Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Best of Times…The Worst of Times // Royal Rumble

The brainchild of Pat Paterson and everyone’s favourite PPV: as the Rumble hits 30, I look at the best and worst of the show’s history.

Best Rumble Match // 1992

I lose points for originality here but 1992 is the default pick for the vast majority of wrestling fans for good reason: it featured arguably the last great performance of Ric Flair’s career (complete with classic post-match promo); allowed Bobby Heenan to channel his comedic talents to great effect; featured possibly the greatest cast of WWF characters ever assembled in one match; and was the best example of babyface icon Hulk Hogan getting away with being a bit of a dick (why you gotta play Sid like that, Hulkster?) This was probably the night the Royal Rumble truly established itself as appointment viewing on the WWF calendar: now more than just a novelty battle royal, this match, with its drama, unpredictability and moments of consequence and significance, overtook SummerSlam and Survivor Series to become the number 2 show for Vince and the boys.

Honourable Mention: 2007

Worst Rumble Match // 2000

WWF was red hot in 2000 so bringing its greatest gimmick to its home arena of MSG should have been a sure-fire hit, Whilst the undercard was superb, the Rumble match flattered to deceive. In fact, it remains the dullest Rumble match in history, its one fun spot an impromptu dance off between Rikishi and Too Cool for which the crowd came unglued (I remain steadfast that most wrestling fans secretly favour dancing over workrate). All this match is really known for is Road Dogg hanging onto the bottom rope for an eternity and Rocky and Big Show botching the finish. Avoid.

Honourable Mention: 1991

Best Title Match at a Rumble PPV // John Cena vs Umaga (WWE Championship, 2007)

I struggled with this category: I really enjoy the Triple H and Cactus Jack's street fight at 2000 and Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit at 2003 is a wrestling classic. But fans expected those matches to be great: this title bout from San Antonio, contested under Last Man Standing Rules, vastly exceeded expectations. Featuring an innovative spot in which Umaga charged across the announce desks, a mighty juice job from Cena and a frankly mental finish in which the champ used the ring ropes to render his foe unconscious, this match had a bit of everything. It also secured the late Umaga his spot in the huge Battle of the Billionaires match at ‘Mania 23. A true classic and one that doesn’t always get the props it deserves.

Honourable Mention: Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit (2003)

Worst Title Match at a Rumble PPV // Kurt Angle vs Mark Henry (World Title, 2006)

To be honest, the worst title match in Rumble history is probably Triple H vs Scott Steiner from 2003  but as I literally wrote about that last month, I feel I should vary things up. And Angle and Henry sucked so it’s fair game here.  This match, positioned last on the card, therefore going on after the Rumble and a worthier Cena vs Edge encounter, secured said slot simply because the show closing visual was to be Undertaker interrupting the pedestrian action so that he could destroy the ring. That this odd angle led to a belter between Taker and Angle is some consolation but on that fateful night in 2006, this was not Rumble worthy.

Honourable Mention: Triple H vs Scott Steiner (2003)

Best Rumble PPV // 2002

This show featured one of the best Rumble matches ever: Tripe H was a popular winner; Steve Austin had a blast delivering Stone Cold’s greatest hits; Mr Perfect returned and Maven eliminating Undertaker feels even more shocking years later than it was then. The show also had a great undercard: Jericho and The Rock tore it up in the Undisputed Title match and Vince McMahon and Ric Flair had a surprisingly solid street fight. The opening tag is innocuous fun if you watch it now on the Network but I have a soft spot for it based on the DVD release: for some reason, Taz and Spike Dudley delivered commentary on their match and seized the opportunity to mock Stacey Keibler for blowing her slapping spot; as Taz noted, the slap she sent his way would only have connected if he’d been a couple of feet taller.

Honourable Mention: 2007

Worst Rumble PPV: 2006

I’ve already buried the title match but the rest of the show wasn’t up to much either… The undercard featured JBL vs The Boogey Man which was as bad as it sounds and the Rumble itself was uninspiring. Triple H and Rey Mysterio tried to repeat Shawn Michael’s and Davey Boy’s gimmick of surviving the field from the 1 and 2 spot. 11 years may have passed but it still felt too soon to repeat this scenario; about half way through the match it became too clear this was the direction they were going in and the contest suffered accordingly. The pop for Rey after his win probably wasn’t as passionate as expected; sadly, things would only get worse in this regard…

Honourable Mention: 1991

Article by Sean Taylor-Richardson

Opinion // The Greatest Royal Rumble Performances

It's that time of the year again on Sunday night, as the Royal Rumble comes to us for the 30th time from Philadelphia.

As we all know well, the main attraction of the event is the 30 man Royal Rumble match and this year we have two to look forward to, with the women joining the men for the first time in another bit of history.

Over the years, there have been some great individual performances in the Royal Rumble that everyone remembers. But which have those have been best?

Whether it be for kick-starting a career, setting a benchmark or creating history, here are my top Rumble performances.

8 // Roman Reigns // 2014

Entered // #15

Time Lasted // 33:51

Eliminations // Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Nash, The Great Khali, Goldust, El Torito, John "Bradshaw" Layfield, Luke Harper, Antonio Cesaro, Dean Ambrose, seth Rollins, Sheamus

Oh, how things change. In 2014, Reigns was in the position that WWE so wish he was in four years later. Fans were pulling for him, or in fact anybody, to win the Rumble instead of the returning Batista that year.

That didn't happen, but what Reigns did was cement his place as the future with a dominant performance where he eliminated 12 men and set a new record. 

Although we now know, Batista's win helped result in us get the amazing moment with Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania XXX, from a WWE perspective, they may wish they pulled the trigger here instead.   

7 // The Rock // 1998

Entered // #4

Time Lasted // 51:32

Eliminated // Ken Shamrock, Faarooq

A star making performance usually happens in the Royal Rumble, and in 1998, it was The Rock's time to shine.

A solid midcarder and Intercontinental Champion at the time, The Rock set the tone for the rest of the year by lasting over 51 minutes before being eliminated by the eventual winner, Stone Cold Steve Austin. 

By the end of 1998, he was the WWE Champion and the biggest heel in the company, so it was certainly a sign of things to come.

6 // Diesel // 1994

Entered // #7

Time Lasted // 17:41

Eliminated // Bart Gunn, Scott Steiner, Owen Hart, Kwang, Bob Backlund, Billy Gunn, Virgil

This is on the list because it cemented Diesel's status in the company at the time, and was the beginning of what led to his not so fondly remembered year long title reign the following year. 

In the 1994 Rumble, a man that was simply Shawn Michaels' bodyguard at the time came into his first real match and dominated, eliminating seven men in the process before being dumped out of the ring by several competitors.

5 // Shawn Michaels // 1995

Entered // #1 

Time Lasted // 38:41 

Eliminated // Duke Droese, Tom Prichard, Bushwacker Luke, Jacob Blu, Bushwacker Butch, Aldo Montoya, Lex Luger, The British Bulldog

An iconic moment as Michaels became the first ever man to win the Rumble from number one, and although this wasn't one of the longest Rumble matches ever, it was again the making of the person involved. 

In this case, Michaels went from being a midcard act to a main event player and although they botched his push slightly and had to rebuild him again the following year, this was the beginning of HBK being the go-to guy.

The visual of Michaels clinging onto the ropes with one foot touching the floor to stop himself from being eliminated has been used for the Rumble ever since, and he remains one of only two men to have been the first to enter and the last to leave.

4 // Chris Benoit // 2004

Entered // #1

Time Lasted // 1:01:35

Eliminated // Bradshaw, Mark Henry, Rhyno, Matt Morgan, A-Train, The Big Show

Up next is the other one of those, back in 2004. It was a time of feel good moments in WWE back then as they used the story of Chris Benoit not being a fashionable WWE main eventer to tell a terrific underdog tale.

After being forced by Smackdown GM Paul Heyman to enter the Rumble first in an attempt to stop him from winning, Benoit fought the odds and came out on top by eliminating The Big Show. 

He would eventually go on to Wrestlemania XX to famously win the World Heavyweight Championship, and despite the taint future events put on these moments, it is important to remember how celebrated they were at the time.

3 // Stone Cold Steve Austin // 1997 

Entered // #5

Time Lasted // 35:07 

Eliminated // Phineas I. Godwin, Bart Gunn, Jake Roberts, Marc Mero, Owen Hart, Savio Vega, Jesse James, Vader, The Undertaker, Bret Hart

This was another star making performance, as Stone Cold Steve Austin began his rise to the top with victory in 1997.

The Rumble itself was all about Austin's performance, with there being very little star power on the roster at the time and he delivered tenfold, providing many memorable moments during his time in the ring.

This was the one Rumble that was won in controversial fashion with Austin being eliminated by Bret Hart only to sneak back in and win the thing. He wouldn't go on to face the champion at that year's WrestleMania but would continue the feud with Bret that continued here. The rest, as they say, is history.

2 // Kane // 2001

Entered // #6

Time Lasted // 53:46

Eliminated // Grand Master Sexay, Steve Blackman, Al Snow, Raven, Perry Saturn, The Honky Tonk Man, Tazz, Crash Holly, Albert, Scotty 2 Hotty, The Rock

By 2001, the mystique of the original Kane character had worn off a tad. He was still always portrayed as a threat, as he is now and will in fact be involved in the Universal Championship match on Sunday, but for one night only, he was a star again.

Entering towards the beginning of the match, he eliminated a then record of 11 men, including comedian Drew Carey and The Honky Tonk Man.

He was eventually eliminated by Stone Cold Steve Austin and didn't do too much of note again for a couple of years, but this showed what a great character he has always been.   

1 // Ric Flair // 1992

Entered // #3

Time Lasted // 1:00:02  

Eliminated // The British Bulldog, The Texas Tornado, The Big Boss Man, Randy Savage, Sid Justice

The number one performance in Rumble history goes to Ric Flair, who won the WWE Championship after it was on the line for the first time in 1992. 

Flair showed what an iron man performance in a Rumble can truly be like and perfectly sold the idea of a heel trying to stay in a match for close to an hour at all costs.

The Nature Boy was a constantly close to the action and sold being close to elimination only to somehow stay in beautifully. It's a performance that would be used as a template for years to come and was the standout moment in Flair's first WWE tenure.

Article by Andy Phillips // @AndyP_GY

Saturday, 27 January 2018

WWE NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia Preview

On 27th January 2018, NXT are taking over Philadelphia as they take their show live to the Wells Fargo Center (it still feels wrong to not type 'centre', darn Yanks). As NXT looks to cement its position as not just the developmental brand but more the show that the Royal Rumble has to try, and possibly struggle, to follow. If you're planning to watch live, why not jump onto the Network or YouTube at 7pm (Midnight on the 28th here in Blighty), for the pre-show and find out what the all-star panel of Renee Young, Corey Graves, Charly Caruso, Samoa Joe &, sigh, Sam Roberts think of the evening ahead. Till then, let's enjoy the sounds of our official TakeOver house band, Asking Alexandria.

Kassius Ohno vs Velveteen Dream

At once point, this match was set to be a first round match in the NXT Championship Number One Contender's tournament but Velveteen Dream was so shook by Aleister Black actually saying his name, he couldn't make it to the match. In reality, he had a minor injury but was back in time for the set of January taping. There's not much in the way of story here as it was a match made after this week's NXT went off the air but there's always something at stake as both men have recently had intense battles with current number one contender Johnny Gargano so regardless of the outcome of the main event, you can't help but feel this might have implications in their contendership status. Both of these men have a strong grounding in amateur wrestling but much like Dream's match with Aleister Black, expect this one to quickly go to blows. As to who's going to win, it's hard to call as both men could do with a win but considering Ohno's player-coach role, don't be surprised if Dream walks out with the win. Slightly more contentious prediction, considering Ohno's been losing a lot, he's also been getting more salty about it and people seem to love Dream, a double turn might not be a ridiculous outcome.

NXT Tag Team Championship: Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish & Kyle O'Reilly) (c) vs Authors of Pain (Akam & Rezar)

Back at TakeOver: Brooklyn III, SaNItY became the first team to pin the, at the time undefeated, NXT Tag-Team champions Authors of Pain. After that match, they were attacked by Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish, better known on the indies as the team ReDragon but later when they teamed with Adam Cole, now known as The Undisputed Era. Since then, all three teams have battled in various combinations, including all three being in War Games, but as a dramatic capper to 2017, The Era became the NXT Tag Team champions. Now with the SaNItY members 'injured' (maybe really injured, I don't know), Authors of Pain defeated Street Profits to earn the right to try and claim back the titles that made them. From matches the champs have had previously vs Chosen Bros & Death by Elbow for PWG and War Machine for AAW, expect this to be a classic Davids and Goliaths affair with O'Reilly and Fish trying to use their superior grappling acumen (see - Sleeper Holds and Octopus Stretches) to try and knock the bigger men down to size, also, they'll probably kick at the legs and Mauro will say something about 'chopping down tree trunks' and he'll make a clever, timely reference. Who wins: well you have to think that The Undisputed Era is clearly the hot-ticket item at the moment so I can't see them losing the titles after one defence. With SaNItY not on the card currently, don't be too surprised if they get involved in this one.

NXT Women's Championship: Ember Moon (c) vs Shayna Baszler

On 27th December, Ember Moon had her first successful title defence against Sonya Deville, after the match, Kairi Sane would come to the stage indicating her intention to challenge for the title but the woman who she defeated in the last round of the Mae Young Classic, Shayna Baszler, would come out onto the stage and choke her out, then doing the same to Aliyah and Dakota Kai to make her point clear, she wants Ember and more importantly, her title. The interesting element going into this match is that if we just consider what we've seen of Baszler in the WWE, she can brutalise smaller opponents and she is certainly taller than Moon but when it came to her biggest match, she couldn't get the job done. This could be Moon's key to victory as she has worked longer matches and is used to them so might have the stamina advantage, yet Baszler is presented as a force of nature. Expect this to come down to two factors: Ember's Eclipse top-rope twisting stunner and Shayna's Kirufuda Clutch rear naked choke. The smart money here tells me that Moon might be about to lose her title because it's easier to turn a top rope move into a rear submission and Moon, having plied her trade for a while in NXT, could be a strong contender in the Women's Rumble the following evening but at the same time, it took so long for Moon to get to the title, don't expect her to be giving it up easily.

Extreme Rules Match: Aleister Black vs Adam Cole

Another match that has its beginnings in the Number One Contender's tournament as in the first round, Black defeated Cole but in the final, Cole and his cronies attacked Black, causing him to not only lose but also ending his undefeated streak. On the first NXT of this year, Black and Roderick Strong were also involved in a losing effort at obtaining the NXT Tag-Team titles after Black became too involved in trying to hunt down and murder Cole, leading him to be given the three-on-one treatment post-match with weapons and whatnot. This forced William Regal to come out and declare this rematch to happen and because it's Philidelphia so there had to be a faintly hardcore match on the card, it was made Extreme Rules. Trying to call the outcome here entirely depends on its position on the card (the order of matches in this preview is based on the order of the NXT website), if it's a pure one-on-one encounter, you have to think if Black did it once, he can do it again but if this match occurs before the tag titles, with a fresh trio of assailants and no lousy rules forcing them to not all be constantly in the ring, this might just become a handicap encounter for the former Tommy End. That said, I see Black winning this one, setting him up for a title match at TakeOver: New Orleans either against Gargano, the man that finished his streak or Almas, the man he faced in his first NXT match back at TakeOver: Orlando. Also, not hard to predict, expect a lot of kicks and probably a fair few ref bumps.

NXT Championship: Andrade Almas (c) vs Johnny Gargano

For the last time tonight, cast your mind back to TakeOver:Brooklyn III. Almas and Gargano had a match that was made practically at the last minute, one that seemed like it was saying 'we have nothing for these two, let's just give them each other, fill out the card', so they went out and had the match of the damn night. A match so good, soon after they had to have the rematch on NXT and it was still great but Almas won both of those. In fact, cast your mind back further to TakeOver: Chicago where Gargano watched Authors of Pain walk away with the tag titles they took from him and Tommaso Ciampa, since then, bar a Tino Sabbatelli here and a Riddick Moss there, Gargano didn't really win anything till a first-round match in the Number One Contender's Tournament where he beat Kassius Ohno before going on to win the final and defend his Number One Contender's status against Velveteen Dream, so the question is, has Johnny's luck turned around enough for him to beat the man who's beaten him twice? In any other encounter, I'd say this all comes down to how well Gargano can deal with not only Almas but also his manager Zelina Vega but then, Gargano's wife and MYC competitor, Candice LeRae, just signed with the company, predicting a surprise even-ing of the odds by the Toughest Cupcake. Yet there is another consideration with Gargano and that is the potential involvement of his former tag partner, Ciampa. Part of me thinks that Almas should win this because so much of the story here is about Gargano, he's a babyface performer who has the audience right where he wants them and frankly if Ciampa returns, setting up a match between those two has stakes such that it doesn't require a title to sell it and Almas has been working really hard to make it to where he is, putting on one of the best matches of every card he's on, surely he deserves a more impressive run for all the work he's done? Whatever happens, this is unlikely to be a clean finish with so many additional moving pieces but if the two men in the ring can re-capture the magic of their first two encounters, this could be one of the best NXT Title matches. Yes, even better than Bo Dallas vs Leo Kruger.

Any Other Predictions...

First off, the hottest free agent/s in the crowd segment, it could be Trevor 'Ricochet' Mann, it could be Christopher Dijak, it could be War Machine, for once, it's actually hard to call but it's almost certainly one or two of those four at least. Another potential surprise, there were two other men in the Number One Contender's match: Lars Sullivan and Killian Dain, neither of them are on the card currently. While TakeOvers tend to be five-match affairs these days, they could throw in an extra match with little difficulty. As always, I ask if we can have another UK title match on the card, I know that there's a number one contender's match planned for the post-TakeOver NXT but I need my Bruiserweight fix goddamnit. Finally, a prediction that might come true, probably going to be another superb show. See you on the other side, Yellow rope fans.

Article By Jozef Raczka (@NotJoeRaczka)

Thursday, 25 January 2018

WWE Mixed Match Challenge Review // 23rd January 2018 // The Miz & Asuka vs. Big E & Carmella

The first round rolled on this week on Mixed Match Challenge as the Facebook Watch show hit Washington, D.C. This week offered up The Miz & Asuka vs. Big E & Carmella...but how was it? Let's take a look.

Mixed Match Challenge Round One Match // The Miz & Asuka def. Big E & Carmella // Submission

The weird stuff with the soft-play L aside, this was a fun bout that did a good job of combining the various characters in the match and their offence to create an enjoyable ten minutes of online television. The main theme I'm getting from Mixed Match Challenge so far is fun, with both matches focusing on creating a handful of moments that raise a smile, without ever feeling like their going to get all that deep, technical or indeed must-watch. It's the wrestling equivalent of Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, but about three hours shorter. Highlights in this one included Asuka and Miz doing the Yes Kicks to their opponents, followed up by the finish in which the Empress of Tomorrow decimated the Princess of Staten Island with strikes, after Mella foolishly slapped her opponent, before the submission win came with a cross armbreaker. Also shoutouts to Corey Graves for getting so many pancakes thrown at him by the New Day, Beth Phoenix for a much improved performance on commentary, Asuka & Miz for some lovely character work after the match and referee Mike Chioda for the loudest and most obvious call in professional wrestling history. #AsukasGoingOver.


Next week's match is Sami Zayn & Becky Lynch vs. Braun Strowman & RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss, so we got promos from both of those teams discussing their strategies etc.


No much else to put in this conclusion section. It was a short fun show, that served its purpose well, but isn't worth going out of your way to see.