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 WrestleMania 33 – Review

The Thrill Ride is over, the dust has settled, now’s the time to look back at The Showcase of Immortals. This year’s WrestleMania had much promise going into the event. Many storylines were poised to be resolved, although the majority had an obvious conclusion. Did WWE think outside the box and still deliver great moments and a few shocks? Read on to find out.

With a five-hour show – that’s the main show, not including the bouts on the pre-show – WWE had made a rod for its own back. The fans would need more stamina than the superstars on display. This is why the running order needed to be perfect. One misplaced bout could derail the whole event.

With Shane McMahon and AJ Styles given the curtain raiser, there was a slight concern. This has been a match many have been dismissive of. Even Cory Graves said the prospect did nothing for him. So it was a gamble, a potential switch off after just switching on.

There should have been zero worry. AJ could wrestle a dustbin and make a good match. What he had was a Shane O’Mac that gave his best show of in-ring ability. He’s never looked this good before. Why did he always go for gimmicks when he could do the “real” thing?

That’s not to say it was a totally pure bout. The old ref getting knocked out to bring in weapons trick allowed a trashcan followed by a dive from the top rope. But still, a great start and some fears allayed.

Next up was the match more knowledgeable fans were most looking forward to: Chris Jericho vs Kevin Owens for the United States Title. It was also one where the expected outcome didn’t matter. We all know Jericho will soon return to the rock world with Fozzy. What we knew was these two had a great story and compelling chemistry.

Jericho Owens WM33

They didn’t let us down. The match swung, the story told well. The impact of the end (it was a powerbomb, can you guess where?) a fitting WrestleMania moment.

Skipping over the Raw Women’s Championship – because a five-hour show doesn’t need a six-hour review, and WWE “Creative” can’t use this talent correctly – we’ll come to the Ladder Match for Raw’s Tag Titles instead.

The takeaway is the returning Hardy Boyz. They have been touring independents after release from TNA (or Impact Wrestling, or Wasted Opportunity to be a Viable WWE Challenger Wrestling that made No Impact) and claiming numerous titles. They held seven simultaneously at one point.

Hardyz WM33

Now they have the big one. WWE’s. The stunts were provided in classic fashion but this is a new team. The fans acknowledged the Broken Matt Hardy and chanted “Delete.” WWE need to follow suit. Matt Hardy had complete creative control in TNA, this is his creation. WWE should throw the lawyers behind bringing it to Raw every week.

Next is the conclusion of a greatly told story with Cena and Miz facing off, women alongside. And oops, the story telling was better than the conclusion. For some reason, Cena sold to Miz all match. It was a suspension of disbelief. “Big Game John” was ground to the mat and desperately needed a hot tag.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m The Miz’s biggest fan. I totally am. But it would have been more believable had he fought back from some sort of beating, earnt respect, and managed to look like a threat to Cena. Instead it brought back memories of Shawn Michaels and Hogan at SummerSlam.

The Miz WM33

Oh yeah, and Cena won and he proposed in his cringe life to his cringe future wife Fearless (very whiny for someone with no fear?) Nikki Bella.

I’m not Cena’s biggest fan.

Seth Rollins and Triple H was a little like the Y2J/KO bout. Characters that you can be invested in, a conclusion that didn’t need a swerve. It was simple and delivered as expected. Perhaps a little too simple. Maybe Trips shouldn’t be here next year to put over more upcoming talent and should just let the New Era play alone.

The WWE Championship followed. Yep, the “Most Prestigious title in Sports Entertainment” was nowhere near the night’s climax. And thank the maker for that. The betrayal on Wyatt should have come here, not a month prior. Failing that, Luke Harper needed to appear in a shock heel turn to help Bray.

Failing that we needed anything that meant Randy Orton didn’t deliver an RKO from Outta Nowhere to win. He did. And with it the Wyatt experience has been killed once and for all. What a shame. An unforgivable waste from WWE “Creative.”

Another bout, another expected result. Brock Lesnar and Goldberg. To be fair, it wasn’t the squash match we’d feared. It did run like a highlights package for big impacts but it worked. Lesnar had to dig deep, Goldberg still looks strong. The Beast Incarnate is a Universal Champion with an even bigger chip on his shoulder.

Lesnar_Goldberg WM33

SmackDown Women’s Championship Six-Pack Challenge returned the Women’s Revolution to the Dark Ages (should we call them “Divas” again?). It was quick, lazy, and Naomi got the soulless WrestleMania moment in her home state.

The finale was Undertaker vs Roman Reigns. The placement on the card revealed the result. ‘Taker goes last because this would be his last match ever. Which meant he was passing the torch. WWE will not reconsider the relentless Reigns push.

Undertaker WM33

There’s only one man worthy enough to call the match: Jim Ross. He’s been through personal tragedy lately, and the entire world of wrestling, fans and performers alike, are united in sending him their love and best wishes.

JR called it with the expertise and delivery that appears to come so natural and has been so sorely missed on WWE programming. And it happened to be a decent bout. There was a very noticeable spot where Reigns couldn’t get Undertaker up into position for, what I’m guessing, was a Tombstone Piledriver. This is probably the final piece of evidence that Undertaker’s wrestling days should be over.

My gut instinct says he was originally heading for a bout with Cena. It’s why he first reappeared on SmackDown LIVE. But his body must has served its final notice. So ‘Taker being an old-school man (maybe the last) followed the tradition of leaving the ring on his back, passing the torch to the next generation.

At the end, he disrobed his Undertaker gimmick, both garments and aura. It was as if the kayfabe spirit finally left the old gunslinger. He became a normal man before our eyes.

A man will can all respect and will miss forever.

Undetaker Last Stand

(6/10, overall event rating.)

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

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.)