change though seems to suggest that WWE is now going to take this side of its product more seriously and, I for one, am hugely excited about this given the quality of matches that have been taking place over the last year. All three competitors here have featured in those matches and made their WrestleMania debuts here, giving this a real feeling of a milestone that was reflected in both the performances given and the audience’s response to it.

Charlotte goes for a moonsault

Charlotte goes for a moonsault

Given her history it was great to see Becky Lynch come out to a decent reaction even though she was clearly the biggest underdog in this match. Sasha Banks got a real WrestleMania entrance with her cousin Snoop Dogg joining her while Charlotte, accompanied by her father Ric Flair, also made this feel like a big match with a new robe made from one of Ric’s old ones giving an extra boost to the legacy feel of the match.

The match itself is probably the best women’s match ever to take place at WrestleMania as it opened with a series of quick near falls that set a hell of a pace. Throughout all three competitors delivered some inventive stuff and, for the most part, all three were involved throughout, rather than the more standard WWE triple threat match approach of a series of one on one moments.

All three took impressive dives to the floor with Sasha’s being particularly impressive. She also delivered a great frog splash to Charlotte in tribute to Eddie Guerrero (who she also referenced in the design of her ring gear) and, along with a series of traded submission holds got a ‘This is wrestling’ chant from the crowd who grew more and more engaged as the match went on.

Sasha hits a frog splash

Sasha hits a frog splash

The match built expertly to its climax which was, arguably, slightly spoilt by an interference spot from Ric Flair, giving the in to Charlotte. While that was a bit of a shame there wasn’t a clean winner I hope this sets up a dedicated feud between Charlotte and Sasha that could really cement the reputation of the new championship in the coming months.

At this point in the show this match stood out head and shoulders as match of the night with both the build and most of the execution out shining anything that had come before.

Hell in a Cell
The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon

The Undertaker

The Undertaker

With what can only be described as a slightly confusing build involving the return of the McMahon family soap opera that was headlining WrestleMania more than a decade ago, there was an odd feeling going into this match. But, it being Undertaker at WrestleMania and a Hell in a Cell match promised spectacle if nothing else – and in that regard it delivered.

The first part of the match told a good story of Shane’s speed against Undertaker’s power with strikes making up the bulk of it but a few of the Deadman’s power moves coming into play as well.

Following a spell on the outside to hype the danger of the cell Shane locked in a triangle hold in the ring leading to a nice Undertaker comeback and a chokeslam on the steel stairs for the first real ‘extreme’ moment of the match.

Shane locks in the triangle hold

Shane locks in the triangle hold

From here on it was all a bit spot to spot, but they were good spots building to a clear climax. First Shane hit his Coast To Coast, Van Terminator, dropkick to Undertaker before getting driven through the cell wall. From there the duo fought outside the cell leading to Taker driving Shane through the ill-fated Spanish Announce Table to counter a sleeper hold.

At this point it struck me that the now long-held rule about shot to the head with ‘weapons’ seemed to have been waived for this match, but actually most of the shots looked safe, though it’s still uncomfortable to see given the now more well-known concussion issues in the ‘sport’, but this was soon forgotten as Shane scaled the outside wall of the cell.

Over the years Mick Foley’s falls from the cell have become the stuff of legend, as has Shane McMachon’s penchant for ridiculous falls and spots in his matches but, for me, in 2016, I think wrestling has really moved beyond this.

Shane takes a dive

Shane takes a dive

That said there was a sense of anticipation for something to happen here and, while I wouldn’t really have though it missing had it not happened what came next really was hugely impressive, if scary, and shows an impressive dedication on the part of Shane – though I’m not sure if it’s through bravery or a special kind of stupidity.

So, from the top of the now much taller cell, Shane McMahon leapt, the Undertaker moved, and Shane crashed through the second announce table in a truly spectacular moment.

Inevitably this lead to the end of the match in not short order via a final Tombstone Piledriver back in the ring giving the Undertaker the win.

While the match was a fine spectacle, much like the Ambrose/Lesnar street fight, it left the whole thing feeling a little off as all the work and momentum spent in building up to this was cut off in its prime leaving many holes and questions to still be answered and making for an odd way to seemingly end the feud as neither McMahon or the Undertaker are likely to be back in the ring anytime soon.

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Shaq and Big Show

Shaq and Big Show

Having been a staple of the lower card for the last two years it was a bit odd to see this match moved up to here, though I assumed it was to act as a less intense moment between the Hell in a Cell and the main event – in that I was only partially correct.

A group of the usual lower-mid card suspects made their way to the ring before bigger names Mark Henry, Kane and Big Show headed to the ring, along with surprise entrant/nostalgia act Diamond Dallas Page (though they should have given him a little pyro for his ‘Bang!’ at least).

At this point though things took a turn for the surreal, and not in a good way, as Shaquille O’Neill headed to the ring and squared off with Big Show.

Diamond Dallas Page

Diamond Dallas Page

While I’ve no real problem with celebrities at WrestleMania, its part of the show, having them in the ring is always a stretch and something like this can’t help but remind me of some of the biggest mistakes WCW made during their decline.

Thankfully this didn’t last two long as, after a bit a stare down and ‘choke off’ the two were eliminated by everyone else.

From there it was largely a nothing match of random guys being eliminated with no sense of story until the very end where NXT’s Baron Corbin eliminated Kane to get the win.

While I’m no fan of Corbin, for various reasons that are in fact similar to issues I have with Roman Reigns, it was good to see a new performer get the win which will hopefully help to elevate their worth and create something new on the main roster.

Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin

As a heel who’s done pretty much all he can on NXT (except learn how to put on a good match) he could be useful on the currently heel light main roster if that’s what this signifies – for me Samoa Joe replacing Corbin would have made more sense here, but that’s just me.

Now we come to the part of the show that I had enjoyed least and have the most problem with…

The Rock, The Wyatts and the return

After a brief burst of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (we were told they were world-renowned…) The Rock made his much hyped but, to be honest, not especially wanted return by posing on the stage for an age then setting fire to his name with a flame thrower and heading to the ring.

The Rock

The Rock

It was at this point the feeling that WrestleMania may have jumped the shark set in.

From there we got the usual Rock promo work which, while impressive how he works the crowd, has now been going on for more than 15 years as a gimmick and so is very past its sell by date in my opinion.

After announcing the supposed attendance record of the event a crack of light (or darkness) emerged as Bray Wyatt and his ‘family’ made their way to the ring with a breath-taking shot of the arena filled with Bray’s ‘fireflies’. A back and forth ensued before The Rock stripped off to his wrestling gear (I’m glad he was prepared for this surprise interruption) and beat Erick Rowan in six seconds.

The Wyatts and The Rock

The Wyatts and The Rock

A beatdown looked set to ensue before no one’s favourite hero John Cena made his return and he and Rocky fought off the Wyatt’s once again completely killing any threat for yet another group of potentially excellent heels in the name of nonsensical nostalgia.

There was a lot of interesting stuff that could have gone down here keeping The Rock as a popular character while elevating Wyatt, but that didn’t happen rendering it a really hard section of the show to take while killing any momentum that had been building as we head into…

WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns

Triple H and Roman Reigns

Triple H and Roman Reigns

After the same hype package from the pre-show we cut back to arena to see Stephanie McMahon dressed as a kind of warrior queen, matching Triple H’s King Conan-esque look and introducing her husband and champion with a rallying call for The Authority.

While ridiculous it matches their characters but with all the previous craziness of the show just added to the fever dream feeling.

Triple H himself (entering first, something a champion shouldn’t do) came to ring in surprisingly regular fashion despite the various accompaniments, and still looks the part of a champion as only he can.

Roman Reigns on the other hand was greeted by a deafening chorus of boos as his specially elaborate entrance didn’t really work on TV and I can’t see how it would have done in the stadium as it was based on camera angles and fireworks outside the arena.

Spear through the barrier

Spear through the barrier

The match started in typical slow, Triple H style, which I like in this context but it was clear the crowd were not buying Reigns as their hero from the off so it was like watching a heel (Triple H) against a mega-heel (Reigns) making the whole thing imbalanced.

With a generally punch kick feel there were a few nice moves as the match went on including a swinging neckbreaker to Reigns off the one remaining announce table, a spear through the barricades to Triple H and a nice sequence of arm bars from Triple H on an apparently injured Reigns.

While last year’s main event between Reigns and Lesnar saw Roman actually get some momentum behind him, here he did nothing to try to win the crowd (not that I think anything would have been successful) and, as the much climaxed with a spear to Stephanie and an escape from a pin following a Pedigree even through the TV there seemed to be a hostile atmosphere.

Pedigree from Triple H

Pedigree from Triple H

Hitting a colossal spear Roman Reigns pinned Triple H for the three count to become the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion leading to a celebration that showed suspiciously few shots of the crowd and featured extremely loud music and commentary even for a WWE show.

Reports from in the stadium suggest this was to try to mask the negative and angry reaction of the audience that left WrestleMania 32 on a strange note.

A lot could, and already is, being argued as the relatively merits and reasons for some of the choices made across the show, but, for me, a lot of poor booking decisions were made rendering this year’s show a hugely problematic one that left too many things in a state that made all the work put in before hand null or void or leaving the audience with a bad taste in their mouths.

Roman Reigns

Roman Reigns

That said the high points were high, topped off by the Women’s Championship match leaving WrestleMania 32 as a mid level show in the history of the event, but I look forward to looking back on it with some hindsight and see if anything changes.

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Owen Hart: Hart of Gold

Owen Hart: Hart of GoldI’ve been a fan of professional wrestling since I first saw it around early 1992, in the build up to WWF’s SummerSlam show at Wembley Arena. As with all these things trends and styles come and go and, as the so-called Attitude Era dawned in late 1996 I stopped watching.

In early 1999 I caught up with the WWF and one of the faces who was still there (and there weren’t many) was Owen Hart. His feud with his brother Bret (The Hitman) had been one of the high points of my years of loving wrestling as a kid so having him as a touchstone into the new era was great.

Then in May 1999 I saw in a national UK newspaper that he had died the night before. The first thing that struck me about this was that a UK newspaper was carrying the story (UK newspapers even today are highly unlikely to mention pro-wrestling) then it started to sink in what had happened, surrounded by the rumours flying around the internet and between the few wrestling fans at school.

Luckily I was able to catch that week’s Raw, then broadcast on a few days delay on Sky, and it was and remains one of the most moving episodes of it I’ve ever seen where all the wrestlers broke character to pay tribute to the man I knew as ‘The Rocket’.

Owen Hart as European Champion

Owen Hart as European Champion

After that a lot of controversy has surrounded the relationship of the Hart family and the WWF (now WWE) so its taken 16 years for any further chance to relive and celebrate Owen’s life and work to happen in any kind of official way, and that is a new DVD/Blu-ray set, Owen Hart: Hart Of Gold – though it seems these legal wranglings are far from over.

Along with a fine selection of matches, including some rarely seen examples from the Hart owned and run Calgary Stampede Wrestling and tracing his entire career up to his match with Edge in September 1998, the centre piece of the set is a new documentary.

As with most new WWE documentaries I can’t help but find it a bit short. At just over an hour it’s clearly designed to fit in with WWE Network programming, but, none-the-less a lot is packed in.

The basic structure is to chart Owen’s life and career so it starts with his being born as, famously, the youngest of the 12 Hart siblings. This is all particularly interesting as there are new interviews with a number of his brothers and sisters which, if I’m honest, I wasn’t really expecting, as well as archive clips of the late British Bulldog, Davey-Boy Smith, Owen’s brother-in-law.

If you’ve read Bret Hart’s autobiography there won’t be too much here that’s a surprise or particularly new, but hearing it from the horse’s mouth so to speak, adds more detail and nuance and makes it clear that Owen had a great mind for pro-wrestling from a very young age.

Owen Hart with Bad News Allen in Stampede Wrestling

Owen Hart with Bad News Allen in Stampede Wrestling

The early sections of the documentary are also made extra interesting thanks to the inclusion of footage from the Stampede Wrestling TV shows where Owen was the top star in the late 1980s before his move to WWF. As we track his first run in WWF the documentary is surprisingly candid with Bret Hart commenting about the fact WWF didn’t seem to know what they had, something echoed by Jim Ross about Owen’s short run in WCW (which I had no prior knowledge of) and Daniel Bryan speaking as a fan of Owen.

A fair chunk is taken up going into detail of the brother vs brother feud I mentioned earlier and we get some clips of some of the best wrestling matches I’ve ever seen, including Owen vs Bret at Wrestlemania X which opened and, arguably, stole the show.

Interspersed between all the main sections of the documentary are a series of ‘Owen tales’ where wrestlers from across Owen’s career recount stories of some of the backstage antics for which he was well-known. These add a real extra depth both in showing the much remarked upon fun-loving real life side of Owen, as well as offering a window into the world of pro-wrestling that had its roots in carnivals, fairs and side shows that I can’t help but feel has been a bit lost in recent years.

Owen Hart with the Sharpshooter on Bret Hart

Owen Hart with the Sharpshooter on Bret Hart

The story continues through Owen’s time as a tag partner of both Yokozuna and the British Bulldog (sadly of course there is no comment from either really) and his time as the highly entertaining ‘Slammy Award Winning…’ character.

The reinvigorated Hart Foundation gets a nice examination, but then we reach the still controversial events of Survivor Series 1997 and, arguably, well-known WWE politics rears its (ugly) head. A lot of Owen’s career after that is glossed over, including feuds with Shawn Michaels and his partnership with current WWE persona-non-grata Jeff Jarrett. Also skipped is the incident where Owen accidentally broke Steve Austin’s neck at SummerSlam.

While I didn’t feel there was a big gap here as the running time of the documentary is short, it is a shame these things weren’t covered for completeness and its sad that politics and legal issues clearly still have a troubling place in this story (particularly as it is obvious that these have created a rift in the Hart family themselves and Owen’s widow and children are conspicuous in their absence here).

And then things come to May 1999.

British Bulldog and Owen Hart

British Bulldog and Owen Hart

Obviously no detail is given, and I wouldn’t want there to be, but this is a genuinely effecting section hearing from Owen’s colleagues and some of the wrestlers he inspired about their feelings at the time and thoughts now.

In the final moments of the documentary it is particularly interesting to hear from Chris Jericho and then Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens as wrestlers who, in their own ways, have really taken influence from Owen Hart and have paid tribute to him – in the case of Kevin Owens both through his WWE/NXT ring name and in naming his son Owen.

Along with the documentary and the selection of great matches, there are a number of bonus stories which are, in many ways, more of the same but are all very entertaining and offer that glimpse into the behind the scenes of the world of pro-wrestling that is always so fascinating – especially when it comes with no agenda as seems to be the case here. These also show a genuine sense of feeling and emotion from the wrestlers who knew Owen who come across as genuinely happy when recounting the stories and, contrastingly, still devastated about Owen’s death.

Owen Hart as Intercontinental Champion

Owen Hart as Intercontinental Champion

It may have taken 16 years but its great to finally have something to celebrate the great and innovative work Owen Hart did in pro-wrestling. Within that I think it even has a lesson for pro-wrestling (particularly the WWE) today that when wrestlers are allowed to have ‘gimmicks’ that are extensions of themselves is when they are most compelling and Owen is a perfect case study for this.

Following this release I hope Owen Hart can be recognized with a spot in WWE Hall of Fame next April as, like Warrior and Randy Savage in recent years, he has been something of a lost soul to WWE who deserves the recognition and respect that is long overdue. Though it seems ongoing legal issues may mean this won’t be happening.

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