Saturday, 30 July 2016

TV Review: WWE Cruiserweight Classic #3 - Zack Sabre Jr. v Tyson Dux


The third week of the Cruiserweight Classic saw the First Round of the tournament continue, with Zack Sabre Jr, Anthony Nese and The Brian Kendrick and others join in on the fun. Would the tournament continue it's slow burn towards the 2nd round or would we finally see a breakout match? 



In my opinion, this week's main event opened the show, as PWG World Champion Zack Sabre Jr. jousted Canadian indy stalwart, Tyson Dux in a solid technical match. I'm extremely appreciative of ZSJ's technical, submission based style, and this match did a good job of getting over the kind of wrestler that he is, as he controlled large portions of the contest with various painful looking holds. He'd use a variety of different hold on various parts of the body, but always came back to Dux's arm in preparation for the Jim Breaks Special. Dux looked more than comfortable in their with someone who is considered one of, it not the, best technical wrestlers in the world, knowing his main role was to make ZSJ look as damn good as possible, whilst also having a near fall off a brainbuster, that was well worked indeed. The crowd seemed to struggle with the slower pace of the contest at times, however I'm not too concerned for ZSJ as I know when given a longer match later in the contest he'll have the fans eating out of the palm of his hand in no time at all. 

In the strongest bout on the show, The Brian Kendrick defeated Raul Mendoza [Jinzo] in a gritty and exciting effort, that had the Full Sail crowd on their feet at various points. Mendoza may have become the break out start of the tournament, as in only his third appearance in the USA as he impressed with a series of aerial manoeuvres, including a stunning corkscrew plancha and an unconventional cross-legged swing that dropped down in a submission of some sort. The crowd took to him swiftly, helped by veteran Kendrick being especially vicious, including placing Mendoza's mouth over the rope before kicking the rope hard, causing the Mexican to bleed from his lower lip. The reaction to Mendoza going for a Coast to Coast, with Kendrick in a tree of woe position was incredible as the whole building seemed to get to it's feet in unison! The finish was satisfying stuff, as Kendrick played possum before getting a submission with a reverse headlock takedown transitioned into a choke. It was a shame not to see Mendoza advance as he'd been taken to by the crowd, but I'm expecting at just 24 years old that this won't be the last we see of him on the world stage. 

In the weakest match of the tournament so far, as New York regular Tony Nese went over some lad called Anthony Bennett. I know very little about Bennett, and my usual source cagematch.net doesn't have a profile for him, which isn't a great start. From watching this match, it was clear that Bennett was completely out of his depth in this tournament, looking sloppy when executing moves and struggling to keep up with Nese's pace leading to a horribly messy section in the final third. The crowd's reaction to some of the botches were hilarious though. Nese is top draw talent however and managed to salvage his own credibility with a series of well-performed moves, including the 450 splash that would win him the match and 2nd Round tie against The Brian Kendrick. 

Rounding off the show, Drew Gulak would book his 2nd round place with a victory over one half of the Bollywood Boyz, Harv Sihra. This was an enjoyable, but short-lived contest, that told a rewarding story and told it well. Gulak bought a powerful and rather rough style to the match, whilst Sihra used his speed to attempt to get flash victories at numerous points. One particular moment that stands out was Gulak hitting a scoop slam, where Sihra's leg came crashing down the middle of the top rope. The finish was a clever piece of booking that raised a little smile, as it called back to a previous part in the fight beautifully. After Shira had escaped a body scissors by wrapping his own legs across Gulak's to create a kind of ankle lock, the finish would see Gulak locking in a brutal variations of the dragon sleeper, which included a body scissors, however when Shira tried to reverse again, Gulak was quickly able to recover and crank the sleeper on harder for the victory. It's the kind of wrestling that just wouldn't be possible on Monday Night RAW, because of the size of the crowd, so it's great to see it find a home on CWC. 

It was announced that next week's show will see the last four first round matches, including the likes of Johnny Gargano, Fabian Aicher [Adrian Severe] and Rich Swann.


Results 


Cruiserweight Classic First Round Match: Zack Sabre Jr def. Tyson Dux in 8 minutes, 26 seconds 

Cruiserweight Classic First Round Match: Drew Gulak def. Harv Sihra in 5 minutes, 17 seconds 

Cruiserweight Classic First Round Match: Tony Nese def. Anthony Bennett in 6 minutes, 34 seconds 

Cruiserweight Classic First Round Match: The Brian Kendrick def. Raul Mendoza in 7 minutes, 47 seconds.


Finally...

ATPW Scale Rating - 4.69/10


The weakest episode of the series so far, which has more than a lot to do with the show including a piss-poor performance from Anthony Bennett. The rest of the show was of the same quality as had been seen in the first two weeks, with The Brian Kendrick and Raul Mendoza putting on a particularly strong bout, that had the crowd at the hottest they've been so far. Daniel Bryan and Mauro Ranallo continue their strong form on commentary, helping to tell the stories, including the complex submission based narrative of Drew Gulak v Harv Sihra, whilst Bryan cheerleading for his pal Kendrick on commentary also added an extra depth to that already enjoyable contest. Having two second round matches confirmed throughout the show with Gulak facing Zack Sabre Jr and Tony Nese clashing with The Brian Kendrick was also a neat idea, with each winner being presented well in their match and making the potentially clashes even more appetising. 

All content - James Marston

Friday, 29 July 2016

TV Review: WWE NXT #206 - Shinsuke Nakamura v Wesley Blake


After three weeks of big matches and having it's roster heavily depleted by the recent WWE Draft, NXT looked to re-build and quickly with just four episodes until the next Takeover event. With a more low-key card, could NXT still provide the quality of action it's fans have come to expect? 



This week's main event came at the top of the show as Shinsuke Nakamura went 9-0 in NXT with a victory over Wesley Blake. A dominant performance from Nakamura here, in an entertaining extended squash, as Blake continues to find his feet as a singles competitor. The match was much more a set-up for General Manager William Regal to come out to ringside and announce that Nakamura would be facing Samoa Joe for the title at Takeover: Brooklyn II on 20th August (more on that in a moment), than it was an attempt to have a brilliant match, but of course, anytime Nakamura is in the ring it's difficult to take your eyes of the screen. Blake put in a decent performance in his role, mimicking "The King of Strong-Styles"' offence and blowing kisses at him, which made the moment he got hit in the face with the Kinshasa all the more satisfying.

Kota Ibushi made his NXT debut with a victory over Buddy Murphy, in a short contest that managed to pack a lot action into it's diminutive screen time. A much more balanced contest than the earlier Nakamura v Blake match (with the Blake and Murphy being former tag partners comparisons between the two are inevitable) and therefore it was much more exciting fight to watch. The tempo was rapid, especially as the matches headed to it's near fall rammed conclusion, with the momentum shifting one way and then another. I much prefer this type of debut for Ibushi, to say an out and out squash match, as it shows the fans of the brand, what kind of matches they can expect and offers something to look forward to, whilst also giving him a debut victory. I'd like to see what else Buddy Murphy is capable of on his own, as he gave a good showing of himself here.

Steve Cutler continued his thirteen match, 2 year losing streak on NXT TV, with a defeat to No Way Jose in less than two minutes. There was some dancing and then Jose won with a cobra clutch slam, a real treat. The real story here though was Jose cutting a killer promo on rival Austin Aries. He brought some genuine depth to his character, that it definitely need if Jose wants to progress any further on the brand. Jose built the promo well, as it grew and began to tell a story about his background, explaining his motivations for fighting and dancing and just what that means for Aries. The exclamation point left me wanting to see Jose and Aries have a fight, which I previously had been completely mild for. 

The show would end with NXT Champion Samoa Joe voice his displeasure with having Shinsuke Nakamura as his Number One contender. Joe was on fire with his promo, not coming across as a cowardly heel who doesn't want to fight Nakamura, but coming across as someone who didn't believe Nakamura was good enough to get a title shot. Of course, the fans want to see the match, so Joe trying to block that makes him look like real bastard. Also, Joe referencing his own road to the NXT Championship gave the promo an extra dimension, where the viewer could see where Joe was coming from but still disagree with his opinion. Of course, by the end of the show, William Regal had forced Joe's hand and made sure the contest would take place, but somehow NXT managed to raised the stakes with this simple and effective piece of storytelling for a match that many had already labelled as must-see.  



Billie Kay got her first win on TV with a victory over Stardom's Santana Garrett in a match. It was a fairly basic encounter, that without having being told a lot about Kay over her 13 month run on TV was hard to get to into. To be honest, I was more convinced by Garrett's bubbly babyface character than I was by whatever Kay was doing, that looked a bit unsure. Perhaps an interview with Kay beforehand or after would have been a better way of introducing her character fully. NXT is in real need of bulking up it's roster of women on TV, since Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Eva Marie and Nia Jax were all bought up to RAW and Smackdown Live a few weeks ago, so it makes sense to start using girls like Kay in more prominent positions but this was a flat first victory for her. 

In the only tag team action on the show, TM-61 (Nick Miller & Shane Thorne) got themselves another victory, as they destroyed Rob Ryzin and Adrian Nails. After six weeks off TV, this felt like a way to keep Miller and Thorne in the consciousness of the audience, without NXT having much of a plan for either at this stage. Their opponents on the other hand were some of the worst enhancement talent who I can remember NXT using. I feel that these guys were just wondering around Full Sail University and got roped into wrestling a match. Nails wrestled in jeans, which is cool if you're known to the audience, but looks like you've just forgotten your gear if you're not. Then he took a fucking awful spinebuster, that looked like he'd never bumped in his entire life. The best thing I can say about this was that TM-61 came away unscathed and hopefully Ryzin and Nails won't be booked again anytime soon. 


Result 


Singles Match: Shinsuke Nakamura def. Wesley Blake in 4 minutes, 28 seconds 

Singles Match: Billie Kay def. Santana Garrett in 3 minutes, 8 seconds.

Tag Team Match: TM-61 - Nick Miller & Shane Thorne def. Adrian Nails & Rob Ryzin in 3 minutes, 4 seconds.

Singles Match: No Way Jose def. Steve Cutler in 1 minute, 52 seconds. 

Singles Match: Kota Ibushi def. Buddy Murphy in 5 minutes, 19 seconds.


Finally...


ATPW Scale Rating - 4.04


Clearly, this episode was never going to be as strong as the last three weeks of television NXT has produced, but this was a watchable episode that developed a couple of storylines and attempted to introduce or re-introduce a couple of competitors. Samoa Joe's promo and interaction with William Regal was the strongest part of the show with Joe delivering some great lines and creating an extra level of intrigue for his upcoming bout with Shinsuke Nakamura. The debuting Kota Ibushi's match with Buddy Murphy was the strongest match of the show, turning what could have been a rather straight-forward bout into an exciting sprint. 

The rating is pulled down by the shorter segments, involving the women's and tag team divisions, which either struggled to hold my attention or were let down by sloppy enhancement talent. 

With the Takeover: Brooklyn II card beginning to come together, the next few week's should begin to pick up in terms of storylines and new talent development as there's big spaces on the card left by American Alpha, Finn Balor, Nia Jax and others. It's an interesting time for the brand, let's hope that that translates as interesting television! 

All content by James Marston. 

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Wrestle Ropes Ready for the Weekend: July 2016 Week 5 - Good Wrestling, TW, PROGRESS & ICW


We didn't have an article last week because real life got in the way and gave us no time for anything, including eating and possibly breathing on a few occasions so our apologises to you the reader and to Across The Pond Wrestling. But no more as we're back this week and what a weekend we have coming up in British Wrestling. We're firstly heading to Milton Keynes for Friday before travelling north to Annan on Saturday, a hop across the border to Glasgow on Sunday then back to London the same night ass we're always time-travellers. Enough of this verbal ping-pong! Let's get Ready For The Weekend!!



First up this weekend on Friday night is GOOD Wrestling who are holding their third event, The Power Of 3 at The Craufurd Arms in Milton Keynes. For it only being their third show, GOOD Wrestling have been delivering quality matches from the start and this show looks to follow the trend. 

One match that is sure to be hard hitting affair will be between Mike Bird and Wild Boar. These two men were originally supposed to be partners at GOOD Wrestling's last event. However fate decided that Boar would not be able to make the show. Bird took exception to this and now he wants retribution against his fellow Welshman and he'll hope to get it this Friday. 

Damian Dunne shall be making his GOOD Wrestling debut this Friday. Dunne is a very serious man. He's not a man who finds enjoyment in much except dealing out pain to his opponents so he is unlikely to be happy about his opponent, Jack Sexsmith. A Sexsmith by name, also by nature, Jack will no doubt really annoy Dunne this Friday night in Milton Keynes. Unless he keeps one eye on Dunne, Sexsmith could well find himself no longer having fun again. 

The self-proclaimed "Number One" will not be the only member of the Dunne family in action at 'The Power Of 3' as Pete Dunne shall also be present. “The Bruiserweight” is well known with his smash-mouth style and impressive technique making him a formidable athlete. His opponent, Pastor William Eaver is used to formidable though as he has achieved success of equal measure to Dunne in recent times. Eaver already holds a major British Wrestling championship while Pete shall be making his Pro Wrestling Guerilla debut in the near future. This is a match that not only showcase the young talent on these shores but give us a glimpse of what is to come in the future of British Wrestling.


Match Card


This Ain’t No Picnic (Big Grizzly & Panda Cub) vs The Dazzler Team (Darrell Allen & Earl Black Jr)

Jack Sexsmith vs ‘Number One’ Damian Dunne

Wild Boar vs Mike Bird

Gene Munny vs Chris Brookes

Pastor William Eaver vs ‘The Bruiserweight’ Pete Dunne

‘All Day Star’ Ryan Smile vs ‘The Superstar’ Ashley Dunn


Moving on to Saturday and Target Wrestling make their return to Annan at The Carnegie Theatre. While only three matches have been announced at present, TW put on good quality events every time the roll into a town. 

Shady Nattrass will be in action this Saturday when he defends the High Octane Division Championship against man who beat him only a month ago, Khifie West. West's victory over the champion came during the finals and is undoubtedly his biggest win to date. The question is, can West make history repeat itself and take the High Octane Division Championship in the process. 

Speaking of High Octane Division champions, James Scott shall be competing against The Coyote Kid at The Carnegie Theatre. Scott a former champion, will be sure to use his extensive skills and experience against the big fan-favourite, Kid. A win for Kid over such an experienced opponent could do a lot for his young career. A loss could be a lesson he may not soon forgot or wish to repeat. 

The third match confirmed so far will see Spyda be in a Target Wrestling ring as he faces one of the finest young wrestlers today, a man who calls himself “The Best Young Wrestler In The World”, Lewis Girvan. Now while you could assume that title is egotistical, Girvan is a man who backs up what he says in the ring. Spyda is indeed a fine high-flyer and has a lot of talent. He'll need every bit of it against  Girvan. One mistake may be all that Girvan needs to showcase why it's not bragging when you back it up.


Match Card


High Octane Division Championship
Shady Nattrass (c) vs Khifie West

James Scott vs The Coyote Kid

“The Best Young Wrestler In The World” Lewis Girvan vs Spyda


Heading on to Sunday and the first show we are going look to focus on is PROGRESS Wrestling Chapter 33: Malice In Wonderland at The Electric Ballroom in Camden, London. Now this show is already sold out so you may think why bother writing about it. Well simply, it's PROGRESS and it should be talked about whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

The main event of this event will see Marty Scurll get a chance to reclaim the PROGRESS Championship when he faces Pastor William Eaver. Eaver won the championship at Chapter 32 back in June and since then Scurll has been irate to the point that he attacked one of PROGRESS's co-owners so badly to get his rematch that the owner has since left the company. Eaver used his Natural Progression Series championship cash-in to win the championship and he quite rightly had the perfect opportunity to do so. However, Scurll showed how ruthless he can be to get something he wants that we now have no idea how far he shall go to get what he believes was stolen from him. Eaver now has a demon hunting him that he must exorcise at Chapter 33 but Scurll's anger may be so great that not even God himself can stop him this Sunday. 

Whoever walks away the champion this Sunday will know what awaits them next as Mark Haskins shall face Will Ospreay to determine the number one contender to the PROGRESS Championship. These men are world-class in anyone's eyes and would both be worthy challengers to any championship including the PROGRESS Championship. Haskins the SMASH Champion and Ospreay the NJPW BOSJ 2016 winner are credits enough for an opportunity. We could see another world-class match this Sunday when these two men meet in the squared circle. PROGRESS have always been a promotion that showcases the best of British and any stars from outside the UK are there for a reason and not just a name. This Sunday will be no different. 

The London Riots stated that they would defend the PROGRESS Tag Team Championship against anyone, anywhere. PROGRESS Wrestling are holding them to that when the team of Hanson and Ray Rowe of War Machine step up to the challenge. London Riots are known for their powerful offence. War Machine are probably one of the few teams who can equal that power. London Riots have some the whole UK why they have the reputation they do. War Machine are world-travelled and will be looking to show the UK again why they have the the same reputation.


Match Card


PROGRESS Championship
“The Villain” Marty Scurll vs Pastor William Eaver (c)

PROGRESS Tag Team Championship
The London Riots (Rob Lynch & James Davis) (c) vs War Machine (Hanson & Ray Rowe)

PROGRESS Championship Number One Contender
“The Star Attraction” Mark Haskins vs “The Aerial Assassin” Will Ospreay

“The Mexican Sensation” El Ligero vs “White Lightning” Mark Andrews

The Dunne Brothers (“The Bruiserweight” Pete Dunne & “Number One” Damian Dunne) vs Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven)

“Liverpool’s No.1” Zack Gibson vs “The Extraordinary Gentleman” Jack Gallagher

Wasteman Challenge
“Bodyguy” Roy Johnson vs ???


Finally the weekend rounds off with Insane Championship Wrestling at the O2 ABC in Glasgow with Shug's Hoose Party III

This show will result in a major change for ICW with control of the promotion on the line in a six-man tag team match. Red Lightning currently owns 51% of ICW's shares, where as ICW creator; Mark Dallas owns 49% therefore making him minority shareholder. However if Dallas' team of Noam Dar, Grado and a third competitor win, Lightning will be forced to sign over 1% of the company to Dallas, making him an equal shareholder. But if Drew Galloway, Jack Jester and Wolfgang win for Lightning, Dallas shall sign over his 49%, removing him entirely from ICW. Dallas wants a say in the promotion he created and has had to resort to this match for a chance to do so. A win will mean that Lightning can't do as he pleases in ICW anymore without Dallas' approval. A loss for ICW's creator may not only destroy ICW but Dallas himself. 

This Sunday will see DCT finally get his hands on Bram in a match that he has wanted for a year. Back at 'Shug's Hoose Party II', Bram attacked DCT and his new wife, Viper during their wedding leaving Viper being unconscious. Since then, DCT hasn't been the same. Every time that Bram was in ICW, DCT was waiting. Bram may have stopped or escaped DCT but this Sunday there will be no escape. This match will be inside a steel cage and nothing is going to stop DCT from unleashing the anger which has boiled inside him for the last 12 months. DCT is known as The Lone Strike, this Sunday he'll look to be the lone man walking out of the steel cage. 

The main event this Sunday will see the ICW World Heavyweight Championship on the line when champion, “The Beast Of Belfast” Big Damo defends against “Iron Man” Joe Coffey. The Black Label have tried in vain to take the ICW World Heavyweight Championship from Damo since he won it. On the other hand, Coffey has had to deal with Black Label interfering in his business for just as long. While Damo has overcome everything Black Label has thrown at him, Coffey has also done the same to get his opportunity. The fans have wanted this match for a long time and finally it's going to happen. Whether Black Label will get involved is still be seen but regardless we are going to see two true heavyweights of professional wrestling collide for one of the most prized championship in wrestling today. 

A worldwide audience will see on iPPV what happens when two powerhouses of British Wrestling collide in one of the biggest shows in ICW's history where more history could be made.


Match Card


ICW World Heavyweight Championship
“Iron Man” Joe Coffey vs “The Beast Of Belfast” Big Damo (c)

ICW Zero-G Championship
Lionheart (c) vs Kenny Williams

Steel Cage
“The Lone Striker” DCT vs Bram

If Mark Dallas’ Team Win, He Becomes A 50% Equal Shareholder. If The Black Label win, Mark Dallas Signs His Shares Over To Red Lightning And Leaves Forever
Team Mark Dallas (Noam Dar, Grado & ???) vs The Black Label (Drew Galloway & Jack Jester) & Wolfgang

Six-Man Tag Team
Legion (“The Deity Of Deviance” Mikey Whiplash, “Anti-Hero” Tommy End & Michael Dante) vs Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) & “The Best Young Wrestler In The World” Lewis Girvan

ICW Tag Team Championship Tournament Final
??? vs ???

That wraps up this week's preview of the weekend's wrestling schedule. Of course, there are many more events taking place over the three days. To find out more about the shows we've highlighted here as well as all the others, check us out at www.wrestleropesuk.wordpress.com for the latest show and match announcements, British Wrestling event list, interviews, exclusive columns, reviews, reports and results!

Written Content - Andy Scotland
Media Content - James Marston

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

TV Review: WWE Smackdown Live #884 - Bray Wyatt v Apollo Crews v Baron Corbin v Dolph Ziggler v AJ Styles v John Cena


Just like Monday Night RAW the night previous, Smackdown Live recieved a relaunch of sorts, with a brand new set, a new commentary team and it's own distinct roster. With a six pack challenge to crown a #1 contender to Dean Ambrose's WWE Championship, the wrestling return of Randy Orton, debuts from Alexa Bliss and Carmella, returns from Rhyno and Eva Marie, could Smackdown Live out do it's Monday night counterpart at the first attempt? 



If Finn Balor getting a shot at becoming the first Universal Champion was shocking on RAW, then Dolph Ziggler becoming Number One contender to Dean Ambrose's WWE Championship was equally so, if not. Ziggler would come out the winner in a six pack challenge, that also included John Cena, AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, Apollo Crews and Bray Wyatt in a rollercoaster of a main event. I'd even noted when Ziggler had been announced for the match, that he was there to make up the numbers and take some bumps for the others who have all been pushed stronger than he over the last six months. I suppose it could have felt like a let down when he won, but because of the nature of the contest it actually felt like a refreshing flash finish, that bought the match to a satisfying sudden halt. Ziggler taking on Ambrose for the belt at SummerSlam, creates space for another big match on the card, in a way that someone like Cena, Styles or Wyatt winning wouldn't have, so it could prove to be a savvy piece of booking over the next three weeks. Also fingers crossed for Ziggler heel turn as the promo possibility would make for an awesome feud.

Taking a similar route to what was seen on RAW, Smackdown used it's first show to showcase as many of it's wrestlers as possible, whilst also putting a meaning behind the multi-man madness. This is a pretty sound strategy, as it says to the audience, these are our top guys and allows each talent to show what they have to offer all at the same time. Apollo Crews and Baron Corbin were both elevated from being involved, with Crews especially impressing, whilst simultaneously getting pushed heavily in the booking. The sequence between the two showed they both have more potential than they have shown since being called up, whilst having Wyatt pull the ref out of the ring to deny a Crews victory will do the former Uhaa Nation wonders going forward. This was a great TV main event, that was full of excitement from the ring bell, went at a lightning quick pace, had a number of huge false finishes and provided a shock victory, a superb end to the first episode of the re-launch. 

Taking up the semi-main duties for the night was Randy Orton's wrestling return as he defeated Intercontinental Champion The Miz clean in less than five minutes, with a pair of RKOs. This was an enjoyable bout, that had the beginning of a great story and some world class selling from "The Viper", but two things bugged me. Firstly, Orton sitting around for ages after hitting the first RKO, whilst the commentators talked about Orton going to a place that he'd not been for a long time. I sat watching just a bit confused, thinking that "The Apex Predator" was going to punt the fuck out of Miz's skull, but he just hit a second RKO. Secondly, The Miz looked a complete chump in the finish. He's the Intercontinental Champion for fuck sake, if you want to use him this way then take the belt off him and give it someone else! Everytime the belt is treated like this, it makes it harder to give a shit when someone wins the title, which in turns means that WWE then gives less of a shit about the belt and does more things like this. Good TV bout, with strong performances, but weak booking. 

Before the match, Orton was crowned in the undisputed champion of chat show guests as he made an appearance on Miz TV in a decent segment, that the crowd were hot for. The gimmick of Miz interviewing himself, after teasing Orton as a guest, has been done to death over the last few years and whilst it did get some heat, as a home viewer I was hoping to see something a bit fresher. Orton's charisma has really shone through in this run of chat show segments and he was on form here, having fun with the crowd and generally looking like he was having a good time. When you watching someone enjoying themselves, it's difficult not to like observing. The jokes about Miz touching himself and potentially getting bummed by Maryse weren't my cup of tea, but were delivered well and the crowd seemed to be down for that type of tomfoolery. Of course, the segment lead into the match with Maryse accepting Orton's challenge on behalf of her husband. 


A re-match for two night's earlier, would see a reverse of the result as Becky Lynch was able to gain some revenge on Natalya by tapping her out with the Dis-Armer after a decent, but unspectacular match. Of course, it was nowhere near the level of Charlotte and Sasha Banks' epic the night before., but it was crisp throughout and was probably a step up from the previous night as pulled out some bigger moves, like Lynch's diving leg drop and a big german suplex from Natalya and put together clever sequences of reversals that weren't all based around their submission holds.  It was however just a set-up to introduce Smackdown Live's new roster of women, as a Lynch interview with Renee Young was interrupted by Alexa Bliss, Naomi, Carmella and finally, Eva Marie. Bliss probably did the strongest job with her promo and seemed to get over quickly with the crowd. Marie's entrance was an interesting one with an over-the-top announcer listing her achievements, before the show cut to elsewhere. As cool as Marie's entrance was and the heat that she got, it felt more like a coma, than a full-stop or exclamation point. 

In the show's opening match, Apollo Crews would earn his place in the show's main event, by defeating Aiden English, Alberto Del Rio, Erick Rowan, Fandango, Jey Uso, Kalisto, Kane, Konnor, Mojo Rawley, Simon Gotch, Tyler Breeze, Viktor and Zack Ryder in a battle royal that was as flat as a witches tit. Before the field had been wittled down to the final four, the bout was so dull to watch, with Kane's dominance and ADR being eliminated so early being the only notable occurrences. With Kane, Crews, Kalisto and Zack Ryder left, the crowd was solidly behind Ryder, with loud cheers and chants for the Long Island Iced Z. So what did the lad do? Botch everything he hit from then on. His diving elbow drop was a thing of perverse beauty, as he landed on his feet after a stumble and then hit the elbow drop anyway. Kane being booked so strong was beginning to annoy me a little, however with it being used to give Crews the rub, after he flipped out of a chokeslam and eliminated the veteran to win, I was much happier by the end of the night. Compared with RAW's two matches that set-up their main event this battle royal was more than a bit of a shambles.

With an opening segment akin to the previous night, the show began with Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan addressing the roster about their plans for the show. Obviously, we know that he announced they announce the six pack challenge and the battle royal, but there was also some particularly interesting wording in there from Shane O'Mac. He mentioned more than a few times that Ambrose was the only top champion in WWE, a nice reference to RAW launching the Universal Championship, without whacking the audience over the head with the RAW v Smackdown Live rivalry. I did think it was a shame that McMahon and Bryan didn't address anything to do with the women, who had to stand awkwardly around the ring as the men talked about the men. After the major women's match on RAW, I was expecting something to be made of Smackdown Live's roster here. 

In an oddly entertaining segment, Rhyno returned to WWE by goreing Heath Slater, after Slater had been canvassing Shane McMahon for a job with the brand.


Results 


Fourteen Man Over-the-Top Rope Battle Royal to earn a slot in the Six Pack Challenge Main Event: Apollo Crews def. Aiden English and Alberto Del Rio and Erick Rowan and Fandango and Jey Uso and Kalisto and Kane and Konnor and Mojo Rawley and Simon Gotch and Tyler Breeze and Viktor and Zack Ryder in 12 minutes, 42 seconds

Singles Match: Becky Lynch def. Natalya in 10 minutes, 21 seconds

Singles Match: Randy Orton def. Intercontinental Champion The Miz in 4 minutes, 54 seconds 

Six Pack Challenge Match for the #1 Contendership to the World Championship: Dolph Ziggler def. AJ Styles and Apollo Crews and Baron Corbin and Bray Wyatt and John Cena in 16 minutes, 5 seconds.


Finally...

ATPW Scale Rating - 4.97/10


With RAW truly knocking it for six on Monday, Smackdown replied by getting a couple of runs the day after. The main event was a great piece of television, that ended the show on a real highnote, but the rest of the show seemed to be scratching around with a couple of ideas that didn't completely come off.

It's way too early to call which show is the better one just yet, with neither brand getting into feuds or storylines too heavily in the first week, but on evidence of these two episodes alone, Monday Night RAW has the upper hand for now.


All content - James Marston 

Opinion: Lucha Underground Season Dos or It's the End de la Mundo and I feel Multa


So I'd like to start by just saying thank you for making my last article looking at WCPW one of the highest viewed articles of all time on ATPW. I'd also like to confirm that I will be checking in again with WCPW from time-to-time. I won't be doing weekly coverage because unlike our beloved James Marston (or indeed, Lucha Underground favourite, Cage) I am not a machine. Still, I hope you enjoyed that article and this one as you're reading it already. 

No one was ever the first person to do anything. Ken Shamrock wrestled in the Hart Dungeon, Stone Cold ambushed and attacked Booker T in a supermarket, the Four Horsemen drove off to a car park and beat up Dusty Rhodes, sometimes wrestling goes off-reservation. Recently, I don't think anyone reading this doesn't know that TNA became witness to The Final Deletion and just last week, The New Day went to The Wyatt's compound. Both of these segments pay dividends not just to previous segments but also to cult cinema in a way that could easily fill another article but really this is my long way of saying that TNA and WWE fans must recognise that in terms of modern wrestling television, only one company is using behind-the-scenes cinematic to the fullest extent of the art-form and that is Lucha Underground.

Lucha Underground, for those who aren't initiated, is basically what would have happened had Tyler Durden and Sebastian had set up Fight Club in the basement of The Titty Twister (The bar from From Dusk Till Dawn for the uninitiated). It is a piece of art that in a move that probably made Jim Cornette throw up with disgust but made Max Landis do the same with excitement, it is a horror movie, a thriller, an undercover cop drama, a buddy comedy, a time travel sci-fi movie, an underdog story, the tale of a demonic possession and so much more. In fact, the only thing it isn't, is a wrestling show. Also there's a man who dresses as a dragon who might actually be a dragon, it's not clear. It's probably easier to explain it if you just read Lily's piece from earlier this year about LU as an introduction. Basically it's mad but it's fucking tops and over the last three weeks, it's had four hours of premium content that when put together make up LU's Wrestlemania, the insanity that has been Ultima Lucha Dos.

So I'm going to leave a little warning here, this next section will feature a lot of spoilers for Ultima Lucha Dos so if you want to avoid them but still have a read, just scroll down to the video of Johnny Mundo and Angelico doing some nice flipdeedoos and when it's done, we can discuss the season as a whole.



I think the most important question going into Ultima Lucha Dos was could they top season one? They found an ingenious way to answer it - by repeating the same opening match of Ultima Lucha Uno but doing it even better. When a show opens with one of Dario's 'Unique Opportunities' being promised to the winner of a small tournament between The (Willie) Mack and (Brian) Cage, (El) Texano (Jr.) and Son of Havoc, you know you're off to a good start. All four of these guys are incredibly over in the Temple: Son of Havoc (Matt Cross) for his incredible athleticism, The Mack for his mix of lucha libre and Stone Cold Stunners, Cage for his pre-preemptive firing by the WWE for possible wellness policy violations (and frequent looking like he might murder people) and El Texano for his use of a bullwhip. So the tournament consisted of two Falls Count Anywhere matches and a Bar Room Brawl which is like a Good Housekeeping Match but instead of Chyna slamming Jeff Jarrett's face into a bowl of eggs, El Texano gets put through a bar table; bottles and all. 

This first hour of UL:D was quite insanely overbooked. So the Mack and Cage are about to have a standard match when Dario turns it into a Falls count anywhere which the Mack wins via roll-up, then Son of Havoc and El Texano have the aforementioned Bar room Brawl which Son of Havoc won, then there was a final between Havoc and Mack which was also FCA rules, Havoc won, the crowd went mental, Dario came out and offered Havoc two briefcases, one with $250,000 and the other with a contract for a main event match at Ultima Lucha: Tres, Havoc takes the second option but in order to win this briefcase, he has to face off against another opponent who if he wins gets the money, out comes The Famous B and the Beautiful Brenda with their new client, no sadly it's not Mascarita Dorada but the lucha legend Dr. Wagner Jr., who bests Havoc with the Doctor-driver to take home the briefcase. You get all that.

There is no way to really explain how the storyline of night one was meant to track, it did seem a bit like a few weeks before Dos, they realised that four of their most important people didn't have a match so they just threw some stuff at a wall, waited for it to stick and then hoped that the sheer talent in the ring would cover the cracks. Somehow, it does with the opening encounter between Mack and Cage showing their fantastic chemistry, these two are truly the Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn of LU. Son of Havoc can just somersault everywhere and make me happy but top marks to Matt Striker (words I didn't think I'd say) for really selling the story of Havoc as a plucky underdog and hero to the bullied persevering against the odds. The Doctor Wagner twist only really worked because he's already a name so when he entered the temple, the place lost their minds (and because damn he looks good for fifty). It also helped build on what we already knew which is Dario is a dickhead who knows how to make the fans hate him.

Night two was all about two matches: the seven way elimination gift of the gods title match and a death match between King Cuerno (El Hijo del Fantasma) and Mil Muertes (AAA's El Mesias). The gift of the gods match was the first big coronation of Sexy Star but that doesn't mean that others weren't given a chance to shine with Killshot (Shane Strickland) and the debuting Nightclaw (Dragon Gate's Flamita) looking particularly impressive (Nightclaw pulling off a moonsault from the audience balcony was insanely good). No one seems to be particularly hurried in providing any kind of stakes to whatever the story is with Kobra Moon and Daga but it was more to get him out of the way so the story could really just focus on Killshot, Sexy Star, The Mariposa (Cheerleader Melissa) and Marty 'The Moth' Mcf... Martinez. (Tristan Gallo) Marty Martinez has really settled into his lower midcard heel role and managed to actually generate some near falls where for a moment I thought Sexy might not win. But of course she did because the audience love her too much for it not to happen. It's a relief to see though that while they played up Sexy Star the first LU female champion, there was no disbelief about her win. El Sinestro de la Muerte (El Mariachi Loco) was also in this match.



King Cuerno and Mil Muertes tried to murder each other. That is what happened next. Two of the stiffest guys in Boyle Heights just kept hitting each other really hard until King Cuerno tried to put Katrina through a table. This was a match that was deserving of the entire season that has built up to it with Cuerno playing defacto Technico against the larger Muertes, taking out his anger over Katrina screwing him out of his title shot against Muertes to protect her boy. If this match had one problem, it's that is told a very similar story to the match we'll get to between Matanza and Pentagon jr but also for a Death Match, it never felt quite as potent as watching Murder pope Vampiro and Pentagon try and hit each other with as many filament bulbs as possible last year. That said it did have some lovely sequences including of course Cuerno's now trademark Arrow from the Depths of Hell looking like he turned into an actual arrow for a second shooting Muertes and the finish to the match with Muertes hitting a deadly looking Tombstone before Cuerno was carried off on a stretcher was gruesome, visceral and high operatic in the way that the best of LU often is.

So for the final night we had a stacked card with Drago, Aerostar and Fenix taking on The Worldwide Underground (Jack Evans, Johnny Mundo (John Morrison) and PJ Black (Justin Gabriel), who has somehow morphed into X-Pac's more handsome younger brother) for the trios titles, El Dragon Azteca (Rey Horus) taking on Black Lotus (Angela), Pentagon [Jr.] Dark vs Monster Matanza Cueto (Jeff Cobb) for the LU title, Taya [Valkyrie] vs Ivelisse and finally the dream match of Rey Mysterio Jr. vs Prince Puma (NJPW's Ricochet). Of these matches only one really disappointed and that was Dragon Azteca vs Black Lotus as the match provided no real closure or furtherance of their arc, Black Lotus looked quite visibly nervous in her match and it didn't help that Dragon Azteca is hardly  veteran enough to guide her through the match up. It felt like both of them were just running the ropes till Pentagon could invade, break all the arms and call out Matanza to have the match there and then. Luckily, they had one hell of a match, only hurt by having a faint anticlimax. Pentagon, instead of playing the smaller guy in trouble, went for the technical expert schooling the newcomer as he battered Matanza around the ring. It was interesting to see the David and Goliath narrative reversed, it would be like watching Neville dominate Brock Lesnar physically but with more armbars. Matanza (who is sure to be a highlight of this year's BOLA) has quickly proven a valuable assett to the company capable of big, stiff strikes, giant suplexes and standing shooting star presses and Pentagon Jr. has frequently shown he could possibly be the best all-rounder that Mexico has. It's a shame then that the match had to end with a distraction involving Vampiro, Dario and a cousin of Mick Foley's beloved Barbie leading to Pentagon nearly breaking Dario's arm till Matanza hits him with the bat, hits his Reverse Spin-scoop Powerslam finisher for a clean-ish pin. The in-ring finish to the show with Pentagon superkicking Matt Striker before dragging Vampiro to the ring for some good old fashioned barbed wire induced facial stigmata was appropriately gruesome a way to continue this storyline and I wouldn't  be surprised if by this time next year, Pengtagon Jr, sorry, Pentagon Dark has had a lovely, brutal title reign of his own.

Taya and Ivelisse had a lovely little encounter with Matt Striker once again putting over that Ivelisse has an MMA background and Taya trained with Lance Storm to the point where I hope Wade Barrett joins season four just to hear Matt Striker never shut up about his bareknuckle boxing past and he NEVER SHOULD! It was nice to see an encounter between two women on LU that ended after interference from a third woman, Catrina without any involvement of Johnny Mundo, Son of Havoc or Mil Muertes. This was the women's division beginning to truly come into their own and prove that they can not just hold their own with the men but actually do better without them with Ivelisse's MMA background (did you know she has an MMA background?) coming into play with some particularly stiff kicks and smooth transitions into holds. It's also worth noting her spiky trousers make her kicks look even more effective because part of me chooses to believe it's like she has tacks strapped to her legs. That said, another match ending in distraction finish? I thought we went through this with WCPW, you need at least some solid wins or else it doesn't really feel like a satisfying ending to the season.

The Trios title match was exactly what you'd expect it would be, it was six high flyers, flying high. It wasn't as psychologically impressive as some of the other matches on the card but for pure spotfestery, it possibly outdid the GotG match. I love the way that without anyone noticing, The Worldwide Underground have somehow become an even better nWo parody than The Bullet Club with their exaggerated heel antics and playing air guitar on the title belts (including a little shredding sound effect suggesting that they are actually able to play the guitar on the belts?!?). This match had the most effective bits of screwery of the night as the referee took a bump allowing for the champs to take their belt and deliver a triple belt shot to Fenix. The match would eventually end when Angelico would return, presumably because one member of the team of him, Havoc and Ivelisse has to be on crutches at any time, in order to provide enough of a distraction for the technicos to get a win and Fenix to become the first LU Triple Crown Champion. Now I was always going to love this match because Mundo is one of my top ten favourites on the current scene but even with the talent involved, there was a feeling that they weren't given enough time to really do what they wanted to do. If they had moved Dragon Azteca vs Black Lotus or Taya vs Ivelisse to another night of UL:D, they might have been given more time to breathe and string together the different spots more satisfyingly. I also still can't fully understand the full love that Drago gets as yes, I've noticed he's a dragon but he just looks sloppy. I know, he can pull off a moonsault but this is Lucha Underground, I think the only person who couldn't pull off a moonsault was Ezekiel Jackson and they killed his character off. Overall a fun encounter with some strong heel work but maybe just slightly less than the sum of its parts.



Luckily the last match of the night was basically perfection. El Rey vs The Prince, the king of Lucha vs one half of the current 'it' pairing of the indie scene (along with Mr. Super Juniors Will Ospreay). Much like the Ospreay-Ricochet encounter, this match could be accused of occasionally not quite selling moves to their full extent but that just served the story. Mysterio played the role of the elder statesman trying to prove he could still hang tight and Puma worked as the cocky upstart trying to prove he could beat a legend. Here's a thing I've been trying to say since my first article for the website (which you can still find if you go through the tag for my name at the bottom of the page), if a match is good enough, it doesn't need to matter who wins. When we get such fast action that it's hard to even comment on it while it's happening, it puts both competitors on an even playing field. Even if in a storyline term, it confirms that Mysterio truly is El Rey, it doesn't make Puma look any worse in losing because they put on one hell of a match. Even with my warning that this segment would contain spoilers, I don't want to talk about some of the great moments in this match because it's easier to just say watch it. It's the best Rey's looked in years as well as being something of a torch passing especially in the ending sequence which can only be referred to as 'the 619 meets the 323'. Once again to mention the stellar job that Striker and Vampiro did on this match, Striker making reference to Puma setting up Rey for a 630 Senton as an 'I'm sorry, I love you' moment shouldn't have worked and probably wouldn't without Vampiro's big kid enthusiasm but much like a lot of things with LU, it takes something ridiculous and overly-smarky and makes it work through sheer love for the craft. If rumours are to be believed and after the next season of LU, Ricochet will be headed to Conneticut, then hopefully they look at this match and see quite how special a talent he is, able to subtly rudo it up as the fans are supporting Rey while still being impressive enough to keep the audience chanting his name on side, anyone who says his matches lack psychology is probably just someone who thinks psychology means constant chains and rest holds. This is high-flying, wrestling and storytelling at its finest.



Now weren't those nice flipdeedoos? It's worth mentioning here that LU isn't, for my money, a wrestling show, it's not NJPW, it doesn't pretend to be a sport. What LU is, is the purest expression of that whole 'sports entertainment' term. Yes it's very clearly not 'real' but who cares when you can watch Jack Evans and PJ Black have a nunchuck match with a dragon and a spaceman. They are creating a season of a television show. Every individual match, as near classic as some of them can debatably be, are all in service of the greater plotline. Every storyline is given a reasonably chartable through-line where you can see the seeds planted in episode one and though they pay off in smaller ways, it is all linked together by Ultima Lucha Dos. But even more importantly, it didn't just wrap up plots but left some dangling questions for next season. Sure I'm not going to be on tenterhooks waiting to find out if Killshot ever fully gets revenge for the thievery of his dogtags but certainly the subtle mirroring of the last shots of season one suggest a creative team fully aware of the impact of every little move they make.  There is some impressive continuity at play. Watch the way that even though he's playing De facto 'technico' against Matanza, Melissa Santos still refuses to excitedly announce Petagon Jr. after the time he tried to break her arm in Season One.

The most fascinating aspect about Season Two is that possibly better than anywhere else I've seen, they've managed to craft compelling Rudo v Rudo singles matches. There is often considered an issue with having two rudos face off because if they're doing their job, the crowd should boo them but how do you keep them interested if they shouldn't root for either competitor? The answer it turns out was simple - who cares, just watch these two guys punch the bejeezus out of each other. Because that's what wrestling is meant to be. Every time the hardcore 'we loved the Attitude Era' attack dogs of the internet come out to attack LU or the New Day or The Young Bucks, there is one simple reminder to them that I feel it is now my place to join in with giving them: you were a child then, this is entertaining to some of us as adults, imagine how you would feel watching this as a child. I know that as much as I love LU, imagine how much 13 year old Joe would have loved this. The sheer brilliance of LU is that not everything about it works but despite the almost ridiculous amount of high concept fuckery that happens, it feels exactly like something happening in a warehouse in the middle of LA. It pulses with the energy of a group of people at the peak of their powers making something that pays tribute to its past and its influences but also seems to be entirely guided by the thought 'what if we did something really fucking dumb but really fucking cool?'

But it works. Where 'The Wyatt Compound Fracture' as I believe it's being called, failed because of its sincere attempts to make a low-budget horror sequence being constantly hampered by an overly choppy editing style that made the entire thing competent but partially incomprehensible and The Final Deletion, I still can't tell if it's the Room of Pro-Wrestling or The obnoxious Room parody of Pro-Wrestling. What LU does so well is to weave in the backstage elements but also, in a nice touch that differentiates it from other products, it is played as if Matt Striker and Vampiro have no idea what's going on backstage when they're in the arena. It makes those segments feel more special because they are a secret between us, the TV audience and the programme. Also in terms of production values, whoever had the idea to always put an over the shoulder crane shot for any time Son of Havoc or Prince Puma go top rope, they deserve all the raises. It's a somewhat flashy aesthetic they've created but it is also a rare genuine article of something that is nothing like else in the same market, it's very rare that you can find a wrestling product that anyone compliments the cinematography for. The last moments of the strobing lights over the slowly raising grin of Cueto were so artfully constructed it may as well have been guest direction from David Lynch and that's something no other wrestling promotions can claim. No one else is doing this,  Mexico isn't doing this, CMLL isn't doing this, Even AAA doesn't do this, in fact especially AAA for anyone who tried to power through the godawful stream of Triplemania this year. Plus to my knowledge, AAA doesn't have Joey Ryan (The King of Dong Style himself) as an Undercover Cop and all things need that, even if they just don't know it yet.

Written content: Jozef Raczka 
Media Content: James Marston & Jozef Raczka 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

TV Review: WWE Monday Night RAW #1209 - Sasha Banks v Charlotte


The night after 2016's Battleground PPV, WWE presented the first night of it's brand split as Monday Night RAW took on a new look, new commentary team and it's own unique roster for the first time since August 2011. With a tournament to crown a brand new Universal Champion, a Women's Championship match, the debuts of Finn Balor and Nia Jax and the return of Neville, this show surely couldn't fail...



In what was the show's main event in everything but name, Sasha Banks would put an end to Charlotte's 44 weeks at the top of the Women's division, in the best female match to have ever graced the companies flagship TV show. This wasn't just a PPV worthy match on TV, this was a PPV quality match on TV and one that could have stolen show. Despite this, I'm glad that this match was saved for this broadcast and not used on the previous night's PPV, as it was allowed to become a focal point here, whilst also being aided by the booking of the tag match from Battleground, which gave Banks some extra momentum. Of course, having a title change on the first episode puts out the idea to the fans that you don't want to miss an episode of Monday Night RAW. To have a Women's match this strong on the first show of the new feel RAW makes a real statement about how we're going to see ladies presented on the show going forward.

The match was pieced together well, with the narrative unfolding throughout the contest with new layers and ideas being bought in as it went on. It was full of moments, connected together with some quality wrestling to produce the story that would culminate with the feel-good ending. The fight began to develop into something special when Banks managed to get Dana Brooke ejected after pulling an Eddie Guerrero, throwing Brooke the Women's strap and dropping to the floor and by the time Charlotte had hit a beautiful moonsault to the outside that development was almost complete. The finish was spot on as well, with Banks managing to slap on a Banks Statement seconds after Charlotte had escaped that exact same move, with both girls selling the move and the occasion superbly. I could write a lot more on the odds and ends that made this such an enthralling main event contest. If this is the direction WWE have planned for their Women's Championship on Monday nights, then long may it continue. 

In the first of two Fatal Four-Way matches that were essentially Quarter Final matches in a tournament to crown a new Universal Champion, a debuting Finn Balor conquered Cesaro, Kevin Owens and United States Champion Rusev in a cracking opening match. In the first part of an incredible debut for Balor, he was put over huge by the commentary team as he headed to the ring and then allowed to look like a bonafide superstar by defeating three of WWE's premier male wrestlers. The final few minutes were all about "The Demon" as after spending some time out of the match following a Pop-Up Powerbomb, Balor seemed to come out of nowhere as he hit Owens with a running front dropkick and a slingblade, before delivering the same kick to Rusev and gaining the pinfall with a Coup de Grat. If you were seeing Balor for the first time and hadn't been convinced by the time the referee's hand hit the mat for the third time, then you don't deserve nice things. 

The near twenty minute bout seemed to pass by in a flash as the foursome kept the action coming thick and fast, with each competitor being allowed to play to their strengths. This was a cool cocktail of sports-entertainment, with clever storytelling, well-placed high-spots (Balor's tope conhilo), crowd pleasers (Cesaro's uppercut train and Giant Swing) and close call near falls (Owens Pop-Up Powerbomb to Balor, Rusev's Accolade on Owens, Cesaro's sharpshooter on Rusev). There was even some neat chain wrestling at one point, as Rusev and Cesaro flowed seamlessly in search of their submission holds. The partnership that was created by Owens and Rusev early on, would become the foundation for the match with the duo controlling the first third, whilst Owens was ad-libbing various quips to his new found Bulgarian buddy. It will be interesting to see where Owens, Cesaro and Rusev fit into RAW's on-going plans from next week and if any of them will find a place on the card on 21st August.



In the other Fatal Four-Way bout, it was Roman Reigns who would triumph over Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn and Sheamus in another lively match, that capped off a strong first hour. The commentary team had weirdly tried to push the possibility of Zayn winning continuously throughout, but let's face it this match had a Reigns victory written all over it in bright pink highlighter. From the very beginning when all three other men, including a reluctant Zayn, went after Reigns, this was all about "The Juggernaut" and his quest to be "The Guy" once more. Reigns was given a lot of the big spots in the match and the story essentially boiled down to everyone else finding different ways of stopping "The Big Dog" from being able to hit a Spear. This definitely isn't meant as a criticism of the match, in fact, all four men managed to play to Reigns' negative crowd reaction well, with the story helping to drive this. 

Whilst there were similarities to the earlier four-way, like Jericho and Sheamus forming a partnership to dominate the early goings, this felt like a very different match to it's predecessor. This contest felt like much more of a Wham Bam Thank you Mam type encounter, loading the near falls on the conveyor belt and speeding it up continuously until the finish. Once Reigns had hit his over the rope suicide dive, the false finishes were running wild. Sheamus nailed Reigns with a Brogue Kick as the latter lined up for a spear, only to end up in position for Zayn's Helluva Kick was the strongest sequence of the contest, made even better by Jericho attempting to nick the pin from "The Underdog from the Underground". The crowd was hot for each kick out, especially when Zayn caught Reigns with a roll-up in the middle of a Superman Punch spree. For this reviewer, the only let down of this bout was the finish. Jericho and Reigns put together a cool back and forth arrangement, including another near fall off a codebreaker, before Reigns finally hit his spear following "Y2J" attempting his own version of the move, but it meant that Zayn and Sheamus had to be out of the ring for what felt like an age, off a couple of Superman Punches. It wasn't a major problem though and this was still an exciting TV bout with plenty of reason to keep watching.  

The show would conclude with Finn Balor pinning Roman Reigns clean, to book himself a slot against Seth Rollins at SummerSlam and a chance to become the first ever Universal Champion. When the next list of most memorable RAW debuts is written, Balor's will be up there with the likes of Brock Lesnar, Eric Bischoff and Chris Jericho. He went from a debuting performer to one of the top two guys on the show, with a headline match on the 2nd biggest show of the year. It was, however, as much a statement about WWE's feelings towards Roman Reigns as it was a shining endorsement of Balor. It's been clear that WWE has been trying to put him in his place, ever since his suspension, having Rollins rip into him on TV week after week, then having him take the pinfall in the three way at Battleground, before losing clean to the new guy here. I guess that his earlier victory means that "The Big Dog" won't be turning up on Superstars anytime soon, but it's clear that WWE no longer plans on keeping Reigns "looking strong" in perpetuum

Another sharp addition to the show, which again used the strengths of those involved and went with what the crowd wanted. Reigns was positioned as powerful and dominant, able to take control with his sheer clout. "The Guy" nailing Balor with headbutts after "The Demon" attempted to get out of a headlock, showed an aggression that when allowed to bleed through has always produced Reigns' best work. On the other hand of the coin, there was Balor, whose speed and prowess meant that he always had an answer for whatever his opponent threw at him. The lead-in to the first break with Balor dodging a Drive-by kick and replying with a double stomp and then nailing a big dropkick into the barricade was a particular highlight. It felt a tad short, with a feeling that the best was still to come, however considering both had been involved in earlier match ups it made perfect sense for this one to be slightly more compact. 



I hate to say it, but The New Day's New Era, New Cereal, New Record Breaking Tag Team Championship celebration, was a bit of a let down. The whole set up was glorious with balloon unicorns and other madness and then the video package on their title reign was also full of funny moments from their 337 day run with the belts. The segment peaked with the trio making jokes about packages. Everything that happened between then and Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson jumping them had me scratching my head. Having an obvious plant come in the ring with them and claim his name was "Sunny Boy", with the trio asking him questions about it just didn't do it for me. I felt like I was missing the joke, but the crowd also seemed slightly awkward before they began started chanting "Sunny Boy" because why the fuck not, eh? A New Day v Gallows & Anderson feud has potential but part of my excitement for it is taken away by the amount of times they've already crossed paths in Gallows & Anderson's short time on the WWE roster.

A quick and snappy opening segment for the show involved Commissioner Stephanie McMahon and General Manager Mick Foley setting out the big matches for the show, whilst most of the roster hung about on the entrance ramp. Nothing fancy here, with even the relationship between Stephanie and Foley being reigned in to keep the focus on setting out the stall for the rest of the show. The Universal Championship is a name that will have to grow on me, I think, as whilst it does make sense, what with WWE always calling it's fans it's universe, it doesn't quite sound right to me as of yet. Outside of the announcements, Stephanie taking her time to rip into Reigns for getting pinned the night before was the most notable occurrence, I'm hoping that we don't get more Reigns v Stephanie stuff on RAW and that that this was just another way for WWE to stick the boot in to their seemingly former chosen one. 

Enzo & Cass continued to pick up momentum with an extended squash victory over The Shining Stars. I'm not quite sure what to make of everything that went on here, as Enzo & Cass dominated the match, but for some reason the finish was The Golden Truth walking through the ring playing Pokemon Go, leading into Cass getting the win with a Big Boot, thanks to the distraction. The Pokemon Go stuff had run throughout the show and had outstayed it's welcome after the first backstage segment. It got so overt that I was wondering whether WWE had some kind of deal with Nintendo or whether they were just desperately clinging to the newest fad? The most pleasing part about the whole thing was the amount of heat that The Shining Stars got when they interrupted Cass listing things that he likes Raw, not because they are at all over with the audience, but because Enzo & Cass are so beloved.


Neville made his return to TV defeating Curtis Axel in his first televised match since March. This was a simple re-introduction for "The Man That Gravity Forgot" as he got to show off a plethora of his high-flying moves en route to victory. The time off seemed to have effected the crowds views of Neville, as they were silent until he hit the Red Arrow. Even a sweet standing shooting star press that came out of left field didn't get much from them. I'm expecting Neville to be placed at the forefront of the Cruiserweight Division that is set to begin on RAW soon. Oh also, Axel is now doing a "Mr. Irrelevant" gimmick after being the last draft pick. I don't really know what this means. 

Nia Jax would debut with squash match over AIW's Britt Baker, destroying her opponent with a pair of leg drops. Braun Strowman, complete with a new hair-do, walked through 302's James Ellsworth [Jimmy Dream] in just over a minute, with a horrible looking Reverse Chokeslam.


Results 


Universal Championship Tournament Quarter Final Fatal Four-Way Match: Finn Balor def. Cesaro, Kevin Owens and United States Champion Rusev in 20 minutes, 27 seconds 

Singles Match: Nia Jax def Britt Baker in 1 minutes, 20 seconds 

Universal Championship Tournament Quarter Final Fatal Four-Way Match: Roman Reigns def. Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn and Sheamus in 17 minutes, 14 seconds 

Singles Match: Neville def. Curtis Axel in 3 minutes, 43 seconds 

Women's Championship: Sasha Banks def. Charlotte (C) [with Dana Brooke]

Singles Match: Braun Strowman def. James Elsworth in 1 minute, 9 seconds 

Tag Team Match: Big Cass & Enzo Amore def. The Shining Stars - Epico & Primo in 1 minutes, 54 seconds 

Universal Championship Tournament Semi-Final Singles Match: Finn Balor def. Roman Reigns in 13 minutes, 52 seconds


Finally... 

ATPW Scale Rating - 6.25/10


The best episode of Monday Night RAW in an age this week. Simple booking decision in the top tier of the show meant that two thirds of the show felt must-watch and delivered with four matches that wouldn't have looked out of place on PPV. Sasha Banks and Charlotte were the match of the show, but the two four ways and Balor v Reigns match all offered something different and kept me gripped throughout the show. The only real problem the show had was with the undercard were there was a lot of (re)introductions, that whilst needed will never be the greatest thing to watch. 

With this show being used to sew some seeds and build the foundations of the new brand, I'm extra interested to see the direction the show takes next week as it settles down into feud, rivalries and storytelling with just three more week's until SummerSlam. I'm most interested to see where guys like Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Rusev, Chris Jericho, Sheamus and Sami Zayn end up settling. 

Content by James Marston.