WWE: MomentMania (2015)

★★★★

I tend to write these WWE reviews in the form of an overarching blether, without much structure. They’re not even really reviews, just general thoughts on the state of the product at the conclusion of a particular pay-per-view. WrestleMania happened last night – y’know, that wrestling event sort of familiar to non-fans? The one all over television, bearing more taglines than Shawn Michaels? (My personal favourite is ‘showcase of the immortals’). A lot happened, and there’s inevitably a lot to talk about. For that reason, I’m going to do this match-by-match.

Some updated thoughts are given in bold brackets after each main show match review.

Tag Title Fatal 4-Way

This was fun. There were eleven people involved in a variety of spots, and the match flowed well considering the potential chaos. Kidd and Cesaro retained.

Winner: Kidd & Cesaro

Rating: 3 (White)

WM - Tag

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

NXT’s own Hideo Itami won a tournament over the weekend to enter this match, but maybe he should’ve stayed in Orlando. I’m not entirely sure why they had him in this; he never got an entrance and was eliminated early via Big Show, who eventually went over (ironically, by not going over). Nor am I entirely sure why they went with Show as the victor. Cole mentioned he’d never won a battle royal before, so perhaps they wanted to impart some legitimacy on the giant for future reference. However, this should’ve belonged to Mizdow. His split with Miz was rightly predictable and well executed. Cesaro was also over huge. Vince must not watch the pre-shows.

Winner: Big Show

Rating: 2 (White)

WM - Mizdow

Intercontinental Title Ladder Match

Daniel Bryan opened the show to a huge ovation (presumably Vince missed this too). The most affable man on the planet went on thereafter to win the title. Dean Ambrose took a nasty bump through a ladder, and it turns out R-Truth is in fact a wrestler. The crowd were damn loud during this, especially for Dolph Ziggler and our favourite bearded warrior. All of the guys deserve credit given the painfully tough environment. Look, it’s great and all that they’re lumping the IC title on the best wrestler in the world, but he shouldn’t be in this spot. 70,000 people were going crazy for him. Hey, whatever.

(UPDATE: These multi-man ladder matches are always dangerous and the guys involved deserve plaudits for taking risks. This one was as good as the old WrestleMania MITB ladder car crashes and, even though he shouldn’t have been in this position, Bryan winning and getting his moment was the right decision.)

Winner: Daniel Bryan

Rating: 4 (White)

WM - Bryan

Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins

This was a solid match. I think a lot of us were hoping that this one would steal the show – the guys over at Inside The Ropes talked about Orton needing a WrestleMania moment, and this could’ve been it. I don’t think the bout was quite at that level, but the ending was exceptionally well executed. Orton reversed a Curb Stomp into an RKO (from outta nowhere!!!) and it was bloody delightful. I love the RKO, it’s my favourite finisher, and Orton is constantly thinking of new ways to execute it. I’m hoping for a stellar rematch at Extreme Rules in Chicago.

(UPDATE: I’m still reeling over that RKO. Presumably these guys will go at it again next month, presumably for the title. If so, I can’t wait.)

Winner: Randy Orton

Rating: 3 (White)

WM - Rollins

Sting vs. Triple H

Sting – who entered first to a weird Japanese drum thing – must’ve been rethinking his contract terms as he watched Triple H do the full Terminator shabang. It divided opinion on Twitter, but I really liked the presentation even though it was a mega babyface entrance. Perhaps that’s just the movie lover in me. The match itself wasn’t really a match. DX and the nWo showed up, which was cool and super over with the crowd. Triple H’s leg looked badly bruised, so maybe this was a way to compensate and save both guys some time in-ring. Triple H went over because he can’t lose to a 56 year old and Vince can’t have WWE lose to WCW. Come on guys. For me, this undid some of the work they put in.

(UPDATE: In hindsight, I probably done these two a disservice. It was actually a decent match. Sting still should’ve gone over. Triple H started the night as a heel, switched to babyface with the handshake, and then went heel again later. That’s either poor booking or an ego thing. Regardless, I’ve upped this to three stars.) 

Winner: Triple H

Rating: 3 (White)

WM - HHH

AJ Lee & Paige vs. The Bella Twins

Not the divas match we all hoped for, primarily because they didn’t get enough time, which is a shame. AJ and Paige won. For future reference, maybe WWE should cut the ten minute musical act that nobody cares about and, y’know, #GiveDivasAChance.

(UPDATE: They needed more time.)

Winners: AJ Lee & Paige

Rating: 2 (White)

WM - AJ

Rusev vs. John Cena

Rusev trampled all over Triple Terminator with his insanely devious tank entrance, accompanied by the brilliant Lana. Cena got the patriotic montage treatment and the crowd still booed him. This was hard-hitting, as expected, but not as good as their match at Fastlane. Cena added another move to his repertoire (surely we’ve hit double figures by now) – the Cena Stunner! Austin was surely grinning from ear to ear, with sincerity too. The finish was quite damp. It only took one Attitude Adjustment to end the Russian/Bulgarian’s streak. I do like Cena as US champ though. Hopefully he and D-Bry and decriminalise the secondary titles now.

(UPDATE: That tank entrance was an absolute winner. This felt much the same upon second viewing. Kudos to Lana for her spot on ‘it wasn’t me’ reaction after the shoe throw. Rusev is very good, I really hope they keep him strong.)

Winner: John Cena

Rating: 3 (White)

WM - Rusev

Triple H/Steph & Rock/Ronda Segment

Triple H and Steph hit the ring and HHH became a heel again (after shaking hands with Sting earlier). The Rock appeared because that’s what he does these days. He’s been at every WrestleMania since 27 (as a host, a main-eventer and a surprise). I love The Rock, and I always will, but I’m sort of over the whole shtick now. It’s the same every time: Michael Cole loses his mind; Rock takes forever to walk to the ring; he stands silently waiting for a Rocky chant; he practices for his appearance on Catchphrase, and so on. Thankfully, he tagged in Ronda Rousey and she saved the segment. I can’t see her wrestling Steph any time soon, sadly. Rousey has a fight lined up and is, presumably, under contract to UFC.

(UPDATE: This went longer than any of the matches – twenty-five minutes – when it really didn’t have to. Steph was devilishly on point. I missed The Rock skip miming after his fallopian tube joke, which is hilarious. The pop for Rousey was brilliant. She’s a star, big time.)

WM - Rousey

Bray Wyatt vs. Undertaker

Neither entrance looked as good as they would have in darkness. It’s amazing how much stock we – or at least I – put in entrances. I prefer east coast outdoor venues and indoor stadiums, but it’s not a massive issue. Begone, light! Taker looked great, probably the best visually since he shaved off his hair in 2012. Bray Wyatt’s entrance was apparently an audition for the horror Wizard of Oz remake. The crowd were quite quiet during this, certainly at the beginning, which is understandable given the length of the show and the heat. Wyatt executed his spider walk and then melted to the mat before an up-sitting Deadman in what was an outstanding moment. Taker pinned Wyatt after a second Tombstone (only one AA to defeat Rusev though). This was a fine match, but Wyatt winning would’ve been more exciting and daring.

(UPDATE: I think Taker has almost cornered himself at WrestleMania given his amazing track record when it comes to match quality in the last decade. This was better than last year, but nowhere near the level of the HBK or even HHH bouts. Much like Rusev, I hope they don’t drop the ball with Wyatt now. Give him something with depth and he’ll make it work.)

Winner: Undertaker

Rating: 3 (White)

WM - Taker

Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar

Unsurprisingly, the people weren’t that enamoured by Roman. Brock was a mega babyface. Reigns shouldn’t have been in this spot: he’s not particularly likeable; he’s not over; and he has yet to exceed upper mid-card level. Brock’s early F5 was rousing and the stadium exploded. It’s almost as if the crowd ingested all of those roasting sunshine rays and subsequently discharged them all over Roman. He was booed big time. This match was suplex city again but Reigns kept laughing, presumably as he realised how not-over he was.

The story seemed obvious from the get-go: Lesnar to beat up Roman just like he beat up Cena, but Roman to overcome it. After an ass-whipping, Rollins’ music hit. He cashed in and pinned Reigns. I didn’t see this coming at all – in fact, I thought Rollins was going to fail and take the pinfall to get rid of the briefcase spectre and keep the Reigns/Lesnar feud going. I like that Lesnar wasn’t pinned. Unanswered questions are abound: Who is the number one contender? Is Lesnar? Or Orton? Where does Reigns go? There was a heck of a lot riding on this match and, to WWE’s credit, they adapted. Hardly anybody wanted to see Reigns leave as champ, therefore he didn’t. I would’ve preferred Brock going over but I understand the thinking, and Rollins is phenomenal.

(UPDATE: I underrated this. Wrestling is about drama and suspension of disbelief, and they dramatically fooled me. It was a little too similar to the Cena SummerSlam match, but this one had even more at stake. “Suplex City bitch!” is ready-made merchandise money. Brock is WWE’s biggest asset and he should be booked as such until he decides to lace up the boots. Reigns done well here too – his comeback was (terrifyingly) excellent. Rollins has that main event aura. I updated this to four stars.)

Winner: Seth Rollins

Rating: 4 (White)

WM - Brock

This WrestleMania was all about the special moment, and maybe that’s how it should be. Mizdow’s breakaway. Bryan winning. Various entrances. DX versus nWo. Ronda Rousey. Spider walk versus sit-up. Rollins’ cash-in. Those were all thrilling moments built upon either forsaken hope or unshaken nostalgia. The in-ring action wasn’t anything to write home about though. For me, the wrestling never quite piqued. The opener and main event worked best, the former for its anxiety-driven excitement and the latter for its raw drama. The crowd in San Jose seemed to enjoy the show a lot, which is important because those folks paid heaps of cash to be there. As a home viewer, I think it was good. Occasionally great.

(UPDATE: To be fighting it out with WM17 and WM19 as one of the best ever, I think the show needed a few classic matches. There weren’t any bad bouts to be fair, only good matches and greater moments. I normally avoid 0.5 scores, so even though the show was probably 3.5 stars, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and round up to 4.)

On January 26th, 2014 CM Punk tweeted: “The view never changes”. This tweet, and all that followed, really hurt.

On January 27th, 2015 Seth Rollins tweeted: “I am the light at the end of the tunnel”. He was right. How exciting.

WM - Seth

Images credit: WWE

WWE: The Royal Fumble (2015)

★★

Film folks, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.

I want to talk about that old rasslin’ thing for a moment. I’ve watched wrestling for over fifteen years and, just as it’d be stupid for me to claim uber knowledge in how to direct or write a movie, it’d also be stupid for me to claim that I know better than the people who slave away with pens and paper behind the scenes in WWE. Those guys and girls have probably been constructing stories within and outwith the world of pro wrestling for most of their professional lives. But I do think that a decade and a half of persistent viewing has chiselled at least a small amount of know-how into my brain as relates to the genre.

Everything was going swimmingly during the Royal Rumble last night. Sure, the hour-long tag team extravaganza was a bit much, but the Philly crowd were loud and made sure the show remained entertaining to watch — on a side note, let’s not forget that without an interactive and energetic audience like the one last night, the first half of this show wouldn’t have been nearly as good. Brock Lesnar, John Cena and Seth Rollins then had an outstanding triple threat match. All three guys were brilliant in their roles (Lesnar as the ruthless monster, Cena as the seasoned threat, Rollins as the imperious upstart) and Brock looked stronger than ever picking up the victory.

Rumble - WWE title

The Royal Rumble match itself started incredibly well too. We saw the return of Bubba Ray Dudley — once again, a deafening reaction from the Philly crowd elevated the moment — and there was a cool spot involving the Wyatt Family. Then Daniel Bryan arrived and the place exploded. Going into the match Bryan and Roman Reigns were the two clear favourites (murmurings of The Rock’s presence gave him a late boost).

I’m not going to lie: I wanted Bryan to win, and why shouldn’t I have? Randy Orton jokes aside, he is the guy that I love to watch more than anyone. Having said that, I — like many other Bryan fans on Twitter — was pretty much consigned to the fact that for the second year running he wasn’t going to pick up the victory and Reigns would receive that honour (or poised chalice) instead. Which, honestly, is fine. WWE needs new stars. Badly. Reigns could be a star. He looks fantastic, is young, can get better in the ring and can improve promo-wise too. Roman Reigns winning the Royal Rumble is not the problem.

Now, after last year’s debacle where Bryan was kept out of the Rumble match and the crowd booed eventual winner Dave Batista out of the building, fans had every right to believe that somewhere backstage the conglomerate of writers would come up with a smart plan of action. One that could get Bryan out of the Rumble without lauding heat on Reigns. As I mentioned earlier I’m not trying to book wrestling here, but I have watched long enough to know that what happened after Bryan’s entrance was abysmally conceived.

D-Bry was the eleventh wrestler/superstar eliminated. The fans in the arena, who for all intents and purposes had helped make the show as great as it had been up until that point, hated it. Just like last year they booed and hissed and chanted for Bryan and chanted for CM Punk and demanded refunds. Roman Reigns then entered shortly thereafter and they booed him too. Reigns would go on to win the match as expected, eliminating two proverbial giants and the undefeated Rusev in the end. Philly hated it. I hated it. Many people on Twitter hated it (some didn’t).

Bryan out

There are people in WWE who have been part of wrestling for decades. Triple H is smart guy. Vince has run the biggest wrestling company since before time. Yet for some reason nobody backstage suspected this toxic outpouring — or, at least, nobody important enough did. Of course fans were going to hate on Bryan getting eliminated because they love him; he never lost his WWE title, he’s the best babyface on the roster and he’s bloody amazing at doing that wrestling thing that sometimes happens. Of course fans were going hate on Reigns winning because a lot of them dislike the direction he’s going in; he’s cutting promos containing embarrassing content, he wears terrible gear and he is being booked just like John Cena who a lot of fans also dislike. Incidentally, none of this is Reigns’ fault.

Reigns entering at a point when Bryan’s elimination was fresh in the audience psyche and then going on to show superhuman abilities by eliminating three monsters was never, ever going to end with gargantuan smiles and patted backs for all involved. And having The Rock arrive to (unsuccessfully) give Reigns some shine compounds the overarching point: for some reason, the WWE creative team are feeding Reigns burgers and pizzas when his body is still at the baby food stage. At the Royal Rumble last night, they pulled the rug from under him by booking his victory terribly.

The Philly fans have been getting a lot of stick online for their negative reaction to the whole fiasco, as are us cry-babies on the internet. “They should stop watching if they don’t like it”; “it’s about more than just the IWC”; “stop moaning, it’s only wrestling”. As much as I felt bad for Roman Reigns, I do think the crowd were totally justified in delivering their outpouring of hostility. People have as much right to complain about shocking booking as they do complain about complainers.

Rumble - Rock Reigns

There is a prevalent notion that the IWC are a small ragtag band of scallywags who whine in darkened rooms on their WWE Network-compatible devices (in fact, that sounds about right). I don’t know the answer to this one, but I wonder how many of the four million RAW viewers fit the scallywag bill. Besides, it’s not just the smart-marks who love Daniel Bryan. More people are behind him than they are Roman Reigns. Surely as a company that wants to sell tickets and Networks and make money, you push your most popular star with greater purpose than your semi-popular stars, especially while the popular one is still in his prime.

CM Punk spoke to Colt Cabana last year and told him about a conversation he once had with Ryback, where he said: “you either tell me right now you’re dumb as fuck and you suck or you did it on purpose”. Does Vince hate his fans? Does he allow this level of ignorance on purpose? Or are those running the company just dumb as… well, you know. The booking at the Royal Rumble suggests the latter. The problem isn’t Roman Reigns, it’s the feeble and fruitless creative effort.

It is just wrestling. But having invested fifteen years of my life into it, I’m not so keen on walking away. Like me, I suspect lots of the IWC fans are long-term viewers with many years of investment. There’s no need to abandon something just because you don’t like it. If I’d stopped watching anything Matthew McConaughey was in after Sahara, I’d never have seen Interstellar or Mud or True Detective.

The reason this whole booking catastrophe has infuriated so many so much is because it has never been so plainly obvious that something in the creative department is terminally wrong. This means there’s an inherent lack of faith in how storylines are booked, and therefore a lack of faith in the future. Sure, WrestleMania will still be great. WWE will still alleviate our pain with special moments, but it’ll never be consistent and there is nothing more frustrating than watching ponderous and unnecessary inconsistency play out in front of your eyes.

And where the hell was Randy Orton?

Bryan

Images credit: WWE, Bleacher Report

WWE: Money in the Bank (2013)

Money in the Bank has garnered a reputation since its conception of being arguably the most exciting Pay-Per-View of the year. Last night, the combination of a raucous Philly crowd, two excellent heavyweight title matches and two exceptional ladder matches held up Money in the Bank’s reputation in what turned out to be another very good Pay-Per-View in a year of very good WWE Pay-Per-Views.

PPV Thoughts

With so many newsworthy developments, I think it is only fair to begin with the match that bludgeoned up the majority of these — the All-Star Money in the Bank ladder match. With Kane out of proceedings after the Wyatt Family debut and subsequent steel-step-face-mush on RAW last week, the match became a six-man bout. The Philly crowd were hot just about all night and exploded when Rob Van Dam made his (almost) triumphant return. It is very cool to see RVD back in the WWE. It is also incredible (though not particularly surprising) that he looked like more of a superstar in one night than he has done in the past three years over in TNA.

This match closed the show and was one of the more brutal Money in the Bank ladder matches in recent years, with both RVD and CM Punk needing staples to close head wounds afterwards (poor Christian also chipped his tooth — yes, he was in the match). RVD executed the usual RVD spots just about as well as he has done in the past, and even hit a Five-Star Frog Splash from the top of a very high and jittery ladder. Sheamus took a painful looking tumble through a ladder parked on the outside towards the end of the match — apparently Sin Cara is giving away DVDs of this moment to any and all.

As the match began to gear up to its conclusion it looked like Daniel Bryan — one of the favourites — was going to win after taking out everybody, but was attacked with a steel chair out of nowhere by Curtis Axel (who successfully defended his Intercontinental Title against The Miz earlier in the night). I am unsure if this was just there to set up the next spot, or if it is the beginning a Daniel Bryan-Curtis Axel feud, but I sincerely hope the latter is not true. After the summer he has had thus far, it would be unfair to see Daniel Bryan relegated to an Intercontinental title match at SummerSlam.

“Dammit – i can’t do my pose with this briefcase.”

With everybody out of the proceedings, CM Punk was then left with the opportunity to win the match. Everybody was waiting for Brock Lesnar to show up (even the Philly crowd who were chanting his name) but instead Paul Heyman turned on Punk and whacked him over the head with a ladder. Why Paul why? Before RVD could close in on the briefcase, he was RKO’d off of the ladder by Randy Orton (which looked very cool), who went on to win his first ever Money in the Bank briefcase. I liked it.

With the All-Star ladder match closing the show, the World title was once again shafted to the beginning, with the World title ladder match kicking-off Money in the Bank. Going into this one there was not really a clear favourite to win (I picked Wade Barrett, for goodness sake), which made the match all that more intriguing. It would have been interesting to see this one play out in a less-significant wrestling city, but Philly got behind a number of the heels and seemed to like letting everyone else know that they were people (I would never have guessed).

The most innovative spots in this one included Dean Ambrose skinning the cat onto a ladder held horizontally by Cesaro and Swagger (now known collectively as The Real Americans, brother) and trying to grab the briefcase before being tossed to the outside. Fandango hit a smooth-looking sun-set flip power bomb from the top of a ladder on Wade Barrett. Heck, Barrett even went all Ryback on everyone after dismantling part of a ladder and using it as a weapon. Fandango was actually pretty over in Philly, with a lot of the crowd cheering every time he climbed the ladder — there was also a Summer Rae chant at one point (works for me).

The Intellectual Saviour of the Exchequer

Cody Rhodes was definitely the MVP of this one, with the crowd firmly behind him and it looked like he was on his way to winning the Money in the Bank briefcase and finally receiving that push he has deserved for years. After being stopped by Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns the first time around, Rhodes was whacked off the ladder by his tag team partner Damien Sandow who went on to win the briefcase. I am absolutely fine with this. It looks like WWE are going for Sandow vs. Rhodes at SummerSlam, but I will get into that a little more later. Even though he did not win this match, Rhodes probably came out looking the strongest, and hopefully this is a career-defining moment for him.

The two heavyweight title matches were very good, with John Cena defeating Mark Henry and Dolph Ziggler losing to Alberto Del Rio via disqualification. There was a lot of interference throughout the PPV, but each time it made sense and therefore I do not have any complaints. AJ (‘inadvertently’) cost Dolph Ziggler the World title after hitting Del Rio with her previously retained Divas belt. The ending here was a little anticlimactic, but the match was quick-paced, with many near-falls and could have gone either way at any moment. The Philadelphia crowd were firmly behind Ziggler more than any other crowd since his babyface turn, and he shone in the match. Del Rio and Ziggler do work well together.

In terms of the WWE title match, Cena and Henry put in a good effort — a better effort than some may have expected beforehand in fact. The fans in attendance were firmly behind the World’s Strongest Man and Cena got a pretty hostile reception, which is more or less expected in places such as Philadelphia these days. Both guys kicked out of the other’s respective finishers, and Cena won after causing Henry to tap-out to an STFU (is the ‘U’ still there?). I am not a big fan of Mark Henry tapping out, but what can you do. Cena winning was probably the right decision, even though most of the Philly fans wanted to see Henry pick up the title.

The rest of the card was fairly solid, if not a touch underwhelming, with the exception of a good Tag Team title match between The Shield and The Usos on the kick-off show, with The Shield retaining. As I mentioned earlier Curtis Axel successfully defended his Intercontinental title against The Miz, although the most noteworthy part of this match involved the ejection of Paul Heyman, which was not well received by the ECW-Philly fans. AJ and Kaitlyn contested another decent Divas title match, which AJ won by way of her very painful looking Black Widow submission. Chris Jericho guided Ryback through a better-than-normal Ryback match, which Ryback won via roll-up.

Going Forward

“Why does this always happen?”

With two new Money in the Bank briefcase holders and a whole load of other developments, the question now is what happens next? Over the last month or so, the internet has been buzzing with the rumour that Daniel Bryan is set to face John Cena for the WWE title at SummerSlam. While this match is still a possibility, after last night its prospects have somewhat diminished in my eyes. Are WWE going to go with Randy Orton vs. John Cena at SummerSlam (for the third time), or will Henry get a rematch? For me, the ideal situation would be for Daniel Bryan to face John Cena and win the WWE title at SummerSlam, only for Randy Orton to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase, win the title off of Bryan and turn heel in the process. This would set up a program involving those three guys throughout the autumn, perhaps up until the Royal Rumble. We know Orton and Bryan work very well together, and Orton and Cena have had some brilliant matches over the years — and John Cena, in spite of any “you can’t wrestle” chant, is capable of having great matches with anybody — so this seems to make sense in my view.

It looks like Cody Rhodes will be a babyface going forward after Damien Sandow turned on him last night, and it would be excellent to see these two feud over the briefcase and have a match at SummerSlam. They were a brilliant, if not a vastly under-used tag team as Rhodes Scholars, and both guys are very good in the ring and on the mic, so this one has a lot of potential. I see Sandow keeping the briefcase and not cashing in for a while (maybe not until after WrestleMania next year), unlike Orton. Sticking with the World title picture, the break-up of Dolph Ziggler and AJ is imminent. The question is: who gets custody of Big E? Most likely AJ, setting up a Ziggler-Big E match for SummerSlam (nothing new here). If this is the case, hopefully after SummerSlam Ziggler will get the World title run he deserves. That leaves Alberto Del Rio free for next month’s PPV. There are a few opponents he could face — Sheamus, Chris Jericho, maybe even a returning babyface Big Show? I am going to go out on a limb here and say Del Rio will defend the World title against RVD at SummerSlam.

“So you’re telling me this guy was right all along?”

One thing we do know for certain heading into ‘the biggest party of the summer’ is that CM Punk will face Brock Lesnar at the event. With Heyman now fully against Punk, the duelling between both guys on the mic over the next month or so will be absolutely golden. It remains to be seen if Lesnar will show up tonight on RAW or even how often he will show up on the road to SummerSlam (that does not quite have the same ring to it), but if anybody can sell a match, Paul Heyman can. Punk vs. Lesnar could be a show-stealer at the event, and with all three guys involved here accustomed to going against the mould, there could be fireworks.

I really do not know what will happen the Wyatt Family tonight, but I cannot wait see what they have in store for us. Some people are suggesting that Kane will end up being a part of the family, although the most likely situation is a Wyatt Family vs. Kane and Undertaker match at SummerSlam. The latter would be incredible, and having the Undertaker on the card would make the PPV that extra bit special. Looking at the other trio on the roster, The Shield, they seem to have lost a bit of momentum recently. The Tag Team title match should never have been on the kick-off show last night, and Ambrose was lost in the shuffle of Money in the Bank participants in all honesty. A Shield vs. Wyatt encounter is surely pencilled in at some point over the next few months, but until then I hope The Shield get back to somewhere near the dominance they were showing around three months ago. I am fine with seeing them defend the Tag and US titles against guys likes The Usos and Christian, as long as they retain the gold and are not dismissed as unimportant.

The McMahon story-line? I think I will pass for now. It has hardly been must-see television recently, and I cannot see it getting any better in the coming weeks, nor am I sure how it will evolve.

One thing is for sure though — RAW should be explosive tonight.

 

Match Rundown

Kick-off:- The Shield (Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns) (c) defeated The Usos, to retain the WWE Tag Team titles (14:48)

1:- Damien Sandow defeated Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett, Dean Ambrose, Antonio Cesaro, Jack Swagger and Fandango, to win the World  Heavyweight title Money in the Bank briefcase (16:25)

2:- Curtis Axel (c) defeated The Miz, to retain the Intercontinental title (09:08)

3:- AJ (c) defeated Kaitlyn, to retain the Divas title (07:03)

4:- Ryback defeated Chris Jericho, in a singles match (11:20)

5:- Alberto Del Rio defeated Dolph Ziggler via disqualification, to retain the World Heavyweight title (14:29)

6:- John Cena defeated Mark Henry, to retain the WWE title (14:46)

7:- Randy Orton defeated CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Christian, Sheamus and Rob Van Dam, to win the WWE title Money in the Bank briefcase (26:38)

WWE: Payback (2013)

★★★★

The Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois last night played host to the long-awaited return of Chicago’s own CM Punk. The Second City Saint, absent from WWE television since April 15th, took to the stage  with the ever-reliable Chris Jericho for the third time in just over a year, and the two put on a clinic (there will probably be a lot of wrestling clichés in this).

In one of the most enjoyable Pay-Per-Views of the year, if not thee most enjoyable, we were treated to seven matches (plus a pre-sh… kick-off match), three title changes, a double-turn and one massive Attitude Adjustment.

This is my first wrestling review of any kind, so bear with me. Here we go!

 

To ‘kick-off’ proceedings, we get the show-formerly-known-as-the-pre-show, featuring an expert panel consisting of the Big Show, R-Truth and Cody Rhodes, and hosted by Josh Matthews. The quartet start by discussing the upcoming Three Stages of Hell match for the WWE Title between John Cena and Ryback. 

Seeing the world’s largest athlete (who is currently out injured) was quite cool, but I cannot help but feel a little annoyed that Cody Rhodes is being wasted on a panel when he really should be on the card. Also, I do not mind Josh Matthews, but where on earth was Renee Young?! 

 

Kick-off. Sheamus defeats Damien Sandow, in a singles match.

The crowd is lively as Sheamus makes his way to the ring (Sandow was relegated to no entrance status, which is a shame). The match starts off in a physical manner, which the two maintained throughout, and was probably one of the better pre-show bouts since the introduction of the concept. Chicago is firmly behind Sandow throughout, cheering loudly every time he gains some offence. Sheamus hits White Noise, closely followed by a Brogue Kick and picks up the victory.

A good match which allowed to fans to get warmed up for the night ahead.

Match Length – 10:25

Rating: 3 (White)

 

Just as soon as the kick-off finishes, Payback gets underway with commentary from the usual trio of Michael Cole, Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and JBL, who hype up the night ahead.

 

1. Curtis Axel defeats The Miz and Wade Barrett (c), in a triple threat match for the Intercontinental Title.

“Look! We’re on TV!” courtesy Bleacher Report

Up first is the triple threat match for Wade Barrett’s Intercontinental Title, which originally included Fandango who had to pull out due to a concussion. His replacement, Curtis Axel receives a significant cheer upon his entrance, whereas the crowd are indifferent towards Miz and Barrett (which is unsurprising considering where both men are at).

The three competitors trade time in the ring to begin with, before some standard triple threat action. The match begins to pick up as soon as Axel (who is accompanied by Paul Heyman) hits his father’s PerfectPlex on Barrett, much to the delight of Chicago, only for Miz to break-up the pinfall. Miz then locks Barrett in the Figure-Four Leg Lock and looks destined to pick up the win, however Axel inventively covers Barrett’s shoulders to the mat for a three count and wins the title.

This was a very nice moment, seeing Axel win the IC Title on Father’s Day. Also, a good opener to the show.

Match Length – 10:36

Rating: 3 (White)

 

We get a Mark Henry promo conveying his return on the upcoming Monday Night RAW (17th June). Interestingly, it appears Mark Henry is thinking about announcing his retirement on RAW, however this could be some sort of swerve. I am a big fan of Henry, especially in a monster heel role, so I hope he sticks around.

Axel and Heyman are seen celebrating backstage, before being interrupted by Triple H who stares down Axel. Vince McMahon appears and congratulates Axel on his win, ushering him and Heyman away in the process. McMahon plugs Triple H vs. Curtis Axel live on RAW, but HHH claims he is not feeling it and walks away, much to McMahon’s dismay. It will be interesting to see where this goes — I am still clinging to the very minute chance that Shane-O-Mac will return. Here comes the moneeeeeey…

 

2. AJ defeats Kaitlyn (c), in a singles match for the Divas Title.

“Smile!” Courtesy of Diva Dirt

After some very decent build-up (something out of the ordinary for a divas match these days), these two former best friends are set to meet for the Divas Title. Michael Cole mentions on commentary that Kaitlyn was fined ten thousand dollars for slapping a referee on Smackdown — hey, at least it was not half a million… I wonder if Sheamus has squared that up with WWE yet.

This begins with a trip to the outside, where Kaitlyn throws AJ over the announce table (guess which one?). After regaining control, AJ hits Kaitlyn with various kicks, followed by her belt, which Kaitlyn had removed earlier. Kaitlyn has the opportunity to win the match after a spear, but takes too long taunting AJ, resulting in AJ locking in the very cool looking Black Widow submission to win the Divas Title for the first time.

This was by far the best divas match seen on WWE television for a long time, and these two work well together. Hopefully this program continues for a while.

Match Length – 9:56

Rating: 3 (White)

 

After the match ends, Kaitlyn remains in the ring visibly upset, to which the ruthless Chicago crowd boos loudly. Layla then comes out to comfort Kaitlyn, only for the ruthless Chicago crowd to boo at even louder (this was quite funny actually).

Backstage, a group of divas attempt to console Kaitlyn but she ignores them and walks away.

The first Money in the Bank promo airs — Sunday, July 14th in Philly!

Cole then sends us back over to the Payback panel. Big Show puts over Heyman’s alliance with Axel, whereas R-Truth believes Axel stole the victory. Big Show then blames Kaitlyn for “taking her eye off the ball”, to which the others agree.

This is followed by another Wyatt Family promo. I cannot wait.

 

3. Dean Ambrose (c) defeats Kane, in a singles match for the United States Championship.

“Smell my armpit, Kane.”

These two, along with Orton, Daniel Bryan and the other members of The Shield, have been having tremendous matches on both RAW and Smackdown over the past month. This looked like an interesting match-up on paper, but I do not think the two very different styles quite meshed together as well as we all hoped.

Ambrose is going into the match as US Champion, and commentary states that he will hope it is not three-for-three in terms of title changes thus far tonight. Ambrose seems to be favoured among the crowd as he enters the ring, but Kane has some fans too. Ambrose works on Kane’s leg, which is always nice to see — targeting an opponent’s body part has become something of a lost art in recent years. After a slow start, the match begins to pick up after Ambrose slaps Kane a number of times across the face, angering the Big Red Machine. Kane loses focus as a result, which allows Ambrose to hit a DDT on the outside to which Kane cannot recover from. Ambrose retains the US Title by way of a count-out.

This one was a slow-burner for the most part, especially after the opening matches. It will be intriguing to see what happens with The Shield after their first pin-fall loss as a team on Smackdown this past week.

Match Length – 9:34

Rating: 3 (White)

 

Out of absolutely nowhere we are shown a video package signalling the highly-anticipated return of the whole f’n show ROB VAN DAM! And better yet, he will return at MONEY IN THE BANK! And even better yet, Money in the Bank will take place in none other than the home of ECW — PHILADELPHIA! The crowd in Chicago love it, and begin the first of many “RVD” chants which continue throughout the remainder of the show. I did not think I would be this happy to see RVD return to WWE, but I love that it caught me off-guard and also the circumstances surrounding his impending return.

 

4. Alberto Del Rio defeats Dolph Ziggler (c), in a singles match for the World Heavyweight Championship.

With Jack Swagger out of the picture due to a hand injury, that triple threat Ladder match is looking less and less likely to happen. Ziggler is about to wrestle his first match back since receiving a concussion at the, well, feet of Swagger. This one is for the World Heavyweight Championship. Ziggler receives a huge ovation from the Chicago crowd which, if it is not obvious by now, is made up significantly of ‘hardcore’ wrestling fans.

That hurt.

The match gets underway with the crowd chanting loudly for Ziggler (and RVD, by the way). Del Rio spends a lot of the match doing damage to Ziggler’s head after his concussion, another instance of wrestlers taking advantage of a body part. Ziggler, the referee and the commentary team continue to play up the fact that the match may need to be called off, however Ziggler refuses to let that happen. Big-E then gets ejected from ringside after an altercation with Del Rio, who continues to work on Ziggler’s head and upper back, seemingly getting more aggressive as the match progresses.

After a number of close two counts and a very nice looking reverse superplex from the top rope, Del Rio begins to get frustrated at his inability to gain the three-count. Ziggler then hits the Zig-Zig out of nowhere, but is unable to capitalise due to his head injury. This allows Del Rio to deliver a swift kick to Ziggler’s head and pin him to become the new World Heavyweight Champion.

I enjoyed this match because it told a story and was consistent throughout. It appears that WWE are looking at a double-turn with Ziggler becoming a babyface and Del Rio returning to his heel persona, which I reckon is for the best. Del Rio did not really work as a face, and Ziggler could go over huge as one. I expect Dolph to regain the belt at Money in the Bank.

Match Length – 13:49

Rating: 4 (White)

 

The panel begin to discuss Del Rio in heel terms. Del Rio then comes back out onto the stage and cuts a promo with heelish tendencies, putting over how he deserves to be World Heavyweight Champion. The crowd progressively become hostile towards him. Interestingly, this is the same building where the Austin/Bret Hart WrestleMania 13 double-turn occurred.

 

5. CM Punk defeats Chris Jericho, in a singles match.

The return of CM Punk is what everybody has been waiting for. After a two month lay-off, the crowd in Chicago are itching to see their home-town anti-hero make his entrance. But first, Chris Jericho makes his way to the ring to a decent reaction — nothing as hostile as what John Cena received at Money in the Bank two years prior. Cult of Personality then rings out around the Allstate Arena, and after twenty seconds of waiting, the crowd erupts at the sight of The Best in the World.

It’s clobberin’ time.

“How long was i gone? I forget how to pin.”

The atmosphere is incredible and “CM Punk” chants are thrown batted the arena with impetus. Punk, incidentally, is sporting Hugh Jackman’s sideburns. The match begins with various mat-wrestling moves and lock-ups which I am not qualified enough to describe. The Chicago Black Hawks logo dawns on Punk’s trunks (that rhymed). “Let’s Go Black Hawks” chants right on cue. Jericho locks in the Wall of Jericho, with Punk managing to reverse it into a standing Anaconda Vice, before dragging Jericho to the mat. Heyman screams “TAP!” but Jericho makes it to the bottom rope. Punk sets up the Go To Sleep, but is inadvertently distracted by Heyman, allowing Jericho to counter into another Walls of Jericho.

Punk escapes, and Jericho follows up with a Code-Breaker out of nowhere, forcing Punk to kick-out at two. The crowd is eating up everything these two do, particularly Punk. After a flying Macho Man elbow off the top rope, Punk signals for the GTS and hits it, but Jericho kicks-out. Chicago wants another! We then see a suicide dive to the outside from Punk on Jericho, and Punk climbs to the top rope. Jericho catches Punk mid-air with another Code-Breaker but Punk manages to kick-out at two and nine-tenths! Tremendous action! Punk punches his way out of a Walls of Jericho with brute force, before hitting two GTS’s and picking up the victory in his hometown. Chicago explodes.

This was match of the night by far, and will quite possibly pick up the Match of the Year nod at the Slammy’s in December. These two are two of the best in the business right now, and this was their best outing together. My money’s worth and more.

Match Length – 21:21

Rating: 5 (White)

 

After the match, Punk seems to be a little frustrated with Heyman who almost cost him the victory at one point. It appears as if the two are separating, especially after this video on WWE.com. 

 

6. The Shield (Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns) (c) defeat Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton, in a tag team match for the Tag Team Titles.

Just Roman around.

We are thrust straight into the Tag Team Title match. The Shield enter first. Daniel Bryan gets a large pop accompanied by sea of “YES!” chants. Daniel Bryan is probably the most over and most entertaining performer on the planet at the moment.

Bryan begins with Reigns at a quick pace. The Shield perform a number of quick tags and double-team moves, highlighting their teamwork. Michael Cole says Orton and Bryan are “the oddest couple since Daniel Bryan and Kane”. I laughed. The crowd is right behind Bryan, who tags in Orton. Orton hits his mid-rope DDT on Reigns and Rollins, and performs a mid-air powerslam on the latter. We hear more “RVD” chants as the crowd do not seem too burned out from the previous bout, which is a testament to them.

After a missed dive to the outside which hits Orton, Bryan executes an awesome looking double-arm superplex off the top rope on Rollins who manages to kick-out at two. Bryan and Rollins in particular seem to work exceptionally well together. Reigns breaks up a No Lock and attempts to spear Orton, who jumps out of the way causing Bryan to take the hit. Orton then RKO’s Reigns, but Rollins throws him out of the ring and delivers a mid-air foot-stomp on Bryan to retain the titles for his team.

These guys always put on entertaining matches and this one was no different. It looks like Bryan is moving on to a WWE Title program soon, but I would not be surprised if we see Bryan vs. Orton at Money in the Bank first.

Match Length – 12:10

Rating: 4 (White)

 

7. John Cena (c) defeats Ryback, in a Three Stages of Hell match for the WWE Title.

This is a Three Stages of Hell match for the WWE Title. The first stage is a Lumberjack match, followed by a Tables match, and then an Ambulance match if need-be (but only if needed remember). The lumberjacks make their way to the ring and everybody from Antonio Cesaro (that is correct, as a lumberjack) to JTG is present. Both Cena and Ryback receive boos during their introductions.

“I believe i can fly!” Courtesy of Cage Side Seats

— Stage 1: Lumberjack match

This is essentially your bog-standard Lumberjack match. Ryback dominates the majority of the bout, throwing Cena to the outside numerous times for the lumberjacks to attack him. The audience appear a little bored, or maybe just extremely (pun intended) excited to see Rob Van Dam return, as there are more “RVD” chants. Eventually, Ryback is thrown to the outside and all the lumberjacks begin a massive brawl, before Cena executes a flying star jump off the top rope onto them all — the crowd like it. Ryback gets Cena back into the ring and hits the Shellshocked to take fall one.

— Stage 2: Tables Match

The lumberjacks disappear and we won’t see JTG until next January (does he even get a slot in the Rumble?). Ryback goes for a table straight away and brings one into ring. He takes Cena out with a spear and is graced with “Goldberg” chants, which are becoming more common than “What?” chants these days. Cena manages to get Ryback on his shoulders for the Attitude Adjustment, but Ryback flips the table before Cena can put him through it. After numerous failed attempts to kill Cena by throwing steel steps at him, Ryback receives the AA through a table and the match is tied at one a piece (I did not see that one coming).

— Stage 3: Ambulance Match

“You’re gonna need one of these in a minute.”

Ryback no-sells the AA through a table and even forgets the table match has ended as he slams Cena through the announce table. He does not even send Cena through the correct one, as Carlos Cabrera and Marcelo Rodriguez are so delighted at the survival of their table that they throw a fiesta in the background. That did not really happen. The third fall gets underway and Ryback carries Cena towards the ambulance, before the following series of events take place: Ryback is pushed head-first into the ambulance, Ryback punches through the ambulance window, Ryback is slammed into the ambulance again, Ryback is Irish-whipped into the ambulance door which falls off, Ryback is hit by Cena with said door, Ryback begins tearing apart the ambulance, Ryback is back-dropped (almost fatally) onto the ambulance hood, Ryback is hit with the ambulance lights, Ryback receives the AA through the ambulance roof. Moral of the story? Ryback sucks.

Cena wins the final ‘fall’ and retains his WWE Title. I would absolutely love to see him defend the title against Daniel Bryan in the near future. Hopefully, the Cena/Ryback feud is over and both men can move on to other things.

Match Length – 24:38

Rating: 3 (White)

 

After match Cena celebrates with the WWE title and the ambulance drives away to conclude the show. I guess there was a post-show afterwards, but I fell asleep — the cons of watching in the United Kingdom.

 

Overall, I thought the show had more ups than downs — in fact, it was void of downs almost entirely. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho was just about the perfect match, the tag team match was entertaining, RVD is returning and we got a better-than-normal divas bout. I really liked the double-turn too. Another huge plus was that each match received a decent amount of time to breathe and develop — the shortest contest was just under 10 minutes. And regardless of all of that, the Chicago crowd were tremendous and really added to the show as a whole.