Monday, 5 November 2018

PPV Review // WWE Evolution // Ronda Rousey vs. Nikki Bella

On 28th October 2018, just over three week's removed from Super Show-Down, WWE presented it's first ever women's only PPV, Evolution, at the Nassau Colliseum in Uniondale, New York. Billed as a historic moment for women everywhere, the show was main evented by Ronda Rousey defending her RAW Women's Championship against Nikki Bella, whilst other top matches saw Charlotte Flair get a shot at Becky Lynch's SmackDown Women's Championship in a Last Women Standing match and an NXT Women's Championship match between champion Kairi Sane and challenger Shayna Baszler, whilst Sash Banks, Trish Stratus, Natalya, Mickie James and Kelly Kelly were all also in action. But was it any good? Lets take a look.

Trish Stratus & Lita returned for their first matches since the Royal Rumble in January, picking up the victory over Mickie James & Alicia Fox in a simple and fun opening match, that had more than a little nostalgia to help it through. Whilst both Stratus & Lita have performed on a number of occasions since their "retirement" matches, this was the longest either has spent in the ring since 2006, so it would be unfair to comment on some of the sequences being a little awkward, especially considering there was more than enough that worked. A handful of nice moments between Stratus and James, especially the build up to the top rope rana, made this more than worth it's spot on the card. James and Fox both worked hard to make their opponents look every inch of the stars that they possibly could, with some sound and solid heel work, helped by logical booking, whilst James in particular sold very well, in one of her best performances since her return. It's a shame that Alexa Bliss was out injured as her involvement would have upped the level of "moments" that could have taken place within the match and whilst Fox has a nice Northern Lights suplex, she felt more like someone there to make up the numbers and even ended up being out of position on breaking up a nearfall right at the end. What really made this match come together though was the crowd treating it as something special, getting behind Stratus & Lita and booing James & Fox, stuff like that makes all the difference for me as a viewer at home adding to each moment or spot the ladies went for. 

Dasha Fuentes interviewed The Bella Twins with Nikki possibly cutting her best promo of all time, heeling it up fantastically as she dedicated her match to Ronda Rousey's Mom.

The IIconis got some promo time before the battle royal, which was cute, they mocked the legends and putting themselves over. You can guess the first spot of the match. 

Nia Jax earned a shot at the RAW Women's Championship, by last eliminating Ember Moon, in an entertaining over-the-top rope battle royal. The majority of the legends included were used to put over the regular roster with that and the fact that almost every elimination felt like it's own moment, meant that there were a number of wrestlers who came out of the battle royal better off for having taken part. The IIconics got a lot of time before the match before their instant elimination, Sonya Deville & Mandy Rose eliminated Molly Holly, Kelly Kelly and Torrie Wilson before Rose turned on Deville, Carmella got to dance with Ivory before helping her new friend to eliminate Rose and Asuka worked a nice sequence to eliminate Ivory. The highlight for me had to be Ember Moon eliminating Asuka, because the crowd was hot for a showdown between the two former NXT rivals and Moon finally managed to get one over on the woman she could never take the NXT Women's title off. There was some awkardness though, as Lana ended up being out position for a spot involving Jax and Tamina, whilst Carmella and Moon ended up cocking up a tilt-a-whirl rana spot, which Michael Cole would describe as rather unique. The crowd seemed to be behind Moon winning the match when it came down to her and Jax, which is always a problem when going for a babyface final two, but if it leads to something more substantial down the two, who have been portrayed as friends on RAW, then this finish will be absolutely fine.

After the match, Jax was interviewed by Charly Caruso about whether she'd rather face Nikki Bella or Ronda Rousey for the title, with Jax wishing them both the best and telling them to enjoy the moment, because it won't last long. Short and simple and got a big pop, lovely stuff. 

Toni Storm won the 2018 Mae Young Classic in a ten minute sprint of a match with Io Shirai. The bout was choc-full of action from the beginning, kicking off with some technicality before launching into a series of big moves and reversals that didn't stop until Storm hit her second Storm Zero for the win. Obviously, with more time the pair could have worked some better storyline elements into things and created a match with more depth, but the brevity also made the match stand out on a card that was packed with big time singles matches in it's second half. The two have competed a number of times together in Stardom in Japan over the last two and half years and that was clear to see from the crispness of their action, the speed at which they moved and the number of risks they took for a couple of memorable spots. The work towards the German suplex on the apron from Storm and Shirai's beautiful moonsault to the outside stand out in particular, whilst Shirai's sunset flip was something else too. It was a shame we didn't get a few more convincing near falls for Shirai, which felt mostly down to the time the two had, but to pack ten minutes with such high quality, exciting pro wrestling is a testament to the talent of both women. Hopefully we see a lot more them both in NXT and NXT UK soon.

Bayley, Sasha Banks and Natalya picked up the win over Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan (collectively known as the Riott Squad) in a six woman tag that was put together well, but fell apart later on for a number of reasons. The first of these reasons was Sasha Banks seemingly being at least a half step of the pace for her hot tag, which did come after some lovely work from the Riott Squad and Bayley as the hugger in peril. There were a number of sequences that Banks had that just weren't up to scratch, that featured good ideas, but didn't pay off. With The Boss working the hot tag this obviously hurt the match, killing the pace and knocking timing off in other areas. The biggest problem came when Banks attempted what I think was supposed to be a tope con hilo and had to be saved by her opponents. The other issue for me was the spot that saw Bayley jumping on top of Banks to save her from a diving senton from Riott, which was just a stupid thing to do. Maybe if the timing had been better it would have looked like a heroic moment of friendship, but at the time it happened simply pushing Riott off the top rope or moving Banks out of the way made much better sense. There were some nice moments like Morgan breaking up a double sharpshooter from Natty on Riott and Logan, the bout was structured nicely for the spot on the card it had, which makes it even more frustrating that the bout didn't live up to it's potential had everything gone to plan. The Riott Squad losing another big match so soon after Super Show-Down probably means it's time to end the group and send Riott out on her own.

In the only title change of the night, Shayna Baszler won back the NXT Women's Championship from Kairi Sane in Evolution's second best match, using the Kirufuda clutch for submission victory. Whilst a notch down from their NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 4 match, Baszler and Sane continued to show plenty of chemistry, with their two characters seemingly made to get the other over. The back and forth flurry at the start grabbed the crowd well with the brawling being some of the best work in the match as Sane looked to go toe to toe with the harder striker. Sane's diving crossbody to the floor, as well as Baszler getting lobbed over the barricade onto some NXT performers at ringside provided the match with some replayable moments later on and whilst the narrative wasn't as strong as their last encounter Baszler did some solid work targeting the arm that Sane sold well. The finish was perhaps a little overbooked with Baszler's Four Horsewomen pals Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir getting involved for a couple of spots on the road to Baszler being able to lock in the Kirafuda Clutch for a second time. This followed on from a call-back near fall as they repeated the finish from Brooklyn, that perhaps deserved a better reaction from the Nassau Coliseum. I'm looking forward to seeing where this feud goes next on NXT, how Sane goes about looking to regain the title and how the Duke & Shafir play into the story.

The match of the night came in the form of a Last Woman Standing match that saw Becky Lynch retain the SmackDown Women's Championship against Charlotte Flair. This was easily in the Top 5 of it's type in WWE (maybe higher) for me, with Lynch and Flair producing a physical and compelling match-up with plenty of big spots and animosity. The crowd being almost completely behind Lynch throughout with Flair able to flip into a tweener role worked well, for a number of sequences, without diluting the edge that has made Lynch's "heel turn" so fun to begin with, including an early moment with Lynch going nuts with a kendo stick. There was some recycled tropes that from recent Last Man Standing matches, like Lynch burying Flair under a pile of chairs, but more often than not the action was creative with a general feeling of escalation for each highspot and near fall. Particular highlights for me included the nasty looking back suplex onto a chair from Flair, the Figure Eight using the ladder and the mad leg drop off a ladder through the announce table from Lynch. Flair's back suplex onto a chair. There were a couple of moments that didn't seem to go anyway, with the brawl in the crowd being a particular creative cul-de-sac, as well as the terrified look on Lynch's face when Flair escaped the rubble, which I'm sure looked good on paper but came across as particularly lame in execution. Often these types of matches can struggle to find a satisfying finish after packing in so much action, but I felt Flair and Lynch came up with big enough spot to conclude this one with Lynch powerbombing Charlotte off the apron through a table to retain her title. The move looked brutal and both women sold it well, whilst there was also a question about whether Flair could still make it back to her feet to keep the match going. Overall, I feel like this is the match that the PPV will be remember for amongst the majority of fans and both women should be proud of what is probably their best match since leaving NXT.

Whilst it probably would've had been better received in a different spot on the card, Ronda Rousey's victory over Nikki Bella, was a serviceable main event that did a stellar job of placing Rousey in an underdog role. The structure was simplistic but played to the strengths of the three characters involved, perhaps ironically using elements of the finish of Rousey's Four Horsewoman stablemate Shayna Baszler's NXT Championship match earlier in the night, as Brie Bella allowed Nikki to control the mid-section of the match following absolute domination from Rousey. It's easy to dislike the Bella Twins, especially one returning to main event a PPV, meaning there was lots of fun to be had in Rousey lobbing both of them about the place, including sending Brie over the announce table and perhaps into orbit. A couple of big spots gave the match a WWE main event feel, with  the double reverse kata-gurama, the aforementioned announce table spot and a sweet top rope transition into the armbar as the finish standing out, whilst Bella also got a strong near fall off an slightly awkward Rack Attack 2.0. Yes, it could have been longer, but another five minutes almost definitely would have exposed either Rousey or Bella, probably both. There's a strong argument to be made that Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch deserved to be the main event with the pair much more capable of closing the show, and personally I can see that this swap would have benefitted both matches, whilst also understanding WWE's decision to have Rousey (who is one of the biggest stars of any gender in the company right now) close their first ever women's only PPV as they make her focal point of the promotion. The fact that Rousey main evented the show could also provide fuel for the rumoured WrestleMania match between Rousey and Flair. 

ATPW Scale Rating - 6.94/10 

Show in a Sentence - A real triumph, that proved many doubters wrong, showcasing the depth and potential of the current female roster, whilst celebrating the stars of the past. 

Written by James Marston 

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