Wednesday, 28 February 2018

WWE Monday Night RAW Review // 26th February 2018

With Elimination Chamber now in the rear view mirror, the road to WrestleMania for the RAW brand was beginning to clear, as this week's show featured the Intercontinental and RAW Women's titles heavily. As The Miz demanded to find out his opponent for WrestleMania he competed in back to back matches with Seth Rollins and Finn Balor, whilst a number of women's divisions storylines and developments were included in a six man tag team match as Mickie James, RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax clashed with Sasha Banks, Bayley & the undefeated Asuka. But how did it all go down in Anaheim? Lets take a look! 

Commentary - Michael Cole, Corey Graves & Jonathan Coachman 
Ring Announcer - JoJo 
Interviewers - Renee Young & Charly Caruso

The Miz demanded to know his opponent for WrestleMania 

This week's main storyline revolved around the Intercontinental Championship, beginning with The Miz discussing his plans (or lack thereof) for WrestleMania XXXIV. The main idea of the segment was that Miz didn't have a scheduled opponent and that General Manager Kurt Angle was doing some mad shit, that might've involved whoever Miz's opponent was on the show. Miz was on good form here, making the most of his time on the mic, as he took the audience on a real journey through a number of clearly identifiable topics, such as being 62 days away from being the record holder for combined days at IC Champion, the lack of his merchandise available at the show and how Angle not having a clear plan for him at The Grandaddy of Them All was a disgrace. Like all good heel promos it was easy to see where Miz was coming from, but also easy to dislike the way he chose to voice those opinions, as he used a variety of vocal levels to keep the crowd engaged, including loudly shouting his point towards the end. The section where he complained about his merch, felt eerily similar to CM Punk's pipebomb promo, whilst having the character also moan about not being in the main event of WrestleMania also felt like a sly dig at the Best in the World from WWE.


Seth Rollins def. The Miz // Pinfall

With the idea that Kurt Angle was considering him for an Intercontinental Championship match at WrestleMania, Seth Rollins continued his rich vein of singles form with a victory over The Miz, following the Revolution Knee and a ridiculous Frog Splash in the best match on the show. The fight built well from a simplistic base of dropdown, leapfrog, hiptoss sequences, with plenty of interference from Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel at ringside and loud invested audience. Seriously, Anaheim reacted to every movement of Rollins' comeback and it was magnificent to watch, making all the difference and showing just how over he's became following last week's superb gauntlet match performance. The action wasn't overly complicated but was done well, but it was the structure of the match that drove it, with match being paced properly and the big moments seeming to come at the extra right moment for the crowd. The energy for the finish, which saw Rollins on an absolute rout as he took out the constantly interfering Miztourage with a suicide dive was off the charts, as Seth continues to be on fire right now. It could've gone a little bit longer, but with the time constraint the two did a bloody good job. Hopefully the hip injury that seemed to occur off a slingblade on his original comeback sequence isn't too serious for Seth Rollins as he's in a great position to do something big over the next 6 months.

After the match - Finn Balor headed to the ring, leading to Seth Rollins walking out of the ring as he shook his head - The Miz vs. Finn Balor quickly ended in disqualification as Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel interfered with Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson evening the odds, before Kurt Angle restarted the match with everyone banned from ringside 


Finn Balor def. The Miz // Pinfall

Finn Balor gave The Miz his second loss of the evening, picking up a pinfall win over the Intercontinental Champion following a Coup de Grace, after an alright match. This match would've been better off if it had taken place next week, for a number of reasons, as whilst there was nothing wrong with the action, I felt a little uninterested in what was going. Firstly, having the heel Miz battle in two unannounced matches in a row felt like a misstep as the first note of this story, because it undoubtedly creates sympathy with a character I'm not supposed to like, whilst also damaging the victory for Balor in the process. Secondly, the match felt like a step down from the Rollins match, because as much as I like Balor, he isn't in nowhere near the same form as Seth is right now, either in the ring or with the crowd. Thirdly, having the Miztourage banned from ringside removed some of the fuel that has been firing Miz's matches lately and after having already lost one match made it more difficult to believe that the A Lister would be able to be competitive with Finn. That being said, there were a couple of nice sequences in this one, including Balor going for a reverse slingblade with Miz blocking and setting up for a Skull-Crushing Finale before Balor rolled through for a good near fall and Finn using the "Yes" kicks on Miz as Corey Graves exploded on commentary.

After the match - Seth Rollins was interviewed putting down Balor for interrupting him, before challenging Miz to an Intercontinental Championship match at WrestleMania

Mickie James, Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax attempted to spring a trap on Asuka

An interesting opening segment, began with Alexa Bliss officially reconciling with Mickie James and boasting about her Elimination Chamber victory and concluded with the RAW Women's Champion nailing Asuka with a right hand that knocked the Empress of Tomorrow to the mat, with Nia Jax, Bayley and Sasha Banks all getting involved. The structuring was a little awkward and felt a little bit forced, but in the middle of it all was a great promo from Bliss who excels when given this kind of character work to do. Bliss can simultaneously come across as a bad ass and an annoying brat when on the microphone, which is a real talent and she did a very good job of controlling a crowd that seemed a little rowdy at the start of the show. She put over James's history in WWE, called Bayley a "sad situation" and claimed she could break Asuka's streak at WrestleMania, all with that trademark Bliss swagger and attitude. I'd like to see more of that permeate her matches. The heat she got for talking loudly and slowly at Asuka was brilliant and managed to fall just the right line of "I'd really like to see you get punched in the face". Indeed, however it was Bliss who'd get to hit Asuka in the face, after it turned to all be a trap for a Nia Jax attack, even after Sasha Banks and Bayley had tried to make the save. 


Sasha Banks, Bayley & Asuka def. Mickie James, Alexa Bliss & Nia Jax // Submission

We weirdly shifted to a six woman tag team match out of the break, which ended up being a real mixed bag, as Asuka tapped out Mickie James with an arm and knee bar combination to win it for her team. There were a number of different storyline developments going on, there was some good wrestling, there was some sloppy wrestling, this was a very busy trios match. The main culprit of the sloppiness was Alexa Bliss, who had a number of awkward moments with both Bayley and Sasha Banks, with the Women's Champion seeming to struggle with her positioning a handful of times in the match. Bayley and Mickie James also looked out of sorts at times, but they also opened with a rather lovely sequence, so I'll let them off this time. Banks put in the best performance of the match, flying in with a fun hot tag, that included lots of meteoras, after tagging herself in on Bayley to audible boos. Obviously, the Banks/Bayley storyline continued after the Chamber with Bayley refusing to tag in when Banks had taken a lengthy spell as the face in peril, which was juxtaposed well when Bayley came back into the match to help Asuka when she was being double-teamed by James and Bliss. This felt like a much more important six woman tag than we've seen for months and even when the action wasn't the best I felt like there was at least a reason to keep watching with the various feuds that were involved.

RAW Tag Team Championship // Two out of Three Falls // Cesaro & Sheamus (C) def. Apollo & Titus O'Neil // 2-0

Why Apollo & Titus O'Neil got another shot at Cesaro & Sheamus' RAW Tag Team Championship wasn't clear, but their 2-0 loss was a much better match than the contest the teams had the previous night at Elimination Chamber. The distraction and Brogue Kick getting the pin on O'Neil within seconds of the opening bell could have come across as one of those lame falls you get in multiple fall matches and I have to admit that I was a little worried when that went down. However, that first fall ended up putting some real steam into the second fall, meaning the action was hotter, more physical and felt more important than what we saw on Sunday. It meant that a wicked series of near falls for Titus Worldwide felt like each one could've seen the scores evened, with a roll-up from Apollo and a standing moonsault standing out as the two best moments of the match. It also meant that O'Neil showed a whole new side of his game, displaying real anger when finally getting tagged back into the match, teeing off on Sheamus and producing a much more satisfying hot tag as the Real Deal looked like he had a purpose for once. The 2-0 victory builds up Cesaro & Sheamus as unstoppable when the belts are on the line and opens an interesting question about how Apollo & O'Neil will be handled heading into and out of WrestleMania.

After the match - During a fun interview, Cesaro & Sheamus claimed that they would be punished at WrestleMania, because "there's no one left to beat"

Braun Strowman def. Elias // Disqualification

Before the match - Braun Strowman claimed he was going to perform a symphony of destruction on Elias - Elias cut a promo about noise pollution, citing Corey Graves' commentary as possible cause, before being cut off by the roar of Braun Strowman's music. 

The Braun Strowman and Elias feud got kicked up a gear this week, as the two competed in a match that ended in disqualification, after Elias used a fire extinguisher. The action was solid, if a little lengthy for what it was, as Strowman dominated the Drifter for a good 90% of the match, with splashes, strikes and biels. Elias got just enough offence in to make it no a complete squash, often using Strowman's offence against him by repeatedly blocking a big splash with a boot to the face, but it was clear that Elias didn't have much to stop the Monster Amongst Men for long. Whether this feud has enough legs to last until WrestleMania I'm not convinced, but the two could get a fun match out of a hardcore based gimmick, perhaps involving guitars and 2018 Hall of Fame inductee, Jeff Jarrett in some way. 

After the match - Elias attempted to continue his assault with the fire extinguisher, but after Strowman rallied Elias was able to escape getting powerslam through the announce table by raking Braun's eye and legging it out of the arena, leaving Strowman to scream "I'm not finished with you!" 

Triple H laid out Kurt Angle, after Stephanie McMahon had apologised to Ronda Rousey 

My main takeaway from this segment was that Ronda Rousey is much better on the microphone when she has an issue to work with, than she is simply addressing a crowd as we saw on Sunday. When she headed out, with her hair tied up, to confront Triple H and Stephanie McMahon she felt like she had a purpose and looked like an absolute bad ass, whilst her later demanding an apology from McMahon upped the ante, putting a real focus on the tension that was present throughout the whole promo. The segment was also peppered with a number of comic moments, that got good laughs from the crowd and kept things feeling comfortably entertaining, amongst the tense scenes that were the rest of the segment. Angle saying he needed the job before trying to back out of what he said on Sunday because he had "double pneumonia" got an audible laugh from Anaheim, as did McMahon getting right up in Rousey's face only to apologise for the slap. The segment ending with Triple H punching Angle in the noggin gave us something to tune in for next week as the story develops, with the commentary team doing a good job of getting that over, even if the punch itself didn't look brilliant.

John Cena tried to work out his Road to WrestleMania

Another intriguing promo came from John Cena, who attempted to lay out his plans for WrestleMania, before announcing he'd be heading to SmackDown Live the next night to try and figure out where he fits on the card for the Show of Shows. The promo focused on a theme which WWE doesn't focus on a whole lot, but really should do more often, that being failure. Cena has touched on this in part during the build to his WrestleMania XXIX match with The Rock, but this felt like a much more effective version of that story. Cena has lost two thirds of his PPV matches since WrestleMania XXXIII, unable to win the RAW vs. SmackDown Survivor Series match, the Royal Rumble, the Elimination Chamber and losing a big singles match to Roman Reigns and this theme catapulted the segment, which remained fascinating throughout because it felt like it had no clear direction, suiting Cena's story. The challenge being laid down to The Undertaker to a great reaction, only for Cena to tell us that match is currently impossible was the most captivating part of it all, because why mention it if we're not going to see that match? It feels like its only a matter of time before the Deadman shows up, but for what reason and why he'd return to face Cena is yet to be discovered. Perhaps we'll see Big Match Cena having to put something on the line to tempt the Deadman out of retirement? 

Roman Reigns addressed Brock Lesnar

Hot damn, this episode's promo streak continued with a hella good effort from the Big Dog, as Roman Reigns slayed Brock Lesnar on the microphone for apparently no-showing the event. This was one of his best efforts on the microphone, calling back to his feud with John Cena last September as it blurred reality with fiction, aided by a real fire that seemed to be burning underneath The Shield member. He ripped into Lesnar for not showing, for flirting with the UFC and only defending his Universal title four times since winning it from Goldberg at WrestleMania XXXIII. The reference to the UFC and the lockeroom feeling disdain towards the Beast for his special treatment felt like they came from a very real place of frustration from Reigns and whether it really does doesn't matter all that much. What did matter was that a crowd that was initially against Reigns when he came out, was mostly onside by the end of the promo and if we can pair that with a couple of good matches on TV heading into the event, then we might see a crowd that isn't attempting to steal Reigns' moment from him in New Orleans on 8th April. 

Also This Week

- Bray Wyatt beat the shit into Rhyno and Heath Slater, before cutting a promo saying that the loss to Matt Hardy at Elimination Chamber had forced him to do so...the feud continues!

- Jarius "JJ" Robertson, a 15 year old double liver transplant survivor who has worked to raise awareness for organ donation, was announced as this year's Warrior Award recipient 

- Seth Rollins, alongside Noelle Trent from the National Civil Rights Museum, discussed the Montgomery Bus Boycott, as part of Black History Month.

- Braun Strowman and The Big Show imploding the ring with a superplex from the 17th April 2017 episode of Monday Night RAW was shown for some reason.

ATPW Scale Rating - 6.18 out of 10 

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

WWE Elimination Chamber 2018 Review

Elimination Chamber 2018 was the final PPV for WWE's RAW brand before WrestleMania XXXIV as the final pieces of the puzzle were slotted into place for the Show of Shows. The show was main evented by the first seven person Elimination Chamber match as John Cena, The Miz, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Finn Balor, Braun Strowman and Elias battled it out to see who would challenge Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania XXIV. But how did it all go down in Las Vegas? Lets take a look! 

Commentary - Corey Graves, Michael Cole and Jonathan Coachman
Kick-Off Panel - Renee Young, Booker T, Peter Rosenberg and David Otunga 
Ring Announcer - JoJo
Interviewers - Charly Caruso and Mike Rome
Theme Music - M.O.M. by Will Roush 

WWE Universal Championship #1 Contendership // Elimination Chamber // Roman Reigns def. John Cena, The Miz, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Braun Strowman and Elias

Before the match - The Miz cut a promo about entering #1 and how he's used to being #1 and stuff - Highlights from RAW's gauntlet match - Seth Rollins was interviewed claiming that "All that matter is beating Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania" - Paul Heyman joined the Kick-Off and pushed the idea that the winner would face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania and announced that Lesnar would be on RAW the next night - Braun Strowman cut a promo, mostly focused on Lesnar, calling the Universal Champion a "Beastie Boy", I guess Strowman was fighting for his right to party with Lesnar in the Chamber match - Roman Reigns was interviewed and cut a good promo mimicking Paul Heyman's "this isn't a prediction, this is a spoiler" line

Roman Reigns won the longest Elimination Chamber match in history, to book his spot against Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania, by lastly eliminating Braun Strowman following a superman punch and two spears. This was a match that for better or worse was completely dominated by Strowman as he eliminated The Miz, Elias, John Cena, Finn Balor and Seth Rollins with his running powerslam finish. Honestly, I wasn't mad for this as once Strowman had come in and started picking up eliminations it was pretty clear the direction that we were heading. The crowd were mad into Strowman however as he ploughed through everyone, so maybe it came off better within the arena where you can get swept up in Strowman's dominance and power, but as a viewer at home, I almost found myself switching off after a few eliminations. With five eliminations (surely the only reason that this match was made to feature seven men, instead of the usual six) Strowman broke the record for most eliminations, passing the previous record of three, set jointly by the holy trinity of wrestling, Goldberg (2003), The Undertaker (2008) and...Carlito (2006).

I think the main problem I had with Strowman's dominance was the once the pattern became painfully clear, there was very little done to make it feel like we might be deviating for the path. Yes, Strowman took a tonne of offence, including pretty much everyone's finishing move, but not at any point was there a convincing near fall on the Monster Among Men. He felt untouchable in the match, which isn't a surprise considering his previous booking, but in order for the chamber match to remain interesting in this period, I think we could've done with a few moments where Braun looked vulnerable to elimination. The closest we came was on a variant of The Shield powerbomb with Reigns and Cena as the based as Balor and Rollins provided the extra momentum, with all four piling on for the pin. Once you'd seen Strowman kick out of four men stacking his legs on top of his head, it became extremely difficult to buy that a single man could put him away with a simple Attitude Adjustment or Coup de Grace. 

Whilst I would've liked to have seen a little more variation on the eliminations, there's no doubt that this method resulted in the biggest pop of the match when Strowman appeared about to putting a stop to Roman Reigns' comeback as he got the Big Dog up for the move and the crowd went mad. Obviously, Reigns escaped and went on to pick up the win, but having seen five other men fall to the running powerslam, the crowd believed for a split second that if Strowman had nailed the move he'd be heading to WrestleMania. The whole finishing sequence actually was a lot of fun, bringing the energy that had made the Strowman vs. Reigns feud in 2017 one of the year's highlights as Reigns looked to dodge the North Carolinian and hit his big offence at any opportunity. The over-the-top rope suicide dive looked lovely using the Chambers raised floor and chain link effectively, before being followed up Strowman send himself through a pod with real force, setting up for the aforementioned finish. The booing wasn't any near as loud as it has been for Reigns in previous years and there was a decent sized pop for Roman winning. 

Whilst the finish was solid, it was the action at the start of the match that ended up being the highlight of the clash, as The Miz, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor kicked things off with some very good action. Rollins had nice sequences with both opponents in this early stage and whilst I would've liked to have seen Rollins positioned in a similar spot to how he was used in Monday's Gauntlet match, the crispness and pace made this a very enjoyable start. I'm not sure why Jonathan Coachman was criticising the pace on commentary because I couldn't see anything wrong with it, whilst the threesome connected well for a nice series of schoolboy near falls. Introducing John Cena into the mix, allowed for a nice moment as he chatted shit with Rollins, before another brief sequence of action between the two rivals. For me, the match began losing some of its sting once Reigns entered the match, as his dominance of all four men by the time Strowman entered the Chamber slowed the pace down and removed some of the excitement that had been prevalent when no one had the upperhand for all that long. 

For the longest Chamber match in history (just under a minute longer than the original Survivor Series 2002 contest), the match had a surprising lack of highspots involving the chamber structure. Strowman bieling The Miz off the top of a pod onto everyone bar Elias below looked brilliant and whilst Rollins hitting a frog splash off the pod onto Strowman looked a little contrived and was signposted by the Monster moving awkwardly into position following a Reigns samoan drop on the outside, the spot itself was still spectacular. However, there wasn't a whole lot of anything else here. Balor used the chain-link to deliver stomps to Cena at one point, but I couldn't work out why in kayfabe he wouldn't go for a Coup de Grace using the chain link, which would've have been the most creative spot in the match had it taken place. Overall, I think that was the main problem this match ended up having, with everyone but Reigns, Strowman and Cena ending up feeling up like bodies to tell other people's stories and severe lack of creativity when it came to the Elimination Chamber itself.

After the match - Braun Strowman continued his assault on Roman Reigns, hitting a pair of powerslams before throwing Reigns through one of the pods - John Cena appeared on RAW Talk in a sublime interview, showing real emotion as the lines between reality and wrestling were blurred heavily, with the interview concluding with Cena hinting at a heel turn - Reigns also appeared on RAW Talk, but unfortunately let himself down by not selling the effects of the Chamber and Strowman's post-match attack and instead cracking jokes.

Elimination Chamber // RAW Women's Championship // Alexa Bliss def. Sasha Banks, Mickie James, Bayley, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville 

Before the match - Paige joined the Kick-Off panel for a dull interview that included lots of repetition as the panel kept asking similar questions - Bayley and Sasha Banks shared some interview time, before Mickie James interrupted to tell them they didn't know anything about her relationship with Alexa Bliss, in a promo that was much better than it sounds written down like that 

Alexa Bliss held on to her RAW Women's Championship, last eliminating Sasha Banks with an elevated DDT, in what was the match of the night. This was mostly down to the strength of the storytelling throughout the match, mostly around the relationship between Sasha Banks and Bayley. Beginning with Bayley fighting against Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, both members of Absolution, for five minutes before Banks entered the match, through the pair aiding each other in eliminations as Bayley stopped Deville breaking up the Banks Statement that eliminated Rose and the two combined to send Mickie James out of the match, before culminating with Banks sending Bayley crashing off the top of a pod, this was compelling and fascinating all at the same time. Whilst many had expected Banks to turn on Bayley, because of how strongly they worked together earlier in the match, it still ended up feeling like a shock when it happened. Bayley eventually being eliminated by a Bliss roll-up after hitting a mid-rope Bayley to Belly on Banks was a great moment of "neary was" with Bayley able to get an element of revenge before having it ripped away from her. This is how the Hugger should have been booked on RAW months ago! My only criticism with the bout's narrative was how weak the two Absolution lasses ended up coming off, being eliminated first and second, despite also having the opportunity to double-team Bayley for a significant amount of time.

Even if, like the men's, the match wasn't packed with spectacular moments, there was enough to keep me happy, helped tremendously by a number of very creative moments using the structure and the size of the competitors to the bouts advantage. Mickie James' Lou Thesz press off the pod to eliminate Deville and the stunning Twist Bliss to a standing Banks stand out as the most memorable highspots, but the best use of the chamber was actually much more simple and character based. This occurred after Bayley had pinned James and Bliss realised that it was down to her and the two supposed best friends, whilst stilling locked inside her pod. Bayley and Banks hunting down Bliss as the champ at first tried to lock herself in her pod and attempted to climb the structure to avoid the pair was lovely stuff, with Bliss' character performance always having been the strongest part of her game. Any risk that the champ could've come across as the babyface, when she eventually pulled out the victory was cut down when Bliss cut a promo on the crowd after the match, telling them they'd never live out any of their dreams in a wonderfully hyperbolic moment. 

The finish of the match worked in a number of twist and turns, as Banks and Bliss worked a well-structured sequence of action, that could've done with having a little more pace behind it. In fact, on that note, Banks looked a step or two of pace throughout most of the match, whether it was the surroundings of the chamber throwing her off or just an off day, I'm not sure, but had she been on point throughout the match would've been taken up a notch or two. The aforementioned Twisted Bliss off the pod spot was followed by Banks rolling through into the Banks Statement, a spot that would've been superb had Banks rolled straight into the submission hold off the dive (similar to someone rolling through a diving crossbody into a pin) but Bliss was left weirdly attempting a pin on the outside, before Banks eventually appeared to no-sell a move that had hit and flip into the submission. The crowd was still up for it, however, given Banks a loud reaction when she was able to manoeuvre Bliss into the ring, before Bliss escaped, was able to smash Banks' face off a pod, before hitting an elevated DDT for the win. With a little more finesse and better timing this would've been a brilliant conclusion to the match, but even then it still ended up being an exciting ending between the two most over women in the contest.

Ronda Rousey signed her RAW contract

Before the segment - Ronda Rousey was shown entering the building - RAW General Manager Kurt Angle was shown entering Rousey's dressing room

Ronda Rousey was back in WWE, this time to sign her RAW contract in a segment that concluded with Triple H going through a table and RAW Commissioner Stephanie McMahon slapping the former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion. Man, this was a weird segment. I'm not even quite sure where to begin, because it was such a Jekyl and Hyde type affair. Basically, anything before Kurt Angle began stirring the pot with Rousey, telling her that McMahon had called her a bitch in private, was trash and everything afterwards was good theatre-style WWE. Rousey's promo felt like she'd never had a mic in her hand before and even felt like the crowd could turn on her if she was allowed to speak for much longer, but Angel's mischievous meddling was a joy to watch, especially when you knew it was leading to Rousey kicking someone's arse. Rousey putting Trips for a table was an intriguing piece of female on male violence, which has been bleeding into WWE over the last year, whilst McMahon's slap looked rough, with Rousey's selling of the moment as McMahon escaped doing a good job of making a scrap between the pair seem more desirable than it did before the segment. Overall, the segment did its job of setting up the issue between all four before an inevitable and heavily rumoured WrestleMania match, but also could have done with being, at least, five minutes shorter and with a whole lot less of Rousey awkwardly talking into the mic. 

After the segment - Stephanie McMahon appeared on RAW Talk, pushing that there would be consequences on the following night's RAW and that she expected an apology from Kurt Angle

Asuka def. Nia Jax // Pinfall

Asuka's WWE undefeated streak grew to 13-0 as Nia Jax joined Alicia Fox, Emma and Dana Brooke on the list of women who the Empress of Tomorrow has beaten twice since moving to the main roster. Under regular circumstances, this was a good match, using the size of the competitors well and featuring a couple of fun highspots. However, with the matches stipulation that if Jax won she'd earn herself a Women's title shot at WrestleMania, the match did a poor job of making me believe Jax was going to win, with the Irresistible Force having a severe lack of convincing near falls, whilst Asuka's various submission didn't lift the drama as a tapout resulted in nothing actually changing. Jax saved the majority of her intensity for after the clash, which meant we didn't really see the most out of Asuka. Whilst the match did feature some cool action like Jax attempting a Bonsai Drop and Asuka's funky victory roll that sealed the win, I felt like the match lacked the physicality it needed to fully satisfy and therefore the match never fully engaged the audience.

After the match - Nia Jax attacked Asuka, hitting a pair of samoan drops before charging Asuka through the barricade, in an attack way too similar to what Braun Strowman would do to Roman Reigns later in the night.

Matt Hardy def. Bray Wyatt // Pinfall

Before the match - Matt Hardy cut a mad promo about something.

Matt Hardy seemingly bought his never-ending feud with Bray Wyatt to a close, pinning the Eater of World's clean with a Twist of Fate in a flat match. After the opening, which saw Wyatt appear and Hardy disappear at the same time, the bout failed to entertain, losing the crowd early on, relying on a number of repetitive tropes and being fought at a super slow pace. Considering the match went under ten minutes, it would be weird to suggest it should have been shorter, but it should've been shorter. A more impactful five minute bout, could have done a much better job at keeping the crowd involved than this drawn out match that was mostly Hardy attempting to hit the Twist of Fate a bunch of times. It wasn't a terrible match by any stretch of the imagination, but considering this feud has been rumbling since the end of November and still doesn't feel like its developed, it needed something different here than a regular wrestling match. WWE continues to show a misunderstanding of the Broken/Woken gimmick, that began with their take on the Final Deletion with the Wyatt Family and The New Day in July 2016. It's going to need a massive effort to rescue this at this point.

RAW Tag Team Championship // Cesaro & Sheamus (C) def. Apollo & Titus O'Neil // Pinfall

Before the match - We found out that Titus O'Neil took a load of kids to see Black Panther, because he's a well nice guy.

Apollo & Titus O'Neil of Titus Worldwide unsuccessfully challenged Cesaro & Sheamus for the RAW Tag Team title with Cesaro picking up the pin on Apollo following a White Noise and Springboard elbow drop combination. On paper, this match had potential, but was poorly put together in practice, as Apollo spent too long as the face in peril, killing the crowd, before a weak O'Neil hot tag did even more damage. For me, we needed to see more of Apollo's athleticism early on, but there was very little in the way of face shine and with Titus Worldwide only being thrown into the title picture on Monday, the audience had no reason to care about this match or anyone involved. A near fall off the Clash of Titus was solid, but O'Neil struggling to work with what should have been a straightforward transition hurt what was the best moment of the match. O'Neil works as Apollo's manager, but their act as a tag team is far from polished with Titus clearly the weaker of the pair in almost all areas. Where Cesaro & Sheamus slot into WrestleMania I'm not entirely sure right now, but the possibilities of a multi-team mosh seems high once again.

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson def. Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel // Pinfall

The other tag bout on the show saw Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson get back to winning ways with a convincing victory over Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel in a sound opening match. Certainly nothing special happened here, but the basics of tag team wrestling were all on display, lifted by a big spot that saw Dallas push Anderson off the top rope to the floor following a blind tag. A couple of neat sequences thrown into this as well, like Axel attempting to cut off an Anderson hot tag, only to get clattered with a Sick Kick and a decent distraction nearfall for The Miztourage with Axel coming close with big jumping knee strike. The crowd weren't massively into it, because they had no reason to be, but the four guys managed to come out, put on a watchable match and not outstay their welcome. 

After the match - An interview with Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder, The Revival, was cut off before the pair had a chance to say anything interesting.

Also on the show 

- Kurt Angle was interviewed by the Kick-Off panel about a variety of topics and somehow managed to say nothing at all.

ATPW Scale Rating // 5.31 out of 10

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale 

Thursday, 22 February 2018

WWE SmackDown Live Review // 20th February 2018

This week's SmackDown continued to build towards Fastlane, building on the relationships between the competitors in the WWE title Fatal Five-way match with a pair of big singles matches. The main event had WWE Champion AJ Styles going one on one with Baron Corbin, whilst Kevin Owens found himself opposite Dolph Ziggler. But how did it all go down in Phoenix, Arizona? Lets take a look! 

Baron Corbin and Kevin Owens interrupted AJ Styles' interview

This week's main story included a lot of characters and took up around half of the show, beginning with Renee Young's interview with WWE Champion AJ Styles being interrupted by Baron Corbin and then Kevin Owens. This was going okay, not great, but okay, until Styles made a quip about Owens having a boil lanced off his back. The boil turned out to be some kind of metaphor for Sami Zayn and resulted in an audience grown from the Phoenix audience. Seriously, whoever wrote that line should be fired. It made Styles look like a goof, made even worse by the fact it was clear that the Phenomenal One wasn't at all behind the line. The rest of the segment included Styles discussing the dangers of a five-way match to his title run, Corbin claiming he could beat AJ (and indeed he did back on the 10th October SmackDown) and Owens both continuing his never-ending feud with Shane McMahon and burying Zayn for his loss to Dolph Ziggler last week. Eventually, McMahon did what Owens had been complaining about by placing him in a match with Ziggler that would happen immediately, whilst also booking Styles vs. Corbin as the main event. What should have been a simple segment ended up being a complete mess, because of awful dialogue and an awkward payoff.


Kevin Owens def. Dolph Ziggler // Pinfall

Kevin Owens got back to winning ways for the first time since Boxing Day with a Sami Zayn-aided victory over Dolph Ziggler in what turned out to be the match of the show. Whilst Owens match with Baron Corbin last week had struggled because of it being unclear who was the heel, this match just kept the action coming so there was very little time to even worry about such a situation. Indeed, the back and forth nature of the match was felt more like an all-face contest, as the two started hot and kept going, with no one hitting more than two moves in a row. Phoenix was hot for this, pretty much throughout, surely helped by it being the first bout of the evening, popping for small things like Owens missing a senton, with the competitors lifting their game for a handful of very good alternating sequences. Whilst a sequence out of the corner that concluded with a Fameasser near fall felt like the peak, the highlight would come moments later after Owens blocked a ZigZag by grabbing the ropes, Ziggler countered a superkick with one of his own, which was in-turn blocked by Owens, who sent the Show Off into the ropes for a Pop-Up Powerbomb, with Ziggler escaping and hitting a ZigZag for a strong false finish. It was a shame to see Zayn heading out to result in the finish (which was vicious superkick to the back of the head from Owens), but the ending did open up a number of interesting questions regarding Owens and Zayn's relationship going forward, whilst also giving Ziggler an out for the loss. A backstage segment later on the show saw Zayn promise that he would lay down for KO in at Fastlane.


"The Phenomenal" AJ Styles def. Baron Corbin // Pinfall

A solid main event saw AJ Styles pick up a straight-forward victory over Baron Corbin with a Phenomenal Forearm, before Corbin made the save for Styles after Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn headed to ringside. An interesting development for Corbin, for sure, but the match was another case of Corbin not quite looking ready for a spot at the top of the card. Whilst the match was held back by only going around ten minutes, it still felt like Corbin was lacking that special something needed in order to be a top star for the company. I'm not quite sure what it is that Corbin lacks in the ring, because he has a number of interesting signature sequences, like the Big Bossman spot on the outside and Deep Six (which might be my favourite move in WWE right now), but the whole package is certainly not coming together at the moment. What we did have here though was another example of why AJ Styles is considered the best in WWE right now (Seth Rollins put a big claim to that crown together on RAW, however) as the Phenomenal One excelled opposite the larger man. The spot where Styles got threw over the announce table, only to land on his feet, leap over the table and nail a Phenomenal Forearm to a kneeling Corbin was superb stuff, which the commentary sold for the spectacular moment that it was. 

With the post-match attack and subsequent Corbin save hinting that the Lone Wolf could be due a babyface turn, perhaps that could be the missing piece of the puzzle for Baron, who has clearly worked hard on his in-ring work over the last 12 to 18 months.

Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan & Liv Morgan def. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch & Naomi // Pinfall 

The never-ending, never-evolving feud between The Riott Squad and SmackDown's top female stars unsurprisingly continued this week, with Ruby Riott able to give her team their third win in a row, after pinning Becky Lynch with a Riott Kick. Whilst I'm still waiting for any kind of development in this feud, there was a lot to like in this one, particularly at the beginning and the end. Naomi's face shine concluding with a slingshot crossbody on Riott and Sarah Logan before Liv Morgan sent Naomi into the steps had a lot of energy and also began a pattern where Morgan actually looked like the star of the Riott Squad. The final two or three minutes were also lots of fun, with a pair of hot tags from Lynch and Charlotte Flair, leading into a strong one in, one out strikes fest and then a quality near fall for the face team with Morgan making the save for Riott after a lengthy period trapped in Lynch's Disarmer submission. It was a shame then that Logan ended up looking completely out of her depth. Her selling looked awkward and her offence looked sloppy and considering she was given a solid amount of time in the middle of the bout, it felt like she ended up completely fumbling the ball that she was given. This comes after a disappointing effort with Flair last week and I'm beginning to wonder where the hype surrounding her came from in the first place. 

Later in the show, Flair and Riott both cut handheld promos challenging each other to a match at Fastlane, with it being confirmed that the SmackDown Women's Championship will be on the line on 11th March moments later.

SmackDown Tag Team Championship #1 Contendership // Big E & Xavier Woods def. Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable // Pinfall 

After a good outing last week, The New Day's beating Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable this week with questionable tactics after a short match ended up being the show's biggest disappointment. Five minutes of television wasn't enough for these two teams to tell a satisfying match and instead they went for a relatively generic tag bout, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but any regular watch would expect more. The one bright point was a superb sequence off of Big E's hot tag, as he went back an forth with Gable, as they blocked belly to belly suplex and did a ridiculous backslide trade before Gable actually came out on top, nailing a belly to belly on the former Intercontinental Champion. The finish seemed to suggest that New Day turning heel as Kofi Kingston popped up on the apron to distract the referee as Benjamin had Big E pinned after a Powebomb/diving clothesline combination, before Xavier Woods was able to take advantage and pin Benjamin with a Shining Wizard. Turning New Day would make logical sense if they're to face The Usos again for the tag belts, after a lengthy feud with the Usos as heels earlier in the year.

After the match, Harper & Rowan, the Bludgeon Brothers had a stare down with the New Day, before picking up a fun squash match victory over Eduardo Especiale & Norville Rogers.

Jinder Mahal outsmarted Bobby Roode and Randy Orton...again

Jinder Mahal continued to stir the pot between United States Champion Bobby Roode and Randy Orton in a segment, where a number of good ideas where hidden by a lame SmackDown Top 10 gimmick. Basically, Mahal said he had a secret about Roode, which turned out to be that he didn't include Orton in his SmackDown Top 10 list (but hilariously included Zack Ryder, who hasn't won a match since June). Who gives a fuck? The stuff about Roode wanting to become the new "Legend Killer" and having no respect for Orton's legacy is actually pretty damn cool, whilst having Jinder involved as the spoiler to help prolonge a feud towards WrestleMania is also another solid idea. The segment actually did more to help build up Mahal than his five and half month WWE title run, as whilst his promo wasn't the strongest, he ended up being the only man left standing. This was after a beautifully produced moment saw Mahal sneak back into the ring to hit Roode with the Khallas, with Roode's Glorious Domination theme still playing after the US Champ had left Orton laying with a Glorious DDT.

Later in the show, Shane McMahon booked Bobby Roode vs. Randy Orton for the United States Champion at Fastlane after having another argument with Daniel Bryan, which considering Jinder Mahal had just laid out the pair of them for the second week in a row made little to no sense.

Also this week 

- A hype package looking at Shinsuke Nakamura and his victory in the 2018 Royal Rumble match.

- Roman Reigns and Mark Henry, alongside Noelle Trent (Director of Interpretations, Collections and Education at the National Civil Rights Museum) discussed the Lunch Counter Sit-ins as part of Black History Month. 

- Apollo & Nia Jax and Charlotte Flair & Bobby Roode cut promos to promote Mixed Match Challenge, which airs directly after SmackDown on Facebook Watch. 

ATPW Scale Rating // 4.29 out of 10 

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale 

WWE NXT Review // 21st February 2018

On 21st February 2018, WWE aired its 288th episode of NXT, filmed at Center Stage, Atlanta, GA on 1st February. Our main event was another TakeOver: Philadelphia rematch as Johnny Gargano put his NXT career on the line for another shot at Andrade Almas' NXT Championship. The show also featured action from Nikki Cross, Velveteen Dream, No Way Jose & Vanessa Borne aswell as a big announcement from William Regal. But was it any good?

Velveteen Dream def. No Way Jose // Pinfall

Velveteen Dream is a force of nature when it comes to controlling crowds that not even the one-man conga line that is No Way Jose can contend with as this Atlanta crowd is approximately 100% Dream fans. The match itself was far from the best thing either man has done but still an entertaining enough encounter to start the show. Dream won in about four minutes with the Purple Rainmaker diving elbow. I can't say I'm not just a lot bit excited about the prospect of Velveteen Dream vs. Tyler Bate, No Way Jose, look out for him in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal this year probably.

Post-Match: Dream got on the mic, announcing himself as Male of the Year, Competitor of the Year and Match of the Year, he then told Black, Asuka and Bate no one cares, he said his name was on everyone's tongue and if you can't see that, he doesn't have time for you. Asuka's gonna kill you, m8.

Andrade Almas and Zelina Vega hype themselves up for the big match later.

William Regal announces that in two weeks, the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic starts up again and that the winner of the Classic will also become number one contender's for the NXT Tag Team Titles and get their shot at TakeOver: New Orleans.

Nikki Cross def. Vanessa Borne // Pinfall

Don't ask me to explain why but the official photos for this match on the WWE website are actually from a completely different match between these two in case you're wondering why Borne's black and white singlet from the TV is black and red in the photo. Not exactly a long match but Borne showed a lot more here than in the Mae Young Classic suggesting she's developing well as a performer, especially in her movements where she portrayed a more confident, heelish character though it also helped her that she's working with one of the most beloved faces of the NXT roster in Cross. Anyway, reasonably standard little match with Cross working a hot comeback and getting the win with The Purge swinging neckbreaker (yes, it has a name now). The right woman won but I think we could be seeing big things from Borne.

Recap of Killian Dain confronting Aleister Black. They'll probably have a match soon.

Johnny Gargano is chilling out backstage with Candice LeRae, trying to psych himself up.

Shane Thorne tweets about wanting to win the Dusty Classic

Recap of Baszler vs Moon. Next Week: Baszler vs Sane.

NXT Championship vs. NXT Career // Andrade Almas (c) def. Johnny Gargano // Pinfall

Well it wasn't quite as good as their Philadelphia encounter but I'm starting to wonder if anything could be. The Title vs. Career stipulation worked wonders for this match as even more than normal, the crowd hung on every near fall as they saw Johnny's NXT life flash before their eyes each time. The match started quickly as Almas rushed straight in trying to use his size and power advantage to get a roll-up off the off, trying multiple pinning combinations but Johnny Wrestling doesn't go down without a fight. Of course, these two have worked each other so many timbecame less about heel shenanigans than two men just trying to fight for the thing that matteres that their chemistry is basically only rivalled in NXT by Bate and Dunne but also they play so well off previous encounters with moments like Gargano going for a second slingshot spear only to leap into a Fujiwara armbar from Almas coming off perfectly. Especially clever was deploying the LeRae-Vega beatdown/chase-off within the first quarter so that the match s to them most in the ring. There was some clever playing on expectations as Gargano attempted a Hammerlock DDT and at times, Almas locked to be trying for a GargaNo Escape, there always comes the point in long series' like this where the only thing the competitors have left to shock their opponents with is each other's movesets. The finish off the match will probably be the most talked about thing here as in the time-honoured tradition of the ref-bump, Almas accidentally hit a back elbow onto Drake Wuertz, sending him prone, as this happened Gargano locked in the GargaNo Escape, looking to hold it until the Wuertz recovered but while he had it held, in came Tommaso Ciampa who golf swung a crutch to the back of Gargano, this gave Almas a chance to hit the Hammerlock DDT for the pin. Everyone played this moment beautifully including Wuertz who gave a slow three count with a mix of pain from the bump but also apprehension knowing that he was damning Gargano to never again returns to these hallowed grounds. You may have guessed from the review thus far, I really liked this match, it was easily better than their second encounter and possibly as good as the first but it was never meant to be the best: Almas and Gargano's tale is a depressing one for the world of wrestling as it's a story of a man unable to exorcise the demons of his past and as a result, unable to move on or upwards. Stories of failure are hard to do without just disappointing the audience but as much as this was not the result they wanted, it continues to feel like the right one as the eventual encounter between Gargano and Ciampa feels bigger than any title and Almas continues to both mean more from holding the title and making the title mean more by him holding it. Goodbye Johnny, it's been fun. I hope they treat you well on whichever main roster brand they send you to but suffice to say, there's nothing more that we can say from down here around the yellow ropes than 'Thank You, Johnny'.

As Gargano is helped up the ramp for the last time by LeRae, Ciampa stands in the crowd waving goodbye to close out the episode. I don't think I can legally publish my thoughts on that man at the moment.

On The YouTubes

Velveteen Dream's interview is interrupted by a passing Tyler Bate, Dream tells him to give him some of his water so Bate crumples the mostly full bottle on his chest. Bit rude. Tyler looked cute with his glasses on his forehead.

Johnny Gargano walks through the backstage of Center Stage possibly for the last time. Just shut up, you're the one that's crying.


The first half of this week's episode was pretty standard NXT-by-numbers with some decent announcements of forthcoming matches and solid in-ring action. Then we got to Gargano vs Almas IV and it became amazing. This was easily the best NXT TV match of the year so far and another reminder of just how good all six performers (yes six, people don't give referees enough credit) are. Plus Percy Watson called the ring apron 'the hardest part of the mat' which is accurate because nothing on the mat is as hard as the metal ringposts. Everything's looking up for NXT in 2018, we have four great champions, a whole host of great performers vying for their spots and another Dusty Classic on the way. Blow a kiss, take a bow, Everything's coming up roses.

Written By Jozef Raczka // @NotJoeRaczka