Friday, 6 April 2018

NXT TakeOver: New Orleans Preview

On 7th April, NXT is set to take over the Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LO, as part of the WWE's Wrestlemania weekend, however, in a confusing reversal of situations, the pre-Mania TakeOver is more like NXT's SummerSlam than it is their WrestleMania, their WrestleMania, of course, being the annual Brooklyn show, which takes place the day before Summerslam. Anyway, we here at ATPW sure do love our previews, so here's one for this show, think of it like a pre-show but with no Peter Rosenberg so much better. Talking of pre-shows, why not tune in for the KickOff at Midnight (if you're in America, please check your local listings) with an all-star panel including NFL All-Pro Punter Pat McAfee (whatever that means) giving us all the chat and discussion required for an hour before the actual show at 1am (once again, check your listings, US). Till then, why not enjoy this preview with the sounds of our themes for this show courtesy of New Orleans own, Cane Hill...

NXT North American Championship Ladder Match:     EC3 vs Adam Cole Velveteen Dream vs Ricochet vs Lars Sullivan vs Killian Dain

I would imagine there's a strong chance this match opens the show as its a match with little build, little in the way of emotional attachment but with six men and a whole load of ladders set to be in the ring, has the potential to set the stage with some good and crazy action. This match, and indeed, title, have been mostly made to accommodate the expanding ranks of the NXT Men's Single's division making it so that everyone going after one title is getting ridiculous. What about the United Kingdom Championship I hear you ask, surely that title could have been expanded in its focus in order to accommodate such a position? Well, the answer is fuck off, we don't need your kind of logic around here. Also, with UK Champion Pete Dunne in the Tag Title match later, it's not like they could have a non-full time talent working double duty. Still, what works well here is that there is no way to predict which of these six men will be taking the title with a strong mix of indie darlings like the debuting EC3 & Ricochet through to Velveteen Dream & Lars Sullivan, two men who've cut their teeth here in NXT and really made themselves cornerstones of their division. 

What to expect from this one is an interesting thought as beyond Ricochet, we don't really have many flippy boys in this so traditional WWE ladder match booking would suggest he'll do the really cool spot that everyone talks about but not win it, Dain & Sullivan still feel like even after this week's NXT, they still have some unresolved issues so likelihood is, the feuding between those two might distract them from climbing that ladder which leaves Cole who might not even be in the match as he might be helping O'Reilly defend the tag-team titles, Dream who is just wonderful in every way & EC3, a man who by the end of the night, everyone will realise he is what Bobby Roode pretended to be, if they don't know, now they'll know. This is my long-winded way of saying I don't know, spoiler alert though, it's probably going to be at least a little bit good.

NXT Tag Team Championship & Dusty Classic Cup: Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish & Kyle O'Reilly) (c) vs Strong x Bitter & Authors of Pain

You may notice that Adam Cole is in the photo above as well. This is because over the past month/s, NXT has been running the third Dusty Rhodes Tag-Team Classic, an eight-team tournament for the prestigious title, previously won by Finn Balor & Samoa Joe and Authors of Pain, but also a shot at the Tag-Team Championships. On the one side of the finals, we had the previous winners Authors of Pain who smashed through TM-61 and Street Profits to get here and on the other side, Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong, a make-shift team formed after Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven) were forced to bow out when Tyler aggravated an angle injury while at Brighton's Riptide Wrestling, who fought past Danny Burch & Oney Lorcan and SAnitY to make it here. With poor Bobby Fish out on injury, Kyle O'Reilly and Cole decided to crash the final and cause a double disqualification, no winners, no challengers, smart eh? so O'Reilly was given three choices: wrestle alone, Cole does double-duty or Cole drops out of the Ladder Match.

Unsurprisingly, it seems he's chosen to work double duty, so one of the major factors of this match in play is card order as Cole or Cole & O'Reilly are at a significant disadvantage depending on which match goes on last of the two, though if this is the first of the two, it puts all three teams on a roughly equal-footing as Undisputed Era have beaten Authors of Pain before (twice if you count War Games), Authors of Pain have won tag gold, dusty cups and tag three-way dances before and the team we here like to call Strong x Bitter have tag-team success written through their DNA with former PROGRESS, Ring of Honor & PWG reigns between them, a UK title still in their team's grasp and the knowledge that the first Dusty Classic was won by a makeshift team like them. If it's not clear, as a Midlands boy myself, I'm calling a win for Strong x Bitter and rooting for them but mostly, I'm just looking forward to watching some good, solid tag action. Expect lots of big strikes, big moves and at one point, if we're lucky, Pete Dunne will punch Adam Cole out of the air. Won't that be a treat?

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

If you're getting a sense of deja vu, yes, we did only recently see this match at the last TakeOver and also once more in between, as well as frequent attacks on each other. The dispute between these revolves around Baszler thinking Moon isn't fit to lead as she couldn't defeat Asuka, she couldn't hit the Eclipse on Baszler who kept her grounded having to use a roll-up to get victory and when Baszler was given another match, she won but via disqualification after an angry Kairi Sane returned and attacked her, only for Baszler to make reasonably easy work of Sane. Much like last time, expect this match to come down to a David-Goliath type match-up with Moon once again seeking that Eclipse top-rope stunner while Baszler will want to lock in and preferably never let go of the Kirifuda Clutch. As to whom shall walk out of that arena with the title, it's hard to call, it feels like Ember is only ever one Eclipse away from retaining but especially with her friend Ronda Rousey making her pro-wres debut the next night, it seems like maybe Baszler is being set up to take the title and run with it for a while, especially as there's still some unsolved animosity between Baszler, Sane and Dakota Kai to sort out if Moon were to make the move Main Roster-wards...

Unsanctioned Match: Johnny Gargano vs Tommaso Ciampa

This has been a long time coming, almost a year in fact. Let me take you back to Chicago as after they'd just lost their last shot at the NXT Tag Team Titles, Ciampa would turn viciously on Gargano, knowing that he was going to be out for a while on injury time, he wanted to make a statement before he did, one that for a long time, broke Gargano, forcing him to try and exorcise the monkey on his back that is Ciampa because that's what you do to monkey. Eventually Gargano started winning again, earning a shot at the NXT title but even then, wasn't quite enough and just as he was at his lowest, having lost his shot, there was Ciampa again because exorcising doesn't work on back monkeys, especially when they get involved in your Title vs Career rematch and force you to lose your job. It's at this point, the waters get muddied as Ciampa spent a few weeks struggling to get a word in edgeways as he simultaneously continued to be the best heel in NXT and also it's greatest hero for standing up to the awful sturmundrang of the NXT audience till he got tired of their caterwauling and Gargano's hounding of him and agreed to a match, unsanctioned of course because let's not forget, Gargano is fired but if he wins, he gets his job back, loses, he's gone forever.

There's almost too much history behind this match to cover but regardless, this is going to be one of the most emotional matches of the weekend, just as much, maybe more important to the wrestling scene as a whole than Kenny Omega vs Cody as every single second has the entire heart of NXT hanging in the balance, this is for something more important than the actual title, this is a match for the philosophical centre of the developmental brand, is this a place of good or evil? Also, most importantly, can this top Gargano v Almas because that shit was tight? As it's unsanctioned, expect this one to be more of a brawl than a technical classic. Ultimately, this seems like it's Gargano's match to win as he needs his job and assuming they get enough time for this, it's unlikely Ciampa looks any weaker in loss, especially coming back from a lengthy spell on the injured list but never count out the Sicilian psychopath as he might well pull it out of the bag, setting up his own chance at going after that big slice of NXT gold (and who amongst us doesn't see money in Black v Ciampa?) while Gargano, surely the bright post-mania lights of RAW or Smackdown could be a' callin'.

NXT Championship: Andrade Almas (c) vs Aleister Black

Cast your mind back to NXT TakeOver: Orlando last year, Tommy End, now going by the name Aleister Black made his official NXT debut (having competed against Neville at the United Kingdom Championship tournament) against Andrade 'Cien' Almas. It was a well-fought match but in the end, Black came out on top with reasonable ease. That was, however, a different Almas, that was Almas before he met Zelina Vega, that was Almas before his five-star classic with Johnny Gargano, that was the Almas that I usually dismissed by just calling him a 'lad'. He was floundering, now he's at the very top of the NXT pyramid of greatness and the man who calls himself 'The Idol' and '100' is a far more motivated and more dangerous man than he was this time last year, for proof of that, see how he dragged Black from car park to the ring, destroying and nearly drowning him along the way. Though in the other corner, somewhere between good and evil, sits Aleister Black, a man with only two losses to this particular name in NXT and one of those he wasn't even in or around the ring for, he's someone who's been on a tear and seemed like he's been destined for the NXT title since he stepped into Full Sail but no one should expect Almas and definitely not Vega to go down without one heck of a fight.

Pardon the innuendo but expect this one to go long and stiff as even with their differing backgrounds, both men are known as much for their technical expertise as the swift, hard-hitting nature of their strikes. They are both also known to bust out a moonsault or two every so often so that'll be fun. As much as Gargano-Ciampa is the biggest story going into the show, I'd still expect this one to go on last as it's the main title, it really should and I don't see any world in which if Gargano and Ciampa haven't tore the entire house down, that these two don't tear down the rest. As to who's walking out with that lovely golden belt, as much as I'd love to see Almas hold on to it forever, I think that Black is walking out with his first WWE prize slung over his shoulder and you know what, if the crowd chant 'you deserve it' at him, yeah, he bloody well does.

Any Other Predictions...

So with Pete Dunne in the Tag match, it's unlikely there'll be a separate UK Championship match, as a result, I'm going to assume the card is just these five matches and I'm fine with that as I can't see any of them not being at least good. This being a TakeOver, this is really the bit where I mostly speculate about what 'hottest free agent' will be in the crowd, this time around, I will keep saying that it could be Christopher (Donovan) Dijak but really it could be anyone. I mean, as part of the deal with PROGRESS and EVOLVE, Keith Lee, WALTER, Zack Gibson and others will be participating in Axxess so who knows? If it turns out to be Jason Kincaid, I don't really know anything about him so you'll have to come up with your own thoughts. Of course, the big question we all have is will Triple H appear and do a big crowd warm-up 'we are NXT' speech? I hope so, who doesn't pop for those every, damn, time?

Article By Jozef Raczka (@NotJoeRaczka)

WWE NXT Review // 4th April 2018

On 4th April 2018, WWE aired its 294th episode of NXT, filmed at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida on 7th March and the last episode before NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. Our main event was an encounter between the 'Physical Freak' Lars Sullivan and the 'Beast of Belfast' Killian Dain, two of the competitors in Saturday's Ladder match. We also had our Dusty Rhodes Tag-Team Classic final between Pete Dunne & Roderick Strong and Authors of Pain, as well as Kairi Sane vs Vanessa Borne. Going into what is the second biggest event of the year for NXT, this had a lot riding on it to take us home in style, But was it any good?

Charly Caruso is in the NXT Control Centre to give us an update on the Dusty Classic goings-on including footage of Michael B. Hayes, Dustin Rhodes & a third man who presumably means something to someone arriving to watch the big match but also to confirm that one-half of the tag-team champions, Bobby Fish is injured and won't be able to compete on Saturday. What does this mean? Well, let's find out...

Dusty Rhodes Classic Final // Strong x Bitter def. Authors of Pain // Double DQ

There was an interesting cycle of intent to this match as last time Roderick Strong was in the ring with the Authors was the WarGames match when he stood alongside them but the aim has always remained the same - to dismantle The Undisputed Era. Equally interesting is the fact that no one on commentary thought to mention this. Despite not having a conclusive ending, this is still a match of two halves as it didn't really kick into gear until the Roderick Strong hot-tag. There was a weird atmosphere as you have basically tweener Dunne playing the (surprisingly effective) bruiserweight-in-peril as the Authors work him over with a faintly uninspired heat section but the crowd were half-behind the big murder men, possibly they are mistaking babyface for actually having baby faces, also for this, see Braun Strowman. As previously mentioned, when the Strong hot-tag kicked in, there was no doubt who the crowd were behind as the tag wasn't the only thing that was hot. I'm on about the crowd, not Roderick's chiseled chin (though that thing sure is chiseled). The fascinating thing about Strong x Bitter is how over three short-ish matches, they've really begun to gel and find a certain continuity between performances. They still aren't as cohesive as Dunne is with Mark Andrews or Trent Seven or Strong is with Austin Aries but they've really managed to carve a niche in the division and the double team Bitter End they've been using is a thing of beauty. Just as the match was really hitting a good bit, Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly crashed the ring, attacking all four competitors, leading to a Double Disqualification. I don't have a problem with a screwy finish like this as such as it seems completely in character for The Undisputed Era, even though I can see how some might take umbridge with us not being given a good, clean finish here. It's odd that the problem I had with this match was the Authors as recent performances seemed to really show a massive up in quality of performances by them and this seemed like a slip back into old habits and weak heat. Hopefully another pre-Mania Triple Threat will bring out the best in them again.

Cole & O'Reilly beat up everyone until they try and bail, William Regal appears and tells the Era that they thought they were being clever, making sure they had no opponents for their titles on Saturday but instead, now they have more than one and books a Triple Threat between The Era, Strong x Bitter & Authors of Pain for the titles and the Dusty Cup.

We get a mighty fine video package for the NXT North American Championship Ladder match. Highlights of this include EC3 chilling by the pool, Velveteen Dream wearing a nice floral shirt and Killian Dain enjoying an oil-drum fire.

We get an even better video package for Gargano v Ciampa which if it doesn't have you feeling misty-eyed, you feel nothing. Other plus sides of this, video and photos from Gargano's wedding giving us NXT cameos for 'Dustin' Chuck Taylor & M-Dogg Matt Cross. Seriously though, this was crazy good.

Kairi Sane def. Vanessa Borne // Pinfall

Quick squash m8. This was quite clearly a match to re-establish Sane as being part of the Women's title scene post-TakeOver. Borne is still struggling to bring the heel swagger she emits during her entrances to her ring work, still looking a little clumsy when in control though she does sell well for these short matches. This was too brief to really be a showcase for either women as though Sane has the audience right where she wants them, her particular match-style works a lot better given fifteen-plus minutes than the two/three minutes here. Sane, unsurprisingly, wins with the Insane Elbow top rope elbow drop. The plus side of this is with Baszler, Moon, Sane and maybe Nikki Cross, Candice LeRae and Dakota Kai in contention for the title, the NXT women's division is in good hands

The crowd of disembodied hands listen to Lacey Evans make a statement about her place in the Women's division. She does her standard thing: calls people trash, talks about her past as a marine and a mother, she saves her last words for Kairi Sane, stating that she will take her opportunity and show her what class looks like.

The Undisputed Era complain to, or more exactly, at Regal backstage about him being unfair, Regal tells them they have three options: Cole competes in both matches, O'Reilly defends the tag titles alone, Cole gives up his spot in the Ladder Match.

We get another excellent video package, this time for Almas v Black. The production team normally do sterling work on these but I have to give them extra credit for this week as they have gone above and beyond.

We get a recap of Moon brawling with Baszler last week. Moon is interviewed afterwards, she's not sorry for what she did as Baszler was disrespecting a coach and acts like she deserves everything without earning it. Shayna started this but Ember is going to end it.

Next Week: Kairi Sane vs Lacey Evans.

Lars Sullivan vs. Killian Dain // No Contest

The big thing of note here is that these two have shown that if the WWE wanted to run a G1-style big lads tournament, they could make it work as this was, for the most part, your classic super heavyweight clobber-off. They worked a good contest, especially considering neither men has exactly been known for doing much in the way of longer matches, except for in multi-man competition such as the NXT Championship Number One Contender's Fatal Four-Way where they first threw hands but they held their own and my attention, keeping the most of it quite simply being the two men trading strikes and power moves in an effort to assert dominance though neither men was able to actually get the upper hand. The finish, while the crowd loved it, seemed poorly thought out to me as the match was thrown out after the four men also in the ladder match hit the ring one after another and did a bit of shtick to increasingly loud pops. This wouldn't have been a terrible way to end an episode if they hadn't pulled the Double DQ finish to the Dusty Classic Final just at the beginning of the episode. Having an hour of TV with three short-ish matches, two of which have non-finishes feels a little like they're going too much in the way of 'keeping something for the pay-per-view'. That said, it was satisfying seeing how over each man's signature taunt is and I'm sure that sometime after TakeOver, we'll get a rematch betwixt these two that on the basis of this, could be really rather good.

On The YouTubes

EC3 tells Cathy Kelly why he's going to be the one to win that shiny, new belt.

Ricochet also tells Cathy Kelly why it is, in fact, He, who will be winning the shiny, new belt.


SIt's an odd one because as an episode of television, it was slightly disappointing with two non-finishes to matches including a concluding moment to the show which was both exciting and deflating but also as a part of an ongoing story and a go-home show for Saturday's show, the lovely little video packages running through the show and the almost-preview matches for the Ladder and Triple Threat Championship matches really did make me more excited about what comes next. This wasn't a leap in itself but it was certainly a good lift-off, now let's hope they stick the landing.

Written By Jozef Raczka // @NotJoeRaczka

Monday, 2 April 2018

My WrestleMania Moments

Next week signals the biggest week of the wrestling calendar itself as WWE descends on the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana for WrestleMania 34.

With Brock Lesnar set to defend the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns, The Undertaker set to return to take on John Cena, Ronda Rousey set to make her in-ring debut as she teams up with Kurt Angle to take on Triple H and Stephanie McMahon amongst other matches, it should prove to be a memorable edition.

WrestleMania 33 will mark the 16th WrestleMania I have watched live and despite the highs and lows of wrestling, it still remains something that always managed to excite me.

I was lucky enough to attend last years WrestleMania in Orlando, Florida, which was the culmination of a lifelong dream. It was a terrific experience, reminding me why I love the wacky world of professional wrestling and all it's highs and lows. 

But what do I see as the most memorable WrestleMania moments since I've been watching? Here are my top five.

The End of The Undertaker's Streak

Certainly the most shocking moment for my money, as Brock Lesnar put an end to a 21 year streak. 

The best thing about this was how low key the build up to the match was. It just seemed like it was going to be yet another victory for Taker,  all the way until the actual finish.

After that, several questions went through people's heads. Was that planned? Did Brock go into business for himself? Was the Undertaker supposed to kick out? When this daft old sport can make you question things like that, you know you're onto a winner. 

Shawn Michaels retires 

The end of the Heartbreak Kid's storied career came at the end of WrestleMania 26 in one of the best moments in recent memory. 

A two year rivalry with a wrestler's competitive spirit and obsession with achieving greatness leading to his downfall was by far the best story told in recent years.  

This is a moment that still lasts to this day, largely due to the fact that it was the definitive end for HBK when so many retirements have gone the opposite way. A true 'WrestleMania Moment'.

Daniel Bryan becomes WWE World Heavyweight Champion. 

If anything could describe Daniel Bryan defying the odds to end the biggest WrestleMania of all time, it would be fan power. 

As the fans hijacked numerous attempts by WWE to force a main event of Batista v Randy Orton on them, they were made to change their plans and the rest is history.

Although the aftermath wasn't what we wanted, there is nothing better than seeing an underdog achieve their dreams, and that is exactly what happened here.

The Rock takes on Hulk Hogan

A clash of two icons during WrestleMania X8 saw The Rock and Hulk Hogan take part in one of the biggest dream matches of the century.

It's a match that had me on the edge of my seat as a child, and my appreciation for seeing two of the best of all-time has only increased to this day. 

Showing their understanding of the crowd, Hogan wrestled the match as as a babyface and added to already electric atmosphere in the stadium, giving the fans exactly what they want.

Cena and Batista become stars  

WrestleMania has become somewhat of a nostalgia trip in recent years, with part timers coming back to take on each other becoming a new theme for the show.

The last time WWE successfully looked to the future was shockingly over a decade ago at Wrestlemania 21 when John Cena defeated John Bradshaw Layfield to become WWE Champion and Batista defeated Triple H to become World Heavyweight Champion.

By creating two detestable heels in JBL and Triple H that had talked and cheated their way to victory for months, WWE helped create two of the biggest babyfaces in recent memory, and in an era where they are severely lacking stars, the company could do worse than to follow this template again. 

Written by Andy Phillips //