Thursday, 21 May 2015

WWE NXT Takeover: Unstoppable Review

The wait for an NXT Takeover was over. After three long months of drought the rain doth pour over the wrestling kingdom. But could Sasha Banks and Kevin Owens defending their titles against Becky Lynch and Sami Zayn respectively quench the thirst? Let's find out, shall we?



Singles Match for the NXT Women's Championship
Sasha Banks (C) vs. Becky Lynch







Glorious. Absolutely glorious. People have been talking for a good twelve months about the strength of the women's division in NXT and if this doesn't make Vince McMahon (or whoever is in charge of such things for the main roster) sit up and take notice then nothing ever will. From the moment Becky Lynch walked down her new steam-punk infused get up, and almost Rated-R Superstar style entrance, this was a slice of wrestling heaven. 

Story-telling! Story-telling! Story-telling! That's surely the whole point of pro wrestling, the premise when you pay your ticket price or subscription fee. The idea that two performers will tell you a story with their bodies whilst completely showing every elements of that story through their mannerisms and body language is sometimes lost in modern pro wrestling. But it was here and it was here in bucket loads. Both females have submission holds that are heavily based on the arms, so guess what both females beat the shit out of each others arms. What makes it even better is the fact that both females sold their arms like they were about to fall off, meaning that when those submission holds were locked in, it was a hundred times easier to buy into and suspend that disbelief that what you were watching was simply a story. The pop when Becky Lynch finally managed to lock in the arm bar (Move #2) was something special.

Beyond the story that unraveled like scripture, the two performers worked hard to keep things interesting with a series of well-timed and well thought out moves. Things can get a bit heavy going when everything is focused on one body part, and the creativity of the two ladies keep things from going in this direction. Sasha Banks in particularly impressed as she adapted her offence to suit the needs of the match, a double diving knee drop onto Becky's arm being a prime example of this. Lynch also got in on the act, with a lovely arm trap suplex. All the while both were bringing an intensity, both through their offence and their selling, that made this match completely different to how main stream women's wrestling has been portrayed for some time now.

The finish saw Sasha able to catch Becky with an arm drag off the top rope before locking in the Bank Statement to get the submission victory. It would have been nice to have seen Becky last a little bit longer in the hold, however with the previous work done on the arm (and the quality of selling) then there was really no harm done in having her tap out so quickly and the standing ovation she received post-match highlighted this. Heading out of the show, I'm interested to see what direction the women's division takes over the coming months, with Charlotte and Bayley picking up the victory in their tag team match, they would both surely be back in the title picture, but a rematch between Becky and Sasha maybe too good to pass up on...Two out of Three falls?

Singles Match for the NXT Championship
Kevin Owens (C) vs. Sami Zayn






Before the main event both competitors appearance's on Monday Night Raw over the past month were featured. A nice touch that showcased both men against the biggest name in the industry of the last ten years, John Cena. We also got to see both men preparing for the match, again working towards the "big fight feel". Owens was also interviewed by Greg Hamilton, with a superb character driven promo putting over his big week with his debut on Monday Night Raw and three title defenses on the NXT Live Events in Philadelphia and Albany. There was a well placed reference to his war of words with John Cena on Monday Night Raw, as Owens offered Zayn some "veteran advice" in what a good way to keep his feud with Cena ticking over heading into Elimination Chamber.

The main body of the match was almost an inversion of their previous encounter as NXT Takeover: Rival, a much more fiery Zayn took the action to Owens from the outset as the two brawled all over ringside and the even out in the crowd. A lot of fun to watch and again different from what we had seen from the two men before and on the rest of the show. Zayn's determination to batter Owens suited the storyline and was played believably by both men, with Owens looking almost surprised at how much Zayn wanted to bring the fight. The crowd was hooked from the outset, which added to the action creating what felt like a great atmosphere within the Full Sail Arena.

Once the action was *almost* contained within the ring, a series of near-falls for Zayn as he pulled out some of signature offence, like the Blue Thunderbomb and the half and half suplex, were a nice addition to a match that didn't have a whole load of wrestling content. Both men missing their respective signature moves in the corner also allowed for both of those moves to be kept looking strong without having to have someone kick of either. The short amount of in-ring action was done well, it's just a shame there wasn't a little more of it, as we know that these two can really bring it in a main event setting.

Of course, one of the major talking points heading out of the show was the WWE debut of Samoa Joe, who headed down to the ring to make the save following Owens relentless assault on Zayn following a pop-powerbomb onto the apron, as well as a headbutt to NXT General Manager William Regal. The debut was one of those moments that nothing that had gone before it really mattered that much, because it was just so freaking cool. There's a lot of avenues to take this, I'm hoping we get to see a satisfying conclussion to the Zayn vs. Owens feud, whilst a Joe/Owens headliner would also seem to be on the cards for the next Takeover special. Whilst the match itself wasn't a patch on the first from NXT Takeover: Rival, the debut of Samoa Joe may be one of the coolest moments of NXT television history.


Singles Match for the Number One Contendership to the NXT Championship
Finn Balor vs. Tyler Breeze





After an inventive angle explained Hideo Itami's absence from the match on the Pre-Show, this one became a regular one on one match (which the commentary reminded us of every few seconds). The two were given strong character based entrances that really set the tone for not only the match but the rest of the show. Both men looked like stars as they headed to the ring and everything from the new NXT set to the extra used during Breeze's entrance were part of opening the show right and creating a big fight feel heading in.

The match was a smashing opening bout fought at a high pace with the two clicking very well. Whilst they haven't been seen in a singles match on television, it was clear that the two have worked numerous matches on live events over the last two months, as everything was crisp and the reversal sequences flowed so well. The two worked in a strong false finish that saw Breeze remove the turnbuckle pad, eventually reverse a pinning combination sending Balor into the turnbuckle before hitting a Beauty Shot. The crowd bought into the finish and I don't think there would have been any complaints if that was how the match had ended. It was Balor however who went on to pick up the win with the Coup de GrĂ¢ce following a running front dropkick into the turnbuckles. I can't help but wonder how different this match would have been if it were a main event as opposed to the opening match.


Tag Team Match for the NXT Tag Team Championships
Blake & Murphy vs. Enzo Amore & Big Cass with Carmella




A thoroughly entertaining tag title contest, with Enzo Amore putting in his strongest performance to date. Amore looked good in the Realest guy in the room in peril role, taking a considerable beating from Blake and Murphy, who pulled out some good tag team moves in the process, including their own version of The Wolves' Force of Nature for a good near fall. The finish itself could have been slicker, as Alexa Bliss ran in cause the distraction that would end up allowing Blake to pin Amore for the win, as Cass seemed to waiting a long time for Alexa to run in. Apart from that slight hiccup at the finish, this was an engaging tag team match, that proved the worth of Amore & Cass as a tag team going forward.



Singles Match
Baron Corbin vs. Rhyno




This match did absolutely nothing for me. I've tried hard to find something about Baron Corbin that I like and I just can't find a thing. Maybe I'm being harsh and maybe my bias towards Corbin is why I couldn't get into this match. Bar a cool spot that saw Corbin knocked Rhyno off the top rope to the floor, this was a dull slugfest type affair. It was frustrating to see Corbin refuse to interact with a crowd that was giving him shit and for that matter the crowd were almost completely ignored throughout the match. Corbin picked up the win with End of Days, in just over seven minutes, probably about five minutes too long!


Tag Team Match
Emma & Dana Brooke vs. Charlotte & Bayley




For what this was it was absolutely fine, it worked nicely in it's slot just after the opener and allowed for a feel good moment on a show that was dominated by the heels. Cleverly booked to reduce Dana Brooke's involvement in the match, whilst also giving her space to learn from three more experienced workers, although she looked uncomfortable in the ring. The finishing sequence that saw both Bayley and Charlotte hitting their finishing moves before Charlotte was able to pin Emma was solid way to end proceedings in what was a fun women's tag. A bit more interaction between the two team members, maybe some double team moves would have been a nice addition, just to give this match a little something extra. 



Other Stuff


A superb highlight package detailing NXT's recent live events in Philadelphia and Albany aired, the NXT live experience was pushed heavily, expect to see NXT beginning to tour more extensively over the next twelve months. The newest Performance Centre recruits were shown at ringside, with Uhaa Nation getting the biggest reaction from the live audience, which made me happy. Eva Marie is here! EVA MARIE IS HERE! EVA MARIE! 


Finally...





In terms of match quality, I think it would be fair to say that NXT Takeover: Unstoppable would struggle to compete with the previous Takeover shows. But that doesn't stop it from being a fantastic two hours of entertainment that had me hooked from start to finish (except for a ten minute gap for Baron Corbin). Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks stole the show with the magnificent Women's Championship match, whilst the debut of Samoa Joe will go down in history. Breeze and Balor put together a strong bout to make up the mid-card, whilst the Tag Team Championship match stands out as the highlight from the undercard.

NXT continues to grow and continues to produce a creative and engaging television product. The next two or three months of television stand to be very interesting indeed, with the title picture being wide open with Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe and Finn Balor all having issues with the Champion and reasons to go after the belt. If you're not watching NXT, what the fuck is wrong with you.

Next TV Review: WWE Monday Night Raw #1148

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

WWE Monday Night RAW #1147 Review

Coming off the heels of a well-recieved Payback PPV, could WWE continue that momentum on the road to Elimination Chamber? The Authority holding a special ceremony for World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins, a heavyweight clash between Sheamus and Ryback, another open challenge from John Cena and more, but did it deliver the goods? Let's find out. 

Seth Rollins: Architect of a Dream





Heavily promoted throughout the show the main event segment saw The Authority holding a special ceremony for World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins, entitled Architect of a Dream (which is superbly annoying name). Earlier in the night in a backstage segment Triple H gave Kane the task of organising the segment, in what seemed to be the end of the Big Red Monster's tiff with Rollins. Rollins turned up with champagne, after what appeared to have been a night out with his boys J&J Security, to continue to wind up Kane was a nice touch, with Rollins continuing to knock his character work out of the park. Talking of great character work, Dean Ambrose turned to request a World Heavyweight Championship match with Rollins at Elimination Chamber, ending up winding up Kane so badly ("What would Paul Bearer think?") that he was placed in a match with Bray Wyatt later in the night. An enjoyable backstage segment, with each part of the puzzle coming together nicely. A quick backstage segment with Kane getting things ready, whilst also being disturbed by a kissing Adam Rose and Rosa Mendes was also a thing that happened.

The first part of this segment was magnificent. The faction of The Authority has grown into a something that is both entertaining to watch and easy to hate, keeping elements of the group off of television at certain times has kept thing feeling fresh. I enjoyed seeing the group back together, as they all heaped praise upon Rollins. Kane's promo in particular was a highlight, his "We don't always see eye to eye...I'm over a foot taller than you are" line was spot on, a highlight package of Rollins' career that Kane had made was the icing on the cake, whilst also highlighting an end to their rivalry. Jamie Noble also shone in his time on the mic, grabbing some cheap heat and continuing to lick Rollins' little hole. 

Of course, Dean Ambrose was back out, attempting to get the World Heavyweight Championship match he had requested earlier and this is where the segment began to struggle for me. Of course, Ambrose losing to Bray Wyatt earlier in the night (see below) didn't exactly help his cause and whilst Ambrose and Stephanie sparring on the mic was entertaining, the string of action that erupted afterward felt a little long and convoluted. Essentially, Ambrose managed to get his title match by threatening to hit Rollins with a steel chair with Rollins' head on some cinder blocks at ringside, before Rollins was able to gain control to close the show with a Pedigree. This was two or maybe three weeks worth of booking squeezed into one segment. Obviously this was needed due to Elimination Chamber occuring in two weeks, although I'm not sure the show even needs a title match (almost every PPV last year didn't have one) I wouldn't have liked to have seen Ambrose have to struggle a bit more to get his match and prove himself.

Ambrose and Rollins' history over the last year should allow the two to put together an strong title bout at Elimination Chamber, and this show left me interested in seeing how things are going to develop over the next week and then past the PPV in Money in the Bank in June. There's still space to develop the rivalry as it was left rather open in their previous blow-off match at Hell in a Cell last October. I'm hoping we'll see the pair given a lot of freedom to create a competitive wrestling match, rather than an more over-booking, Rollins needs to have a little more credibility if he is going to look like a believable challenge for Brock Lesnar when he finally returns. Perhaps we'll see either Randy Orton or Roman Reigns neutralise the Authority's threat early doors? 


Singles Match
Ryback vs. Sheamus







Taking up the opening segment of the show, this one came together when Stephanie McMahon and Triple H were talking about the upcoming Elimination Chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship. It was great to see Stephanie back on Raw and she was on top form on the microphone, working the crowd well and delivering some superb lines like "Unlike Daniel Bryan's career, the show must go on". The back and forth between Sheamus and Ryback following both interrupting the Authority was okay, but neither really stepped up to the challenge of being part of the opening segment of the show. Ryback seemed desperate to get a rub from repeatedly mentioning Daniel Bryan and whilst it tied in nicely to the storyline, I'd have preferred a few less references.

Once the match got started business really picked up. I've enjoyed Sheamus and Ryback's two bouts on television last year, and the duo seem to have a good chemistry in the ring, being able to bring out the best in each other. This was no different, possibly the best match that the duo have put on, for a number of reasons. With Ryback's mid section heavily bandaged due to his match with Bray Wyatt at Payback, Sheamus' offence was mostly focused on that area. Ryback continued to impress with his selling that worked so well the previous night, putting over the pain whilst also seemingly struggling to breath, not just when Sheamus was in control but also at appropriate points during his own offence like after hitting a Gorilla Press onto the announce table.

This style of match suited Sheamus' heel persona well and gave the character some different directions to go in, beyond the bloke that bullies the smaller the guys which can only ever run for so long. He looked good in control and viciously working over the ribs, however it was the sneaky means of victory that really allowed the character to shine. Sheamus appeared to injure his eye after colliding with the ringpost, and with the referee holding Ryback at bay, Sheamus delivered a Brogue Kick to pick up the victory and stretched his streak over Ryback to 3-0. The Celtic Warrior then showing his eye wasn't hurt after the match was a great touch that the Irishman played very well indeed. 

With both men being announced to be apart of the Intercontinental Championship Elimination Chamber on 31st May, this match worked well to keep each man looking strong, using the relevant injury to give Ryback an excuse for the loss and the Big Guy probably came off better in a valiant defeat than he would have pulling out an unbelievable win. Ryback needs a couple of victories heading into Elimination Chamber after losses to Sheamus, Wyatt and Seth Rollins over the last week, in order to have him look like a viable challenger for the title.


John Cena United States Open Challenge


 


John Cena's Open Challenge has become one of the major highlights of WWE television since it was introduced on the Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania. Things were turned on their head a little here, but we'll get to that in a moment. Things opened up with Cena's now customary promo, which didn't hit the spot with me. The main reason for this was the heavy focus on 'Murica, Cena's "We're all proud Americans" perhaps the most perplexing of the bunch. I'm not American, there's plenty of guys on your roster that aren't American, the last two people to hold the US title before Cena weren't American. I do understand that Cena is United States Champion and  and I'm all for him putting over the belt as a belt of the people, so to speak, but I couldn't buy into the promo and get behind things as much as the live crowd (and especially a bunch of soldiers) did.


However, things quickly took a turn for the better as NXT Champion Kevin Owens made his Monday Night Raw debut, as he appeared to head out to answer Cena's challenge. Owens and Cena going back and forth on the mic was a truly special moment. One of those goosebumpy, edge of your seat moments. Whilst it was clear that not everyone knew who Owens was, he made sure they would remember him by nailing his time on the microphone, working the crowd well, keeping his no-nonsense character that viewers of NXT will be more than familiar with. On his part Cena also raised his game, running down Owens for disrespecting the fans. The two characters just seemed to click, whilst there was certainly chemistry between the two performers.

Interestingly, Owens decided that he didn't want a United States Championship match because he was already a Champion. For me, this did everything for the NXT title, showing it as a prize that was worth holding onto on it's own, whilst Cena's prior promo protected the United States title. With Owens looking to fight Cena on his own terms, he quickly attacked the US Champion, delivering a swift and impressive pop up powerbomb, before holding the NXT title a loft. Owens came across fantastically in this moment, not just because he looked like a bastard for treading on the United States title (again helped along by Cena's promo earlier, although none of the commentary team picked up on Owens being Canadian), but he looked like an absolute beast by destroying the biggest name in wrestling in a matter of seconds.

With NXT Takeover: Unstoppable coming up on Wednesday, this segment (along with Sami Zayn's appearance a few weeks back, which formed a large chunk of the discussion between the two) helped to promote the show to an audience that may not have been particularly interested in the show before, which can only be good for the brand as it continues to grow. Even more intriguing was the backstage segment that saw Owens talking to Triple H, before revealing to Renee Young that he would face Cena at Elimination Chamber. If the two can deliver on the promise of their segment and build on their evident chemistry this match has the potential to be something very special indeed.

Rusev's Reaction



Billed as Rusev's reaction, the initial segment involving Rusev and Lana going back and forth on their relationship and eventually parting ways. I thought the scripting of this segment was nice, with both Rusev and Lana putting in decent performances in what must have been a difficult segment to play out in front of a live audience. Lana's delivery made it clear that she will be taking the babyface roll going forward, trying to garner sympathy by pleading that she was "only trying to protect [Rusev]" by "quitting" for him in his match with John Cena. Maybe this was a little lengthy for what it needed to be, and could have had two minutes or so shaved off with a little tighter scripting, but for what it was it an entirely watchable piece of the WWE Soap Opera. 

Whilst this seemed like the last we would see of Rusev and Lana, they made another appearance later in the show, following Dolph Ziggler squashing Stardust (seriously, a nothing match). During a Michael Cole interview with Ziggler post-match, that revealed Ziggler would be involved in the Elimination Chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship on 31st May, Lana would come down to the ring and kiss Ziggler. Ziggler's supposedly a changed man since the day when he was snogging the face of AJ Lee on Monday Night Raw every week, with two sharing a couple of pecks, Ziggler even seemed smitten as the two walked away. Before they could leave, Rusev charged the ring, but ended up taking a Zig Zag after Lana acted as a distraction for the Bulgarian Brute. I'm interested to see how this goes, Ziggler and Lana could make an interesting partnership, but I have a feeling this will be short lived and there to allow Lana to feud with Rusev without getting physical. But for now, long live Dana/Lalph. 


Singles Match
Bray Wyatt vs. Dean Ambrose




In a return to their feud that was big part of WWE television from October last year through to January, Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose piece together a strong television contest. The characters meshed back together well, presenting a series of enjoyable sequences and decent spots. Things were pretty much back and forth throughout the entire bout, which suited the characters, with both men showing that they don't need a gimmick match to be creative, Wyatt's rope hung suplex to the outside stands out as a particularly impressive moment, as does a double clothesline spot on the outside.

After a section of good back and forth action that saw both men dodge each other's signature moves, it took interference from J&J Security to allow Wyatt to hit Sister Abigail to pick up the win. An interesting result for Ambrose who would end up getting a World Heavyweight Championship in two weeks at the end of show, and whilst I understand the idea of building the rivalry between he and Rollins, there really was no need considering they spent most of the Summer and into the Autumn of last year feuding (and the PPV is only two weeks away). Wyatt on the other hand is building some strong momentum with another win here, he's looking like a solid pick to win the Money in the Bank Ladder match on 14th June in Columbus.

Singles Match
King Barrett vs. Neville





The match itself was a pleasure to watch, telling a great story and with Neville doing a superb job of selling an injured leg, after being attacked by Bo Dallas prior to the match (In an interesting segment, that may have proven that the United States just can't understand Geordie) Being unable to do the German Suplex, being unable to hit a springboard because of the knee was a really nice touch that more often than not is forgotten in modern day pro wrestling. Whilst I'm interesting to see where a Bo Dallas vs. Neville feud could go in the future, I can't help but feeling that there was still more space to develop the story between Barrett and Neville, hopefully it will be picked up again in the future.

Tag Team Championship Match
Cesaro & Tyson Kidd with Natalya vs. Big E & Kofi Kingston




Things were moving quick in the tag team division, and whilst this match was built around Xavier Woods being banned from ringside, it quickly descended into a melee, with Kofi Kingston and Big E disqualified for refusing to stop their assault on Tyson Kidd while he was trapped in the corner. What was presented during the match was entertaining, with Kidd and Cesaro dominating the majority of the match with some cool offence. With Elimination Chamber on the horizon, all the teams that would be involved ended up running out as the Lucha Dragons, Los Matadores, The Ascension and The Prime Time Players came out. This was an exciting twist on WWE's cliche mass run-ins, with some cool high flying spots from Lucha Dragons and Los Matadores. The Prime Time Players ending up standing tall after Darren Young delivered a Gut Check to Xavier Woods was a solid touch after the Players' recent run of promos on the division. 


Diva's Championship MatchNaomi with Tamina vs. Nikki Bella




Before the match, Stephanie McMahon forced Brie Bella to stay backstage because she was supposedly worried about Brie's mental health following husband Daniel Bryan's injury. Strangely this didn't play into the match at all, with Tamina doing absolutely nothing until the finish, which didn't exactly help Naomi. Not a patch on their match from Extreme Rules and failing to build with the blocks that had been provided was just silly. It was however great to see Paige return, making the save for Nikki Bella after the match, before hitting her with a Rampaige because why the fuck not, I suppose. It would seem we'll get a Triple Threat between these three at Elimination Chamber, with Michael Cole desperate to get over that Paige was the "true number one contender"


Tag Team Match
Luke Harper & Erick Rowan vs. Fandango & Zack Ryder





An extended squash match for the former members of the Wyatt Family, as they continue to dominate their opponents. Your basic tag team structure, with Fandango playing your Ballroom Dancer in peril. The surprisingly still mildly over Zack Ryder got in a fair amount of offence, but eventually succumbed to Full Nelson Slam/Superkick combination that allowed Erick Rowan to pick up the win. For what it was it was it was fine, Harper and Rowan look to be getting a big push as duo, and with the pair surprisingly left out of the Tag Team Championship Elimination Chamber, it would have be taken that the duo will become the challengers for whoever walks out of the Chamber with the belts.


Other Stuff


The same promo video for Tough Enough that ran during Payback was shown, which was a real treat. Daniel Bryan dropping the Intercontinental Championship last week was also replayed again, WWE seems to really want to hammer home the point that he is injured after showing the same recap on Payback the previous night. NXT Takeover: Unstoppable also received a promo, it's on the WWE Network this Wednesday. This week's Smackdown with feature the "return" of Roman Reigns, because he's been away since Sunday. Titus O'Neil winning Celebrity Dad of the Year received a little mention, good for Titus.


Finally....






Overall, I thought this was a solid edition of Monday Night Raw, with WWE working quickly to announce matches for Elimination Chamber. The main segments delivered, especially John Cena and Kevin Owens back and forth on the microphone, and although the Ambrose/Rollins storyline was incredibly rushed, there was still some good performances. Rusev and Lana shone in the mid-card as their storyline was furtherned with the addition of Dolph Ziggler, whilst Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose had the strongest bout of the night. The undercard offered some fresh rivalries for the main roster, even if the matches (with the exception of Barrett vs. Neville) didn't quite deliver.

As a television product this was a decent follow up to a strong Payback PPV, that moved quick to turn that momentum towards Elimination Chamber. Thanks for reading our next TV review will be Wednesday's WWE NXT Takeover: Unstoppable. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

WWE Payback 2015 Review

Extreme Rules didn't hit the spot, did it? Could WWE dust itself down and produce a quality follow up? A Fatal Fourway, an "I Quit" match and a Two out of Three Falls Tag Team match? This had to be good, right?


Fatal Fourway for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (C) with J&J Security vs. Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Randy Orton






After featuring in the opening video package for the show, this bout was given more build up in the form of some backstage action. Revolving around the stipulation that Kane would lose his job as the Director of Operation if Seth Rollins were to lose the title, we saw two scenes that explored their relationship, with J&J Security also getting involved. The initial segment teased that both would be happy to see the other one suffer, in a what was well-scripted moment and added a little bit of extra intrigue heading into the match. Minutes before the entrances were made Kane and Rollins once again met, although this was pretty much surplus to requirements, simply going over what had previously been said.

The bout itself was a thrilling encounter that showcased all four men well, and included plenty of hijinks and shenanigans to keep things interesting. J&J Security were a constant nuisance at ringside (helping to smooth out the face/heel dynamic of the bout), whilst Kane's inner turmoil story didn't last long enough to get annoying (as it did at Extreme Rules) with Kane quickly siding with Rollins and J&J Security. Extra layers of story were weaved in in the place of Kane's quest, with the one-time return of The Shield (to triple powerbomb Randy Orton through the announce table) causing fan boys and girls everywhere to spontaneously errupt with joy (squeeee). Joking aside it was a superbly crafted moment, with all three former member playing it down to a tee. However, it was Rollins reaction when attempting to get Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to join him in their signature fist bump that took things to the next level. Rollins' performance throughout was very well done.

The action throughout was mostly one on one with the outside interference and big spots on the outside allowing the bout to almost slip into your regular WWE multi-man format. Luckily, the action was kept to a fast pace when within the ring and performers. Whilst Rollins character work was spot on, his in-ring work may have been stronger. Helped by his familiarity with his opponents, Rollins was part of some top quality sequences with all three of his opponents, with a section opposite Orton, where the two block a series of each others signature moves standing out as a particular highlight. Reigns and Ambrose also put together some really good work when tasked at going at it one on one, showing promise for a potential singles feud further down the line, with a number of creative reversals.

The closing stages came off a flurry off action that saw each man hitting a signature move, before Kane got all involved in everyone's shit. The Big Red Machine took out Reigns and Ambrose with the steel steeps, before chokeslamming Reigns onto those bad boy steps. It was frustrating to see Kane so involved in the finish again, but it did allow for Ambrose and Reigns to stay looking fairly strong due to the nature of the attack, Ambrose especially came off well thanks to having hit Rollins with Dirty Deeds minutes earlier. Orton and Rollins battled it out as the only two men left standing and put together a short but entertaining closing sequence, firstly revolving around Orton's rope hung DDT, before Rollins blocked an RKO, Orton RKO'd Kane and Rollins hit a Pedigree to pick up the win and retain the title. The finish was perhaps not as strong as the rest of the bout, but was still perfectly acceptable action. Everyone came out of the match looking better off for being apart of it, with Reigns continuing his strong run of PPV bout, Ambrose staking a claim to get a chance at handling more main events and Orton providing some of the best action of the match. However, for me it was the Champion who came off the best, because whilst he still came across as slimy, scumbag, that you love to hate, his activity of the ring was off a very high quality. 



"I Quit" Match for the United States Championship
John Cena (C) vs. Rusev with Lana






Make no bones about it, this feud has been dead in the water since WrestleMania, the disappointing Russian Chain match at Extreme Rules didn't help Cena and Rusev's cause either, therefore it's even more impressive then that the duo managed to turn the last embers of their feud into an enjoyable pyrotechnic display (literally!) Featuring a number of big spots, and strong performances from everyone involved, this match built from the bottom up with each moment laying the foundation for the next, a flow which suited the "I Quit" gimmick well. 

Whilst things started fairly timidly with regularly in ring action, things quickly escalated into an all out war, as Rusev and Cena threw bombs at each other in the hope of getting each other to quit. Where things really kicked into gear for me was Cena telling Rusev that he was about to put him threw the barricade, giving him the opportunity to quit and when Rusev refused to do so, Cena shockingly put him through the barricade. The brawl around the arena that followed was a superb piece of WWE theatre, and allow the pair had problems with a reversal spot that was supposed to see Rusev alabama slam Cena through a table, they both recovered well and continued to push the match along.

Whilst we've all seen John Cena suck it up and fight through pain, this match saw the format almost subverted with Cena dominated large chunks of the bout, crunching Rusev with monitors, laptops, guard rails and giving him an Attitude Adjustment into the pyrotechnic area. This allowed Rusev to real stretch his muscle in terms of selling, as he showed the pain not just through his body, but in his face, and even his voice. His performance (as well as some brave booking) allowed Rusev to look like a bit of a beast, his rattled "No" everytime Mike Chioda asked if he wanted to quit, took something simple and used it to improve the quality of the match. Whilst Rusev looked good underneath, Cena passed out due to pain and whilst he didn't utter the infamous words, he was once again putting over the Russian in defeat.

Disapointingly, due to the a strong amount of creativity implemented in the previous spots, the finish was rehashed from Cena's Royal Rumble 2007 Last Man Standing bout with Umaga, as Rusev removed the top rope, only for Cena to trap him in the STF using the rope. Unfortunately it lacked visually in comparison to that bout that saw both Cena and Umaga bleed heavily and whilst this match didn't exactly need the blood, it was always going to suffer in comparison. Whilst Rusev apparently said (in Bulgarian) "Ahh...no. I give up! Next time we will crush you! I give up! Stop! I told you! I'll crush you, Cena! Damn your old mother, Cena! I will crush you! That's enough, I told you!", Lana was the one to essentially throw in the towel by telling Chioda that Rusev had quit. This finish will allow each party to go their separate ways following a feud that has been hit and miss since the Royal Rumble, but at least it went out with bang.


Two out of Three Falls Match for the Tag Team Championships.
Tyson Kidd & Cesaro with Natalya vs. Big E & Kofi Kingston (C) with Xavier Woods





Before the match could get underway, we got some fun and frolics from the New Day, as Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods got on the mic to run down Baltimore. The Charm City was having none of the trios attitude and let them know about it. Whilst the heat was cheap, it was a genuine reaction that the lads played with nicely. They even cut into SOME GUY at ringside (I imagine he plays a sport that the residents of Baltimore are fond of, and plays that sport in Baltimore with some of his pals) The promo warmed the crowd up nicely for the match, and they were vocal from the outset, which promised to give them match a little more zip and zing. 

I'm a big fan of Two out of Three Falls bouts, due to their nature to lending themselves to interesting match structure and this one didn't disappoint. The early proceedings were dominated by Cesaro and Kidd, quickly picking up the first pinfall on Kingston following a Cesaro Swing into a low angle front dropkick from Kidd. Cesaro in particular impressed here, with his new flashier babyface moveset showing the Swiss Superman in a light that we have perhaps not seen him in on WWE television. His early double double stomp to Big E and Kingston in particular stood out.

Whilst Cesaro was putting in a great effort inside the ring, it was Woods who may have stolen the match (quite literally at the finish) on the outside. He was annoying as hell, but in the best way possible, especially when Big E and Kingston took control after the first fall. The fact that New Day are now so over with the WWE audience as heels, allowed Woods plenty of freedom to run his mouth and his enjoyment could almost be felt radiating through the screen. When the pace quickened and the crowd started a "This is Awesome" chant, Woods was ready with his "We are well aware" reply, a clever and creative response that showed Woods is completely into his character. 

With the second fall going the way of the New Day following a Midnight Hour onto Kidd (Big E had previously speared Cesaro off the apron), the final fall was all Cesaro again as he dominated with uppercuts and his team got near falls off a sick running uppercut, a backbreaker/elbow drop combination and a Sharpshooter to Kingston. The teams looked slick and the offence was strong, with the exception of a dodgy tiger bomb attempt by Cesaro to Big E, and built superbly to a closing melee that saw Woods sneak into position to get Cesaro in a small package with the referee unable to see that it was Woods and not Kingston who had the pinfall. A fine ending that adds more for The New Day to gloat about in their excellent promos and, as we saw in a backstage segment with the trio and Byron Saxton, build to their title defence in two weeks inside the Elimination Chamber.


Singles Match
Ryback vs. Bray Wyatt 






The surprise contest of the night, between two wrestlers who have struggled to find their place on the WWE roster over the last few years. Whilst the feud leading into this was lack lustre, took the ten minutes of ring time allotted to them and ran with it, putting on an intensely physical match up. Wyatt dominated most of the match, pulling out some big moves early doors, like a DDT onto the apron and a huge senton off the apron to the floor, that left Big Hungry reeling. Wyatt offence looked good, with a roughness that suits the character, whilst still looking like he is completely in control of proceedings.

Ryback supposedly suffered a broken rib off of the aforementioned Senton, it's unclear whether this was storyline based or legitimate at the time of writing, however I'd have hoped that if there was legit injury that the medical staff would have been straight out. Therefore I'll assume it was all part of the match, and that Ryback was in fact simply selling his injuries, which he did very well indeed, clasping at his mid-section and gasping for air at the appropriate points in the match. It even played into the finish, with Wyatt able to escape a Shellshocked attempt, sending Ryback rib first into an exposed turnbuckle before hitting Sister Abigail to get the three count. Whilst both men need more interesting feuds going forward, this performance showed they can deliver on PPV and was almost certainly Ryback's best singles match in his five years with WWE.

Singles Match
Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus





Opening the show, Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler pieced together an entertaining slice of action, that both suited their two month feud and made both men look good throughout. The main story of the match was Ziggler injuring his leg early on in the match thanks to Sheamus blocking a superkick and delivering a vicious elbow onto the knee. Ziggler did a great job of selling the injury early on, grabbing the knee before various pinfall attempts and some subtle touches whilst running the ropes, that began to gave the match more depth that last month's match at Extreme Rules. It was a shame then that Ziggler neglected to sell the knee during his main comeback sequence (that saw him delivering knees to a seated Sheamus in the corner to set up an arse kissing spot), meaning that when Sheamus locked in a Cloverleaf it didn't get anywhere near the reaction it should have.

The finishing sequence was nicely done, although it lack any convincing near falls, which was a little disappointing due to the quality of the reversal sequences that the two put together, it's just difficult to buy that the Fameasser is going to finish the match, no matter how good the action building towards it is. Sheamus picking up the win following a Brogue Kick was secondary to Ziggler's headbutt seconds earlier that busted the Show Off wide open, presenting a superb visual for the final part of the match. Sheamus needed to win here, following Ziggler's win at Extreme Rules and Ziggler was booked well enough to insure that he could take part in the Elimination Chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship in two weeks time.


Singles Match
Neville vs. King Barrett






Barrett vs. Neville was a short, but sprightly affair that featured elements similar to their previous clashes at Extreme Rules and King of the Ring. The action presented was enjoyable with Neville using his speed as a weapon against Barrett's brawling offense, their just simply wasn't enough of it. The finish that saw Barrett decide that he no longer wanted to fight after a lovely corkscrew plancha was a bit of a cop out, but would suggest that the two will be feuding more in the aftermath of Elimination Chamber. If this is being used to give the pair more of a spotlight in the next few months then I am all for it, but if it ends up going nowhere then it will have been a terrible waste of the two talents on this show.


Tag Team Match
Naomi & Tamina vs. The Bella Twins






There has to be one stinker and this was it. With Naomi and Nikki Bella unable to build on their solid bout at Extreme Rules, this was a dull and sloppy affair that failed to capture my attention. Whilst there was an attempt at basic tag team psychology with Brie acting as your Total Diva in peril, I still find it difficult to side with the Bella Twins, and in a storyline where Naomi has accused Nikki Bella of being desperate for the fans approval (despite her being a bitch to everyone on the roster for six months) that seems like it should be important. Naomi picked up the pinfall on Nikki after a slam off the top rope, so expect a rematch between the two for the title at Elimination Chamber. 

Other Stuff


Strangely, Michael Cole promised an important revelation about the Intercontinental Championship during the show, this information however was simply a replay of Daniel Bryan vacating the belt on the previous week's Monday Night Raw whilst also a reminder of the fact that the belt will be on the line in an Elimination Chamber bout at Elimination Chamber in two weeks time. Renee Young hosting the Kick Off panel segment that also included Hall of Famer Booker T and Corey Graves, as they ran through elements of the "I Quit" Match and Wyatt vs. Ryback, offered some insight into the upcoming Fatal Fourway bout, before handing over to highlights of the Kick Off match that saw The Ascension defeat The Mega Powers of Curtis Axel and Damien Sandow in quick fashion. There was also a few minutes for promoting upcoming projects including Tough Enough's return on June 23rd on USA, and WWE Network shows Swerved debuting in June, Stone Cold Podcast with Paul Heyman on the WWE Network on 1st June, NXT Takeover: Unstoppable on 20th May, Elimination Chamber on 31st May and Money in the Bank on June 14th. Imagine Dragons provided Friction as the theme song for the show.


Finally...





This really was a very good pay-per-view, with even the angsty world of Twitter being relatively kind to the show. The three main matches all delivered beyond my exceptions of them heading in, and I don't even want to go out on a limb and pick a match of the night because they were all enjoyable in their own different way. Wyatt vs. Ryback and Sheamus vs. Ziggler were enjoyable bouts in the mid-card with all four men attempting to cement places higher up the card with their performances. It was only really the under card that failed to hit the spot, but I'm potentially willing to forgive the Neville vs. Barrett matches if the booking pays off in the next few months.

Overall, a top quality show and a major improvement on last month's Extreme Rules. I'll see you all tomorrow for the aftermath on the Monday Night Raw Review.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

WWE Payback 2015 Preview and Predictions

It's the first PPV of the month, after a string of strong Raws as of late, can WWE present an improvement on last month's Extreme Rules offering? Let's have a look at the card.


Fatal Fourway for the World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (C) vs. Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Randy Orton





Payback Records - 
Rollins - 2 wins, 0 losses.
Reigns - 2 wins, 0 losses
Ambrose - 2 wins, 0 losses
Orton - 0 wins, 2 losses


Similar to last month's Steel Cage main event between Seth Rollins and Randy Orton, this is all going to be about how much Kane and J&J Security get involved. As a straight up Fatal Fourway there's potential to put together an entertaining encounter with some cool spots and false finishes, tied together with fast paced action involving all four men. There's the obvious tension between each man that have been played up on the last few weeks of Raw, as well as the fact that all three members of The Shield are present in the bout, which has the potential to provide enough storyline nourishment to keep things interesting. However, the face and heel dynamic would seem to call for plenty of interference from The Authority, while the added stipulation that Kane will be removed as Director of Operations if Rollins fails to retain the title surely means we'll see the Scotch egg-esque Demon get involved. 

For me, Rollins and Reigns look like the most likely to walk out with the title, with it being just enough time since WrestleMania to delay Reigns title win to. However, Rollins has to be the favourite to win, having been impressive in his title reigns thus far and still with different avenues to explore over the next few months with the title.



Prediction - Rollins retains.


Singles Match
King Barrett vs. Neville




Payback Records
Barrett - 1 win, 1 loss
Neville - PAYBACK DEBUT


Promoted from last month's Pre-Show, this is perhaps the most difficult to call match on the card (with some bookies even offering exactly the same odds for both men). Neville has breathed some fresh air into WWE's mid-card, mixing things up with a number of different opponents on television, I'd expect him to do the same on his first pay-per-view encounter. We've seen that he and Barrett have chemistry in the ring, in their previous encounters and I'd expect this two be a similar display, based around Barrett trying to ground Neville. Barrett has momentum heading out of his King of the Ring win, but I have a feeling we'll see Neville pick up the victory to stake a claim for a place in the Elimination Chamber bout for the Intercontinental Championship on 31st May.


Prediction - Neville wins.


Singles Match
Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus




Payback Record
Ziggler - 0 wins, 1 loss.
Sheamus - 1 win, 0 losses.


After making the most out of an uninteresting "Kiss Me Arse" gimmick, Ziggler and Sheamus get another shot at things this month. Their feud has heated up rather nicely across the last three weeks of television, with their pull apart brawl at King of the Ring showing exactly what the pair could do when given the time and space to build a rivarly. I'm hoping for something a little more competitive than at Extreme Rules and hopefully the match will be afforded a little more time to allow this to happen. It's almost a given that Sheamus will pick up the win here, due to WWE's even-steven booking, but I'd expect some underhanded tactics on the way to victory, with both men moving into the Elimination Chamber for the Intercontinental title in two weeks time.


Prediction - Sheamus 


Singles MatchRyback vs. Bray Wyatt





Payback Record
Ryback - 1 win, 1 loss
Wyatt - 0 wins, 1 loss

John Cena's last two opponents at Payback square off in a match that is happening on this show. Wyatt doesn't like Ryback for some reason, whilst Ryback is hungry and interested in eating some buzzards. I think, that's right. I hope that these two pull something out and prove that they deserve a spot on the upper mid card, but I can't say I'm particularly interested in what has been put together throughout their feud. The possibility of a re-united Wyatt Family, with Rowan recently turning to join Luke Harper, could make things interesting, although would be WWE admitting they were wrong to break the group up in the first place a few months ago.
Prediction - Wyatt wins



Two out of Three Falls Match for the Tag Team Championship
Kofi Kingston & Big E (C) with Xavier Woods vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd with Natalya







Payback Records

Kidd - FIRST PAYBACK

Cesaro - 0 wins, 1 loss.
Kingston - 0 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss.
Big E - 0 wins, 1 loss.

The New Day have been a revelation since their natural heel turn last month, putting in some good work on the microphone and in backstage skits, turning themselves into one of the most over acts on the roster, which gives this match a little something extra thanks to the fan involvement. All four men in the bout have the potential to build on their strong match at Extreme Rules, with the Two out of Three Falls gimmick offering plenty of space for creativity in terms of finishes and storytelling. There's a possibility that this could steal the show.


Prediction - Kingston & Big E retain.



"I Quit" Match for the United States ChampionshipJohn Cena (C) vs. Rusev (with Lana)







This feud was dead for me following WrestleMania, it was then buried with the poor Russian Chain match last month, this "I Quit" match attempts to to dig it up and give it the kiss of life. The two will have to show more imagination than they did with their Extreme Rules match to really make this one work, with the "I Quit" gimmick offering itself for some interesting situations, clashing with Cena's "Never Give Up" attitude. I'm fully expecting to see a finish that involves Lana in some way, to finally end her partnership with Rusev, which has been teased as coming to an end for some time now. I wouldn't be surprised to see Cena win and drop the title the next night either.



Prediction - Cena retains.



Tag Team Match
Naomi & Tamina vs. The Bella Twins 






Payback Records

Naomi - PAYBACK DEBUT!

Tamina - PAYBACK DEBUT!

Nikki - PAYBACK DEBUT!
Brie - PAYBACK DEBUT!

The third Diva's tag team match in five months on Pay-per-view, and this one does absolutely nothing for me. The Bella Twins as babyface just shouldn't be a thing, I'm not even sure how they turned, they just did, because WWE. More words. More words. More words. Tamina and Naomi win. 



Prediction - Tamina and Naomi win.


There's some interesting looking clashes across the card, with a pair of intriguing singles matches in Ziggler vs. Sheamus and Neville vs. Barrett offering four men a good opportunity to prove why they deserve move up the card, whilst the Two out of Three Falls Tag Team bout also has potential to break away from the pack and produce a creative and entertaining match. The main event hinges on the amount of over-booking WWE chooses to put onto it, with last month's Extreme Rules main event being smothered in it's closing stages. Everything else does very little for me, so here's hoping that the four matches mentioned delivery on their promises. Enjoy the show, boys and girls.


Tweets by @ATPWrestling