Tag Archives: Rusev

SmackDown review (Aug. 8): Seth Rollins gets revenge on Dean Ambrose … and Dolph Ziggler

Dean Ambrose has his choice of stipulation for his SummerSlam match with Seth Rollins by virtue of his victory over the now-departed Alberto Del Rio on RAW and, of course, Rollins’ loss to Heath Slater. Yes, you read that correctly. He can pick anything he wants. He breaks out a LIST of possible stipulations.

And he decides on a lumberjack match.

Let me try that again.

The supposedly coolest, edgiest, best-looking, best promo-giving, best guy in wrestling today decides on a FREAKING LUMBERJACK MATCH?! But hey, I’m sure it’ll be the coolest, greatest, most hardcore, most technical, most epic lumberjack match in WWE history, right? RIGHT?! OK, I’m done trolling the Ambrose marks. For now. Here’s a picture of him to distract you from the rest of the blog.

SmackDown 080814 Dean Ambrose
All photos in this post are screenshots from WWE’s broadcast on Hulu Plus.

Now, granted, Ambrose’s list didn’t include great options — just ones you could find variations of in WCW’s extensive library for only $9.99 a month on the WWE Network!!! — but JBL‘s Hat on a Pole and Parking Lot Brawl II would seriously be better. Ambrose’s theory is based in logic, since Rollins can’t run away if the ring is surrounded, but it’s still a bit of a letdown when you have someone “unstable” who cut his teeth being hardcore. I’m also sad Rollins had the first WWE Network plug when there was such a clear opportunity, but I digress. He’s the one studying at the Triple H School of Shameless Plugs this semester.

SmackDown 080814 Seth Rollins

Decent opening promo from both … not spectacular, as Twitter will lead you to believe, but decent.

Rollins kicked more knowledge on Dolph Ziggler a segment or so later than Ambrose and Rollins combined in the opening duel. Ziggler kicked more knowledge than the rest of the show combined with one line:

“Who didn’t always wonder what Catwoman would look like if she did CrossFit all the time?”

When you can diss Rollins’ superhero getup, his masculinity AND a workout fad in 16 words, you win the evening. I’m still convinced CrossFit only lasts as long as its practitioners’ backs and joints will. I almost blew out my knee once just watching an Instagram video. Now let’s see whether the No. 1 contender for the Intercontinental Championship wins the match.

DOLPH ZIGGLER vs. SETH ROLLINS

Sidenote: There was a time when being in Ziggler’s position was an honor. It meant being one of the top workers in wrestling, which Ziggler absolutely is. But now, when the Intercontinental title is still in image rehab and everybody is “buried” if they’re not in the world championship picture or they’re losing some matches, it’s not good enough for anyone anymore. I still think the title is in good hands with a Hollywood heel Miz OR a face Ziggler.

OK, time to call the damn match. Nice touch by Rollins hitting the Three Amigos in Texas … but the fans don’t care. Then again, they could just not be sweetening the crowd for once. Ziggler hits a jawbreaker to escape a rear chinlock, then snaps off two dropkicks. He goes for the Fame Asser early, but Rollins dodges and deposits him outside heading into the break.

Rollins remains the aggressor as we return with a deliberate dominance. Knock him down, let him get up, knock him down again. Ziggler finally gets some separation with a couple strikes, a clothesline that needs to be flattened according to one Steve Austin, a Stinger Splash, a 10-punch combo in the corner and a neckbreaker for 2. Meanwhile, JBL brings up a great idea for a stipulation: What if The Miz couldn’t be hit in the face at SummerSlam? I like it. After a few more covers, both men exchange blows until Rollins wins the mini-battle with his feet. Ziggler opens the next round with that vicious DDT for 2. Fame Asser on Rollins’ return to the ring for 2, and they take their time to reset. They’ll take another short break after Rollins posts Ziggler’s shoulder and knocks him outside. Apparently the shoulder didn’t receive enough punishment, so the barricade and the steps will finish the job. Rollins breaks the count, brings Ziggler back in and hits the Curbstomp.

Hulu Time: 10:47

Technical Merit: Anytime you get two of the top guys in the ring, you’ll get a good contest.

Artistic Impression: Basic in-ring story with Ziggler looking strong, but Rollins’ aggression being enough to win. Rollins played the part well when he came a bit unhinged and battered Ziggler outside.

TOTAL SCORE: **1/2

Ambrose’s task in the main event? Follow that.

DEAN AMBROSE vs. RANDY ORTON

So do you think Orton won’t work Ambrose’s shoulder since he knows from his dad that if you keep tape or a cast on that long, you’ve actually been fully healed for a while? The Ace Cowboy and his forearm cast approve of Ambrose’s tactics. But Orton debunks my theory at the 2-minute mark because he’s one of the best in-ring psychologists of all time. Now to see whether Ambrose sells it. A right-arm clothesline and a right-side-first leap outside later, it’s break time.

Rest hold on the left shoulder to open the final segment, and Orton decides to just stomp the crap out of it a few seconds later. Sidenote: Do you get PPV pay if you’re a lumberjack for a match? Will they hire actual lumberjacks for minimum wage due to budget cuts? Anyway, back to the left arm, which Orton has worked almost exclusively. Ambrose tells him to put some pressure on, because he’s nuts, and Orton obliges, because he likes to hurt people. Ambrose gets some breathing room with the DDT and punches his way into the driver’s seat. Tornado DDT follows for 2, just as I was thinking about how Ambrose is the guy you see in the bar who will use like a hold or two if necessary, but is more comfortable just beating your ass with his fists. Orton uses his fist to slow Ambrose, then ungracefully yanks him out of the ring and uses the steps and the apron to his advantage. Ambrose, though, counters the through-the-ropes DDT, bodydrops Orton outside and suicide dives right-arm first. Back in the ring, that dumb off-the-ropes clothesline spot ensues, but Dirty Deeds is thwarted by a Rollins distraction ringside. But Ambrose blocks the RKO and hits his finisher, only to have Rollins pull him out at 2 for the DQ.

A typical 2-on-1 Authority beatdown, complete with a soda pour onto Ambrose’s dome, ends the show, because it’s pro wrestling and the good guy will win in the end anyway.

Hulu Time: 9:13

Technical Merit: Ambrose’s KISS method works in that he doesn’t mess up. But I could see someone use his moveset at the nearest honky-tonk bar tonight … and probably get knocked out and have a drink poured on him, too! Orton’s adaptability made this two men brawling for nearly 10 minutes, which was to be expected.

Artistic Impression: It was the story they needed to tell, and they told it pretty well. Ambrose gets one up on Rollins on RAW, Rollins gets him back on SmackDown.

TOTAL SCORE: *3/4

•••

WWE knew you missed Mark Henry and The Big Show, so they’ll give you both! As a tag team! Because why would you pass up the chance for an 837-pound duo? Pretty sure that’s close to the WWE *and* ROH tag champions combined.

Fact check time: reDRagon is 407 pounds, less than Big Show OR Henry. The Usos come in at 479, giving the champions a sub-50-pound edge over the big guys.

The new Colossal Connection gets the prototypical basic heel tag team of guys whose singles pushes fizzled.

THE BIG SHOW & MARK HENRY vs. RYBAXEL (Ryback & Curtis Axel)

Heel tag team pyschology is applied beautifully near the 2-minute mark, when Axel clips Henry’s knee and double-team action ensues. That, however, doesn’t stack up to Show’s hot tag. He literally passed Ryback off to Henry for the World’s Strongest Slam to set up a chokeslam on Axel. Done.

SmackDown 080814 Big Show Mark Henry

Time: 3:18

•••

We mentioned Laredo’s bordertown location during the Midcard Report. If you thought Zeb Colter talking about Mexicans wouldn’t be enough for WWE, you were absolutely correct.

SmackDown 080814 Damien Sandow

Maybe as a Border Patrol agent, Damien Sandow can audition for a spot in the Real Americans. He could even be a babyface to the lowest-common-denominator fans! This is why someone should give me the book.

“Mr. Border Patrol” DAMIEN SANDOW vs. SIN CARA

JBL’s current events one-liners are on point. So is Sin Cara, who actually reaches to hit the hurricanrana on Sandow. Cara also escapes a Full Nelson to hit the Angle Slam (?!) to set up the senton off the top.

Time: 1:52

SmackDown 080814 Sin Cara

Not long enough to rate, but an impressive effort from the former Hunico, who seems to have polished his usual offering and added some elements to his offense. You don’t see sub-200-pound luchadors suddenly break out that Olympic slam, let alone on someone in the 240 range. Considering Alberto Del Rio‘s exit, Cara likely will get every chance to become the newest Mexican hero. The question is whether irreversible damage has already been done to the character.

•••

Apparently wrestling really is a priority on this show. A solid Ziggler-Rollins match is followed by a contest involving this woman:

SmackDown 080814 Natalya

She faces the No. 1 contender for the Divas Championship, who hopefully will perform more like she did in NXT.

NATALYA vs. PAIGE

Clothesline, butterfly suplex and the Sharpshooter? In the first 40 seconds? You have my attention. Paige Turner outside to start the second minute, but she can’t follow up as Nattie rolls her up upon re-entry. However, a kick to the chest and a modified scorpion crosslock PTO later, that’s it.

SmackDown 080814 Paige

Time: 2:11

Quick, but decent, I guess. The match was better than the name for Paige’s finisher, which is just atrocious. At least when it’s a scorpion crosslock, it sounds like a finisher. PTO sounds like some sort of HR office code … then when you hear what it means? “Paige Tap Out”? Really?

•••

Rusev udrea! Rusev machka!

Guess that whole push for Big E. and Company is over.m First, no sign of Kofi Kingston or Xavier Woods. Second, he’s facing the heel who needs to be elevated in the xenophobic angle du jour.

BIG E. vs. RUSEV (w/Lana)

JBL fun fact: Laredo used to be the capital of the Republic of Rio Grande before Texas was a thing. Slight botch when Big E., who actually builds a decent head of steam, goes for the Big Ending. Rusev kind of gets out of the way, but takes Big E.’s legs to the back of his head. No matter, because after the big kick and Accolade, Big E. is humbled.

SmackDown 080814 Rusev Big E

Time: 1:52

•••

SmackDown 080814 Chris Jericho

This episode of SmackDown is Jericho is a serious one. As someone who was an absolute mark for heel Chris Jericho in 2008, I like it when he gets serious.

Bray Wyatt thrives on mind games and pain. His poison is Sister Abigail. But the antidote is Y2J. He’s going to shove the “buzzards” down his throat, and he’s more than willing to get crazy.

I have a good feeling about this match. Jericho is here to put Wyatt over, and especially after Jericho won the first round, it appears Wyatt will get the upper hand in this one. The question will be what’s next for someone who already has worked with Daniel BryanJohn Cena, The Shield and Jericho this year. Some say his character was effectively neutered by the Cena angle, and they may be right. But if he can adapt to each opponent, instead of seemingly using the same rhetoric and inserting a different name, and continue to develop the character, he’ll be fine.

•••

This week’s edition of the RAW Rebound (or RAW Rewind?) it simply this week’s edition of Why Brie Bella sucks. Stephanie McMahon is so far out of her league as a character, it’s actually kind of hard to watch. It’s not all that hard to say a hand-delivered line correctly … though Roman Reigns gives it a degree of difficulty about 4-5 words at a time. But seriously, Brie, get a damn acting coach or something. Ask someone in the back what syllables to emphasize instead of just raising your voice (or often yelling) the last one. Lay off the word “bitch” if you even can. Go ahead and veto the bad prison one-liners, since you can’t even give us the punchline without making our heads hurt. I would offer the alternative of not speaking, but that doesn’t really work if you finish back-to-back shows against the top heel in American professional wrestling.

Just pin Steph and go away until Bryan comes back. Please?

What did you think of SmackDown? What’s your take on the Rollins-Ambrose angle at this stage? Comment below, or on Twitter @jpetrie18.

Advertisements

WWE Midcard Report (June 17-19): Seth Rollins outdresses Dean Ambrose and The Wyatt Family stands tall on Main Event, while Alicia Fox stays crazy on Superstars

Main Event is supposed to be filler. It’s supposed to be a supplement to RAW and SmackDown … what Superstars used to be. In the WWE Network era, it’s something different. It often gives us the matches we want. It often actually gives us matches. It gives us Seth Rollins in an all-black suit making important announcements about the next pay-per-view.

All pics, of course, are screenshots from the WWE Network.
All pics, of course, are screenshots from the WWE Network.

It’s WWE’s second-most important show.

That’s why it’s a staple of the Midcard Report. That’s why we watched Rollins “congratulate” Roman Reigns on his “small victory” and telling him there are repercussions for sneaking into the battle royal for a Money in the Bank title match spot. That’s why Rollins is calling Reigns a volcano, Dean Ambrose a bumbling buffoon and saying only he can control them. That’s why we’re telling him he sold out while he shows us why he’s still in control.

“Get on with it!”

That’s why he’s telling us there will be two ladder matches at MITB, an actual MITB match for a briefcase. That’s why he’s telling us he’s the first man in because him having that contract is best for business.

That’s why Ambrose interrupts with more bad generic music and beats up Rollins and escapes Kane. Seriously, Ambrose and Rollins have terrible music; Reigns lucked out with The Shield‘s bad generic music because it’s less bad. Also, Ambrose needs to stop stealing from the Billy Kidman collection.

Main Event 061714 Dean Ambrose

Or if you’re gonna do it, at least man up, go all in and get the Tommy Hilfiger jorts.

•••

I’m pretty sure if what Lana were saying were realistic, we would be in Cold War II right now. Also, what’s up with the Russian Mount Rushmore?

Main Event 061714 Russia Mount Rushmore Rusev

Gorbachev, Lenin, Putin and Rusev? Even I can’t suspend enough disbelief on that one. If they really meant business, they’d throw Stalin up there.

Santino arrives to interrupt, but not for long.

ALEXANDER RUSEV (w/Lana) vs. SANTINO MARELLA

Superkick, Accolade, done.

Main Event 061714 Rusev Santino Accolade

For some reason, this warranted a replay. Hey, at least he’s beating up white guys now.

Main Event 061714 Rusev Lana Russia

Time: 0:24

•••

Main Event 061714 Luke Harper Bray Wyatt Family

Oh yeah, the Wyatt Family is here.

Sometimes, I see things that aren’t there, and sometimes I hear things that aren’t said. And the only way to make them go away is to make them feel like I do. Usos, your time is up. You have what we want. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

I believe the time has come for the dirty ones to soil the world. The Usos and Sheamus, they’re pawns. And tonight, they will fall. For at Money in the Bank, we will be standing tall, rejoicing, as the world begins to burn. Follow the buzzards.

Luke Harper gets better each time he’s on the mic, which he showed again ever so briefly Tuesday. His quote preceded Bray Wyatt‘s, and he came off as crazier than his leader. Well done!

•••

So the Divas Champion has beef with The FunkadactylsCameron in particular. Now Naomi has to clean up the mess? I just can’t care.

WWE Divas Champion PAIGE vs. NAOMI (w/Cameron)

We get some dueling armdrags, dropkicks and kip-ups, giving the opening sequence some purpose. The champ takes control by cutting Naomi off at the pass with a clothesline and eventually locking in an abdominal stretch as the crowd stays silent until Naomi gets a hiptoss. Rollup fails, but she puts in a submission hold. Think a surfboard without Paige going up. So like a boogieboard? You decide.

Main Event 061714 Naomi Paige

Anyway, Naomi rolls and turns this into a bridge for 2. Clumsy collision follows, which probably is planned but never actually looks good. Flying crossbody, but Paige rolls through into a cover. Paige Turner blocked, and Naomi hits her apparent finisher to beat the champion. But this just morphs into Funkadactyl vs. Funkadactyl beef as Cameron celebrates far more than the person who actually won. Paige doesn’t seem too sad about losing, probably because she got to rough up Cameron some more? This is odd.

Time: 5:13

Technical Merit: Kind of an awkward moment or two in there, but otherwise not bad.

Artistic Impression: This apparently was more about the person not in the match. Also not a fan of Paige being all nonchalant about losing. Yes, you can get caught. Yes, you can be defeated. But have some pride, people!

TOTAL SCORE: *1/4

•••

There’s a whole lot of bad-looking gold when Sheamus and The Usos are around. OK, the United States Championship isn’t that bad. It’s colorful. The copper-penny World Tag Team Championship belts need to go. On the bright side, Jimmy Uso knows how to cut a promo. A little hyped, a little crazy, a little spot-on.

Also on the bright side, the cellphone flashlight bit is a fine addition to the Wyatts’ entrance. Adds just the right amount of coolness to an eerie entrance.

They’ll throw down after a Special Olympics USA Games plug. As someone who worked with Special Olympians for a couple years in my past life as a sports reporter, WWE can fill its TV time with this all it wants. I covered plenty of great people who simply enjoyed being able to compete and were absolutely grateful to get their names in the paper in any form.

Anyway, the match comes after a Special Olympics plug and an Ambrose-Kane plug for SmackDown. That won’t exactly get me to tune in. Meanwhile, Byron Saxton (I think) refers to the Wyatts as “Three Faces of Fear”. Haku and The Barbarian are wondering whether they’re chopped liver, and why it takes three men when they instilled enough fear as a duo. Also, they would absolutely DESTROY the Wyatts in a shoot. Hell, Haku could do it himself!

United States Champion SHEAMUS & WWE Tag Team Champions THE USOS vs. THE WYATT FAMILY

Wyatt starts. Wyatt tags Rowan. Sheamus tosses Rowan out. Harper comes in and trades blows in the corners. With Rowan and Harper in a tag title match at MITB, am I the only one who wants the Wyatts to walk out with all the gold? Rowan tagged in, and Sheamus hits a rolling senton and gets out. Rowan continues to lose his team’s momentum to both Usos — first Jimmy, then Jey. Wait … SHOULDER BLOCK FROM ROWAN!!!!!1! That allows him to tag Harper and move on with wrestling. Jey with a kick and rollup, and Jimmy’s back in. Harper misses a clothesline and gets a crossbody, a kick and a slap before Jey returns. Loving the quick tags to sell the cohesiveness of the champions. Harper decides to just jack Jimmy in the throat to break free, then back to Rowan … just in time for a commercial. The plug for “Road to Paloma” is, guaranteed, better than what we would’ve seen. I seriously tune out every time Rowan’s in the ring.

Harper’s in the ring upon our return. He finally tags to Wyatt, who hits a lariat that Jey sells perfectly with a flip. He gets a chance to sell a few headbutts as well, and a charge in the corner. Back to Harper. Nice sitout scoopslam for 2, then back to Rowan. Time to tune out … until a pumphandle backbreaker? Bet Harper taught him that one. Now it’s time to be a lackey, though, as his shoulder meets the post, and Sheamus meets the hot tag. Harper with an innovative block to 10 Beats of Bodhran with a cutter onto the rope. Apparently Rowan didn’t get the memo, because he gets all 10. Harper stunts Sheamus’ momentum with a dive at the knee, but Jimmy gets the tag and hits a flying crossbody, the Samoan drop and the butt charge in the corner. Rowan misses his chance to attack AGAIN. Wyatt sneaks a tag, which comes into play when the Usos try to fly. Jey dives on Rowan, but when Jimmy goes for Harper, Bray intercepts right into Sister Abigail.

Main Event 061714 Bray Wyatt Jimmy Uso

That’s how you end a match.

Time: 11:38

Technical Merit: Wyatt Family matches really are at their best when Harper is in the ring, and at their worst when Rowan is in. Bray is in the ring infrequently enough that, even if he couldn’t work, it wouldn’t be noticeable. Pretty basic match with these combatants … felt like I’ve seen it before.

Artistic Impression: Sells the Wyatts as a legitimate threat to win at Money in the Bank. Works for me.

TOTAL SCORE: *3/4

•••

When this girl leads off Superstars, it’s a good thing.

Superstars 061914 Alicia Fox

Her opponent? I could do without.

ALICIA FOX vs. NIKKI BELLA

Nikki using a whole lot of non-traditional wrestling moves until the arm wrench and dropkick, and the production team using a whole lot of traditional crowd sweetener. Foxy gets control and slaps on the rear chinlock, then hits a Northern Lights suplex for 2. Stomp on her a bit, then back to the chinlock, but Nikki hits a monkey flip. I can’t get over the fact she has “Thick Chick” on her knee-high socks. Thick compared to what? Your only “thickness” is artificial. Anyway, Fox misses a big boot, and Bella hits the torture rack backbreaker to finish her off. The best part of this is Alicia taking off her boots and knee wraps and throwing them at Nikki. Besides that, this match could’ve been skipped.

Time: 3:40

Technical Merit: Basic, but clean at least.

Artistic Impression: Typical Alicia Fox event these days … more events after the match than during. But hey, I’ll take some crazy!

Superstars 061914 Alicia Fox 2

TOTAL SCORE: 3/4*

•••

The game after the first match of Superstars is trying to figure out where to skip to find the second match. This week, it’s about the 27-minute mark. On that note, I almost forgot about Jack Swagger!

Superstars 061914 Jack Swagger

ROB VAN DAM vs. JACK SWAGGER (w/Zeb Colter)

Two former ECW champions, and two former Money in the Bank winners, in this match. Now they’re going at it on WWE’s No. 5 show. How the mighty fall … or get past their prime. My thoughts on RVD are well-known, but Swagger has never not been able to wrestle. His personality just doesn’t get over. Which is a bummer, because I actually enjoyed the whole “All-American American” bit. He and Zeb could be good, too, but they’re always thrown on C shows or W, X, Y or Z segments of the A show. First action of note comes at about 3 minutes, when RVD goes up top with his back to Jack, and Swagger pushes him for a sick barricade bump. I’ll credit Van Dam for his willingness to bump around.

Back from a house advertisement, and Swagger’s in control with a mix of weardown holds and strikes. RVD gets a smidgen of momentum when Swagger comes up empty in the corner, then it’s kick, weak lariat, OK lariat, superkick and that lame Rolling Thunder … is blocked into the Patriot Lock! I like it. Van Dam kicks his way out, then kicks Swagger in the head again. And again. Swagger’s been bleeding for a bit. RVD’s feeling froggy, but Swagger climbs up top and tosses him. A couple kick attempts miss, but Rob gets a legscissors cover for 2. Rob goes for a victory roll after that, but Swagger blocks and hits a belly-to-back right on Van Dam’s dome. Swaggerbomb time, but that’s blocked. Now it might be time for the frog splash … I’m giving it about 3 stars. Anyway, RVD wins, Swagger jobs, tune in next week.

Superstars 061914 Jack Swagger Zeb Colter

Time: 8:16

Technical Merit: Nice counter wrestling at times. Both men utilize their finishers. Not bad in that regard.

Artistic Impression: It was whatever. It was who could get enough blocks to hit his finisher, kind of like a WWE 2K14 match.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/2

•••

We’ll hopefully get back on track with some higher-quality stuff in the Ring of Honor review Saturday morning. Until then, check out last night’s NXT review and enjoy Friday! Or the rest of it, anyway.

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

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 Payback predictions: What will Daniel Bryan do with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship? Who will make the difference in the Evolution vs. The Shield main event? Will Sheamus finally turn heel? And will John Cena actually lose to Bray Wyatt again?

Are you excited for WWE Payback? Neither am I. The first impression of the six-match card (I refuse to count the El Torito vs. Hornswoggle atrocity again) is it’s the same old stuff as Extreme Rules, only with slightly different stipulations. On paper, knowing WWE’s general tendency toward “safe” booking in pay-per-views (John Cena wins, LOL, etc.), it’s destined to disappoint.

… or is it?

Besides Rusev vs. Big E., in which I hear the winner gets the blonde and other part of his name back, the matches have potential to build things going forward, when hopefully Money In The Bank provides a fresh set of rivalries. Outside of the ring, the entire summer could hinge on a stupid storyline that involves Daniel Bryan having to decide between the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and wife Brie Bella‘s job.

I don’t know which is worse: The so-called “smart” fans who think Bryan should keep the title even if he can’t compete AND believe this is his only shot with the belts, or the ones who think Brie would legitimately be fired if Bryan chooses to remain champion. Brie will take some time off, maybe a few months or so, then come back when either somebody else is in charge on TV or wins a match (maybe against Stephanie McMahon?) to “regain” employment. Bryan, whose neck surgery went smoothly, will keep the belts, setting up for what appears to be a Buried Alive match against Kane at MITB and a possible old-school nod to Glenn Jacobs as he rides into the sunset. Brie will get a few parting shots on Steph, setting the stage for somewhere down the line.

On to tonight’s actual wrestling. The matches are placed in order of WWE.com’s predictions piece, with the exception of the first one here.

WWE Payback Rusev Big E Lana

RUSEV (w/Lana) vs. BIG E.

Champ’s pick: Rusev

Wifey’s pick: Rusev

This one’s simple. The company is high on the Bulgarian Russian brute, and the fans are high on his blonde valet (or at least her legs). Big E. is almost damaged goods at this point on the main shows — the wife picked Rusev because the burial of Big E. will continue — and they won’t let him stand in the way of the next monster heel du jour. Whether this push pays off, or whether he’s Vladimir Kozlov or Lord Tensai for a new generation, remains to be seen.

Match potential: *1/2

Payback Paige Alicia Fox

PAIGE (c) vs. ALICIA FOX, WWE Divas Championship

Champ’s pick: Paige

Wifey’s pick: Paige

A lot of people think Foxy will go over here, considering her momentum and the fact that Paige still kind of feels like a placeholder on the main roster after dominating NXT. Fox may be the most entertaining women’s wrestler in years because her character is absolutely nuts, and it helps that she is athletic enough to actually put on a decent match. But at the same time, wouldn’t it be a better display for now for her to get pinned (or tap to the modified scorpion crosslock) and start a one-person riot? Her tantrum would be better television than her celebration. Also, Paige needs to win a solid special event pay-per-view match to be taken seriously by a lot of casual fans, who have been suckered into believing the “Divas” division is the Bella Twins and some show on E! Network. Give them 5 minutes and it’ll feel like RAW. Give them 10, and this could be a good one.

Match potential: *1/2-**1/2

WWE Payback Sheamus Cesaro

SHEAMUS (c) vs. CESARO, United States Championship

Champ’s pick: Cesaro (via DQ)

Wifey’s pick: Cesaro

This could be the most predictable, yet most necessary, double turn in years. The question is how, and how well, they pull it off. Cesaro, who received a babyface reaction at WrestleMania XXX after winning the Real Americans breakup and winning the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, immediately returned to being a heel the next night, when he became a Paul Heyman Guy. Sheamus, meanwhile, is the second stalest face in the company, which is a shame because his initial heel run actually became believable toward the end. Common sense dictates they reverse roles and have upward mobility. Cesaro and Heyman as a whole are less than the sum of the parts, and though it would seem rash to split this soon, it needs to happen in the very near future. Sheamus, meanwhile, would be a perfect fit in the grand scope of tonight’s main event (more on that later). No matter the booking, the in-ring work will be solid. Cesaro is the best pure professional wrestler in the company, and Sheamus’ work is great when he is motivated and has the right dance partner. This match will be better than it sounds, and both men will be protected.

Match potential: **1/2-***1/2

WWE Payback John Cena Bray Wyatt

JOHN CENA vs. BRAY WYATT, Last Man Standing Match

Champ’s pick: Cena (LOL)

Wifey’s pick: Cena (LOL)

This is the rubber match, and Heel Booking 101 says Wyatt should get the decisive victory. But … this is John Cena we’re talking about. He’s lost stipulation matches before, but not many. Even when he’s weakened, he’ll do something like duct-tape an opponent’s feet to the posts so he can’t get up, which is the problem with a superhuman type of gimmick that must be protected at all times. Other men can lose matches and it’s all good … go get ’em next month. And, actually, Cena is the type of guy right now who would be hurt the least with a defeat here and there. But creative doesn’t seem to get that just yet. Cena should be Hollywood Hulk Hogan in 2002, having matches with top-tier talent and, if necessary, losing to a future superstar to give the ultimate rub. That should be what happens tonight, but I honestly don’t have much faith. This could be the match where Cena’s character finally changes after nearly a decade — he reverts to winning by any means necessary, or hits that extra gear as a ruthless competitor — but I honestly don’t have much faith. This could be where Bray Wyatt finally gets the upper hand, breaks Cena and moves on to the next victim, but I honestly don’t have much faith. The match could be brutal, but it won’t. It could live up to the hype of the three months or so worth of promos, but it won’t. It could at least be worthwhile to watch? But it probably won’t. These men can work magic on the mic … but not in the 20-by-20 box.

Match potential: *-*1/2

WWE Payback Bad News Barrett Rob Van Dam

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

Champ’s pick: Barrett

Wifey’s pick: Barrett

It seems like WWE is high on Barrett … this time. This man has undergone so many starts and stops that it’s actually surprising he’s been able to maintain enough momentum with his “Bad News” run as a cool heel. That’s also a testament to how charismatic and talented he is. Being Intercontinental Champion would do so much more for him than RVD, a washed-up part-timer who hasn’t had a mildly entertaining match in nearly a decade. You want this championship to mean something again, WWE? Keep it in Barrett’s hands for a few months, give him some worthwhile competition and build the champion and the championship. I think that’s what they’ll do here. After all, what’s the point of a tournament if the winner holds the belt for a few weeks? We’ll see the same old stuff from Van Dam, because he’s literally incapable of innovation or development, and Barrett will find a new and exciting way to hit the Bullhammer for the win.

Match potential: *3/4-**

WWE Payback Evolution The Shield

THE SHIELD (Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins) vs. EVOLUTION (Batista, Randy Orton, Triple H), No Holds Barred Elimination Match

Champ’s pick: Evolution (via swerve)

Wifey’s pick: The Shield

This has the potential to be the WWE’s Match of the Year (non-NXT division). All six men here know how to tell a story, and they told a pretty good one at Extreme Rules last month. This will be brutal. This will be epic. And this will have a development that sets the tone for the rest of the year. Batista needs to go be Marvel movie promoter, which means Evolution won’t be in its current incarnation the next time we see them. Evolution also needs to win one of these battles, or else the rivalry is all for naught. A little too basic with the Even Steven booking? Yes. But why bring back the best faction of an era to go out and lose every time? That’s why Evolution will win the battle via some unsavory means.

Match potential: ***-*****

This is where Sheamus comes in.

One of the most popular topics on social media, besides whether and when CM Punk will return, whether Bryan should remain champion if he can’t wrestle and which NXT talent should come up next, is what will happen with Evolution moving forward. Will they just disband without Dave, or will they replace him? What route will they take?

All signs point toward Reigns and Trips squaring off down the line, potentially at SummerSlam, and Rollins is better off as a face, which would leave only Ambrose to possibly “adapt” and join Evolution via swerve. But why do that at a B-level pay-per-view? Something that changes the whole landscape of the promotion is best saved for a major show. What you do have is a babyface midcard champion who would need major character rehab to return to the main event, is far better suited as a heel and probably can rock a suit. Oh, and he’s shown he can beat The Shield by defeating Ambrose in a battle royal for the U.S. title.

Would Sheamus complete the past-present-future premise of the original Evolution? No, but he’s more present than past, unlike Batista. And if they wanted to go future, they could always add someone out of left field who can talk and get it done in the ring to maintain the legacy of the stable.

Which reminds me … have you seen Dolph Ziggler or Cody Rhodes anywhere on the card?

The Champ works Sunday nights, so he won’t be watching live. He will, however, have a complete recap Monday morning after burning some midnight oil, so check back then.

 

NXT Takeover review: Adrian Neville retains his title over Tyson Kidd, Natalya and Charlotte show women’s wrestling is more than a show on E! Network, and Tyler Breeze steals the show with Sami Zayn

NXT Takeover Adrian Neville Tyson Kidd

I could’ve written three words on NXT ArRIVAL, WWE developmental’s first live special event: THIS is wrestling. The only question was whether NXT Takeover would follow up.

Was there another five-star match? No. That’s about all Takeover lacked, because the overall body of work raised the bar. I saw on someone declare on Twitter that NXT really is the “B” show in WWE, surpassing SmackDown. On nights like this, NXT is the pinnacle of professional wrestling in WWE.

Sami Zayn once again was in the best show on the card … though in defeat. Thanks to Charlotte and Natalya, we saw the best WWE women’s match at least since Trish Stratus and Lita were worthy of main-eventing RAW, and even those two couldn’t pull off the old-school mat-wrestling match the princesses of the Flair and Hart dynasties accomplished tonight. The NXT Championship match had to follow those, and Adrian Neville and Tyson Kidd put on a title match that would’ve fit right in with the WCW cruiserweights of the late 1990s.

This was a professional wrestling show for professional wrestling fans. On a quarterly basis, NXT’s live specials will be the best wrestling a WWE fan can see.

•••

One cool element of the Adam Rose Experience: It can start outside, then work its way into the arena. Unfortunately, that’s the highlight of the opener.

NXT Takeover Adam Rose 1

The entrance has never been a question with Rose; it’s the ability. That question wasn’t entirely answered against a heel jobber who has shown glimpses of potential.

ADAM ROSE vs. CAMACHO

Full Nelson from Camacho, and Rose … um … grinds his way out. Don’t think that was a full twerk, but a valiant attempt. “Party pooper this!” from Camacho, then an impressive double underhook suplex. He has a decent power game for someone in the 230-pound range. Then he locks on what William Regal calls the single-arm necktie, but Rose works his way out and starts to get a little angry, but his burst of energy doesn’t last long, thanks to Camacho’s Chuck Taylors. Back to the necktie, and Rose starts to escape before Camacho heels on ’em and beats him down. Legdrop for 2, and Rose finally hits some offense with a kick. Leads with the jab, knockdown with the right. HUGE spinebuster, and Adam Rose looks a little more like Leo Kruger for a sec.

NXT Takeover Adam Rose 2

Crotch charge in the corner, then the Party Foul ends it. I’m still not sold on Rose, but that could’ve been much worse.

Time: 5:08

Technical Merit: Too much relying on the rest hold from Camacho, and we still only saw two actual wrestling moves from Rose.

Artistic Impression: But the crowd got behind Rose, which, I guess, is mostly what matters.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/4

•••

Cool video on Zayn’s journey to Takeover, starting with the best match I’ve seen in years. Zayn then explains just how different he and Tyler Breeze are. His resiliency and adaptability will be Breeze’s undoing.

Breeze, meanwhile, has entered the building, according to the lovely Eden Stiles.

NXT Takeover Eden Stiles

Well done, Cody Rhodes. Well done.

•••

“Lucha! Lucha! Lucha! Lucha!”

This won’t be a squash for The Ascension, which automatically makes it feel like a big match.

NXT Takeover The Ascension

THE ASCENSION (c) vs. EL LOCAL & KALISTO, NXT Tag Team Championship

After being jumped, the challengers dump the champs outside. They go for stereo suicide dives, but receive stereo uppercuts instead. Once we get settled in, The Ascension are in control with quick tags and powerful offense. I wouldn’t mind seeing Viktor as a singles competitor somewhere down the line, maybe in a revamped cruiserweight/light-heavyweight division. He reminds me of Dean Malenko, not in the Man of 1,000 Holds way, but the light heavyweight who can straight-up kick your ass way. Kalisto is resilient as the babyface in peril, kicking out of a Viktor elbow drop as he’s stuck in the ropes. Konnor tosses Kalisto in the ropes from the outside twice, but counters on the second. That only seems to further anger The Ascension, as evidenced by a VICIOUS chop from Viktor. But an elbow and a hurricanrana from behind later, the hot tag comes to El Local, who isn’t quite at Kalisto’s level. Average-at-best moonsault for 2, and some 4-man chaos ensues. Kalisto does a nice roll-through and kick to Konnor, but it doesn’t matter since neither is legal. Once they exit, Viktor hits an STO that leads to the Fall of Man. Champs retain.

NXT Takeover The Ascension 2

Time: 6:17

Technical Merit: The Ascension can go. So can Kalisto. Lo siento, El Local.

Artistic Impression: Good story that felt like the faces would persevere.

TOTAL SCORE: **1/4

•••

Video on the most gorgeous man in wrestling. A WHOLE lot of selfies involved. He also touches on how he’s much more than a pretty face.

And with that, it’s time for the No. 1 Contender’s match … and the greatest entrance music in wrestling. No, not Zayn’s Mighty Mighty Bosstones inspired theme. I’m talking about a Tyler Breeze original.

But first, let him take a selfie.

NXT Takeover Tyler Breeze

SAMI ZAYN vs. TYLER BREEZE, NXT Championship No. 1 Contender’s match

Slow buildup to start until an armdrag medley from Zayn at about 1:30. Breeze backs him down, but a kick puts the face (as opposed to The Face) back in control. Breeze charges Zayn while the latter’s on top. Zayn sticks out the leg, but Breeze blocks and pushes the leg (and Zayn) out for an apron bump outside. Another momentum swing results in a kneedrop and cover, then a bulldog variation, only he goes through the ropes and drive Zayn’s face into the second turnbuckle. Faceplant and cover, then a front facelock for a breather. Zayn finally, on the third lift, tosses Breeze forward to escape, then dumps him outside for a springboard moonsault variation that leads with the arm clubbing Breeze headfirst onto the floor. Back inside and a flying crossbody for 2. Blue Thunder Bomb at about 8:00 for 2 more.  Zayn goes up top, but has to leap over Breeze, then turns around into a kick to the gut and an impaler DDT for 2. Zayn grabs the ropes, but Breeze yanks him out of the corner into a sitout powerbomb?!?! for 2. This is Breeze’s breakout match right here. He is the wrestler people will talk about after this one. Well, at least until Zayn puts Breeze into the buckles with an exploder suplex. After a well-deserved breather, we enter the punch exchange portion of the program. Breeze ends it by trying to whip Zayn into the corner. Zayn puts on the brakes to avoid the ref, which turns into a rollup. Counter-reversal chain, and Breeze breaks free at the ropes and hits Sweet Chin Music on Zayn. Another count as both men are down. Breeze is up first for some strikes, and he tries to whip Zayn to no avail. Zayn sets up for a powerbomb, but Breeze rolls through. Zayn hangs on to the front facelock while Breeze straddles him and flips Breeze for a SICK powerbomb variation. Breeze dips out, and Zayn flip dives onto him. Zayn goes for a big boot in the corner, but Breeze ducks and Zayn injures his groin. That opens up the Beauty Shot and TYLER FREAKING BREEZE IS THE NO. 1 CONTENDER.

NXT Takeover Tyler Breeze 2

Time: 15:55

Technical Merit: That was not a WWE match. That’s a good thing in every way. So much innovation, great pacing and excellent work from both men.

Artistic Impression: We saw a different side of Tyler Breeze tonight — the tenacious, resilient heel who can beat the best wrestlers the company has. Zayn was excellent as always, but it’s hard to take him as a serious threat when he loses all his big matches.

TOTAL SCORE: ****1/2

•••

This could be a huge night for this family.

NXT Takeover Natalya Bret Hart Tyson Kidd

Or they could come up empty. Either way, you know you’ll see two good matches.

•••

I’ve never seen someone wave a flag so violently in my life. But nobody really cares because she’s here.

NXT Takeover Lana

She promos on how awesome Russia is or whatever. Rusev talks briefly, but it’s time to get hyped in the U…S…A… I mean, stay hyped. Mojo Rawley threatens to shove Rusev’s flag up his “Putin”, but Rusev beats the “Putin” out of Mojo. Regal: “Well, I’m on his side.” It’s not a bad place to be.

NXT Takeover Rusev Mojo Rawley

•••

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I just remembered, though I’m a Ric Flair mark till the day I die, I automatically hate Charlotte because she beat Alexa Bliss in the NXT Women’s Championship Tournament. Bliss is Kristen Bell cute … that will win my heart every time.

NXT 051514 Alexa Bliss

Back on topic, Natalya feels the pressure of being the trailblazer of the Hart family, being the first female grappler in the group. Charlotte, meanwhile, wanted to blaze her own trail separate from the Flair name, but has embraced it and become a completely different woman and wrestler since she began her wrestling career.

In addition to Flair and Bret HartPaige is here for this one, yet again debunking JBL‘s logic for stripping her of the NXT Women’s Championship. This will be two NXT matches and one live event appearance since losing that belt.

NXT Takeover Paige

Yeah, my thoughts exactly.

Quick promo time for the former champion, who says the next champion must be strong and have character, and the NXT title can lead to the WWE Divas Championship. Or, if Natalya wins, the reverse.

CHARLOTTE (w/Ric Flair) vs. NATALYA (w/Bret Hart), NXT Women’s Championship

New music for Charlotte as well … bit of a “2001” remix. I like it! It’s clear Nattie’s here to put Charlotte over, so we’ll see how competitive they can keep this match, as well as how much doubt they can preserve. Also, funny visual that shows Charles Robinson as the champion.

NXT Takeover Charles Robinson Charlotte

It’s only right “Little Naitch” is here for this one.

Charlotte slaps on a hammerlock, but Nattie reverses into an armbar. That’s reversed into a figure-four headlock before a break. This will be a WRESTLING match. Nattie headlock is escaped, and Charlotte puts on an armlock of her own. Nattie kips out and works on the left leg, which would neutralize the figure four. Charlotte uses the right to escape. Nattie goes for a kick, which is blocked, but Nattie rolls through and puts on a leg submission. Escape into the side headlock. This is SO old school. Reverse into a front facelock as Nattie “WOOO!”s at Ric. That leads to another reversal, and we get a whip sequence where Charlotte leapfrogs then goes for a faceplant, but Nattie gets the victory roll, only not for a victory. Nattie wraps her legs around the abdomen, then Charlotte resorts to a very non-wrestling maneuver: Pounding Nattie’s head into the mat. Then another, as each woman slaps on, well, a slap! Flair gets a knee to the gut and a knife-edge chop to the chest because she’s a Flair, and that’s what Flairs do. Ric “WOOO!”s back at Nattie, who rides Charlotte and eventually puts on the sleeper, but Charlotte escapes via backpack stunner for 2. A series of faceplants ensue, followed by some footwork in the corner. Back to the figure four headlock, and she turns for multiple faceplants. She rolls again, then flips Nattie over and covers. Abdominal stretch time, but Nattie reverses it and grabs the right leg. Backslide from Nattie, but Charlotte rolls out and short dropkicks Nattie for 2. Butterfly suplex from Nattie, clothesline, snapmare, then the stomp/short dropkick combo for 2. Different Flair, different method to get over the turnbuckle, same result: Flair on the floor. She gets the last laugh, though, as she legwhips Nattie out of the ring onto the floor. Nattie sells the knee as Charlotte covers the injured leg for 2, then goes up top for a moonsault. Different Flair, different move up top, same result: Flair in pain on the floor. Nattie gets back to her feet for a discus clothesline, then puts on the Sharpshooter. After an unsuccessful crawl to the ropes, Charlotte reverses directly into the figure four. Both women roll through twice, and somehow Charlotte is feeling the pressure. Another slap exchange, and Charlotte rolls out of the ring, still locked in, and replicates Bret’s leglock, only instead of wrapped around the pole, it’s a straight pull with Nattie on the apron. Charlotte introduces Nattie’s right knee to the steel steps, and it’s back to the figure four? Nope. One look at Bret, and it’s the Sharpshooter!

NXT Takeover Charlotte Natalya Sharpshooter

Natalya rolls out and tries to apply her own Sharpshooter, but Charlotte powers out and hits the flipping snapmare to become champion. All four parties embrace in the ring afterward, as well they should.

NXT Takeover Natalya Charlotte

And Ric Flair cries because, well, Ric Flair cries.

NXT Takeover Charlotte Ric Flair

Time: 16:48

Technical Merit: That was the best mat-based women’s wrestling match I’ve ever seen, and probably ever will. RAW and SmackDown would never allow a women’s match like this … at least until Total Divas dies a slow, painful cancellation.

Artistic Impression: The next generation of Flair vs. Hart carried that story, as well as that of just a great old-school wrestling story.

TOTAL SCORE: ****

•••

Adrian Neville video time. He fits the champion role well. He can outwrestle anyone who faces him, and each man is a different scenario. Tyson Kidd is a different scenario still, but he’s Neville’s biggest challenge because they’re similar. Neville’s stronger, faster and hungrier. The NXT Championship is his armor, and no one will get through his armor.

On another note, Neville can rock a shirt and tie.

NXT Takeover Adrian Neville

These men can also rock a formal look.

NXT Takeover Cesaro Christian

That one’s for the wife, even though she no-sold the pic when I showed her. She generally has a thing for thinning-haired physical specimens (which is why she likes me) and middle-aged Canadians. Happy wife, happy life, right?

ADRIAN NEVILLE (c) vs. TYSON KIDD, NXT Championship

Kidd comes out looking like he’s already had a match.

NXT Takeover Tyson Kidd

Neville comes out looking younger, stronger and in much better shape. Then again, TJ has about six years on him.

NXT Takeover Adrian Neville 2

We’ll get about 20 minutes for this one.

A minute in, a handshake and a challenge from Kidd for Neville to bring his absolute best. This is a ground-based contest to start as Kidd controls Neville’s head. Neville reverses, Kidd escapes and glares down at him, then pats Neville on the back. Subtle heel work, but damn, it’s effective. Kidd works the left arm, and Neville can’t kip his way out. In fact, it turns from an arm twist into an arm lock. Neville finally escapes via three kip-ups and a cartwheel. Armdrag from Neville into an armbar. Neville looks so much bigger than 194 … the man’s upper body is BUILT.  Keeps the armbar on, underhook suplex, keeps the armbar on still until Tyson reaches the ropes. Tyson tries to monkey flip Adrian, but Neville lands on his feet and hits an armdrag. Kidd responds in kind, they both kip up and simultaneously go for dropkicks. The mirror-image game stops when Kidd goes for high-impact abuse. Neville ends up in the Tree of Woe for a knee to the abdomen and a couple kicks to the back. Make it three and a short dropkick to the head. Kidd remains in control with a side chinlock as he implores the referee to ask Neville if he gives up. Neville gets out, but Kidd hits the Stun Gun, a dropkick and a flip dive outside. Kidd back in control as they return with the headlock … this has the typical longform face-heel feel. Neville gets free and, to seal the similarity bit, we have dueling crossbodies and both men down. Neville hits a couple axe handles and some kicks to finally gain some momentum, and he catches Kidd in the Tree of Woe for a receipt … only his dropkick looked more vicious because he hit the chest hard instead of the head. Springboard forearm for 2. Neville dropkicks Kidd out and goes for a dive through the ropes, but Kidd goes to the apron and kicks Neville in the head and covers. He goes up top, maybe for the Blockbuster, but Neville hits him with a forearm and tries for a superplex. Instead, Kidd tries for a sunset flip powerbomb … but Neville flips and LANDS ON HIS FEET, then hits an alley-oop sitout powerbomb for 2. Neville puts his feet to use, then appears to go for another springboard move, but Kidd runs behind him and hits a Russian legsweep from the second rope?! Damn. Kidd goes up top and Neville appears to block, but Kidd catches the feel and goes for a Sharpshooter. Neville rolls him into a small package, then Kidd gets up for an enziguiri, a short dropkick to the head and a suplex attempt. Neville blocks and reverses, and both men tumble outside. The count begins and nearly ends, but both men dive in at 9. After a breather inside, both men are up and Kidd briefly puts on the Sharpshooter. Neville tries to escape, but Kidd has the arm and the leg wrapped in what Regal calls the Dungeon Lock. It takes all of Neville’s energy to break. Kidd needs plenty of energy to get Neville back up, but kicks Neville and leaves him hanging between the ropes when he does. That leads to a 360 legdrop from the top and a cover. Frustrated, he goes back up, but Neville grabs a leg. Kidd kicks off, but Neville stops him again, only briefly. A third trip to the top turns into a top-rope Frankensteiner, then the Red Arrow. Neville … somehow … retains.

Time: 20:54

Technical Merit: That was as crisp, clean and fluid as it gets, complete with plenty of things we don’t normally see.

Artistic Impression: Kidd played his part well as a foil for Neville. The champ overcoming everything the challenger could possibly throw at him made for a tried-and-true story.

TOTAL SCORE: ****

NXT Takeover Adrian Neville 3

The only things holding this match back were a relative lack of Neville offense and Kidd just not having “it” while he’s in the ring. The No. 1 contender’s match was better because both men applied plenty of offense, and people bought into both personalities. Kidd, though obviously a fantastic worker, just isn’t as successful conveying emotion and showing charisma while competing.

What did you think of NXT Takeover? Please comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter @jpetrie18.

WWE Midcard Report (May 12-15): Damien Sandow and Alicia Fox go off, Sheamus pulls triple duty and the 3MB-Los Matadores angle mercilessly continues

ME 051314 Damien Sandow

The booking of Damien Sandow this week has been absolutely brilliant. Well, the non-wrestling part, anyway. Losing to Cody Rhodes (RAW) and Dolph Ziggler (Main Event) won’t exactly build momentum. However, telling Jimmy Hart he’s looked like a Valentine’s Day card for 30 years, declaring teaming with Yoshi Tatsu the worst part of WWE purgatory, threatening Josh Mathews and finally denouncing this gimmick …

SD 050214 Sandow Magneto

… on the RAW preshow, no less, was one of the best performances I’ve seen from a jobber in a while. That set the tone for a fun week of midcard misfits trying to make names for themselves, and possibly succeeding.

Yes, Damien Sandow is a jobber. That’s why, in well-struck worked-shoot fashion, he’s complaining about how he’s used. He doesn’t need to be a supervillain to entertain. He can just talk and wrestle. It’s art imitating life — people lament the fact that men like Sandow and Ziggler aren’t getting pushed, or really given anything to do whatsoever. Why not run with that and make Sandow someone the WWE is trying to “hold back,” “censor” or, in Sandow’s words, “handcuff?” It’s a little too perfect. It would, however, help if Damien could be pointed toward the canvas instead of the sky the next time someone counts to 3.

DOLPH ZIGGLER vs. DAMIEN SANDOW

Sandow decides to make a subtle statement by starting the match with his T-shirt on — nobody cares about him, so he doesn’t care about this match just yet. After posting Ziggler at the 45-second mark, he doffs the entrance attire. He stays aggressive, allowing Ziggler to do what he does best — sell the hell out of everything. Dolph finally gains momentum at 2:45 and hits the typical babyface comeback medley. Misses the Fame Asser, though, and after missing a kick, Sandow turns Ziggler into a pretzel. The problem: He tries to follow up with a belly-to-back throw, but Dolph lands on his feet. Zig, Zag, out.

ME 051314 Dolph Ziggler

Time: 4:11

Technical Merit: Clean, if not overly innovative.

Artistic Impression: Decent story with Sandow. Plus, one of the jobbers won!

TOTAL SCORE: *1/2

The aggressive side of Sandow is fun to see. The man is great at dishing out punishment as well as taking it, and he’s one of the company’s best on the mic. The best way to use him just might be a gimmick where they’re “not using” him.

•••

You know who else had a hell of a week? This woman.

ME 051314 Alicia Fox

After losing (again) to Paige, she had the WWE Universe thinking she quit Monday night. On Tuesday, she chucked a mic into Emma‘s face and beat her up before the match. That may have been her sanest moment of the evening.

EMMA vs. ALICIA FOX

SICK offense from the outset: Tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, then a side slam … through the ropes to the floor. “Y’all think I went cray? Oh, you don’t know cray.” I LOVE this. Hairpull toss, then an invitation to talk to the hand. The Emmamite Sandwich gets blocked by a kick. Underrated and overrated get confused. And after all that, she gets rolled up. We find out that’s because, in her words, the ref doesn’t know how to count.

Time: 2:14

After the match, girl just snaps. She slaps around Tony Chimel. She shakes down Tom Phillips and Byron Saxton. She gets booed a lot. She did the damn thing, and she did it well.

Would it be all that hard to actually give the Divas decent material? It’s really quite easy: Make the heel going against the champion just kind of fly off the handle. Instead, most of the time, we get Total Divas beef.

Case in point … “#TotalDivas” was on my screen during RAW. As is the Bella Twin who looks a bit like she signed a 3-year deal with Brazzers. #NSFW

NIKKI BELLA vs. NATALYA

The angle here: Nikki didn’t like Nattie’s painting of John Cena and her. Nattie thought she should’ve been nice and just accepted it. Also, the rest of the Total Divas cast is “judging” the match ringside. This match already sucks. A bit of wrestling arrives around the 2-minute mark, when Nattie locks in an abdominal stretch and Nikki reverses. And it goes away when they trade pushes that make Erick Rowan look like Gotch or Hackenschmidt. Also, not the last time Rowan’s pushing prowess enters the discussion. Nattie goes for the wheelbarrow victory roll, but Nikki blocks for a pin and Nattie gets sad/mad afterward.

Time: 3:29

Technical Merit: Too much silly “catfighting” crap and not enough actual athleticism.

Artistic Impression: *hastily puts together “zero” card, holds it up*

TOTAL SCORE: Zero

•••

Zeb Colter wants us to shut up, because apparently real Americans would listen to what he has to say. He’s putting his Deportation List on par with the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Why? Because now Adam Rose is on it, of course! Meanwhile, Colter’s client has a RAW match with someone other than Rose.

JACK SWAGGER (w/Zeb Colter) vs. ROB VAN DAM

It MIGHT have taken 3 seconds for Rose to interrupt. The only cool thing to come out of it was Swagger swinging and missing as Rose does his “stage dive.” Oh, JBL dropped a Kurrgan and The Oddities reference. Once that’s over, kick, Frog Splash, done. Sometimes I hate wrestling.

Time: 2:06

•••

Curtis Axel literally won a coin flip to face the United States Champion. That started a Paul Heyman Guy past and present gauntlet of sorts, starting with the two failures of the Heyman experiment on RAW.

United States Champion SHEAMUS vs. CURTIS AXEL

Trying to find the words to describe the Nattie-Nikki match was more interesting than the opening portion of this one. Rolling senton and nice kneelift around the 2-minute mark. Then Sheamus goes up top. When he goes up top, he’s gonna have a bad time … like an effective neckbreaker from Axel. But young Curtis misses a dropkick, lands right into the Cloverleaf and taps. Cool, I guess.

Time: 3:19

Technical Merit: Nothing good or bad of note. Take that as you will.

Artistic Impression: The coin flip was the story. Take that as you will.

TOTAL SCORE: 1/2*

Ryback couldn’t attack fast enough afterward. This means the Celtic Warrior isn’t done yet.

United States Champion SHEAMUS vs. RYBACK

Lot of escapes and counters early. Sheamus hits the 10 forearms outside, then goes for some sort of shoulder block thing, but Ryback catches him and hits the chinbreaker for 2. Ryback wastes some time, then the Meathook Clothesline is countered right into White Noise for 2. Brogue Kick ducked, and Ryback hits a spinebuster. Sheamus fights back with the running powerslam. When Ryback kicks out, the big fella’s angry. Axel distracts long enough for the Meathook, and Ryback goes for Shell Shocked, but Sheamus slips out and hits the Brogue Kick. An odd match, but a good one.

Time: 5:30

Technical Merit: If you like escapes and reversals, this was your kind of wrestling match.

Artistic Impression: We saw Sheamus get a little angry, which is good. And we knew it would take some sort of escape to set up the finisher.

TOTAL SCORE: **

Big guys don’t typically have “technical” matches, but that’s what this was. Some purists will see two big, slow, stale guys in the ring and try to see how many negative stars they could possibly give it. Others would say just because the maneuvers aren’t exactly attacking moves doesn’t mean it’s not wrestling.

A day later, Main Event starts with “My client, Brock Lesnar, conquered The Undertaker‘s undefeated streak at WrestleMania!” Because Paul Heyman. The United States Champion interrupts for a mildly entertaining back-and-forth that sets up our main event of the evening.

ME 051314 Sheamus Paul Heyman

A former U.S. Champion then interrupts and provides a Neutralizer as an appetizer. Nice, brief segment to give us a reason to desire the match, even though there already was one with Cesaro being involved. This felt like a big deal, due to Sheamus’ strong billing over the past couple days and, it goes without saying, because Paul Heyman.

Near the midpoint of the show, Sheamus confirms we won’t have a match. We’ll have a fight. He’s right.

United States Champion SHEAMUS vs. CESARO (w/Paul Heyman)

That entrance attire …

ME 051314 Cesaro King of Swing

… and a European uppercut exchange in the first minute? You have my attention. At 2 minutes, Cesaro already needs to regroup, though it provides a great heelish moment when Sheamus dumps him into the ring and he rolls all the way through to the other side. This is a brawl, and it’s a good one to start. Whole lot of strikes, whole lot of Heyman. We get 10 more strikes at about 3:45, much to Heyman’s chagrin. Mike Chioda wants a clean break in the corner; Cesaro provides a couple big boots and an uppercut to the back of the head instead. A rolling senton at 5:30 wasn’t the first wrestling move in the match, but it felt like it. Sheamus goes up, but Cesaro cuts him off and hip tosses him. I think that was the third move.

Sidenote: I want the WWE 50 book. My birthday’s coming up. Just saying …

Anyway, back to another boatload of strikes, which Cesaro wins with a kick. Sheamus gets some momentum, but a clothesline stunts it. Irish Curse backbreaker follows shortly after. Goes for the Cloverleaf, but Cesaro rolls him up. Sheamus hits the powerslam to no avail. Cesaro escapes White Noise and ducks the Brogue Kick into a bridging German suplex. The Neutralizer attempt gets countered into White Noise. Strike 2 on the Brogue Kick, and a strike against Cesaro when he goes up top, but gets knocked to the floor. Sheamus follows with one of the clumsiest crossbodies I’ve ever seen. Cesaro counters a Sheamus charge by dumping him into the timekeeper’s area. A few seconds later, Sheamus clotheslines both of them into the front row. That’ll guarantee a double countout.

Time: 13:21

Technical Merit: Well-executed brawling style match with plenty of counters and escapes. Solid all around.

Artistic Impression: Usually not a fan of the double countout, but it protects both men and allows the post-match fireworks to commence.

TOTAL SCORE: **3/4

Nice bit afterward to advance the rivalry — Paul E. hands Cesaro a chair, which is put to good use, and Sheamus finally connects on a Brogue Kick to even the score. It looks like if creative wanted, the option to draw this out is there. Sheamus is giving credibility to a championship that sorely needed it after being just some accessory Dean Ambrose wore for a year. Cesaro could help boost the prestige by being the perfect foil — wickedly strong, well-versed in technique and an absolute physical specimen. Cesaro can be a leaner, meaner version of Sheamus, or he could just wrestle circles around him. Or Sheamus could eke out the upper hand and continue his upward trajectory. Plenty of things are in play for a future feud, or it’s just a fun way to spend a Tuesday night.

•••

Hey, if you thought the Total Divas shilling wasn’t enough … don’t worry, you get Legends House plugs now! Also, you can be all “HOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and “USA! USA! USA!” all you want, but I know your game, Hacksaw Jim Duggan. I didn’t forget.

Duggan FB2K

Lana interrupts and promos on the U.S. and England — once-great nations whose empires have crumbled and become the laughingstocks of the world. She’s conveniently forgetting about her own country, which only used to be the freaking Soviet Union. Anyway, this was all a ploy to get Rusev and her out here. And for Rusev to snap a 2×4 over his knee like a stick. And for Big E. to run in and get killed.

Random, relevant point on social media Monday night: Kofi. Big E. R-TruthXavier Woods. Rusev isn’t exactly an equal-opportunity midcard monster heel. Maybe by beating up only black people, WWE is going for a weird heel-in-America, face-in-Russia (and, judging by soccer, probably some other places in Europe) thing. Also, one of the four may or may not have posted an Instagram pic of The Nation of Domination and suggested this is how they’ll handle business from here on out. If someone in the group could actually assert himself as a leader, it could have legs. If not? Well prepare for next week’s episode of Rusev Squashes Another Black Talent.

•••

Speaking of WWE’s black contingent, on to Superstars, which leads off with a rubber match?

KOFI KINGSTON vs. TITUS O’NEIL

Apparently Titus won 5 weeks ago, and Kofi earned revenge 3 weeks ago. This confirms, in fact, there are Superstars rivalries. Vicious offense from Titus … well, until the bear hug. Because we need a rest hold after 90 seconds. Kofi tries to slip under Titus, but he’s caught, then clubbed in the back of the head. Kofi sells better than he attacks, which is to O’Neil’s benefit here. Titus looks impressive as the big man; it’s a shame they can’t really find anything else from him to do. Well, I guess they did from the 3-minute mark on, because he’s selling for Kofi. No selling necessary on Trouble In Paradise, which is simply caught and turned into a backbreaker. I stand corrected … he’ll have to sell it one way or another.

SS 051514 Kofi Kingston

Time: 5:10

Technical Merit: A little rough, but not bad.

Artistic Impression: I guess I’d have to watch this show more often to even know there’s a story behind it.

TOTAL SCORE: *1/4

•••

Speaking of Superstars rivalries, here’s 3MB!

SS 051514 3MB

Bright side: Hornswoggle isn’t doing the work here.

DREW MCINTYRE (w/3MB) vs. SIN CARA (con Los Matadores y El Torito)

First off, the Los Matadores gimmick SUCKS. It’s not as bad as when they marginalized Tito freaking Santana, but were Primo and Epico all that bad? Second, I officially miss Carlito. Not even sure why, but I was a total mark. His Intercontinental Championship triple threat with Shelton Benjamin and Johnny Nitro in 2006 was legendary. Third, armdrags and monkey flips all around! Give WWE credit: It took 2 whole minutes to address the Hornswoggle-El Torito rivalry. Good news: Drew gains momentum after commercial. Bad news: He might have used a move from Erick Rowan‘s repertoire — push the guy down while he’s running at you. McIntyre works well when he has a bit of a mean streak, of which you don’t get to see a whole lot when he’s in a comedic heel jobber stable. Speaking of jobber, he takes Sin Cara’s babyface comeback. Hornswoggle reprises the under-the-ring gimmick at 6:00, when El Torito chases/corners him. Everybody on the outside follows. Drew is sufficiently distracted. So are the fans when El Torito walks out with Hornswoggle’s pants.

SS 051514 Hornswoggle

Anyway, back in the ring, Sin Cara hits a kick on the apron and hits the Swanton for the victory.

SS 051514 Sin Cara

Time: 7:58

Technical Merit: It started strong. It finished with a whimper.

Artistic Impression: It’s 3MB vs. Los Matadores. You can skip this one.

TOTAL SCORE: 1/4*