Tag Archives: Cody Rhodes

WWE Midcard Report (June 2-3): The Wyatt Family goes 2-for-2, Bad News Barrett goes 0-for-2 thanks to Cesaro, and the Intercontinental and U.S. championships mean a little bit

I said Tuesday morning the United States Championship became the most prestigious belt in the company.

The Intercontinental Championship may be catching up.

It’s weird seeing IC below U.S., as it stands now, but WWE may have stumbled upon something that could excite the fans, elevate a couple fan-favorite antiheroes and make my favorite championship of all-time mean something for a while.

Cesaro just lost to Sheamus at WWE Payback on Sunday for the U.S. belt, and he dipped out early Monday on RAW, which allowed Sheamus and Rob Van Dam to defeat Cesaro and IC champion Bad News Barrett. Barrett takes exception Tuesday on Main Event, and Cesaro responds in kind.

There’s solid booking around the midcard singles titles, especially considering the U.S. title was a punchline for nearly a year as Dean Ambrose held it … and held it … and held it … and was almost never booked in a match to defend it. With the jokesters shifting toward the absentee WWE World Heavyweight Championship — serioiusly, that thing’s a hot mess — this is a chance for creative to build upon the momentum of some of its just-below-top-shelf talent and at least have some symbol of excellence in athletic competition on its programming.

We start the midcard week as we should, with both midcard champions in action. Slight bummer, though, as they face their Payback opponents. Tag match, playas!

United States Champion SHEAMUS & ROB VAN DAM vs. Intercontinental Champion CESARO & BAD NEWS BARRETT

Paul Heyman implies Sheamus should be ashamed to be an Irishman because he won a fight with a small package, right after Cesaro hits a very manly gutwrench suplex. Just before the 3-minute mark, Barrett nearly one-ups his teammate with a lariat on RVD, who was leaping out of the corner. I understand two people in this match want some form of retribution, but midcard title programs should last about through one special event pay-per-view, especially with the depth of competition below the main event. Guy gets a title shot, he either wins or loses, next man up. We don’t need more RVD when he lost (and put on a bad match) at Payback. During that rant, Cesaro hits the gutwrench on RVD after starting on the ground. The champs get hot tags … well, Sheamus’ was hot. Cesaro narrowly avoids the Brogue Kick, and Heyman decides they should bail. BNB hits Winds of Change, but Sheamus hits the Brogue Kick after tagging to RVD, and Rob feels froggy and hits the splash as the babyfaces triumph.

Hulu Plus Time: 8:45

Technical Merit: Nothing bad, but also nothing we haven’t seen for the past month or so.

Artistic Impression: Felt like the same old stuff, and heel Cesaro still isn’t clicking as a personality right now.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/4

This angle isn’t over. We’ll spill right into Main Event and lead off with the Intercontinental Champion. The challenger got one over on the champion Monday night due to Cesaro being a “coward” and leaving, but WWE decided that was enough to grant a title shot Tuesday. On another note, RVD has been knocked silly (and silly otherwise) for years. His brain is so useless, he points and says RVD all the time so he can actually remember his initials.

All Main Event photos are screenshots from the WWE Network. All RAW photos are screenshots of WWE programming via Hulu Plus.
All Main Event photos are screenshots from the WWE Network. All RAW photos are screenshots of WWE programming via Hulu Plus.

Great mocking job from Barrett, by the way. That’s solid heel work.

Anyway, Van Dam finally decides he’s had enough and gives a quick preview of the Main Event main event.

Main Event 060314 Rob Van Dam

Oh crap. At the midpoint of the show, RVD actually gets some promo time. Apparently, BNB is mistaking RVD’s coolness for weakness. SMH LOL. Van Dam is mistaking himself for the “Whole Damn Show”. Nobody is mistaking Van Dam for somebody who can put together a complete sentence. Just get in the ring already. Well, after a recap of Seth Rollins‘ awesome heel turn. Which, of course, you can read about here.

BAD NEWS BARRETT (c) vs. ROB VAN DAM, Intercontinental Championship

RVD gets the first cover and takes control early, punctuated with a frontflip off the apron at the 2-minute mark. BNB finally creates separation when RVD goes up top with his back turned, and Barrett simply pushes him off the ringpost and into the barricade.

When we return at 4:15, the side headlock is in. Van Dam elbows out and hits the brakes on a whip, but Barrett is there to pull up the legs and kick the abdomen. Nice spot where RVD gets stuck in the ropes as Barrett works him over, and Wade kicks him to the floor when he’s finished and introduces his pea-sized brain to the big steel steps. He follows with a second-rope elbow for 2. This match is better when Barrett’s in control. RVD can at least sell. Another in-the-ropes predicament for the challenger, and his gut suffers once more. RVD elbows a charging champion and goes for a 180 kick, but leaps right into a clothesline.  Now Barrett gets caught in the ropes when a big boot attempt meets nobody. Babyface comeback follows with Rolling Thunder, but the cover only yields 2. Lariat attempt becomes Winds of Change, but RVD kicks out of that as BNB implores the official to wake up. Another corner charge misses, and that gives Van Dam time to feel froggy, but Barrett counters and sets up for the Bullhammer.

He gets a Neutralizer instead. Van Dam gets the same. The King of Swing has struck.

Main Event 060314 Cesaro

Time: 10:36

Technical Merit: OK match, actually. It would be better, though, if someone could actually run toward someone in the corner and hit the move.

Artistic Impression: I actually like the no-contest finish here. Cesaro deserves to be considered a championship contender, so why not attack the man who called him out and try to win the IC title down the line?

TOTAL SCORE: *3/4

•••

There’s no Bray Wyatt sermon this week. But that’s OK, because we get Luke Harper!

RAW 060214 Luke Harper

Now we take up his cause. We prowl the charred landscape like ravenous dragon, with no one left to torture except the same pair of brothers, The Usos. The Usos worked so hard to smite the cause. They will pay for their atrocities. Retribution can not be achieved until they put down like the craven beasts they are. We shall not spare the flock. They will suffer for their misdeeds, and they … will … burn.

What’s not OK is yet another rematch on RAW that’s starting to grow mold.

WWE Tag Team Champions THE USOS vs. LUKE HARPER & ERICK ROWAN

The biggest thing to happen is The Usos messing with Wyatt’s chair before the match begins — an ultimate symbolistic sign of disrespect. Otherwise, I just don’t care right now … especially when Rowan is clumsily pushing people down and slapping on rest holds 3 minutes in. It would be better if this man just carried the show.

RAW 060214 Luke Harper 2

Back from a break, and still not caring. I’ma just let them finish, though they’re taking a while. Fair to them? No. Three of these guys can go. But they need to be doing something else! Then, of course, the guy who sucks wins it with a side slam variation. Cool.

Hulu Plus Time: 13:58

A day later, still no Wyatt, but finally a matchup with some intrigue.

So, if you missed WWE Payback, you missed the part where Cody Rhodes decided his half-brother, Goldust, needs a better tag-team partner. As it turns out, young Cody is taking matters into his own hands … and picking partners for Dustin. On Monday, it was Sin Cara. That didn’t go well. On Tuesday, it’s Kofi Kingston, or as Martin Dixon of 4CRWrestling called the team, NesKofi Gold Blend. The man has gems like that all the time. Click here to follow him on Twitter. 

Main Event 060314 Kofi Kingston

The problem? Rowan and Harper take theirs black and blue.

KOFI KINGSTON & GOLDUST vs. LUKE HARPER & ERICK ROWAN

Rowan’s in early, so I’m disenchanted once more. Good on the faces, though, to cut off the ring until Rowan simply pushes Goldust across the ring and Harper tags in. Kofi re-enters, and a couple of his kicks seemed to flat-out miss (shoulder instead of head, and an apparent whiff). Harper’s dropkick did not miss. Unfortunately, that means he tags back to Rowan. Kofi connects with a kick in the corner after dipping through the ropes, and that leads to a hot tag to Goldust. Nice top-rope hurricanrana, then a powerslam, but when he goes after Harper, Rowan throws up the slowest roundhouse kick I’ve ever seen. I was simply hoping for another Canadian Destroyer, which almost went unnoticed Sunday.

Anyway, back from break near the 6:30 mark, and we missed a Harper segment. Rowan goes super scientific upon his return, using his fists to try to crush Goldust’s head. Dustin breaks free and hits a backspring elbow, but can’t create an opening. Which is OK, because he HITS THE CANADIAN DESTROYER ON HARPER!!! Not sure which is more impressive: Dustin breaking that move out at 45 or so, or a 280-pound man taking it. Hot tag to Kofi, but a vicious kick to the sternum does the trick. Dustin breaks up the count, but Luke hits a release German … only Kofi lands on his feet. Nice head-scissors takeover ensues, then a frontflip dive outside. This is the type of wrestling Kofi Kingston should do every night. Even his crossbodies have more of a point of impact, which he utilizes to get a cover. A bit of four-man chaos ensues, and Kofi goes for Trouble in Paradise … only to get the Clothesline From Hell. That’s it.

Main Event 060314 Luke Harper

Time: 10:09

Technical Merit: This was a fun match when Harper was in the ring.

Artistic Impression: Two stories in play here, both well executed.

TOTAL SCORE: **3/4

If Rowan were half as skilled as Harper, this could be a 4-star match. Harper is the best big man in the company, and he shows it every time out. Goldust defies limitations, being better in his 40s than his 20s. Even Kofi showed a few signs of improvement, though he could practice a bit better aim with his kicks. But he’s adopted some more lucha libre elements into his bursts of energy, and it’s great to see. Rowan and Harper showed over the past two days they can fend for themselves, which could be bad (or an asset) for Bray down the line. And the Rhodes brothers’ split is getting an interesting twist on the old story as summer arrives.

Main Event 060314 Cody Rhodes Goldust

If anything this week, we learned it’s best when things are done a little differently. One can only hope WWE gives Cody and Dustin the chance to tell a compelling story, and maybe even steal the show.

•••

Back to RAW, where we get an impromptu Money in the Bank qualifier between two men who have cashed in! You know, back when both men were booked to be relevant. Let the records show when one cashed in, actually on the other, it was 14 months ago.

ALBERTO DEL RIO vs. DOLPH ZIGGLER, Money in the Bank qualifying match

So this could either be a title shot, or a shot at a title shot. Also, I went to look up whether PWTorch gave the tag match a rating in lieu of my difference. They didn’t, but I did find out some interesting information: This is actually the eighth match of RAW, but only the fourth on my stream. It might actually be cable/DVR time, or else how can the integrity of the Midcard Report be maintained? Also, I missed Damien Sandow as Lance Stephenson. That’s television gold! I know some people from Florida who like Sandow … bet they would’ve been torn on that one. Fame Asser at 3:30 finally gets my attention … so basically I’m the announcers right now. ADR gets 2 after a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, then DZ pulls out another move from the DX collection: An X-Factor from up top. A nice counter and escape chain leads to the cross armbreaker, and ADR is in MITB.

RAW 060214 Alberto Del Rio

Time: 5:34

•••

Lana was back Monday to spew something about Vladimir Putin … wait, she may be onto something here, depending on your take on American foreign affairs. OK, now she’s calling Edward Snowden a hero, then THERE’S the Putin plug! Russia honors its heroes, which is why Rusev is suited up to be honored tonight for beating Big E. Or something. I like Kurt Angle‘s medal better.

RAW 060214 Rusev medal

Then we get the Russian anthem, but no Nikolai Volkoff? Seriously, screw this damn show to hell tonight. By this point, I was only here for the heel turn at the end. Because apparently you have to get through a pile of crap to see something glorious on the other side.

Come back Thursday night for an NXT review. If you play your cards right, you can live tweet with me on Twitter! Follow me @jpetrie18. There also will be a Ring of Honor review this week … hopefully Thursday, likely Friday.

Main Event 060314 Cesaro Paul Heyman

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WWE Payback review: John Cena and Bray Wyatt actually have a great match, The Shield has it almost too easy against Evolution, and Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella waste our time

WWE Payback seemed destined for two fates — it would go as expected and be the biggest flop of the year, or it would be one of those “diamond in the rough” shows we’d talk about for years to come.

The actual result? Somewhere in between.

Matches that could’ve been terrible were OK. Matches that could’ve been OK kind of sucked. The odds-on favorite to become Match of the Year became just another good rematch and wasn’t even the Match of the Night. And, of course, John Cena won (LOL), but he and Bray Wyatt also stole the show.

WWE Payback John Cena Bray Wyatt

Expectations were quite low for the semi-main event. After all, Wyatt and Cena’s first two special-event matches had flickers of potential but usually kind of flamed out. Cena fell just short of becoming the “monster” Wyatt implored him to be (and the one we wanted) at WrestleMania, and Extreme Rules was kind of a mess with a gimmicky finish involving Cena being scared of a little kid. OK matches, but not great.

With the help of Luke HarperErick Rowan and The Usos, who actually took over the focus of the match for a few minutes with some great spots, this match found the sweet spot. Harper superplexing an Uso through two tables onto the floor — a move that seemed to protect the recipient more than the aggressor — is the image that will stick in my mind most. That and Cena actually finding a kinda-sorta cool way to win one of these things that didn’t involve duct tape. Instead, he hit the AA on Wyatt from a production table onto/though an empty storage container, then dumped a presumably full one on top. Typical sneaky Cena? Yes. But one based in some sort of wrestling logic.

The only problem here? It felt like the same ol’, same ol’ with Cena winning again, and Wyatt needs to come out on top in this angle. Wyatt needs the rub of overtaking the great, superhuman John Cena to add to his list of evil accomplishments … because who cares about him if he can’t back up what he says? Yes, he defeated the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion at the Royal Rumble, but a lot of fans barely remember it … if they do, it was because it added to the “burial” of Daniel Bryan. Cena could recover from losing this war. Wyatt? I’m not entirely sure.

Champ and Wifey’s picks: Cena, Cena

Match expectations: *-*1/2

Technical Merit: Having solid workers involved in the periphery enhanced the “wrestling” feel. And Cena and Wyatt have always known how to bring it … they just didn’t until Sunday.

Artistic Impression: A great story in a vacuum that loses a bit of luster in the grand scheme of WWE with the finish.

TOTAL SCORE: ***1/2 (Match of the Night)

•••

WWE Payback Evolution The Shield

Meanwhile, the main event felt like a match that tried oh so hard to live up to the hype, but fell just short.

It would’ve been hard for The Shield and Evolution to follow up their four-star match at Extreme Rules anyway, but Cena and Wyatt actually made it a bit more difficult. On a show that felt far more “extreme” than Extreme Rules last month, the semi-main seemed to take a lot of the best spots. We had Seth Rollins leaping off the stage near the bottom of the Titantron, but that just felt like his rail dive at Extreme Rules from a flashier takeoff point. We did get a bunch of kendo stick shots, which was cool. But we also had a match that felt like it dragged on FOREVER, and not in a “this match is epic” way. It went nearly 31 minutes — about 27 before any eliminations, even though this was an elimination tag match — and they spent so much time outside the ring beating each other down or setting up spots that it just felt like a brawl that would never end.

Then there’s the whole, shall we say, inconsistency of it all.

As soon as the bell rang, all six men paired off and went at it for a few minutes. After that, all of a sudden, it looked like any other six-man tag, with rules and everything! Then everybody went back outside for a day and a half, and when their moms told them to come back home, it was a tornado tag to the finish. It was just … odd … and it really took away from the match. I need logic, people!

Then there was, well, the finish.

Babyfaces standing/wobbling tall at the end to end a show? That’s all well and good. Babyfaces standing/wobbling tall after defeating one of the greatest factions in history last month, then SWEEPING an elimination rematch? That makes no sense either. I know this is supposed to be a quick feud, with Batista leaving to go do semi-movie-star things, it’s already starting to get a little stale and The Shield needed to come out on top at the end. But 3-0 against a group that averages 10 world titles per man? Though it helps The Shield immensely to go over that strong, it raises a couple questions: What exactly was the point of reforming Evolution? And what was the point of this angle if it was going to be so one-sided?

It’s a good thing Payback felt like the end of the line for two major rivalries, because I would probably just skip the rubber match of this one.

Champ and Wifey’s picks: Evolution (via swerve), Shield (clean)

Match expectations: ****1/2

Technical Merit: Did they even really wrestle? No. But what they did perform was smooth.

Artistic Impression: Great story if you’re a Shield mark. If you want a little epicness to your six-man main-event rivalry, it certainly left a few things to be desired.

TOTAL SCORE: ***

***

It would almost be better to skip the Daniel Bryan Brie Bella vs. Stephanie McMahon part, but that would do the reader a greater disservice than the aforementioned did by subjecting us to the crap we saw. Nobody cares about Brie … except maybe the fangirls on social media who actually are worried she’s gone for good. You know, since she plays such a vital role in Total Divas. Steph has been the company’s best heel for a while now, but she reverted back to her naggy, annoying self that wanted me to launch my coffee table through the TV screen. But she was right about one thing.

Daniel Bryan comes off as a selfish champion.

You worked so hard for this title? Yay! Want a cookie? That doesn’t mean you can just be world champion if you can’t wrestle. You even told the fans last week they deserve an awesome, fighting champion, and you can’t wrestle right now. You don’t even feel like part of the show anymore, though the injury and bereavement were out of your control. You seem to be a man who respects the past — you know, back when you had to give up the title if you couldn’t defend it for 30 days — yet you don’t give a timetable for a return and use the fans as an excuse for not obeying, even though you’re entitled to a rematch upon your return. Jack Tunney would not have stood for this!

Yet all this wouldn’t be a problem if you could do ANYTHING on the mic.

When Daniel Bryan is angry, he can be at least an above-average promo man. Any other time, Bryan looks and sounds like a nervous seventh-grader trying to impress his friends, and he’s been at his worst over the past week. It’s the inflection. It’s the goofy face he makes when he’s trying to act cool. It’s the fact that he doesn’t even say anything in the same area code as profound. It’s the fact that his wife, who would be kicked off an adult film set for her lack of acting skills, fights his battles for him.

And this, my friends, is your world champion? He can keep the belts, but we don’t have a champion anymore.

•••

WWE Payback Sheamus Cesaro

SHEAMUS (c) vs. CESARO, United States Championship

Champ and Wifey’s picks: Cesaro (DQ), Cesaro

Match expectations: **1/2-***1/2

Technical Merit: A good, solid fight within the confines of a wrestling match. A couple new things, and no glaring mistakes.

Artistic Impression: Champ has to find any way to retain. How all title matches should be.

TOTAL SCORE: **3/4

This set the tone for the night, and it sent the message that this night would be better than expected. Having these men lead off was smart, as was putting them in a match in the first place. The buildup was odd, with it centering around a rejected handshake, but they delivered when it was time. Many complained about the finish, but since WWE opted to go clean, this was the right move. Plus, it’s wrestling, people! You can be in total control of a match, but at any time, you can just get caught with your shoulders down and that’s it. It missed the double turn that seemed so obvious and desired, but it was fine nonetheless.

The problem going forward is where they’ll go with Cesaro, who clearly is failing to tread water with Paul Heyman.

Before Heyman, Cesaro not only could win the U.S. title, but also hold it for months. He could win 30-man battle royals. He could push Cena to the brink and defeat Randy Orton. With Heyman, he seems to lose more often than he wins, and sometimes even Jack Swagger can get the best of him with a well-timed run-in. Heyman’s stock is dropping, as well, with only one thing to talk about. I think you know what that is. Pull the trigger, split them up, and give Paul E. a break until Brock Lesnar‘s ready to come back.

•••

What’s better than wrestling? Bonus wrestling! What’s better than bonus wrestling? Bonus wrestling with Cody Rhodes and Goldust!

THE BROTHERHOOD vs. RYBAXEL (late addition to the card)

Technical Merit: A little botchy here and there, but decent. Great tag-team wrestling.

Artistic Impression: It advances Cody’s losing streak and his rift with Dustin, and it establishes Curtis Axel and Ryback as a halfway-decent pair.

TOTAL SCORE: **1/4

This was the Cody Rhodes story, and he delivered. Except for that moonsault where he slipped and looked like he was about to cripple himself. People want to see Cody face Goldust. Hell, Cody and Goldust want it! They’ve started to build toward it, though Cody simply telling Dustin he needs a better tag team partner is a different way to go about it, and hopefully they let it happen. And hopefully it’ll be at SummerSlam and not some Main Event or Superstars in July. With how they’ve treated The Brotherhood after losing the tag titles, anything is unfortunately possible.

•••

WWE Payback Rusev Big E Lana
RUSEV (w/Lana) vs. BIG E.

Champ and Wifey’s picks: Rusev udrea, Rusev machka

Match expectations: *1/2

Technical Merit: Good big-man match that cut a quick pace at times.

Artistic Impression: The problem was it was a little quick, and the buildup couldn’t make us care.

TOTAL SCORE: *3/4

This was filler, though decent filler. I hoped for the match I received, though it could’ve gone a couple minutes longer and been even better. The spot where Big E. speared Rusev onto the floor was one you usually see from a couple smaller guys, but not 589 total pounds of mass. They could go again and it would be OK, or they could feed someone else to Rusev. Preferably someone not black, unless the rumored Nation of Domination reboot actually happens.

•••

WWE Payback Bad News Barrett Rob Van Dam

BAD NEWS BARRETT (c) vs. ROB VAN DAM, Intercontinental Championship

Champ and Wifey’s picks: Barrett, Barrett

Match expectations: *3/4-**

Technical Merit: Same old stuff from RVD. It didn’t seem choppy or botchy, though I kind of stopped paying attention.

Artistic Impression: Even Barrett couldn’t make the story worthwhile.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/4

I’m with Barrett: Rob Van Dam is Old Yeller, had a dog skated by on his past accomplishments, and needs to be put down. He’s been wrestling the same match for more than a decade, with the only change being who wins. Either way, his top-rope moves hurt himself more than his opponents, and his “educated feet” are less believable than Brie’s acting. He didn’t even set up Barrett all that well because we had to have the same old “Rob … Van … Dam” spots. Barrett deserves better, and we deserve better. Give us some good news, and give Bad News an opponent who’s worth a damn.

•••

Payback Paige Alicia Fox

PAIGE (c) vs. ALICIA FOX, Divas Championship

Champ and Wifey’s picks: Paige, Paige. Champ finishes 4-for-6, Wifey 5-for-6.

Match Expectations: *1/2-**1/2

Technical Merit: If you like backbreakers and botches, you came to the right place.

Artistic Impression: Alicia is going somewhere with the new character. This match just didn’t go with it.

TOTAL SCORE: *

This felt like all their prior matches, only less crisp. Add that to the fact that we finally saw what women’s wrestling could be Thursday night, and this contest never had a chance. It didn’t have the atmosphere (thank you, Chicago, for that), and it didn’t have the usual skill and attention to detail associated with their prior encounters. It failed to click from the outset, and it never recovered.

None of this is helping Paige one bit.

Though well respected by anyone who watched NXT, to anyone else Paige seems like some kid who came in, got lucky and won the title. Casual fans haven’t warmed up to her, and after being conditioned to believe women’s matches are time to go No. 1, they don’t really get a reason to stick around when she’s paired with the likes of Tamina or Alicia, who have been relegated to typical Divas punchlines for years. Paige needs help badly. Whether it’s with a couple well-placed NXT callups, or simply an angle with Natalya or Emma, who can work well with her and put on a great match (see Paige-Emma at NXT ArRIVAL for an example), it needs to happen quickly, or Paige will be damaged goods at 21.

What did you think of Payback? How did it stack up to NXT Takeover? Where does WWE go from here? Let me know below or on Twitter @jpetrie18.

WWE Midcard Report (May 26-27): To Bolieve is to win, Bad News Barrett asserts himself, D-Sizzle shocks the world and Luke Harper shows his potential

RAW 052614 Bo Dallas Tebowing

*vignette*

The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare. If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. Be prepared, so when your moment of inspiration arrives, it won’t catch you by surprise. You just have to Bolieve!

*elaborate entrance, makes way to the ring*

Monday Night RAW is the summit on the top of the mountain of my dreams. On my journey to the top, I’ve learned that we don’t conquer the mountain. We conquer ourselves. All you have to do is Bolieve!

*defeats opponent*

Thank you so much, so much, to all of my Bolievers! I couldn’t have done it without you. But the truth is you don’t get satisfaction from just victories. You get the satisfaction from effort. If you gave it your all, and you gave it everything you’ve got, you’re already a winner. All you have to do … is Bolieve!

*hugs opponent, walks out*

If you’re keeping track, that was three motivational speeches from Bo Dallas. That’s the promo trifecta. That, my friends, is why you must Bolieve!

That also is how the Midcard Report should lead off. You know, some nice positive reinforcement before we trash about three-fourths of the matches on here.

BO DALLAS vs. SIN CARA

Sidenotes: Bo’s T-shirt still has the NXT logo, and said T-shirt is absolutely soaking wet. Also, my feed was so moved by Bo’s words that it froze up. Hunicara with a top rope crossbody early, but Bo’s in control when they return. The announce team no-sells the entire match, which is a shame because it’s not half bad! OK, maybe half. Nice series of kneedrops — the first two with a rollout, the third with a thumbs-up and a delay — but Sin Cara responds with some kicks, an enziguiri, a springboard moonsault, a backspring elbow and a Samoan drop. That’s all for naught, because after snakeeyes and the Bo-Dog, it’s time to Bolieve.

Time: 2:54

Technical Merit: I like the less-botchy version of Sin Cara.

Artistic Impression: I also like this version of Bo Dallas.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/2

This may actually have been RAW’s Match of the Night. Chew on that one for a second.

•••

Good news: Both midcard singles championships are on the line in angles intended to mean something.

Bad news: We have to watch Rob Van Dam and his endless array of THE SAME MOVES THAT WOULD DO NOTHING IN REAL LIFE.

Bad News: Oh, he’s right here!

RAW 052614 Bad News Barrett

ROB VAN DAM vs. CESARO (w/Paul Heyman)

It’s the Heyman Invitational, as long as the No. 1 contenders for the Intercontinental and U.S. championships. But somebody’s afraid he’s got some more Bad News. It’s summertime, so people will throw on their swimsuits and find their stomachs have expanded to roll over their waistbands. The man has a point! He has another: RVD’s Indian Summer will be over after Payback. The good news? Bad News is on commentary! “It’s me! It’s me! It’s BNB!” I’m all for a subtle DDP reference. First thing to get me to pay attention to the actual match: RVD goes for an apron moonsault, but Cesaro catches him and deposits him onto the barricade. Naturally, now that our attention is finally obtained, we go to break.

As we return on Hulu Plus, Rolling Thunder shows up. Yay. This RVD match just had something different for once: A superkick to Barrett outside. That one was legit. Van Dam is feeling froggy, but Barrett provides the distraction and Cesaro hits the bridging German for the win.

Hulu Plus time: 4:27

Technical Merit: Same old stuff, though executed OK.

Artistic Impression: Face messes with heel, face gets got. I don’t mind it.

TOTAL SCORE: *

Then, for no real reason, Sheamus graces us with his presence for a Brogue Kick. That didn’t feel like babyface justice; that just felt like a lame excuse to get someone on TV.

Wait … he has a match in the third hour? That’s not logical! Ohhhhh Cesaro attacked him on SmackDown. (Logical) … but that would mean we would’ve had to watch SmackDown. (Not logical)

Anyway, it’s Sheamus-ADR, part 4,863.

United States Champion SHEAMUS vs. ALBERTO DEL RIO

The champ makes this look like a glorified squash for nearly 2 minutes, until ADR recovers after being rolled back into the ring and realizes what his feet are for. Again, it’s break time.

And would you look at that … we return just in time for Sheamus to hit White Noise! He sets up for the Brogue Kick, but his bell is rung. Del Rio rings it again with the enziguiri and the standing sidekick, but only gets 2. Sheamus sells concussion symptoms as ADR sets up for the cross armbreaker, but the redhead slips out and hits the Brogue Kick.

Hulu Plus time: 3:55

Technical Merit: Painfully basic and repetitive.

Artistic Impression: Dumb finish, though it sets up what happens next.

TOTAL SCORE: *

Heyman interrupts Justin Roberts‘ duties and promos just long enough for Cesaro to sneak in and give Sheamus a few more shots to the dome, then the Neutralizer.

What did I say earlier? Face messes with heel, face gets got. The only problem is this probably means the heel gets got Sunday. Guess we should be happy we get a halfway decent United States Championship match out of it. I’m far from sold on the Intercontinental Championship contest, but that’s because RVD’s involved. I haven’t actually enjoyed one of his matches since … Edge won a triple-threat on RAW to take his WWE Championship in 2006? Yeah, about that far back.

•••

We lead off Main Event with a hometown boy!

You know what that means … hometown boy’s gonna lose. Sorry, Cody Rhodes.

Main Event 052714 Cody Rhodes

Speaking of losses, Curtis Axel informed The Brotherhood last night that they’re racking up more losses than Barry Horowitz in his prime. You know the third-generation guy’s gonna know his history!

CODY RHODES (w/Goldust) vs. CURTIS AXEL (w/Ryback)

If you want a decent basic mechanic — no more, no less — Axel’s your man. The man knows what he’s doing in the ring and doesn’t try to exceed his limits. Nice backbreaker with Cody tied up in the second rope early. Rhodes starts his comeback around 3:15 with a sunset flip, some strikes and the the trademark Ted DiBiase Jr. clothesline. He hangs Axel up in the ropes and hits a kick to the gut then, with Axel standing, he hits a moonsault for 2. For the second straight night, though, Cody Disaster Kicks someone on the apron (Ryback this time), and Axel chop blocks Cody, rolls him up and pulls the tights. The streak continues.

Main Event 052714 Curtis Axel Ryback Rybaxel

Time: 4:21

Technical Merit: Your basic 4-minute match where the heel wins. Nothing egregious.

Artistic Impression: I don’t like the story, but it’s being told OK.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/2

•••

You know where a Southern rapper is going to be over? Atlanta. That’s why WWE decided having not one, but two, was a good idea. This actually is the best gimmick I’ve seen in a minute!

Main Event 052714 Damien Sandow D-Sizzle

Yo, I roll with the sinners, but I’m praised like a saint

And when that bell rings, I go hard in the paint

When fools try to step, I start tossin’

My teeth are clean, but I still be flossin’

*R-Truth rudely interrupts*

Do you have a problem, cousin?

You’re about to run up and get done up

Thuggish livin’ till the end

Tell a friend

Eight bars in, D-Sizzle is better than Macklemore. Who else is better than Macklemore? EVERYBODY! I see you, Kanyon! RIP.

“D-Sizzle” DAMIEN SANDOW vs. R-TRUTH

Tom Phillips says D-Sizzle is no Machine Gun Kelly. He’s right. Sizzle is better. After the Russian legsweep, “THROW YOUR HANDS IN THE AY-ER!” After the Elbow of Disdain and cover for 2, “YOU FRONT? YOU FRONT?” Unfortunately, R-Truth didn’t front. He came correct and hit his finisher for the win.

*pours out some liquor for D-Sizzle*

We hardly knew ya, bro.

Time: 2:33

•••

Main Event 052714 Nikki Bella Brie Bella Twins

There’s not a situation where Nikki Bella doesn’t look like a porn star. Then again, isn’t that kind of John Cena‘s thing? I guess if you want a Brazzers video come to life, you have a couple options in WWE.

RAW 051914 Summer Rae

Meanwhile, someone is here to actually, you know, wrestle.

Main Event 052714 Natalya

NATALYA vs. BRIE BELLA (w/Nikki Bella)

Brie puts on a hammerlock and a side headlock, and she yells like she’s the one taking the move. She keeps quiet for the armdrag, though, and when Nattie has her in an armlock. Brie Mode is reason alone for termination. Especially when it results in a missile dropkick. Here’s our cool spot of the match: Brie locks in a half-crab, but Nattie rolls through into the Sharpshooter.

Main Event 052714 Brie Bella Sharpshooter

Once that happens, that’s it.

Time: 3:33

Technical Merit: Brie Mode was involved. I rest my case.

Artistic Impression: If the story was Nattie comes, Nattie wins, Nattie goes to get ready for NXT Takeover, then it was great! Wait, this was about Brie? … Oh.

TOTAL SCORE: 1/2*

•••

One good thing about Main Event is it allows for promo time with the WWE Tag Team Champions. This meant time for The Usos to make fun of The Wyatt Family‘s lackeys who do nothing but follow Bray Wyatt, which was done effectively. Oh, and Cena will be the last man standing. Yay.

That also means promo time for Luke Harper!

Main Event 052714 Luke Harper

A man with nothing left to lose has nothing left to fear. He saved us. He gave us a purpose. And Usos, some bonds are much stronger than blood.

Bray takes over from there. Blah, blah, blah, I know, right? He took in Harper and Erick Rowan, and they united as brothers in the name of cause. The Usos, meanwhile, are pawns in Cena’s sick little game. Since they’re guilty by association, they’ll burn.

WWE Tag Team Champions THE USOS vs. LUKE HARPER & ERICK ROWAN (w/Bray Wyatt)

Rowan starts the match with the mask … ? Oh, it’s so Jey Uso can slap it off. I like it! Nice no-sell from Harper, which only leads to a double-team that still ends with Harper in control via dropkick.

Back from break and Rowan’s back in, just in time for Jimmy Uso to tag to Jey. Rowan gets an advantage when Jey can’t lift him for a Samoan drop, then Erick fallaway slams Jey, who rolls outside. That gives Harper a chance to pick away at some scraps outside after the tag before returning and tagging once more. Rest hold time! Jey kicks Rowan after escaping, but Rowan backs into Harper for the tag and Harper goes after Jimmy. Harper is a great tag-team wrestler. Harper does the Gator Roll, throwing in a couple suplexes for good measure. A second rest hold, then Jey makes the mistake of attacking Rowan. That allows Harper to hit a sitout slam, which causes Jimmy to break it up, which distracts the ref, which allows the heels to maintain control. You know, until Rowan inevitably screws it up. Missile dropkick leads to stereo tags, and Jimmy comes in hot. Jimmy can hit the Samoan drop on Harper … as well as a superkick that leads to 2. Chaos time, and the champs execute their tandem dive outside. That’ll get Bray out of his seat, and he gives Harper marching orders. Jimmy goes up top, but Rowan tosses Jey into the ropes. Jimmy wobbles off the ropes, which sets up the Clothesline from Hell and the pin.

Time: 10:35

Technical Merit: These are two good tag teams. Rowan couldn’t cut it in a singles capacity, but as the bumbling tag partner he’s effective. Harper might be the best big man in the company at the moment, and the Usos are the best team.

Artistic Impression: The match kept The Usos intertwined in the Cena-Wyatt angle, and it sold the Wyatt Family as a stronger threat than ever to hustle, loyalty, respect, etc.

TOTAL SCORE: **1/4

•••

Come back Thursday night for analysis and reaction to NXT Takeover. In the meantime, follow The Champ on Twitter @jpetrie18.

WWE Midcard Report (April 28-29): Bad News Barrett wins twice, The Usos retain the tag team belts and the Extreme Rules card fills out

The Real World Champ likes to mix things up every once in a while. Sometimes you’ll get one huge RAW post. Sometimes four or five little ones.

Sometimes we’ll look at two shows at the same time.

WWE has three well-crafted, main-event-caliber storylines that carried this Monday’s RAW. You can read about those here. This is the first-ever Midcard Report, which takes a look at everything else.

We’ll start with RAW, where the Tag Team Championship was on the line.

THE USOS (c) vs. RYBAXEL, WWE Tag Team Championship

Ryback and Curtis Axel have “suddenly turned it on as a team” or something like that. Nothing of note in the first couple minutes other than a clumsy-looking stereo dive that appears to injure Jey Uso‘s lower left leg. Of note after the commercial break, Rybaxel goes for a tandem superplex, but Jimmy Uso fights them off and front suplexes Axel onto Ryback. Hot tag to Jey, but he’s still favoring the leg. Ryback hits a spinebuster and a cover, THEN starts posing after the fact to set up for the clothesline. That’s enough time to allow Jey to get up and hit a superkick. Jey with another nice counter, turning Shell Shocked into a rollup. Tag to Jimmy, which comes in handy when Axel gets the Perfectplex on Jey. Jimmy hits the top-rope splash on Axel, and the champs retain.

Hulu Plus TIME: 5:44

TECHNICAL MERIT: Some decent spots in this one.

ARTISTIC IMPRESSION: Typical babyfaces-in-peril tag match.

TOTAL SCORE: **

Not great, but certainly better than expected. The heels tried some things that made the match feel a little different, and actually made themselves look decent … not an easy task for this pair.

 

Magneto and motivational speaking

“If you can’t see yourself a winner, you’ll never be one. The power to envision your goals and the power to achieve them is the same thing. No one ever got rich in the passenger’s seat. Take the wheel. Take charge. And Bolieve.”

RAW 042814 Bolieve

This one’s for the ladies.

RAW 042814 Hugh Jackman

This one’s not.

RAW 042814 Sandow Magneto

This was the best bad segment of RAW in a LONG time. It would be the worst if it weren’t so damn hilarious … and if “Magneto” didn’t take a hip toss and the Zig Zag.

 

Paul Heyman’s clients (past and present) and the next Intercontinental Champion

“I’m a liar. I’m a conniver. I’m ruthless. And I’m totally uninhibited by my unethical approach to business. But I take my clients to the top.” That about covers Paul Heyman. And that’s all Cesaro wants to hear.

RAW 042814 Heyman Cesaro

Later in the show, Paul E. decides we need to hear a joke, because “my kids think I’m funny!”

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Mike!

Mike who?

Mike … lient Brock Lesnar conquered the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania!

RAW 042814 Real Americans

Yeah, that didn’t work. But hey, Heyman’s client, Cesaro, won the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania! He’ll try to conquer Jack Swagger once more.

CESARO vs. JACK SWAGGER

Gutwrench suplex … and Cesaro hangs on for another one. Wicked strong. Swagger shouts “We the people!” into Cesaro’s ear during a weardown hold. Zeb Colter trips up Cesaro from outside, then Paul E. takes matters, and Zeb’s mustache, into his own hands. That’s enough of a distraction for a bridging German suplex pin.

TIME: 3:12

TECHNICAL MERIT: A bit clunky at times, actually, but a couple decent maneuvers.

ARTISTIC IMPRESSION: Decent, quick story.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/4

These guys aren’t done yet. But until then …

RAW 042814 Bad News Barrett

This man has bad news for Rob Van Dam. Only the “Then” part of the WWE slogan applies to him. In fact, Wade Barrett apparently was in diapers the last time RVD was Intercontinental Championship. That’s a bit of a stretch, but that whole promo was fantastic. Barrett is over as a heel, and it’s great to see. The man can talk, he has charisma, he has a great look and he can work.

ROB VAN DAM vs. BAD NEWS BARRETT, Intercontinental Championship No. 1 contender tournament final

Rob, however, is working him early. Well, until he basically whiffs on an apron moonsault. At least Barrett sold it well. Barrett puts in work outside before the break, and he’s stretching RVD a bit upon return. RVD suddenly goes a bit away from his offense with some Ultimate Warrior clotheslines, then goes to the spinning kick until Cesaro arrives. Swagger follows, and they go at it outside. That appears to set up the Bullhammer, but it turns into a back kick and Rolling Thunder. Yawn. RVD has to fend off Cesaro will perched up top, and that gives Barrett enough time to prepare/block the frog splash. One Bullhammer later and we have our No. 1 contender.

RAW 042814 Big E Barrett

TIME: 4:48

TECHNICAL MERIT: A bit formulaic. It’s an RVD match.

ARTISTIC IMPRESSION: Points here for advancing two stories.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/4

The aftermath is a three-way midcard scrap, which Cesaro starts but also of which he gets the brunt. Because somebody has to take the frog splash.

RAW 042814 Rob Van Dam

I think RVD’s best place is off my screen, but at least this whole bit makes sense. RVD hates Heyman, so he hates Cesaro by proxy. Swagger still hates Cesaro, and that’s mutual.

“Not sure about the end game, but could make for a fun triple threat down the road.” I wrote that Tuesday morning. Sure enough …

ExR Triple Threat

Potential direction: This feels like a star vehicle for Cesaro, but Swagger could screw him over to continue the feud.

Who should win Sunday: Cesaro

Who probably will win: Cesaro

 

On to the next one …

Moving along  … nothing says Midcard Report quite like WWE Main Event! We lead off with Goldust in action, along with a flashback to RAW, when Cody Rhodes lost to Alberto Del Rio and shoved Goldust in frustration afterward. So, for a Hulu Plus RAW viewer, this was actually quite informative! Though the brothers are on the same page for the moment.

ME 042914 Cody Rhodes Goldust

GOLDUST (w/Cody Rhodes) vs. ALBERTO DEL RIO

Both men aggressive out of the gate, and a Backstabber into the cover 30 seconds in. Slows down a bit with the rear chinlock about a minute in, and the “Let’s Go Goldust!” chant to help him out. Signature drop and slap and the powerslam at the 2-minute mark, and ADR with the enziguiri right after that. This could be a quick one. Dragon screw from Goldie to counter the kick, then the Final Cut does it. Guess I was right.

ME 042914 Goldust

TIME: 3:09

TECHNICAL MERIT: Quick, but all the major spots in.

ARTISTIC IMPRESSION: The story was mostly set up the night before, so not much here besides the winner.

TOTAL SCORE: *3/4

Renee Young … sorry, “Nay Nay” … suggests this could be about the time The Brotherhood splits. Goldie squashes that. Nay Nay asks whether Cody Rhodes is impressed with Dustin’s win; Cody somewhat heelish in saying that doesn’t mean Dustin’s better. He gets back on course and says The Brotherhood is together and will stay that way. Methinks that won’t last too much longer…

On another note, this is happening Friday:

SD 050214 US Title

(No) thanks to Twitter, I know what happens. Oh well.

 

Speaking of champions …

ME 042914 Paige

WWE Divas Champion PAIGE vs. ALICIA FOX

This goes straight outside, and the champ jumps from the apron and snaps off a head-scissors. These two have pretty good chemistry, though Alicia isn’t the most crisp. She does, however, play the heel part adequately. Big kick to the face around 2:00 after Paige rips off Matt Morgan with the corner elbows. Paige gets a kick of her own 30 seconds later and starts to show her edge — hair pulling, knees to the head, etc. Simple, but effective countering from Alicia. She won’t, however, counter this DDT.

ME 042914 Paige DDT 1 ME 042914 Paige DDT 2

TIME: 3:34

TECHNICAL MERIT: Not great, but certainly not bad.

ARTISTIC IMPRESSION: Typical Paige main-roster match, though she did get some more offense early.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/2

Afterward, the champ has company.

ME 042914 Paige Tamina

Paige vs. Tamina potential direction: Why give the belt to Paige for only a month?

Who should win Sunday: Paige retains.

Who probably will win: You know this one.

 

Promo time with Sheamus to set up a fight with Bray Wyatt later in the show. Something about fighting with guys in Ireland or something. I don’t listen because I don’t want to hear Sheamus talk. I want to see him kick ass and leave.

 

Random fun fact: This man is a 10-time champion in WWE.

ME 042914 Kofi Kingston

That’s the good news.

ME 042914 Bad News Barrett

This is the bad news. More bad news: Big E. is a “cardboard cutout” and a bland, boring champion.

Good news: Mr. Barrett is pulling Midcard Report double duty!

BAD NEWS BARRETT vs. KOFI KINGSTON

More bad news: Big back kick to Kofi’s gut. Kingston the speed and a flying cross-body for 2. Nice tilt-a-whirl backbreaker from Barrett. Ninety seconds in, he’s calling for the Bullhammer, but Kofi thwarts that with a rollup. Kofi slips Barrett multiple times outside, but literally leaps into the Bullhammer. All Barrett has to do is roll him back in.

TIME: 2:28

TECHNICAL MERIT: Basic.

ARTISTIC IMPRESSION: The mission — get Barrett over. Success.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/2

 

“… Kansas City … we’re here.”

So is the Celtic Warrior, who interrupts sing-along time with Bray Wyatt. Not cool. Also, this actually feels like it could be a substitute main-event match down the line; it’s almost overqualified for this slot. But since this is a midcard show …

SHEAMUS vs. BRAY WYATT (w/Luke Harper & Erick Rowan)

Both men opting for the slow build on this one. Sheamus using the power and striking game early, but Wyatt doing just enough to stunt the momentum before it gets excessive. When Sheamus does get something, like a second-rope kneedrop, Bray is kicking out at 1. Back from break, and Wyatt has stepped into the driver’s seat. The rest of the Wyatt Family is staying out of the way for the most part, obstructing Sheamus only enough to let him know they’re here. Forearm to the back on the apron that forces Sheamus to fall face first into said apron, then the running senton inside for 2. After that, good old-fashioned ass whipping until Sheamus blocks a second senton attempt. Charge and kneelift, and a kneelift that propels him outside around 9:00. That helps him long enough to get a uranage slam for 2 1/2. Sister Abigail expertly countered into White Noise and a cover.

On another note, Harper is creepy as hell.

ME 042914 Luke Harper

Sheamus gets the 10 forearms going outside in after landing on his feet on Wyatt’s back bodydrop attempt. At 12:00, Wyatt ducks the Brogue Kick, but runs into the Irish Curse backbreaker on the way back. Rowan distracts Sheamus from attempting the kick again, but does get a powerslam. Rowan AND Harper provide the distraction on either apron, and that allows Wyatt to bash Sheamus in the back and hit Sister Abigail. Great match.

ME 042914 Bray Wyatt Sheamus

TIME: 13:40

TECHNICAL MERIT: It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was effective.

ARTISTIC IMPRESSION: Simple story with the mutual beatdown, and Wyatt stays strong.

TOTAL SCORE: ***1/2

When Sheamus has a decent and/or fresh dance partner, the man can get the job done in the ring. I’ve seen at least two, if not three, good matches out of him against different opponents as of late. He’s a good man to have in the upper midcard because he’s a good hand, he’s powerful and wins and losses don’t really affect him a whole lot.

As for Wyatt, he’s a MUCH better storyteller than technician. His attack is somewhat repetitive and quite simple. But here’s the thing: He’s 26 years old. The skills will continue to develop, and he’s believable as a somewhat unorthodox, powerful brawler. He reminds me of Mick Foley, to be honest: Not the greatest physique and would never be confused for the Excellence of Execution, but you know you’ll see a good fight and a damn good story.

Main Event had a great balance this week: A true main event, and you get some bulletpoints on the portions of the card RAW may not hit. Creative all around seems to have some more depth and more sense, and it makes the whole product more enjoyable to watch.

COME BACK THURSDAY NIGHT FOR A FULL REPORT ON NXT

State of Pro Wrestling: What if the cruiserweights came back to WWE?

Every once in a while, the Real World Champ will discuss subjects that don’t exactly fit into a current show or hot topic, but generally are worth discussing in the world of professional wrestling. It’s called the State of Pro Wrestling, and this is the second installment. The first is here.

The best part of the WWE Network is accessing its vault of prior events, especially pay-per-views from WWF/WWE, ECW and my personal favorite, World Championship Wrestling. WCW set the biggest boom period of professional wrestling in motion with the New World Order in 1996, but the company had to find ways to appeal to not only those drawn to star power, but also hardcore fans who wanted to see some of the best technical wrestling in the world.

Enter the cruiserweights.

ECW introduced a bit of the lucha libre and Japanese styles to the U.S., using the likes of Eddie Guerrero, Chris JerichoDean MalenkoRey Misterio Jr. and, yes, Chris Benoit. All were smaller than the WWF template of the mid-1990s, and they put on technical masterpieces. These men didn’t stay long in ECW before Eric Bischoff saw them as a way to lead off WCW Monday Nitro.

When I got back into wrestling in the spring and summer of 1998, I came to WCW for the marquee stars of my childhood and the nWo. I stayed for the little guys — some of whom flew around like superheroes in the lucha libre style, and others who could stretch you every which way until you couldn’t take it anymore.

This topic came up on Twitter (major props to @NewAgeInsiders and new follower @JAMIEGotDatBOMB for the inspiration), and the names flying around brought back some of my fondest memories. There were the aforementioned. There was Billy Kidman, the greasy worker of Raven’s Flock who made the Shooting Star Press one of my favorite finishers. There was Juventud Guerrera, who could knock you out with the Juvi Driver or mesmerize you with the 450. There was Ultimo Dragon, with the cool mask and that vicious Dragon Sleeper. There were other smaller Americans like Lenny Lane and Sean Waltman, who had Cruiserweight and U.S. Championship runs as Syxx. There were some more, shall we say, unorthodox guys like Disco Inferno and Alex Wright. There even were jobbers like Kaz Hayashi, and there were plenty more luchadors like PsicosisEl Dandy and the Chairman of WCW, La Parka.

Toward the end, there were these guys.

3count

Oh, like I was going to get through a WCW post without mentioning 3 Count. Please.

Anyway, I watched these guys for the wrestling, the main-event guys for the promos, and I has a happy viewer for 3 hours every Monday night. All this nostalgia begged one question …

What if WWE revived the cruiserweight division?

SmackDown carried cruiserweights for a decent amount of the 2000s, after it acquired WCW and its younger, somewhat smaller talent, and it thrived until, for some reason, Hornswoggle won the championship in 2007. It’s been retired since.

In that time frame, there weren’t many credible wrestlers on the main roster who were under 225 pounds, since many of those who fit the criteria were phased out. But we’ve moved from a stage where guys like Edge and Randy Orton are on the small end of average at 240 to one where a 218-pound C.M. Punk was WWE Champion for 434 days, and 210 (if that)-pound Daniel Bryan likely will be WWE World Heavyweight Champion at 10:45 p.m. EDT on April 6. Guys like Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston, who don’t seem all that small, easily would be cruiserweights.

In fact, here’s all the eligible talent via WWE.com as of April 5, besides Christian (likely to retire), Punk (likely retired) and Los Matadores (no weights listed), from lightest to heaviest.

  • Evan Bourne, 165 pounds
  • Rey Mysterio, 175
  • Tyson Kidd, 195
  • Hunico/Sin Cara, 205
  • Xavier Woods, 205
  • Daniel Bryan, 210
  • Yoshi Tatsu, 211
  • Kofi Kingston, 212
  • Dolph Ziggler, 213
  • Justin Gabriel, 213
  • Zack Ryder, 214
  • Heath Slater, 216
  • Seth Rollins, 217
  • Cody Rhodes, 220
  • The Miz, 220
  • R-Truth, 220
  • Jinder Mahal, 222
  • Curt Hawkins, 223
  • Dean Ambrose, 225

That’s a 19-man division ranging from main-event-caliber talent to low- to midcard guys, with enough contrasting styles to make it interesting. Some guys, like Slater and Mahal seem to be as part of 3MB, are likely destined in the current WWE construct to be jobbers. But they theoretically could be contenders in this division. Ryder, Miz and Truth could get new life with something to actually compete for. Imagine the high-flying action of Bourne, Kidd and Gabriel. Imagine WWE taking the kid gloves off Bryan (on a brief sabbatical from the main event in this case) and Rollins for 20 minutes. Imagine guys like Ziggler, Rhodes and Ambrose getting fresh in-ring chances to show off their workrate. This could work, and this could be fun.

The Intercontinental and United States championships aren’t being used anyway. Hell, why not just have Ambrose show up with a different belt when The Shield finishes doing its thing and start a seamless transition?

Let me guess, you don’t like the roster. Too many jobbers and stale guys, not enough freshness and excitement. Well you know who else is under 225? ALMOST EVERYBODY RELEVANT ON NXT.

  • Adam Rose, 221
  • NXT Champion Adrian Neville, 194
  • Aiden English, 215
  • C.J. Parker, 220
  • Corey Graves, 208
  • Sami Zayn, 192
  • Tyler Breeze, 195
  • NXT Tag Team Champion Viktor, 219

And those are just the guys who have competed on the show since the Network launched.

At least seven of those eight men have either the talent or persona deserving of a spot at the highest level. (I’m not sold on Parker.) Neville, Zayn and Graves are three of NXT’s best, and even with Bryan on the verge of being the company’s top man, they’re probably “too small to make an impact”. Why not give them a great chance of succeeding in a transition from NXT to the main roster?

Can you seriously say Sami Zayn and Corey Graves’ main event this week couldn’t be on the first hour of SmackDown? Are you telling me Neville and Ambrose, or Neville and Rollins, or Neville and Rhodes, couldn’t tear down the house? Like fans wouldn’t mark the hell out for Neville’s Red Arrow or the inward 450?

GIF from properlypromoted.com
GIF from properlypromoted.com

Like they wouldn’t be thoroughly entertained by a Tyler Breeze-Dashing Cody Rhodes “Not The Face” Match? Come on.

Triple H is developing these fresh faces for something, and they certainly don’t fit the 6-foot-4, 255-pound mold his chiseled physique once made. Why not ease the transition, give them a niche, and let them do something besides “pay their dues” jobbing for Alberto Del Rio or Sheamus in boring 5-minute filler bouts?

I miss the cruiserweights. Here’s a great way to bring them back in full force.

What do you think? Comment below, or drop me a line on Twitter. Enjoy WrestleMania Eve.

SmackDown 02/14: Delayed reaction

After a busy weekend, Monday was (again) the first chance to watch SmackDown.

It was well worth the wait.

This probably has been the case for a while, and I know it is for stretches here and there, but SmackDown is a great professional wrestling show. The Valentine’s Day edition was a refreshing (and much-needed) reminder of why I enjoy the “sport”, and why I’ll probably ever only have one foot out the door.

The opening six-man tag of Daniel Bryan, Christian and Sheamus vs. The Shield was formulaic, but effective. There were hot tags to all three faces to give them some shine, along with plenty of time for the heels to work over the good guys. The match always seemed active … even when Roman Reigns threw a rest hold on Sheamus, there was a purpose of the latter trying to power out and get to his corner. In the end, there was chaos on the floor, and miscommunication among faces (Sheamus Brogue-kicking Christian) to set up the heel victory. All six men looked good, and nobody was weakened by the result. The KISS method of wrestling booking.

Before the main event, the four-way No. 1 contender match for the Intercontinental Championship could’ve stolen the show. There was great ring psychology between Kofi Kingston and Rey Mysterio — team up to neutralize common enemy, then immediately go head-to-head. Kofi was Kofi, hitting his finisher on almost everyone. Rey was entertaining for once. Mark Henry did the typical solid big-man things with his limited exposure; he unfortunately just can’t move like he used to. But Jack Swagger (yes, Jack Swagger) won the match and looked the best doing it. He expertly executed a simultaneous release German suplex of Kofi and Rey. When Kofi tried to flip his way back into the ring from the apron, Swagger was there with the Patriot Lock. Then, when Kofi countered and attempted the Trouble in Paradise trifecta, Swagger countered straight back into the ankle lock for the win. Anything that provides Kurt Angle flashbacks is a good thing. At his best, Swagger could probably only be Kurt Angle Lite, a bad-ass wrestler with less charisma that can be a good hand in the upper-mid card. But there are much worse fates.

The only real non-designed lull seemed to come during the eight-man tag match with Goldust, Cody Rhodes and The Usos vs. Curtis Axel, The Middle Age Outlaws and Ryback. The fact is none of the heels can really go. I damn near fall asleep when Road Dogg is in the ring. Ryback has been sufficiently neutered. Axel and Billy Gunn are OK, but nothing special. There definitely was a come-down segment in the middle of the match until business picked back up at the end. And, my God, are the WWE’s two brother tag teams fun to watch. In the old days, there probably wouldn’t be hesitation to have a faces vs. faces tag team title match. But if The Usos (rightfully) take the belts off the nostalgia act and The Rhodeses were next in line, that could 1) be main-event worthy, 2) be one of the greatest tag-team WRESTLING matches WWE has seen in years.

Two quick come-down matches afterward, though the intensity stayed high after the Damien Sandow-Darren Young match to advance Young’s angle with Titus O’Neil. Fandango vs. The Miz was what it was — let people breathe, grab a beer, go No. 1, etc., before the main event.

And did Cesaro ever deliver.

No Antonio anymore (No Langston for Big E, either), which doesn’t make a lot of sense. But whatever the name, Claudio Castagnoli showed millions of fans what he can do in the ring. He overpowered the WWE World Heavyweight Champion for the match’s majority, using a quick pace, mat wrestling and some high-impact strikes and maneuvers to assert himself. Randy Orton sold beautifully, which always helps as well. Cesaro took Orton on the swing for (unofficially) 16 revolutions. Orton went for a backdrop to counter The Neutralizer, and Cesaro stuck the landing on his feet. He hit a sunset-flip powerbomb to ultimately set up The Neutralizer for a clean pin of the champion.

This was a great 15-minute-or-so TV main event, and it was a great rub for Cesaro. I’m still not a huge fan of the champion losing so often (and so cleanly) leading up to a title defense, but Cesaro may have been the one who needed it most because it’s now established he has a chance to win. It also makes you wonder what Christian’s loss means, if anything.

SmackDown 01/17: State of the tag team union

Watched SmackDown over two sittings Saturday, and, well, it was SmackDown. Basically RAW without many of the top stars. Daniel Bryan‘s absence (concussion) makes sense, and, as has been for a while, the big guns are saved for Monday night.

I thought for a bit we’d be discussing the special roll-up episode, since that’s how the first two matches were decided, and the third used one for a close nearfall. There were some other interesting elements (Paul Heyman semi-breaking kayfabe by saying The Big Show was about 430 pounds instead of FIVE HUNDRED, Naomi nearly breaking her face because she doesn’t know how to take a bump, trying to remember when Fandango had momentum before WWE killed it by forcing it, etc.). But one theme that stood out was tag-team wrestling.

There are quality tag teams in the WWE, and apparently they’re at least being used on the B show. There was good wrestling, good storytelling … and then there were the Middle New Age Outlaws. Four teams were in action (five were around if you count The Shield), and by the end, CM Punk had problems with a couple of them.

Rhodes-Outlaws

Rhodes Brothers vs. New Age Outlaws

The Outlaws are, well, not-so New Age anymore, and it shows in many ways. For starters, they’re a bit on the washed-up side. Second, they still used the tired-old intro from 1998 … even though they’re heels at this point (which yielded boos on their way to the ring, and nostalgic cheers for the ring introduction). Third, Road Dogg can do *less* in the ring than before; Billy Gunn can still do a little bit at age 50. Also, if you have to go the Sting route (also utilized by Rey Mysterio) and keep the T-shirt on to wrestle, that’s not a good sign. Also also, if you can’t even get a “You Still Got It!” chant? Just go home. Because, well, EVERYBODY gets that chant, even if they don’t “still got it”.

You know who still has it, and is in better shape every time I see him? Dustin Rhodes. This man seriously is a (subtle) walking endorsement for DDP Yoga, and Page (for the idea) and many other wrestlers (for extending their longevity if they use it) stand to make a whole lot of money as a result. The Goldust character is whatever … it’s how WWE fans know him. But the man is 44 (same age as Road Dogg), and he looks better than he did when he was US champion at 24. He can still utilize the full arsenal, and he’s one of the old hands who knows how to entertain by telling a story *and* being an athlete. After all, this *is* staged athletic competition. Let the man work as long as he wants.

The other impressive part about Goldust: He was the worker in the match, and Cody Rhodes was the hot-tag guy. It seems like Rhodes has been around forever … because he has. But he’s only 28 years old, he’s a former (long-running) Intercontinental champion, and he’s a reigning tag-team champion in what could be a resurgent era for the discipline. He may be in his 30s before he gets a true main-event run, but that’s kind of how it should be. Patience is paying off here. He’ll have a great body of work when he’s elevated and, most importantly, he’ll be fully prepared and ready for the push. (For the opposite of this, see Randy Orton at really any point in the 2000s.) He’s a great wrestler with a great look, and the crowd loves him. His time will come.

Anyway, pretty damn good match before Vickie Guerrero interrupts, basically repeats the Royal Rumble slogan from about 1989 (Friend vs. Friend. Foe vs. Foe. Etc.) and allows the heels to get the roll-up win. Frankly, it’s the only way the Outlaws winning would be believable at this point. I’m just glad they didn’t have the whole drawn-out convo before Billy’s one line.

usos-vs-real-americans-smackdown-jan-17-2014-620x350

The Usos vs. The Real Americans

Speaking of patience, we have The Usos. Being two of the latest in the Anoa’i line and the twin sons of Rikishi likely got their foot in the door at a young age. But they’ve been on the main roster for nearly four years now, they’re also 28, and they’ve developed their skills to the level of a legitimately entertaining group. It’s more or less the same as Cody Rhodes, only on a slightly smaller scale. The company was patient with them, let them do the Superstars/Main Event circuit to gain traction, and now they’re the most cohesive team in the promotion.

The running corner hip attack, yes, does have “shades of Rikishi”. But only if you put the tape on fast-forward. Jimmy and Jey have the perfect balance of power and speed. They’re both in that average size range (Jimmy is billed at 6-foot-3, 251 pounds; Jey 6-2/228), but they’re both believable executing power moves with high impact. Plus, they’re effective in the air. These guys can work, and the crowd has had enough time to get behind them.

I don’t think they would work individually, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They’re just that good together. If they split, it would probably come off like the Dudleys in WWE — it works OK, but it’s just not the same. Then again, maybe it turns out like the Dudleys’ split it TNA, where Bully Ray pretty much fucking rules.

Anyway, on to the Oklahoman and the Swiss guy. I don’t think the Real Americans work, and they’ve tested my patience on this one. Zeb Colter draws emotion from the crowd like a great manager should, and he had a wonderful wheelchair-bound spot where he was Cesaro’s human shield, then shortly thereafter was pushed into Cesaro and the guardrail. Antonio Cesaro is a great worker and in impeccable shape. He’s a heel with a face spot in the Giant Swing … and an excuse to post a (hopefully viewable) GIF of this move being executed on a 350-pound man.

Cesaro swing

He has the physique my wife calls the best in the company, as well as the physique I would love to have … as someone else with not as much hair as he once had, Cesaro really is the closest example of, “Well, if I put on about 50 pounds of muscle and gave up carbs forever …” This man needs something better to do. Also, he’s Swiss. I get that he’s the traditional immigrant tale, which makes him a “Real American”. But still.

Anyway, all of that was a roundabout way of saying nobody cares about Jack Swagger anymore, and they need to break up the group. Let Cesaro be the upper-midcard mechanic he was destined to be.

There are good tag teams, and there are “meh” tag teams. We have the brothers who fit the mold of “stars aligning” because they did operate in a separate universe for so long, and the brothers who have literally been together since Day 1, as The Miz and JBL so eloquently pointed out Friday. Then we have the slapped-together group that just doesn’t work, and the other that’s more than a decade past its expiration date. Will WWE tag-team wrestling reach the Edge & Christian/Hardy/Dudley level again? Maybe not. But there are signs of life, and with some time, energy and patience, it could at least carry a main event every once in a while once again.