WWE Battleground 2017 – Review

Let’s get a few things straight from the start here, this isn’t going to be the sort of look back that slates Battleground. There has been quite enough of that from different quarters already. Also, they’re wrong to do so. Nobody moans more than me when a show masquerading as a PPV is no better than the weekly programme. But it wasn’t the case here.

Likewise, it wasn’t the best example of a premier event either. It was average. But PPV average.

Picking out the highlights here should illustrate the point. Does this mean missing half the card goes against it? Perhaps. But we all need toilet breaks and stock up supplies when watching live, or parts to skip when watching on catch-up.

The most positive reaction from the crowd on the night went to The New Day taking gold from the Usos. A fine match lead to cheers and it shows how over and valuable the trio are.

The Fatal 5-way for the Women’s belt once again failed to live up to its name: not one person died. Nor did the women exactly kill it but the result was a fresh direction. Remember a while ago, yours truly moaned that Natayla should have been given the Money in the Bank briefcase, somebody in the halls of WWE must have been listening. Or thought so themselves or planned it. But the idea of WWE Creative planning so well in advanced is far-fetched. There’s more chance that Vince McMahon personally reads every word I write and follows my career avidly.

It means Natayla can use her experience to carry the SummerSlam match with Naomi.

Based on the 5-way on display here, the bar does need raising.

As does the United States Championship. The Miz, an often-derided Superstar, continues to elevate Raw’s secondary title (as he did with the belt on SmackDown), yet two of the most lauded wrestlers in the business have further devalued the gold in question.

It should be impossible for AJ Styles and Kevin Owens to be slightly above mediocre. It seems the Land of Opportunity can make anything happened and they’ve pulled it off.

Who now cares about the man holding the US Title?

Still, it was cool to claim Owens and AJ had a good match and slag off John Cena versus Rusev.

Sure, we all knew Cena had to win. Rusev has had solid pushes crushed by this opponent before, so he can absorb this defeat. What it does is highlight the regard Cena has for the Bulgarian. He knew they could put on a good match and they did.

The stipulation gave us a reason to go up the ramp which in turn meant we saw some big hits. Cena needing props to see off Rusev does the loser no harm. It was almost like John was putting someone over. Almost.

Jinder Mahal against Randy Orton in a Punjabi Prison match drew more groans than sounds of excitement from the WWE Universe. To be fair to the former jobber, WWE should have moved his story on from Orton by now.

Again, they proved to be good methodical workers but in a match already viewed as a crammed concept, it didn’t go down well.

Then the inevitable happened followed by genuine shocks.

As expected the Singh Brothers interfered. They’d been hiding beneath the ring and prevented The Viper from escaping. For their troubles Sami Singh took a bump from high up through an announce table. It was a bad landing, almost as bad as Tom Philips’ commentary.

Still, even when it looked like Orton would prevail, we knew he couldn’t. What prevented this was a shock. Down the ramp walked The Great Khali. In a time when we have to accept Mahal as WWE Champion, it’s not a stretch to pretend Khali is a threat again.

He placed his gigantic hands through the cage and choked out Randy – Indian Interference Outta Nowhere – to allow his kayfabe countryman slowly climb and ascend to victory.

Brace yourself for Cena squashing Jinder sometime soon.

5/10

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WWE Money in the Bank 2017 – Review

Think Money in the Bank and you think CM Punk leaving the WWE with the title after an epic match with John Cena. You think of Chris Jericho telling us how he invented the concept and its beginnings as a WrestleMania bonus. You think of men prowling for months with the threat of cashing in the contract.

After the Women’s Revolution (which WWE has largely mishandled) it was natural to offer them a ladder match with a briefcase suspended from the centre of the ring. Many called eventual winner Carmella for a few weeks. Heels run well with the case, and people like Charlotte Flair are too good – therefore wasted – to be kept on the side-lines when they could be fronting the division.

See how I just dropped the winner in from the start?

I did that because the ending undoes the credibility of the women getting a male gimmick match. That’s because James Ellsworth actually won the match. Not with a distraction or anything like that. He climbed the ladder and retrieved the briefcase.

So the first winner of the Women’s Money in the Bank was a man.

Way to go, Vince. Triple H must be cursing at his father-in-law’s handling of talented females.

The match was decent enough, if played a little safe.

For my penny’s worth: I’d have given Natalya the win. She can play the stalking heel, presents a credible wrestling threat, and has done her time many times over.

The tag title bout was another lacklustre affair until the final five minutes. It’s clear The Usos and The New Day have the potential to cut a decent programme but the cop-out count-out from the champs was something more befitting a SmackDown Live before a major PPV.

As was Lana versus Naomi for the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Okay, to be entirely fair, Lana defied her critics and performed better than anticipated. She ran the match – some are claiming at too slow a pace, but that’s denying her props for technicality – and looked credible.

It was right to offer a distraction followed by a Naomi submission win. It was a way of putting Lana over and keeping the champ looking strong – a real win-win.

Next up was the WWE Championship with Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton.

If you follow sports entertainment (you’re reading this, so you must have a slight interest) you’ll have an inkling by now how it works. Mahal is a project for now. How long remains to be seen. It’s a way to make waves in the Indian market (yes, he’s Canadian, but still).

To keep the gold, he will have to cheat and use the Singh Brothers. How they keep this fresh is the only challenge WWE Creative face. The Miz had Alex Riley, then Damien Sandow, and now his wife Maryse to help keep the foul play feel fresh.

Mahal’s way at Money in the Bank was obvious when we saw legends at ringside sat with Randy’s father – Bob Orton.

What followed as a good match. It really was. The Modern Day Maharaja brings the best out of Orton, it’s the best the Viper has looked in years. And it came about by Mahal appearing so strong. There’s the problem – how can it be forgotten a man that now handles Orton with ease has been a jobber all his career.

It’s a suspension of disbelief that ranks up there with the best of them, like Sheamus having a charismatic personality or John Cena putting people over. Jinder couldn’t win a one-man raffle and suddenly he’s the pumped-up face of the company.

When the Singh’s inevitably attacked Bob Orton, it allowed Jinder to sneak another win. No surprise but the whole set-up sits uneasy.

This article’s Top Tip: WWE, when making a humorous Fashion Files (this time a Miami Vice parody with Michael Jackson song references) segment that leads to Breezdango facing their mystery attackers, do not use said segment and match if the team in question is The Ascension.

Again, another example of material not fit for a PPV escaping from TV land.

The closing bout was the title of the show – the Money in the Bank ladder match.

Baron Corbin took out Shinsuke Nakamura at the ramp entrance, so the majority of the bout was between five men, the others being Sami Zayn (the only one guaranteed not to win), Kevin Owens, AJ Styles and Dolph Ziggler.

Nakamura was obviously bound to return, so he became a favourite, and it was easy to discount Ziggler. He’s had the briefcase in the past and a win for him would undo the idea SmackDown is the land of fresh opportunity.

AJ had a chance. Yeah, he’s figured heavily in the main event scene but WWE likes to give accolades to people that are seen as next level.

Without giving a move-by-move account – but mentioning powerbombs from the top of the ladder (Zayn on Ziggler); Styles hanging from the briefcase and falling the whole way to the mat; Phenomenal Forearm’s from high up; Owens being smashed onto horizontal ladders down low – it was a really good example of a ladder match.

A classic? Perhaps not. But noteworthy and the only true PPV grade bout on the card.

Corbin ended the match by pushing Styles and Nakamura off the ladder and climbing it to take the contract.

The Lone Wolf is the perfect prowler going forward. It means whoever takes the gold from Mahal (like Cena on 4th July?) will only hold it for minutes.

5/10 (Based on the overall show.)

WWE Backlash 2017 – Review

This year’s edition of Backlash, now a SmackDown Live exclusive PPV, didn’t really whet the appetite in the build-up. The question is, was this just unfair? More a sign of WWE’s PPV oversaturation or weak bookings? Let’s see, shall we?

Okay, I don’t think there’s any need to do a match-by-match account here. Unlike some, I don’t believe the WWE will ruin the spectacle of special events by doubling their number under the Brand Split. When it comes to good sports entertainment, you can never have too much.

This is only true should the PPVs remain a level above the weekly programming. Sadly for Backlash, it played out like a regular episode of SmackDown Live. As such, even the big-name clash of the night, felt more like a grapple-by-numbers than a titanic showdown.

That was, of course, Kevin Owens vs AJ Styles for the US title. That belt, with these two fighting for it, kinda becomes the premier title on SDLive. Unlike RAW, who have to promote the Intercontinental Title in Brock’s absence, the blue brand has turned to the US Title out of choice.

That came about after fluffing the Superstar Shake-up and sending Bray Wyatt away when the battle with Randy Orton still had legs.

Many are saying the US Title bout lived up to expectation, and the Styles count-out means we’ll revisit it, so maybe I’m being harsh. If I am, it’s because I was drained by the earlier bouts.

Shinsuke Nakamura vs Dolph Ziggler was so, so predictable, it was painful to watch. Almost as cringe as the latest Ziggler heel character. Anyone who questions why a guy with great in-ring ability was never fully invested in should watch this match.

His character acting is second rate, and the best wrestlers over the years – like Chris Jericho – can flip between heel and face and retain certain personality traits. It makes it more believable. Nowadays, Ziggler in a WWE ring is just distracting.

Oh, and yeah, Nakamura won (obvs).

The best highlight of the night was Breezango. The Fashion Police shouldn’t work – but it does. A quality comedic act always goes over in WWE. This one works on many levels. Not only is Tyler Breeze great as master of disguise, it is a slow but effective rehabilitation of Fandango’s in-ring prowess.

Tyler bags the laughs, Fandango bags the moves.

Here, it also made the champs – The Usos – look like the deadly, dominant foe their new personas require to maintain momentum.

SmackDown Live has been called the Land of Opportunity since the Brand Split. This has been true, but with Jinder Mahal facing Randy Orton for the WWE Championship, it felt like we were about to jump the shark.

They didn’t just jump the shark, they pole-vaulted over it.

Not one for a conspiracy (he is really – editor), it does beg the question if the SmackDown writers have spat their dummy. They wouldn’t have a large say in the men that moved in the Brand Split. Right now, they would like to be feeding The Miz into the main event scene. Instead they have been left threadbare with their best wrestlers looking at the secondary title.

So what to do? Demonstrate that the Land of Opportunity can appear great or ridiculous.

Jinder Mahal comes with the Singh Brothers, a regular trick from a heel – sidekicks. They caused the distraction that allowed The Maharajah to sneak a win. Disbelief? Not really, just disappointment.

It shows body image is still king with Vince McMahon. I’m not saying Jinder has taken steroids, he just happens to have hulked up in months and suddenly developed a bad case of “Backne” (acne on the back, it’s a play on words thing).

It shows Vince McMahon will sell the prestige of his top title to better penetrate the large and ever-expanding Indian market.

It also shows us that Randy Orton was once again uninspiring when given the ball and told to run. JBL repeats, about every thirty seconds, “If you designed a WWE superstar from scratch, he’d look like Randy Orton.” No arguments, he’d look like Randy Orton, you’d just have to remember to add charisma.

After being the best of the two brands since the split, suddenly SmackDown Live is in serious trouble.

WWE Elimination Chamber 2017 – Review and Results

Soon after the Royal Rumble, SmackDown stars found themselves heading into the Elimination Chamber PPV. Unlike the Rumble, where the winner could have come from several angles, this year’s Chamber was easier to predict. This was the final cog in the machine before solidifying months of storytelling and the WrestleMania main event.

Not to belittle the earlier matches, but this wrestling fan was itching to see the main event. That’s not to say what preceded it was pointless. The SmackDown women’s division hasn’t eclipsed its counterpart on Raw like the men’s main roster has achieved since the brand split. This comes down to the fact Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks are the best two female in-ring performers on the planet and are captivating characters.

So it was intelligent that WWE placed the returning Mickie James on the blue brand. What wasn’t so clever was David Otunga claiming she had ring-rust after being absent for seven years. In that time, she’s been TNA champion and wrestled on the independent circuit. WWE has no problem referencing characters fighting in, say, Japan or Mexico, so why does it continue to ret-con TNA out of existence?

It’s not as if TNA is an actual threat to WWE.

The match she was in was against fan-favourite Becky Lynch. While being a solid affair, and the Irish Lass Kicker’s victory won’t damage James in any way, it leaves the question as to where this rivalry goes from here. Is it just a case of wasting time until a slot higher up the card becomes available?

Next was a 2-on-1 handicap match, Apollo Crews and Kalisto versus Dolph Ziggler. Did I mention I was eager to get to the main event? This just heightened the urge. I mean, come on. From the kayfabe taking out of Kalisto, to his valiant return, there was little fresh or engaging here. Nothing relevant, either.

The meaner Ziggler does nothing to reinvigorate his character. Wrestlers usually need a change when they’re not over with the fans or need to mask a lack of in-ring performance. Every crowd loves and appreciates Dolph and his technical ability is second-to-none. Fact.

He languishes in the mid-card (with a meaningless defeat here) due to poor handling by WWE “Creative.”

If the SmackDown Women lag behind their red brand sisters, the blue tag division is virtually redundant. There are enough teams to make it work but not enough time spent developing them.

tag-turmoil

A turmoil tag match for the titles saw teams come out one at a time, face elimination, then the next in line to challenge.

Former champs Heath Slater and Rhyno saw off Breezedango and then The Vaudevillains first. Both of those teams should have been built up to credible threats by now. Although, Breezedango did dominate.

The Usos finished Slater to square off against American Alpha. The reigning champs are hope to teams leaving NXT that they will continue to be booked as powerful forces. They overcame the veterans but it took a surprise small package to do so.

Enter The Ascension, the reason NXT Superstars worry about life on the main roster. Once booked as the modern-day Road Warriors, the promotion turned them into jobbers. Could this be their chance to profit from The Usos hard work?

No. They still tasted the familiar cuisine of defeat.

Next was Nikki Bella against Natalya. The former deserves props for becoming a legit performer, the latter, commiserations for being overlooked when her ring technique was being under-utilised for too long. By now, in the twilight of their careers, chasing the main prize has passed.

The New Era means these sorts of matches are thank you and farewell. As a contest, it was good. Bella took the bumps that the Canadian can so easily provide. A double count-out just means we’ll see more of them together as we stroll toward Nikki’s retirement. The backstage spat later just a reminder these have unfinished business.

In an absolute given of a result, Randy Orton defeated Luke Harper in their 1-on-1 match. Orton just had to win. Had to. Otherwise the WrestleMania main event would have been devalued. Also, Harper taking him to the edge, with only an RKO Outta Nowhere able to see him off, was a given.

Harper needed to be booked strong in defeat. The match had good flow. Even a superplex from the top rope, not easy with the size of Harper, added to the action.

The question remains: how will these two operate within the Wyatt Family dynamic now, especially with the Chamber match still looming?

In a night of easy to predict results, the Women’s Championship match threw a curveball. Naomi defeated Alexa Bliss. It looked like this was a placeholder bout before Bliss got a real WrestleMania opponent but no, WWE made Naomi the hometown champ.

naomi-bliss-chamber-2017

What made it worse (not that the result is that bad, but we’ll get to the problem in a minute) was the botched finish. High octane matches drain the body and allow mental fatigue to creep in. This was a perfect example and further highlights why Charlotte and Banks are leagues above everyone else.

The crowd didn’t seem to mind (they chanted their approval) but it all feels contrived. From the dance music and glow stick style paraphernalia from European raves of the late 90s and early 00s (something I’m very familiar with), to the feel good story of Naomi going home as champ, none of it felt authentic.

She looks as comfortable holding the belt as she does trying to dance to music she’s culturally unaware of.

Also, how is it she is still going to be champion come WrestleMania? Does Bliss not have a rematch clause or has WWE done away with those now, as even the men seem to be passing them up?

A hollow victory.

Then came the Elimination Chamber.

AJ Styles and John Cena started, The Miz, Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin and Dean Ambrose in pods, waiting for their chance to steal Cena’s gold.

The match was in the “new” chamber. The difference: there’s safety mats in place of the unforgiving chained surface, and squared off, larger pods. A PG chamber for a PG era.

Styles and Cena gave us an abridged version of their previous encounter. A look at the clock showed we wouldn’t get a long chamber match so they quickly got the main spots and near falls. We knew Cena would drop the belt, and 99% certain it would be to Wyatt, Styles was the 1% chance for a surprise of sorts.

The Lunatic Fringe was first to leave his temporary prison and his contribution early on was to enable Cena to deliver a double German suplex. Ambrose was never going to win here. The commentators remarking a victory would make him only the second man after Ultimate Warrior to hold both the Intercontinental Title and the WWE Championship ensured he’d fail.

A minor surprise came when Wyatt was second to emerge from the pods. It was safe to assume he’d appear late and snatch a victory. Now it meant he’d have to work for one. But he did a good job of still taking shots a champ should avoid.

Corbin came next and ran riot, clearing the ring. He has been booked to look strong. The Chamber match was all about reinforcing the view he’s a future threat before selling him short. That happened with a cheap Ambrose roll-up. Once eliminated, he took immediate revenge on Ambrose.

Future IC Title match booked for WrestleMania. Easy pin for The Miz on Ambrose.

The Miz also ran riot. He mocked Daniel Bryan by using his kicks, followed by a double drop kick on Cena and Wyatt. You could see it pained Cena to sell them well. Then Miz took turns on all three men in each ring post.

He has been Superstar of the year (perhaps tied with Styles) and this was his just reward. He could never win the match – not many mainstream fans would buy into Miz/Orton as a WrestleMania main event – but he deserves to be considered as a future WWE Champion.

So it is immensely frustrating that he was removed from the match after receiving zero punishment and one AA from Cena. The crowd booed and rightly so. It undoes all the work of making him look like a real contender.

Down to the final three.

In a result that shouldn’t come as a shock, the nature of Wyatt’s victory was. There was no Orton or Harper appearance. He made this writer Tweet: #SisterAbigailOuttaNowhere, when he eliminated John Cena first. So, we knew a new champ was happening. And the 1% became 40% all of a sudden.

But another Sister Abigail wrapped up months of storytelling.

bray-wyatt-champion

It’s an occasion that the obvious result is okay. But now WWE needs to ensure it avoids obvious WrestleMania resolutions. The glaring one would be to have Orton turn and backstab a title win at the Grandest Stage of All.

What makes more sense is to have Harper emerge at WrestleMania (with Erick Rowan, would be even better) to ensure Bray keeps the belt. The story would be more powerful if it emerges the Wyatt Family knew Orton was going to cross them, so tricked him instead, proving their cult has an unbreakable bond.

Overall, a decent Elimination Chamber.

7/10