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 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.)