Why I’ll Watch WrestleMania (by an AEW fanboy)

I haven’t watched a full WWE PPV since Evolution. I totally believe in the positive strides taken to recognise women in Sports Entertainment, and in that particular point in time, they deserved all the attention not because of the “Women’s Revolution” but down to the fact they were markedly better than the male counterparts.

I stopped watching WWE because of Bad Creative and the Saudi situation. Any company that can ignore murdered journalists and still collect a pay cheque is morally bankrupt. Evolution came at an unfortunate time for me to make that ethical choice. Once the PPV was over, the Network was cancelled.

On Saturday, I will again decide to become an active subscriber. (This will be on the back of one of my many personas who have yet to take a free trial.) Much has changed in the intervening period. I’ve become AEW – I’m All In. WWE has further morphed into the modernised version of eighties WWE that was trounced by an emergent WCW. If you can’t learn from history, you are destined to fail. Vincent K. McMahon doesn’t view history – he has a clearly defined end version he’s been trying to paint for years.

Starting Saturday, even Vince will be forced into parts unknown. Everyone around him advised it was best to have a WrestleMania delay. Vince refused. It could be he’s so stubborn, he needs to see WrestleMania chalked off his calendar on exactly the correct date.

It could also be that the most successful and influential wrestling promotor of all time knows how to make prosperity out of chaos.

WWE will always be able to say WrestleMania proceeded unabated. The pre-filmed nature means they can aim for a cinematic feel. Vince is on record saying he makes movies. This is his chance to make The WrestleMania Movie. The two-night affair is also a handy trial. The event has become too long. Now they have a chance to see if two nights, two main events, is palatable.

I’ll be watching WrestleMania this year because it’s a once in a lifetime experiment. If they get it right, it’ll be like nothing we’ve seen before – or will again. AEW has done a far better job with its crowd-less shows so far. It could be WWE has deliberately downplayed the Performance Centre so what we see this weekend blows us away.

The Showcase of Immortals has never been so intriguing.

Now, as long as The Fiend wins, Goldberg is exiled, The Man finishes looking strong, Charlotte Flair loses, Drew looks strong, The Undertaker comes as the American Bad Ass and Edge is retired with an RKO, WrestleMania will be a great success.

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 Fastlane 2017 – Review

Clive Balls back at the helm with another WWE review. I now realise why Danny Simms brought me to the site, for events like 2017’s Fastlane. Sure, it’s tops when I’m smashing out detailed match-by-match analysis (as seen with the recent Elimination Chamber) but he wanted that viscous WWE-knocking viewpoint I’d printed elsewhere. I really didn’t want to do what The Rock always insisted and Just Bring It, but WWE “creative” forced me. Made me, in fact

They did that when they served up the crock of sh*t that will go down as this year’s WrestleMania foreplay PPV. Being honest, we can’t act surprised, the signs were there (in blazing big neon, more distracting than a Chris Jericho jacket) that Kevin Owens would be made to drop the belt to Goldberg.

But come on. Man. There’s always hope they won’t be so dumb. And if they are, at least be creative with it.

Before we get to that travesty. Let’s skim the other key matches from the night. I’m not going too in depth – because quite frankly, if WWE don’t care and can’t be creative, why should I? – but a look at some highlight the points that will close this piece out.

A semi-positive note is Samoa Joe’s submission victory over Sami Zayn. The big man is being portrayed as Triple H’s newest henchman. But unlike so many before, this one can handle himself without the need for mob mentality. A clean win here is a major step to injecting him into a major feud. Maybe even Triple H and Seth Rollins?

As for Zayn, he has been painted as the popular trier that will more often than not, come up short. The readymade Dolph Ziggler replacement. So a loss means nothing.

We’ll tie the two women’s results into one thought because those four women will (probably) go to WrestleMania in a four-way for the title. First up Sasha Banks avenged her Royal Rumble defeat to Nia Jax. This is clever booking (see, they can do it sometimes). Jax still looks strong, it was her application that let her down. Banks scores a needed victory over a dominating figure.

Flick to the Raw Women’s Championship bout. Bayley seems out of place in this division as a leader of the pack. Interference from Banks prevented Charlotte Flair from reclaiming gold. The match itself wasn’t great, the result at least makes some sense. The belt has been passed around too much. Now we have a weak but fan-favourite heading into the year’s main PPV with a strong chasing pack.

The Cruiserweight match deserves a mention. Indeed, it was for many the best match of the night. That’s like picking your favourite illness. I guess you need to be invested in the division. When I see the purple ropes, my mind wanders. It should be a good division but it’s an annoyance on Raw and its PPVs.

WWE Jack Gallagher

Speaking of annoyances, Jack Gallagher got over despite losing to Neville. Ooops. That wasn’t the plan. This was a placeholder bout. Filler. Instead “creative” has an extra ball to juggle.

Okay, let’s get it done. Roman Reigns defeated the unstoppable, invincible, monster of destruction, unassailable Braun Strowman. Are we surprised? Not any longer. It’s the WWE way. Feed talent to their chosen characters. It’s been pointless building Strowman for this result to occur.

Reigns Strowman

We didn’t even get the expected Undertaker interruption to set-up a WrestleMania bout and protect Strowman from a clean loss. Just more of the same Reigns bull.

Speaking of bull, I can’t skip around the houses for another minute. The main event. The main disappointment.

Let’s be clear, Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg at WrestleMania will sell perfectly well on its own. It didn’t need the Universal Championship attached. But Vince McMahon in his wisdom believed otherwise. After Sunday’s shenanigans, it may actually turn some viewers off.

What we got was a match that lasted 21 seconds. The longest reigning Universal Champion dropped the title in the time it takes to sneeze.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I’ll make no bones about it: Goldberg is being protected because he’s physically unable to wrestle a bout of any note. That’s WWE’s problem heading into the next PPV. We’ll probably get a two-minute match where Lesnar destroys Goldberg and the veteran will retire again with less than five minutes of wrestling to add to his history.

On Sunday, Kevin Owens delayed the match, rolling in and out of the ring. It was pointless. It wasn’t tricking the audience, we know how long these things run and there was less than four minutes on the clock.

WWE Owens Goldberg

Jericho did come out – as expected – but it didn’t validate how Owens can be caught off-guard and make it okay to let Goldberg have another smash-and-grab.

It’s creative suicide from the WWE. They have devalued a new title and the credentials of every top guy on the active roster. All for a former WCW man they never really liked during his first run with the company.

It’s madness. At least KO and Y2J will give us a good US Title match at WrestleMania.

3/10

Jim Ross Tweeted the only thing WWE deserve applauding for during Fastlane:

WWE Royal Rumble 2017 – Review

Thirty years of the thirty man battle royal (apart from when it was forty men or included Chyna) brings us to a unique moment in WWE PPVs: there are no clear winners to choose from in this year’s Royal Rumble.

First up, we had the Raw Women’s Championship match. Charlotte is pound-for-pound better than her old man. He may have had the charisma, she has pure ability than not many male performers from any period of sports entertainment history can better. The Bayley match didn’t showcase this, the result wasn’t surprising.

Charlotte is the champ with only Sasha Banks on her level but they can’t fight every PPV.

Next up, was the Universal Championship. Even though most expected a Roman Reigns win, with it, another forced push at the top, the Chris Jericho subplot meant an Owens victory could lead to a fight between the buddies later down the line for the gold.

Fans clearly cheered KO, the Cena fans (kids) liked Reigns throwing Y2J into the shark cage. Roman being hated for being the next Cena isn’t a marker of success. He needs a character reboot.

The match had a good pace. A pyramid of chairs early on was a teaser. The first big spot was Owens frog-splashing from the top rope to the outside, putting Roman through a table in the process.

Of course, Reigns kicked out. The commentators played up broken ribs but considering The Beast Incarnate Brock Lesnar fell so fast to Goldberg with this kayfabe injury, it makes no sense Roman Reigns can shrug off the same ailment.

Jericho then provided brass knuckles (knuckle dusters, my UK friends). Owen provided a brass knuckle punch. Reigns provided a kick out at two.

Owens ended up going through the stacked chairs and an announce table. Then appears Braun Strowman to smash Reigns against another announce table, his head dangerously close to a monitor in the process. Then a slam through a table propped in the corner of the ring.

Again, head smashing against objects.

It gave Owens the win, keeps the rise of Reigns at bay, and raises questions about Strowman’s big game mentality.

It also increased Jericho’s chances of winning the Rumble later in the night.

In the following match, Neville took the Cruiserweight title but that’s all I’ll say about a division that hasn’t worked and should be given a separate platform on a permanent basis. Other than the awkwardness of changing the ropes every twenty minutes, it is sinking on the normal roster.

Styles and Cena in their WWE Championship match told a good story, the tease of tying with Flair’s record by winning with the figure-four was good.

Fair play to WWE, after seven hundred different finishers followed by two-counts, an AA from the top rope, followed by the look on Cena’s face, victory seem assured. Styles kicked out.

In the end, it took another AA, immediately rolling into another AA, for Cena to get the three count and record equalling sixteenth title.

The victory increased The Undertaker’s chance in the Rumble.

Remember Jericho’s chance improving early in the night? Well he started against Cass as the number two draw in the Rumble match. We’ve done this twice before with Y2J, there’s no suspense or enjoyment watch him set stamina records again. It would have been better to see him emerge in the last five.

So, this isn’t the place to deliver a blow-by-blow account of the entire Rumble. There are live feeds for that, and to be honest, there weren’t that many big spots. Even Kofi Kingston’s annual Rumble breath-taking escape was reduced to him landing on his chest on the top of the ring post.

Also, there were no surprise blasts from the past. No Kurt Angle.

If you can detect a slight disgruntlement it’s because once again, the modern WWE managed to build an event, add all the right ingredients, then not know how to use them.

The omission of Seth Rollins is a bizarre decision. As the entrants came and went, we quickly came down to a thin field with not too many names to follow. That trimming was thanks to Braun Strowman but again, he looked dangerous. His size should be storyline scary, his actions in the ring storyline devastating. The reality is, he’s one move away from ending someone’s career.

Baron Corbin relieved the wrestlers of Strowman and it set up the final act. We all knew Brock Lesnar and Goldberg were to come, along with The Undertaker. That was one potential combination to end the match.

When Lesnar finally appeared, he either threw people over the top rope or took them to Suplex City. Until Goldberg entered, speared and dispatched him over the top rope. Embarrassing for Brock, but more awkward for WWE that after that quick act, the aged superstar look immobile.

Chris Jericho had spent half the match hidden from the ring action. So was this to preserve him for a big finish? The KO v Y2J Wrestlemania main event? Nope. It was to serve zero purpose other than extend his record for longest career time in the Rumble match.

When the final man entered, the arena erupted – into a chorus of boos. It was Roman Reigns, a man no adult wanted to win. Again, he was booked to look strong, eliminating The Deadman who had taken the ring for his own with a dashing late appearance.

It was cheeky of WWE to tease the idea of another Reigns Rumble win. It riled the crowd and a match that started with several possibilities came down to Roman or the Wyatt family.

Thank the Lord that the RKO exists and a fresh direction, with a continuing storyline woven in, takes centre stage. Maybe WWE has finally learned, and Roman will have to earn his crust.

After this Rumble, it looks like that will be against The Phenom. And hopefully best friends Jericho and Owens can still book that big Universal Title bout.

6/10 (I’d have added 3 points for a shock The Miz win.)