Singles Match for the WWE United States ChampionshipJohn Cena vs. Rusev (C) with Lana
Getting slightly more of a focus on the show than the Bryan-Reigns bout, this in many ways felt like a more significant bout. Reminiscent of Cena's match with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014, this saw Cena getting dominated for large portions of the match by the psedo-Russian. But this wasn't Cena facing an established draw in WWE, this was Cena going up against an unproven entity, someone who has managed to garner a lot of heat alongside his manager Lana, but is yet to show that he can be a reliable main event draw for WWE going forward. This was WWE taking a risk. Now, even if Cena wins a rematch later down the line, Rusev' stock has risen considerably already from this one match.
Besides the result, this was a good bout, completely watchable from start to finish, telling a solid story. The two connected nicely early on, with a brawling style that sold their heated rivalry, before moving onto Rusev attempting to finish the match as quickly as possible, attempting pinfalls at every opportunity. The pair worked well together in ring, with some well timed reversal sequences, including Cena turning a Swinging Side Slam in a Crossface submission, that actually looked like Cena was applying some pressure to the hold! Rusev also being able to hit a number of big impact moves on Cena's back and neck played nicely into the Accolade finish, had Cena bothered to sell the back or the neck things would have been even better.
On that note, Rusev's selling and performance overall in the match was strong. A moment that stood out for me was just after breaking out of Cena's crossface, Rusev hit an Alabama Slam and quickly grabbed the neck. It's little touches like these that have lead to me really warming to Rusev as a performer over the last six months or so and it's little touches like these that will keep me interesting during matches. Being able to perform this style, which is often lacking from WWE's larger competitor's is what will make Rusev stand out from his contempories and should lead to Rusev becoming a big player over the next few years.
Going forward, the finish would suggest this isn't the last we'll see of the Rusev-Cena feud with a WrestleMania match seeming likely. It's almost inevitable that we'll see Cena get his revenge on Rusev because that's how wrestling storylines have worked since the dawn of time. Depending on how that's handled and who WWE has lined up for Rusev's next opponent, the loss shouldn't harm Rusev one bit, especially if his individual performances continue to be as strong as this one. I'd also expect a rematch between the two to be a much richer bout, as it felt like the two were holding back just a little on what they could do here. A good match, nothing more, nothing less.
Singles Match for the Number One Contendership to the WWE World Heavyweight ChampionshipDaniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns
Whilst I felt that Rusev vs. Cena was the more significant of the two marquee matches, this was the match of the night. Power and Strength vs. Speed and Technicality. It's an age old formula, that's been tested time and time again and almost always pays off. It's an easy story that anyone can follow. Both men were able to tweak their style slightly, in order to play to the face vs. face dynamic that could have caused the match to fall apart. Bryan brought a more vicious side to his game, focusing on Reigns' previously injured stomach with some vicious kicks at one point, whilst Reigns added some vulnerability to his power, in an attempt to garner some crowd support against the clear fan favourite Bryan.
The back and forth nature of the bout set both men as more or less equals, with neither able to take the upper hand for any real period of time. This not only leant itself nicely to the face vs. face dynamic by allowing each man to roam closer to being the heel at points in the match, but also set up some well-worked near falls. Reigns' getting two from a Superman punch and Bryan's near falls after reversing a Spear into a Small Package and hitting his signature Running Knee were the stand outs in terms of near falls. However, both men delivering punches and kicks whilst on the mat was the highlight of the bout for me.
Where this match stops at being "just" a good match, instead of a very good or great match, is on the little intricacies in the story telling that weren't quite present. Elements of the story being raised and then dropped, such a Bryan working the leg early on before never going back to the injury and Reigns' not selling it either, hurt the flow of the match ever so slightly. Personally, I would have liked to have seen Reigns' selling his stomach a little bit more, especially after managing to powering out of Bryan's Triangle Choke. A little indication that it was the stomach that caused him not to be able to get to his feet (even if this had been from the commentary team) would have made all the difference to this moment.
Did this match change anyone's opinions of Reigns? Hmmm...maybe. But I'd suspect his most ardent "haters" (Fuck, I hate that term) will pass of the match as Bryan "carrying" Reigns, which was always going to be the case. Whilst Bryan's performance was unselfish, Reigns put a shift in himself, and whilst he's still not a completely polished performer, I'm glad to see WWE, at least, attempting to build new stars. Reigns now has to prepare for the biggest match and moment of his career, against a potentially hostile crowd, I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do when the lights are on bright.
Six Man Tag Team Match
Seth Rollins, The Big Show & Kane with J&J Security
Ryback, Erick Rowan & Dolph Ziggler
Yes, he's back. After almost four months off television, Randy Orton made his WWE return after the conclusion of the six man tag team match. Making a run in after The Authority's Seth Rollins, Kane, The Big Show and J&J Security had battered Ryback, Erick Rowan and Dolph Ziggler, delivering RKO's to Kane, Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury before Big Show was able to save Rollins from Orton's Rope Hung DDT, with Rollins legging it all the way out of the arena. A cool moment and a timely return for Orton at a time when WWE is lacking star power. A feud with Rollins heading into WrestleMania should provide some entertaining encounters, as well as elevating Rollins further setting him up nicely to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase.
The match was a decent trios encounter, whilst never threatening to become a must-watch bout. The Authority's team spent most of the match working over Rowan's leg after Rowan missed a Spin Kick on Big Show and connected with the ring post. Unfortunately, this story element wasn't used to it's full potential, as whilst The Authority did a good job working quick tags, Big Show randomly letting go of Rowan with a modified cloverleaf locked in for reasons known only to Show and Rowan using a Spin Kick on Rollins' in order to make the hot tag really letting down the good work that was put in elsewhere.
Rollins and Ryback probably had the most entertaining section of the match, putting together a decent sequence of moves, capped off by Ryback catching Rollins' as he attempted a Diving Neckbreaker in an impressive show of strength before turning the move into Shellshocked. Whilst Ryback was making the most of his PPV time, Big Show looked slow and sluggish, seemingly out of place for a number of big spots, including the finish in which it seemed to take an age for Show to hit Ziggler with the KO Punch, meaning Kane had to look a bit of a nob holding Ziggler in place for the move.
I'm sure whether having The Authority go over here was the best decision, as it did end up making the three babyfaces look a bit shit. They'd already lost the match and then got the shit kicked out of them, only for one man to be able to clear the ring of the Authority. I'm all for keeping Rollins strong, but it wasn't Rollins who got the pin and he wasn't even involved in the finish of the match. A pinfall could have done much more for Ziggler, Ryback or Rowan, whilst enhancing the beatdown at the end of the match. It's not like Big Show or Kane particularly needed to be protected for any real reason, and pre-match attack from Rollins would have only helped his stock to rise amongst WWE's heel pack.
Triple H and Sting come Face to Face
Pretty much a paint-by-numbers segment to set up a match for WrestleMania, we've seen these kind of things a number of times over the last few years. Luckily then, it was kept relatively short (hence finding itself this far down the review) and included a number of nice little touch that managed to keep my attention despite knowing exactly how the segment would play out. Touches like Triple H coming out in a leather jacket and jeans, as opposed to his suit, and looking like a legit bad ass in the process, having Sting remain silent throughout and the comparison between Sting's baseball bat and Triple H's sledgehammer.
Despite ending up on the receiving end of a Scorpion Death Drop, it was Triple H who stole this segment for me. His promo delivery was spot on, and with some nice references to the Monday Night War such as "My legacy is putting your legacy out of business". If things continue to move in such a fashion this feud should have heated up nicely come WrestleMania. I'm still not sure how much I want to see this match, but there is no question that it will appeal to those fans who may not have watched wrestling for a while and draw them in to watch WrestleMania.
Goldust vs. Stardust
There was a surprising amount of focus on the show for Goldust vs. Stardust, with both pre and post match backstage segments. The match was unremarkable, lacking the aggression that Goldust had promised in his promo earlier in the night. However, there was the nice story element of Goldust trying to hit his big moves (such as Golden Globes and the Director's Cut) early on in the match to try and get things finished quickly, unfortunately no one on the commentary team picked up on this, so the majority of the audience will probably not have noticed what was going on. The finish (and subsequent post-match promo) sets things up nicely for a WrestleMania rematch between the two, where they will almost certainly have to up their game.
with Stardust's being particularly impressive. Delivered with a passion that has been missing from Stardust's performance for sometime, targeted as his father and following an attack on Goldust, Stardust claimed that his father killed "Cody" by sending his brother to tag with him, finishing with the line "I am not living in your shadow, you're living in mine". I was hooked for start to finish for this segment, as Stardust nailed the promo hitting the right highs and lows at the right time. If Stardust can bring this aggression into the feud heading into WrestleMania, and is matched by his brother, we could have a rather intriguing programme and hopefully a WrestleMania match that is stronger than this bout.
Tag Team Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship
Tyson Kidd & Cesaro with Natalya vs. The Usos (C) with Naomi
Cesaro and Tyson Kidd picked up their first Tag Team Championship as a duo (Kidd's second reign with the title having won the belt as part of The Hart Dynasty back in 2010) in a solid tag team bout with The Usos. The focus of the match saw Cesaro and Kidd focus on Jimmy Uso's leg, with a series of impressive maneuvers, including a beautiful one legged Cesaro Swing. The leg also played nicely into the finish with Kidd able to hit his Swinging Fisherman Suplex following a kick to the injured leg. Whilst the action was mostly strong, there were a few times where things weren't quite as slick as they should have been, whilst Jimmy failing to sell the leg for any prolonged period of time (especially after the match) did hurt the story that was being told some what.
Singles Match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
Bad News Barrett (C) vs. Dean Ambrose
This bout showed that these two have some real potential as opponents, however it failed to fully cash-in on that potential. Barrett and Ambrose connected nicely with a handful of impressive reversal sequences, involving each man's signature moves, showing some decent chemistry in the ring. Unfortunately there wasn't much holding together these sequences and the finish was rotten. As a concept I have no real problem with Disqualification finishes on PPV, as long as they feel important and drive the story forward, having Ambrose DQ'd for refusing to stop stomping on Barrett in the corner was a cop out, why not have him lose it and hit Barrett with the title belt? This match needed, at least, five more minutes and much more creative finish than what was provided.
Singles Match for the WWE Diva's Championship
Nikki Bella with Brie Bella
This match was better than I had expected in the preview, but still my personal highlights came from people other than the performers in the ring. Lilian Garcia seemingly not having a clue what was going on as she announced Nikki as "Women's Champion" after fumbling her words for thirty seconds and Jerry Lawler saying the word "belt" both managed to get a pop out of me. In all fairness so did Nikki hitting a relatively competent powerbomb, but unfortunately this match lacked any real depth from the performers (Paige not selling her back following getting rammed into the apron and barricade really hurt the match). Nikki winning with a roll up, whilst apparently holding the tights, slotted in well to what was a basic match.
Bray Wyatt Promo
It was finally revealed to everyone missing half a brain who Bray Wyatt had been talking about for the last month or so on WWE programming. Of course, it was The Undertaker. Wyatt's entrance with Druids carrying a coffin to the ring to Undertaker's music, only for Wyatt to be revealed inside looked really quite good, even if anyone who's watched WWE over the last ten years knew exactly what was going to happen. It was Wyatt's promo however that truly stole this short segment, challenging Undertaker to a match at WrestleMania, with more mysticism and mythology than the Ancient Greeks. "It's time for him to go home".
WWE aired Seth Rollins' social media altercations with Jon Stewart, the most interesting part being Stewart calling Rollins' a "toady" which I believe to be a reference to popular Australian Soap Opera Neighbours. I imagine this was done to bring in Toadfish Rebecci to reprise his role as The Lawman. The promo video for WrestleMania ran three times during the show, reminding us that the show was only 35 days away, which was nice of them. A recap of Paul Heyman's interview with The Miz from the Kick-Off show was also shown, with Heyman reminding us that the winner of the Reigns-Bryan match would be facing Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. Eva Marie and Cameron were at The Oscars apparently, good for them, a win-win situation considering I didn't have to watch them wrestle either. WWE Immortals also continued to be heavily promoted with another promo airing during the show. Flintstones & WWE: Stone Aged Smackdown also received a promo, in what looks like a truly awful straight-to-DVD film.
Where this PPV falls apart and become less than the sum of it's parts, is the sheer repetition of the matches. Three matches involved someone working the leg, three matches included someone getting rammed into the apron and then the barricade. Two talking segments is too much for a PPV, in my opinion. To add to this the crowd was dead throughout the whole show, one of the worst WWE crowd's I've ever seen (Apart from the guy with the "Barnet 1 Grimsby 3" sign). Whilst many of the matches straddled somewhere between average, decent and good, when put together in this order, in front of this specific crowd, it just didn't quite work overall.