Friday, 6 April 2018

NXT TakeOver: New Orleans Preview

On 7th April, NXT is set to take over the Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LO, as part of the WWE's Wrestlemania weekend, however, in a confusing reversal of situations, the pre-Mania TakeOver is more like NXT's SummerSlam than it is their WrestleMania, their WrestleMania, of course, being the annual Brooklyn show, which takes place the day before Summerslam. Anyway, we here at ATPW sure do love our previews, so here's one for this show, think of it like a pre-show but with no Peter Rosenberg so much better. Talking of pre-shows, why not tune in for the KickOff at Midnight (if you're in America, please check your local listings) with an all-star panel including NFL All-Pro Punter Pat McAfee (whatever that means) giving us all the chat and discussion required for an hour before the actual show at 1am (once again, check your listings, US). Till then, why not enjoy this preview with the sounds of our themes for this show courtesy of New Orleans own, Cane Hill...

NXT North American Championship Ladder Match:     EC3 vs Adam Cole Velveteen Dream vs Ricochet vs Lars Sullivan vs Killian Dain

I would imagine there's a strong chance this match opens the show as its a match with little build, little in the way of emotional attachment but with six men and a whole load of ladders set to be in the ring, has the potential to set the stage with some good and crazy action. This match, and indeed, title, have been mostly made to accommodate the expanding ranks of the NXT Men's Single's division making it so that everyone going after one title is getting ridiculous. What about the United Kingdom Championship I hear you ask, surely that title could have been expanded in its focus in order to accommodate such a position? Well, the answer is fuck off, we don't need your kind of logic around here. Also, with UK Champion Pete Dunne in the Tag Title match later, it's not like they could have a non-full time talent working double duty. Still, what works well here is that there is no way to predict which of these six men will be taking the title with a strong mix of indie darlings like the debuting EC3 & Ricochet through to Velveteen Dream & Lars Sullivan, two men who've cut their teeth here in NXT and really made themselves cornerstones of their division. 

What to expect from this one is an interesting thought as beyond Ricochet, we don't really have many flippy boys in this so traditional WWE ladder match booking would suggest he'll do the really cool spot that everyone talks about but not win it, Dain & Sullivan still feel like even after this week's NXT, they still have some unresolved issues so likelihood is, the feuding between those two might distract them from climbing that ladder which leaves Cole who might not even be in the match as he might be helping O'Reilly defend the tag-team titles, Dream who is just wonderful in every way & EC3, a man who by the end of the night, everyone will realise he is what Bobby Roode pretended to be, if they don't know, now they'll know. This is my long-winded way of saying I don't know, spoiler alert though, it's probably going to be at least a little bit good.

NXT Tag Team Championship & Dusty Classic Cup: Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish & Kyle O'Reilly) (c) vs Strong x Bitter & Authors of Pain

You may notice that Adam Cole is in the photo above as well. This is because over the past month/s, NXT has been running the third Dusty Rhodes Tag-Team Classic, an eight-team tournament for the prestigious title, previously won by Finn Balor & Samoa Joe and Authors of Pain, but also a shot at the Tag-Team Championships. On the one side of the finals, we had the previous winners Authors of Pain who smashed through TM-61 and Street Profits to get here and on the other side, Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong, a make-shift team formed after Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven) were forced to bow out when Tyler aggravated an angle injury while at Brighton's Riptide Wrestling, who fought past Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan and SAnitY to make it here. With poor Bobby Fish out on injury, Kyle O'Reilly and Cole decided to crash the final and cause a double disqualification, no winners, no challengers, smart eh? so O'Reilly was given three choices: wrestle alone, Cole does double-duty or Cole drops out of the Ladder Match.

Unsurprisingly, it seems he's chosen to work double duty, so one of the major factors of this match in play is card order as Cole or Cole & O'Reilly are at a significant disadvantage depending on which match goes on last of the two, though if this is the first of the two, it puts all three teams on a roughly equal-footing as Undisputed Era have beaten Authors of Pain before (twice if you count War Games), Authors of Pain have won tag gold, dusty cups and tag three-way dances before and the team we here like to call Strong x Bitter have tag-team success written through their DNA with former PROGRESS, Ring of Honor & PWG reigns between them, a UK title still in their team's grasp and the knowledge that the first Dusty Classic was won by a makeshift team like them. If it's not clear, as a Midlands boy myself, I'm calling a win for Strong x Bitter and rooting for them but mostly, I'm just looking forward to watching some good, solid tag action. Expect lots of big strikes, big moves and at one point, if we're lucky, Pete Dunne will punch Adam Cole out of the air. Won't that be a treat?

NXT Women's Championship: Ember Moon (c) vs Shayna Baszler

If you're getting a sense of deja vu, yes, we did only recently see this match at the last TakeOver and also once more in between, as well as frequent attacks on each other. The dispute between these revolves around Baszler thinking Moon isn't fit to lead as she couldn't defeat Asuka, she couldn't hit the Eclipse on Baszler who kept her grounded having to use a roll-up to get victory and when Baszler was given another match, she won but via disqualification after an angry Kairi Sane returned and attacked her, only for Baszler to make reasonably easy work of Sane. Much like last time, expect this match to come down to a David-Goliath type match-up with Moon once again seeking that Eclipse top-rope stunner while Baszler will want to lock in and preferably never let go of the Kirifuda Clutch. As to whom shall walk out of that arena with the title, it's hard to call, it feels like Ember is only ever one Eclipse away from retaining but especially with her friend Ronda Rousey making her pro-wres debut the next night, it seems like maybe Baszler is being set up to take the title and run with it for a while, especially as there's still some unsolved animosity between Baszler, Sane and Dakota Kai to sort out if Moon were to make the move Main Roster-wards...

Unsanctioned Match: Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa

This has been a long time coming, almost a year in fact. Let me take you back to Chicago as after they'd just lost their last shot at the NXT Tag Team Titles, Ciampa would turn viciously on Gargano, knowing that he was going to be out for a while on injury time, he wanted to make a statement before he did, one that for a long time, broke Gargano, forcing him to try and exorcise the monkey on his back that is Ciampa because that's what you do to monkey. Eventually Gargano started winning again, earning a shot at the NXT title but even then, wasn't quite enough and just as he was at his lowest, having lost his shot, there was Ciampa again because exorcising doesn't work on back monkeys, especially when they get involved in your Title vs Career rematch and force you to lose your job. It's at this point, the waters get muddied as Ciampa spent a few weeks struggling to get a word in edgeways as he simultaneously continued to be the best heel in NXT and also it's greatest hero for standing up to the awful sturmundrang of the NXT audience till he got tired of their caterwauling and Gargano's hounding of him and agreed to a match, unsanctioned of course because let's not forget, Gargano is fired but if he wins, he gets his job back, loses, he's gone forever.

There's almost too much history behind this match to cover but regardless, this is going to be one of the most emotional matches of the weekend, just as much, maybe more important to the wrestling scene as a whole than Kenny Omega vs Cody as every single second has the entire heart of NXT hanging in the balance, this is for something more important than the actual title, this is a match for the philosophical centre of the developmental brand, is this a place of good or evil? Also, most importantly, can this top Gargano v Almas because that shit was tight? As it's unsanctioned, expect this one to be more of a brawl than a technical classic. Ultimately, this seems like it's Gargano's match to win as he needs his job and assuming they get enough time for this, it's unlikely Ciampa looks any weaker in loss, especially coming back from a lengthy spell on the injured list but never count out the Sicilian psychopath as he might well pull it out of the bag, setting up his own chance at going after that big slice of NXT gold (and who amongst us doesn't see money in Black v Ciampa?) while Gargano, surely the bright post-mania lights of RAW or Smackdown could be a' callin'.

NXT Championship: Andrade Almas (c) vs Aleister Black

Cast your mind back to NXT TakeOver: Orlando last year, Tommy End, now going by the name Aleister Black made his official NXT debut (having competed against Neville at the United Kingdom Championship tournament) against Andrade 'Cien' Almas. It was a well-fought match but in the end, Black came out on top with reasonable ease. That was, however, a different Almas, that was Almas before he met Zelina Vega, that was Almas before his five-star classic with Johnny Gargano, that was the Almas that I usually dismissed by just calling him a 'lad'. He was floundering, now he's at the very top of the NXT pyramid of greatness and the man who calls himself 'The Idol' and '100' is a far more motivated and more dangerous man than he was this time last year, for proof of that, see how he dragged Black from car park to the ring, destroying and nearly drowning him along the way. Though in the other corner, somewhere between good and evil, sits Aleister Black, a man with only two losses to this particular name in NXT and one of those he wasn't even in or around the ring for, he's someone who's been on a tear and seemed like he's been destined for the NXT title since he stepped into Full Sail but no one should expect Almas and definitely not Vega to go down without one heck of a fight.

Pardon the innuendo but expect this one to go long and stiff as even with their differing backgrounds, both men are known as much for their technical expertise as the swift, hard-hitting nature of their strikes. They are both also known to bust out a moonsault or two every so often so that'll be fun. As much as Gargano-Ciampa is the biggest story going into the show, I'd still expect this one to go on last as it's the main title, it really should and I don't see any world in which if Gargano and Ciampa haven't tore the entire house down, that these two don't tear down the rest. As to who's walking out with that lovely golden belt, as much as I'd love to see Almas hold on to it forever, I think that Black is walking out with his first WWE prize slung over his shoulder and you know what, if the crowd chant 'you deserve it' at him, yeah, he bloody well does.

Any Other Predictions...

So with Pete Dunne in the Tag match, it's unlikely there'll be a separate UK Championship match, as a result, I'm going to assume the card is just these five matches and I'm fine with that as I can't see any of them not being at least good. This being a TakeOver, this is really the bit where I mostly speculate about what 'hottest free agent' will be in the crowd, this time around, I will keep saying that it could be Christopher (Donovan) Dijak but really it could be anyone. I mean, as part of the deal with PROGRESS and EVOLVE, Keith Lee, WALTER, Zack Gibson and others will be participating in Axxess so who knows? If it turns out to be Jason Kincaid, I don't really know anything about him so you'll have to come up with your own thoughts. Of course, the big question we all have is will Triple H appear and do a big crowd warm-up 'we are NXT' speech? I hope so, who doesn't pop for those every, damn, time?

Article By Jozef Raczka (@NotJoeRaczka)

WWE NXT Review // 4th April 2018

On 4th April 2018, WWE aired its 294th episode of NXT, filmed at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida on 7th March and the last episode before NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. Our main event was an encounter between the 'Physical Freak' Lars Sullivan and the 'Beast of Belfast' Killian Dain, two of the competitors in Saturday's Ladder match. We also had our Dusty Rhodes Tag-Team Classic final between Pete Dunne & Roderick Strong and Authors of Pain, as well as Kairi Sane vs Vanessa Borne. Going into what is the second biggest event of the year for NXT, this had a lot riding on it to take us home in style, But was it any good?

Charly Caruso is in the NXT Control Centre to give us an update on the Dusty Classic goings-on including footage of Michael B. Hayes, Dustin Rhodes & a third man who presumably means something to someone arriving to watch the big match but also to confirm that one-half of the tag-team champions, Bobby Fish is injured and won't be able to compete on Saturday. What does this mean? Well, let's find out...

Dusty Rhodes Classic Final // Strong x Bitter def. Authors of Pain // Double DQ

There was an interesting cycle of intent to this match as last time Roderick Strong was in the ring with the Authors was the WarGames match when he stood alongside them but the aim has always remained the same - to dismantle The Undisputed Era. Equally interesting is the fact that no one on commentary thought to mention this. Despite not having a conclusive ending, this is still a match of two halves as it didn't really kick into gear until the Roderick Strong hot-tag. There was a weird atmosphere as you have basically tweener Dunne playing the (surprisingly effective) bruiserweight-in-peril as the Authors work him over with a faintly uninspired heat section but the crowd were half-behind the big murder men, possibly they are mistaking babyface for actually having baby faces, also for this, see Braun Strowman. As previously mentioned, when the Strong hot-tag kicked in, there was no doubt who the crowd were behind as the tag wasn't the only thing that was hot. I'm on about the crowd, not Roderick's chiseled chin (though that thing sure is chiseled). The fascinating thing about Strong x Bitter is how over three short-ish matches, they've really begun to gel and find a certain continuity between performances. They still aren't as cohesive as Dunne is with Mark Andrews or Trent Seven or Strong is with Austin Aries but they've really managed to carve a niche in the division and the double team Bitter End they've been using is a thing of beauty. Just as the match was really hitting a good bit, Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly crashed the ring, attacking all four competitors, leading to a Double Disqualification. I don't have a problem with a screwy finish like this as such as it seems completely in character for The Undisputed Era, even though I can see how some might take umbridge with us not being given a good, clean finish here. It's odd that the problem I had with this match was the Authors as recent performances seemed to really show a massive up in quality of performances by them and this seemed like a slip back into old habits and weak heat. Hopefully another pre-Mania Triple Threat will bring out the best in them again.

Cole & O'Reilly beat up everyone until they try and bail, William Regal appears and tells the Era that they thought they were being clever, making sure they had no opponents for their titles on Saturday but instead, now they have more than one and books a Triple Threat between The Era, Strong x Bitter & Authors of Pain for the titles and the Dusty Cup.

We get a mighty fine video package for the NXT North American Championship Ladder match. Highlights of this include EC3 chilling by the pool, Velveteen Dream wearing a nice floral shirt and Killian Dain enjoying an oil-drum fire.

We get an even better video package for Gargano v Ciampa which if it doesn't have you feeling misty-eyed, you feel nothing. Other plus sides of this, video and photos from Gargano's wedding giving us NXT cameos for 'Dustin' Chuck Taylor & M-Dogg Matt Cross. Seriously though, this was crazy good.

Kairi Sane def. Vanessa Borne // Pinfall

Quick squash m8. This was quite clearly a match to re-establish Sane as being part of the Women's title scene post-TakeOver. Borne is still struggling to bring the heel swagger she emits during her entrances to her ring work, still looking a little clumsy when in control though she does sell well for these short matches. This was too brief to really be a showcase for either women as though Sane has the audience right where she wants them, her particular match-style works a lot better given fifteen-plus minutes than the two/three minutes here. Sane, unsurprisingly, wins with the Insane Elbow top rope elbow drop. The plus side of this is with Baszler, Moon, Sane and maybe Nikki Cross, Candice LeRae and Dakota Kai in contention for the title, the NXT women's division is in good hands

The crowd of disembodied hands listen to Lacey Evans make a statement about her place in the Women's division. She does her standard thing: calls people trash, talks about her past as a marine and a mother, she saves her last words for Kairi Sane, stating that she will take her opportunity and show her what class looks like.

The Undisputed Era complain to, or more exactly, at Regal backstage about him being unfair, Regal tells them they have three options: Cole competes in both matches, O'Reilly defends the tag titles alone, Cole gives up his spot in the Ladder Match.

We get another excellent video package, this time for Almas v Black. The production team normally do sterling work on these but I have to give them extra credit for this week as they have gone above and beyond.

We get a recap of Moon brawling with Baszler last week. Moon is interviewed afterwards, she's not sorry for what she did as Baszler was disrespecting a coach and acts like she deserves everything without earning it. Shayna started this but Ember is going to end it.

Next Week: Kairi Sane vs Lacey Evans.

Lars Sullivan vs. Killian Dain // No Contest

The big thing of note here is that these two have shown that if the WWE wanted to run a G1-style big lads tournament, they could make it work as this was, for the most part, your classic super heavyweight clobber-off. They worked a good contest, especially considering neither men has exactly been known for doing much in the way of longer matches, except for in multi-man competition such as the NXT Championship Number One Contender's Fatal Four-Way where they first threw hands but they held their own and my attention, keeping the most of it quite simply being the two men trading strikes and power moves in an effort to assert dominance though neither men was able to actually get the upper hand. The finish, while the crowd loved it, seemed poorly thought out to me as the match was thrown out after the four men also in the ladder match hit the ring one after another and did a bit of shtick to increasingly loud pops. This wouldn't have been a terrible way to end an episode if they hadn't pulled the Double DQ finish to the Dusty Classic Final just at the beginning of the episode. Having an hour of TV with three short-ish matches, two of which have non-finishes feels a little like they're going too much in the way of 'keeping something for the pay-per-view'. That said, it was satisfying seeing how over each man's signature taunt is and I'm sure that sometime after TakeOver, we'll get a rematch betwixt these two that on the basis of this, could be really rather good.

On The YouTubes

EC3 tells Cathy Kelly why he's going to be the one to win that shiny, new belt.

Ricochet also tells Cathy Kelly why it is, in fact, He, who will be winning the shiny, new belt.


SIt's an odd one because as an episode of television, it was slightly disappointing with two non-finishes to matches including a concluding moment to the show which was both exciting and deflating but also as a part of an ongoing story and a go-home show for Saturday's show, the lovely little video packages running through the show and the almost-preview matches for the Ladder and Triple Threat Championship matches really did make me more excited about what comes next. This wasn't a leap in itself but it was certainly a good lift-off, now let's hope they stick the landing.

Written By Jozef Raczka // @NotJoeRaczka

Monday, 2 April 2018

My WrestleMania Moments

Next week signals the biggest week of the wrestling calendar itself as WWE descends on the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana for WrestleMania 34.

With Brock Lesnar set to defend the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns, The Undertaker set to return to take on John Cena, Ronda Rousey set to make her in-ring debut as she teams up with Kurt Angle to take on Triple H and Stephanie McMahon amongst other matches, it should prove to be a memorable edition.

WrestleMania 33 will mark the 16th WrestleMania I have watched live and despite the highs and lows of wrestling, it still remains something that always managed to excite me.

I was lucky enough to attend last years WrestleMania in Orlando, Florida, which was the culmination of a lifelong dream. It was a terrific experience, reminding me why I love the wacky world of professional wrestling and all it's highs and lows. 

But what do I see as the most memorable WrestleMania moments since I've been watching? Here are my top five.

The End of The Undertaker's Streak

Certainly the most shocking moment for my money, as Brock Lesnar put an end to a 21 year streak. 

The best thing about this was how low key the build up to the match was. It just seemed like it was going to be yet another victory for Taker,  all the way until the actual finish.

After that, several questions went through people's heads. Was that planned? Did Brock go into business for himself? Was the Undertaker supposed to kick out? When this daft old sport can make you question things like that, you know you're onto a winner. 

Shawn Michaels retires 

The end of the Heartbreak Kid's storied career came at the end of WrestleMania 26 in one of the best moments in recent memory. 

A two year rivalry with a wrestler's competitive spirit and obsession with achieving greatness leading to his downfall was by far the best story told in recent years.  

This is a moment that still lasts to this day, largely due to the fact that it was the definitive end for HBK when so many retirements have gone the opposite way. A true 'WrestleMania Moment'.

Daniel Bryan becomes WWE World Heavyweight Champion. 

If anything could describe Daniel Bryan defying the odds to end the biggest WrestleMania of all time, it would be fan power. 

As the fans hijacked numerous attempts by WWE to force a main event of Batista v Randy Orton on them, they were made to change their plans and the rest is history.

Although the aftermath wasn't what we wanted, there is nothing better than seeing an underdog achieve their dreams, and that is exactly what happened here.

The Rock takes on Hulk Hogan

A clash of two icons during WrestleMania X8 saw The Rock and Hulk Hogan take part in one of the biggest dream matches of the century.

It's a match that had me on the edge of my seat as a child, and my appreciation for seeing two of the best of all-time has only increased to this day. 

Showing their understanding of the crowd, Hogan wrestled the match as as a babyface and added to already electric atmosphere in the stadium, giving the fans exactly what they want.

Cena and Batista become stars  

WrestleMania has become somewhat of a nostalgia trip in recent years, with part timers coming back to take on each other becoming a new theme for the show.

The last time WWE successfully looked to the future was shockingly over a decade ago at Wrestlemania 21 when John Cena defeated John Bradshaw Layfield to become WWE Champion and Batista defeated Triple H to become World Heavyweight Champion.

By creating two detestable heels in JBL and Triple H that had talked and cheated their way to victory for months, WWE helped create two of the biggest babyfaces in recent memory, and in an era where they are severely lacking stars, the company could do worse than to follow this template again. 

Written by Andy Phillips // 

Thursday, 29 March 2018

WWE NXT Review // 28th March 2018

On 28th March 2018, WWE aired its 293rd episode of NXT, filmed at Center Stage, Atlanta, GA on 7th March. Our main event was a Dusty Classic semi-final as the newly formed team of Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne took on former NXT Tag Team Champions, SaNitY. The show also featured another Dusty Classic Semi in the form of Authors of Pain vs Street Profits as well as action from Lars Sullivan, Dakota Kai, Andrade Almas & Aleister Black. As always, I do ask you, dear audience, was it any good?

On his way to the arena, Tommaso Ciampa is hounded by fans and the press, he complains to William Regal that Gargano has been attacking him in the ring, stalking him at his physiotherapy sessions and at his house. Regal tells him it is becoming a spot of bother and books a match for TakeOver: New Orleans, but as Gargano doesn't work here anymore, it has to be an Unsanctioned Match. If Gargano wins, he gets his job back, if not, he's gone forever.

William Regal Has An Announcement

William Regal welcomes everyone to the arena and then announces that the announcement he announced last week was that NXT is introducing a new secondary men's championship, something to determine who is the best competitor in North America, the NXT North American Championship. As he's talking about this, up turns the man who's won practically everything there is to win in Impact and is now here in NXT, EC3. He talks about how good it is to be here and how he looks forward to making a shit-ton of money for the company and how he has a banger of a theme (he does). He then thanks William Regal for knowing that the best in North America was coming so making a title just for him. Regal tells him that while he has a chance at the title off the bat, he doesn't get anything without earning it, so he'll be competing in a Ladder Match at TakeOver to crown the first champion. EC3 responds it doesn't matter how many men you put in his way, he's still leaving with that champion. This was a really good opening, already cementing EC3 as someone who is going to be important in the yellow brand going forward as well as making another big match for TakeOver.

Charly Caruso is in the NXT Control Centre, giving us a recap of what we've missed so far in the Dusty Classic.

TM-61 are being interviewed back at the Performance Centre about their loss in the first round and how they need to change their attitude as this has halted their returning momentum but they're not down and out because they're the Mighty and the Mighty... get interrupted by a fight breaking out behind them between Shayna Baszler & Ember Moon because Baszler was bullying someone or just generally standing around waiting for Moon to punch her. This was more fun than I've made it sound.

Dusty Classic Semi-Final // Authors of Pain def. Street Profits // Pinfall

Quick squash m8. Ford came in first but quickly bailed when he felt a slap to the face from an Author, Dawkins actually fared a little better, out-striking his opponent and clearing house with a spinebuster to the other, sadly the loss for the team came when Ford, on the outside, got distracted offering his solo cup to Ellering who slapped it away, causing Ford to stalk him up the entrance ramp, opening up a distracted Dawkins to be hit with The Last Chapter legsweep-clotheslin combo. I don't know what they were going for but if the plan was to make Street Profits look like fucking idiots, they achieved it.

We go back to Charly in the Control Centre for an update. Thank you, Charly.

Cathy Kelly is interviewing William Regal about whether any other competitors are officially announced for the North American Title Ladder Match, he confirms Adam Cole will be in it. Velveteen Dream turns up and demands a spot, Regal agrees. This is shaping up nicely, isn't it?

Lars Sullivan def. John Silver // Pinfall

Quicker squash m8. In the battle of Long vs John SIlver, Long won, I think the closest Silver got to any offence was successfully locking-up with Sullivan at the beginning before he realised he had no reversals and Sullivan repeatedly hit murder. Lars eating tiny men is always fun and this did exactly what it had to. Sullivan won with a big diving headbutt and the Freak Accident modified side slam for the pin.

Cathy Kelly is interviewing Regal again when Sullivan walks by, just in time for Regal to offer him a spot in the NXT North American Championship Ladder Match. Lars looks forward to this but before he gets there, he wants Killian Dain . Regal tells him Dain is in the Ladder Match as well but because Regal likes booking matches, Sullivan goes tete-a-tete with Dain next week.

Dakota Kai def...Hey What's That Going On Over There?

Dakota Kai made her way to the ring but before a match could start the cameras cuts to Andrade Almas and Zelina Vega attacking Aleister Black in the car park. Almas battered Black through the arena, nearly drowning him at one point and beating him all the way to the ring, walking away, hoisting his title having got his own back on the Dutch shitkicker for what he said about him at the Contract Signing he never turned up to. This was a great, little segment to build to the TakeOver main event but I have to say, my favourite thing was watching Kai try and sneak away unnoticed in the back of the shot. 

Dusty Classic Semi-Final: Strong X Bitter def. SaNitY // Pinfall

In a move that will surprise no one, this was a really good main event. What was clever was how it played off Strong's past, having feuded along with Tye Dillinger, Kassius Ohno, No Way Jose and Ruby Riott with SaNitY, to build an intensity and animosity as well as a desperation from both teams to succeed, this helped frame the face v face action with some stakes and storytelling to stop it being just a split-support from the crowd. They worked a good, exciting finale to the episode, with all four men looking good and getting in a lot of their signature stuff with Alexander Wolfe getting in another reminder of how overlooked he is considering his incredibly fun performances. It wasn't a match without its problems though, as it lacked a certain sense of drama down the home-stretch that could have done perhaps with a little more in the way of tag work as it felt far more like four singles competitors than two teams though that does play well into the fragile truce between Strong and Dunne, this also felt more like the exhibition 'spotfest' style of tag match at times which while entertaining, did feel a little unnecessary. The finish came as Strong hit End of Heartache on Young before Dunne tagged in and they hit a double team Bitter End. Fun stuff, but still not quite essential. Much like the rest of this Dusty Classic so far, it's had good moments but it's all felt a little too rushed to seem, well, classic.

Cathy Kelly is backstage hoping to hear from William Regal who the sixth competitor is for the ladder match. Regal says she's in luck and he goes to fetch him. Trevor 'Ricochet' Mann would emerge from Regal's office to canned applause, looking like he was buttoning up his suit so what he had to do to get that spot, I don't know. The pre-recorded crowd chant his nickname to end the show.


Considering the amount of heavy-lifting this show had to do with setting up the North American Title, the Ladder Match for it, Gargano vs Ciampa, continuing to build to the Tag Title match and also continuing the builds for Black v Almas and Baszler v Moon, it's impressive that the show managed to do all of it without collapsing under its own weight. The problem of this is that so much of it ended up being enjoyable but passable as beyond the opening segment, nothing felt like it got quite enough time to properly build. That said, with four very good sounding matches confirmed and two very good teams in the Dusty Classic final, we could be set for an all-time great TakeOver special.

Written By Jozef Raczka // @NotJoeRaczka

WWE Monday Night RAW Review // 26th March 2018

It was the penultimate episode of Monday Night RAW this week, but could WWE keep the push going for the biggest show of the year. With still no reply from The Undertaker, John Cena took on Kane in a No Disqualification match, Universal Champion Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman addressed the beating Lesnar gave Roman Reigns last week, Ronda Rousey returned after a two week absence whilst Triple H & Stephanie McMahon trained for WrestleMania, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor were the guests on Miz TV, Braun Strowman took on RAW Tag Team Champion Sheamus, Elias faced Rhyno, Nia Jax warmed up for her RAW Women's Championship match at Mania by taking on Mickie James, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson were up against The Miztourage, the Cruiserweights returned to RAW as Mania opponents Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali faced TJP & Drew Gulak and Asuka took on local competitor, Jamie Frost...but was it any good? Here's our review.

No Disqualification Match // John Cena vs. Kane

Before the match - Kane cut a promo in his red rape room, telling John Cena that he should have left The Undertaker alone and he was sending Cena to hell tonight.

A fun and inoffensive house show no disqualification match between two competitors who have faced off 70 times since 2008 (both televised and live events), as John Cena unsurprisingly went over Kane with an Attitude Adjustment through a table. There's very little getting round that this was a house show, complete with a house show finish, with a couple of trinkets added to place it within the current timespan. Cena did a couple of Undertaker's taunts as he tried to get The Deadman to answer his WrestleMania, which got a good reaction and worked for what was needed. It was clear however, that the pair had done this match a number of times before, although the spot with Kane suplexing Cena onto a barricade near the announcers table was a nice addition. The ending took a little too long to come, with two spots that featured a lot of fannying around by tables, but overall this match was exactly what I had expected it to be and nothing more. Cena goes over Kane, the story is moved forward without the need for The Undertaker to appear, the match is watchable, but not worth searching out.

After the match - John Cena cut another promo on The Undertaker, going over some old ground and calling The Deadman a coward for not showing up during the match, despite the No DQ gimmick. This was a solid bit of final set-up for next week, when surely The Undertaker will make his appearance to confirm the match.

Universal Champion Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman address last week's attack on Roman Reigns 

Another strong segment in the Universal title feud this week, as Brock Lesnar left Roman Reigns laying in the middle of the ring for the second week in a row. This week's segment felt very similar to last week's by it's conclusion, but got there in slightly different route, beginning with a good promo from Paul Heyman. Heyman speaks in a way that may go over the head of a portion of the fanbase, but has enough charisma to draw them in no matter what, whilst those who are willing to listen and understand what he's saying get the most out of his words. A sentence that essentially boiled down to calling himself the best speaker in WWE history, but even he couldn't describe the assault last week was magical work, that put over the attack much stronger than simply describing it would have. The build to Reigns' appearance, walking in through the crowd once more, was also very strong with Heyman berating Roman for not being in attendance and blaming his up-bringing, leaving the moment just long enough that it felt like the Big Dog might not show up, meaning the appearance got a lovely crowd reaction. The beatdown was similar to last week, with Lesnar quickly gaining control before setting to work destroying his challenger with a chair and step. All this worked as a nice preview for two weeks time at WrestleMania, although I worry that WWE could go too far with this and end up giving Reigns a "superman feel" which is something we've seen the fanbase push away from in recent times. 

Triple H & Stephanie McMahon prepare for WrestleMania

I wasn't mad about this training montage/interview, mostly because the interview ended up being repetitive and seemed to go on for an unnecessary amount of time. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon must have told us that Ronda Rousey was stepping into "their world" and that this wasn't judo about five or six times across the six minute video. It was cool to hear from their personal trainer, but the whole video felt more like an exercise in public relations than it did a hype package for a match or an attempt to get more heat come WrestleMania. There were two moments that I did enjoy, with the first being Triple H discussing his previous issues with Kurt Angle, with this being an area of the feud that could really do some development, as WWE seems to be missing a trick in mining the past history involving Angle, Triple H and McMahon. The second was the duo discussing how they would "repackage" Rousey following WrestleMania after they had humbled her, with the language used evocative of what we've come to expect from WWE when signing talent who made their name elsewhere.

RAW gets Rowdy 

Basically, Absolution interrupted Ronda Rousey saying some more of the same stuff, before Rousey took out Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville. I didn't really get this segment, to be honest, because Absolution have looked pretty awful as a group since coming up anyway, seemingly dropping in value every time they appear on television, whilst Rousey didn't need to be built up in this manner, because everyone and their dog knows she's tough as nails. The beatdown was fine and having Kurt Angle stop Rousey from breaking Deville's arm was an interesting touch, even if I'm not sure how that can be played into the storyline with Triple H & Stephanie McMahon, but whatever. The segment wasn't helped by an annoying promo from Paige, in which she used the word "babygirl" no less than four times in a couple of minutes, as she attempted to get Rousey to join Absolution, as well as Deville missing her cue leading to an awkward moment where Sonya half-caught Rose off a leg capture suplex. I've probably been a little harsh on the segment, but I just didn't see the point and it did nothing to deliver the on-going story in any way.

Miz TV with Seth Rollins and Finn Balor

Some creative cheap heat from The Miz, some planted seeds for a Miztourage rebellion, some fun babyface work from Finn Balor and Seth Rollins and a crowd that ate up every moment, this was a really good segment in what has been one of the highlights of the Road to WrestleMania. Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel turning on The Miz was the angle that I didn't know that I wanted to see, so to tease it here, as Miz used it to lull Rollins & Balor into a false sense of security means that when it does happen it will be a much bigger moment than it was here and hopefully give Dallas & Axel an opportunity to push on up the card. All three men played it really well, with the highlight coming when Miz named Mr. Perfect (Axel's late father) amongst the Intercontinental Champions that he was better than. It was nice to shift the story onto Rollins & Balor trying to cause trouble for The Miz and it has to be said that the two have potential together as a duo, as they showed nice chemistry and bounced off each other well. The segment could have done with a more impactful conclusion, as Balor nailing Rollins with a clothesline, after Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson had taken care of Dallas & Axel and Balor & Rollins had downed Miz, didn't quite feel like the exclamation point that such an enjoyable segment needed to feel completely satisfactory. 

Braun Strowman vs. RAW Tag Team Champion Sheamus (with RAW Tag Team Champion Cesaro)

Before the match - Cesaro & Sheamus demanded to know who Braun Strowman's partner would be at WrestleMania, with Strowman saying he'd tell them...if Sheamus could defeat him next. 

A similar match to what we saw between Braun Strowman and Cesaro last week, with Strowman putting Sheamus away in around four minutes, after dominating most of the match despite plentiful distractions from Cesaro at ringside. The commentary team pushed that Strowman may have hurt his knee on a fall to the outside, but it was never quite made clear by the performers, whilst Sheamus' period of control was mostly a rest-hold which I think even the Celtic Warrior knew wasn't the best course of action in kayfabe or otherwise. Apart from a single Beat of Braun, after the Monster reversed the Ten Beats of the Bodhran from Sheamus and a neat finish where Sheamus missed a cornered Brogue Kick, there wasn't all that much to get excited about here and whilst I'd still describe the match as a fun watch, there's no doubt that it came off as a poor relation of last week's Strowman vs. Cesaro match. 

Elias vs. Rhyno (with Heath Slater)

Before the match - Elias brought his cheap heat musical stylings to Cleveland, ripping on one of their spots teams in song form. Despite giving no shits about any American sports, it was still quite funny to hear how the crowd still reacts to something like this, as I'm sure it would work nowhere other than America. 

Elias went over Rhyno with Drift Away after a nothing match. Yeah, that's about all there is to say, not exactly a squash, but not really anything else either. 

After the match - Elias attacked Heath Slater, delivering another Drift Away.

Nia Jax vs. Mickie James (with RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss) 

Nia Jax continued her build towards WrestleMania with a victory over Mickie James in an okay match. Whilst the match wasn't exactly long, I would've liked to have seen a more dominant display from Jax here, with some of her power moves looking a little relaxed at points, whilst James got in too much offence for what should have been a straight-forward bout. The overall idea was nice with Jax's left leg, that had been injured by an Asuka knee bar a few weeks earlier, giving James the opening to gain a short advantage, which I'm sure will be a similar pattern to what we see at WrestleMania between Jax and the smaller Alexa Bliss. I thought a couple of Jax's power moves looked a little tame, with a couple of biel throws in particular not having as much impact as I would've liked to have seen. However, Jax seems to have gained some traction with the live audience, as she got a good response throughout the match, particularly for the finish where Nia gorilla-pressed James into the air before dropping Mickie into a samoan drop to seal the victory. 

After the match - Alexa Bliss attempted to jump Nia Jax, but ended up having to run away.

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson vs. Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel

I'm not sure why this didn't come directly after the Miz TV segment, but nonetheless Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson picked up Balor Club's third victory in a row of The Miztourage in a simple tag bout. This really was a basic encounter, a paint-by-numbers tag team match with Luke Gallows taking the hot tag for his team after some minor antics from Axel & Dallas, before a near fall off the Boot of Doom lead into Gallows pinning Axel following the Magic Killer. Passable stuff that filled some time on the show, but entirely forgettable and probably unnecessary as well, but what you gonna do? 

Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali vs. Drew Gulak & TJP 

The Cruiserweights returned to RAW this week, after a being absent for a month or so, as WrestleMania opponents Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali picked up a quick victory over Drew Gulak & TJP in a straight-forward tag bout. This was a regular tag structure with Ali as face-in-peril and Alexander on the hot tag, producing some fun action, especially through off the Alexander tag. Ali did overshoot on a tope con giro (or perhaps Gulak was a little too far forward) but apart from that everything here looked nice and had an energy behind it. It was a shame to see Gulak & TJP lose so quickly, because they both have a lot to offer the purple brand and will be needed after WrestleMania to help the brands growth, but it makes sense to have Alexander & Ali as the focus, with the match finishing with a game of one-upsmanship as Ali tagged himself in to take the pin on TJP with an 054, after Alexander had hit a Lumbar Check. I'm looking forward to seeing these two lads kill it at WrestleMania and get the credit they both deserve for their hardwork on Tuesday night's over the last year or so. 

Winner of the First Ever Women's Royal Rumble Match "The Empress of Tomorrow" Asuka vs. Jamie Frost

Before the match - Charly Caruso interviewed the debuting Jamie Frost, who was apparently having her first professional match tonight, but was inordinately confident about beating the undefeated Asuka. 

Asuka beat Frost in about 20 seconds.

Also on the show

- After some great verbal back and forth backstage, the issues between Bayley and Sasha Banks finally erupted after Bayley made a remark about Banks being unable to defend titles, leading to a pull-apart brawl. 

- Matt Hardy announced himself as an entrant in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania in his own woken way.

- This week's "Hungry for Mania" moment was Edge winning the original Money in the Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 21 in 2005. 

ATPW Scale Rating // 
4.67 out of 10


Written by James Marston //