Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Global Wrestling Alliance

It’s been nearly four months since Jeff Jarrett announced the formation of Global Force Wrestling. They’ve still yet to announce their first show or any sort of formal roster. These are the two most key things any wrestling promotion needs. Without wrestlers or a venue it’s hard to argue that what you actually have is a wrestling company. At the moment it’s more accurate to say that ‘Double J’ is running a niche T-shirt company.

While Global Force don’t have a roster or a show announced they have announced a number of partnerships with other wrestling promotions. The most noteworthy of these are Mexico’s AAA and Japan’s New Japan Pro Wrestling. Behind them are the Inoki Genome Federation, Revolution Pro Wrestling, Premier British Wrestling, New Generation Wrestling, and Westside Xtreme Wrestling.

That’s considerable support, especially for a company yet to actually do anything. A partnership with New Japan alone is a big deal. Although it’s worth noting that the European promotions are not big operations and operate on scales more similar to smaller US indies than AAA or New Japan.

The emphasis on partnerships, as opposed to signing talent and promoting shows, has made me think about an approach I think Global Force could take when it finally starts up (if it starts up). In fact it’s the approach I want to see them take. I think GFW could do a lot worse than pattern themselves after the National Wrestling Alliance during its heyday.

This was during the NWA championship's last
bout of relevance. In, of all places, TNA.
Do I need to summarise how the NWA worked? Probably not but I will anyway. It was an organisation comprised of wrestling promoters from around the United States. Each member ran their own promotion, had their own rosters and had their own championships. The NWA had a variety of purposes, many of which were logistical. For our purposes the most interesting thing about the group was the NWA world championship. It was created as the world championship in wrestling, with each promoter’s top singles title taking a back seat to it and being more of a regional accomplishment.

Each member of the NWA had access to the NWA world champ and got to vote on when a champion would lose the championship and to whom (based on the size of their territory, the champ’s home promotion, and so on). This approach meant that seeing the NWA world championship felt like an occasion. That in turn meant better business for all involved.

In 2014 it would be na├»ve to think that a world champion touring around a variety of promotions would have the same appeal. The world’s moved on and the nature of viewing wrestling has changed, thanks to both cable TV and the internet. But the idea of GFW champions visiting smaller promotions holds a certain appeal. And I’d like to see it happen.

My ideal Global Force setup would be for most shows to be held in the US, with tours every few months to Europe, Japan or Mexico. The tours would be co-promoted by the partner promotions under the Global Force banner, featuring a mixture of talent from all (or most) of the GFW partner promotions. Naturally the partner league promoting the shows locally would provide most of the talent, but with this approach Global Force would routinely be able to offer a roster on, well, a global scale.

What’s this got to do with champions? That should be obvious. Once GFW has been up and running for a year or two a tournament could be held to crown a world champion. They could go on to be one of the key figures on every tour GFW promotes, eventually being joined by tag champs and perhaps junior heavyweight and women’s champions too.

Inaugural Global Force world champ?
This approach would make the focus on partnerships make sense and allow GFW to neatly sidestep the issue of having a roster nailed down. It would be a fluid approach that lends itself to the inevitable comings and goings that are bound to occur. For that matter it wouldn’t adversely affect the current approaches of any Global Force partner. Every federation from New Japan to Andy Quildan’s RPW could operate as normal and just take on extra dates once or twice a year when Jarrett feels frisky.

This approach would also work well for online streaming, both live and on demand. That’s something Jarrett’s not addressed yet but if he intends to make GFW work on the scale he claims it’s something he’ll have to look into. People will need to be able to access shows online. Not necessarily live, but within a few days of them taking place.

I can’t think of any other way Global Force Wrestling could function while getting the footage it needs and taking into account its various limitations. If Jarrett doesn’t do it this way I’ll be disappointed.

Monday, 28 July 2014

RIP TNA

I woke up this morning to news I'd been expecting for a while. Spike TV have opted not to renew their contract with TNA. Impact Wrestling, the promotion's flagship show, will not air on Spike after the current contract expires in October. Without that weekly slot, and with no house show or merchandise business to speak of, TNA's chances of survival are massively slim.

There are a multitude of factors for Spike's decision not to renew. The one that acted as the metaphorical final straw was, apparently, Vince Russo. Spike TV have a long-standing grudge against Russo dating back to his previous stints being involvement with TNA. His failure to produce the levels of success he promises is the cause of this. Spike discovered Russo had been involved in the booking of TNA since some time earlier this year or late last year and made the decision to cut ties.

Maybe she'll be the last champ?
Which is understandable. They'd made it clear to TNA top boss Dixie Carter that they were not willing to help fund a promotion that was taking creative input from Russo. Instead of doing the intelligent thing and simply not using Russo, Dixie seemingly defied Spike and discreetly hired him, thinking she could keep it quiet (Spike discovered he was working for TNA when Russo accidentally sent an email to a Spike employee (note that there are already conspiracy theories that say Russo’s actions were deliberate)). Spike TV were not technically in charge of TNA but they had been funding the league for quite some time, making Dixie’s decision a dumb one. By hiring Russo, Dixie practically guaranteed the contract with Spike would not be renewed.

There are other reasons Spike would have been less than keen to continue its relationship with TNA. Their inability to keep hold of AJ Styles and Sting, the latter of whom Spike helped to cover the costs of because they felt he was a significant name worth having around, really wouldn't have helped. The viewing figures, which generally lay somewhere around the million mark, would have been a disappointment too. In and of itself that rating was fine and it had seen small improvements over the last few months, but TNA had been in its Thursday slot for years (ill-conceived and brief 2010 switch to Mondays aside) and should have been able to increase their average number by now.

The company's general lack of direction and overall image were likely big problems too. TNA had been drifting for years, aimlessly stumbling from one vague concept (usually focusing themselves around a new signing) to the next. There was no long term goal or focus, no image that helped to differentiate it from WWE or Ring of Honor. It fact, it felt as though TNA were happy to simply be a number two promotion that aped the approach of the number one promotion. Being an alternative to the market leader with an approach that was clearly their own would not have guaranteed greater ratings, or anything else for that matter, but it would have made TNA a more attractive prospect for Spike (and indeed for other prospective TV partners). Why be happy as number two in sports entertainment when you can be number one with your own approach?

It looks grim for the Total Nonstop crew. Without a television presence the company’s as good as dead. Their list of options are to find a new channel that's interested in airing Impact, getting some impressive and lucrative sponsorship sorted out and streaming shows online (or perhaps returning to the weekly pay-per-view model they first used in 2002) or relocating to Britain and mining their popularity on Challenge for all it's worth, while still desperately trying to find a new US network. The relocation seems massively unlikely. Spike would have probably covered costs of primarily taping in the UK (read about that here) had the partnership continued but TNA can't handle a full scale redeployment itself. It's simply not practical, and Challenge is unlikely to be interested in helping with the finances. Technically I suppose it could as it's run by Sky (Britain's biggest cable provider for non-Brit readers) but it's just not how things work over here. And even if it were I don't think TNA is that valuable to Challenge. It may be their highest rated show but the numbers aren't astronomical.

I don't know enough about the setup of US TV stations to rattle off a list of prospective new homes for Impact. I'm sure there are some and I'm sure one or two could even end up being better for TNA than Spike was. I can't imagine why any network that doesn't already have a vested interest would want to affiliate itself with the promotion. But I’m not in TV and I’m looking at the situation from the perspective of TNA having been completely missable for practically its entire existence. A show that stands a good chance of attracting a million viewers each, and has the potential to expand and attract more, is probably quite desirable to many TV people.

Streaming online is probably not going to happen, but it’s not impossible. TNA parent company Panda Energy has been willing to throw dosh Dixie's way in the past. Setting up a streaming service feels like the sort of thing all involved would convince themselves would work. I could see TNA going with streaming until the money stops coming, which likely wouldn't be for three or four months at least. Who knows, maybe streaming could work out well for them. I doubt it though. Weekly PPVs are even less likely. That wasn't a sustainable approach for the company ten years ago, so it certainly won't be now.

It’s possible Spike will buy TNA themselves. They know they’ll get a certain rating from it and could theoretically expand the live event schedule and sort out the woeful merchandise situation to get some money rolling in. They’d need an entirely new management team but considering the way TNA’s been run into the ground by the Carters I think that’s something Spike would be keen on anyway. If the view in that company is that TNA is a decent investment that could be turned around (and I think that with the right approach it could be) then a Spike purchase is just about plausible.

I fear the worst for TNA finding a new TV home and surviving this debacle. The TNA-Spike deal lasts until October. It's unknown when the last episode of Impact will air on the channel but October would seem a sensible assumption. If something new can't be sorted out then there's a strong chance Bound For Glory could be the promotion's last hurrah.

This won't be the last time I write about TNA in the next few months. As much as I find their product totally unengaging I'd like them to survive because it creates jobs for wrestlers and wrestling people and the possibility’s there to turn things around. But right now that happening looks highly unlikely.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

NXTweet 24.07.14

I’ve said before that NXT is the best weekly wrestling show available to wrestling fans. It features a good blend of high quality matches, entertaining gimmicks, and promos. It doesn’t hurt that none of the regulars who appear on the show have been around long enough to feel stale, or for the writers to have lost interest in them.

It was the July 17 episode that made me want to revive NXTweet. It was a particularly strong episode, featuring almost every major act in the league in some form or other. The only one missing was Adrian Neville, and to be honest I can handle skipping him for a week. I’d recommend that episode to anyone who wants to get into NXT who isn’t a regular viewer (there have to be some people in that position reading this, right?).

But that’s last week. This week’s show was good too.  The only real disappointment was the Charlotte versus Summer Rae Women’s title match, and that was mostly a letdown because of how good both women have been over the last few months. They’ve shown they can do better work than they did here. Perhaps we’ll get a rematch that surpasses this. Hopefully they’ll have the metaphorical creases ironed out before NXT’s next special event rolls around. I suspect they’ll be in a three-way match also involving Sasha Banks there.

But as I say, everything else on this show was a good watch. I don’t know how any wrestling fan could watch The Vaudevillains, Tyler Breeze, Adrian Neville and Rusev and feel unfulfilled.

Intro

Tweet 1: Watching NXT. Prepare for some heavy tweet flow...
Tweet 2: Opening video on the BFFs was good. How is it that the NXT Divas are booked better, and are better in general, than the main roster Divas?

The Ascension v Jonny Vandal and Aaron Solow

Tweet 3: Best thing about the opener so far has been Konor's no-sell of a weak chop.

Selling? Nope.

Tweet 4: Within NXT The Ascension are magnificent. I'm not convinced they'll be treated so well on RAW.
Tweet 5: Also, more commentary team comparisons to The Eliminators and The Road Warriors wouldn't go amiss.

Tyler Breeze v Mojo Rawley

Tweet 6: Zoolander references during Breeze's intro. I approve.
Tweet 7: I'm less keen on the furry phone cover.
Tweet 8: And I'm even less keen on Breeze facing Mojo Rawley. He has the feel of a low card WCW guy from 1997.
Tweet 9: And and and... I'm also not keen on the Beauty Shot still being a spinning heel kick. It should be a DDT or something.
Tweet 10: But hey, Breeze won. So thumbs up, yeah?!

NXT Women’s championship – Charlotte (c) v Summer Rae

Tweet 11: Summer Rae wearing gold boots, Eddie G style.
Tweet 12: Not to be outdone Charlotte does a handstand cartwheel thing and then slides into the ring like heel Nigel McGuinness.
Tweet 13: That figure four headlock lasted foreeeeeeeeeeeever.

The never-ending figure four headlock.

Tweet 14: "I made you, Charlotte!" - Summer Rae, providing the requisite lols
Tweet 15: They're both long women apparently.
Tweet 16: The fans are bored so they're doing a Mexican wave. I feel their pain. This match is pretty poor.
Tweet 17: Is it called the women's championship because they're women but not full-fledged Divas? Knowing how WWE works, probably.
Tweet 18: Charlotte won. The wrestling they did wasn't bad but they did nothing to draw the crowd in.

The Vaudevillains v Sin Cara and Kalisto

Tweet 19: #Vaudevillainspop
Tweet 20: Kalisto teaming with Sin Cara. Prepare the botch klaxon...
Tweet 21: Renee Young chatting some nonsense about mask spikes there.
Tweet 22: Apparently Sin Cara and Kalisto want to be “the future of lucha libres." Not lucha libre or luchadors but lucha libres. C'mon, Renee.
Tweet 23: She pulled it back with a Giant Haystacks reference. That's my girl.
Tweet 24: The Vaudevillains are two guys with moustaches. Just like Basil and Manuel in Fawlty Towers. #justsaying
Tweet 25: There is something a little John Cleese about Aiden English as it goes.
Tweet 26: That was a solid tag match. Everyone was good. Even Sin Cara. Yes, really!

"Don't mention the war!"

Rusev v Adrian Neville

Tweet 27: Lana shrugging off the "What?" treatment like a boss.
Tweet 28: #Putinheat
Tweet 29: Now feels like an apt time to mention that Rusev was trained by Rikishi and Gangrel.
Tweet 30: "I am 'The Super Athlete'. Rusev!" - Rusev
Tweet 31: Is it the Eiffel Tower tattooed on Rusev's back or just a generic electricity pylon?
Tweet 32: Don't really get why Rusev didn't just beat Neville. He's a beast and main roster. Neville could stomach that loss.
Tweet 33: Didn't mind seeing Tyler Breeze again though. #mmmgorgeous

Post-match beating, just to remind us who the bigger star is.

Tweet 34: As ever NXT bests every other weekly wrestling show from any company.
Tweet 35: Yep, even with a DQ main event.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The John Cena School of Booking

I think it’s about time John Cena started trying to make some new stars. Considering the length of time he’s been WWE’s leading man (nine years and counting) he has a woeful track record in this department. He helped to establish both Edge and Rob Van Dam as credible main eventers in 2005, losing the WWE championship to each to kick off their respective first reigns. Since then, nothing.

In fairness it should also be pointed out that Cena didn’t exactly “make” either Edge or RVD when he lost to them. Van Dam had been ECW’s hottest act since 1998 until it ceased to exist and Edge had steadily been building up to a main event run since the closing months of 2003. A victory over Cena was, in each case, simply the final act that established that they were to be viewed as top tier names in WWE. In other words they would have made it to the top with or without a victory over Cena.

I miss the days of him wearing his baseball cap backwards.
The problem doesn’t lie with Cena. He has shown willingness to lose to a wide variety of names many times over the years. The problem lies with WWE’s creative department. Too great an emphasis is placed on protecting his image as the company’s leading man. I understand Cena is not a Jericho-like veteran figure who can routinely lose without suffering any ill-effects. He does need to win most of the time to maintain his status. Sadly, it’s part of his act. But when he does lose WWE should be prepared to have him do so cleanly, to ensure the victory means something for the guy getting it.

Take Cena’s Extreme Rules cage match with Bray Wyatt for example. Having defeated ‘The Eater of World’s’ at WrestleMania Cena had to take a loss at the Rules show to keep the rivalry alive for the third and final instalment. The overbooked finish saw Cena plough through Wyatt and his two henchmen with relative ease before getting distracted by a child with a strange voice, which allowed Wyatt to sneak up on Cena and ultimately win the match.

There was no need for Cena to job out Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, or for a child to be introduced to provide further distraction. It’s not that it made Bray look weak or ineffective, it’s that it cheapened the win so much that it was worthless. Wyatt had accomplished nothing by winning a match in such a wacky manner. The main thing that saved him from being harmed by the encounter is the fact that he’s such a charismatic performer that people will support him regardless.

That opens up a potential counter argument that the Extreme Rules kerfuffle was fine if Wyatt ultimately came out of it unscathed. Not so. Just because Wyatt was unharmed doesn’t make it right. He could still have been enhanced by a more convincing victory. And I’m using him merely as an example. Most other wrestlers on the roster would have been damaged by such a roundabout win over Cena.

I think the time’s come for Cena to start losing the occasional feud. I’m not suggesting he should be putting over Corey Graves in his inaugural main roster feud, rather select opponents who have been deemed future headline certainties. Rusev is an obvious example. He’s currently being presented magnificently, presumably in preparation for progressing to the top. He is also exactly the sort of man who would suffer at the hands of the current Super Cena model. Anyone familiar with WWE should find it all too easy to envisage Cena being the first man to power out of Rusev’s Accolade submission hold before hoisting the big Russian up to plant him with a match-winning AA.

Rusev... CRUSH!
Of course, somebody has to be the first to break The Accolade. But it doesn’t need to be Cena. Shouldn’t be, in fact. He’d gain nothing from it and it would prove a setback to Rusev. He’d be just another guy who lost to Cena. Conversely, imagine the reaction if Cena fell victim to the hold (even via referee stoppage). Rusev would be set as an unstoppable machine with an unbreakable hold. A victory over Cena could kick off a period of complete dominance for Rusev, which could in turn be brought to a hault six to twelve months later by a rising babyface who finally manages to snap The Accolade and put Rusev down for a three count.

Cena could not perform tasks like this all the time. As I’ve already said, he does need to win the majority of the time in order to maintain his status with Da Kidz. But he can afford to lose a big match or a feud decisively once every six months or so if it’s going to create a new star.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Charisma Expert

For the first fifteen years of his wrestling career Jay ‘Christian’ Reso managed to remain injury free. If you look at how common injuries are in wrestling that was a fairly remarkable feat. It allowed Christian to build up a reputation for being reliable and afforded him a consistent spot on the roster, which in turn granted him enough face time to build a loyal following.

Unfortunately for him his once glowing track record with injuries has become notoriously spotty over the last few years. Less than two years after he returned to WWE from a moderately successful run in TNA he was struck with a pectoral injury. He was back in the ring for around seven months before suffering another injury, this one to his neck. He came back from that too, but since then he’s been plagued by injuries, most of them to his shoulder.

This has transformed ‘Captain Charisma’ from a reliable go-to guy who can be sent out to have a good match with anyone into a fragile liability. Or at least that seems to be WWE’s opinion of him. Even when he’s cleared to wrestle these days they seem reluctant to let him do so. I’m sure this is largely because of the lengthy injury list. His recent concussion problems and his age (forty) probably don’t help either.

"Hey look! There's my push!"
It seems that Reso’s in-ring career is winding down. I think he’s done enough for the company to deserve a televised retirement match on a pay-per-view. Because he was never a considered “a draw” by the promotion that seems unlikely. ‘The Instant Classic’ is likely to be shuffled off into a special appearance based role similar to Booker T’s.

Which, of course, is a massive waste of Christian’s talent. Even though I don’t agree with it I can understand WWE deeming him unreliable. But he’s only “unreliable” for actual wrestling. There are contributions Christian could make outside the ring that would improve WWE’s TV shows. I’ve written before that he’d make a good announcer. Surely something other than clogging up the NXT announce desk could be found for Alex Riley and the artist formerly known as Lord Tensai to do. Christian would be a far better fit: he’s a better talker than either and has accomplished more in his career.

The thing I’d really like to see Christian do is become a manager. His above average microphone skills and nineteen years as an active wrestler make him ideal for the role. Theoretically it could be argued that he’d be a good guy to pair with the incoming KENTA because he’d do a fine job of handling his promos. But in actuality that would be terrible, the only thing making it at all appealing is the timing of Christian seemingly being free from wrestling duties and KENTA signing and being in need of someone to talk for him.

Christian would be a natural manager for a tag team. That’s where he had the greatest levels of success in his career. It would be easy for the commentary team to pass him off as a tag veteran and expert taking a fledging team under his wing and guiding them to the top. Any heel team that aren’t very good at promos would benefit from having Christian doing their talking and interacting with audiences during their matches.

But the truth is that Christian’s unlikely to be used as a manager or a regular commentator. WWE have never seen him as anything more than a nifty mid-carder and they’ll continue treating him as such, no matter in how many ways he could improve and help with new acts. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for one… more… match. But I’m not going to get my hopes up.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Cesaro Goes Solo

So Cesaro is no longer a Paul Heyman Guy. Because why persevere with an affiliation that could lead to a talented rising star facing your best drawing part-timer in a match people really want to see?

The moment Cesaro was announced as the latest Heyman client people leapt on the potential Lesnar match. It was a natural enough thing to do. Cesaro works a rough and ready style while Lesnar is practically the definition of physicality within wrestling. They would clearly mesh well with one another and both are so experienced and good at what they do that they'd be able to craft a lively match that draws viewers in.

That the Punk v Lesnar feud had been based largely around their shared friendship with Heyman didn't hurt either. It created a precedent. Cesaro could go face, handle his own chatting, and hammer Lesnar in a slobberknocker of the year contender. It all seemed so obvious.

For whatever reason WWE don't seem to want to have Heyman affiliated with more than one guy at once. That means that managing 'The King of Swing' was fine while Lesnar was between matches but now he's back to take the championship off John Cena he needs to be Heyman's sole charge again. It's exactly what happened to Ryback and Curtis Axel last year. They were dropped like a hot brick by Heyman as soon as his programme with Punk was over and they remained unaffiliated with Heyman when he returned to TV alongside Lesnar.

I don't agree with WWE splitting Cesaro from Heyman. I don't understand their reason for wanting to. But I can accept it. They do eccentric, inexplicable things all the time. What I can't accept is that they thought the best way of doing it would be having Cesaro casually mention during a convo with Triple H that he was no longer a Heyman guy. Surely it can't be that nobody within WWE thought to suggest that maybe Heyman and Cesaro have some sort on-screen bust up to better ease into a Lesnar-Cesaro programme should it come up? A simple two minute segment would have been ample. It's not like there weren't two spare minutes on RAW.
 
The Bond villain look is a good one.
Then of course there's the misconception that pairing Cesaro with Heyman should have turned him into a somebody overnight. The partnership alone was never going to do much for Cesaro. He'd already demonstrated very good verbal capabilities to match his very good in-ring skills. He'd also ably demonstrated he could get over and create a following under his own steam. Heyman in and of himself is not a star maker. He can help to create a buzz about a roster member but when push comes to shove it's always going to be the creative department and the McMahons who decide who the stars are. If creative sees someone as a mid-carder then a mid-carder they’ll be, no matter how popular they are or who their agent is.

Cesaro and Heyman accomplished everything WWE wanted them to. Heyman was kept relevant and on TV screens so he could mention Brock Lesnar constantly. The slow build was continued for ‘The Swiss Superman’. Cesaro was never meant to be rocketed to the top with Heyman, as evidenced by his semi-stagnation in the mid-card since April.

It’s frustrating that things could have been different. When Cesaro joined forces with Heyman his popularity was sky high. He'd just won the Andre the Giant battle royal and become a quasi-face as a result. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for WWE to give him a shove to the top, placing him into programmes with established names and using the association with Heyman for more than the bare minimum they were happy with. For whatever reason they opted not to. The pairing's potential went unfulfilled. It's sad and disappointing but it's not the first time WWE have done this. Nor will it be the last.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Battleground 2014 review

Battleground had it pretty easy. Most people were and are looking past it and the more significant SummerSlam pay-per-view in August do the pressure was off. It just needed to be a fun show with a handful of enjoyable matches. But, unfortunately, fun is a concept WWE struggles with.

The show started with the traditional video package. It focused on John Cena winning the WWE championship at Money in the Bank and his defence in a fatal four-way match that would headline Battleground. Towards the beginning the words "As one man rises" were shown on the screen. It made me think that "Always rising" would be a suitably vague bit of positivity for a new Cena slogan. Anyone reading this form WWE’s T-shirt division is welcome to that idea. The video was nicely put together, as you'd expect.

This is what wrestling's all about, basically.
The opener was, for the second month in a row, for the WWE tag team titles. Champions Jimmy and Jey Uso defended against the Wyatt Family's Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. The Usos got a decent enough reaction but it was nothing compared to the Wyatt boys. They were given a raucous good guy reaction. Things got better for the official babyfaces as they managed to get their name chanted in the opening minutes as Jey was isolated in the ring. The pair would’ve been in real trouble if even a mauling at the hands of the slovenly challengers couldn’t rally fans to their cause.

The Wyatts got the first fall with a Harper big boot to Jimmy, just after Jimmy had tagged in. It was pretty sudden and really didn't make any sense. Jey had been isolated for a few minutes before Jimmy tagged in and got pinned so it would've made more sense for him to be pinned. The second fall was just as sudden, Jimmy tagging in and rolling up Harper after the beardy lad had charged chest first into a turnbuckle.

That the first two falls were raced through so quickly was disappointing. It made the stipulation pointless, as though the four men couldn't wait to get things evened up for a regular match. The opportunity to tell a different sort of story or create a sense that the Wyatts had a massive advantage over the champions was thrown away.

Thankfully the third fall saw the match improve. The teams spilled out to ringside so the Usos could do some dives over the top rope and off the crowd barrier. None of that, or the top rope dives back in the ring, was enough to keep Harper (the wise choice for main Wyatt worker) down for a three count. He retaliated with a suicide dive of his own. Jey super kicked him from outside the ring and Jimmy immediately rolled him up for a convincing false finish. Seconds later there was another when Jimmy survived a Harper power bomb. The best was saved till last though: Jimmy rolled out from under a Rowan splash and crotched Harper on the top rope before tagging his brother, who immediately hit a splash on Rowan. The crowd lost it when ol’ red beard survived.

Rowan blasted both champions with a double suplex from the central rope. Moments later Harper no sold a super kick and flattened Jey with a rolling elbow. Both Wyatt lads were laid out with double super kicks and Harper received a double splash before he was pinned. The two-out-of-three stip could have been put to far better use had the big moments of the third fall been spaced out across the first two.

It's nice to see WWE sticking with the Usos as champions. As much as I’d like to see Harper and Rowan get the titles they'll end up meaning more the longer the Usos hold onto them. For that matter so will the Usos themselves. WWE seem to want to turn them into the go-to tag team. There are worse things going on in the company. It’s a good move.

A bland Seth Rollins backstage interview was interrupted by Dean Ambrose. The two former Shield boys brawled briefly before Triple H showed up and ordered Ambrose ejected from the building. Even a something as simple as pummeling a bad guy improves in quality thanks to Ambrose’s maniacal babyface mode.

Michael Cole channelled his inner-Tony Schiavone as he desperately tried to make out he didn't know what would happen in place of the planned Ambrose v Rollins second match. It is not one of his strengths, although in fairness Schiavone had genuine anarchy to play off in WCW. Cole should’ve tried starting a sentence or two with “Fans…” as the great man himself did.

Can these two make that title mean something?
AJ Lee and Paige were sent out for their match, allegedly a last minute call because of Ambrose’s building ban. Their entrances were accompanied by recaps of the two title changes they've shared, Paige beating AJ the night after WrestleMania and AJ regaining the strap the night after Money in the Bank. Their frenemies storyline was also alluded to. JBL trampled all over that by loudly announcing he doesn’t believe they’re friends, blissfully missing the point of the entire thing.

The match bucked the trend set by their first two by lasted more than two minutes and competitive. Paige controlled the early moments before taking a headscissors from the champion. Outside the ring 'The Anti-Diva' took a mild and heelish shortcut when she rammed AJ into the barricade. After a sloppy sunset bomb back in the ring Paige sold irritation, either at her inability to beat Lee or Lee's lack of fight.

AJ applied the Black Widow. Paige countered out and hit a Paige Turner but AJ kicked out, prompting more frustrated glances. A PTO attempt turned into a series of covers culminating with Paige taking a Shining Wizard. That put her down for the three count. AJ celebrated in the ring as Paige skulked backstage. It was a good match that the audience was invested in. If the two ever get twenty minutes they could produce something great.

Backstage Randy Orton wandered into a red-lit corridor and chatted to Kane. 'The Viper' wanted 'The Big Red Machine's' help winning the title in the main event. Kane implied he wasn’t interested and that he wanted the strap for himself.

Out in the crowd Renee Young was with Booker T, Christian and 'The Analyst' Alex Riley (yep, that’s his official nickname now, apparently). A-Ry and Christian picked Reigns to win the main event. Booker went with Orton, after dropping a WCW politicking reference. This segment almost certainly existed to illustrate that Booker is superior to everyone else who gets wheeled out for the expert panel segments.

Match three was the hotly anticipated hoss fight between Rusev and Jack Swagger. Lana and Rusev got incredible heat with their pre-match promo knocking America's foreign policy and (as usual) extolling the virtues of Russia and Vladimir Putin. They finished up by promising Rusev would crush J-Swagg. Colter tried to cut a promo of his own before the match but got a slap from Lana.

SAUCE IT, BY GOD!
Fans of slobberknockers would not have been disappointed with this match. Both men got a go at pasting the other and they exchanged the initiative a few times. They never let it get stale by keeping one guy in control too long. Rusev won via countdown. That could sound depressing but it really wasn't. Swagger had applied the ankle lock in the ring, Rusev being trapped for quite some time and selling effectively before he finally managed to grab the ropes. Swaggs applied it again outside and Rusev sent him into a turnbuckle, KOing ‘The All American American’. It was an effective sequence that worked because of Rusev's selling and Swagger's rampant, cheap heat popularity. After the match 'Putin's Powerhouse' trapped Swagger in The Accolade to loud boos. A rematch is coming our way which will see Rusev get the decisive win. I’m looking forward to it.

In the back Stardust and Goldust stood in front of a black backdrop with some golden lights on it. They talked about Guardians of the Galaxy (sort of) and then Stardust blew star stickers at the camera. No context was provided for why this happened. It was just a way of getting the pair on to the show. Apparently putting them in the battle royal wasn’t an option. It was more important to have Diego and The (Not So) Great Khali involved.

Back in the arena Seth Rollins walked out to the ring to accept a victory via forfeit. Justin Roberts made the announcement and Rollins posed on a turnbuckle. Then he got attacked by 'The Lunatic Fringe'. JBL and 'King's' idea of putting this over was to discuss how security personnel would be fired for allowing Ambrose back inside. The former pals had a wild brawl that saw around a dozen assorted referees and agents dispatched to the ring to keep them apart. It took the presence of Triple H and a pair of handcuffs to get Ambrose backstage, carried by agents including Finlay and Bill DeMott. It was an incredibly effective segment that should serve to make people even more desperate to see Ambrose get his revenge on the cowardly Rollins.

The run sheet (fans…) got back on course with Bray Wyatt versus Chris Jericho. 'Y2J' had to contend with interference from Harper and Rowan until the referee sent them backstage a few minutes in. Bray looked concerned at the loss of his boys and immediately knocked Jericho off the ring apron into the ring barrier to take control. There were a few instances of sloppiness in the sequence that followed, confirming Jericho was having one of his famed off nights. It was to be expected. He does his best work against guys he's familiar with.

Wyatt countered the Lionsault, blasted him with a Yuranagi suplex and steamrolled into him in a corner. Stealing one from the ROH play book he busted out a DDT on the apron. Michael Cole even made the obligatory "hardest part of the ring" comment. 'The Highlight of the Night' countered Sister Abigail into a Walls of Jericho attempt. When that didn't pan out he switched to the Codebreaker, which earned him a surprising pinfall win.

That wasn't the result I’d expected or wanted. JBL referred to it as an upset but it’s more accurate to describe it as poor booking. Jericho gained nothing from the victory. All it did was make Wyatt's bigger wins over the last nine months, I'm thinking specifically of his clean win over Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble, his six man wins over The Shield, and his shady victory over Cena, look like flukes instead of examples of Wyatt being a talented competitor who should be taken seriously.

I hope security grabbed the briefcase. It's made from solid gold.
We then went back to Seth Rollins one final time. He was leaving the arena with a couple of security fellas who didn’t look like they’d stand a chance against a crazed Dean Ambrose. That Rollins was leaving made no sense at all. It had been made painfully clear that The Authority's plan was for Rollins to cash in his MITB contract should Cena retain or Reigns win. Ambrose leapt out of a car boot and the pair had another scuffle. Rollins ended up driving off leaving Ambrose to seethe.

Every member of the Intercontinental title battle royal was treated to a televised entrance, which ate up an obscene amount of time. That could have been avoided. Guys could have entered during the parking lot fight, leaving the big names to receive fuller entrances. It did at least allow us to gauge popularity. Cesaro, Bo Dallas, Dolph Ziggler and Sheamus got the loudest reactions.

Bad News Barrett came out before the bell to say that he'd beat whoever won and regain the title. The fans cheered that, even after BNB had knocked Florida as a retirement home.

The match was a perfectly adequate battle royal. There as a well-received standoff between Sheamus and Ryback a few minutes in, which proved that there’s still a chance WWE could change their minds and make something out of ‘The Big Guy’. Kofi Kingston got two “crazy method of avoiding elimination” spots. The first saw him sunset flip over Cesaro as Cesaro was stood on the apron, then skin the cat and roll back into the ring over Cesaro. The second saw him launched from the ring only to land on Big E’s shoulders. Cesaro then suplexed him off E back into the ring.

The match (seemingly) came down to Sheamus, Bo Dallas and Dolph Ziggler. Bo was the first of them to go. His eviction from the ring earned boos. 'The Show Off' was a little overzealous in his desire to put on an exciting exchange, moving so frantically that some basic moves were botched. That aside the pair had a fun tussle that ended with Ziggler super kicking Shaymo off the apron. But that didn't earn Ziggler the championship: Miz was still in the match and slipped back in to toss Zigs over the top rope.

Yep, Miz won the Intercontinental championship over Cesaro, Bo Dallas or Dolph Ziggler. So much for my wish that WWE will rebuild its mid-card division as a thriving pit of great matches where the IC strap is the be-all-and-end-all. Another complaint about the battle royal was that it didn't feature El Torito. Chaotic multi-man matches like these are exactly the sort of time he should be deployed: you get all the fun of his character without him taking a spot from someone else.

That left only the main event. Kane and Randy Orton were met with indifference. The most notable thing about Kane’s entrance was that his mask and wig were crooked. The most notable thing about Orton’s entrance was his blue trunks. Where were they when Bluetista needed some colour coordination, Randy? Reigns' entrance was not met with the booming home state ovation WWE probably would've liked. He was cheered though, so that was good. Cena got his traditional mixed reception.

Early on the match was about ‘The Devil’s Favourite Demon’ working with Randy Orton. They would split up to incapacitate a babyface then join up to double team the other. This was designed to play off the established storyline allegiance and, more importantly, keep us waiting for a Cena versus Reigns segment. The inevitable spot where Orton and Kane started bickering and then fighting got the flat response it deserved.

When it came the reigns and Cena showdown failed to sparkle. They traded punches before Reigns dropped Cena with a Samoan drop. Cena sidestepped a Superman punch and gave Reigns a belly-to-back suplex. Reigns was on his feet and blasting him with a spear before Cena could hit a Five Knuckle Shuffle. Kane made the save.

Reigns went on a rampage, giving each of his three foes the running drop kick before spearing Orton through a crowd barrier. Back in the ring Kane tried to choke slam him but Reigns powered out and speared him. Cena broke the cover and AAed Kane. Reigns broke up that cover before he and Cena went back to trading punches. That barely got going before Cena slapped Reigns with a random AA. Kane was once again on break up duty for that.

No belt for you.
Cena and Reigns both took choke slams. ‘The Big Red Monster’ decided to pin Reigns but didn’t get three (as if a choke slam is going to put anyone in a WWE championship match down these days). Reigns escaped a Tombstone piledriver attempt and speared Kane. Orton broke up the cover and stung Reigns with an RKO. Cena appeared before Orty could do anything like try a cover, giving him an AA onto Kane to keep hold of the championship.

After a slow start the main event turned out to be satisfying. From the first Cena and Reigns confrontation onwards it failed to slow down. But there was nothing special about it and all felt very familiar, not good when new boy Reigns was involved. There were also far too many pin break ups. It is okay for people to kick out of moves under their own steam you know, WWE.

Battleground was a decent show that could, and probably should, have been better. It started out strong with a compelling, if flawed, tag title match, and the Divas match, Rusev v Swagger and the Ambrose and Rollins brawl all doing what they needed to. Sadly it fell apart in the second half. Wyatt v Jericho suffered from a Jericho off night and the resultant sloppiness while the battle royal was poorly placed and featured a flat winner. Battleground’s destiny is to be forgotten. Sadly, everyone involved embraced that instead of trying to fight it.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Booking of 'The Beast'

Brock Lesnar’s going to be wrestling for the WWE championship at SummerSlam. Unless something spectacularly surprising happens at Battleground tonight he’ll be challenging John Cena. This is a match WWE have been forced into promoting. Their original plan of having Daniel Bryan defend against Lesnar had to be dropped when company bigwigs were told D-Bry would not be sufficiently recovered from neck injury to participate in the match. Cena, as the only other babyface on the roster over enough to function both as a champion and as an opponent for Lesnar, was the only logical choice for replacement.

Maybe Heyman and Lesnar will recreate this shot when Lesnar's fourth reign kicks off.
I don’t blame WWE for going with Cena v Lesnar as the SummerSlam main event. They are two of the biggest names in the company, arguably the two biggest, which makes a match between them a fitting headline attraction to what is traditionally one of WWE’s more important shows. Lesnar versus Cena for the title is a bout that should sell tickets, pay-per-view buys, and Network subscriptions (and for the record I think Bryan versus Lesnar would have performed pretty well too). Ultimately that’s all that matters in WWE, and, indeed, wrestling as a whole.

But overall WWE’s booking of Lesnar has been less than ideal. I’ve refrained from criticising WWE for their use of the man before now because his schedule makes it a tricky proposition. He’s so rarely been on television that it’s taken him over two years to accrue a decent number of appearances to look back at and comment on.

When he returned to WWE on April 2 2012 RAW Lesnar was immediately placed into a conflict with John Cena. They faced off at Extreme Rules in, fittingly, an Extreme Rules match. Lesnar lost.

It’s not fair to knock WWE for rushing ‘The Pain’ into a bout with their top star. At the time it made sense, for all the reasons noted above regarding their SummerSlam collision. Looking at what Lesnar’s done since it seems safe to assume that there was no intention that Lesnar and Cena would ever clash again. It was a big, impactful match to reintroduce Lesnar as a force and a concept to the WWE landscape.

The match result, on the other hand, was a mistake. Had Cena won that match only to lose a rematch and perhaps a third, feud-deciding bout the loss would have made sense. But as Cena and Lesnar’s conflict ended immediately after Extreme Rules it only served to establish that Lesnar, just like everyone else in WWE, was inferior to John Cena. For a man who was always going to be presented as a special attraction that was a problem and a mistake.

Lesnar followed the Cena match with a programme opposite Triple H. That started off with a win for ‘The Beast’, this time in a no DQ battle at SummerSlam. He was written off TV for the remainder of the year the night after, claiming that his victory over ‘The Game’ meant he’d accomplished everything in WWE. That was far from true, as we learnt at WrestleMania XXX.

Lesnar returned to WWE in January 2013 and continued his feud with Tripper. For four months. Four long months. Lesnar fell to ‘The King of Kings’ at WrestleMania XXIX before winning the feud in a cage match at Extreme Rules. The loss Lesnar suffered at ‘Mania was easier to accept than his loss to Cena. He’d already proven he could defeat Triple H and it was designed to set up their third and decisive contest. That that third and final collision was unnecessary and unwanted is irrelevant: the loss served a purpose.

The summer saw Lesnar deployed against CM Punk in a conflict based around their respective relationships with mutual associate Paul Heyman. Their one and only match went on second from last at SummerSlam. I was unimpressed by it, feeling it never really developed the intensity or level of spectacle it should have. The right man won though: Lesnar went over with an F5 onto a chair.

Since that victory Lesnar has had two matches. The first was at the 2014 Royal Rumble opposite Big Show. It was a short match intended to rehabilitate Lesnar as an unstoppable monster and did its job well. But as good as it was it would have been wholly unnecessary had WWE taken the precaution of planning out what they wanted to do with Lesnar when he first returned. They only needed to feed him the physical anomaly that is Big Show because they’d failed to safeguard ‘The Beast’s’ built-in main event aura.

The other match Lesnar’s wrestled this year was against The Undertaker. At WrestleMania XXX. You may have heard that Lesnar won.
 
Brock Lesnar. Not unbeatable.
This isn’t about The Streak. As much as I disliked and disagreed (and still do) with WWE’s decision to have ‘The Dead Man’s’ WrestleMania record end Lesnar was a solid choice to award the feat to. He has the necessary star power and air of legitimacy. But it would have been far easier to accept him breaking one of the most impressive records in company if he had been on a tear since returning in 2012. Imagine how much more the Lesnar v ‘Taker match would have meant had Lesnar spent the previous two years obliterating everyone put in front of him. Such booking would, in hindsight, have been clear preparation for Lesnar conquering The Streak. That no such Lesnar record exists shows that there was no long term plan in place when WWE rehired the former UFC champ.

The same principle stands for Lesnar’s upcoming SummerSlam title challenge. Beating Lesnar would look like an impossible feat even for Cena if Lesnar had not suffered a WWE loss since his return and was coming off the crushing of The Streak. Once again, that was squandered by having him lose matches he didn’t need to, as much as some of the losses may have made sense at the time.

If Lesnar was currently “undefeated since 2004” he’d be one of the greatest star-making tools in wrestling, especially with his status as the Streak-ender and his assumed WWE championship victory at SummerSlam. The first person to beat him would be winning the WWE championship, beating the man who ended one of wrestling’s greatest winning streaks, and handing a loss to someone who had only tasted victory since 2012. It would be a massive status enhancer.

Lesnar’s reign is likely to end at the hands of Roman Reigns or Daniel Bryan. Probably at WrestleMania XXXI. That win will be a significant moment in either man’s career (should it be someone else entirely it’ll be a significant moment for them too). But with just a bit of planning it could have been more. Had WWE had the foresight to turn Lesnar into an unstoppable, unbeatable force they’d have a hot story, a hot act, and a way of making a new hot act on their hands now. Once again I find myself commenting that the long term planning in WWE needs looking at.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Thank You, Power Slam


Anyone who reads Power Slam Magazine will have discovered in the most recent issue that it’s to cease publication. Editor Fin Martin will instead focus on writing at least one eBook and updating the previously malnourished Power Slam tie-in website. This comes as a blow to wrestling fans around the world.

Power Slam has for years been one of my primary sources for discovering things about the wrestling business. It’s been the most reliable source I’ve ever known for fair, detailed analysis of every aspect of the business, for insightful interviews, and for a basic understanding of how and why the bizarre and contrary world of wrestling works the way it does. The vast selection of wrestling news websites have always been there offering the same bits of gossip and rumour as each other, and they’ve been great but they’ve not had the substance or depth of PS.

Power Slam is what I read when I wanted more, when I wanted something written well and written knowledgably. Or when I wanted something that highlighted current absurdities, be they McMahonisms, amusing signs in crowds (the quality of which have fallen drastically over the years), Twitter foolishness, or ridiculous lines from promos. It was the magazine that offered a bit of everything. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks this.

Reading PS is what made me want to start this blog. I don’t think I’ve ever really managed it, but I wanted to write something in the same vein. I wanted more coverage in the Power Slam style available to wrestling fans (although obviously I was never going to benefit from it because I was creating the content). I think I’ve possibly achieved a level of similarity over the years I’ve been writing here, but never the quality. Basically, without Power Slam I wouldn’t be writing and posting this here now.

I’ll miss the magazine a great deal. Fin Martin and his team are a talented bunch of writers who never put out a bad issue. It was always written and presented professionally, and always achieved the same high level of quality. I’m looking forward to the eBook and increased coverage on the PS site a great deal but I’ll miss having something to pluck off the magazine rack every four-to-six weeks.

So thank you to Fin Martin, Ernie Santilli, Mo Chatra, Greg Lambert and everyone else who contributed to the magazine over the years. It was always a pleasure to read. 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Battleground 2014 preview


Battleground 2014 is very obviously a show that's designed to do little more than kill time. In practical terms it will function as a break between the point where the build for SummerSlam hasn't started and the point where it has. Because that's how WWE works. Monthly supershows are what they've done for so long that they don't know how to do anything else.

Not that it's necessarily a bad thing. I mean, just because it's only there to fill time before a more important event doesn't mean it can't or won't feature anything of merit. In fact it looks like a pretty good card. Peculiar main event aside there are a number of matches that could prove worthwhile and memorable.

First of all there's the Chris Jericho versus Bray Wyatt match. This is obviously a comedown for 'The Eater of Worlds' after his rivalry with top boy and current world champ John Cena. But that's actually a good thing. Wyatt v Cena had outstayed its welcome and their matches, while not bad, were never exactly extraordinary. In 'Y2J' Wyatt has someone he can beat cleanly and convincingly in an exciting match. And it's a win that will probably mean something given Jericho's (inexplicable) immense popularity.

But is that what will happen? Will the pair have an exhilarating match that ends with 'The Highlight of the Night' staring at the lights? I'm reasonably sure that's the outcome we'll get. I'm less convinced it'll be a great match. It could be: when Jericho's on he can be great and Wyatt is gradually proving himself a reliable hand. Plus he’s nothing if not charismatic and compelling to watch. I suspect the match will veer towards the basic and that their rematch (probably happening at SummerSlam) will be better.

The other two members of Wyatt's family are also involved in a promising match. For the second pay-per-view in a row Luke Harper and Erick Rowan will challenge the Usos for the tag team championship. And I'll say right now that I think we'll get a title change.

At last month's Money in the Bank the Wyatt Family unsuccessfully challenged for the tag team titles. The teams met again on a subsequent episode of RAW and that time the Wyatts came out on top. It's classic WWE booking, challengers defeating champions in a non-title situation to gain a title match. It's a fine approach in moderation but WWE use it all the time and it now means nothing. It's particularly disappointing to see it used in this feud because the rivalry originally span off of the Cena v Wyatt programme. It feels like a step backwards.

This match will be fought under two-out-of-three falls rules. That's a stipulation usually reserved for more technical rivalries. Harper and Rowan are not the archetypal two-out-of-three style guys. For that matter neither are Jimmy and Jey. But it's a stipulation that can be used to ratchet up drama fairly easily and creates a number of different storyline options for the match. The four men could surprise us and steal the show.

If given enough time and freedom Paige v AJ Lee could be really good. With so many members of the roster in a battle royal I think they'll get the time but I don't think they'll get the freedom.

The thing with this match is that it's happened twice before and each time was really short and saw the Divas title change hands. In addition to that the last month has seen the pair in a hit-and-miss shades of grey heel-face dynamic. An official change in attitude from Paige seems certain and will be a good thing when it comes. This match will either play host to it or very clearly set it up for the near future and as such is likely to be more driven by storyline than anything else. That could lead to a better match, and probably would in a different company. Here it just feels like Paige and AJ are going to have too many tasks to perform to have the barnstormer of a match they deserve to have.

The result could go either way. I'm picking AJ to win as it would play nicely into Paige’s heel turn.

One match I don't think stands any chance of being anything but below average is the battle royal. The closing moments will probably be good and there'll probably be some exciting spots mixed into the body of the bout (hey, Kofi Kingston's in there so he'll be avoiding elimination in some thoroughly amazing fashion that makes Michael Cole mark out) but that aside it'll be a tough watch. That's the battle royal tradition.

I'd be happy with Sheamus winning to unify the Intercontinental and United States titles (more on that here), or Ziggler, Cesaro, Dallas or Fandango winning because they're all enjoyable. I wouldn't be shocked by a Rusev victory considering the way he's been used over the last few months. He’s not officially announced but he could be a last minute addition easily enough. I'll pick Cesaro because it feels like the time's right to move him up another notch.

The pre-show contest between former Funkadactyls teammates Cameron and Naomi is almost certainly going to be a train wreck. Cameron was becoming increasingly dispassionate about her career as a Funkadactyl, as evidenced by her application of lip gloss during a recent tag match, and Naomi got fed up with her and they had what was known in ECW as a cat fight. I’ll pick Naomi to win because why not?

Rusev v Jack Swagger could be a great hoss fight. There are a few things working against the pair, specifically Swagger being new to playing face and Rusev not having worked anything that’s not a squash of some sort since being called up, but I don’t think these are insurmountable obstacles. Besides, people seem really into babyface Swaggs and really not into heel Russian invader Rusev. But even if it’s the greatest thing on the show there’s not much doubt as to who’ll win. ‘The Raging Russian’ will go over to continue building him for his inevitable feud with Cena.

The clash of the former Shield pals is one match I'm confident will be as good as it sounds. Rollins and Ambrose are rightfully talked about as men who will headline WWE events for years to come. Each has their own strengths which made them very good teammates. Complementing one another's strengths as opponents will require different approaches from both but I'm sure they'll be up to the task.

What's nice about this match is that it hasn't been rushed. Rollins betrayed 'The Hounds of Justice' two months ago and this will be the first televised singles encounter he's had with either of them. It's been refreshing to see WWE putting Rollins and Ambrose against one another in brawls and multi-man matches instead of sticking them in a one-on-one match at the first opportunity. If only they could should such restraint more often their shows would be far more bearable.

The question of who'll win is a tough one. I'm expecting them to wrestle again at SummerSlam and possibly Night of Champions too. A rematch would seem more logical if the heel's cheated to win the first encounter. That would let the babyface even the score in match two before the pair agree to settle things once and for all in a stipulated feud-ender. That means Rollins wins here, unless their involvement in Money in the Bank counts as the first. But I don’t think it does. I’ll predict a Rollins win, possibly with assistance from Kane, Triple H, and-or Orton.

Two of those guys, Orton and Kane, are involved in the evening's main event. I'd really enjoy Ambrose v Rollins being the penultimate match, Orty and 'The Big Red Machine' interfering, and Cena and Reigns (the other two main event participants, for the record) coming out to even the odds, allowing the show to flow straight into the final match. Sadly I don't think it'll happen. It's a bit too ECW for modern day WWE. A pity. It would give the event a different vibe and make it memorable.

The four-way main event is an oddity on an otherwise promising show. It features Cena and Orton in the same match for the second month in a row, half a year after they finished their most recent (tedious) rivalry. It also features Kane in yet another WWE title match years after he should have been dropped as a contender. For that matter it's a little concerning that Roman Reigns, the man expected to be the next big star, was simply placed in the match by Triple H. It would have made far more sense to have Reigns battle for a fair shot. Y'know, like Daniel Bryan and countless other wrestling good guys have done? As the babyface opposed to the heel authority figures it doesn’t really make sense for Reigns to simply be handed championship matches.

Cena's in this match to kill a show before facing Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. Orton and Reigns are in there to set up their singles match at SummerSlam (which has already been sufficiently set up with months of feuding, but whatevs). Kane's in there to play a part in setting up Orton v Reigns and to keep him relevant should Daniel Bryan miraculously be ready to return to action at 'The Hottest Show of the Summer' (spoiler: he won't be) or possibly to set up a triple threat opposite Orton and Reigns (which would be uninspired considering the three of them are in a four-way here. It'll probably be a plodding match that takes an age to get going and the outcome doesn't seem to be in any doubt. Cena will win.

I want to be blown away by Battleground. There's enough on the show for that to happen. It will be dependent on whether or not the relative lack of storyline’s translate to a greater emphasis on match quality. The show could be a case of nobody really trying too hard, looking passed Battleground to the more important SummerSlam. I hope that doesn't happen. After a run of frustratingly muddled special events WWE needs something excellent. Battleground could be it.

Predictions summary:
John Cena to retain the WWE championship
Seth Rollins to defeat Dean Ambrose
Bray Wyatt to defeat Chris Jericho
AJ Lee to defeat Paige
The Wyatt Family to defeat the Usos
Rusev to defeat Jack Swagger
Cesaro to win the Intercontinental championship battle royal
Naomi to defeat Cameron

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Irish Intercontinental

WWE currently has a great opportunity to declutter their title scene a little bit. Knowing the way the company works I don’t think they’ll have realised it or that they’ll care about it if they have. But the opportunity’s there regardless.

The Intercontinental championship was vacated a few weeks ago after champion Bad News Barrett suffered an arm injury. A new champion will be crowned at the Battleground pay-per-view in a thirty man battle royal. Yeah, thirty. That number seems a bit high considering how few legitimately over wrestlers are on the roster and that (apparently) nobody involved will wrestle in a second match on the show. But that’s what they’re going for.

One of the thirty men in the match is current United States champion Sheamus. That’s a championship that means even less than the Intercontinental title. If either the IC or the US belt was dropped then the remaining one would mean more. The fewer prizes there are on offer the greater an accomplishment it is to win one.

Give Sheamus the Intercontinental championship.
I’m not a fan of former world champions winning mid-card titles. Nor am I a fan of Sheamus. But even so I wouldn’t mind seeing ‘The Celtic Warrior’ leave Battleground as a double champion. It would allow him to appear on RAW the next night and officially combine the two titles, quietly dropping the US belt after a few weeks (or then and there on RAW). Or he could knock the US strap and the country it represents and cast it aside, providing the spark for a heel turn.

Naturally I’d much rather see the uber-talented Cesaro or Dolph Ziggler win the Intercontinental title. Or the recently revived Fandango. Or the slowly catching on Bo Dallas. Any of them would be a great choice to construct meaningful mid-card storylines around. But in Sheamus WWE has the option to finish the tidy-up started last December with the world title unification, and that’s something I’ve wanted to see them do for years.

Of course for the Intercontinental championship to truly become the star-making tool it used to be more needs to be done than unifying it with or keeping it in favour of the United States championship. It needs to be presented as a title worth winning and wrestled for in lively matches featuring performers people care about. But getting rid of the US title isn’t a bad first step.