WWE Great Balls of Fire 2017 – Review

Before we begin, apologies for delayed reporting. Currently in Tokyo and Danny Simms said my diligent output was putting him to shame. Top tip for site editors: don’t hire staff more talented than you are, you’ll only begin to feel inadequate. While in Japan, an eye has been kept on WWE, so here comes the first of two reviews.

After choosing the worst name for a PPV, WWE had its work cut out. It was either going to bomb in style or redeem itself on air. Overall, it kinda swung to the latter. Just about.

The theme of the night, for this fan, was how – finally – WWE Creative haven’t been scared to create the correct results. In the case of this PPV, for differing reasons.

First bout of note was Bray Wyatt versus Seth Rollins.

These two have been billed as the future but sold down the river with misdirection. But at this point, a Wyatt defeat would be like serving him his P45 (for non-UK fans, firing him). A man can only claim deity status so many times before it becomes white noise during regular defeats.

Okay, so this wasn’t a classic clash. Which is surprising given the talent on show. But it doesn’t matter. It was always going to be about the result here and they handed the win to Wyatt. He needed an eye gouge but it’s hardly the type of cowardly move that could condemns him.

The Kingslayer has enough in the bank to move on and seek revenge. Wyatt is fighting for his WWE career.

Cesaro and Sheamus against The Hardy Boyz in an Iron Match was further example of WWE investing in the Hardy’s legacy. The result was secondary to allowing them another type of bout added to a career retrospect that’s second-to-none.

The levels maintain throughout the bout were exemplary.

The brothers trailed by a deficit that appeared unattainable . . . until the final minutes. Cue the high-risk spots – one of which left Matt bleedy profusely – and last second drama.

It was the Swiss Superman and the faux Irishman that left with the gold but the Hardys are surely taking slow steps to a Broken story.

The best thing that can be said about Alexis Bliss and Sasha Banks ending in a count-out is that we’ll get to see it again. Nice to see an original gimmick as Bliss used her double-jointed nature to fool opponent and ref.

Dean Ambrose and The Miz is another match that needed the right result, regardless of in-ring quality.

WWE needs to move past these two; The Miz doesn’t deserve to drop a belt only he has made credible in the last year.

So, the only thing that matters, is to say WWE Creative got it right again.

Then they did the unimaginable. They let Braun Strowman beat Roman Reigns in their ambulance match.

It was a brutal bout and Reigns didn’t look weak (golden boy protection). If the shock of the fall wasn’t enough, Reigns did something that was pure heel: he attempted homicide on a live PPV.

After fighting out of the ambulance, he threw Strowman in the back, drove out of the arena into the parking lot and then reversed – at pace – into an overhanging trailer.

The ambulance was partly crushed, Strowman inside.

My beady eye noticed the stunt was pre-recorded but this can be forgiven.

Oh, and The Monster Among Men eventually walked (hobbled) away from the wreck.

Which leaves us the main event. Lesnar v Joe.

Some will say Samoa Joe deserved a chance with the strap. I can’t disagree with the sentiment but we have to remember, he was here through chance. Injuries to others, thus, changes to the programme, meant this was a placeholder.

But Creative allowed Brock to once again appear beatable. Joe took his best, and for a while, traded with Lesnar.

He attacked him before the bell and never let up.

Brock Lesnar left your Universal Champion but the seed has been planted that he can be overthrown.

Expect Joe and those involved in the ambulance match to make that come true at SummerSlam.

6/10

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WWE Extreme Rules 2017 – Review

The build to RAW’s latest PPV wasn’t a smooth affair. Okay, put simply – it was underwhelming. The ratings don’t lie but a number of factors are at play. As ever, we can point fingers at WWE “Creative.” It’s also easy to say that the forever MIA Brock Lesnar hiding the much-derided Universal Championship doesn’t help.

The worst offender in recent times has been lazy bookings. Back to meaningless or repetitive matches and title changes signposted with future plans no longer a surprise.

This being said, the opening bout – the Intercontinental title match between Dean Ambrose and The Miz – should have been a damp squid. We’ve seen this mix months previous on SmackDown Live and those in the know have told us The Miz is being lined up for gold in order to play sacrificial lamb to Roman Reigns further down the line.

The stipulation here went against the ethos of the PPV. Instead of doing anything, it was a case of Ambrose losing the title should he get a DQ. That – obviously – played a large part of the narrative. As it should. But congrats to WWE for avoiding some contrived way to get Ambrose disqualified. Sure, they hinted at it, and made out he was close to doing something silly. But he didn’t.

The action in between these teases was good. The Miz really deserves all his props lately. He has always been strong on the mic, now he mixes it like a champ in the ring, and does bring prestige to belts.

He took the gold here by way of distraction. Not the obvious Maryse one. It was her expulsion to the back that allowed The Miz to throw The Lunatic Asylum into the ref and allow the official to debate his intention.

A skull crushing finale later, and we had a new IC Champ.

Extreme The Miz

That was a solid base to the show. The filler that came was weak, topped with a healthy bun.

So why did the show fail between curtain opening and shutting?

It was a mix of things, individual to each match.

Take Sasha Banks and Rich Swann v Naom Dar and Alicia Fox. This one failed for a few reasons. First off, the style and pacing was something you’d expect to see on Main Event. In doing so, the joint-best female performer, Banks (Charlotte is the other), is degraded to making Alicia Fox look like an almost equal.

That’s like asking Roman Reigns to beat Undertaker then go twenty minutes with Heath Slater the next night.

Except here, the match was thankfully short. It wasn’t PPV billing, nor PPV class.

Alexa Bliss v Bayley didn’t actually fail for the reason some are crying about (crying like Bayley). It was wise to make Bliss look so dominant. She has been given the baton and the WWE needs to let her run with it.

It failed by allowing Bayley to go stale before our eyes. When she’s on screen, a feeling not dissimilar to the Cena effect occurs. But she doesn’t have his backing – just impending disconnect. There should have been a post-squash match change in attitude displayed by Bayley.

The steel cage match for the Raw Tag Titles was all about too many matches between the opponents in the weeks before, and tepid action once it began. It doesn’t help that the Hardyz are being begged to turn Broken by the WWE Universe. A cage match teased that chance.

Instead we got a few certainties. A Whisper in the Wind from the top of the cage and a Sheamus and Cesaro win. See, in wrestling, if a superstar (or team in this case) win too much en route to a PPV, it means the ones that seemingly have no momentum win.

They cash in the jobber tax (not to be confused with Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion, that’s the Jobber Lotto coming up trumps).

A final nail in this match’s coffin was how the idea of both teammates escaping didn’t fully explain the rule about reentry (which invalidates the initial escape).

Refer to Payback 2017 review regarding the Cruiserweight division. As a side note: if I were to offer any review for Neville v Austin Aries in their submission match for the gold, I’d have said it was very good. A good advert for 205 Live (which shouldn’t be a RAW element).

The Fatal 5-Way to become number one contender was a lift that brought the event back to the level The Miz and Ambrose set – and took it on a few more notches.

After a generic start – wrestlers taking it in turns to fight, hide, and showcase – an alliance of Samoa Joe and Bray Wyatt formed. This better controlled the traffic from Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Finn Bálor. It wasn’t long after this partnership broke down that Bálor went on the rampage.

Samoa Joe Bray Wyatt

The kick Reigns took to the face from The Demon King from the ring apron looked legit and painful. As did a multiple body pile-up spear through the barrier from Reigns, and a Rollins splash through an announce table.

Reigns and Rollins was teased as the finishing pair before it became Reigns and Bálor. As the Big Dog ate a Coup De Grace from the Irishman, Joe snuck up behind and locked in the Coquina Clutch.

A well-balanced packed main event and a good choice of winner moving forward. He may be visiting Suplex City to take a defeat but he’ll still leave looking strong.

5/10

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