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 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

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 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 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.