Thursday, 29 March 2018

WWE NXT Review // 28th March 2018

On 28th March 2018, WWE aired its 293rd episode of NXT, filmed at Center Stage, Atlanta, GA on 7th March. Our main event was a Dusty Classic semi-final as the newly formed team of Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne took on former NXT Tag Team Champions, SaNitY. The show also featured another Dusty Classic Semi in the form of Authors of Pain vs Street Profits as well as action from Lars Sullivan, Dakota Kai, Andrade Almas & Aleister Black. As always, I do ask you, dear audience, was it any good?

On his way to the arena, Tommaso Ciampa is hounded by fans and the press, he complains to William Regal that Gargano has been attacking him in the ring, stalking him at his physiotherapy sessions and at his house. Regal tells him it is becoming a spot of bother and books a match for TakeOver: New Orleans, but as Gargano doesn't work here anymore, it has to be an Unsanctioned Match. If Gargano wins, he gets his job back, if not, he's gone forever.

William Regal Has An Announcement

William Regal welcomes everyone to the arena and then announces that the announcement he announced last week was that NXT is introducing a new secondary men's championship, something to determine who is the best competitor in North America, the NXT North American Championship. As he's talking about this, up turns the man who's won practically everything there is to win in Impact and is now here in NXT, EC3. He talks about how good it is to be here and how he looks forward to making a shit-ton of money for the company and how he has a banger of a theme (he does). He then thanks William Regal for knowing that the best in North America was coming so making a title just for him. Regal tells him that while he has a chance at the title off the bat, he doesn't get anything without earning it, so he'll be competing in a Ladder Match at TakeOver to crown the first champion. EC3 responds it doesn't matter how many men you put in his way, he's still leaving with that champion. This was a really good opening, already cementing EC3 as someone who is going to be important in the yellow brand going forward as well as making another big match for TakeOver.

Charly Caruso is in the NXT Control Centre, giving us a recap of what we've missed so far in the Dusty Classic.

TM-61 are being interviewed back at the Performance Centre about their loss in the first round and how they need to change their attitude as this has halted their returning momentum but they're not down and out because they're the Mighty and the Mighty... get interrupted by a fight breaking out behind them between Shayna Baszler & Ember Moon because Baszler was bullying someone or just generally standing around waiting for Moon to punch her. This was more fun than I've made it sound.

Dusty Classic Semi-Final // Authors of Pain def. Street Profits // Pinfall

Quick squash m8. Ford came in first but quickly bailed when he felt a slap to the face from an Author, Dawkins actually fared a little better, out-striking his opponent and clearing house with a spinebuster to the other, sadly the loss for the team came when Ford, on the outside, got distracted offering his solo cup to Ellering who slapped it away, causing Ford to stalk him up the entrance ramp, opening up a distracted Dawkins to be hit with The Last Chapter legsweep-clotheslin combo. I don't know what they were going for but if the plan was to make Street Profits look like fucking idiots, they achieved it.

We go back to Charly in the Control Centre for an update. Thank you, Charly.

Cathy Kelly is interviewing William Regal about whether any other competitors are officially announced for the North American Title Ladder Match, he confirms Adam Cole will be in it. Velveteen Dream turns up and demands a spot, Regal agrees. This is shaping up nicely, isn't it?

Lars Sullivan def. John Silver // Pinfall

Quicker squash m8. In the battle of Long vs John SIlver, Long won, I think the closest Silver got to any offence was successfully locking-up with Sullivan at the beginning before he realised he had no reversals and Sullivan repeatedly hit murder. Lars eating tiny men is always fun and this did exactly what it had to. Sullivan won with a big diving headbutt and the Freak Accident modified side slam for the pin.

Cathy Kelly is interviewing Regal again when Sullivan walks by, just in time for Regal to offer him a spot in the NXT North American Championship Ladder Match. Lars looks forward to this but before he gets there, he wants Killian Dain . Regal tells him Dain is in the Ladder Match as well but because Regal likes booking matches, Sullivan goes tete-a-tete with Dain next week.

Dakota Kai def...Hey What's That Going On Over There?

Dakota Kai made her way to the ring but before a match could start the cameras cuts to Andrade Almas and Zelina Vega attacking Aleister Black in the car park. Almas battered Black through the arena, nearly drowning him at one point and beating him all the way to the ring, walking away, hoisting his title having got his own back on the Dutch shitkicker for what he said about him at the Contract Signing he never turned up to. This was a great, little segment to build to the TakeOver main event but I have to say, my favourite thing was watching Kai try and sneak away unnoticed in the back of the shot. 

Dusty Classic Semi-Final: Strong X Bitter def. SaNitY // Pinfall

In a move that will surprise no one, this was a really good main event. What was clever was how it played off Strong's past, having feuded along with Tye Dillinger, Kassius Ohno, No Way Jose and Ruby Riott with SaNitY, to build an intensity and animosity as well as a desperation from both teams to succeed, this helped frame the face v face action with some stakes and storytelling to stop it being just a split-support from the crowd. They worked a good, exciting finale to the episode, with all four men looking good and getting in a lot of their signature stuff with Alexander Wolfe getting in another reminder of how overlooked he is considering his incredibly fun performances. It wasn't a match without its problems though, as it lacked a certain sense of drama down the home-stretch that could have done perhaps with a little more in the way of tag work as it felt far more like four singles competitors than two teams though that does play well into the fragile truce between Strong and Dunne, this also felt more like the exhibition 'spotfest' style of tag match at times which while entertaining, did feel a little unnecessary. The finish came as Strong hit End of Heartache on Young before Dunne tagged in and they hit a double team Bitter End. Fun stuff, but still not quite essential. Much like the rest of this Dusty Classic so far, it's had good moments but it's all felt a little too rushed to seem, well, classic.

Cathy Kelly is backstage hoping to hear from William Regal who the sixth competitor is for the ladder match. Regal says she's in luck and he goes to fetch him. Trevor 'Ricochet' Mann would emerge from Regal's office to canned applause, looking like he was buttoning up his suit so what he had to do to get that spot, I don't know. The pre-recorded crowd chant his nickname to end the show.


Considering the amount of heavy-lifting this show had to do with setting up the North American Title, the Ladder Match for it, Gargano vs Ciampa, continuing to build to the Tag Title match and also continuing the builds for Black v Almas and Baszler v Moon, it's impressive that the show managed to do all of it without collapsing under its own weight. The problem of this is that so much of it ended up being enjoyable but passable as beyond the opening segment, nothing felt like it got quite enough time to properly build. That said, with four very good sounding matches confirmed and two very good teams in the Dusty Classic final, we could be set for an all-time great TakeOver special.

Written By Jozef Raczka // @NotJoeRaczka

WWE Monday Night RAW Review // 26th March 2018

It was the penultimate episode of Monday Night RAW this week, but could WWE keep the push going for the biggest show of the year. With still no reply from The Undertaker, John Cena took on Kane in a No Disqualification match, Universal Champion Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman addressed the beating Lesnar gave Roman Reigns last week, Ronda Rousey returned after a two week absence whilst Triple H & Stephanie McMahon trained for WrestleMania, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor were the guests on Miz TV, Braun Strowman took on RAW Tag Team Champion Sheamus, Elias faced Rhyno, Nia Jax warmed up for her RAW Women's Championship match at Mania by taking on Mickie James, Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson were up against The Miztourage, the Cruiserweights returned to RAW as Mania opponents Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali faced TJP & Drew Gulak and Asuka took on local competitor, Jamie Frost...but was it any good? Here's our review.

No Disqualification Match // John Cena vs. Kane

Before the match - Kane cut a promo in his red rape room, telling John Cena that he should have left The Undertaker alone and he was sending Cena to hell tonight.

A fun and inoffensive house show no disqualification match between two competitors who have faced off 70 times since 2008 (both televised and live events), as John Cena unsurprisingly went over Kane with an Attitude Adjustment through a table. There's very little getting round that this was a house show, complete with a house show finish, with a couple of trinkets added to place it within the current timespan. Cena did a couple of Undertaker's taunts as he tried to get The Deadman to answer his WrestleMania, which got a good reaction and worked for what was needed. It was clear however, that the pair had done this match a number of times before, although the spot with Kane suplexing Cena onto a barricade near the announcers table was a nice addition. The ending took a little too long to come, with two spots that featured a lot of fannying around by tables, but overall this match was exactly what I had expected it to be and nothing more. Cena goes over Kane, the story is moved forward without the need for The Undertaker to appear, the match is watchable, but not worth searching out.

After the match - John Cena cut another promo on The Undertaker, going over some old ground and calling The Deadman a coward for not showing up during the match, despite the No DQ gimmick. This was a solid bit of final set-up for next week, when surely The Undertaker will make his appearance to confirm the match.

Universal Champion Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman address last week's attack on Roman Reigns 

Another strong segment in the Universal title feud this week, as Brock Lesnar left Roman Reigns laying in the middle of the ring for the second week in a row. This week's segment felt very similar to last week's by it's conclusion, but got there in slightly different route, beginning with a good promo from Paul Heyman. Heyman speaks in a way that may go over the head of a portion of the fanbase, but has enough charisma to draw them in no matter what, whilst those who are willing to listen and understand what he's saying get the most out of his words. A sentence that essentially boiled down to calling himself the best speaker in WWE history, but even he couldn't describe the assault last week was magical work, that put over the attack much stronger than simply describing it would have. The build to Reigns' appearance, walking in through the crowd once more, was also very strong with Heyman berating Roman for not being in attendance and blaming his up-bringing, leaving the moment just long enough that it felt like the Big Dog might not show up, meaning the appearance got a lovely crowd reaction. The beatdown was similar to last week, with Lesnar quickly gaining control before setting to work destroying his challenger with a chair and step. All this worked as a nice preview for two weeks time at WrestleMania, although I worry that WWE could go too far with this and end up giving Reigns a "superman feel" which is something we've seen the fanbase push away from in recent times. 

Triple H & Stephanie McMahon prepare for WrestleMania

I wasn't mad about this training montage/interview, mostly because the interview ended up being repetitive and seemed to go on for an unnecessary amount of time. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon must have told us that Ronda Rousey was stepping into "their world" and that this wasn't judo about five or six times across the six minute video. It was cool to hear from their personal trainer, but the whole video felt more like an exercise in public relations than it did a hype package for a match or an attempt to get more heat come WrestleMania. There were two moments that I did enjoy, with the first being Triple H discussing his previous issues with Kurt Angle, with this being an area of the feud that could really do some development, as WWE seems to be missing a trick in mining the past history involving Angle, Triple H and McMahon. The second was the duo discussing how they would "repackage" Rousey following WrestleMania after they had humbled her, with the language used evocative of what we've come to expect from WWE when signing talent who made their name elsewhere.

RAW gets Rowdy 

Basically, Absolution interrupted Ronda Rousey saying some more of the same stuff, before Rousey took out Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville. I didn't really get this segment, to be honest, because Absolution have looked pretty awful as a group since coming up anyway, seemingly dropping in value every time they appear on television, whilst Rousey didn't need to be built up in this manner, because everyone and their dog knows she's tough as nails. The beatdown was fine and having Kurt Angle stop Rousey from breaking Deville's arm was an interesting touch, even if I'm not sure how that can be played into the storyline with Triple H & Stephanie McMahon, but whatever. The segment wasn't helped by an annoying promo from Paige, in which she used the word "babygirl" no less than four times in a couple of minutes, as she attempted to get Rousey to join Absolution, as well as Deville missing her cue leading to an awkward moment where Sonya half-caught Rose off a leg capture suplex. I've probably been a little harsh on the segment, but I just didn't see the point and it did nothing to deliver the on-going story in any way.

Miz TV with Seth Rollins and Finn Balor

Some creative cheap heat from The Miz, some planted seeds for a Miztourage rebellion, some fun babyface work from Finn Balor and Seth Rollins and a crowd that ate up every moment, this was a really good segment in what has been one of the highlights of the Road to WrestleMania. Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel turning on The Miz was the angle that I didn't know that I wanted to see, so to tease it here, as Miz used it to lull Rollins & Balor into a false sense of security means that when it does happen it will be a much bigger moment than it was here and hopefully give Dallas & Axel an opportunity to push on up the card. All three men played it really well, with the highlight coming when Miz named Mr. Perfect (Axel's late father) amongst the Intercontinental Champions that he was better than. It was nice to shift the story onto Rollins & Balor trying to cause trouble for The Miz and it has to be said that the two have potential together as a duo, as they showed nice chemistry and bounced off each other well. The segment could have done with a more impactful conclusion, as Balor nailing Rollins with a clothesline, after Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson had taken care of Dallas & Axel and Balor & Rollins had downed Miz, didn't quite feel like the exclamation point that such an enjoyable segment needed to feel completely satisfactory. 

Braun Strowman vs. RAW Tag Team Champion Sheamus (with RAW Tag Team Champion Cesaro)

Before the match - Cesaro & Sheamus demanded to know who Braun Strowman's partner would be at WrestleMania, with Strowman saying he'd tell them...if Sheamus could defeat him next. 

A similar match to what we saw between Braun Strowman and Cesaro last week, with Strowman putting Sheamus away in around four minutes, after dominating most of the match despite plentiful distractions from Cesaro at ringside. The commentary team pushed that Strowman may have hurt his knee on a fall to the outside, but it was never quite made clear by the performers, whilst Sheamus' period of control was mostly a rest-hold which I think even the Celtic Warrior knew wasn't the best course of action in kayfabe or otherwise. Apart from a single Beat of Braun, after the Monster reversed the Ten Beats of the Bodhran from Sheamus and a neat finish where Sheamus missed a cornered Brogue Kick, there wasn't all that much to get excited about here and whilst I'd still describe the match as a fun watch, there's no doubt that it came off as a poor relation of last week's Strowman vs. Cesaro match. 

Elias vs. Rhyno (with Heath Slater)

Before the match - Elias brought his cheap heat musical stylings to Cleveland, ripping on one of their spots teams in song form. Despite giving no shits about any American sports, it was still quite funny to hear how the crowd still reacts to something like this, as I'm sure it would work nowhere other than America. 

Elias went over Rhyno with Drift Away after a nothing match. Yeah, that's about all there is to say, not exactly a squash, but not really anything else either. 

After the match - Elias attacked Heath Slater, delivering another Drift Away.

Nia Jax vs. Mickie James (with RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss) 

Nia Jax continued her build towards WrestleMania with a victory over Mickie James in an okay match. Whilst the match wasn't exactly long, I would've liked to have seen a more dominant display from Jax here, with some of her power moves looking a little relaxed at points, whilst James got in too much offence for what should have been a straight-forward bout. The overall idea was nice with Jax's left leg, that had been injured by an Asuka knee bar a few weeks earlier, giving James the opening to gain a short advantage, which I'm sure will be a similar pattern to what we see at WrestleMania between Jax and the smaller Alexa Bliss. I thought a couple of Jax's power moves looked a little tame, with a couple of biel throws in particular not having as much impact as I would've liked to have seen. However, Jax seems to have gained some traction with the live audience, as she got a good response throughout the match, particularly for the finish where Nia gorilla-pressed James into the air before dropping Mickie into a samoan drop to seal the victory. 

After the match - Alexa Bliss attempted to jump Nia Jax, but ended up having to run away.

Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson vs. Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel

I'm not sure why this didn't come directly after the Miz TV segment, but nonetheless Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson picked up Balor Club's third victory in a row of The Miztourage in a simple tag bout. This really was a basic encounter, a paint-by-numbers tag team match with Luke Gallows taking the hot tag for his team after some minor antics from Axel & Dallas, before a near fall off the Boot of Doom lead into Gallows pinning Axel following the Magic Killer. Passable stuff that filled some time on the show, but entirely forgettable and probably unnecessary as well, but what you gonna do? 

Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali vs. Drew Gulak & TJP 

The Cruiserweights returned to RAW this week, after a being absent for a month or so, as WrestleMania opponents Cedric Alexander & Mustafa Ali picked up a quick victory over Drew Gulak & TJP in a straight-forward tag bout. This was a regular tag structure with Ali as face-in-peril and Alexander on the hot tag, producing some fun action, especially through off the Alexander tag. Ali did overshoot on a tope con giro (or perhaps Gulak was a little too far forward) but apart from that everything here looked nice and had an energy behind it. It was a shame to see Gulak & TJP lose so quickly, because they both have a lot to offer the purple brand and will be needed after WrestleMania to help the brands growth, but it makes sense to have Alexander & Ali as the focus, with the match finishing with a game of one-upsmanship as Ali tagged himself in to take the pin on TJP with an 054, after Alexander had hit a Lumbar Check. I'm looking forward to seeing these two lads kill it at WrestleMania and get the credit they both deserve for their hardwork on Tuesday night's over the last year or so. 

Winner of the First Ever Women's Royal Rumble Match "The Empress of Tomorrow" Asuka vs. Jamie Frost

Before the match - Charly Caruso interviewed the debuting Jamie Frost, who was apparently having her first professional match tonight, but was inordinately confident about beating the undefeated Asuka. 

Asuka beat Frost in about 20 seconds.

Also on the show

- After some great verbal back and forth backstage, the issues between Bayley and Sasha Banks finally erupted after Bayley made a remark about Banks being unable to defend titles, leading to a pull-apart brawl. 

- Matt Hardy announced himself as an entrant in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania in his own woken way.

- This week's "Hungry for Mania" moment was Edge winning the original Money in the Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 21 in 2005. 

ATPW Scale Rating // 
4.67 out of 10


Written by James Marston //

Saturday, 24 March 2018

WWE 205 Live Review // 20th March 2018

With just three weeks until WrestleMania, this week's 205 Live was another big week for the Cruiserweight brand as WWE continues to revamp the brand and reinvent its identity. This week saw Drew Gulak and Mustafa Ali go head-to-head to decide who faces Cedric Alexander for the vacant Cruiserweight Championship at WrestleMania, Hideo Itami battle Lince Dorado and TJP face the returning Kenneth Johnson...but was it any good? Here's our review.

Cruiserweight Championship Tournament Semi-Final //
Drew Gulak vs. Mustafa Ali

Before the match - Drew Gulak gave a good account of himself during a sitdown interview, explaining his return to a serious edge and promising to prove himself right with a straight-forward approach to his semi-final match - Mustafa Ali spoke about being a police officer in Chicago and seeing the Cruiserweight title as a way to fix things and change people's minds about someone called Mustafa Ali.

As competitors and characters, there may be very few pairings as perfect as Drew Gulak and Mustafa Ali and whilst they've had a number of matches together over the last year, including a very good two out of three falls match in last summer, I don't think it was ever more evident than it was here. Gulak is a direct, hard-hitting win at any costs bully, whilst Ali is a high-flyer, who fights with his heart on his sleeve and is looking to change opinions, with both men excelling in their roles and producing some of the best action in the tournament up to this point. Whilst I would've liked to have seen this one get a little more time and develop on a number of the ideas thrown up, the bout between the pair here did a grand job of mixing broad strokes with little touches and storyline elements to create a fascinatingly, rich piece of professional wrestling. The idea that Ali was having to almost match the brutality and relentlessness of Gulak in order to compete, drawing on what Ali had been saying in promos leading up to the match, was a clever one, highlighted by Ali laying into Gulak's ribs with kicks that mirrored Drew's actions earlier in the match, whilst the commentary called back to the promos and suggested that Ali would have to be careful not to get too into the viciousness. The final third of the bout focused on some big spots on the outside, as the two made creative work of WWE's ringside area, including a back body drop off the announce table and a powerslam into the timekeeper's area for a good countout near fall. However, for me the finish came off as a little sudden and struggled to compete with what had came before, as Ali managed to reverse a powerslam into a tornado DDT, before the 054 got the win for the Illinoisan. I think it could've done with a few more minutes and a maybe an extra near fall or two once the action got back in the ring to push this to the next level and get it on a par with last week's Cedric Alexander vs. Roderick Strong match. 

After the match - Mustafa Ali cut a promo about going to WrestleMania and how he was proof that all that matters is what's in your heart. 

Lince Dorado (with Kalisto & Gran Metalik) vs. Hideo Itami (with Akira Tozawa)

There were elements of a good match as Lince Dorado and Hideo Itami clashed this week, but the finish ended up coming off as a real disappointment, because of the huge amount of promise that the pair had shown together, as Gran Metalik simply pushed Itami into the apron to cause a disqualification and give Itami the win. I understand the need to keep the feud going, but it's still hard not to feel let down when the match is feeling like it's heading in an interesting direction and moreso because the DQ was caused by a babyface so there's not even an argument to be made that the heel is taking something away from the audience to build heat. However, the action that was on display ranged from okay to very good, with the respective styles of Itami and Dorado meshing nicely as Itami's no-nonsense offence being juxtaposed well by Dorado's corkscrew planchas and mad rana situations. The moment where the match felt like it began to build towards what could have been a thrilling conclusion was Dorado matching Itami with slaps to the face and beginning to fire up, with the Puerto Rican impressing as he held his own with one of the division's hardest hitters. There's potential for this feud to grow into something, especially with the upcoming introduction of a Cruiserweight Tag Team title, but I'd like to see a little more thought go into how it's going to develop week on week within the current 205 Live structure. 

After the match - Gran Metalik and Hideo Itami had to be held back by their respective friends as tensions continue to rise between Lucha House Party and...erm...Puroresu Dwelling Shindig? - Drake Maverick rewarded Akira Tozawa and Kalisto for helping calm things down by placing them in a Fatal Four-way with TJP and Buddy Murphy next week

TJP vs. Kenneth Johnson 

Before the match - TJP claimed he should be first in line for a shot against whoever won the Cruiserweight Championship tournament 

TJP ran through the returning Kenneth Johnson (back for the first time since losing to Akira Tozawa in the first round of the Cruiserweight Classic), winning with a TJP Clutch, after the conclusion of a poor match where it looked like Johnson had never been in a ring before.

After the match - TJP held onto the TJP Clutch for some time after the bell.

Also on the show 

- Cedric Alexander spoke about last week being the greatest moment of his career, but claiming it wouldn't mean anything unless he won the Cruiserweight Championship. 

ATPW Scale Rating // 
5 out of 10

Written by James Marston // 

WWE Mixed Match Challenge Review // 20th March 2018

It was time for the semi-finals to begin on this week's Mixed Match Challenge, as Asuka & The Miz teamed up against Braun Strowman & Alexa Bliss for a spot in the final in two weeks. But was it any good? Here's our review! 

Mixed Match Challenge Semi-Final // Asuka & Intercontinental Champion The Miz vs. Braun Strowman & RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss 

Before the match - Asuka reminded The Miz that her streak was on the line tonight, with Miz insistent that it was "their" streak - Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss promised to go all the the Mixed Match Challenge. 

Considering Asuka's streak was supposedly on the line, it was to the surprise of very few that Asuka & Miz advanced to final of the Mixed Match Challenge over Braun Strowman & Alexa Bliss, with The Empress of Tomorrow tapping out the RAW Women's Champion with the Asuka Lock at the end of another typical MMC bout. The match was strongest at it's opening and conclusion, with the bout getting a little lost during it's middle third, relying on the idea that there was a romance between Strowman and Bliss and doing very little else. The random tease of a kiss mid-match worked in order to set up Strowman going nuts at Miz for breaking it up, but beyond being a plot device, it made very little sense to have it happen when it did. Having both Miz and Bliss tag out repeatedly in order to not face their more imposing opponents was a much better idea, played well by all four, before Miz got clattered with Braun's wicked front dropkick (No Corey, I shall not call it the Tyrannosaurus dropkick). This would only be bettered by a wicked series of action at the conclusion, with Asuka and Bliss working much better together than they did on RAW the previous night, building to a double knockout spot before Strowman lost his head and shoulder barged the fuck out of Miz, sending both through the barricade. The streak gimmick was used effectively with the crowd buying into a series of pinfall variation near falls from Bliss, including one very long two count, with Michael Cole playing a strong supporting role on commentary, before Asuka swiftly reversed Bliss's DDT into the Asuka lock to pick up the win. It would seem we're heading to an Asuka & Miz vs. Charlotte Flair & Bobby Roode final, which just days before Flair and Asuka clash at WrestleMania could prove an exciting possibility in two weeks time.

Also on the show 

- Daniel Bryan was stretchered to the back following the assault from Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn on SmackDown Live. 

- We found out that Sasha Banks & Finn Balor had won the second chance fan vote and would face Charlotte Flair & Bobby Roode in next week's semi-final. 

Written by James Marston // 

Thursday, 22 March 2018

WWE SmackDown Live Review // 20th March 2018

With three weeks until WrestleMania, this week's SmackDown was perhaps the most important episode on the road to WrestleMania and will almost certainly prove to be the most memorable for the majority of the fanbase. This week saw Daniel Bryan announce his return to in-ring competition and call out Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn for their assault on Shane McMahon last week, Charlotte Flair and Natalya renew their rivalry, SmackDown Tag Team Champion Jimmy Uso go one on one with the Bludgeon Brother's Harper, Shinsuke Nakamura face Rusev in a rematch from Fastlane and Jinder Mahal talk about being added to the United States title match at WrestleMania...but was it any good? Here's our review. 

Daniel Bryan addresses being cleared to compete 

If it's possible to feel all of the emotions at the same time, then that's exactly what I experienced whilst watching Daniel Bryan speak about being able to wrestle again on SmackDown this week. Honestly, Bryan could have come out and said absolutely anything and everyone would have been over the moon because he can wrestle again, but what happened on 20th March was so much more than that. Obviously this being a very real situation helped a lot, but listening to the emotion in Bryan's voice as he talked about how his wife, Brie Bella, had helped him to keep fighting and to keep pushing to get back in the ring, as well as the passion with which he talked about professional wrestling was wonderful and left me somewhere between being one big pimpley goose and a human tear. Whatever happens next is a bonus for me, as the story of Bryan's return is strong enough to drive multiple storylines for years and I'm not sure it will ever be matched. Also all the crowd pointing at the WrestleMania sign when Bryan said he didn't know when he'd get to wrestle his first match might be my favourite thing that has ever happened inside a wrestling arena. 

After the segment - Charles Robinson congratulated Daniel Bryan on his return, before Dolph Ziggler told Bryan that he couldn't wait to beat him - Daniel Bryan was informed that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn had arrived at the building.

Daniel Bryan calls out Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn 

Wow, what a rollercoaster this segment was, moving from comedy heat for Kevin Owens saying "everyone's dumber in Texas" to a vicious assault on Daniel Bryan on his first night back as an active competitor all within the space of ten or fifteen minutes. There was a lot packed into the fifteen minutes, but the segment essentially boiled down to Owens & Zayn assaulting Bryan because he was forced to fire them for attacking Shane McMahon on last week's episode, but because of Bryan's lengthy absence from anything resembling physicality it ended up being so much more than the sum of its parts. Watching Bryan nailing running dropkicks in the corner, like he'd never been away became an emotional experience the likes of which I never thought I'd experience watching some hit a dropkick or two, whilst the beatdown from Owens and Zayn that came after the pair had regained control got a great deal of heat as they threw punches at the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion. The conclusion with Owens hitting a powerbomb onto the apron was difficult to watch, a good piece of booking to throw doubt over Bryan will be able to compete at WrestleMania, with the whole picture involving the three and Shane McMahon being wide open at the conclusion of the show. A special note on Owens performance here, as as always Kevin's attention to detail was wonderful and him screaming repeatedly, showing confliction and frustration with his action was a lovely touch that added to an already brilliant segment.

SmackDown Women's Champion Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya

Before the match - We got a hype package for Asuka, who seemingly isn't on the show tonight - Natalya tried to wind up Charlotte Flair, saying she was scared about facing Asuka at WrestleMania, with Flair agreeing to a match with Natty later on the show. 

An intriguing development at the end of a good match between Natalya and Charlotte Flair saw Carmella attempt to cash in her Money in the Bank briefcase and whilst Flair nailed Carmella with the Queen's Boot before the cash-in could occur it did allow Natalya to pick up a surprise victory with a school-boy roll up. I'm not quite sure how this factors into Flair's match with Asuka at WrestleMania, but its at least WWE trying to do something different on SmackDown, rather than what could have been a paint-by-numbers victory for Flair. The match itself took a while to get into, mostly because there was a feeling that I'd seen it all before, with the having competed in eleven TV singles matches in the last two years, but the build towards the interference featured some lovely action between the pair. Natalya pulled out a gorgeous spinning sit-out powerbomb, but the highlight was a superb sequence involving the figure four leglock, that would conclude with Flair holding onto the move whilst hanging outside of the ring, after the two had rolled to the ropes. I would suspect we could see Natty & Carmella vs. Flair & Asuka at some point over the next two weeks, with Natalya's victory perhaps being used to make her Asuka's first challenger after the Empress wins the belt at WrestleMania.

Jimmy Uso (with Jey Uso) vs. Harper (with Rowan) 

Before the match - The Usos cut one of signature fiery promos, promising to not lie down when faced with the threat of the Bludgeon Brothers as they looked for their first match on the main card of a WrestleMania. 

The match was a fairly straight-forward affair with Jimmy Uso able to stay in the match by using his speed, before Harper put him away with a pretty weak looking lariat. The match was raised past a regular squash thanks to a stellar near fall from Uso, which saw the SmackDown Tag Team Champion able to dodge distraction from Rowan, before that same distraction allowed for both Usos to hit superkicks for a long two count on Harper

Rusev (with Aiden English) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura

Whilst not as good as their clash at Fastlane, Shinsuke Nakamura's victory over Rusev with a roll-up still provided a solid slice of television wrestling. The match ended up coming up a little short time-wise, with only around five minutes airing on TV, but still got a few decent moments and sequences in there. A lot of it was either going over ground covered in the PPV bout and using a couple of signature spots like the "Come on" thing that Nakkers does, but there was also a nice forearm sequence and a surprising amount of dominance from the Bulgarian Brute, including a near fall off a big kick after Nakamura escaped the Accolade. The finishing sequence was very well done, with Nakamura missing a couple of roundhouse kicks, before going for his rolling crossarmbreaker and then being able to reverse a Rusev roll-up (major alliteration scenes) to pick up a straight-forward victory. Not quite good enough to go out of your way to see, but enjoyable if you're a regular watcher of the product nonetheless. 

After the match - Rusev & Aiden English assaulted Shinsuke Nakamura, with AJ Styles taking so long to make the save from the guest commentary position that Nakamura ended up being able to fight off both of his attackers - Backstage, Shinsuke Nakamura told AJ Styles that he didn't need his help and that he'd beat him at WrestleMania with a "knee to face" 

Jinder Mahal addresses his United States title shot at WrestleMania

More of the same from Jinder Mahal, Bobby Roode and Untied States Champion Randy Orton this week, after Mahal had addressed being added to the US title match at WrestleMania. Honestly, I was over this storyline about a month ago and I'm looking forward to being able to move passed it in April, because the booking continues to be lazy, the writing continues to be juvenile and the performers continue to look like they'd rather be doing anything else (well, Roode and Orton do, I suppose Mahal is just buzzing to still be riding the wave of his awful WWE title run). Mahal left Sunil Singh to Roode & Orton, with Singh taking DDTs rope-hung and Glorious, before Orton and Roode tried to hit their finishers on each other and still nobody gave a fuck. 

Also on the show

- Baron Corbin squashed Tye Dillinger in a few minutes, with the match going a little longer because Corbin botched his own finish and they had to do it again. 

- Becky Lynch & Naomi squashed the Riott Squad's Liv Morgan & Sarah Logan with Lynch tapping out Morgan with the Dis-armer after a nothing match 

- The "Hungry for Mania" moment was the entirety of WrestleMania I.

ATPW Scale Rating // 
5.88 out of 10 

Written by James Marston //

WWE NXT Review // 21st March 2018

On 21st March 2018, WWE aired its 292nd episode of NXT, filmed at Center Stage, Atlanta, GA on 7th March. Our main event saw a pair of PWG Champions face off in the form of Adam Cole and Kassius Ohno. The undercard featured Raul Mendoza taking on NXT Champion Andrade Almas, Ember Moon against Aliyah and Dusty Classic First Round action in the form of Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch taking on Roderick Strong and a mystery opponent. But was it any good?

Ciampa Still Has Something to Say

Ciampa did his routine that he's done the last two weeks but this time actually said something as he told the crowd that Johnny Gargano was gone and he was never coming back and that all the people in the crowd with their signs should get used to it. He went around the crowd tearing up signs and squaring up to Nans till he went to tear up a sign near a man in a snazzy black and gold Lucha mask who turned out to be Johnny Gargano! Gargano leaping barricade would wail on Ciampa till security were able to separate them. This was well thought-out as clearly Gargano wasn't looking to wrestle, he just wanted to Ciampa in his stupid, bald face (definitely no bias here). If this isn't building to an Unsanctioned Match at TakeOver: New Orleans, I'll be damn surprised.

Charly Caruso gives us a recap of the Dusty Classic First Round thus far and 'exclusive' footage of Tyler Bate talking about his injuries forcing Moustache Mountain to drop out of the tournament. Roderick Strong does a mobile phone camera promo requesting a shot in the Classic in their place and thank goodness the production team don't add any word graphics to this.

Adam Cole & Kassius Ohno have a Twitter spat. The Undisputed Era, they talk about Roderick Strong being a loser, how no-one likes him and how whoever wins the Dusty Classic is heading for a loss, as is Ohno later.

Dusty Rhodes Classic First Round // Dunne & Strong def. Lorcan & Burch // Pinfall

So we get the debut of the team that Across the Pond Wrestling would like you to know as either Roderick Strong Style or Strong x Bitter, as I like my tag-teams like I like my coffee, I'm going for the latter (if anyone can organise Omari & Joe Coffey aka Black Coffey to face Strong x Bitter at Fight Club: PRO, please do). This wasn't quite the masterpiece I'd expected from these four who are capable of delivering some of the best performances in modern wrestling but for the time they were given they made the most of it with team Strong x Bitter working a technical masterclass and team Lorcan x Burch going for striking really, really hard and really, really often. It started strong and finished well but seemed to lose an amount of excitement in the middle section as Strong x Bitter worked on top, leading into the Lorcan hot tag but the crowd didn't seem willing to split their sympathies away from the de-facto heel team. The finish came as Strong got the pin off an End of Heartache on Burch. These two against Eric Young and Alexander Wolfe should be a lot of good, a lot of good indeed.

We get a video package for Trevor 'Ricochet' Mann who is coming to NXT TV soon.

Ember Moon def. Aliyah // Pinfall

Quick squash m8. Shayna Baszler came out and did guest commentary duties for this one and as often is the case with the WWE guest comms. style, there was no actual play-by-play, it was just an interview with Baszler while Moon and Aliyah grunted in the background. Moon won with the Eclipse if you cared.

Next Week: The Dusty Classic Semi-Finals come to town as Authors of Pain face Street Profits & SaNitY face Strong x Bitter.

Andrade Almas Vs. Raul Mendoza // Never Happens

As Mendoza was making his entrance, Almas jumped him and threw him off the stage before delivering an intense promo, calling Aleister Black a 'piece of shit' and telling the man in Black to face him in the ring. He doesn't, probably because he wasn't just hanging round backstage on a day he wasn't booked. While normally I prefer letting Zelina Vega do promo duties over her charge, Almas, he did a good job here of selling his seething rage. Keep going like this, he might not need Vega soon. Who am I kidding? Everyone needs Vega.

William Regal announces that next week he'll be making an announcement. Hopefully it will be announcing a best of seven series of him making announcements.

Adam Cole def. Kassius Ohno // Pinfall

There was one very annoyingly loud Adam Cole fan near one of the crowd mics, I will never not give credit to whoever created Ohno's current black and gold look outfit with 'boxing hoodie/wizard robe', I will continue to give no credit to this crowd who were about '60-40' split in support Cole-Ohno. Boo. The Heels. I'm getting bored of saying this because I think it's part-crowd response, part-Cole's performance style but whenever anyone calls Cole over as a heel, he is over, yes, but he never gets boos, this was basically face vs face. If you ignore that theoretically Cole was meant to be the villain here, this was very good in-ring action as two of the American Indies best quite simply beat the piss out of each other with a refreshing lack of interference by Fish and O'Reilly forcing Cole to step his game up to make his clean victory seem more convincing. While the intensity had a good build, for me, the match peaked in the first few minutes when during a running-the-ropes, leapfrog segment, Ohno booted Cole out of the air. It was nice seeing competition for competition's sake, beyond a few tweets, these two men were both just fighting to prove that the victor was worthy of more opportunities. The finish came as Adam Cole hit a Shining Wizard to the back of the neck for the pinfall. We all know that when it comes to violence, Cole has earned his stripes, now NXT needs to just work out if they can make people boo him or if it's worth making him the hero Atlanta clearly wants him to be. 

On The YouTubes

Johnny Gargano shmoozes with the fans outside but security stop him getting back into the building, he points out that they are selling his merch but not letting him inside and announces he's staying out there till Ciampa comes to him. See you next week, Johnny.

When the video says Kassius Ohno is speechless about his defeat, they aren't kidding.


This was one of those weeks where a lot of what happened seems like it was more to push the story into the next act than it was to present a compelling section of the story in itself. Cole vs Ohno was definitely the match highlight of the show but it can't be argued that the biggest response of the show was the surprise return of Johnny Gargano. While they weren't here, I can't help but feel big things are on the horizon for the yellow brand. I'll see you when we get there.

Written By Jozef Raczka // @NotJoeRaczka