Fatal Fourway for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (C) with J&J Security vs. Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Randy Orton
After featuring in the opening video package for the show, this bout was given more build up in the form of some backstage action. Revolving around the stipulation that Kane would lose his job as the Director of Operation if Seth Rollins were to lose the title, we saw two scenes that explored their relationship, with J&J Security also getting involved. The initial segment teased that both would be happy to see the other one suffer, in a what was well-scripted moment and added a little bit of extra intrigue heading into the match. Minutes before the entrances were made Kane and Rollins once again met, although this was pretty much surplus to requirements, simply going over what had previously been said.
The bout itself was a thrilling encounter that showcased all four men well, and included plenty of hijinks and shenanigans to keep things interesting. J&J Security were a constant nuisance at ringside (helping to smooth out the face/heel dynamic of the bout), whilst Kane's inner turmoil story didn't last long enough to get annoying (as it did at Extreme Rules) with Kane quickly siding with Rollins and J&J Security. Extra layers of story were weaved in in the place of Kane's quest, with the one-time return of The Shield (to triple powerbomb Randy Orton through the announce table) causing fan boys and girls everywhere to spontaneously errupt with joy (squeeee). Joking aside it was a superbly crafted moment, with all three former member playing it down to a tee. However, it was Rollins reaction when attempting to get Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to join him in their signature fist bump that took things to the next level. Rollins' performance throughout was very well done.
The action throughout was mostly one on one with the outside interference and big spots on the outside allowing the bout to almost slip into your regular WWE multi-man format. Luckily, the action was kept to a fast pace when within the ring and performers. Whilst Rollins character work was spot on, his in-ring work may have been stronger. Helped by his familiarity with his opponents, Rollins was part of some top quality sequences with all three of his opponents, with a section opposite Orton, where the two block a series of each others signature moves standing out as a particular highlight. Reigns and Ambrose also put together some really good work when tasked at going at it one on one, showing promise for a potential singles feud further down the line, with a number of creative reversals.
The closing stages came off a flurry off action that saw each man hitting a signature move, before Kane got all involved in everyone's shit. The Big Red Machine took out Reigns and Ambrose with the steel steeps, before chokeslamming Reigns onto those bad boy steps. It was frustrating to see Kane so involved in the finish again, but it did allow for Ambrose and Reigns to stay looking fairly strong due to the nature of the attack, Ambrose especially came off well thanks to having hit Rollins with Dirty Deeds minutes earlier. Orton and Rollins battled it out as the only two men left standing and put together a short but entertaining closing sequence, firstly revolving around Orton's rope hung DDT, before Rollins blocked an RKO, Orton RKO'd Kane and Rollins hit a Pedigree to pick up the win and retain the title. The finish was perhaps not as strong as the rest of the bout, but was still perfectly acceptable action. Everyone came out of the match looking better off for being apart of it, with Reigns continuing his strong run of PPV bout, Ambrose staking a claim to get a chance at handling more main events and Orton providing some of the best action of the match. However, for me it was the Champion who came off the best, because whilst he still came across as slimy, scumbag, that you love to hate, his activity of the ring was off a very high quality.
"I Quit" Match for the United States Championship
John Cena (C) vs. Rusev with Lana
Make no bones about it, this feud has been dead in the water since WrestleMania, the disappointing Russian Chain match at Extreme Rules didn't help Cena and Rusev's cause either, therefore it's even more impressive then that the duo managed to turn the last embers of their feud into an enjoyable pyrotechnic display (literally!) Featuring a number of big spots, and strong performances from everyone involved, this match built from the bottom up with each moment laying the foundation for the next, a flow which suited the "I Quit" gimmick well.
Whilst things started fairly timidly with regularly in ring action, things quickly escalated into an all out war, as Rusev and Cena threw bombs at each other in the hope of getting each other to quit. Where things really kicked into gear for me was Cena telling Rusev that he was about to put him threw the barricade, giving him the opportunity to quit and when Rusev refused to do so, Cena shockingly put him through the barricade. The brawl around the arena that followed was a superb piece of WWE theatre, and allow the pair had problems with a reversal spot that was supposed to see Rusev alabama slam Cena through a table, they both recovered well and continued to push the match along.
Whilst we've all seen John Cena suck it up and fight through pain, this match saw the format almost subverted with Cena dominated large chunks of the bout, crunching Rusev with monitors, laptops, guard rails and giving him an Attitude Adjustment into the pyrotechnic area. This allowed Rusev to real stretch his muscle in terms of selling, as he showed the pain not just through his body, but in his face, and even his voice. His performance (as well as some brave booking) allowed Rusev to look like a bit of a beast, his rattled "No" everytime Mike Chioda asked if he wanted to quit, took something simple and used it to improve the quality of the match. Whilst Rusev looked good underneath, Cena passed out due to pain and whilst he didn't utter the infamous words, he was once again putting over the Russian in defeat.
Disapointingly, due to the a strong amount of creativity implemented in the previous spots, the finish was rehashed from Cena's Royal Rumble 2007 Last Man Standing bout with Umaga, as Rusev removed the top rope, only for Cena to trap him in the STF using the rope. Unfortunately it lacked visually in comparison to that bout that saw both Cena and Umaga bleed heavily and whilst this match didn't exactly need the blood, it was always going to suffer in comparison. Whilst Rusev apparently said (in Bulgarian) "Ahh...no. I give up! Next time we will crush you! I give up! Stop! I told you! I'll crush you, Cena! Damn your old mother, Cena! I will crush you! That's enough, I told you!", Lana was the one to essentially throw in the towel by telling Chioda that Rusev had quit. This finish will allow each party to go their separate ways following a feud that has been hit and miss since the Royal Rumble, but at least it went out with bang.
Two out of Three Falls Match for the Tag Team Championships.
Tyson Kidd & Cesaro with Natalya vs. Big E & Kofi Kingston (C) with Xavier Woods
Before the match could get underway, we got some fun and frolics from the New Day, as Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods got on the mic to run down Baltimore. The Charm City was having none of the trios attitude and let them know about it. Whilst the heat was cheap, it was a genuine reaction that the lads played with nicely. They even cut into SOME GUY at ringside (I imagine he plays a sport that the residents of Baltimore are fond of, and plays that sport in Baltimore with some of his pals) The promo warmed the crowd up nicely for the match, and they were vocal from the outset, which promised to give them match a little more zip and zing.
I'm a big fan of Two out of Three Falls bouts, due to their nature to lending themselves to interesting match structure and this one didn't disappoint. The early proceedings were dominated by Cesaro and Kidd, quickly picking up the first pinfall on Kingston following a Cesaro Swing into a low angle front dropkick from Kidd. Cesaro in particular impressed here, with his new flashier babyface moveset showing the Swiss Superman in a light that we have perhaps not seen him in on WWE television. His early double double stomp to Big E and Kingston in particular stood out.
Whilst Cesaro was putting in a great effort inside the ring, it was Woods who may have stolen the match (quite literally at the finish) on the outside. He was annoying as hell, but in the best way possible, especially when Big E and Kingston took control after the first fall. The fact that New Day are now so over with the WWE audience as heels, allowed Woods plenty of freedom to run his mouth and his enjoyment could almost be felt radiating through the screen. When the pace quickened and the crowd started a "This is Awesome" chant, Woods was ready with his "We are well aware" reply, a clever and creative response that showed Woods is completely into his character.
With the second fall going the way of the New Day following a Midnight Hour onto Kidd (Big E had previously speared Cesaro off the apron), the final fall was all Cesaro again as he dominated with uppercuts and his team got near falls off a sick running uppercut, a backbreaker/elbow drop combination and a Sharpshooter to Kingston. The teams looked slick and the offence was strong, with the exception of a dodgy tiger bomb attempt by Cesaro to Big E, and built superbly to a closing melee that saw Woods sneak into position to get Cesaro in a small package with the referee unable to see that it was Woods and not Kingston who had the pinfall. A fine ending that adds more for The New Day to gloat about in their excellent promos and, as we saw in a backstage segment with the trio and Byron Saxton, build to their title defence in two weeks inside the Elimination Chamber.
Ryback vs. Bray Wyatt
The surprise contest of the night, between two wrestlers who have struggled to find their place on the WWE roster over the last few years. Whilst the feud leading into this was lack lustre, took the ten minutes of ring time allotted to them and ran with it, putting on an intensely physical match up. Wyatt dominated most of the match, pulling out some big moves early doors, like a DDT onto the apron and a huge senton off the apron to the floor, that left Big Hungry reeling. Wyatt offence looked good, with a roughness that suits the character, whilst still looking like he is completely in control of proceedings.
Ryback supposedly suffered a broken rib off of the aforementioned Senton, it's unclear whether this was storyline based or legitimate at the time of writing, however I'd have hoped that if there was legit injury that the medical staff would have been straight out. Therefore I'll assume it was all part of the match, and that Ryback was in fact simply selling his injuries, which he did very well indeed, clasping at his mid-section and gasping for air at the appropriate points in the match. It even played into the finish, with Wyatt able to escape a Shellshocked attempt, sending Ryback rib first into an exposed turnbuckle before hitting Sister Abigail to get the three count. Whilst both men need more interesting feuds going forward, this performance showed they can deliver on PPV and was almost certainly Ryback's best singles match in his five years with WWE.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus
Opening the show, Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler pieced together an entertaining slice of action, that both suited their two month feud and made both men look good throughout. The main story of the match was Ziggler injuring his leg early on in the match thanks to Sheamus blocking a superkick and delivering a vicious elbow onto the knee. Ziggler did a great job of selling the injury early on, grabbing the knee before various pinfall attempts and some subtle touches whilst running the ropes, that began to gave the match more depth that last month's match at Extreme Rules. It was a shame then that Ziggler neglected to sell the knee during his main comeback sequence (that saw him delivering knees to a seated Sheamus in the corner to set up an arse kissing spot), meaning that when Sheamus locked in a Cloverleaf it didn't get anywhere near the reaction it should have.
The finishing sequence was nicely done, although it lack any convincing near falls, which was a little disappointing due to the quality of the reversal sequences that the two put together, it's just difficult to buy that the Fameasser is going to finish the match, no matter how good the action building towards it is. Sheamus picking up the win following a Brogue Kick was secondary to Ziggler's headbutt seconds earlier that busted the Show Off wide open, presenting a superb visual for the final part of the match. Sheamus needed to win here, following Ziggler's win at Extreme Rules and Ziggler was booked well enough to insure that he could take part in the Elimination Chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship in two weeks time.
Neville vs. King Barrett
Barrett vs. Neville was a short, but sprightly affair that featured elements similar to their previous clashes at Extreme Rules and King of the Ring. The action presented was enjoyable with Neville using his speed as a weapon against Barrett's brawling offense, their just simply wasn't enough of it. The finish that saw Barrett decide that he no longer wanted to fight after a lovely corkscrew plancha was a bit of a cop out, but would suggest that the two will be feuding more in the aftermath of Elimination Chamber. If this is being used to give the pair more of a spotlight in the next few months then I am all for it, but if it ends up going nowhere then it will have been a terrible waste of the two talents on this show.
Tag Team Match
Naomi & Tamina vs. The Bella Twins
There has to be one stinker and this was it. With Naomi and Nikki Bella unable to build on their solid bout at Extreme Rules, this was a dull and sloppy affair that failed to capture my attention. Whilst there was an attempt at basic tag team psychology with Brie acting as your Total Diva in peril, I still find it difficult to side with the Bella Twins, and in a storyline where Naomi has accused Nikki Bella of being desperate for the fans approval (despite her being a bitch to everyone on the roster for six months) that seems like it should be important. Naomi picked up the pinfall on Nikki after a slam off the top rope, so expect a rematch between the two for the title at Elimination Chamber.
Strangely, Michael Cole promised an important revelation about the Intercontinental Championship during the show, this information however was simply a replay of Daniel Bryan vacating the belt on the previous week's Monday Night Raw whilst also a reminder of the fact that the belt will be on the line in an Elimination Chamber bout at Elimination Chamber in two weeks time. Renee Young hosting the Kick Off panel segment that also included Hall of Famer Booker T and Corey Graves, as they ran through elements of the "I Quit" Match and Wyatt vs. Ryback, offered some insight into the upcoming Fatal Fourway bout, before handing over to highlights of the Kick Off match that saw The Ascension defeat The Mega Powers of Curtis Axel and Damien Sandow in quick fashion. There was also a few minutes for promoting upcoming projects including Tough Enough's return on June 23rd on USA, and WWE Network shows Swerved debuting in June, Stone Cold Podcast with Paul Heyman on the WWE Network on 1st June, NXT Takeover: Unstoppable on 20th May, Elimination Chamber on 31st May and Money in the Bank on June 14th. Imagine Dragons provided Friction as the theme song for the show.
This really was a very good pay-per-view, with even the angsty world of Twitter being relatively kind to the show. The three main matches all delivered beyond my exceptions of them heading in, and I don't even want to go out on a limb and pick a match of the night because they were all enjoyable in their own different way. Wyatt vs. Ryback and Sheamus vs. Ziggler were enjoyable bouts in the mid-card with all four men attempting to cement places higher up the card with their performances. It was only really the under card that failed to hit the spot, but I'm potentially willing to forgive the Neville vs. Barrett matches if the booking pays off in the next few months.
Overall, a top quality show and a major improvement on last month's Extreme Rules. I'll see you all tomorrow for the aftermath on the Monday Night Raw Review.