Thursday, 15 March 2018

WWE 205 Live Review // 13th March 2018

205 Live looked to continue it's hot streak this week with another 50 minutes of Cruiserweight action. The Cruiserweight Championship tournament reached the semi-finals as Roderick Strong took on Cedric Alexander with a title match and spot on WrestleMania on the line, Akira Tozawa & Hideo Itami tagged up again to take on Lince Dorado & Gran Metalik and Gentleman Jack Gallagher returned to take on the debuting Murphy Myers. But was it any good? Here's our review.

On-Air Personnel 

Commentary - Nigel McGuinness, Vic Joseph & Drake Maverick
Interviewer - Dasha Fuentes 
Ring Announcer - Greg Hamilton

Review Order

1. Roderick Strong vs. Cedric Alexander 
2. Akira Tozawa & Hideo Itami vs. Lince Dorado & Gran Metalik 
3. Gentleman Jack Gallagher vs. Murphy Myers 

Cruiserweight Championship Tournament Semi-Final // 
Roderick Strong vs. Cedric Alexander

Before the match - A cute package looking at Roderick Strong and his motivations in the Cruiserweight Championship Tournament, including a sit-down interview with the man himself - Cedric Alexander got a profile package also, looking at his run in the Cruiserweight Classic, people's lack of belief in his ability to win the big one and his varied offence. (4:00)

Cedric Alexander earned himself a Cruiserweight Championship match at WrestleMania with a victory over Roderick Strong in a gorgeous tournament semi-final match. One of the most physical Cruiserweight clash in recent memory, this match was full of big powerful strikes, slick reversal sequences, near falls and big highspots, as the two left everything in the ring as their sublime selling made the match feel like the most important thing in the world. The mirroring of near falls with both men getting a foot on the ropes after the Lumbar Check and the Neuralyzer respectively was a cute touch, but the two moments that stand out in particular was a spot that saw Strong standing on the apron and using a torture rack backbreaker to send Cedric crashing back first across the top turnbuckle and a great moment where the pair began scrapping after the End of Heartache nearfall, as the crowd went nuts and the commentary team sold it for all that it was worth. The final moments capped things off well as the two reversed a number of signature attempts, including Strong being able to block Alexander from reversing the Strong Hold and get a near fall, before Alexander wrapped Strong up in a small package to advance. It made complete sense, considering the match had been based around neither being able to put the other away with their finish and it says something about the quality of the action that despite getting fifteen minutes of pure action, I ended up wanting to see these two go at it for ten, fifteen, twenty more minutes by the time the pinfall was counted.  The best match of the tournament so far, the ball is in your court now Drew Gulak and Mustafa Ali.

After the match - An emotional Cedric Alexander put over his opportunity at WrestleMania and talked about his daughter in a beautifully touching interview. 

Akira Tozawa & Hideo Itami vs. Lince Dorado & Gran Metalik (with Kalisto) 

A good Cruiser tag opened the show as Akira Tozawa & Hideo Itami picked up their second win in as many weeks, as Itami picked up the pin on Gran Metalik with a weird spinning facebreaker/stunner situation. The awkward nature of Itami's new finish was the only drawback on what was a fun back and forth tag bout, that began to establish the more vicious side of Itami that we saw towards the end of run on NXT. Arguably whilst Itami felt like the storyline focus of the bout, he was the least impressive of the four men, as Dorado and Tozawa opened with a lovely mirrored sequence, with the pair also having a strong chain as Dorada searched for a tag, whilst Metalik had a killer hot tag that was packed full of variety as he everything from tilt-a-whirl backbreakers to overhand chops, from reverse slingblades to a front missile dropkick. The highlight of the bout was a super cool looking dive from Dorado onto Tozawa, using Metalik's back as a springboard. I'd like to see more apparent teamwork from Itami & Tozawa as they seem to a permanent tag team going forward and really could do with some tag offence to make them feel like more than just two single lads that have been thrown together because of their nationality.  

After the match - Hideo Itami and Lince Dorado had to be separated by their teams, after Itami had trod on Gran Metalik.

Gentleman Jack Gallagher vs. Murphy Myers 

A swift victory for Gentleman Jack Gallagher as the Englishmen picked up his first win since October against Murphy Myers (IWAU's Joey O'Riley), with a headbutt. Gallagher dominated the entire match, with Myer's offence only coming when Gallagher began to focus on 205 Live General Manager Drake Maverick who was sat doing guest commentary for the match. Gallagher is someone who has been frustratingly booked on 205 Live for some time, especially since he managed to get so over at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, and is someone who we know has tremendous talent in a variety of styles from his previous work in FutureShock, GPW and PROGRESS, so here's hoping that this new version of the purple brand will provide the Mancunian with plenty more opportunity to showcase his skills at a high level going forward.

Also on the show

- Another superbly dramatic and beautifully shot promo from Mustafa Ali as he discussed his semi-final next week, calling Drew Gulak a bully for his actions towards Mark Andrews last week.

ATPW Scale Rating // 6.69 out of 10

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale

WWE NXT Review // 14th March 2018

On 14th March 2018, WWE aired its 291st episode of NXT, filmed at Center Stage, Atlanta, GA on 2nd February. Our main event was an NXT Championship match contract signing for the WrestleMania weekend rematch of Aleister Black & Andrade Almas. The card also featured Adam Cole challenging for Pete Dunne's UK Championship, two first-round matches in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic and MYC competitors, Dakota Kai and Lacey Evans, in competition. But was it any good?

Dusty Rhodes Classic First Round // SaNitY (Eric Young & Alexander Wolfe) def. Tino Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss // Pinfall

Quick squash m8. This wasn't so much a match as it was a continued set-up for the slow dissipation of the Tino-Riddick partnership as Riddick blames Tino for being the one who has taken the pin in consecutive matches but Tino blames Riddick for a miscommunication leading to him getting punched in the head. Still, the right team won and whether it's Lorcan & Burch or Moustache Mountain (or another team as Tyler Bate is currently injured), it seems we're going to be getting a good second round match.

Tommaso Ciampa came down to the ring again, this time crutchless, to a chorus of boos and a spread of Johnny Wrestling signs so uniform they could only have been handed out by the production crew. The crowd chant at him for so long, he can't be bothered to talk to them again. To be honest, I can't blame him. Is it bad I want Ciampa to just Air Raid Crash everyone in the crowd?

Dakota Kai def. Lacey Evans // Pinfall

Quicker squash m8. Early on Evans went for the previously injured (by Shayna Baszler) arm of Kai but very quickly, Kai was able to reverse an armbar attempt into a quick roll-up. This was more a set-up for the post-match shenanigans but it's nice to see Kai getting put into the mix as she's one of the more underrated talents to come from the Mae Young Classic.

Post-match, Shayna Baszler music hits as she came down to the ring and backed Kai menacingly into the corner, till Moon came down to the ring as well. She told Baszler that if she wanted to do this one more time, they could finish it at New Orleans. Moon then attacked Baszler as the two brawled around the ring. Eventually Moon went to the top but Baszler hit her with a boot to the head and tried to work the arms till Kai came back with a kick off the apron allowing Moon to hit a one-armed Eclipse on Baszler and stand tall. It's official, New Orleans will see Moon v Baszler III.

Dusty Rhodes Classic First Round // Street Profits def. Heavy Machinery // Pinfall

Mauro Ranallo said that with this Dusty Classic, the stakes have never been higher, what about the weights? This was a fun, little match with Ford and Dosevic playing early on for comedy before the big lads played their Beef advantage for all it's worth. The finish came as Knight had Dawkins set up for the Trash Compactor but as Dosevic ran to the ropes, Ford pulled down the ropes sending Dosevic flying out, Dawkins hit a DDT and tagged Ford who hit a Frog Splash for the pin. This did as much as it could for the two teams in the short time and most importantly for a Face vs. Face encounter, both teams came out of it with the crowd still on their sides. With only one more first round match to go, the brackets now look like this:

WWE United Kingdom Championship // Pete Dunne (c) def. Adam Cole // Disqualification

It's been a while but since his Extreme Rules match with Aleister Black, Cole seems to have finally worked out how to make his style work in WWE. This was an interesting match as Dunne was clearly positioned as the de-facto face but being a dickhead at heart, he still never played it as a good person, just someone who is quite as happy to beat up three men as one. They worked a good back-and-forth match, throwing in some fine near falls including a Last Shot by Cole that was so close, I thought he might be about to take it for a second. Even though he let Cole take the heat in the match, Dunne still approached the match from his normal clinical, brutal style, attacking the fingers and continually trying to stomp out his arms. Of course, with the tag champs on the outside, this was never going to be a clean fight and Dunne tried to fight Fish and O'Reily on the outside to neutralise their threat, but as Dunne was about to hit a Bitter End, in they came and kicked the heck out of Dunne for a DQ victory. I don't think the finish hurt the match as even with the near falls, it didn't seem like a title change was likely on TV and it keeps Cole from taking another pin which keeps him looking strong. It wasn't the best defence Dunne has had but with the ridiculously high level of quality he's maintained, even that isn't a notch against this. Oh, and Adam Cole kicked Dunne in the head while Dunne was backflipping off the ringpost which was dope.

Post-Match: Dunne tries to fight off the Era but the number's game is too much for him, Roderick Strong comes down for an assist but is also beat down, before Cole can take Strong's head off, Dunne comes back with a forearm and the two clean house before a show of something approaching respect. What could this mean? Could there be a begrudging partnership forming between the two former foes? Keep watching NXT to find out.

Aleister Black and Andrade Almas Contract Signing

So who knew Aleister Black was either an improvisational genius or has spent the last week just writing jokes about Zelina Vega's diminutive stature? Black, dressed in Aleister from head to sockless toes came out first, followed by a lone Vega who proceeded to explain that she was there because this wasn't worth Almas' time before Black proceeded to move the table to the side and Black would go into his Satan's full lotus pose before explaining that now they were on the same level, he could begin. The two went back-and-forth trading insults until Vega gave Black a stinging slap on the cheek. After Black had signed and left the ring, he announced that he was glad she'd come alone because he hadn't and out came Candice LeRae who battered Vega around the ring and back in to hit a tornado bulldog to stand tall, sending us home happy. I love a good contract signing and this one had everything you could want. If Black and Almas can deliver on the build here, we might be in for another classic at TakeOver.

On The YouTubes

Tino and Riddick are still having problems but Moss doesn't want to give up on the good thing they have, whatever that is. They're going to go and review the tapes.

It's another edition of Street Talk but this one is neither on the street or involving talking to anyone other than each other. They say they're going to win the Dusty Classic. Don't forget, you've got Authors of Pain in the next round, lads.


Another week, another very good episode. Is it too early to declare NXT to be on a new hot streak? I hope not because I think with a great match between Cole and Dunne, some great world-building around it and some hot stuff still to come in the Dusty Classic, this definitely feels like how a hot streak feels.

Written By Jozef Raczka // @NotJoeRaczka

WWE Mixed Match Challenge Review // 13th March 2018

The quarter finals concluded on Mixed Match Challenge this week as Charlotte Flair & Bobby Roode took on Lana & Rusev. But how did it all go down in Indianapolis? Lets take a look! 

Commentary - Michael Cole, Corey Graves 
Ring Announcer - Greg Hamilton

Mixed Match Challenge Quarter Final // 
Charlotte Flair & "The Glorious" Bobby Roode vs. Lana & Rusev 

Before the match - Bobby Roode & Charlotte Flair spoke about Rusev & Lana calling their robes cheap before promising it wouldn't be so funny in their match - Lana & Rusev replied with a promo most notable for Rusev being super close to the screen and doing a really weird "Woo" at the end - Before the bell rang there was a weird interaction that included the questionable moment where Rusev and Roode held their partners back when they wanted to scrap with each other. 

Not my favourite bout from the Mixed Match Challenge this week, as Charlotte Flair & Bobby Roode booked their place in the Semi-Finals, as Roode pinned Rusev following the Glorious DDT. This was another character driven bout, with most the action ranging from passable to awkward (pretty much anything with Lana), whilst the Rusev & Lana team came out as the most entertaining of the two pairs. This involved a lot of vocality from the husband and wife duo, including Lana getting the crowd riled up nicely by shouting "How dare you boo?!" and Rusev saying "Zoom in camera man" as he had Roode clasped in a basic rest hold, whilst its clear that the two have heaps of chemistry together. It was interesting to hear Rusev actually get some heat during this, as he's been super popular during the Rusev Day run, perhaps the fact that he'd competed earlier in the night meant that the crowd had got it out of their system by this point and were much more inclined to go along with the structure of the match. The crowd were pretty into it by the time of a hot tag to Flair and this produced the best wrestling of the match as Flair teed off with chops, before hitting a Queen's Boot that looked like it might have decapitated the Ravising Russian. The highlight of the match was a convincing near fall from Lana, who took advantage of Flair arguing with Rusev (after the Bulgarian had saved Lana from a Figure Eight) to get a roll-up for a long two count. Whilst the earlier portion of match between Flair and Lana was sloppy, my main problem here was with the finish, that saw Flair chopping Rusev to no avail, because Roode was downed on the outside, before Roode would eventually come to and nail Rusev with a surprise Glorious DDT for the win. I'm not sure what anyone gained from Rusev shotuing "It's not hurting me, Charlotte" and why WWE continues to use woman-on-man violence in the Mixed Match Challenge, when competitors are supposed to stay separate. I'm half expecting Rusev & Lana to win the fan vote for a spot in the semi-finals and have a rematch with Flair & Roode in two weeks time, but we'll see.

Also on the show 

- The Miz & Asuka cut a promo on their semi-final opponents, that mostly consisted of Miz using Strowman's catchphrases and Asuka chatting away in Japanese.

- Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss talked about their semi-final match next week, with Strowman telling Miz that when "these hands go up, your mouth goes shut" 

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale

WWE SmackDown Live Review // 13th March 2018

2 days after Fastlane, WWE's SmackDown brand set its sight on WrestleMania. AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura came face to face before Styles took on Rusev, Shane McMahon had an announcement to make about WrestleMania, Randy Orton celebrated his first WWE United States Championship before Jinder Mahal faced former champion Bobby Roode, The Bludgeon Brothers challenged any fit members of The New Day and The Usos to a match, SmackDown Women's Champion Charlotte Flair shared a ring with WrestleMania opponent Asuka and "Ms. Money in the Bank" Carmella went one on one with Naomi. But was the Indianapolis show any good? Lets take a look!

On-Air Personnel 

Commentary - Corey Graves, Byron Saxton & Tom Phillips 

Interviewers - Dasha Fuentes & Renee Young
Ring Announcer - Greg Hamilton


1. Face-to-Face: AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles vs. Rusev
2. Shane McMahon's WrestleMania Announcement 
3. Randy Orton's US title Celebration and Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal 
4. The Bludgeon Brothers vs. Big E & Jimmy Uso 
5. Face-to-Face: Charlotte Flair and Asuka
6. Carmella vs. Naomi

Face-to-Face: AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura

A solid opening segment between the competitors in SmackDown's main event at WrestleMania, as Shinsuke Nakamura interrupted WWE Champion AJ Styles. We didn't really learn a lot from either man's promo, but it was cool to see the two finally share the ring, after their WrestleMania match had been rumoured for so long. In fact, I think it was the fact that we've waited so long to see it that actually managed to carry the segment, because the crowd was super hyped for it, with duelling chants and all that jazz. Styles' promo went over some old ground about his road to get to WWE and what it means to go into WrestleMania as champion, whilst Nakamura's was limited to explaining his dream was to knee Styles in the face and become champion, whilst the crowd "What"'ed him because English isn't his first language. The interruption by Rusev just as things looked to be escalating between Nakamura and Styles was well-placed and should help to rise the interest in the WWE title match at WrestleMania a little more as we begin to anticipate what the clash might look like when it finally happens. 

AJ Styles vs. Rusev (with Aiden English)

AJ Styles and Rusev battled in a good match, until Aiden English interfered to give Styles the disqualification win as Styles looked to locking in the Calf Crusher on Rusev. This a physical clash with slight elements of power vs. speed in places, but was mostly centered around the pairs various strike based offence, with plenty of forearms and kicks in this one. The best stuff of the match was a minute or so that was used to build for the Ushigoroshi from Styles, with the Phenomenal One attempting the move three or four times, before a Pele Kick would eventually allow him to it, only for Rusev's weight across Styles' knee meaning he couldn't get a pinfall. This was a nice example of making a signature move mean something and there was even a good near fall thrown into the mix when RuRu dropped off Styles' shoulders for a Roundhouse Kick that looked super snug. The little sequence before the interference was also quite lovely with Styles going for what would have been an impressive Styles Clash, Rusev escaping and going for the Accolade and Styles reversing and eventually being able to roll-through into a Styles Clash. A bit more time and bit more importance and these two could have a great match together. The finish seems to be to extend the feud a little and pad sometime for WrestleMania, because of what would follow.

After the match - Rusev & Aiden English attempted to beatdown AJ Styles, before Shinsuke Nakamura would make the save with a pair of Kinshasas, I guess we'll see Styles & Nakamura vs. Rusev & English next week - Backstage, Shinsuke Nakamura told AJ Styles he would protect him til WrestleMania so he could beat him with "Knee to face" 

Shane McMahon's WrestleMania announcement

Before the segment - Sami Zayn blamed Shane McMahon's obsession with Kevin Owens for him not being WWE Champion right now, before promising to never be guilty by association to Owens ever again. - Kevin Owens replied to Sami Zayn, blaming Shane McMahon and calling Zayn a liar and delusional. 

A surprisingly violent angle to close the show as Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens' hatred for Shane McMahon united them once more as they laid waste to the SmackDown Commissioner, moments after McMahon had announced he was taking time away from the position and placed Owens against Zayn at WrestleMania. McMahon's promo was a little rambling, seemingly thinking out loud as he wondered whether he crossed the line at Fastlane and honestly lacked the emotion that it needed to be genuinely interesting. However, once we got past McMahon's detached rhetoric and we got two performers out there in Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn the segment was energised and became a fascinating and uncomfortable piece of television. Owens & Zayn taking out referees (including a ridiculous bump to the floor by Ryan Tran) got a great shocked pop from the Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the vicious assault including a Pop-up Powerbomb and McMahon getting sent into the post with a steel chair around his neck, grabbed you and made you pay attention, because it felt different to the usual WWE beatdown. But the most bracing moment came when Owens & Zayn began dragging McMahon up the ramp and into the back, with an increasing sense of foreboding that some real shit was about to go down. That real shit was a nasty looking powerbomb onto some big hunk of metal, that looked super painful to take for McMahon. If you look past the fact that no one came to McMahon's aid apart from a few referees, this was a great angle, that opened up a number of questions to be answered over the next three weeks. How will McMahon look to gain his revenge? What does this mean for Owens & Zayn's friendship, that appeared to be in tatters? Will we get Owens vs. Zayn on the biggest stage? 

Randy Orton celebrates United States Championship win 

A thoroughly unnecessary segment here, as no one said anything and Jinder Mahal continued to be a drag on the blue brand's product. Out of the three promos, Randy Orton's had the most behind it as he gave Bobby Roode props after their US title match, whilst also putting over what it meant to be a grand slam champion. Roode's promo revealed that he wanted his title rematch at WrestleMania, so at least there was that development, I suppose, even if it easily could've been handled in a thirty second backstage interview. Then we get to Jinder Mahal, who manages to make me want to turn off the TV every time he pops up, especially during this storyline. Why is his character that of a school boy? The quality of the writing for Mahal here has been especially poor, but he's not exactly blessed with great promo skills either. This segment saw Mahal try to stir the pot again between Orton and Roode, by mentioning that Roode had held the US title before Orton and that was something Orton was never going to change. Why the fuck would 13 time World Champion Randy Orton give a fuck that Bobby Roode had held the United States title before he did? Get in a bin, Jinder. Get in a bin, whoever "wrote" that promo. 

"The Glorious" Bobby Roode vs. "The Modern Day Maharajah" Jinder Mahal (with Sunil Singh) 

Not much to talk about in this match, as Jinder Mahal managed to beat the former WWE United States Champion, to supposedly set-up a triple threat at WrestleMania, after Sunil Singh had provided the distraction. There was one nice sequence here with the pair reversing each other's signatures, with Roode managing to counter a counter with a sunset flip for a decent near fall. 

After the match - Randy Orton gave Jinder Mahal an RKO.

Jimmy Uso & Big E vs. Harper & Rowan

Before the match - Big E & Jimmy Uso cut a pair of very good promos about the Bludgeon Brothers attack at Fastlane, as they spoke about Harper & Rowan had taken away from them  and promising to bring the attack to the pair tonight - Absolute chaos before the match began as Big E & Jimmy Uso attacked Harper & Rowan as they tried to take their jackets off, but the Bludgeon Brothers were able to take control later on despite Big E & Uso holding steel chairs.

The match itself was absolute domination from The Bludgeon Brothers, as they controlled the whole match, before sending Big E into the steel steps and pinning Uso with a Harper powerbomb. 

After the match - The Bludgeon Brothers went back after Big E, with Harper throwing E into a Rowan crossbody on the floor.

Face-to-Face: Charlotte Flair and Asuka

Similar to the Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles segment earlier in the night, this segment held the attention because it had been so anticipated. The two women arguably did a better job than the men did with their promos, but this was more about introducing the match scheduled for WrestleMania, rather than anything too complex or creative. Flair's promo in particular was laden with cliches, like "iron sharpens iron" and "I've never anyone like you, but you have never faced anyone like me", which she performed well, but it was hardly to get anything excited about. Asuka's performance was a step above, as she overcame the language barrier and had the crowd reacting nicely as she explained she "bows to no one". Having the two interrupt by Randy Orton as he came to the ring for his match was a strange decision and gives out the wrong signals regarding how WWE views its women's division. Had Randy had enough of the women talking about their match and decided to hit the ring so he could talk? I get that WWE needed a way to finish the segment without the women coming to blows and it would've been weird to have just cut away without any action, but was this the only way to reach that point? I'm not convinced.

Naomi vs. "Ms. Money in the Bank" Carmella

Before the match - Carmella announced that she'd be taking part in the Fabulous Moolah battle royal at WrestleMania, declaring herself the modern day equivalent to Moolah...perhaps not the person you want to be comparing yourself to, Mella. 

Carmella picked up a big win over Naomi in a disappointingly short match, that the pair managed to fill with physicality and a couple of really nice sequences. Carmella repeatedly ducking roundhouse kicks, only for Naomi to counter a forth duck with a massive knee to the face was particularly well done, before a creative finish was Mella trip Naomi as she went for a springboard, before hitting a hair-aided rope-hung neckbreaker for the win. 

Also on the show

- Kid Rock is going into the WWE Hall of Fame and we get the same look at his relationship with WWE that was aired on RAW. 

- WWE played the promo package for the Fabulous Moolah Battle Royal again...will they actually keep the name?

- Rusev & Lana and Bobby Roode & Charlotte Flair cut promos ahead of their Quarter Final match in the Mixed Match Challenge.

ATPW Scale Rating // 4.79 out of 10

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

WWE Monday Night RAW Review // 12th March 2018

With four week's til WrestleMania, this week's RAW saw a number of new matches formed and storylines developed. After a segment on Miz TV, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor would face off one on one, the RAW Women's title picture began to thicken as Mickie James faced Asuka and Alexa Bliss accidentally told the world how she felt about Nia Jax, Braun Strowman inserted himself into a battle royal to find a Number One Contender to Cesaro & Sheamus' RAW Tag Team titles, John Cena challenge The Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania, Roman Reigns confronted Vince McMahon about Brock Lesnar no-showing for the third week in a row and Sasha Banks went one on one with Sonya Deville as The Boss' issues with Bayley continued...but was it any good? Lets take a look.

Commentary - Michael Cole, Corey Graves, Jonathan Coachman, Cesaro & Sheamus
Interviewer - Renee Young & Charly Caruso
Ring Announcer - JoJo

The Miz, Seth Rollins & Finn Balor segment

A really fun edition of Miz TV saw the relationships between The Miz, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor fleshed out ahead of their Intercontinental Championship match on 8th April. The segment had similar elements to what we've seen Jinder Mahal doing over on SmackDown in the United States title feud between Bobby Roode and Randy Orton, but did it without needing a lame top 10 ranking list. Miz attempted to find friendship with both men, whilst simultaneously throwing out insults, especially towards Balor who he called a "great up and comer" and "The bingo halls", whilst the issues bubbling under between Rollins and Balor came to the forefront as well to a big pop. The segment was built nicely to it's conclusion with three strong performances, with Balor bringing some fire when getting in Rollins face and offering to fight him right there in Detroit and Rollins doing the same as he talked about the importance of the title and the match at WrestleMania, but it was Miz who owned the segment as he looked on with glee, rubbing his hands together as Rollins and Balor looked to come to blows. They'd eventually notice Miz and beat him down, before Rollins took the opportunity to blindside Balor at the close of the segment. These three put on the best action of the Men's Elimination Chamber last month and if WWE keeps adding fuel to the fire over the next three episodes then they should have a great three way at Mania.

Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor 

Finn Balor got the better of Seth Rollins this time round, with the two showing glimpses of what we know they can do together, but taking quite a while to get there. The earlier portion of the match seemed to go on way too long and I honestly couldn't tell you all that much about the first six, seven or eight minutes, because not that much happened at all. Rollins controlled for a bit, Balor controlled for a bit, it was a run over of the trope of the match between two guys who respect each other, but not done all that well. It took way too long for things to heat up, but when they did, as the pair started trading stiff forearms it became a real enjoyable watch, as the two went back and forth resulting in a Pele Kick from Balor being answered by a jumping enziguiri from Rollins. Had this started a little earlier, it would have been great to see the intensity continue to be ramped up, but unfortunately the match was over soon after as Balor countered a Falcon Arrow from Rollins with a small package to pick up the win. The finish was a real nice piece of business, however, playing off a spot we've all seen from Rollins multiple times, whilst also boosting Balor after he'd had to face The Miz second a few weeks ago. 

Asuka, Alexa Bliss & Mickie James segment 

No real surprises from this segment with Alexa Bliss and Mickie James interrupting an in-ring interview with Asuka, as the Empress of Tomorrow gave her reasons for choosing Charlotte Flair as her WrestleMania opponent. Some jokes about Asuka's English being bad, Asuka's reasoning being that she wanted to face someone she hadn't already beaten and the crowd being impatient with Asuka's promo, despite it being pretty clear what the Osakan was saying. In fact, it was Bliss who seemed to struggle the most with her English! A perfectly fine segment, with good performances all round, but it played out exactly as expected and perhaps wasn't even that necessary considering Asuka is shifting over to SmackDown now. The most interesting part came at the conclusion as Bliss tried calling out an opponent for Asuka, who I'm sure we're supposed to assume was Nia Jax, leading to Mickie James blindsiding the 2018 Royal Rumble winner and this match taking place. 

Asuka vs. Mickie James 

Asuka goes to 38-0 in televised singles competition, tapping out Mickie James with the Asuka Lock at the conclusion of a short, yet enjoyable match, in front of a disrespectful Detroit crowd. This match was above and beyond my expectations, because honestly I'm not the biggest Mickie James fan and have found her increasingly sloppy since her return last year, but this was probably one of her most accomplished performances since then. Building around an injury suffered by Asuka, as her leg connected with the ringpost after James ducked a kick, the match did a good job at lifting up James' chances of victory and even if most fans know WWE wouldn't have Asuka lose 4 weeks out from WrestleMania, the injury at least allowed for a stronger and more impressive victory. The strongest part of the match was a lovely sunset flip powerbomb out of the corner from James, that landed with real impact, but unfortunately garnered a "CM Punk" chant from Detroit. This was a problem throughout the match and promo, as the crowd for whatever reason wasn't interested, chanting "Rusev Day" as well during the match. I'm not sure why Detroit didn't want this, but it didn't come across well on camera, especially considering they were ruining a perfectly good match by not paying attention.  

After the match - Alexa Bliss confronted Nia Jax about not coming out when they called, whilst continuing to play the act of the manipulating boyfriend, with it also being revealed that Jax had a match next and that Bliss would be facing Asuka on RAW next week - Nia Jax squashed the debuting Joan King, winning with a Samoan Drop in under a minute 

Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss and Mickie James segment

In a superb piece of television, following Jax's squash victory, Alexa Bliss and Mickie James appeared on the screen in the lockeroom and proceeded to bitch about Jax for a number of minutes, with the idea being that we could hear and see them because they were waiting to interviewed by Charly Caruso. At points this was a real uncomfortable watch, as Jax stood in the ring watching the screen, as James seemed to goad Bliss into saying increasingly cruel things about the Irresistible Force. With jibes about Nia's weight, including Bliss calling her "shrek" and saying she was as "dumb as she is big", WWE has to be careful how it presents this feud over the coming week's, but I think at this point its just about toeing the line and if Jax is presenting a successful and able to use her size to her advantage then we've got a real positive story here. The moment when Jax stood on the ramp, looking at the screen and then wiped away a tear before looking back up with rage and power gave me genuine goosebumps and a feeling that shit was about to go down. Bliss and James would eventually bail when Caruso informed them of the mistake, leading to Jax smashing the shit out of the lockeroom in a Braun Strowman-esque moment of fury. It's a shame that WWE hasn't had such a clear plan for Jax and Bliss over the last couple of months, because with some more clarity in the storytelling this would've been an even more impactful moment. That being said, I'm still very excited to see where this goes over the next three weeks and more than looking forward to seeing Jax finally get her hands on Alexa and the RAW Women's Championship.

RAW Tag Team Championship #1 Contendership // 
Over-the-Top Battle Royal // 
Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder vs. Rhyno & Heath Slater vs. Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel vs. Apollo & Titus O'Neil vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson vs. Braun Strowman 

Before the match -  The entire RAW Tag Team division answered Cesaro & Sheamus' open invitation, leading to a big brawl - Cesaro & Sheamus demanded to be traded to SmackDown, but Kurt Angle refused and booked a battle royal with the winner facing The Bar at WrestleMania

What a bizarrely booked match this was, as Braun Strowman became the #1 Contender to the RAW Tag Team Championship. That fact alone should be enough to make you wonder what the hell WWE where thinking when they put this together, but there were so many moments that had me shaking my head throughout this. The story of the match wasn't all that bad as the various tag teams tried to work together to eliminate Strowman, but everything felt a bit heavyhanded in its application, including having the Miztourage and The Revival repeatedly ram Strowman with the steel steps on the outside. This wasn't helped by the commentary team pointing out that it was pretty stupid because Strowman couldn't be eliminated on the floor, no matter how much damage was done. Moving past Strowman there was a number of questionable eliminations, the most obvious one being The Revival being sent out by The Miztourage, moments after Dawson & Wilder had gotten some good heat for eliminating hometown boy Rhyno. The spot wasn't helped by a botch that saw Axel unable to get Wilder over the top rope first time round.  I can't figure out what WWE is doing with The Revival at the moment, but its clear they don't see much of a future for what was one of the most entertaining teams in the company not all that long ago. The majority of this match was a mess and as much as I enjoy Strowman's destruction, I'm not sure I'm interested in seeing him run through an entire division and have a handicap match at WrestleMania. How does this division recover after WrestleMania? 

John Cena segment

It's official, after week's of "will they? won't they?" John Cena finally challenged The Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania. Did Big Match John hold back when challenging one of the most respected professional wrestlers in history? The fuck did he! Whilst the bait and switch stuff with Cena saying he was going to Mania as a fan and drinking some blokes beer was fun, this segment was all about what the 15 time World champion had to say about Taker. The set-up to challenge with Cena referring to something he wasn't "supposed to do" was another case of WWE attempting to add elements of reality into their fiction and whether you bought that Cena was being a rebel or not by issuing is by the by, because the challenge go and enormous pop from Detroit. We've seen Cena throw bombs over the last few years at The Rock and Roman Reigns, but never at someone as universally beloved as The Undertaker, so his comments about Undertaker being a "self-centred, conceited egomaniac" really hit home and produced some fascinating viewing. The line about Undertaker not being "beat-up" because he posts "work out videos on [his] wife's Instagram" got a big reaction from the live crowd as well. With the challenge from Cena at this point going unanswered, it means we've got something to look forward to next week and considering the strength of Cena's comments, we know that The Undertaker won't take that kind of shit lying down. Who knows what their match at WrestleMania will look like, but when it comes to the build-up over the next three weeks, I'm all in.

Kurt Angle, Roman Reigns & Mr. McMahon segment 

A real hot segment to kick off the show with, as Roman Reigns' on-going storyline continues to blur the lines between reality and fiction. This saw Reigns storm into the gorilla position to confront Mr. McMahon, after Kurt Angle announced Brock Lesnar would be missing the show for the third week in a row. Gorilla has rarely been shown on WWE's TV product, only occasionally getting glimpsed in documentaries, like WWE 24, so when it became clear what was happening it was actually pretty exciting to watch it go down. Wrestling fans love seeing the curtain pulled back, so seeing Reigns storm up to Vince, with Shane McMahon next to his Dad, despite being the storyline Commissioner of SmackDown, being a good touch to give the moment that "Ooh, is this real?" feel, as did Vince furiously telling someone to "Cut to commercial". WWE seems to be going through past elements of booking that have been successful for Reigns, including how Mr. McMahon was used to boost a failing feud with Sheamus and the worked-shoots and part-timer angle that helped make Reigns' feud with John Cena last September so fun to watch. Will it work and lead to Roman getting cheered against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania? Time will tell.

After the segment - Roman Reigns walked out of Mr. McMahon's office, before McMahon told Renee Young that he'd told Reigns to "Know his role and shut his mouth", before giving his word that Brock Lesnar will be at RAW next week and temporarily suspending Reigns. 

Sonya Deville (with Paige & Mandy Rose) vs. Sasha Banks (with Bayley)

A poor match from Sasha Banks and Sonya Deville here, as Banks got the submission victory with a Banks Statement. The action was weak throughout, with the two failing to connect with each other and running through a number of sloppy sequences, with Banks in particular looking out of sorts. This was extremely evident during a sequence that saw Sasha use the ropes to hit a knee from the apron to Deville inside the ring, with Banks seemingly struggling with the ropes and the knee looking nowhere like connecting as the commentary team described it as a "glancing blow", whilst the follow-up meteora also wasn't one of Banks' best attempts. The highlight of the action was a big roundhouse kick to the chest from Deville, but I'd struggle to pick out anything more from this one. The finish involved Bayley pulling Mandy Rose off the apron, causing the distraction that gave Banks the win, as the Bayley vs. Banks story continues to burn slowly. Out of everyone I thought Bayley had the best performance in this match, standing on the outside, as she looked completely different to her usual bubbly self and appeared to want to be anywhere else. With three episodes left to set up the match, I wonder how long it'll be before WWE pulls the trigger and who actually comes out of this as the villain.

After the match - Bayley left ringside, allowing Absolution to beatdown Banks, opening up more questions about their friendship. 

Also on the show 

- We got a preview of The Ultimate Deletion as WWE showed us more of The Hardy Compound, alongside the debuts of Reby Hardy, King Maxel, Lord Wolfgang, Senior Benjamin and Vanguard1, before Bray Wyatt cut a chilling promo threatening Hardy's family - Kurt Angle would later appoint a referee for the match, which will take place next week. 

- Kid Rock was announced as 2018's inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame celebrity wing. 

- It was controversially announced that there would be a Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania. Considering the backlash, due to Moolah being trash, it will be interesting to see if WWE goes ahead with the name.

- WWE celebrated Indira Gandhi, India's only female Prime Minister, as part of Women's history month.

- Elias blamed the crowd for the injuries he suffered during last week's Symphony of Destruction match, before walking out.

ATPW Scale Rating // 5.36 out of 10  

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale