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: FastPain (2015)

★★★

Ouch. See that pain chipping away at your lower back? That’s the unwanted product of a pothole-filled Road to WrestleMania. WWE could’ve smoothed over the tarmac last night. HA! Wishful thinking, I know. Instead, whoever drove the car through Fastlane — sorry, WWE Fastlane — just rolled down the window and marked a big, black line under weeks of dreadful storytelling post-Royal Rumble.

Let’s recap. When Daniel Bryan returned from injury before the Royal Rumble and announced his involvement in the rumble match itself, the story that made the most sense at that point was Bryan versus Brock Lesnar. The talented, hard-working fan favourite against the dominant, viscous monster. Roman Reigns went on to win the rumble and that was that. Fine. From then, the next two months should have been spent building up Reigns as a credible and respectable threat to Lesnar, with Daniel Bryan nowhere in sight. Two RAWs later, Bryan’s in the title picture.

With one section of the audience rooting for Bryan and the other rooting for Reigns, the only justifiable scenario coming out of Fastlane should have been a triple threat match at WrestleMania 31 — where every fan who had invested emotion into either Bryan, Reigns or Lesnar would still have that same investment come March 29th. Fastlane is over and we’ve now got a WrestleMania main event involving a babyface who half of the audience won’t cheer for and a monster heel (one probably leaving the company) who half of the audience will applaud vociferously. And last year’s WrestleMania headliner — and opener, because Bryan is that good — is totally directionless with only five weeks to go until this year’s WrestleMania.

Fastlane - Bryan and Reigns

Sure the Royal Rumble was a royal shambles but at least the outcome, the end result on the night, made sense. Roman Reigns winning the Royal Rumble match worked from a story perspective. It wasn’t the best story they could have told but it was still a perfectly decent route to venture down. Daniel Bryan’s inclusion in the rumble match was the spoiling factor. The booking sucked, not the premise.

Fast forward to Fastlane and the whole scenario is a mess. We’ve had Royal Rumble winner Reigns gladly give up his ticket to stardom for a match against Bryan; Bryan being offered the chance to main event WrestleMania by his good buddy Triple H (you know, the same guy who fought tooth and nail to keep D-Bry out of the main event last year); and Brock Lesnar out doing some gardening because they haven’t been able to do much with him without an opponent. Ignoring the obvious story complications, the supposed vindication for Reigns versus Bryan doesn’t even make sense. Daniel Bryan — the ultimate underdog — should not be the guy who is used to get the much bigger, much stronger Roman Reigns over.

Reigns defeated Bryan clean at Fastlane and then the two shook hands. Bryan poked his opponent’s chest whilst saying, and I quote, “you better kick his ass,” referring obviously to fellow booking this rubbish. IWC smark marky markers everywhere, that is our cue to start cheering Roman Reigns. Be civil guys. The match was excellent and it’s absolutely logical therefore for people to bemoan complainers such as myself. We did get to see a brilliant match after all. But the issue is how the match came to fruition, the repercussions of the match and the likelihood that we’ll see booking disasters similar to this one again in the future.

I’m not going to defend Reigns much because I don’t think there’s much to defend. Yes, he done very well last night and, yes, he absolutely could be a big star. But as of this moment, he’s not that good. He’s not WrestleMania headliner/opener good. He’s not even WrestleMania headliner good. The match at Fastlane was great because Daniel Bryan wrestled in it and Roman Reigns just about managed to keep up. If the Samoan Boss Man had wrestled Sheamus, or Orton, or even Cena, I really don’t think the bout would have been half as entertaining.

Fastlane - Hand Shake

Fastlane was a bit of a dud show in general. The crowd weren’t on great form — no Slammy for you Memphis. Randy Orton’s return was one of the high points and I’m looking forward to seeing his match against Seth Rollins at WrestleMania. Orton isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but he does tend to have excellent matches with smaller guys (Christian, Bryan and Rollins himself all spring to mind). Bray Wyatt delivered the most exciting moment of the night as he finally called out the Undertaker. This one has a ring-load of potential. Check out Inside The Ropes for some genuinely thrilling thoughts on how to book that programme, and lots of other top chat too — they’re always on the ball.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Sting and Triple H. I never watched WCW so the whole ‘defending the honour of a now defunct promotion’ angle doesn’t resonate with me at all. Hey, if they’d waited a few more years Sting could have showed up looking to defend the honour of a lifeless TNA. Kidding. The worry for me is that Sting versus Triple H will play out much like Brock versus Triple H did at WrestleMania 29. There is still time to generate more buzz.

However, it looks like there won’t be enough time to rescue Roman Reigns before the big showdown, at least not fully. If booked correctly, he could have had an army of followers vying for him to win the title. Now at least half of that army are too busy mourning Bryan’s mistreatment. As for the bearded warrior — he’s the most popular guy in company, but we shouldn’t let that silly insignificance get in the way of any undermining that needs to be done, right?

He literally is the Boyhood of wrestling: under-appreciated by those inaccessible elites but loved for his authenticity and talent by us lowly peasants. I’m off to watch the WWE Network and buy a Sting t-shirt.

Fastlane - Bryan

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