Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Review: WWE NXT #236 (Aired - 22/02/2017)

On 22nd February, WWE aired the 236th episode of NXT, taped at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida on 1st February. This week's episode was main evented by NXT Champion Bobby Roode facing off with No Way Jose in Non-title action, before Kassius Ohno [Chris Hero] made his triumphant return whilst Pete Dunne, Ember Moon [Athena], Mark Andrews, Peyton Royce and Liv Morgan were also featured. How did it all go down and was it any good? Let's take a look.

Match 1
Peyton Royce 
Liv Morgan, Ember Moon 
to become #1 Contender to WWE NXT Women's Championship

A real solid television three way here, as Peyton Royce (with some wonderful dummy work by Billie Kay [Jessie McKay]) earned herself a shot as Asuka's Women's Championship. Having Kay on the outside gave the match a tidy dynamic and drove the contests narrative, as after an explosive opening, including a slingshot crossbody from Moon, Royce was able to control with help from The Femme Fatale on the outside. Once The Venus Fly Trap started running things, the match was mostly one in, one out, which is where the trio could have been afforded more time to develop, as whilst we got a nice tower of doom spot, I would've liked to have seen the three show a little more creativity to take things to the next level. The finish protected Moon for a potential title challenge down the line, as after The NXT War Goddess had dispatched of an interfering Kay with an Eclipse, Royce sent Moon tumbling to outside, before Morgan took the pin off a Bridging Fisherman's Suplex. 

Match 2 
Pete Dunne
Mark Andrews

Since 2011, Pete Dunne and Mark Andrews have faced off in 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, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and the WWE United Kingdom Championship tournament and now they've finally made it to NXT and they did not disappoint. This was two of the best professional wrestlers anywhere on the planet right now, getting ten minutes to showcase their greatest hits to a worldwide audience. Some of the things these guys can do in the ring are quite frankly unbelievable, they're so comfortable and snug, fluid but solid, but their slick transitions, flash near falls and constant feeling of build and momentum weren't my favourite parts of the match. The things that I absolutely adored, and the things that make both stand out from an already impressive pool of UK talent, were all in the little touches and added details. Andrews sold his arm wonderfully after getting forearmed in the steel steps and taking taking an X-Plex on the apron, whilst Dunne's facial expressions throughout were the sort of gritty, angry and bitter visuals that will make him so easy to hate. After Tyler Bate and Trent Seven tore it up last week, Pete Dunne and Mark Andrews delivered and then some here.

  • Dasha Feuntes interview The Iconic Duo of Peyton Royce and Billie Kay about Royce's upcoming title shot (taking place on #237), with both managing to toe the line between extremely annoying and incredibly watchable.
  • "Earlier this week" Tye Dillinger was interviewed by Andrea D'Marco at the Performance Center, with the Perfect Ten saying that he had other priorities than SAni†Y, which was intriguing wording. 
Match 3 
Bobby Roode

No Way Jose

Kassius Ohno is back! The former PWG World Champion made his first appearance on NXT since losing to Alexander Rusev on #78 (Aired 12/12/2013), to make the save for No Way Jose, after a post-match assault from Bobby Roode. Obviously, the return wasn't as impactful as it could've been and why Ohno gives a shit about Jose is unknown, but KASSIUS OHNO IS BACK BABY! The bout itself wasn't a particularly good match and it's certainly not a match that I'd go back and watch again, but it the duo did their particularly jobs well, with Roode looking like a dominant champion, whilst Jose played the fiery underdog rookie role fairly well. It was lovely to see the Full Sail Crowd getting behind the Domincan as he battled against a bruising Roode and whilst the 2 time TNA World Heavyweight Champion still had plenty of crowd support of his own, because he's GLORIOUS, the tide did seem to be turning towards the more home grown talent towards the end of the match. The finish was a clever piece of business, with it looking like Jose might pull out the upset, as he caught Roode his Fastball punch as The It Factor came off the top, only for Roode to roll to the outside and nail a Glorious DDT as soon as Jose got him back in the ring. Jose was protected in his defeat, but Roode's character and run at the top was enhanced.  

ATPW Scale Rating - 6.5/10

Show in a Sentence - Two good matches and one very good match (Dunne v Andrews), one of the strongest regular episodes of NXT in a while.

Review: James Marston

Twitter - @ATPWrestling 
Instagram - @ATPWrestling

Review: WWE 205 Live #13 (21/02/2017)

On 21st February, WWE aired the thirteenth episode of 205 Live from Citzens Business Park Arena in Ontario, California on the WWE Network. The night was oddly promoted as a Cruiserweight showcase...despite the show being exclusively for the Cruiserweights. With #1 Contender to the WWE Cruiserweight Championship Jack Gallagher battling Tony Nese in the main event, as well as The Brian Kendrick, Akira Tozawa, Noam Dar and Mustafa Ali in action across the show, let's take a look at how it all went down. 

Match 1
The Brian Kendrick
Akira Tozawa
via countout 

There was a lot to like about the opening match, as the Kendrick v Tozawa feud continues to snowball into one of the low-key highlights of WWE programming in February 2017. Kendrick's crafty and resourceful veteran gimmick was given time to shine opposite the exciting Tozawa. The idea of Kendrick's constant use of the ring almost as a tag team partner, in his attempt to get a win anyway he could was engaging and different from what everyone else is doing at the moment. Even if a similar idea was used by Drew McIntyre, it's good to see the gimmick getting a proper run out with Kendrick, who is arguably better suited to it. The Man with a Plan trapping the former Open the Brave Gate Champion in between the cables between the canvas and ring beam was a cool way of extending the feud and building an issue between the duo, whilst continuing to get Kendrick's character over. I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out as these two could easily steal a show if given the time to do so, hopefully it won't end up getting lost in the mix around WrestleMania season. 

Match 2 
Noam Dar
Mustafa Ali
via pinfall 

A cute match here as the Cruiserweight showcase continued. It was nothing to get overly excited about, but Dar and Ali worked well together and put on a nice, entertaining contest, playing their parts well. The Scottish Supernova has slotted into his heel role rather well and whilst that character continues to be built, with Alicia Fox rather awkwardly by his side, it was pleasing to see him getting plenty of time working over Ali and generally standing about looking like a bit of a twat. Ali on the other hand is another guy who seems to be taking his opportunity and running with it, after going out in the first round of July's Cruiserweight Classic. His dive to the outside was the spectacular highlight of the match and if the former DREAMWAVE Wrestling star can begin to work on his persona, alongside his flashy offence, he could end up being the surprise star of the division in the not too distant future. There's more to come from both of these fellas as they grow into their spotlights. 

Match 3 
Jack Gallagher
Tony Nese 

For a ten minute long main event, Jack Gallagher and Tony Nese did a bloody good job here, pacing the contest well and both coming out looking better for having taken part, as the former FutureShock Wrestling man continues to be built towards his title shot with Neville at Fastlane. Nese is perhaps not as over as he should be right now, but he has the talent inside the ring to produce great moments and the series of reversals that ended with a Gallagher headbutt was just that. Nese' cartwheel off the apron into a superkick, that he used to take control of the bout, is super pretty, but arguably a little too jazzy for his current character. The contest had a couple of impressive moments, like The Premier Athlete hitting a spider-style German suplex to bring Gallagher off the top, before the Mancunian would reply with a back suplex of his own en route to getting the victory. Like a lot of the matches on the card, you know that these two could do much better if allowed, but Gallagher and Nese did the job they were asked to do and did it well. 

ATPW Scale Rating - 5.42/10

Show in a Sentence - Three good matches, that could have been better if the Cruiserdog were let off the Cruiserleash. 

Review - James Marston 

Twitter - @ATPWrestling 
Instagram - @ATPWrestling

Review: WWE Smackdown Live #914 (21/02/2017)

On 21st February, WWE Smackdown emanated from the Citizen Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California, USA for the fourth time. This episode focused on a Battle Royal to determine who would challenge Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 33 after Royal Rumble winner, Randy Orton refused to face his Wyatt Family cohort at the Show of Shows. John Cena, AJ Styles, The Miz, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, Baron Corbin, Apollo Crews, Kalisto and Mojo Rawley were the chosen ten for the main event, whilst Daniel Bryan, Natalya, Nikki Bella, Becky Lynch and Maryse were also featured heavily on the episode. In the build where The Shield had a Smackdown classic with Christian, Daniel Bryan and Sheamus in February 2014, how would the brand do this time around? Let's take a look. 

The episode kicked off with an emotional moment for WWE Smackdown Women's Champion Naomi, as she was forced to drop the title by General Manager Daniel Bryan, because of injury. It was odd to see WWE bring back the "30 day rule", but the segment itself was compelling, with the fact that the sympathetic Bryan had had to drop two titles due to injury only a few years ago adding depth to the moment. Whilst I'm not a massive Naomi fan, her promo when handing the title back was believable delivered and left a few doors open for her return later down the line. Bryan throwing together a match for the title after Alexa Bliss' interruption was a disappointment, as with so many episodes to fill between now and WrestleMania on 2nd April and a strong Women's division, it would have been much more satisfying to see them competing in a tournament for the title. Plus, Bliss' opponent Becky Lynch had suffered a loss to Mickie James last week, so it's debatable that she hadn't earned her place in the opening match for the vacant championship.

Match 1 
Alexa Bliss
Becky Lynch
to win WWE Smackdown Women's Championship

A decent opener here, with a hot Ontario crowd getting behind Lynch from the start. The duo seem to have a good understanding in the ring and this resulted in some lovely technical wrestling to begin with the pair trading holds back and forth, in a slick sequence. I would've liked to have seen this match really break into the next gear, as whilst Lynch and Bliss have been feuding for a while they are yet to have a definitive, must-see match, that I am pretty sure they are capable of if allowed enough time and pushed hard enough. In the end we got a near fall off an Exploder suplex for Lynch, a little bit of submission based action, before Bliss nailed The Lass Kicker in the throat and grabbed a handful of tights to reclaim the belt she dropped at Elimination Chamber. I'm interested to see how Smackdown's plans heading into WrestleMania will have to be altered with Naomi absent and who from the division has to step up.

  • Match 2 - American Alpha (Chad Gable, Jason Jordan) def. Breezango (Fandango, Tyler Breeze) (2:12) before The Usos (Jey Uso, Jimmy Uso) cut a fiery promo in the crowd, signalling their title ambitions.
  • The Black History Month vignette took a look at Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in Major League Baseball.
Match 3
Nikki Bella
in a Falls Count Anywhere Match

Arguably, Nikki Bella and Natalya pulled out the best match of the show as they brawled all through the arena and didn't hold back in what a lively scrap. It was cool to see the women like Bella and Natalya, who have been with WWE for almost ten years, getting the opportunity to work a match-type that was almost exclusive to their male counterparts even two years ago. They easily could have rested on their laurels and walked through a match with a couple of weapons spots, but the two really went for it here, starting with kendo stick shots and building to an exciting backstage brawl that peaked with Natalya being shoved face first through a mirror. There's was always a sense that the pair absolutely detested each other, producing some very watchable television. The submission the pair used on the ramp emphasised their distaste for each other perfectly. The finish involved Maryse attacking Bella with a pole, after Bella had been pushed into her backstage, looked to be setting up the rumoured mixed tag match involved the pairs husbands, whilst also giving Natalya some momentum to head into whatever is next for the Queen of Black Harts. There could have been a more satisfying finish that rounded the feud off smoother, but on the whole I didn't have too many issues with the run-in. 

Match 4 
AJ Styles, Luke Harper 
John Cena, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin, Apollo Crews (Uhaa Nation), Kalisto, Mojo Rawley
in a WWE Championship #1 Contender's Battle Royal

So, the show concluded with AJ Styles and Luke Harper supposedly both ending up touching the floor at the same time, with Daniel Bryan then putting them in a singles match at #915. There were a couple of issues with how this was done for me, but there were also some positives. Because I'm a mardy bastard let's start with the negatives. The spot that saw both guys hit the floor was ridiculous over-complicated, as Harper attempted to essentially suplex Styles over the turnbuckle, leading to both men hitting the floor. The complicated and risky nature of the spot meant that clearly Styles' feet hit the floor before Harper's and therefore WWE didn't show any replays of the spot in between it happening and the end of the show. My other issue with it, was just how cheated the Ontario crowd was of having seen a #1 Contender for the biggest show of the year crowned, and they clearly weren't happy with that. However, with WWE have five more episode's of Smackdown Live to fill with content, so extended stories that could have been played out over a shorter timespan is almost necessary. It could produce more of a buzz and hopefully created stronger, storyline with increased depth. The next few week's will reveal all. 

The rest of the match took a while to get going, struggling to break out of your generic battle royal gubbins before the first advert break. On the opposite side of the break the majority of the eliminations were used to begin or further storylines, with Dolph Ziggler attacking both Kalisto and Apollo Crews with a chair after being dumped out by Crews, Baron Corbin planting Dean Ambrose with an End of Days on the floor after being eliminated by The Lunatic Fringe and The Miz returning to dump John Cena over the top rope after being eliminated by the 16 time World Champion. Despite a couple of nice sequences that took advantage of the bodies and talent pool in the ring, there was definitely a certain familiarity to the way each of those stories played out, which gave the match an overbearing repetitiveness. If the ending had been a product of creativity when something simple would have been just as effective, the bulk of the match lacked creativity, rarely venturing outside of it's comfort zone. 


ATPW Scale Rating - 5.5/10

Show in a Sentence - Some stuff overcooked, some stuff undercooked, not a lot in between.

Review - James Marston

Twitter - @ATPWrestling 
Instagram - @ATPWrestling

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Review: WWE Monday Night RAW #1239 (20/02/2017)

On 20th February, WWE hosted the 1239th episode of Monday Night RAW, returning to the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California for the third time in ten months. The show's main event  was a rematch between The Big Show and Braun Strowman, after their first match ended in DQ on 15th February...2016! Cesaro, WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston and Sheamus were also featured on the episode. As the penultimate episode before Fastlane, how would the WWE landscape look as the Road to WrestleMania roared on?

The show began with Kevin Owens sitting in a single spotlight in the middle the ring, holding his Universal Champion. The Prizefighter deliberately kept the focus away from his attack on Chris Jericho on #1238, instead honing in on his title defense against Goldberg on 5th March. The character shift away from his double act with Y2J felt much more fitting a main event act, as he used meticulous delivery and pacing, coming across as aggressive and Machiavellian as he set out the story for the Fastlane match with Goldberg. It was nice to start the show without a cavalcade of entrances and interruptions, keeping things simple with Owens' powerful utterances allowed to have the maximum impact with the minimalist set-up juxtaposing well with the elaborate "Festival of Friendship" segment from last week.

Match 1
Big Cass, Enzo Amore
Cesaro, Sheamus
to become #1 Contender's to WWE RAW Tag Team Championship

I'm not quite sure what the aim of this tag team match, as the two supposedly babyface tandems struggled to hold my attention, in what was a bit of jumbled opening match. Enzo Amore's character is steadily becoming less and less likeable, with his diatribe becoming monotonous and repetitive as he struggles with the sheer amount of content he has to produce. Having Enzo block Cesaro doing the swing was an odd choice, because of the moves popularity, unless the seeds are being planted for a full heel turn, but with Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson as the current RAW Tag Team Championship that seems unlikely. Following the match, Amore start chattering like a dickhead on the mic, leading to Sheamus getting a pop for kicking his head off with a Brogue Kick. 

  • Highlights from Bayley's RAW Women's Championship win over Charlotte Flair from #1238.
  • Backstage, Mick Foley booked Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson in a Handicap match with Roman Reigns later on.
  • In the Cruiserweight Division, The Brian Kendrick assaulted Akira Tozawa before their match could begin, followed by Kendrick doing a backstage interview with Charly Caruso.
Match 2
The Club 
Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows
Roman Reigns
via DQ

With the RAW tag team division looking threadbare at the moment, I'm not sure I get the logic of having The Club feuding with Roman Reigns, other than to help Reigns pass sometime until WrestleMania. In terms of booking, there was no way for WWE to book this, had they had Anderson & Gallows go over, clean or otherwise, Reigns' momentum heading into Fastlane is halted, had Reigns gone over then the crowd would have absolutely shat on it and your Tag Team Champions look like idiots. The DQ finish, with The Big Dog using the steel chair that the heels had introduced, was probably the best they could do, but the majority of the match was dull. Obviously, Reigns killed Anderson and Gallows post match, including a pretty cool visual of Anderson diving off the top rope into a spear. Personally, I would've prefered to have seen Reigns in a simple squash victory against someone like Bo Dallas or Titus O'Neil, or, if they intent on doing a handicap match, The Shining Stars. 

  • A replay of Kevin Owens' show opening promo.
Match 3
The New Day
Big E, Kofi Kingston
with Xavier Woods 
Jinder Mahal, Rusev
with Lana

Honestly, I had very little time for this match or the pre-match stuff, but the crowd absolutely loved it. Seriously, Los Angeles lapped up everything and anything that E, Kingston and Woods did. To be fair to the works, the tag match they had wasn't half bad, highlighted for me by Kingston' silly fosbury flop dive over the top rope towards the end. However, the skit before the match was not my cup of tea, as it was revealed that Lana had hacked New Day's tablet to steal their blue-prints for some ice cream...because she's Russian. D'ya get it? Russian? LOL! I groaned, the crowd laughed. The match then concluded with Woods stealing Lana's tablet and smashing it on the steel steps. I groaned, the crowd went nuts. Even if you accept the idea that Lana wants to steal the New Day's ice cream plans, the logic of Woods destroying her tablet would stop her from taking the plans back at a later time is extremely flawed. But hey, RAW is a mainstream three hour show, it's unlikely that the every segment is going to work for anyone person.

  • A tribute video to WWE Hall of Famer George Steele, who passed away on 17th February.

The main segment for the Cruiserweight division was a contract signing for Jack Gallagher's shot at Neville's WWE Cruiserweight Championship at Fastlane, with Austin Aries acting as the host. The two having tea and biscuits was perhaps a little hackneyed, but certainly fits Gallagher's English Gentleman gimmick and he played it the role well throughout this segment. The two characters have good chemistry, and their interplay here was simple, but entertaining, as Neville believes he's what a Englishman really is, going as far as saying that Gallagher doesn't actually exist. The feud between the two is steadily finding it's feet and has arguably grabbed the attention of the audience more than anything that the 205 Live brand has done and by the time Gallagher planted Neville with a headbutt it seemed like the majority of the Staples Center was sold on both guys. Good work lads. 

  • Match 4 - Nia Jax squashed Sarah Pierce (1:26)
  • A tribute to Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States, was shown as part of WWE's coverage of Black History Month.

One of the lengthiest segments on the show began with RAW Commissioner Stephanie McMahon attempting to get RAW Women's Champion Bayley to relinquish her title, because of "tainted victory" last week, because of Sasha Banks's interference. Despite beginning with promo where Bayley seemed to be struggling to remember her scripted lines, this segment only worked because of Bayley's do-gooder character and her body languange and facial expression making it seem like she was about to hand the belt back to McMahon. I honestly wouldn't have been surprised to have seen Bayley drop the title like this and perhaps it would have made sense of spunking away her first title win on TV. That didn't happen and after Charlotte Flair had announced she'd be invoking her rematch clause on 5th March, with Banks then coming out a challenging Flair to their 16th televised (56th including house shows) singles match. 

Match 5 
Sasha Banks
Charlotte Flair

This was at the lower end of Banks v Flair matches, coming nowhere close to their matches on NXT Live, NXT Takeover: R-Evolution or Monday Night RAW #1209, but this was still a decent outing for a thrown together television. Thrown together is probably the best phrase to describe the feeling I got when watching the match, as there seemed to be a lot of orphan ideas in the match, like Flair focusing her attack on Banks' previously injured knee, where nothing stuck around long enough to fully build a narrative. The action was solid throughout though, with Flair and Banks almost sleeping through a number of nice sequence and Flair continuing to own her bruising cocky heel role. The highlight of the entire match for me was when the show came back from the break, with the match in progress and the two were just tearing strips off each other. Having Flair lose two weeks before getting a title shot was dumb, but arguably Flair's PPV streak gimmick is strong enough that losing on television won't hurt her and sets the wheels in motion for a multi-person match at WrestleMania, after Flair wins the belt back at Fastlane.

  • Three time WCW World Tag Team Champion Diamond Dallas Page is announced for the 2017 Hall of Fame class, with a video looking back across his career in WCW and WWE.
  • After a backstage interview with Charly Caruso, Sami Zayn got brutally attacked by Samoa Joe on the entrance ramp, leading to...Match 6 - Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn (2:00)
  • In their office, Mick Foley shouted at Stephanie McMahon for a few minutes for reasons, if he's not fired next week then it will make absolutely no sense.
  • A sit down interview hosted by Michael Cole, ended in Paul Heyman cutting a promo on Goldberg, with Brock Lesnar sat right in front of the camera, creating a brilliant visual.
Match 7
Braun Strowman 
The Big Show

It was past 4am when this match started, I was tired and nowhere near interested in what Strowman and Show had to offer, especially after Strowman's match with Mark Henry on #1239. Therefore, the fact that I was almost glued to the screen by the end of the match is a massive endorsement for the hard work that both men put into making this contest. This was Strowman's best singles match to date, as well as the best non-gimmick match that Show has done in the past five years (dating back to his match with Sheamus at Hell in a Cell 2012) The two doing some chain wrestling at the start was a little weird, but credit to the big lads for trying something different and building the match from the bottom up, certainly aided by how much Los Angeles was up for two near 400lbs scrapping about in a supposedly "re-enforced" ring. The contest moved towards a series of near falls, with Strowman kicking out of a chokeslam and a knockout punch and most surprisingly Show kicked out of slightly awkward running powerslam. The win will give Strowman momentum among the casual fan, whilst the strength of the contest should begin to endear him to the more hardcore audience also. Good work. Reigns running in at the end was unnecessary as Strowman hadn't really done anything to warrant it and The Big Dog got punk'd anyway. 

ATPW Scale Rating - 4.64/10

Show in a Sentence: Strong opening, strong main event, everything else was at best average and/or a little too brief.

Show Highlight: Kevin Owens show opening promo
Show Lowlight: The New Day v Jinder Mahal & Rusev

Review: James Marston

Twitter - @ATPWrestling 
Instagram - @ATPWrestling

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Review: WWE Elimination Chamber 2017

On 12th February, WWE's Smackdown brand took it's final major pit-stop before WrestleMania 33 as the Elimination Chamber returned for the first time in almost two years. The titular match saw AJ Styles, The Miz, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt and Baron Corbin challenging for John Cena's WWE Championship in the evenings main event, whilst Randy Orton, Dolph Ziggler, Natalya, Mickie James and Nikki Bella were also featured on the three hour show. The direction for the biggest show of the year would become a lot clearer heading out of the Phoenix, Arizona show, but would Elimination Chamber be worth the watch?

Kick Off

Mojo Rawley def. Curt Hawkins (6:58) 

A couple of minutes into this one, I was watching GIF's of JBL falling over on Twitter. Therefore it would be difficult for me to really comment on the quality of anything after those first few exchanges. However, I had absolutely no reason to care about either of these two guys and their reasons for having this match were confusing at best and then there was very little that grabbed me or made me want to keep my attention on Rawley and Hawkins at gone midnight. This match was perhaps a symptom of booking six wrestlers in the main event and every tag team on the brand in the same match, as it meant that Rawley and Hawkins were pretty much the only two wrestlers that were left available for the Kick-Off show spot. In it's defense, the crowd sounded like they were pretty into it, but that may have been down to the excitement of a city hosting it's first WWE PPV in over four years.

Main Show

Becky Lynch def. Mickie James (11:45) 

The opening match found it's groove early doors and developed into a solid, enjoyable contest. The pair wrestled a nice technical contest, that had plenty of animosity behind it and played out in front of a healthily invested audience. The bulk of the contest revolved around James focusing on Lynch's arm, following catching The Lass Kicker on the way into the ring, with Becky doing a cracking job of selling the arm and helping keep that part of the narrative in the audiences mind throughout. The bout however felt a little cockeyed in it's layout, feeling like it was beginning to elongate it's second act out, before cutting itself short just when it appeared like it was about to get going. For me, the work on the arm could have been used to develop stronger near falls for James and developed to create more issues for Lynch, to the point where I was questioning just how Lynch was going to pull out a victory over the 3 time TNA Knockout's Champion. 

Apollo Crews [Uhaa Nation], Kalisto def. Dolph Ziggler (7:20)

I'm still trying to think about what the aim of this match was. I'm sure that those aims weren't to get wild cheers for Dolph Ziggler battering babyfaces Apollo Crews and Kalisto with a steel chair, but then again Ziggler was the one in the two on one handicap match, so who the fuck knows. The bulk of the match boiled down to a Ziggler v Crews singles match, after The Show Off had chucked Kalisto into part of the set, before the babyfaces picked up the win when Kalisto "bravely" made his way back down to the ring for a two on one assault. The more I think about this match, the more it actually caused me mental (and perhaps physical) pain. The time would have been much better used on a decent singles match between Ziggler and either babyface, with their previous TV matches being used to develop something resembling a character for either. 

American Alpha (Chad Gable, Jason Jordan) def. Rhyno [Rhino] & Heath Slater, The Usos (Jimmy Uso, Jey Uso), The Vaudevillains (Aiden English & Simon Gotch), The Ascension (Konnor, Viktor), Breezango (Fandango, Tyler Breeze) in Tag Team Turmoil to retain WWE Smackdown Tag Team Championship (21:05)

The first championship contest of the evening, all Smackdown's tag teams got a run-out in a match that seemed to designed to take up as much screen time, with as little build as possible. The bulk of the match was taken up by the on again, off again, feud between the title-holders American Alpha and The Usos with the two having a decent (albeit with a sloppy finish) six minutes collision, that demonstrated the potential the two teams have together. It's a shame that this feud has been rolling along since the brand split and has yet to be fully captilised upon and could very well find itself lost in the shuffle when the card for WrestleMania 33 is put together. The post-match attack by Jimmy & Jey, that continued to showcase the fire shown in the match, set-up a dramatic conclusion where The Ascension attempted to capitilise on the fallen champions. This was helped by some smart booking where Viktor and Konnor had picked up a pinfall in a multi-team bout on the go-home Smackdown Live. A trick was perhaps missed in not having The Ascension take the belts, as it would have provided extra material to burn through on the next seven episodes between now and WrestleMania, whilst also making American Alpha's issues with The Usos bigger and lifting The Ascension from tag team fodder for at least a couple of weeks. 

The earlier portion of the bout was watchable, carried by how over Heath Slater & Rhyno remain with the audience. The duo's involvement in the first three sections of Tag Team Turmoil worked it's job of putting some heat on The Usos, but the trio of matches were nothing to get excited about. The opener with Breezango never seemed to click, floating through some awkward comedy, but The Man Beast's match winning Gore made things worthwhile. The Vaudevillains struggle on the main roster was showcased as they fell to Slater & Rhyno in just over two minutes. The idea was obviously to build momentum behind the babyfaces, that could be transferred over as heat for The Usos followed the elimination and to an extent it was successful in it's aims. As a whole, the bout suffered from the problems that the majority of types of matches do, in that in trying to tell an arch across five matches, each individual clash was underdeveloped and even the more exciting streaks of action struggled to stand out across the a mostly beige backing. 

Nikki Bella v Natalya ended in a Double Countout (13:15) 

Let's get the finish out of the way early...a Double Countout is pretty lame no matter how many PPV/Special Events/Network Specials/Extra Value Sports Entertainment Deals, you host a month. The two women did the best they could with it, having a fierce brawl up the entrance way, that will perhaps make a rematch stronger, but having wrestled for almost fifteen minutes, it wasn't what this programme needed. I was relatively high on this match before it broke down, as Natalya and Bella put together some decent technical exchanges, as an unusual narrative of The Fearless One looking to prove her wrestling chops to her more critically acclaimed opponent, whilst still having an underlying edge bitterness between the duo. The sequence of submissions just before the finish was a clear highlight. Even without a definitive finish, this was a match that more than held it's own with the other two Women's bouts on the card. 

Randy Orton def. Luke Harper (17:13)

In the only male one on one contest on the card, Luke Harper produced his strongest singles match outing in WWE and arguably Orton's best since he stole the show at WrestleMania 31 with Seth Rollins. It wasn't a particularly complicated contest, sticking to a familiar structure, but the pair did the fundamentals well, drawing in the live crowd and taking them on a journey in the process. The two showed real ring intelligence, starting with a wild brawl around ringside, which initially grabbed the interest, before The Viper took the sting out of the contest with a series of wear down holds. This lead to the people, who had been mostly behind Orton from the outset, beginning to root more and more for Harper, with a near perfect build into The Backwoods Brawler's fiery and flashy rebound.

The contest's second part was built around Harper's momentum continuing to build, as he picked up a number of near falls on the 8 time WWE Champion, including a sweet sequence into a sitout powerbomb. The flash finish with The Apex Predator hitting an RKO out of the proverbial nowhere, gives room for a potential rematch and with the issues involving the Wyatt Family yet to be settle the chances that these two will tangle again over the next few weeks, months and years are high. A rematch under relaxed rules could tear the house down. With the two mixing technical and brawling style throughout the contest and doing the basic to a high standard, this became a real sleeper contest, easily the strongest bout on the undercard.  It wasn't anything new but, just like a good Ploughman's sandwich, each ingredient was done well, creating a tasty combination.

Naomi def. Alexa Bliss to win WWE Smackdown Women's Championship (8:18) 

Curiously placed between the semi-main and main event, Naomi capturing her first championship in WWE, was the shortest and weakest of Women's trio. The match wasn't given enough time to really find it's feet, but the moments that the two had to potentially shine were often awkward or mistimed. The finish in particular was more than a little confusing to follow, with Naomi's split legged moonsault and Bliss' Twisted Bliss seemingly happening about four times in various combinations before Naomi got the pin. The confusion surrounding the finish took away the feel good moment of the former Funkadactyl grabbing gold, at least for me anyway. The main positive I took away from the bout was the strength of Bliss' character, which drove the story and kept me from drifting to social media at a couple of points. Both of the women have bags of potential and getting to work with Becky Lynch, Natalya and Mickie James on a regular basis will almost certainly push them to deliver on that potential.

Bray Wyatt def. John Cena, AJ Styles, The Miz, Dean Ambrose, Baron Corbin in an Elimination Chamber Match to win the WWE Championship (34:26)

The main event of the show was one of the best booked Elimination Chamber matches that I can remember with almost every step along the way getting the very best out of the talent involved, managing to create a compelling, exciting contest, that managed to create potential friction for future events, whilst providing a satisfyingly clean finish that propelled the winner Bray Wyatt into the upper echelon. Perhaps the best piece of business done was having John Cena and AJ Styles start the match and act as the spine or glue, continuing their epic in-ring feud. I could watch these two wrestle for days and it got the crowd pumped from the very beginning. Whenever the pair came back together (also extended to having Dean Ambrose come out third, calling back to their No Mercy three way was nice touch) there was an extra jolt of energy and with the two spending over half an hour in the Chamber, meaning that if there was ever a risk of thing beginning to drag, Cena and Styles would run through a sequence and you straight back into wizardry and wonder. Cena and Styles forever. 

Outside of the Cena and Styles love-in the Chamber did two other things particularly well, that being it's abundance of big highspots or moments and the timing, and also placement, of it's eliminations. The bulk of the craziness took place before the first elimination, taking advantage of the bodies filling up the structure and the new design to create chaos that perhaps hasn't been seen in this type of match before. Ambrose's whirlwind of offence after entering five minutes in, somehow managed to build into The Lunatic Fringe, Cena and Styles battling on a ledge installed half way up the chamber, in a stunning visual, before the madness peaked with an impressive take on the tower of doom from Ambrose, Styles and Wyatt. The bout settled soon after with the elimination beginning about 20 minutes in, with a nice domino effect that saw Corbin, Ambrose and Miz gone with a space of five minutes. Corbin's attack on Ambrose following the elimination, should begin an interesting Intercontinental title feud and made The Big Breakfast look like a real monstrous bastard. 

Wyatt winning the WWE Championship was an emotional moment for anyone who has followed The Eater of World's tumultuous career, since he debuted as "The Tank with the Ferrari Engine" Husky Harris on the second series of NXT in 2010. After his ups and downs, call ups and set backs, it was immensely satisfying to see someone, who has clearly worked his arse off, reach a career highlight. Having Bray pin both Cena and Styles with Sister Abigail, put a real exclamation point on the win, instantly lifting Wyatt up to the next level and legitimising his title reign before it even properly began. Whilst The New Face of Fear isn't quite as hot as 2014-15 when he was ripping it up with Cena, Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns, but a length of time with Wyatt at the helm of the blue brand has heaps of potential, especially with the initial storytelling possibilities with Randy Orton and Luke Harper over the WrestleMania period and beyond. 

Talking Smack

The main feature of the Renee Young and Daniel Bryan post-show was a chat with Alexa Bliss and Mickie James. Both gave pretty separate interviews, continuing to be an unconvincing partnership, with no particular chemistry and even contradicting outlooks. Bliss however gave another good accounting of herself as an individual character, listing a number of reasons for why she lost her Smackdown Women's Championship to Naomi, that seemed to be anything but giving praise to her opponent. For me, James' promo didn't really work, as she rambled for a long time and looked uncomfortable with the more relaxed style of the show.

  • American Alpha were interviewed about retaining their Smackdown Tag Team Championships and The Usos attack.
  • An interview with Naomi closed the show with a big focus on WrestleMania taking place in her hometown.

ATPW Scale Rating - 5.71/10

Show in a Sentence : A superb main event, but only Orton v Harper managed to stand out on the undercard, although only the Handicap match was distinctly poor, mainly because of the head spinning booking.

Review - James Marston

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