Tag Archives: wrestlemania

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

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

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

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

Kickoff

WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Neville (c) vs Austin Aries

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

Austin Aries and Adrian Neville

Aries goes for a hurricanrana on Neville

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

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

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

Austin Aries and Adrian Neville

Neville suplexes Aries

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

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

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

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

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Battle Royal

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

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

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

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

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

WWE Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose (c) vs Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin and Dean Ambrose

Ambrose delivers a flying elbow to Corbin

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

Anyway onto the match itself and not the surrounding circumstance.

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

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

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

WrestleMania 33

The New Day

The New Day

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

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

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

AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon

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

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

AJ Styles and Shane McMahon

Styles attempts to go Coast To Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho

Jericho with a flying elbow on Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triple powerbomb to Nia Jax

Triple powerbomb to Nia Jax

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bayley and Charlotte Flair

Bayley fights out of the Figure 8

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

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

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

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

WWE Hall of Fame recap

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

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

The Hardy Boyz

The Hardy Boyz

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

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

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

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

Sheamus, Cesaro and Big Cass

Sheamus, Cesaro and Big Cass

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

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

John Cena & Nikki Bella vs The Miz & Maryse

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

The Miz and John Cena

Miz hits Cena with a kick

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triple H

Triple H makes his way to the ring

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

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

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

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

Seth Rollins and Triple H

Triple H attacks Rollins with a chair

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

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

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

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

WWE Chanpionship
Bray Wyatt (c) vs Randy Orton

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

Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton

Wyatt stalks Orton

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

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

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

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

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

Goldberg and Brock Lesnar

Lesnar stands over the fallen Goldberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naomi flies over the top rope

Naomi flies over the top rope

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

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

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

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

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

No Holds Barred Match
The Undertaker vs Roman Reigns

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

Roman Reigns and The Undertaker

Undertaker delivers punches to Reigns

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

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

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

The Undertaker legdrops Roman Reigns

The Undertaker legdrops Roman Reigns

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

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

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

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

Tombstone to Roman Reigns

Tombstone to Reigns

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

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

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

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

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

The Undertaker

The Undertaker

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

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

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

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

Undertaker's gear in the ring

Undertaker’s gear in the ring

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

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

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NXT Takeover: Orlando – Amway Centre, Orlando, Florida – 01/04/17

NXT TakeOver OrlandoIt’s amazing to think it’s only a year since NXT first officially staged a Takeover show on WrestleMania weekend. Since then NXT has evolved considerably with new talent taking it in different directions while the Cruiserweight Classic and UK Championship Tournaments have given WWE’s product as a whole a different feel away from the main Raw and Smackdown shows.

This year a lot of the performers weren’t even on the show a year ago, or if they were it was in a rather different capacity but with a bar set high the new NXT team had just as much to prove.

Sanity (Eric Young, Killian Dain, Alexander Wolfe, Nikki Cross) vs Tye Dillinger, Roderick Strong, Ruby Riot and ?

Following an attack earlier in the day it was announced No Way Jose would not be in this match, so things started out with a brief mystery moment before recent returnee to NXT, Kassius Ohno, came through the curtain and both teams hit the ring at pace for an initial, all in, fight.

Killian Dain dropkicks Roderick Strong

Killian Dain dropkicks Roderick Strong

Things ‘calmed down’ with Cross and Riot squaring off and they instantly had a great chemistry with characters custom-built to oppose one another. The fact this was Ruby’s real NXT televised debut match did not pass me by and she more than passed muster instantly.

Things continued with Ohno showing off his talent in front of the big crowd again before Strong became subject of the matches most sustained beat down. With Dain showing off his scary big man attack along with a hugely impressive dropkick.

Tye got the hot tag before it all went a bit chaotic with everyone at least looking good before Sanity got the upper hand and Dain hit his version of the One Winged Angel, the Ulster Plantation, for the win.

Sanity

Sanity

While Sanity picked up the win, continuing their establishment as a top-level faction, everyone came out looking good and it’s hard to think Dillinger isn’t going to be elevated soon (though that might be the NXT mark in me.

It was also great to see Strong and Ohno finding their feet while Riot and Cross could become NXT’s premier long-term women’s feud as we move on in 2017.

Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs Aleister Black

The last few months have seen Andrade Almas develop from a bland babyface performer into a cocky heel more reminiscent of his time as leader as Los Ingobernables in Mexico and Japan so, the fact he was set to square off against the biggest debuting character NXT has had in sometime fit perfectly.

Andrade Almas takes a kick from Aleister Black

Almas takes a kick from Black

Rising like Nosferatu on the entrance ramp, Aleister Black (previously known as Tommy End) has appeared as complete package from the start of his hype building and this only continued as he moved from his entrance and into the ring, taking in the atmosphere, crowd and his opponent from a cross-legged position in the middle of the squared circle.

Things started out with a good back and forth between the two competitors with hints and suggestions at what was to come with Black accentuating the strikes and Almas the cocky side of things as well as more holds.

After a faster paced middle section that saw Black hit a nice triangle type moonsault reminiscent of Kota Ibushi’s Golden Triangle the pace slowed and Almas got the upper hand. 

A series of stiff kicks from Black turned the tide culminating with the Black Mass heel kick getting him his debut win.

In many ways this was reminiscent of a slightly lower level version of last year’s Nakamura/Zayn match but it did a great job showcasing both men and I don’t think it’ll be long before both could be involved at the top of the card as the inevitable post-WrestleMania shake up occurs.

NXT Tag Team Championships
Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar) (c) vs The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson) vs DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa)

Given the two out of three falls match two of these teams had late last year and the smash ’em up run Authors of Pain have had since their debut, the NXT tag team championship match had all the components to steal the show.

Tommaso Ciampa flies at one of the Authors of Pain

Ciampa flies at one of the Authors of Pain

Starting off with the two smaller teams joining forces to combat the monsters it was frantic from the start and never really let up. We quickly got the first hints of what was to become the story of the match; that, despite their best efforts, DIY and The Revival would be unable to keep any kind of solidarity going for long enough to totally negate the size and strength of the AOP.

As expected it wasn’t long before Johnny Gargano was left alone with the AOP, giving him the chance to do what he does so well in DIY, gaining himself and his partner sympathy and building to the inevitable hot tag to Tomasso Ciampa. Ciampa capitalised with a stiff flurry of offence that was the most sustained solo assault doled out to the Authors yet and, with Revival and Gargano back in the action, Rezar was sent through a table to the floor.

At this point the action came down briefly to four on one with Akam holding his own for a moment before Dawson and Gargano locked on a double submission hold that was split up just as it looked like the champions might be the first eliminated, creating a huge moment of drama.

DIY drive Rezar through a table

DIY drive Rezar through a table

The foursome then hit shared versions of their double team finishing attacks, again to no avail, before action spilled to the floor once more and a pile up spot culminated with Dawson suplexing Ciampa from the top rope onto AOP on the floor.

With the team work now broken down AOP capitalised to eliminate DIY following a Last Chapter legsweep/lariat combo on Ciampa to a less than impressed response from the now feverishly hot crowd.

While The Revival attempted a flurry of double team attacks they were quickly out powered with Authors of Pain retaining their championships, after a Super Collider powerbomb combo, and collecting the newly redesigned tag team title belts in what was a strong early contender for match of the weekend and should progress all three teams as they move forward with Revival in particular looking ready to make the move to Raw or Smackdown.

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

A year ago to the day Asuka began what has become a legendary reign as NXT Women’s Champion when she defeated Bayley by knock out at NXT Takeover Dallas. Since then contenders have come and gone and of the current crop only Ember Moon has looked anything like a threat to the Empress of Tomorrow‘s position.

Asuka delivers a running kick to Ember Moon

Asuka delivers a running kick to Moon

Following the unveiling of another new belt to replace the now slightly dated previous model, the match started off as a story of two equals as the pair went back and forth with holds and strikes and it wasn’t until Ember Moon took a fall on the steel guard rail that anyone was able to gain the upper hand.

Despite this, Moon continued fighting giving us not only her best display to date but also trading strikes with Asuka like no one else has yet, leading to close falls for both parties.

Following a great dive to the floor from Moon and an extended Asuka Lock survival spot, Moon looked to get the upper hand following a cradle suplex and set up for her Eclipse, flying spinning stunner, finishing attack. Unable to directly counter this Asuka pushed the referee into the ropes causing Moon to lose balance and allowing the champion to connect with a stiff kick to the head for the win.

Finally moving Asuka more into a heel role only serves to broaden her character as it has been heading that way already anyway. This ending also showed she is potentially vulnerable, positioning Ember Moon as possibly the stronger of the two and giving Asuka a real challenge for the first time since her debut. This should lead to the pair developing a rivalry to move the NXT women’s division even further forward in what looks set to be a hard-hitting and intense feud that could become a classic.

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

With their match at NXT Takeover: San Antonio ending in somewhat controversial fashion, with an apparent injury to Nakamura’s knee, the stakes were high going into this rematch that could see Nakamura become a three-time NXT champion in less than 12 months.

This gave the whole affair a big match atmosphere from the start that the inclusion of the new belt only heightened as Roode hoped to cement his ‘new era’ of NXT.

Shinsuke Nakamura hits a strong strike on Booby Roode

Nakamura hits a strong strike on Roode

The pair started out slow with holds and lighter strikes traded along with a great show of ‘mind games’ from both men, particularly around Nakamura’s trademark ‘come on’ posturing which, if Roode never bested, he certainly equalled.

While the pace remained relatively slow Roode kept the upper hand grounding Nakamura and taking his kicks and elbow strikes out of the equation very effectively, largely focusing on the arm after Shinsuke hit the guard rail with it.

With some fast striking flurries Nakamura remained on a level with Roode, but it was a missed Kinshasa knee strike that saw the champion really take the upper hand, switching strategy to attack the previously injured knee and maintain the near three-month long story centring on this injury.

Despite this Nakamura came back with a great armbar and triangle sequence building a hold for hold aspect to the story. After a sly low blow with the ropes Roode attempted his Glorious DDT but was countered and the former champion connected with a sliding knee strike for a near fall.

Bobby Roode fights out of an armbar from Shinsuke Nakamura

Roode fights out of an armbar from Nakamura

The general slow burn saw the crowd’s excitement build and build as Roode, frustrated, got the ring bell, looking for a desperate disqualification to save his title reign, before pulling out a last-minute spinebuster counter to the Kinshasa for another near fall.

With both men showing exhaustion it was Nakamura who let his guard down first allowing Roode to connect with an tornado-like version of the Glorious DDT and retain his championship in a truly epic match packed with all the drama and both longterm and in-match story you could hope for, while also being different enough to their past encounters to keep it fresh.

While this saw three heels leave NXT Takeover: Orlando with the gold, the show wrapped up a few stories satisfyingly while setting wheels in motion for the next chapter without anyone coming off as a real loser in a series of closely fought, dramatic contests that will give WrestleMania itself a high bar to live up to.

The main event and tag matches were certainly the matches of the night but all stood up strongly and let’s not forget Drew McIntyre was shown in the crowd, just like Bobby Roode was this time a year ago…

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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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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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NXT TakeOver: Dallas

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

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

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

NXT TakeOver Dallas arena

View of the NXT Dallas arena from ‘the crowsnest’

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

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

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

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

Double German Suplex

Double German Suplex to The Revival

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

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

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

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

American Alpha

American Alpha

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

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

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

Baron Corbin vs Austin Aries

Aries flies at Corbin

Aries flies at Corbin

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

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

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

Austin Aries

A victorious Austin Aries

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

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

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

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

Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

Nakamura and Zayn

Nakamura hits a stiff knee on Zayn

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

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

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

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

Zayn swan dives at Nakamura

Zayn swan dives at Nakamura

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

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

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

Nakamura and Zayn

Respect between Nakamura and Zayn

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

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

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

Asuka and Bayley

Asuka with an armbar on Bayley

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

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

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

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

Asuka is NXT Women's Champion

Asuka is NXT Women’s Champion

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

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

NXT Championship
Finn Balor (c) vs. Samoa Joe

Finn Balor attacks Samoa Joe

Finn Balor attacks Samoa Joe

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

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

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

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

Joe gets patched up

Joe gets patched up

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

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

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

Finn Balor retains the NXT Championship

Finn Balor retains the NXT Championship

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

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

YEAOH!

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Sting – Into The Light

Sting - Into the Light DVD coverIn 1985 Steve Borden, aka Sting, first stepped into a wrestling ring. Now, 31 years later, speculation is rife that his in-ring career is over following a neck injury sustained in September 2015 during a match with then WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins.

With that in mind, as we approach Wrestlemania weekend 2016 and Sting being inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame, I thought it seemed the right time to take a look at the documentary released in mid-2015 charting the career of the man dubbed ‘The Icon’.

The main documentary, running at just over an hour, deals with most aspects of Sting’s 30 years in the ring as well as some elements of his personal life and, while clearly very much produced from the WWE point of view, it does allow some interesting stories to come through.

Like many of the more recent WWE documentaries, made since the dawning of the WWE Network, Into The Light takes something of a dual path approach to its story; one focusing on the more ‘reality’ aspect of the then current build up to Sting’s debut in WWE and the other looking at his history.

Sting circa 1990

Sting circa 1990

All of this is highlighted by a series of new interviews with Sting himself where he opens up, in relatively candid terms, about his path. As a wrestling fan dating back to the early 1990s for me the most interesting parts of this revolve around his feud with Ric Flair that spanned the late 1980s to the final WCW Nitro show in early 2001. This segment gives a real insight into the way the wrestlers work together and quite what it means to them to compete at the top of their ‘sport’.

Along with the Sting interviews the documentary is packed with inserts from a range of stars, past and present, and again it’s Sting’s contemporaries from WCW that provide the most insight, particularly his old ‘running buddies’ Lex Luger and Rick Steiner.

Notable by his absence here (especially as Jerry Jarrett appears and rival company TNA even gets a passing mention) is Scott Steiner, though given rumours surrounding his relationship with WWE it’s not really surprising.

All too brief in all of this are a couple of clips of Ultimate Warrior who broke into pro-wrestling with Sting and it would have been great to hear more of this, sadly circumstances of course prevent that.

Sting and Ric Flair at The Great American Bash

Sting and Ric Flair at The Great American Bash

As things get up to the era of the NWO in WCW we get some more insight into how the company was being mismanaged that, while never totally explicit, back up a lot of what is rumoured and discussed. While he remains polite about it, its clear that Sting was hugely frustrated by all the ‘politics’ at play around Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff and that this had a major effect on both his professional and personal life.

Knowing some of the history of Steve Borden outside of the ring I wasn’t surprised to see some sections about his faith. While I always find these kind of things a bit trying, they do represent what is clearly a strong aspect of the man and fed into his choices about working with WWE over the last decade and a half – though given his work in TNA this isn’t totally convincing.

What I’ve described as the more ‘reality’ sections are fascinating in their own right as they allow a view into the day-to-day working of the WWE away from the pro-wrestling that shows quite how huge and varied a concern it is.

Sting and John Cena

Sting and John Cena

Along with clips of meetings with Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque, we get to see inside ‘Titan Towers’ in Stamford, Connecticut with meetings about merchandise, community/charity work and more.

This all culminates with a look back at Sting making his WWE debut at Wrestlemania 31 against Triple H. While it skirts certain questions it is an interesting insight into, arguably, the most historic match at that event.

Bonus Features

As with all these documentaries the DVD/Blu-Ray release comes with a bunch of off-cut extra ‘stories’ and these don’t disappoint.

Sting at Wrestlemania 31

Sting at Wrestlemania 31

While not essential to the story told in the main feature they offer some new insights from the origins of the Scorpion Death Lock/Sharpshooter (as explained by Tyson Kidd) to more behind the scenes looks at WWE to Sting’s then revolutionary entrances rappelling from the ceiling in NWO era WCW.

Along with these are a series of career spanning matches that, along with the previously released Best of Sting set, offer a pretty exhaustive look at Borden’s career from early matches with the Warrior-to-be as The Blade Runners through WCW and up to the match with Triple H at Wrestlemania 31.

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Yes! by Daniel Bryan and Craig Tello

Yes! by Daniel BryanEver since Mick Foley hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list with his autobiography, Have A Nice Day, it has been de rigueur for popular professional wrestlers to tell their life stories in print.

These range from the excellent, the aforementioned Foley book and Ric Flair’s To Be The Man to the reputedly garbage, Chyna’s If They Only Knew, and now former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan (aka ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson) has added his to the mix in the form of Yes! My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of Wrestlemania (a companion to a recent DVD box set).

The most noticeable thing about this particular autobiography is its format. While a majority of it is Bryan (I’ll go with his WWE name as it’s a WWE book) telling us his story, each chapter starts with a section from WWE.com writer Craig Tello focusing on the days leading up to Wrestlemania 30, undeniably the protagonist’s biggest moment in ‘sports entertainment’.

Tello’s sections have a few interesting moments, particularly in relation to Bryan’s training (focusing on legit kickboxing and MMA based work) and his attempts to maintain a near vegan diet, though they often veer into somewhat ‘celebrity’ territory which isn’t so much where my interest lies.

Bryan Danielson and Jushin 'Thunder' Liger

Bryan Danielson and Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger

Bryan’s sections however are far more interesting. Tracking his life from school in Aberdeen, Washington (the same town that gave us Kurt Cobain, fact fans) through his early interest in pro-wrestling to training, his run as ‘King of the Indies’ and on to becoming a WWE ‘Superstar’.

Throughout his story the already modest and likeable wrestler comes across even more so and it is clear that from a young age he was a genuine and huge fan of pro-wrestling. He tells of taking in everything he could from the monsters of the then WWF to the early technical and cruiserweight style performers that gave him his real inspiration.

As a fan of wrestling seeing this side of Bryan and hearing his insight into the wrestling I grew up watching is genuinely fascinating, as is seeing his love grow into his journey into the industry as he clearly shared many of the same thoughts as me (and no doubt many others).

Danielson and McGuinness

Danielson and McGuinness

As the book goes on we get an insight into his training and his time wrestling on the ‘indies’ travelling from Texas and California to Japan, England and Germany and each brings out some fascinating and entertaining stories. While a lot of these stories are similar to ones told by Chris Jericho in his book, Bryan gives us a very different perspective on them that feels much more down to earth.

Across all of this Bryan isn’t afraid to discuss wrestling as the entertainment it is, which gives another interesting angle on things as he speaks about it from both an athletic context (and with a hard-hitting, intense, style like Bryan’s athleticism is key) but also the pre-determined elements. Most interesting in this regard is a short section talking about his rivalry with Nigel McGuinness and the problem with concussions that continue to affect both men and a section about performing at British holiday camps.

Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania 30

Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania 30

As we get up to his WWE run Bryan isn’t afraid to address some of the issues he’s had and reflect on how their translation onto TV is one of the things that elevated him to the level of appearing in the main event of Wrestlemania.

Alongside this his stories of some of his fellow performers have given me a new respect for some of them that has rarely come across on TV and, in the case of William Regal, has just increased my respect and appreciation for his work.

The book ends, as the title suggests with the events around Wrestlemania 30 which, a year and a bit on, leaves a bit of a bitter after taste due to what came next.

Ultimately though this is a solid, if slightly on the short side, story of true fan living a dream and all the time that comes with the feeling that isn’t just the party line but is the actual truth of the situation – something often hard to find in the strange world of professional wrestling.

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Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes!

Daniel Bryan - Just Say Yes Yes YesEver since I first caught a few glimpses of ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson in his ‘indie’ days in Ring Of Honor I was intrigued by this mild-mannered seeming grappler from Aberdeen, Washington who came across as this generation’s ‘Man of a thousand holds’ but with the speed and athleticism of an HBK thrown into the mix as well.

So, when he appeared on the scene in WWE (after a bit of a misfire in the original version of NXT) I was excited to see if those glimpses could pay off in the longer term and in the so-called ‘land of the giants’ of pro-wrestling.

Well, the new Blu-ray/DVD collection from WWE demonstrates that, across his tenure with the company, the renamed Daniel Bryan certainly lived up to the hype. He took whatever was given to him and did it to the best of his ability so, whether it was the laughable angle with Kane in Team Hell No or the more serious feuds with John Cena and The Authority, Bryan was consistently worth watching in the ring.

Daniel Bryan and Triple H at WrestleMania 30

Daniel Bryan and Triple H at WrestleMania 30

This set then seeks to put that across over 8 hours of interviews and action. Initially I was skeptical as what appeared to be the ‘main feature’ documentary was barely an hour-long and glossed over a lot of Bryan’s history, though references to his days in Japan, England and Ring of Honor were nice to hear.

Largely though it focused on his path to WrestleMania 30 where he walked away with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, marking a high point for his 15 years in ‘the industry’. A lot of this was interesting and featured input from many superstars, most notably John Cena (who came across as a very nice guy and genuine Bryan fan) and Bryan’s wife, then fiancé, Brie Bella along with long time friends and rivals William Regal and Seth Rollins and Bryan himself.

Daniel Bryan and William Regal

Daniel Bryan and William Regal

Though brief, this section did offer some interesting insight into the life of a ‘main eventer’ as it followed Daniel and Brie to the various media appearance in the build up to WrestleMania.

This made me wonder how WWE expects its performers to deliver like they do in the ring and shows why so many wrestlers get burned out by the schedule (I may not be a fan of him in the ring but John Cena must be a superman to have been doing this for a decade).

The other aspect that made this a fun watch is something that spans the set, that being how it straddles ‘real life’ and so-called ‘Kayfabe’ (wrestling lore) to keep up aspects of Bryan’s character while still showing us something more of the real man than we see in the ring. That said this approach can work for Bryan who’s character has developed (like many of the best of them) as an extension of his real self – this approach would be unlikely to work for The Undertaker for example.

CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in Ring of Honor

CM Punk and Bryan Danielson in Ring of Honor

Ending with Bryan’s win at WrestleMania 30 and a title card explaining his subsequent injury the feature documentary portion of this collection is ok but nothing spectacular.

It is in the rest of the set that things really come into their own.

Across 14 matches spanning Bryan’s career from his first, un-televised, tryout match in February 2000 to his clash with Roman Reigns in the build up to WrestleMania 31 in 2015, we see the development of a superstar and pro-wrestler – and Bryan makes no bones about the fact that what he loves is pro-wrestling and I don’t think once utters the words ‘sports entertainment’.

Between the matches we get further insight from Bryan as to where they fit into both his real life and ‘sports entertainment’ life and every one demonstrates his ability in the ring excellently, even when in the ring with far less experienced and, dare I say it, less talented performers.

Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan in NXT

Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan in NXT

Highlights of this include the early tryout and ‘jobber’ matches for curiosity’s sake, a match with CM Punk that shows two former ROH legends performing on the world stage and of course Bryan’s triumph at WrestleMania 30.

However a couple of matches are real standouts. First is a ‘gauntlet’ match from Raw in 2013 that goes beyond the 30 minute mark and sees Bryan go up against Jack Swagger, Antonio Cesaro and Ryback. While the sections with Swagger and Ryback are some of the best of those two men, it is the middle portion with Cesaro that really stands out as the two wrestle like the WWE Universe rarely sees, especially on the weekly TV shows, and tell a hugely dramatic story packed with great moments.

Daniel Bryan and Antonio Cesaro

Daniel Bryan and Antonio Cesaro

Secondly is Bryan’s match against John Cena from SummerSlam 2013 that I didn’t remember as being a classic, but, with the benefit of hindsight, I think really could be described as such. Across a long match (for WWE) the two deliver everything that is the essence of pro-wrestling; drama, varied maneuvers, and a genuine sense of breaking down the boundaries of sports and entertainment.

Throughout it is hard to tell where the match might go and the crowd are invested throughout whichever side of the ‘Lets go Cena… Cena sucks’ divide they might fall, or whether they are out-and-out American Dragon fans. The conclusion makes for a genuinely triumphant moment that is astonishing to relive, despite what comes after.

Daniel Bryan and John Cena

Daniel Bryan and John Cena

Across the collection the ever-present WWE propaganda machine is, as always, in effect, but it seems less obtrusive here than in other sets, but, knowing where Daniel Bryan is now there is a bittersweet tone to the whole thing.

The collection ends with Bryan returning from a nine month absence due to a neck injury and sets up the beginning of another great run (something that seemed to be happening at WrestleMania 31 where he won the WWE Intercontinental Championship), but of course, we now know that injury has caused further complications, once again putting Bryan’s career and health in jeopardy.

Whether we see Bryan back in a WWE ring or not, and while his career hasn’t been as legendary as some, what Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes! shows is a man with a real passion and love for what he dedicated his life to and a man with an uncanny talent in the ring, showing that, even in the land of the giants, skill and in-ring, pro-wrestling, ability still has a place and can shine through.

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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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