Tag Archives: Stephanie McMahon

WWE Mae Young Classic – Final (and more)

Mae Young classic finalists Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the opening round of the Mae Young Classic, WWE’s international women’s wrestling tournament.

Since then the second round, quarter and semi finals have all been aired leading to a live final pitting Japan’s ‘pirate princess’ Kairi Sane and her devastating flying elbow drop against MMA fighter, and one of Ronda Rousey’s ‘four horsewomen’, Shayna Baszler and her debilitating suplex into a rear naked choke style sleeper hold.

Like the first round the second had its fair share of great moments but it was the quarter finals where the tournament really began to come to life with all four matches being some of the best women’s wrestling I’ve ever seen.

Shayna Baszler and Mercedes Martinez

Baszler and Martinez

In this round my highlights came in the Kairi Sane/Dakota Kai match and particularly the contest between Scottish wrestler Piper ‘The Viper’ Niven and Progress Wrestling Women’s Champion, Australian competitor Toni Storm.

The semi-finals then upped things even further setting a par not just for women’s wrestling but for any matches within the WWE Universe (to use their phrase) this year.

Baszler faced off against her mentor on the indie circuit, Mercedes Martinez, in a match pitting fighter against fighter.

The match had that MMA crossover feel with stiff striking and legitimate looking submission holds with both women looking like contenders.

It was accumulated shoulder and knee injuries for the older Martinez though that were her downfall giving Baszler her place in the final.

Kairi Sane and Toni Storm

Sane and Storm

The second semi-final had a more standard pro-wrestling feel to it with Sane’s Japanese high-flying against the Antipodean Strong Style of Toni Storm.

Again both women looked like they could make it to the final and both hit big moves, including a top rope to the floor crossbody from Sane that saw her go headfirst into the metal ramp.

Despite that it was Sane who would connect with her diving elbow on Storm to get the win and set up a real clash of styles and personalities in the final.

Final round – Las Vegas, Nevada – 12/09/17
Kairi Sane (Japan) vs Shayna Baszler (USA)

When I first heard that the final was going to be taking place after a Smackdown show in Las Vegas, rather than sat the NXT Arena at Full Sail in Orlando, I was concerned.

If 205 Live has shown us anything it’s that the crowd following the two-hour Smackdown show can be pretty burnt out, especially when faced with less well-known competitors and, as the opening chunk of the show on the WWE Network rolled on, this was looking to be the case.

Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler

Baszler gets the upper hand on Sane

After a look at the ‘red carpet’ for the evening, largely an excuse to further remind us of the building feud between the MMA and WWE horsewomen, as well as a nice little mention of Netflix’s GLOW, we headed back to the arena where commentators Jim Ross and Lita got a mild reaction and the challengers headed to the ring.

While Baszler got little response from the crowd on her entrance and Sane only marginally more, as they were announced in the ring by returning long time ring announcer Lillian Garcia it seemed the audience began to realise this was a special event, and as the lights dimmed more than usual for a big WWE arena show this continued.

The match itself was great with the size and style difference between the two women exploited to the full.

Kairis Sane hits an axe-kick on Shayna Baszler

Sane hits an axe-kick

With some fairly even back and forth wrestling it was Baszler, clearly playing the heel now, who took the upper hand with a stiff looking kick to Sane’s head that sent the Japanese fighter to the floor before Baslzer got the first real two-count.

From there Baszler focussed on the submission angle working on Sane’s right arm with a range of nice ‘joint manipulation’ style holds along with nasty looking versions of armbars and several attempts to apply the double wrist lock (aka the Kimura).

Sane came back with chops only to be derailed by a knee lift reminiscent of Kenny Omega’s V-Trigger, but on a third attempt she connected with her impactful spear injuring Baszler’s ribs.

This then became the story of the third act of the match, as Baszler aimed for the arm but Sane found the weakness in her opponent’s ribs. A top rope flying forearm was countered into a rear naked choke, Baszler’s signature hold across the tournament, but Sane escaped thanks to the rib injury.

Kairi Sane double stomps Shayna Baszler

Tree of Woe double stomp from Sane

The climax came following a forearm battle on the top rope leading to a tree of woe double foot stomp which garnered ‘this is awesome chants’ from the now fully invested crowd, and then an immaculate version of Sane’s spectacular take on the diving elbow drop giving her the three count and the trophy.

Given all the competitors in the tournament this match was a great final pairing as they combined storyline with the more sporting feel brilliantly and this was summed in a moment after the bell when the two hugged and Baszler, previously a vicious heel, clearly said thank you to the more experienced Sane.

Kairi Sane elbow drop on Shayna Baszler

Sane hits her diving elbow drop for the win

Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and Sara Amato then presented Sane with the typically ludicrously oversized trophy in what felt like a genuine wrestling moment, possibly even more so than TJ Perkins’ win in the Cruiserweight Classic Last year and up with Tyler Bate’s win in the United Kingdom Championship tournament.

While this show felt a little short at barely 30 minutes – I’d have liked to maybe have seen tag match featuring Storm & LeRae against Niven & Mendez as they were all shown to be in attendance, the final was far from the great contest with a dead crowd I was expecting.

In fact it was a great match with a newly invested crowd and more than suitably rounded off what has been a great tournament featuring some of the best in ring work WWE is likely to see this year, regardless of gender, and I hope this becomes a recurring event like the Best of the Super Juniors tournament in New Japan or Chikara’s King of Trios.

Stephanie McMahon, Sara Amato, Kairi Sane and Triple H

McMahon, Amato and Triple H congratulate Sane

But I think it’s safe to say that in the end the right woman won and the whole tournament has done a great job of setting up some upcoming stories and characters for the regular TV shows while giving some future talent a place to make a mark and maintaining a certain legitimate feel often lost in WWE’s ‘sports entertainment’ product.

Photos from WWE.com

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WWE Mae Young Classic 2017 – Round One

WWE Mae Young Classic logoIf you’d told me five years ago that not only would WWE be staging a stand alone women’s wrestling tournament, and also that I’d be getting genuinely excited about it, I would have been at least very sceptical if not purely disbelieving.

Well here we are in summer 2017 and, following the ‘women’s revolution’ of the past couple of years and last summer’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament, not to mention the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, we have the Mae Young Classic – a 32 competitor single elimination tournament featuring some top name international women’s talent.

Unlike the CWC last year, WWE are releasing this tournament (which was taped back in July) in blocks of each round before a live final, so here I’m looking at the first round of matches, released on the WWE Network on Monday August 28th.

Mae Young Classic wrestler

The competitors

Continuing with a theme I raised at both the previous weekend’s NXT Takeover and SummerSlam events, the Mae Young Classic continues WWE’s ongoing trend to at least appear more international.

Many of the contenders are announced as representing different countries with some even hailing from those countries (though it’s noticeable a lot are American, far more so than in the CWC).

Along with that, while some of the competitors are long-standing and well-known faces in the world of women’s wrestling, a slightly suspicious number seem to be rather new, even if they have other sports experience, and in a few cases it’s telling and smacks of WWE trying to promote their new signings before they appear on NXT.

That said, the pairings in this opening round led, with a few exceptions, to some great matches with some excellent moments.

Mae Young Classic opening brackets

I won’t go through things match for match but will pick out some highlights.

As a whole though the presentation was very well done with a similar, more legit ate sporting feel, like the CWC.

Baszler and Zeda

Baszler chokes out Zeda

The commentary, from Jim Ross and Lita, did take a while to settle with both feeling a bit out-of-place at first but by the end of the first round they seemed to have settled down (though I’ll admit the legend that is JR does sound a little old hat now and I’d have preferred to hear Mauro Ronallo).

The first episode (each episode featuring four matches) was a strong start following a ‘not as inspiring as it should have been’ hype video voiced by Stephanie McMahon.

Female luchadore Princesa Sugeheit got what was, to my mind, a surprise win over Scotland’s Kay Lee Ray, but it was former UFC competitor Shayna Baszler and both Abbey Laith (formerly known as Kimber Lee) and Jazzy Gabert (aka The Alpha Female) who were the real standouts, with Baszler looking like a potential winner, especially with her very nice suplex into sleeper finishing combo.

Xia Yim and Sarah Logan

Yim pins Logan after a German suplex

The second episode was headlined by Mia Yim picking up a win over Sarah Logan in a match where both came out looking good.

Also on the show Chinese performer Xia Li, signed to WWE following their foray to China to try to expand their market, lost out to Mercedes Martinez, who came across as a tough MMA style wrestler, while Li looked far better than anyone would expect in a debut.

Australian athlete Rhea Ripley looked good with a win over Miranda Salinas and the daughter of Paul Ellering, Rachel Evers, picked up a win over Marti Belle in the first duff match of the tournament.

Toni Storm

A victorious Toni Storm

In many ways episode three was the highlight for me featuring three of the wrestlers I’m most familiar with advancing.

The show began with Toni Storm, the first Progress Wrestling women’s champion, going over a very inexperienced looking Ayesha Raymond before kiwi standout Dakota Kai got a convincingly hard-fought win with a hyper speed corner kick and double stomp on WWE’s first Indian female competitor Kavita Devi.

In the episode’s main event Piper Niven, who had previously appeared on ITV’s World of Sport back in December as Viper, got a win over Santana Garrett with some impressively athletic moves.

While Niven may look like a friendlier modern-day Klondyke Kate style performer she has a lot more in her arsenal than one would expect from that, no doubt echoing some of the Japanese competitor with whom I’m less familiar like Bull Nakano.

Kairi Sane elbow drop on Tessa Blanchard

Sane’s elbow drop on Blanchard

Despite featuring two of the most anticipated wrestlers, the fourth episode was in some ways also the weakest.

Thankfully Candice LeRae’s opening victory over Renee Michelle and pretty much everything done by Japan’s Kairi Sane (aka Kairi Hojo) in her face off with Tessa Blanchard stole the show – particularly Sane’s ridiculous winning elbow drop from the top rope that is like no other I’ve previously seen.

While some of the eliminated competitors are ones I’d like to see more from, the results of the first round have set up some very interesting matches going forward making it hard to call who will advance, which is always nice when things can so often be so easy to predict in WWE, and has set the tournament going in a very enjoyable manner.

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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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WrestleMania 31 – 29/03/15

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

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

Pre-show

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

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

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

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

Cesaro takes a superkick

Cesaro takes a superkick

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

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

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

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

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

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Hideo Itami eliminates Bo Dallas

Hideo Itami eliminates Bo Dallas

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

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

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

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

Sandow sends Miz over the top

Sandow sends Miz over the top

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

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

Main show

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

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

Ambrose take a dive

Ambrose take a dive

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

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

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

Sick powerbomb on Ambrose

Sick powerbomb on Ambrose

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

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

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

Daniel Bryan

Daniel Bryan

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

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

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

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

Rollins hits Avada Kedavra on Orton

Rollins hits Avada Kedavra on Orton

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

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

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

Orton prepares for an astonishing RKO

Orton prepares for an astonishing RKO

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

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

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

Triple H vs Sting

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

Triple H and Sting prepare for battle

Triple H and Sting prepare for battle

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

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

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

Sting applies the Scorpion Death Lock

Sting applies the Scorpion Death Lock

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

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

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

Triple H hits the Pedigree

Triple H hits the Pedigree

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

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

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

Sting connects with the Stinger Splash

Sting connects with the Stinger Splash

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

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

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

AJ Lee & Paige vs Nikki and Brie Bella

Superkick from Paige

Superkick from Paige

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

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

Brie Bella with a flying dropkick

Brie Bella with a flying dropkick

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

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

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

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

Rusev on a tank!

Rusev on a tank!

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

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

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

Rusev and Cena face off

Rusev and Cena face off

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

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

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

Cena's first move of doom

Cena’s first move of doom

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

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

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

Rhonda Rousey with a hip throw on Triple H

Rhonda Rousey with a hip throw on Triple H

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

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

Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt

Undertaker squares off with Bray Wyatt

Undertaker squares off with Bray Wyatt

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

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

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

Undertaker and Bray Wyatt

Undertaker sits up after Sister Abigail

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

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

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

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

Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns get ready for a war

Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns get ready for a war

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

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

German suplex to Reigns

German suplex to Reigns

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

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

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

Rollins sets up to Curbstomp Lesnar

Rollins sets up to Curbstomp Lesnar

Conclusions

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

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

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

WWE Championship belt customised for Seth Rollins

WWE Championship belt customised for Seth Rollins

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

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

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

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

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

Seth Rollins - WWE World Heavyweight Champion

Seth Rollins – The new WWE World Heavyweight Champion

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Wrestlemania X8: Icon Vs Icon (2002)

wwf-wrestlemania-x8-coverOn March 17th 2002 the then WWF took their flagship show, Wrestlemania, north of the border to the SkyDome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for the second and treated 68,237 people to one of the biggest main events in the history of pro-wrestling as generations clashed when Hollywood Hulk Hogan battled The Rock – there is however, the matter of the rest of the near four-hour extravaganza…

This coming from Canada we don’t America The Beautiful to open the show, so we don’t have to sit through a cringe worthy hyper-patriotic video package. Unfortunately what we do get is something that will mark this show and, I think, is one of the reasons it fails to reach the heights of its predecessor, a performance of a generic nu-metal single from Saliva.

To give things a bit of context, Wrestlemania 18 comes a year after what is widely considered the best show WWF have ever put on Wrestlemania X7 (or 17 for those who prefer a conventional numbering system). That show came weeks after the collapse of WCW and ECW and it was clear WWF was in celebratory mode.

Saliva on the X8 set

Saliva

This show however comes after the, generally, failed ‘Invasion’ storyline where WCW and ECW tried to take over WWF, so we come in here to a show packed with some of the biggest names in wrestling history but a general lack of creative direction as WWF tried to work out what its place is in a world with, essentially, no competition.

After Saliva’s woeful performance (live music rarely works in the context of a pro-wrestling show despite many efforts to make it work) we get a fairly standard intro video where all the big names hype what Wrestlemania is but for the most part don’t tell us anything about the matches or stories we are going to see, which makes for a somewhat low-key opening that fails to entirely excite as I feel it should.

Intercontinental Championship – William Regal (c) vs Rob Vam Dam

RVD ad William RegalThe show kicks off with what should be a big match, as the WWF’s second championship is contested between two bonafide superstars of the business. Seeing William Regal with a belt is always a treat for me, but it is in more recent times that his contributions have been properly appreciated. That said in terms of in ring performance both men here are arguably in their prime.

Things start off a little shaky as they both have such different styles but they are soon gelling well and both exhibit their own styles brilliantly with Regal’s villainous side and RVD high spots looking great, and Van Dam sells Regal’s throws and neckbreakers like only he can.

Unfortunately the match is only a very short one so while its non-stop action and manages to make both guys look pretty good, despite a clean pinfall win for RVD, it ends just as it feels like its starting to get going. But it does a decent job of getting the crowd going.

European Championship: Diamond Dallas Page (c) vs Christian

Christian and DDPThis crowd reaction is soon lost though as we get a generic heel promo from Toronto native Christian where he says he’s moved to Florida and a video fails to raise any excitement for this match stemming from DDP trying to help Christian with his proto-DDP Yoga gimmick.

Christians entrance is awesome with his then new ‘At Last Your On Your Own’ opera-metal theme and general cocky heel shenanigans but DDP elicits little response and it’s just strange seeing a guy who was a top name in WCW in this lower-mid card position.

The match itself is ok, though the crowd take a long time to warm up and its hard to find any investment in it as the meat of the storyline is at best basic, and even for the live crowd is only really a week long. As it goes on there are a few nice Diamond Cutter and Killswitch (Unprettier) counters but DDP’s win falls flat and his following ‘self-help’ promo and Christian’s temper tantrum get no response from a crowd who seem more interested in getting their signs on camera.

Business picks up briefly next as we get a promo from The Rock which serves to demonstrate just why this man is the mega-star he now is.

Starting off with his comedy shtick he gets interviewer Jonathan Coachman to ‘say his prayers’ a la Hulk Hogan, before kicking him to the curb and expertly hyping his upcoming encounter with the aforementioned legend. The crowd aren’t totally behind Rocky but still sing along and, as we will see later, its clear this is the match they all came to see.

Hardcore Championship: Maven (c) vs Goldust

Maven and GoldustThird match of the night and third for a belt, this highlights one of the problems with the WWF at this time was that there were too many belts flying around which meant the main championships felt less special. This is a problem they’ve yet to really find a suitable solution for, but it’s not as bad now as it was at this time.

This match is largely pointless and features one of the worst Van Daminator style spots I’ve witnessed, but really it is nothing but an angle setting a series of backstage segments across the show. So it ends with Spike Dudley running in and using the 24/7 rule (which grew very tired very quickly) to win the Hardcore title and escape through the crowd pursued by Crash Holly as we the have to sit through a song by Drowning Pool, supposedly helping to tell the story of tonight’s world championship match.

All this serves to do however is kill the crowd who had already calmed considerably thanks to the nonsense hardcore segment.

The musical performance is followed by a backstage hardcore segment that sees Al Snow in a golf cart before Hurricane swoops in to pin Spike for the belt.

I’m not going to go into detail on all of these segments as they are many and pointless throughout the night but they do nothing but make the notion of championships pointless and do nothing to develop any stories or make anyone actually look any good and just seem to entirely kill any momentum the show manages to build.

Kurt Angle vs Kane

WrestleMania_18_-_Kurt_Angle_Vs_Kane_01Kurt Angle comes out first and looks in prime shape, which is amazing, and starts to cut one of his fine heel promos before Kane’s pyro goes off and out marches the Big Red Machine. Here Kane is the good guy looking to avenge an injury he sustained at Kurt’s hands a few weeks prior which leads to JR saying the phrase ‘head trauma’ about a thousand times in the opening couple of minutes.

Commentary team JR and Jerry Lawler are on fine form all night but it’s here, as Lawler picks up on JR’s repetition that their famed chemistry really comes into own.

Its evident throughout the crowd really don’t care about this story which seems very one-dimensional considering the semi-main event level of the two guys involved and the differing styles of the two men never really gel, though Kurt is a total machine and looks as good as he can.

A belly-to-belly suplex on Kane is a particularly impressive looking throw, but it all leads to what is a solid match rather than the kind of stand out Kurt Angle is more than capable of delivering – the slightly botched roll up ending doesn’t help matters either.

Following some more hardcore nonsense that feels like the bad bits of WWF during the Attitude era we get a fine promo package hyping…

The Undertaker vs Ric Flair – no disqualification match

Ric Flair and The UndertakerIn the video Undertaker is set up as a real bad ass heel who has targeted Flair’s family and friends to get this match with the 16 time world champ who had been acting as co-owner of the company for the past few months, so this sees Flair’s return to the ring following the final Nitro a year and a bit earlier.

‘Taker gets a huge initial pop when Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ hits despite being a bad guy and Flair gets a reasonable, if not stellar, reception, but is in surprisingly good shape.

Most of the match see’s the pair battle in and out of the ring with punches and Flair’s knife-edge chops and it isn’t too long before Flair is bleeding all over the place and genuinely wearing the proverbial ‘Crimson Mask’. Despite the general lack of actual wrestling the pair manage to tell a great story of Flair fighting back in the seemingly insurmountable face of the younger, bigger, monster heel while JR and Lawler really get the whole thing over excellently on commentary.

WrestleMania_18_-_Undertaker_Vs_Ric_Flair_01The highlight of the match comes when ‘Taker hits a full top rope superplex on Flair which is astonishing to see from the 6’10” Deadman and 50-something year old Flair, who JR reminds us suffered a broken back in his younger days.

The match ends following a vicious looking spinebuster from Arn Anderson who appears from no where but it’s not enough to keep ‘Taker down who fails to deliver The Last Ride to Flair but just goes for a Tombstone, which the crowd love, as the Deadman goes 10 and 0 at Wrestlemania.

Booker T vs Edge

Backstage Michael Cole is with Booker T who does his best to live up The Rock’s promo earlier but entirely fails. Considering he’s feuding with Edge about a shampoo advert though this isn’t surprising.

BOOKER T and  EDGEBooker comes out to very little reaction and even hometown hero Edge doesn’t get the response you might expect but the sign in the crowd saying ‘They’re fighting about shampoo” sums up why perfectly.

Both guys are perfectly adequate, though Edge has yet to hit his Rated-R Superstar peak and Booker T is still stuck in his Invasion-era gimmick so the angle hampers them and fails to engage anyone.

The match is generally ok despite a botched top rope hurricanrana spot, Edge’s Spear has yet to become a bonafide finisher and when he wins the crowd go mild, despite, as I said earlier, his being from Toronto – the Canadian crowd are nothing if not contrary at times.

More backstage hardcore stuff leads into…

Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Scott Hall (w/ Kevin Nash)

Steve Austin and Scott HallFollowing a video package doing a decent job of hyping the return of the nWo as Vince McMachon’s hired goons and their attacks on Austin we get a match that, a few years prior, could have torn the house down and, for the first part here, does a good job of heading in that direction.

Despite both being a little past their prime the duo tell a great story and hit some nice spots, with Hall in particular looking far better than I think anyone expected at the time.

Unfortunately typical nWo shenanigans strike as Nash gets involved and soon the ref is knocked out. At this point they beatdown Austin briefly but he fights back hitting stunners on Hall and Nash completely killing any sense of threat The Outsiders might have had going forward as they can be easily overcome by one man.

Nash is eventually sent to the back and some kind of order is restored for Austin to hit two more stunners on Hall and get a clean pinfall win.

The return of the nWo was, much like the Invasion, another angle that almost entirely failed. The popularity of Hogan (more of which later) and this outcome at Wrestlemania, led to the faction being watered down barely a month into their run and the cynic in me suggests this may have been Vince McMahon’s intent to further discredit WCW and the things they did that were (initially at least) superior to WWF’s product – thankfully this run for the nWo is now mostly forgotten but for the purposes of this show it leads to a promising match falling flat.

Tag Team Championship: Billy & Chuck (c) vs The Dudley Boyz vs The Hardy Boyz vs APA

four-corner-eliminationNu-metal-mania continues next as Saliva are back to massacre the Dudley Boyz entrance music and introduce this tag-team-four-corner-elimination match.

Following the previous year’s run of TLC matches this had a lot to live up to and entirely fails. Things start off reasonably well as the APA clatter everyone with stiff powerslams and spinebusters and a great looking Clothesline From Hell, but they are soon eliminated in forgettable fashion while the Dudleys set up a table on the floor.

For a while the Dudleyz and the Hardyz have a very standard tag match as Billy & Chuck watch on before D-Von is sent through the table and Bubba is pinned leaving us with the Hardyz and Billy & Chuck.

For the second time this match the Hardyz hit their standard double team spots and the match ends with a belt shot from Billy to Jeff Hardy leading to a pinfall win for Billy & Chuck who retain while no one in attendance cares, including most of the guys in the match it seemed.

Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs The Rock

The Rock and Hulk HoganFollowing a great package hyping this battle of the generations the nWo music hits and Hogan comes out to a huge pop which just keeps going and grows as he does the shirt ripping bit in the ring.

Many things get hyped by WWE as being ‘Wrestlemania Moments’ but when Rock and Hogan face off in the middle of the ring with the crowd genuinely losing it we witness one of the biggest moments in the now 30 year history of the show.

It’s soon evident that for this one the roles are reversed from even a week before and Hogan is face so Rock switches masterfully into heel mode, being one of the few wrestlers to be able to genuinely deliver either at the drop of a hat and the pair spend the next 15 minutes or so telling a gripping story of who really is the top icon.

The Rock and Hulk HoganAs the match goes on both men hit their finishers and survive, with Hogan’s ‘Hulking Up’ seeing the crowd become even more unglued, and it finally comes down to a Rock Bottom and a People’s Elbow and The Rock getting his hand raised.

What follows is a handshake that really does feel like Hogan passing the torch in a way he hadn’t done previously. Storylines briefly kick back in as Hall and Nash attack Hogan, banishing him from the nWo, before The Rock and Hogan run them off, hug and then Rock lets Hogan do his posing before both men walk to the back together.

While the actual wrestling isn’t the best this is a true classic match that shows just what WWE/F can do when at its best in terms of character, story and performance.

Women’s Championship: Jazz (c) vs Lita vs Trish Stratus

The crowd are clearly exhausted after Hogan/Rock so give very little to this messy three-way contest.

Lita and Trish StratusChampion Jazz spends most of the time out of things, despite a few nice moves, and Lita and Trish are yet to reach their later high point that saw their rivalry become a classic.

The high point comes at the matches conclusion as Trish takes a nasty looking bump into the turnbuckles and then out to the floor before Jazz hits Lita with a spectacular if scary top rope fisherman’s suplex ending a real nothing of a match.

We then get our final hardcore segment that sees Maven pin Christian and escape in a taxi resetting the Hardcore Championship to where it started the night and making all these segments entirely pointless.

Undisputed WWF Championship: Chris Jericho (c) (w/Stephanie McMahon-Helmsely) vs Triple H

Chris Jericho and Stephanie McMahonWith the crowd still reeling from Hogan/Rock, Triple H is played to the ring by Drowning Pool as they massacre his theme that is usually done by Motorhead. This doesn’t help the crowd any and nor does the fact, from my point of view, that Hunter is meant to be the face, but with no video package to explain things the story is at best unclear.

Jericho then comes out with Triple H’s on-screen (at the time) wife to little reaction and the two engage in what is a decent match but, in the circumstances, can’t compete with what it follows and comes across as one of the worst outings these two performers could give.

The biggest crowd reactions come when the Triple H/Stephanie story comes to the fore, which does a huge disservice to both Jericho and the championship and throughout the divide between face and heel is never quite clear enough to make either man be the fan favourite.

Triple HEnding with a slightly clunky reversal into a Pedigree, Triple H starts a new championship reign on something of a low point to round off the 18th Wrestlemania.

In the end this is a very transitional show as the Attitude era has yet to be finally put to rest but the next direction for the WWF hasn’t really been confirmed either. With a roster as packed with stars as this the show really should have been better but too many of the stories and angles are underdeveloped and focus is, more often than not, misplaced.

This combined with too many distracting segments of nu-metal performances or backstage ‘hardcore’ activity leads to a show that is watchable and fine but unbalanced and fails entirely to live up what it could and should have been.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman

WWE_Ladies-and-Gentlemen-My-Name-Is-Paul-Heyman_BD_3DIf you follow me on Twitter, or have seen some of my previous posts here, you’ll know I have something of a love/hate relationship with elements of pro-wrestling, particularly WWE, but that I am something of a self-confessed ‘mark’ so keep on watching regardless.

Every now and again though the biggest “Sports Entertainment” company in the world gets it spot on and, much like previous documentary packages You Think You Know Me (Edge), Best In The World (CM Punk) and most notably The Rise and Fall of ECW, Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman does the rare thing of breaking down (most) of the walls of the ‘sport’ to be both enlightening and entertaining.

What instantly helps is the subject, Paul Heyman has, for the best part of the last 30 years, been one of the most arresting and charismatic figures on pro-wrestling TV.

From NWA and WCW, through his legendary run in ECW to being “the 1 behind the 1 in 21 and 1” in WWE he has managed big stars and, more importantly, rising stars both on camera and off and has left a legacy that has changed the face of pro-wrestling, even if some of the powers that be would like to downplay it.

Paul Heyman, Freddie Blassie, Captain Lou and the Grand Wizard

Paul Heyman, Freddie Blassie, Captain Lou and the Grand Wizard

As with many of these documentaries from WWE much of the most interesting stuff comes early on. Here its as we see personal archive of Heyman’s as a photographer and interviewer for his own fanzines and then magazines as a teenager in New York.

One particularly striking image is him with Captain Lou Albano, Classy Freddie Blassie and The Grand Wizard, three renowned on-screen managers of the late 70s and 80s who Heyman would go on to emulate and, arguably, better in years to come.

What makes this section so good is it is, largely, devoid of politics. Gone, it seems are the days of WWE doing its best to put everyone else down (even though they went out of business years ago) so we just get Heyman’s views of other organisations and performers, and, in many cases their views of him. All of this does back up Heyman’s on screen persona in WWE but also seems to have the ring of truth that is becoming rather easier to spot on WWE TV these days.

Paul Heyman in ECW

The ‘evil-genius’ in ECW

The ECW portion seems, counter-intuatively, to be the most swayed section as all those interviewed only have good things to say about Heyman, though many admit they’ve had their problems with him in the past and WWE once again comes of it looking like the hero. It is very nice seeing some non-WWE faces here though, particularly in the form of past ECW performers like Raven and Tommy Dreamer and the man who gave Heyman his job there, Tod Gordon.

As we head into his WWE tenure it seems Heyman is actually given a little more free rein to ‘shoot’ (albeit in a controlled way) as he discusses his time as commentator, Brock Lesnar’s manager (seemingly both on and off-screen, which may be telling in Lesnar’s career trajectory in WWE) and his time as head writer on Smackdown.

Managing a young Brock Lesnar

Managing a young Brock Lesnar

Where this gets really interesting is in his arguable ‘fall from grace’ and, while the reasoning is somewhat sanitized (we don’t get anything from Vince McMahon while Stephanie McMahon and Heyman give a very by the numbers explanation of what may have happened), hearing Heyman discuss his work in OVW and getting CM Punk’s comments (obviously recorded before he “took his ball and went home” in January) on the period is genuinely fascinating.

This section did also leave me wondering if those in charge at WWE really pay attention to this stuff as it is evident how they have, from time to time, mishandled amazing talent leading to things like the current Punk situation – but who am I to say, I’m just an internet ‘smark’, aren’t I?

This is most interesting as it sets up for some stuff about his time out of pro-wrestling setting up Heyman Hustle and leading into the Looking4Larry creative agency which I had previously not been entirely aware of.

While this could feel like a contractual obligation section from WWE, as its clear Heyman is back in the fold as long as this side of his work gets its publicity, it is really interesting to see that the on-screen character is far from the be all and end all of the man, especially as we get a glimpse of Heyman the family man too.

Managing CM Punk

Managing CM Punk

In the end I think, once again, it is the subject that allows this WWE documentary to really stand out from the pack (I can’t see one on John Cena being as varied and interesting) but it is all handled well.

While there are a few moments that clearly shy away from some things or stick to the ‘official story’, and it is undeniably a puff piece for one of their best workers, Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman sits in the top bracket of WWE releases and I would say is a must for anyone with an interest in the last 30 years of pro-wrestling history, particularly if you want to see it away from Hulk Hogan and his ilk.

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