Monday, 30 January 2017

Supercard Review: WWE Royal Rumble 2017 - Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn...

On 29th January, WWE returned to the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas for the first time in over twenty years, presenting the 2017 edition of the Royal Rumble in front of an alleged 52,020 fans (around 8000 less than the reported figure for the 1997 event at the same arena). The eponymous 30 man over-the-top event was, of course, the main event, with an eclectic line-up seeing the likes of The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, The Miz and Cesaro battling for either a WWE Championship or WWE Universal Championship shot at WrestleMania 33 on 2nd April. Also on the event, AJ Styles put the WWE Championship on the line against long-time rival, John Cena, whilst Roman Reigns challenged for Kevin Owens' WWE Universal Championship in a No Disqualification match, with Chris Jericho suspended above the ring in a "shark cage". The undercard included the likes of RAW Tag Team Champions Cesaro & Sheamus, Mickie James, Sasha Banks and Natalya in action. 

Could WWE kick off the Road to WrestleMania in style? Let's take a look.

Kick Off 

  • An updated version of "Rumble by Numbers" was the first notable moment of the Kick-Off event, although WWE would air this a couple more times later on.
  • The Kick-Off panel of Renee Young, Booker T, Jerry "The King" Lawler and Shawn Michaels discussed the RAW Women's Championship match coming up later.

Match One
Nikki Bella, Becky Lynch & Naomi 
Natalya, Mickie James & Alexa Bliss 
(7:21 [TV])

A fairly basic six man tag to open the event, with Naomi getting the pin on Smackdown Women's Champion Alexa Bliss, which will surely lead to a title match on 12th February at Elimination Chamber. Naomi's hot tag sequence was the highlight, partly because the crowd went nuts for it and partly because the former Funkadactyl was a ball of energy as soon as Becky Lynch had made the tag. The rest of the match was standard stuff, nothing wrong with it, but nothing to get excited about. It would've been nice to have had a match that felt like it hadn't just been thrown onto the card when someone realised they hadn't booked a Smackdown Women's match for the show, especially considering there's a shit tonne of talent in that division. 

  • The panel had a chat about the Kevin Owens v Roman Reigns match, with plenty of discussion about Chris Jericho being in the shark cage, because we all love fucking shark cages...

Match Two 
The Club 
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson
Cesaro & Sheamus 
to win the WWE RAW Tag Team Championship
(9:20 [TV])

This match had a two referee gimmick, which did more to harm the two pairs than anything else. The finish ended up feeling so contrived with various people bumping into other people and Anderson eventually pinned Cesaro with a school boy roll up, after all sorts of things happened, seemingly all at the same time. Outside of the gimmicky silliness, the teams worked a physical match, that felt like it could've broke out into a sleeper hit, even if the crowd didn't seem particularly interested. Unfortunately that wasn't to be, as the booking and structure let the lads down, as Sheamus was bizarrely given the hot(ish) tag and the gimmick then took control. The four worked hard for each other, but they ended up fighting a losing battle. 

  • Austin Aries joined the panel to talk about Neville getting his shot at Rich Swann's WWE Cruiserweight Championship, in what was perhaps the strongest analysis the panel did all evening.
  • Charly Caruso interviewed Dean Ambrose in the Social Media Lounge, with the Intercontinental Champion talking about hiding underneath giants and dinosaurs, to some benign fan questions.
  • Match Three - Nia Jax def. Sasha Banks (3:13 [TV]) - Jax ran through Banks like a local competitor. 

Main Show 

Match Four
Charlotte Flair
to retain RAW Women's Championship

With a big slot as the opening match, a sound framework to work with, plenty of time and a red hot crowd that couldn't have been anymore invested if they tried...I came away feeling a little disappointed with the RAW Women's Championship match. The story of the likeable underdog Bayley battling the arrogant and dominant Flair fueled the action, and whilst the two couldn't be better suited for their current roles, the action itself was all too often awkward or rushed. Perhaps this stemmed from an early slip with Bayley attempting to throw Flair to the outside, but there were a number of time when the two seemed to have some real trouble communicating inside the ring. Bayley having to jump back down from the top rope to re-position Flair for an elbow drop stands out in particular. The match also suffered from a lack of believable nearfall for it's babyface and with the level of crowd support it seemed a little wasteful to have Flair be so dominant. The Natural Selection on the apron was a sweet finish, though. 

  • Big lengthy promo package from the Universal Championship match...shark cage.

Match Five
Kevin Owens [Kevin Steen]
Roman Reigns 
to retain the WWE Universal Championship 
[No Disqualification Match, with Chris Jericho suspended above the ring in a "shark cage"]

If you take away the shark cage gimmick, a silly brass knuckles super punch near fall for Owens and Braun Strowman's involvement in the finish, The Prizefighter v The Big Dog was a bloody good heavyweight scrap, that utilised the No Disqualification gimmick to a tee. Let's focus on the positives, before looking at the finish, with the main plus point being the wild brawling style that suited the two down to the ground. They kicked things off with a heated brawl through the crowd, that raised the energy inside the Alamodome and kept the fire coming throughout. While I wouldn't say it felt like the two hated each other, there was definitely the feeling that this was two men who would anything for the Universal Championship. This was emphasised by a number of well placed spots, including Owens nailing a brutal looking Frog Splash through a table on the outside, before later toppling through an inventive pyramid of chairs. One of the best matches for either man over the last twelve months. 

Braun Strowman's involvement in the finish, ambushing Reigns on the outside, allowing Owens to get the pin was a curious ending to the bout. I didn't particularly dislike it, it's clear that Reigns was never going to lose to Owens clean and with Jericho stuck above the ring, it was obvious that WWE had booked themselves into a corner and plumped for the Strowman route. I always feel that the longer a match goes, the more important it is to have a satisfying and complete finish (something that's already been alluded to during the match) and after over twenty minutes of scrapping and battling, it was difficult not feel disappointing with how things ended in San Antonio. I would've liked to have seen Owens nail a Pop-Up Powerbomb to put the exclamation point on it and give a little heat back to the Prizefigher. I'm not particularly interested in Reigns v Strowman feud either, so that probably had a bit of an impact on my enjoyment of the whole thing. 

  • The first part of a Royal Rumble vignette aired, with Cole describing it as the top 30 Rumble moments, but it was more of a rehashed Rumble by the number situation. 
  • A promo for Neville and Rich Swann's Cruiserweight title clash, as the division continues to try and rediscover the formula that made the Cruiserweight Classic must-watch.

Match Six

Neville [PAC]


Rich Swann
to win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

The Cruiserweight Division is yet to find an real identity, but despite the crowd's nonchalance, Rich Swann dropping the belt to Neville was a cracking jaunt. This was arguably the best bout the division has had since it's return, as the two characters slotted together nicely, whilst the pairs history in Dragon Gate (both in the USA and Japan) meant the action was well paced and crisply delivered throughout. Neville's new heel character is taking a while to get over, thanks partly to the fact that he's the best known face to your regular WWE audience, but Swann's comeback, after a lengthy period of the Geordie controlling play, was exactly what The Man That Gravity Forgot and the division as a whole needed. Swann's offence was exciting, came at a ridiculous speed and had blue eye fire in bucket loads. This clash was a solid building block to start constructing the division around and deserves extra credit for having to slot in between the Owens v Reigns and Styles v Cena matches. The King of Cruiserweights now has his crown and potential title defenses against the likes of Akira Tozawa, Gran Metalik and Jack Gallagher should create some great moments inside the purple ropes in 2017. 

  • The hype package for the WWE Championship match detailed the rivalry between challenger John Cena and champion AJ Styles, including their previous bouts last year at  Money in the Bank, SummerSlam and with Dean Ambrose at No Mercy

Match Seven
John Cena
AJ Styles
to win WWE Championship

Money in the Bank was great, SummerSlam was superb and Royal Rumble was the perfect conclusion to one of the best in-ring feud that WWE has ever produced. For me, the evidence for just how good this match was was that John Cena finally managed to equal Ric Flair's sixteen World Championship reigns and got a positive reaction, which would have been almost unthinkable in the not so distant past. In fact, the crowd were fantastic throughout the entire match, creating, what sounded like, an amazing atmosphere inside the Alamodome and made each near fall even more gripping for me sitting on my sofa. The pair built their 24 minutes epic from the very beginning towards a near-fall laden third act, that began with Styles catching his opponent's diving leg drop bulldog and powerbombing Cena into the canvas. I'd happily put the final stretch up against any World Championship collision, as the momentum shifts, kick-outs and both men pulling out rarely used moves, produced some magnificent television. Styles' inaugural WWE Championship reign has opened eyes and anchored Smackdown Live excellently, hopefully he is rewarded with a money match at WrestleMania on 2nd April.

I've seen this match dismissed in certain circles for being finisher heavy and while there was three Styles Clashes and four Attitude Adjustments, there was a whole lot more to match. This was rich and vibrant encounter, that saw two of the best in the business, take the audience through a variety of tones, with each form flowing into the next, with a near perfect ebb and flow. The story of Cena's desperation to win back the prize, alongside his dislike for Styles, gave us a strike based opening and some wonderful visuals of a Cenation Leader reaching his boiling point when unable to seal the victory. The first portion played on some of the work done in the previous two collisions, with Styles having an answer to a number of signature offence, hitting a number of big moves including the Styles Suplex Special and a Rack Bomb. The two also chucked in a technically solid exchange of submissions, that began with a spectacular series of reversals with both managing to lock in their signature holds, before moments later branching out as Cena went for a timely Figure Four Leg Lock and The Phenomenal One caught his opponent in a crossarmbreaker.  WWE may manage to equal this clash later in the year, but I'd be very surprise if Vince McMahon's promotions manages to better it.

  • The second part of the Royal Rumble vignette aired, as a final bit of hype for the eponymous battle royal.
  • Before the main event, Big Cass and Enzo Amore got a little mic time, as they chattered about being in Texas, a coupe of the Royal Rumble entrants, as well as running through their catchphrases.

Match Eight
Randy Orton
Chris Jericho, Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn [El Generico], Sheamus, The Miz, The Undertaker, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, Rusev, Cesaro [Claudio Castagnoli], Luke Harper, Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston, Goldberg, Big Cass [Colin Cassady], Big E, Kalisto, Mojo Rawley, Mark Henry, Apollo Crews [Uhaa Nation], Tye Dillinger [Shawn Spears], Xavier Woods, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Gallagher, The Big Show, James Ellsworth [Jimmy Dream] and Enzo Amore.
to earn a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 33
[Royal Rumble Match]

So, as was expected, Randy Orton won the Royal Rumble for the second time and earned himself a fifth major championship match at WrestleMania. The brand split means that this victory is perhaps less important to the Show of Shows than it had been over the last three years and therefore having an established main eventer, who already has twelve World title wins to his name was a little less annoying than had it just propelled him into the only big championship match on the show. Similar to Orton winning the Money in the Bank Ladder match in 2013, this victory follows a period where we've seen The Viper slip into the background, teaming with Bray Wyatt, having lost his last three one on one PPV matches, without a singles title match since April 2015 and with no singles gold since dropping the WWE World Heavyweight Championship to Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX. Therefore, there's an argument to be made that this Rumble win does indeed elevate it's winner and whilst Orton could probably still walk into main events (see: SummerSlam last year). winning the most popular match of the year certainly won't hurt him. 

The closing stages of the contest appeared to play of the disdain that a big chunk of WWE's audience has for Roman Reigns as the Big Dog wreaked havoc after entering at #30. Some of the videos showing various reactions to Reigns are hilarious, showing just how over the Pensacolan is and how invested those fans who claim to be "smart" are with his exploits. Having Roman entering last got the audience on his back immediately, taking any potential heat away from an Orton victory   Reigns use during his five minute run was some of the most intriguing booking WWE has used in a while as the 2015 winner eliminated The Undertaker, screaming at The Deadman that "This is my yard now", before also taking out a man who had spent over an hour in the match, Chris Jericho. Those two eliminations obviously gave Reigns momentum, with the match pointing towards a triumphant win after he took Orton's tag partner Bray Wyatt out also and if there was one thing the audience didn't want to see it was another Roman rumble victory. This allowed Orton's win to feel clean, with an audience who was onside with the promotion, instead of fighting against the story direction as we've seen in the last few years.

It wasn't just Randy Orton, but the entire The Wyatt Family who took up a big chunk of the matches last twenty fives minutes, with Orton, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper entering between #21-#25. Whilst the threesome didn't pick up many eliminations (just two with Orton throwing out Reigns and Harper taking out Apollo Crews), there was some major storyline developments, where they became the main focus of proceedings. The biggest moment was, of course, Harper turning on his teammates, after it had initially been teased that Orton would finally leave the uneasy alliance. It was a cool swerve, that all three played nicely and the pop that Harper got when he went for a Sister Abigail on Wyatt showed that it was the right time and place for the swap. Perhaps an elimination for either side here would have added a little bit extra, as it seemed weird to leave Harper in the match to just be fodder for Goldberg later on. There's potential however in a babyface push for The Backwood Brawler, he's got a whole lot of talent that perhaps he hasn't quite been able to show and a feud with Wyatt could produce a unique narrative of the oppressed Harper battling against the Cult Leader. 

With no-shows from Samoa Joe and Finn Balor, almost all of the bookies favourites entered the match towards the end of the contest, with Braun Strowman and Chris Jericho the only exceptions. Orton, Brock Lesnar, Goldberg and The Undertaker all headed to the ring in the last twenty minutes or so, leading to an eventful final third. The continuation of the Lesnar and Goldberg feud, with The Beast getting chucked over the top within minutes of his foe entering the ring. I can take or leave Lesnar v Goldberg again and I'm not too sure that their interactions have made their rematch a bigger contest than their November clash. Goldberg would eventually get sent packing by Undertaker. Personally, whilst the interplay between the various legends was entertaining, I felt it was a shame to have guys like The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, Sami Zayn and other regulars look like complete chumps in comparison to the guys who only wrestle a handful of matches a year. 

The rest of the Rumble was pretty run of the mill, featuring a handful moments that managed to hold the attention, but had a bit of a treading water feeling. The ring filled up with fodder for Strowman (Big Show, Mark Henry, Kalisto etc.), Cesaro & Sheamus were the cliche tag team at loggerheads, big lads looked at each other, people did a couple of signature moves when they came in, Kofi Kingston had a spot. It was a decent way to pass an hour, but there was very little that grabbed. The two exceptions were Baron Corbin eliminating Strowman, after a Helluva Kick from Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger entering a Number 10. The booking of The Monster Among Men was a masterstroke, as not only did it finally give Zayn a bit of redemption against his tormenter, but it gave a big rub to The Lone Wolf. The elimination was a clever use of the brand split, as it elevates Corbin on the Smackdown brand, without the need for a full programme between the two (yet!). Whilst Dillinger's appearance was as predictable as rain in England, it did get a great pop and provided a hard working talent with a well deserved moment. Jack Gallagher was also a breath of fresh air during his three minute stint.

Coming out of the Rumble, I think my main feeling was that it was mostly an enjoyable watch, but not a substantial one. It was junk food, as opposed to a Royal feast. It never felt boring, but neither did it feel like I was glued to the screen either. Maybe this was partly my fault for checking the odds before the show and being almost certain that Orton was going to win, but I also feel a big part was down to how the match was put together. The feeling that everyone was passing time until the big names made their entrance held the match back, as well as a lack of any genuine surprises. It certainly wasn't a bad match, but I doubt it will stand long in anyone's memory.


ATPW Scale Rating - 6.77/10

The first PPV of 2017 was a pretty good outing, with every match on the main card offering something worth watching. The clear Match of the Night was John Cena and AJ Styles' thrilling WWE Championship match, whilst it was well supported by the more physical Roman Reigns v Kevin Owens WWE Universal title clash. I didn't feel like Charlotte Flair v Bayley live up to it's potential, but the crowd's investment, at least, meant it's worth having a look at and it's perhaps it's a match that I'll reevaluate in the future. The audience were a big help to the overall presentation, being energetic and involved for almost the entire evening, with their sheer numbers giving the event an extra special feel.

Review: James Marston

Twitter - @ATPWrestling 
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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Supercard Review: WWE NXT Takeover: San Antonio - Bobby Roode v Shinsuke Nakamura

On 28th January, NXT Takeover returned to Texas for the second time in ten months, as San Antonio hosted the event from the Freeman Coliseum, with Bobby Roode challenging Shinsuke Nakamura for the NXT Championship headlining the event, as well as action featuring the likes of Roderick Strong, Eric Young, NXT Women's Champion Asuka and NXT Tag Team Champions #DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa). Could NXT pull out a repeat of Takeover: Dallas? 

Match One
Eric Young 
(with Alexander Wolfe [Axeman] & Killain Dain [Damian O'Connor]) 
"The Perfect Ten" Tye Dillinger [Shawn Spears] 

Dillinger's role of jobber to the stars continues in another spirited showing that will do nothing to harm the former OVW Television Champion's runaway popularity among fan all over the world (just attend any British wrestling show to find out just how over Dillinger (or at least, the number ten) is right now). The bout set out it's stall early on, with Eric Young and his SAni†Y co-horts doing all they could to hold Dillinger down, with plenty of dubious activity inside and outside of the ring. The Perfect Ten's face shine went on a little too long for my liking, but considering the crowd's reaction for him, it's understandable why NXT had Dillinger running wild for an extended period before settling things down. The numbers game became the cliche from then on in, but a number of well placed near falls and cute spots kept this entertaining, helped, perhaps, by the rocking Freeman Coliseum. The finish featured a nice nod towards the Royal Rumble happening on the 29th, with Dillinger "skinning the cat" straight into Young's signature Youngblood, in perhaps another piece of the story being told about Dillinger getting carried away during the brand's more high profile matches. 

Match Two
Roderick Strong 
Andrade "Cien" Almas [La Sombra] 

This match did very little for me, if I'm honest. There was some lovely sequences at times and the two showed they could change gear, but it just felt strikingly disjointed and Strong and Almas never seemed to completely "click". There was early stuff with Strong hurting his arm, which was initial sold well, but got completely lost latter on, almost as soon as "The Messiah of the Backbreaker" had escaped Almas' Ring of Saturn-esque hold. Following this the match upped the pace and went back and forth, with the pair working hard in an attempt to mesh their various signature holds, but with a lack of anything substantial. I don't want you to think that this was a bad match, because it wasn't at all, there was A LOT of good to very good work here and there, and some very pacy wrestling in the closing stages, but none of it seemed to slot together to create a match that could hold my interest for the length required. 

Match Three
The Authors of Pain
Akam [Sunny Dhisa] & Rezar 
(with Paul Ellering) 
Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa
 to win the NXT Tag Team Championship 

I called The AOP taking the titles here (ask Jozef), for the simple reason that #DIY were so good when chasing the titles from The Revival, that it felt like the natural extension of that story to have them go on to chase a bigger, badder, meaner and very different tag team. That's exactly what unfolded here as we got Gargano and Ciampa taking the fight to the challengers and Akam and Rezar, in a hard-hitting clash that ended with AOP swatting the game champions to the side. The match structure kept the rookies protected, lending from #DIY and The Revival's MOTY at Takeover: Toronto last November to bolster the drama when necessary, whilst giving #DIY just enough hope that a potential rematch is still an exciting prospect. The crowd reaction to Ciampa's electric German suplex comeback as well as when #DIY caught The AOP in their respective submissions holds was superb and a tribute to the hard work that all five men involved put in here. By the conclusion both teams had been elevated and a potential rematch, with #DIY looking to win back their belts, is positively mouthwatering. There's more to come in the story of both these teams, here's to the next chapter! 

  • Seth Rollins made a surprise return to NXT, calling out Triple H, only to be carried away by security in a segment that was almost perfect tonally.

Match Four
Asuka [Kana]
Peyton Royce, Billie Kay [Jessie McKay] and Nikki Cross [Nikki Storm] 
(Fatal 4Way)
to retain the NXT Women's Championship

Another storyline driven bout here as NXT looked to make the most of it's female roster which has been heavily depleted since July's brand split and they actually did a cracking job, with Peyton Royce, Billie Kay and Nikki Cross all stepping up to create a fun jaunt, alongside NXT's resident female bad-ass Asuka. The story of Royce and Kay wanting to win the match together was refreshingly handled as it easily could have descended into the cliche of them both trying to nick pins on each other. This lead to some of the most interesting movement in the Women's division for sometime, as Cross was presented almost as an equal to Asuka. The storyline elements were tent poled with a handful of big spots, including Cross nailing a elevated spinning neckbreaker off the apron to the floor, before the SAni†Y member took a double release verticle suplex off the announce table, that sent her crashing through a regular table below. Asuka was eventually able to secure victory with a stunning flurry to remain champion, but it seemed like everyone involved took a step up here and delivered beyond many expectations. With these four ladies, as well as Ember Moon and the likes of Crazy Mary Dobson and Kimber Lee waiting on the sidelines it feels like NXT's Women's division is going to be just fine in 2017. 

  • Fuck me on a bicycle made of sticks, the entrances for the main event were all I wanted them to be and more.

Match Five
Bobby Roode
Shinsuke Nakamura
to win the NXT Championship

Genuinely, I hadn't been that excited for Roode v Nakamura, after the oddity of Nakamura's feud with Samoa Joe, the bout came at an odd time in NXT's history. However, by the end of the match I was on the edge of my seat, completely gripped by some marvelous theatricality as Nakamura grabbed hold of his knee after hitting a knee strike from the middle rope that knocked Roode off the apron. From that moment forward Roode and Nakamura knocked their match up several notches, with desperate near-falls or non-falls (The King of Strong Style being unable to cover after hitting a clean Kinshasa). Both men sold every element of desperation and pain across their entire bodies and whilst the Doctors seeing to Nakkers went a little long, the commentary team and the two lads in the ring made it unbelievably captivating piece of television. By the time Roode held the title a loft, after hitting two Glorious DDT's and holding Nakamura in a Boston Crab for about two weeks, I was gutted and ecstatic all in the same moment. 

Okay, that was the finish, but what about the meat and potatoes of the match? The duo took their time early on and allowed the crowd to settle themselves down, so that they could take them on the journey that they wanted to take them on and to be fair to San Antonio, they went with Roode and Nakamura on every step. The two wrestled a little and it was passable, not the smoothest stuff you'll see, but watchable, mainly thanks to the two characters involved and the crowd's energy. The Red Roodester controlled following a nasty moment that saw Shinsuke pushed from the top rope and crash the floor onto his upper back. There was some decent submission work in the middle of the bout, as Nakamura flew into an armbar and transitioned it into a chicken wing, which I think the pair could potentially have built upon. Roode has regularly used a Crossface and Fujiwara Armbar in his past, so I would've liked to have seen them go down this route, rather than the kind of messy power out routine they went down.

In his first Takeover main event and title win, Roode's character work stood out more than his wrestling. He looked great as dominant bruising heel, happy to take advantage of any situation that came his way (Nakamura crashing to the outside and the knee problems). The former TNA World Heavyweight Champion also showed his intelligence as he lay prone on the mat following an inverted exploder suplex that had been well built towards, denying Shinsuke the chance to hit the Kinshasa, whilst also earning strong near falls off a roll up and a backstabber. There did seem to be a few moment however where the Glorious One looked a little awkward taking some of The King of Strong Styles' offence, especially some of the kicks. Yes, it could've have been slicker, but this match showed how strength of character and theatricality are arguably the two most important elements in modern pro wrestling. Any way you shake it, this was Roode's best singles match in over four years and perhaps his crowning glory as a sports entertainer.

ATPW Scale Rating - 7.31/10

A rock solid show from NXT, with a card that over delivered on my expectations going in. Whilst it wasn't as strong as Dallas, there was still a strong variety of action on display with a focus on telling stories and developing characters. With Takeover: Orlando during WrestleMania weekend so close and with only one hour a week to build, it certainly felt like there was one eye on that show here, but if this event ends up making that show even more compelling and dramatic then I'm all in. All three title pictures look more interesting than they did before and we got to watch some quality wrestling along the way. 

Wrestling is good. Believe in wrestling.

Review - James Marston 
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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Opinion: There's No Such Thing as the Big Bad Wolf

What a 2017 it has been for UK Wrestling already and it’s only the middle of January okay nearing the end, I’m not good with dates! Anyway fans have witnessed ITV's World of Sport, amazing shows from PROGRESS, Rev Pro and many others, not to mention the WWE United Kingdom Tournament.

I went to the Tournament for both days and it was incredible. The event brought together wrestling fans and united them in positivity and hope for what the event will bring. There was no arguments of booking and it was great to see and read. But that euphoria of positivity can only last so long before issues arise, so I’ll discuss some here.

How often have wrestling fans said, “(insert UK wrestler name here) should be in the WWE” or “if WWE took notice of (insert UK wrestler name here) they will be signed!”. I've seen quite a lot of fans saying this type of thing over the years and guess what, your dreams have come true. The WWE in all its glory is shining a very big spotlight over Wrestling in the UK & Ireland and many of your favourite wrestlers are signed to one year contacts with a possible extension depending on their success.

Now how is this a bad thing, oh it must be a bad thing right? Because some fans are now saying WWE are ‘stealing’ the UK talent, ‘robbing’ fans of seeing their favourite wrestlers in promotions and even showing signs of trying to monopolise the UK and Irish Wrestling scene with ‘insiders’ claims they have links to Insane Championship Wrestling, PROGRESS, Over the Top Wrestling and RevPro as well attempting stop any wrestlers they have feature in any worldwide streams no involved with WWE.

Okay that's one way to look at it, but here’s something you should look at, UK and Ireland are jam packed with incredible talent and equally resourceful promotions and promoter, as well as brilliant training schools, with many of the countries top talent passing on their knowledge to a whole new generation of potential Tyler Bate's or Dave Mastiff's. If you’re a fan of a wrestler who has signed one of the "exclusive" WWE or ITV or any happy for them! Each one has worked and made sacrifices to get there, whether it is for a year or more, the experience of being part of WWE will be something that they will benefit for years as well as other wrestlers if they chose to share their knowledge. Is WWE “robbing” fans either? I don’t see how, WWE is planning a weekly TV show in the UK with exclusive wrestlers to their brand, why will you go see a wrestler in WWE if you can see them every week in another promotion, for a perhaps cheaper price in-fact? Also take into account the risks, the wear and tear on the body of the pressures by wrestling continuously that the Indie circuit causes, WWE can ill afford to take these risks with individuals they see can evaluate their image in the UK.
If you bought a ticket to go to an event just for one or two wrestlers. I may question your logic on that one, sitting through a 3 hour show to see one wrestler…erm okay and that is why every promotion has card subject to change on there advertising, because anything can really happen. It is that point a promotion if a wrestler pulls out either the promoter might be able to call another top line star in and they will demonstrate why their show should be seen in spite of the absent star. Case in point, PROGRESS Wrestling on January 15th, didn't have their World Champion or their Tag Team Champions due to the WWE UK Championship Tournament were some fans concerned at the start, hell yeah they were. But afterwards as per usual they were raving about how incredible the Chapter 42 show was and rightly so. (Editor's Note - Whilst this was partly down to PROGRESS' WWE connections getting Finn Balor and Tommy End to appear on the card, as well as a surprise appearance from World Wrestling Network star Matt Riddle, the hard work of British and European talent like Axel Dieter Jr., Rockstar Spud, Jimmy Havoc, El Ligero, Dave Mastiff and more was just as, if not more valuable)
How did that happen? Forward planning, great story lines and even better wrestling, something PROGRESS does extremely well and they aren’t alone in that. As I said earlier, the British Isles has resourceful promotions, they book their events well in advance, but are are also capable of managing potential problems and turning them into positives, as well as not relying on one of two wrestlers to make that show a success. My personal opinion is that while wrestling is a business, cold and calculating, it needs to generate and promote emotion for it to thrive.

My thoughts, start from the Academy level, if you have trainees that are ready to showcase their talents on the Academy or Main shows, put some effort into getting the fans interested and invested, promote them, teach them to cut a promo or even a 30 second vignette otherwise why should fans watch them, or take interest in them, a move set can only do so much. The end result is fans who many have gone to the show to see someone else will sit silently on their phones and it will awkward and weird. That isn’t just about trainees either, it’s across the board. Why not raise your game for the wrestlers to be noticed, get the fans emotionally involved in what might happen during their matches, do what you need to create an angle, storyline or even consistent narrative of why wrestlers are wrestling. It sounds simple but I would believe how many times I’ve gone to a show and I’ve wondered why are these two wrestlers fighting, because you know…reasons?! Just get fans invested in your shows dammit.

The WWE arriving is making every wrestling fan in the world take notice of the wrestling involved in UK and Ireland, right now fans across the world are staring at every promotion in the UK thanks to the WWE Network, that is a fact. Fans and other international promotions are keen to see where wrestlers started, who to watch out for, who's the next promotion to keep an eye on, who to work with and they are starting to see great promotions that may have not have been able to be seen to a larger audience, Attack!, Alpha Omega, Fight Club: Pro, PBW and PWU only to name a few are being seen by fans as far as Australia. Sure WWE focusing their microscope here has drawbacks in the short term but its larger gains in the long term are out of this world. For that to happen every wrestler, promotion, hell even wrestling journalists need to raise their game now more than ever. This message is for wrestlers not just in the WWE United Kingdom Series, but wrestlers all over and this counts for the promoters as well, fans from all over the world hear that wrestling from the UK and Ireland is the best in the world, you’ve now got the floor, the world is watching you now show them exactly why those fans should be watching you, why they should care about you and show them what you got because it might not just be the WWE that is watching you.

Words - Craig Hermit
Images - Craig Hermit & James Marston
Editor - James Marston 

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TV Review: WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament Parts 1 & 2 - Pete Dunne v Tyler Bate

On 14th & 15th January, at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, Lancashire, WWE held the first ever United Kingdom Championship Tournament. With the likes of Danny Burch [Martin Stone], Pete Dunne, Mark Andrews, Tyler Bate and Trent Seven all involved, would the British Wrestling scene shine bright on the WWE Network? Let's have a look.

*Triple H started the show, on the stage, welcoming everybody to the event*

First Round

Trent Seven def. HC Dyer (5:25)

A solid opener here, with Seven's natural charisma and energy coming over strongly on screen. The Fight Club: Pro star's ability to communicate to the audience with ease made this simple bout extremely watchable as he provided the little touches that allow a crowd to invest and get behind a character. The action wasn't always as fluid as it could have been, especially in the second half where the pair's lack of any particular chemistry was apparent, but the basics were done right and the crowd was well and truly warmed up. The highlight of this one was how Trent sold chopping the ring post after Dyer had ducked, holding onto his hand moments later after delivering some machine gun style chops. I'm hoping that this appearance leads to Dyer getting more opportunities around the UK, as he seems to have some real potential.

Jordan Devlin def. Danny Burch [Martin Stone] (8:55)

The finish was the main talking point coming out of this, which is a shame because Burch and Devlin seemed to be clicking in the latter third of the match after struggling to find a groove early on. Burch suffered a gash to the back of the head after taking a jumping roundhouse kick, leading to Devlin getting the win, despite a clear kick-out. It was unclear exactly what happened and certainly wasn't what the tournament needed just two matches in. I felt like neither man grabbed the opportunity up to this point and the confusing ending ended up taking the spotlight away from pretty much everything they did in the ring. Michael Cole would repeatedly refer to the match as controversial going forward.

Sam Gradwell [Ricky J. McKenzie] def. Saxon Huxley (6:06)

One of the weaker first round matches, Gradwell and Huxley never seemed to get going. Gradwell wasn't particularly well suited to the "Hometown Hero" role that WWE attempted to slot him into and after an initial pop, the audience decided they'd sing about Huxley being Jesus, because he has long hair and a beard. It felt like a missed opportunity that neither man acknowledged what the crowd was doing and attempt to bring the crowd back into whatever the pair were doing in the ring. The wrestling was perfectly acceptable, but felt like both were going through the motions and not being from Blackpool I had absolutely no reason to care about Gradwell getting the win.

*Post-match, Burch would attempt to shake Devlin's hand, Devlin responded by delivering a nasty looking superkick to Burch's already gashed head.

Pete Dunne def. Roy Johnson (7:50)

This was the strongest match, to this point, thanks in part to the duo having clearly defined characters and Pete Dunne being one of the finest pro wrestlers anywhere right now. Dunne's intensity throughout was spot on, bursting through the screen almostly instantly, it is almost impossible not to pay attention when The Bruiserweight is on-screen. This was best displayed during an assault on Johson's arm on the outside. There's certainly room for improvement from The Body Guy, but for someone who's not got a whole lot of experience, he acquitted himself well here, especially with his character work. I would have liked to have seen him selling the arm that Dunne had worked on the outside more, but apart from that Johnson showed he has real potential. The crowd being mostly pro-Bruiserweight perhaps took a little bit of sting away, but this was still a good showing.

Wolfgang def. Tyson T-Bone (6:20)

The sleeper bout of the First Round, with the two big lads putting on a bruising heavyweight encounter. With a proper sense of urgency behind from the beginning, as T-Bone nailed a vicious headbutt before the bell and moved quickly into a Wolfie face shine, the pair utilised their time well. Each move was hit with purpose and both men looked desperate to get the win. A pair of near falls, a mid-rope moonsault from Wolfgang and a German suplex followed up by a superkick for T-Bone, allowed both to sell their desperation and worked well to set up the finish with both on an even footing. I'd love to see what these two could do together without the restrictions the tournament setting placed on them.

Joseph Conners def. James Drake (7:17)

This match didn't do much for me at all, unfortunately, only really grabbing me when Conner's hit a pair of cool looking moves at the finish. The wrestling was mostly solid, the two are technically sound and experienced competitors, but both characters felt like villains, meaning that the bout lacked a catalyst to push it forward and neither man got to show us their best work in the ring. The story of Drake focusing in on Conners injured ear and Conners returning the favour later on was potentially interesting, but perhaps a little too intricate a tale to tell during a seven minute double debut. Also, two guys grabbing each others ears doesn't lend itself to creating exciting and engaging graps.

Mark Andrews def. Dan Moloney (5:45)

A cracking showcase for the former PROGRESS World Champion Andrews here, as he brought his silky and dynamic style to the WWE. Whilst the match was too short for Moloney to get his teeth into the match, he worked well as a base and spoiler for Andrews' highflying offense. The main points of Andrews' act were all on display as he ran through a "Greatest Hits" of his back catalogue of stunning offense, showing just enough of what he could do to grab anyone coming in cold. This tandem is capable of better, but did exactly what they needed to do here and ended up producing one of the stronger matches of the First Round. A rematch in ATTACK! or Southside would be lovely.

Tyler Bate def. Tucker (10:40)

The best was saved for last in the First Round, with Bate v Tucker producing the strongest action as well as the loudest crowd as one half of the CHIKARA Campeons de Parejas Champion Bate (along with fellow competitor, Seven) proved to be one of the most universally popular acts of the tournament. The two wrestled a back and forth battle, that started quickly, with both dodging a number of attacks. Bate and Tucker traded moves and moments throughout, with each always appearing to have an answer for whatever the other threw at them, creating a nice feeling of building momentum. Little touches like the introduction of Bate's Tyler Driver '97 finish earlier in the match, as well as Bate rolling to the outside following Tucker hitting his spectacular Super Duper Kick, managed to give the bout depth that some of the other contests were lacking. A great finish to a steady introductory show.

*At the conclusion of Part 1, Pete Dunne attacked Quarter Final opponent Sam Gradwell on the ramp, with William Regal furiously shouting in Dunne's face*

Quarter Finals.

Pete Dunne def. Sam Gradwell [Ricky J. McKenzie] (4:49)

Following an attack at the end of Part One, Dunne eased past Gradwell, in a solid start to the Quarter Finals, as The Bruiserweight continued to be presented as a force to be reckoned with.

Mark Andrews def. Joseph Conners (8:12)

The quality of the Quarter Finals continued to improve as Southside regular Joseph Conners turned in much better performance, as Mark Andrews continued to impress. In a rematch of a November clash at Fight! Nation Wrestling in Eastbourne, the two matched up well, with Conners given the opportunity to work much more aggressively, taking on the true heel role that suits him so well, whilst Andrews flourished as the likeable blue eye with the sick as fuck moveset. The two utilised their time on the outside of the ring well, with a good sequence leading into Conners sending Andrews head first into the steps with a drop toe hold, before Andrews was able to hit a somersault senton off the barricade as a reply later on. Like all the Quarter Finals, it didn't quite have the next gear to shift it into something special, but still by the time Andrews headed to the top for his Shooting Star Press the crowd were on their feet and like them I was more than happy with what I'd seen.

Wolfgang def. Trent Seven (6:43)

A WWE friendly version of their chaotic scraps in ICW, this was perhaps the most surprising result of the evening as many had pegged Trent Seven as the favourite to win the entire tournament. With less than seven minutes, the pair produced an all action contest starting strong with 255lb Wolfgang moonsaulting off the barricade before Seven came steaming through the ropes, bringing one of the suicide dives in the business to the WWE. The rest of the contest was big heavy strikes and developed into a real hoss battle by the time Seven hit a wicked Dragon Suplex and his Seven Star Lariat for a convincing near fall. The ending was neat stuff, with Seven showing how far he was willing to go by attempting to hit his mid-rope Piledriver, before Wolfgang took advantage of the desperation by sending Seven crashing to the floor and hitting his The Howling (Swanton Bomb) to earn the victory. I would've liked to have seen some development on Wolfgang injuring his knee off the moonsault, especially with Trent occasionally using a Boston Crab as a finish, which have given the bout a little more depth.

Tyler Bate def. Jordan Devlin (6:06)

Another solid Quarter Final, with Bate continuing to impress and Devlin managing to make amends for not quite making the most of his opportunity the evening before The bout was built around a handful of moves, as both proved they can easily work the "WWE Style", whilst also throwing in some lovely technical wrestling early on. The Blackpool crowd, who seemed to be in love with the Dudley lad, witnessed both men attempting a number of their signature moves at various points, as Bate went for the Airplane Spin and the Tyler Driver '97, whilst Devlin attempted a Moonsault on numerous occasions. The story boiled down to Bate being able to land his signature moves, whilst Devlin didn't land his. The use of Devlin's 540 kick, that had seen his match with Danny Burch called off the previous night, was a great piece of business, with Bate selling the moment well by desperately holding onto his head, as an attempt to stop the ref calling off the clash.

Semi Finals

Pete Dunne def. Mark Andrews (10:44)

As fans of ATTACK! Pro Wrestling, Pro Evolution Wrestling, Combat Sports Federation, Absolute Intense Wrestling, Pro Wrestling eXpress, Tidal Championship Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Kingdom, Over The Top Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Guerilla have learnt since 2011, WWE found out that when Pete Dunne and Mark Andrews meet inside the ring, they create magic. The White Lighting and Bruiserweight characters fit together almost perfectly and the familiarity of the two performers behind the gimmicks, brought us the first must-see bout of the tournament. The styles clash of Dunne bullying Andrews with his rough and tumble style, including X-Plexes (X-Plexi?) on the apron and onto the ramp, with the former TNA performer always looking capable of pulling out something spectacular like a Standing Moonsault Senton, makes for some wonderful television. The near fall Andrews got after countering the Bitter End (Pumphandle Lift transitioned into a Flatliner) got a huge reaction from the live crowd and was arguably one of the moments of the entire tournament, thanks in part to the great ground work laid down by the four other matches the two had taken part in. If you enjoyed this contest, then I urge you to check out some of their back catalogue at the companies mentioned above, because as good as this was, the pair have had better bouts before and will most likely do again, whether in WWE or elsewhere.

Tyler Bate def. Wolfgang (6:00)

The main thing I took away from the second semi was that Blackpool adores Tyler Bate. The wrestling at points almost became secondary to the outpouring of emotion that came from the crowd and their passion for the 19 year old from the Black Country. Considering Wolfgang had been a babyface earlier in the tournament, he did a superb job of allowing the crowd to build and build behind Bate, taking his time in almost everything he did, not quite heeling it up, but doing just enough to allow the swell of support for Bate to continue to grow. The wrestling itself wasn't quite as strong as I would've liked for the semi-final, but it was pleasing to see Bate's Tyler Driver '97 finish being pushed so heavily as he managed to hit the move for the win after taking a battering from the Scotsman. Like a lot of the tournament, this match did the job it needed to do to make the tournament as a whole stronger.

*Following the match, Pete Dunne blindsided Tyler Bate, throwing him should first in the ring post and supposedly separating Bate's shoulder*

Singles Match: Neville [PAC] def. Tommy End (8:38)

A nice bonus match here as former wXw Unified World Wrestling Champion Tommy End made his televised WWE debut (he'd already faced the likes of Roderick Strong, TJ Perkins and Lince Dorado on NXT house shows). The reaction End got made him appear like a star from the very outset, especially considering that Blackpool had point blank refused to boo Neville despite a heely promo from the Geordie jumper. Even Charly Caruso's interruption couldn't stop this one from being a good match as End and Neville showed real chemistry to produce a well-paced match, that mixed a variety of styles. The only thing that held this back was the length, as an extra five or six minutes could have allowed the duo to produce something special, although End and Neville worked well with the 9 minute limit and it certainly wasn't the occasion for a show-stealer. Hopefully, we'll get to see these two square off again at some point, whether in the Cruiserweight Division (End is slightly outside the 205lb limit currently) or elsewhere. 

*Finn Balor spoke to the crowd about the success of the tournament before introducing the Final*


Tyler Bate def. Pete Dunne to become WWE United Kingdom Champion (15:13)

Where to begin with the main event? Bate and Dunne was exactly what it needed to be, following the story of the two nights, building upon it and delivering a second must-see contest, in front of one of the most invested WWE audiences in a very long time. Neither man has faced anyone else more than they have each other, having deep history in places like wXw, PROGRESS, Southside, Fight Club: Pro, Kamikaze Pro and Great Bear and all that experience lent itself to create a compelling and concise title match, that was full of urgency and drive. The Blackpool audience had appeared to have fallen in love with Bate across the weekend, for his fiery, entertaining and varied offence and likeable underdog character, this support seemed to grow throughout the match as he provided all the elements of what had made him so popular. On the other hand, Dunne upped his nasty dickhead levels that we'd seen develop against Sam Gradwell and Mark Andrews and the crowd completely went with it. It really does make a difference when the crowd follows like they did here, with the work that had been done across the two shows creating a marvelous viewing experience for this final, aided by some strong commentary from Michael Cole and Nigel McGuinness that complimented the story being told in the ring.

The West Midlands duo worked a simple contest, based around Bate's injured shoulder. The action was smooth as Dunne targeted the injury, often using it as a way of slowing Bate's building momentum, whilst the Netherton lad sold the damage superbly, not just through his movement, but all over his face. It was easy to buy into the high drama of the contest, as Bate scored numerous near falls, including reversing Dunne's Bitter End into a small package, fought against the a variety of painful submission holds, like a Triangle Choke and Double Wristlock, and pushed himself outside his comfort zone in search of victory, with a mind blowing Fosbury Flop followed up by 450 double knee attack. Each layer to Bate's struggle, was met with Dunne's aggressive and belligerent offence, creating storyline depth, that went beyond the straightforward premise. My only niggle with the contest was that there were some moments that perhaps over-egged the pudding, such as Bate's escapes of both triangle choke and double wristlock, which he turned into a powerbomb and brainbuster respectively, I feel the story of the match would have benefited from having one or the other, with Bate perhaps getting to ropes on the second. Even with that, I had a hell of a time watching this at home and both men did themselves and British Wrestling proud.

*The show came to a close with Bate celebrating with his newly won championship alongside Triple H, William Regal, Finlay and Finn Balor*


ATPW Scale Rating
Part 1 - 4.84/10 
Part 2 - 6.81/10 

The UK Championship Tourney was exactly what I expected it to be, with the level of talent involved and the format that was chosen. As a strong advocate for the British scene, I do hope that those unfamiliar with British wrestling and these wrestlers in particular stuck with the show after an underwhelming first episode. In a very similar way to the Cruiserweight Classic, the first episode was all about introducing the movesets and personalities of those heading to the next round, to make those next rounds more rewarding for those who stuck with it. The second episode built on that solid, yet unspectacular, foundation, continuing to build guys like Pete Dunne with a number of good matches at the Quarter Final stage, before producing two greats in Dunne's semi final with Mark Andrews and then the Final with Tyler Bate. By the end of the show, WWE had captilsed on Bate and Dunne's popularity and raw talents and had two bonafide stars at their disposal. There's a potential to build a brand around those two, as well as Andrews, Wolfgang, Seven and others, the rest of 2017 should be an interesting time to be a British wrestling fan.

Review - James Marston (@IAmNotAlanDale)
Editor - Jozef Raczka (@NotJozefRaczka)

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