Previewing WrestleMania 32

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Hey, folks! In case you missed it, Wrasslin’ Wednesday has a new home this week. Check it out over at Waiting For Next Year.


Throwing up a Roadblock: Wrasslin Thursday 3/3/2016

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (three days later) from Nashville! We were in the fast lane to WrestleMania, but now WWE has thrown up a surprise Roadblock. That’s what they’re calling this likely inconsequential WWE Network-only event taking place on March 12. I remain excited for the Spike Strip, Oil Slick, and Banana Peel PPVs.

At the moment, the event only has three matches on the card: Brock Lesnar vs. Bray Wyatt, Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose, and an NXT tag match that I’m not too psyched for since I haven’t been following NXT closely. Enzo and Big Cass are involved, so at the very least the entrances will be fun. Other than that, it’ll have to be a great match to get my attention.

Will: I don’t know how long this show was planned or when it was first announced or whatever, but the name sure seems silly. Isn’t the value of Fastlane necessarily lessened when it’s followed by a Roadblock? Has there always been this much traffic on the Road to WrestleMania? If it were in L.A. this year I would understand, but I can’t imagine that Arlington deals with that much congestion. I suppose I’m getting beyond the point.

Derek: Brock Lesnar is facing Bray Wyatt in the match we thought we were getting at WrestleMania. I’m having trouble envisioning anything other than a Brock victory. He’s higher up on the ‘Mania card, so he’s the one who’s going to end up looking good. But at least Bray gets to do … whatever it is he’s going to do for the next month.

Will: Bray has been so brutally neutered (breutered?) at this point that a competitive one-on-one match is out of the question. I only see a couple possibilities. One is Brock destroying Bray like he did Kofi at the Beast in the East Network special. Maybe Bray gets a little bit of offense going first, but then Brock hits a buttload of suplexes and finishes the whole thing in 10 minutes.

The other scenario is some sort of schmozz wherein the whole Wyatt Family gangs up on Brock like they did at the Royal Rumble. The problem is that they already did that. At the Royal Rumble. And it went exactly nowhere. Assuming Lesnar vs. Ambrose is still on for Mania, there’s no sense in revisiting Brock vs. Bray. Unless, that is, Ambrose has a legit shot at winning the title at Roadblock and/or getting into the main event at Mania. Hmmm…

Derek: Like Brock, Triple H is higher on the card so he’s getting the glory. Dean is, unfortunately, more than familiar with taking the pin in a big match. This may be WWE’s effort to try and remind us Trips is supposed to be a heel, but that won’t matter when Roman gets back in the ring. But hey, kudos to Vince for giving us the WrestleMania main event we really wanted a month early. What a guy.

Will: The fear is, well, what you said: That Ambrose is taking Roman Reigns’ place to gin up some heat for Trips and maybe get Roman a nice comeback pop whenever he returns. Reigns apparently underwent a real surgery, hence his not being on Raw this week. Ambrose stepped up to the plate for a tête-à-tête with Triple H, and did damn well doing so. Dean is more natural with Hunter than Roman is. Their conversations are actually conversational instead of robotic. It makes sense that Ambrose would get under Triple H’s skin, especially when the latter is playing up the whole “BOW TO ME FOR I AM THE AUTHORITY” thing.

I hold out a smidgen of hope, if only because the pressure is on to make WrestleMania into a major show. I think we’ll see a big surprise or two before the end of March. This may not be the storyline for one — it really does feel like Roman is going to be in that title match — but I get the sense we’re in for something. The Road to WrestleMania can’t be completely smooth, can it?

Derek: As for Raw, there wasn’t much to report this week. Shane’s return had the masses up in arms last week, but he was nowhere to be found this week. Same with Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar. The night was mostly carried by Ambrose deciding to challenge Triple H, Stephanie McMahon cutting a very Stephanie McMahon promo, and the Undertaker walking in and out of the ring. His contribution went as follows:

undertaker vince

He also took a minute to tell Vince to prepare to take the blame for whatever happens to Shane. He can say whatever he wants, but all I can think is CORPORATE MINISTRY REUNION.

Will: The Undertaker’s brief appearance received mixed reviews since it was so damn brief, and rightly so. That said, I didn’t hate it. He showed up, took issue with Vince referring to him as his “weapon,” made it sound like he was going to break Shane into a hundred pieces, said the blood would be on Vince’s hands, and bailed.

Okay, now that I type that out, it was pretty lame. I was duped into thinking it was better than it was because it was the Undertaker, and because his entrance alone makes for appointment viewing. Not much happened. We still don’t know what Shane has on Vince. We received no clarification as to why Taker would agree to this match — does he just fall in line with the boss’ orders like Zack Ryder would? We’ve gotten no Shane-Taker interaction. I understand that they’re stringing this thing along slowly, but come on guys. A little somethin’.

Derek: Finally, Sasha Banks faced Becky Lynch for the right to face Charlotte at WrestleMania. The potential triple threat match stayed alive, as as Becky and Sasha somehow managed to pin each other.

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And I will say that, despite the cop-out finish, I really enjoyed the match. I’ve gotta say, there’s a huge drop-off on the ‘Mania card after Dean-Brock, Shane-Taker, and the Divas match. This has not been a good year for fantasy booking.

Remember last year? “Dallas is going to be the biggest ‘Mania ever! Rock vs. Triple H! Shield triple threat match! Stone Cold vs. Brock! Undertaker vs. Sting! NXT Divas! Other shenanigans with John Cena, Randy Orton, Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and A.J. Styles!” How foolish we were. We’re getting NXT Divas and that’s it. I loved the Shane return and I’m looking forward to Dean-Brock, but I expected so much more. This might not be the worst ‘Mania of all time, but it’s shaping up to be the most disappointing.

Will: I retain some hope that business will pick up. If there’s one thing in this world powerful enough to force WWE to make some exciting decisions, it’s Vince McMahon’s ego. Selling out Jerryworld has been his mission ever since the place was built. Let’s see if he can put together a show worthy of doing so.


A Weekend in Brooklyn: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 8/26/15

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (two/three/four days later) from Brooklyn/Brooklyn/Brooklyn! Boy oh boy, where to begin? The tables?

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The ladders?

balorThe chairs?

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Oh … oh my.

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I’m starting with Sting, because that reveal gave me a raging mark-on. There were rumors that Sting was in Brooklyn during the three day run of shows, but I assumed if he got involved at all it would be in the Undertaker-Brock match to set up the long sought-after Undertaker-Sting match at WrestleMania 32. The Brock-Taker segments came and went with no sign of him. Then, with mere moments remaining on Raw, it was revealed that Seth Rollins’ covered statue had been Sting all along. I’m glad to see him back for more against Trips and his ilk. I didn’t like how Sting handled losing at WrestleMania. He should be out for revenge.

Sting attacked Rollins and Triple H ran away almost immediately. Then Trips revealed after the show that Sting would face Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship next month at Night of Champions. There’s a swerve I didn’t see coming.

Does Sting have any chance of winning next month? How do you see this playing out?

Will: Monday was the first time in months that I watched Raw live. I don’t have cable and thus don’t have USA, and the weekly shows are among the rare few not broadcast live on the WWE Network. The events of SummerSlam apparently got my juices flowing enough to find a (completely legal) means of watching Monday, and my god was it worth it.

I knew something was going to happen with Rollins’ statue unveiling, but Sting was definitely not what I had in mind. Interference from John Cena was the smart choice, but he was escorted out of the Barclays Center by security and, perhaps for the first time in wrestling history, the dismissed did not return to raise hell. Sting stood in place of the statue for a good long chunk of segment, enough for him to sweat through some of his face paint before attacking Rollins.

As to what they’re going to do with this, I’m glad to say that I have no idea. Rollins has two titles for the moment, and one would think that he’s going to lose at least one of them before long. I came across one theory that had Sting winning the title from Rollins, Undertaker taking it from Sting, and then having the belt on the line for the Brock-Taker rubber match. I don’t love the idea of putting the strap on a 50-plus-year-old, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t watch every moment.

Derek: Let’s move on to some of the weird booking in the two biggest matches at SummerSlam. First, Cena lost the US title to Rollins after interference from Jon Stewart. Stewart haters the world over celebrated as they learned that Stewart hates sick children. Stewart explained his actions on Raw, saying he didn’t want Cena to tie Ric Flair’s record for most world championships. Cena said he understood, and proved it by … well, giving Stewart an Attitude Adjustment.

cena stewart aa

I suppose it would have made sense had Cena’s opponent not been Seth Rollins. Stewart got into his WWE run because of a feud with Rollins. Yet, Rollins was the biggest beneficiary of Stewart’s actions. On Monday night, Stewart admitted he “didn’t think it through.” Oh, okay then.

Then there’s the ending of the Brock-Taker match, which could charitably be referred to as “confusing” and “unsatisfying.” So let’s walk through what went down. Brock had Taker in a kimura lock, and Taker supposedly submitted, but the referee didn’t see it.

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Then, for some reason, the timekeeper decided to ring the bell. Like pretty much any sport, the timekeeper isn’t supposed to do anything unless the referee tells him to. But we had a rebel timekeeper on Sunday, and he didn’t need no high and mighty referee telling him what to do. So the referee took some time to yell at the timekeeper, during which Undertaker took some time to hit Brock in the nuts again. Perhaps it’s time for Brock to buy a cup.

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The referee restarted the match, and Undertaker capitalized on Lesnar’s swollen grapefruits and put Brock in Hell’s Gate. The match was stopped once Lesnar passed out, but not before he gave Taker a quick farewell.

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It just seemed like the whole thing turned into a bit of a farce. Taker didn’t show up on Raw, so the feud is on hold for now. There will undoubtedly be a rubber match at some point, but no one can say when that will be. Until then, we’ll just have to get by with fond memories.

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Will: 
The smarky Brooklyn crowd poo-pooed the screwy endings — and rightly so in my eyes. The fact that the matches didn’t end clean was fine, especially with Brock-Taker III penciled in for WrestleMania, but the execution was wanting. The same timekeeper who sat idly as Stewart gave Cena a chair to the ribs suddenly had eagle eyes on Taker’s meek tap-out? I know we’re in kayfabe here, but how about some kaysistency? It was just a bummer, especially after the slobberknocker main event.

I was slightly more on board with the Stewart angle, though his sudden dedication to preserving Ric Flair’s legacy was out of left field, as was ending such a big match with such a part-time player. We wondered last week how much of Stewart we’d be seeing in WWE, and this suggests that he could be around at least a little longer. (And kudos to him for taking an AA.)

Derek: There’s so much more to get to, and so little time. Let’s break the rest of the action down in quick hits.

The Dudley Boyz

Derek: Hey, they’re back! I had given up hope. Bubba Ray made an appearance back at the Royal Rumble, but that was seven months ago. Seeing Bubba and D-Von pulling tables out from under the ring gave me yet another raging mark-on. I don’t know that we’ll get the classic Dudleys due to their age and the PG era, but I’d much rather watch them feud with New Day than Los Matadores.

Will: They set their sights on New Day right away, and those squads could make some beautiful music together. The Dudleys return is not a ringing endorsement of the Prime Time Players, and I wonder how much of Titus and Darren we’re going to be seeing over the next couple months. The dreamer in me would like to see multiple feuds going in the tag division, but WWE has been steadfast in maximizing its teams per match ratio. In the meantime, sign me up for a good table spot every week.

Stephen Amell

Derek: It was no surprise that his team won. But he was actually pretty good! Sure, his move set pretty much consisted of a hip toss, an enziguri, and absorbing an ass whippin’, but getting your ass convincingly kicked is a skill in this line of work. He did it well.

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I’ve also got to say that, as someone who used to watch Arrow, I was a little surprised that he didn’t look nearly as jacked as he looks on the show. What is CW doing to him?!

Will: The wonders of television! I LOVE IT MAGGLE. But seriously, well done by Amell. His initial springboard entrance into the ring was strong, his dive off the top rope to the outside was legit, and he ate up a good bit of time to set up the hot tag to Neville. Come back anytime, Steve. 

That New Guy in The Wyatt Family

Derek: Who the hell was that guy?

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Well, I’m glad I asked! His name is either Braun Strowman or Braun Stowman, depending on what website you read, and he’s only been in dark matches so far. He’s also a former strongman competitor and is from the great state of North Carolina. Do you think he’ll add anything interesting to the Wyatts’ feud with Ambrose and Reigns?

Will: Strowman/Stowman is well on his way to setting a record for most different name spellings. I’m in; the reunited Wyatts have been fun, but I want the family to grow into a larger, more bizarre stable that can better terrorize the WWE. Strowman didn’t show much in the ring beyond his bearhug/chokehold and some intense no-selling, but that might be all he needs to run through some jobbers and inspire an appropriate amount of fear.

And my god, is he one ugly son of a bitch.

NXT

Derek: This might be heresy but, when taking the entire show into account, I didn’t love it. The final two matches (Bayley vs. Sasha Banks for the Women’s Championship, Kevin Owens vs. Finn Balor for the NXT Championship) were awesome, but I was mostly uninterested in the other matches. Balor retained and Owens pinned Cesaro the next night at SummerSlam, so we may have seen the last of Owens on NXT.

Similarly, Banks lost her belt, so she may be moving up to the big leagues as well. Not that that’s necessarily a good thing, but we’ll cover that next.

Will: There was so much damn wrasslin’ over the course of 72 hours that I’m struggling to remember it all, and much of the NXT show falls into that category. The main events were terrific. I enjoyed bits and pieces of the leadup. This was my first real glimpse of Samoa Joe in action (against Baron Corbin). Apollo Crews’ debut was solid despite his awful name. The Vaudevillains were fun, though I absolutely cannot imagine them taking that gimmick to the main show.

Also, I will need a lengthy explanation before I can support someone who simply goes by the name “Blue Pants.”

Divas

Derek: It really doesn’t matter if you take the awesome women out of NXT, throw them on Raw and crow about the Divas Revolution every week when they get thrown in crappy storylines. Those three shows highlighted exactly why the NXT women are popular and the WWE Divas draw the ire of the crowd, like they did on Monday night.

Take the NXT match between Banks and Bayley. It was an incredible, one-on-one grudge match for the championship. And even though Banks lost, they were both elevated because it was a great match.

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Compare that with the SummerSlam match. Nine Divas competed. None of them really had a chance to shine. The title wasn’t on the line. The most heated contest was the race for the dumbest team name. In a month’s time they couldn’t make any aspect of it interesting. It was like their only plan to sell the match was to have Stephanie McMahon say “Divas Revolution” so many times that people would believe it was true regardless of whether it was actually happening.

I feel really bad for the Divas. Especially the NXT call-ups who are there to wrestle, not be reality TV stars. But it doesn’t matter how good the talent is if the booking is bad. Sasha Banks had arguably the best match of the weekend on Saturday night. She had one of the most forgettable on Sunday night. I don’t think she forgot how to wrestle in 24 hours.

I guess the best way to sum it up: at NXT Takeover, two women got an 18-minute match with a title on the line. Meanwhile, at SummerSlam, nine Divas got a 15-minute match for no championships while Stephanie McMahon and the announcers repeatedly yelled “Divas Revolution!!!!” into a megaphone.

Will: Perhaps the worst part of the weekend was seeing the NXT and WWE matches juxtaposed against each other. Sasha and Bayley had one of the finest matches of the weekend, and not 48 hours later on Raw fans were doing the wave and generally defecating all over yet another bloated tag match. 

I get that WWE is going for with the team approach, but the best wrestling storylines come in 1-on-1 feuds. We have seen some singles matches over the past few weeks, but none have truly contributed to the narrative nor moved it forward. We need a better sense of these women as individuals in order to embrace them as a collective. Sasha Banks is a real character, and what do you know, hers was the name being chanted Monday night when she wasn’t even in the ring.

There will come a time when the alliances fracture and new rivalries emerge, and I’m hopeful that that will coincide with more worthwhile stakes for all parties involved. It isn’t hard to get excited about, say, Charlotte turning on Paige. The so-called revolution is trumpeted night after night, but that doesn’t make it mean anything. Don’t tell us that these women want to dethrone the Bellas and change the game. Show us why. Better yet, let them show us. They were doing just fine in NXT.


You Never Forget Your First: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 7/29/15

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Oklahoma City! It was a “night of firsts” to combat a few days of racism, and some of them were fairly entertaining! But we should probably start with the racism.

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As has been reported ad nauseam, Real American Hulk Hogan said a bunch of horrendously racist stuff on a sex tape he made with a buddy’s wife (the triple crown!) eight years ago. As a result, WWE almost gave him The Full Benoit, firing him and removing every mention of him from their website. I know the general rule in WWE is “never say never,” but we may have seen the last of Hogan on WWE programming.

Mostly, I’d say WWE did the right thing. I’m not sure they actually care about the stuff Hogan said, but I know they care about the appearance they care about the stuff Hogan said. Nowadays, nothing hurts PR more than racism/sexism/homophobia and the like. The judgment had to be swift and unmerciful. And I think we can all agree that Hogans comments were pretty messed up.

Will: He didn’t exactly have a sterling reputation in the wrestling world as is, but yowza, he said some very not okay stuff. WWE is a huge company with a pretty atrocious track record when it comes to non-white people, and that’s without considering any actual news events like what happened in Cincinnati this week. WWE decided not to muck about with any half measures and sent the Hulkster off the reservation, apparently for good.

It was jarring news, but I think WWE’s reaction was more surprising than Hogan’s words. He is far and away the most famous pro wrestler ever, and they severed ties with him in a second. It’s just bizarre. It’s like KFC disowning Colonel Sanders or Papa John’s Pizza without John. That said, I don’t know what else they could have done. As a wrestling company, I don’t think the McMahons are held in the same regard as, say, the Gateses, but they probably could have figured out a way to save face publicly while keeping Hogan in the fold.

But they didn’t. And frankly, they look better for it.

Derek: My one statement in Hogan’s defense is the conversation happened in private, and it sucks to lose your job over stuff like that. He shouldn’t have said it, and it sure sounded like he was serious, but if that standard were applied to everyone in the world then the entire world would be unemployed. I think most people have said things in private, either in jest or in some emotional state, that would be generally frowned upon. I also think said people wouldn’t be too pleased if someone produced a secret recording of those things and gave them to the media. I feel for him in that regard.

Or maybe I just don’t want Hulk Hogan to be an evil racist bastard. Pretty much this exact same thing happened to Donald Sterling last year and, if this site had existed then, my defense of Sterling would have been considerably shorter than a paragraph. I did consider it a bit of a bummer that Sterling was punished for a private conversation, but he has a long, storied history of being a scumbag. Hulk Hogan is no angel, but he’s a legend to all wrestling fans and a hero to most. Sterling made me think “that figures” and Hogan made me think “say it ain’t so.” So there’s the full disclosure on any Hogan sympathy.

Will: The privacy element definitely adds a weird wrinkle, but I suppose that’s how things are today. That tape would have been inadmissible evidence a court of law, but in the court of public opinion it doesn’t matter how it was acquired. So it goes. 

Hey, let’s talk wrasslin’!

Derek: I wasn’t a huge fan of Raw this week, but that may be because of the higher standard I apply to shows leading up to SummerSlam. We’ve got three more Raws to go, and let’s hope the Lesnar-Taker levels rise significantly. Considering that’s the main event at SummerSlam, there sure was a strange absence of references to it. I don’t think they were even mentioned outside of flashbacks to last week. Usually WWE takes every conceivable chance to sell the Network with PPV matches. We didn’t even get a famed Paul Heyman promo.

Instead, the spotlight went to Seth Rollins and John Cena’s Nose.

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The prophecies were confirmed, as Cena and Rollins are indeed headed for a match at SummerSlam. The two had a good match at Royal Rumble (granted, Lesnar was involved) so I suppose not all is lost. They have potential to put on a great match and they’ll no doubt have extra motivation for one of the biggest PPV’s of the year. I just don’t want Cena to win. I have no interest in seeing him back at the top of the card. I was just starting to warm up to you, John. Don’t disappoint me.

Will: Cena’s great. He’s one of the best in the business. He puts butts in seats and t-shirts on backs. But damnit John, let someone else have this spot. He doesn’t need a title feud to stay relevant, and Rollins doesn’t need him either. They could easily work this same angle with someone else. Why not Cesaro? Why not Ambrose? Rollins and Cena have had and will have great matches, but they don’t need to play that card right now. Cena gets a lot of crap for putting himself over, and this is a particularly egregious example, to the umpteenth degree if he wins.

Rollins and Cena put on a solid show Monday. That broken nose looked legit. They didn’t pull out all the stops, nor should they have at this point (though Rollins’ double suplex was super cool). Something I liked about their match that I didn’t expect to: JBL’s commentary. It wasn’t great, but he leaned on his experience as a past champion and actually made some decent points about the necessary mindset to be a main eventer. It wasn’t just lame jokes and forced lines. He talked like a person for a minute, and it was mildly compelling. Bravo, John Bradshaw.

Derek: We bemoaned the lack of Dean Ambrose at Battleground, and last week it looked like he would team up with Roman Reigns against Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper. Reigns was also absent on Monday night, and Ambrose was left to do battle with … The Big Show?

That was a bit of a head-scratcher, but I’m reserving judgment until next week. Maybe they just wanted to add another “first” and were struggling to fill time. At least I hope that’s what happened. No one’s going to win a Big Show-Ambrose feud.

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Will: I hope hope hope that this was a one-off. If that’s the case, I like it. Show is actually an interesting measuring stick opponent. His matches are necessarily different because of his size, and sometimes that produces some fun. Ambrose mostly got the hell beaten out of him, which the commentary team equated to lunacy — that would be an example of bad JBL — and he came out of it looking alright. It felt, however, like they might try to keep it going for more than one match. Please dear god no.

Some random positives to take our minds off of a potential Ambrose-Show feud:

  • Cesaro and Owens look like they’re going to tangle at SummerSlam. Yes, yes, all day yes. It was a shame to see the Owens-Orton match spoiled by Sheamus — who I kind of enjoyed on commentary, if only because he opened with “What’s the crack, fellas?” — but it was worth it to see Cesaro and Owens interact even for a minute.
  • Neville had a match with Fandango. Night of firsts, indeed!
  • SummerSlam is going to be four hours long?! I don’t think this is actually a positive.
  • Titus O’Neil said the words “professional wrestling” on commentary, so he’s probably getting canned. Sports entertainment, Titus!
  • New Day >>>

And, the ladies showed out once more.

Derek: The “Divas Revolution,” as WWE calls it, continued on Monday with two Divas matches yet again! Sasha Banks made Paige submit, and the team of Charlotte and Becky Lynch beat Nikki Bella and Alicia Fox when Lynch made Fox submit. While I’m enjoying the “Divas Revolution,” I’m growing a bit tired of it being constantly referenced. I’ve mentioned before that WWE could benefit from some show-don’t-tell aspects in their storytelling, and this is one of those times. It is in fact possible to simply have a “Divas Revolution” without pointing it out every other sentence.

And while we’re here, I feel it’s necessary to once again mention that Team BAD need to change their name. I just can’t take them seriously.

Will: They were both solid matches, and I’m still digging how the new talent is being used. Everyone is getting a shot in the spotlight, wins are being passed around, and most everyone is looking strong (except Tamina. They haven’t quite figured her out yet, nor have I). Sasha especially looks like budding star — if not a ready-made one — and she and Paige got a good chunk of time to work with. 

I’m completely on board with you as far as bashing us over the head with “The Divas Revolution,” but I’m afraid that’s just the way it is. Subtlety is not a WWE strong suit. Whether it’s because they’re afraid to not make things absolutely obvious to their younger viewers or because they just aren’t able to, who knows. They’re giving the Divas a chance. How about giving us one too?

(“Team BAD” is sooooooooo bad. Oh my god it’s the worst. If Sasha weren’t such a talent that bunch would be DOA.)

Derek: Lana attacked Summer Rae with a fish.

lana summer rae fish

Your thoughts?

Will: It’s good to be reminded every once in a while why wrestling is so easy to mock.

I will say, however, that it was a first.


Dead Man Risen: Wrasslin’ Thursday 7/23/2015

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Derek: We’re coming to you live (three/four days later) from St. Louis/Kansas City! So much to cover this week that we had to move to —

Mah … mah gawd! Mah gawd! That’s the Undertaker’s music!

Yes, the main event between Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar ended in shenanigans, but not the kind we were expecting. Just as Brock was about to put Rollins down, the bell tolled, and Taker appeared to get revenge on Brock for ending his undefeated streak at WrestleMania XXX.

Taker’s return was shocking, to say the least. Six months ago, rumors were flying around that he was in poor health and he had wrestled his final match. He did wrestle Bray Wyatt at ‘Mania, but he wasn’t involved in the buildup at all. He showed up in Santa Clara, had a 15-minute match, and bailed. Folks were speculating that he’d have his final match at WrestleMania 32 in his home state of Texas (perhaps against Brock or Sting), but I don’t think anyone predicted he’d make an appearance at SummerSlam, or Battleground, or Monday Night Raw. It certainly wasn’t on our radar.

undertaker raw

To WWE’s credit, it’s a clever way to handle Lesnar. His story arc was starting to look suspiciously like it did at this point last year, when he was slated to face WWE Heavyweight Champion John Cena at SummerSlam. Brock gave Cena a legendary beating and wrestled sparingly until he dropped the belt at ‘Mania. It was easy to see the story repeating itself with Rollins in place of Cena. Now, Brock can be removed from the title picture, and Rollins, for better or worse, can take on a new challenger.

While I’m leaning toward “for worse” in regards to Rollins, Brock is moving full steam ahead. I think it’s safe to say we both got chills when Taker’s music hit. Is this acceptable behavior for guys in their late 20’s? Are our future children going to track this article down one day and use it as a reason to not listen to us?

Will: I already hate our prospective children if that’s the case. Fuck you, future bearer of my DNA — I’ll let professional wrestling give me chills until I’m the Undertaker’s age. 

It was incredible. I didn’t watch Battleground live, and I avoided spoilers as best I could until my Monday night viewing, and I was fortunate enough to escape news of the Dead Man’s return. I wondered, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone, how Rollins-Lesnar could be done in a way that was both kayfabe realistic and reasonably interesting. Lesnar squashing Cena was brilliant because that sort of thing is so unusual for a main event, but it’s not a well you can go back to. Taker’s return was the deus ex machina.

Some may be more cynical: a Taker-Brock showdown at SummerSlam is the sort of thing that can paralyze WWE. Instead of building up worthwhile storylines with the everyday talent, they look to a part-timer and a virtual retiree to headline a PPV. Doing so at SummerSlam isn’t as egregious as Wrestlemania, but the effect is similar.

Still, I loved it. Part of that is because of Undertaker’s enduring legacy and legendary status, which is nearly unmatched. But the bigger part is that his intervention actually made sense. By the time the lights were out, everyone in the house knew what was up. There was an actual reason for Undertaker to seek vengeance against Brock, and there’s no better way to do so than pre-empting his victory in a title bout.

Derek: Let’s move on to something a little more cringeworthy: the notion that Rollins’ next challenger will be John Cena.

I guess it was only a matter of time. It’s been almost a full year since Cena was champion. Not only that, but two straight WrestleManias have passed without Cena in the main event. Logic dictates that Cena would put Kevin Owens over so he could blossom into a main eventer himself. Unfortunately, CENAWINSLOL dictates that CENA WINS (LOL), and immediately inserts himself back into the WWE WHC picture. The treatment they gave Cena Monday night just about ruined the Undertaker’s return for me. It was such a bummer in so many ways.

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

First, Cena already has a championship belt, but they’re putting him into the hunt for another. One simply isn’t enough for Cena. Why have Cena drop the US Championship before challenging Rollins? Screw that. He must have all the belts.

Second, if Monday night is any indication, Owens comes out of this a huge loser. Not only did he lose the NXT Championship to Finn Balor, but he lost two of his three matches with Cena and he might be entering into a feud with … gulp … Sheamus. I’d say they’re bringing his momentum to a screeching halt, but that sounds a little generous. More like they stopped his momentum, kidnapped it, beat it with a crowbar, abandoned it in a warehouse, and blew the warehouse up. This is the kind of momentum stoppage that needs a Lazarus Pit to be resurrected.

Let’s just hope Owens’ little spat with Sheamus was a one-and-done type of thing. I thought for sure Owens and Cena would have one more match at SummerSlam. Maybe a No DQ or Falls Count Anywhere match to keep it fresh, as I thought their Battleground match looked a little too familiar at times. Then Owens could move on as US Champion and Cena could move on to Cena things, which could possibly include challenging Rollins. Instead, Cena goes over (as if he needed it) and Owens gets buried (and he definitely didn’t need it.) Am I missing something? Does Owens and Cena going their separate ways have more potential than I’m giving it credit for?

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Will: I want very much to be optimistic about this. I actually enjoyed Cena challenging Rollins insofar as it fit their respective characters — it’s nice when plots fit the players. But as you are, I’m mildly horrified by the notion of those two engaging in a prolonged feud. It’s tricky; Cena has been among the most dependably entertaining names in wrasslin’ over the past year. His US Open Challenge has been legitimately inventive and has provided a stage for plenty of youngsters (Neville, Zayn, Owens) to get a moment in the spotlight. And yet, Cena’s been putting guys over by putting himself over, which just feels weird. Getting another crack at a title he absolutely does not need would make it even weirder.

Owens is the one I’m more worried about, and 1000 percent of that is because of his potential connection to Sheamus. I’ve decided that I just plain don’t care about anything Sheamus does. I don’t even dislike him (well, that much); I just want him off the screen entirely. I don’t find him interesting in the ring, on the mic, or in general. He is a giant pale sign that it’s time to fast forward.

I hate to be a hater; sorry, fella. Owens has been superb since coming on the scene, and there are precious few people I wouldn’t want to see him in a program with. Sheamus happens to be one of them. Fingers crossed.

Derek: Roman Reigns continued his uncharacteristic losing streak at Battleground after a returning Luke Harper interfered, allowing Bray Wyatt to pick up the win. Ambrose joined back up with Reigns on Monday night, though its unclear what the plan is going forward. They could be having a tag team match, or they could simply be watching each other’s backs. Too bad they may not have their own singles matches, but there’s not a whole lot more for either of them to do at this point.

Will: I worry that both Reigns and Ambrose are losing their momentum. Ambrose’s is more plot-driven; he was left out of Battleground and has been generally overlooked over the past couple weeks. It wouldn’t take too much to spruce him up; give him another move or two, keep the clothesline usage to a minimum, pick a certain type of crazy to focus on, and tell the announce team to take it easy with “THE LUNATIC FRINGE” (one of those is pure pipe dream).

It’s Roman I’m more worried about. I thought for a little while that he had gotten back to square one with the fans after being at square minus-2 billion after winning the Royal Rumble, but it seems like plenty of folks still don’t like him, and he doesn’t quite know how to handle it. And actually, I think he’s doing alright, it’s just that people hate the goddamn Superman punch — I don’t blame them.

As for the Wyatt Family Reunion: hell yeah. Harper can do more in the ring than Bray can, and their getting back together works without requiring any explanation. With Erick Rowan out for a while with an injury, why not get the fam back together? Wyatt is best as a talker, and Harper as a brute. It just works.

These four combined bring plenty to the table, and even if things are a little clumsy in the run-up, good things oughta happen when they collide.

Derek: The Divas did indeed end up with a match at Battleground in the form of a triple threat match between Charlotte, Brie Bella, and Sasha Banks. It was a solid match, despite losing a couple of points because I had to listen to Naomi’s horrendous entrance music. I’ll keep saying it until a change is made: Naomi has the worst entrance music in WWE, and it isn’t close. And now she wants her little trio to be called “Team B.A.D.” (Beautiful and Dangerous)? Yeesh. Sasha Banks must have drawn the short stick.

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Anyway, Charlotte made Brie Bella submit again on Monday, but Banks got vengeance later in the night when she made Paige submit. That’s right, two Divas matches in one night! And that doesn’t even include the unfortunate continuation of the Lana-Summer Rae catfight. SummerSlam could be the most Diva-heavy show in quite some time.

Will: Team B.A.D.” is so bad. Oh my god. It’s awful. Aside from her glowing boots, Naomi’s packaging leaves a lot to be desired. I’m not sure she’s quite up to being the leader of a mini-faction, and I could certainly see Sasha stepping into that role. She is the Boss, after all.

This has all been great! The ladies are really showing out and making the most of their opportunities. Charlotte looks to be the real deal (I adore her entrance music), and all of the new blood came just as things were getting a bit stale. Again, I’m somewhat cautious in my hopes that WWE can keep this going long term, but in the meantime it’s all good.

One hair in the soup: the entire revolution storyline has been a bit contrived. What exactly have the Bellas been doing to everyone that’s so terrible? Yes, Nikki’s been the champion for a while, but the talk of the Bellas’ mighty reign of terror doesn’t quite jibe with what I’ve seen on screen. Yes, there have been some twin hijinks, but it’s made to sound as though Brie and Nikki have been locking the other women in a closet and tossing in smoke grenades.

Still, things are certainly trending up in Divaland.

Derek: Finally, let’s touch on the Intercontinental Championship picture. Ryback’s schedule title defense against Miz and Big Show was canceled due to his hospitalization with a staph infection. Looks like the IC belt could be cursed. Daniel Bryan had to vacate it, and now Ryback might as well. How do you think they’ll handle it? Do you think they’ll take it away, or bank on The Big Guy returning before SummerSlam? Should they just go ahead and give the belt to Cena?

Will: THEY CALL HIM BIG MATCH JOHN, MAGGLE!

It sucks for Ryback, especially after Bryan suffered a similar fate. I don’t love The Big Guy in the ring, but he really loves the business and I think he took pride in being Bryan’s successor.

As for who oughta take the belt over…am I crazy to want to give it to the Miz? His mic work is asshole artistry. He gins up real heat like few can. I hate the idea of seeing he and Show continue their song and dance for another month, but I have to think there’s another way.

What if Miz kept ripping on Ryback — and Bryan — for getting hurt, and someone like Neville stepped up to defend their honor? Maybe a Fatal Four Way at SummerSlam to decide the title. Show could hang around for the sake of storyline consistency (though I wouldn’t be upset if he found another , while two more promising challengers inject themselves into the fray. Is it too naive to hope for a Mizdow resurrection?

After seeing the Undertaker return, a resurrection feels just about right.


Independent Women: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 7/15/15

Wrasslin Wednesday Header

Derek: We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Atlanta! The plot advanced! The plot advanced! GOOD GOSHAMIGHTY, THE PLOT ADVANCED.

divas

That’s right, I’m talking about the Divas! At long last, stuff happened. It wasn’t the Bellas featuring Alicia Fox going Mean Girls against a friendless Paige. Finally, Charlotte (Ric Flair’s daughter) got promoted. That was no surprise, because it should have happened months ago. Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks were unexpected, though. Charlotte and Becky Lynch joined up with Paige, while Sasha Banks joined Naomi and Tamina. Three factions! And at least one of them is interesting. Maybe more!

This will presumably conclude with a big SummerSlam match, which will surely be a step up from last year’s Brie Bella-Stephanie McMahon showdown. It has the potential to be several steps up, but it also won’t surprise me if Vince decides it should be a five minute farce in between R-Truth-Barrett and Sandow-Axel.

I’m curious to see if the new Divas are here to stay. Kevin Owens was a mainstay on Raw even as he was NXT Champion, so Sasha Banks could be as well. Surely Charlotte won’t go back any time soon. Becky Lynch is the wild card. Like a highly touted MLB prospect, she may just force WWE to keep her around.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing of all is we’re leading with the Divas. Yes, Sports Monocle isn’t exactly the first website folks visit for wrasslin’ talk, but we are wrestling fans and we (well, at least I) think it’s the top story of the week. I can’t be alone in that belief. Maybe the Divas will get a chance after all?

Will: I could barely believe it even as it was happening. Stephanie hadn’t appeared except to be a cruel authority/Authority) figure in a while, yet there she was shepherding in a whole new era of women’s — pardon me, Divas — wrestling. It was a very cool moment for a bunch of reasons. The distinct looks of each stable-to-be were cool. All three Bellas being locked in submission holds was cool, as was Charlotte’s modified figure four. The newcomers getting legitimate pops was cool. Seeing the ex-NXT girls celebrate their newfound WWE-ness together was cool. It was all very cool, and very exciting, and a very welcome change from the norm.

The challenge, of course, will be figuring out how to actually use all of these people and give them stories that make their time worthwhile. Monday night was promising, but it’s relatively easy to make the beginning of a storyline exciting. The hard part is getting that seed to grow, and then harvesting at the right time. I don’t want to throw too much water on the fire — this may be the best we’ve seen of WWE women since Paige’s debut. I’m just curious to see what happens next.

Derek: Let’s move on to Sunday night’s main event between Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar. Monday night gave us the obligatory contract signing that ended in violence. Rollins attached an axe handle under the table, and Brock did not appreciate that. One might consider that what Paul Heyman calls “breaking the 11th Commandment.”

brock kane

J&J Security were strangely absent, leaving only Kane as Rollins’ bodyguard. You’re not going to believe this, but Rollins turned on him yet again! What a twist.

I’ve been watching old Attitude-era Raws when I go to sleep, and my #FreeKane beliefs have never been stronger. He went toe-to-toe with the Undertaker! At times, the Undertaker was scared of him! HE DESECRATED THE GRAVESTONES OF HIS OWN PARENTS!

Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t need to make a comeback, but the rest of it does. The Kane of 1998 would not be tolerating Seth’s behavior. And even if the Kane of today is willing to tolerate it to some degree, this stuff with Rollins lost its luster months ago. Let it go.

Will: One would hope that when Kane eventually returns from his latest vacation — maybe he’ll go to Hawaii again! — that he’ll set his sights on Rollins and finally right some of the many wrongs that the champ has brought against him. He’s long been the unsung workhorse of Rollins’ ascendance, and I’m thirsty for some revenge.

In the short term, however, I kinda like what they did with Kane and J&J. Seth and his cronies were able to give Brock one good beatdown, and nearly a second, but Brock has worn away Rollins’ defenses and left him a king with no castle. Their match is now (or seems to be) a proper 1-on-1 affair, which spells doom for the champion on paper. If we’re keeping kayfabe, it will be as one-sided as the Lesnar-Cena match that birthed Suplex City, but I have a hunch that things will be a little more interesting this time.

A couple other asides:
– I’m out on the whole 11th Commandment thing. It’s just corny.
– Rollins declared that he would burn Suplex City to the ground, but I think it’s been beaten into the ground enough already. I get why it’s happened, and it could be a lot worse. It’s just a bummer to see an awesome ad lib corrupted by the man, you know?
– Rollins is such an asshole. I love it.

Derek: What say we mix the rest of our Raw recap in with picks and thoughts for Battleground?!

King Barrett vs. R-Truth (Pre-Show)

Derek: I’m still not totally sure where this feud came from. Truth pretends to be a king sometimes, and Barrett doesn’t like it? I think I speak for everyone when I say Bad News Barrett should make a comeback.

Will: This has been a very odd running subplot, even if it’s just meant to be comedic filler. It’s so absurd that I can’t even take issue with it — it isn’t like Truth’s plunger-wielding kingdom is any more ridiculous than Barrett’s, itself born out of a not-that-important pseudo-PPV. Bad News is definitely Barrett’s strongest angle, and I hope he gets back to the pulpit at some point. In the meantime, at least the crowd seems to like Truth, and I think that’s enough for him to get the win. Also, there’s a strong chance that I don’t watch this match.

The Prime Time Players vs. The New Day (Tag Team Championship)

Derek: I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I could see either team winning, and I could see it being the best match of the night or the worst. I’ll say the Prime Time Players successfully defend with New Day taking back the gold at SummerSlam.

Will: I’m not sure either. The PTPers have done well with their push to the top, with Titus O’Neil especially looking like someone who could stand on his own. I enjoyed their match (with Mark Henry) against New Day Monday night, and their little leaning dance thing is kinda fun. I still don’t quite have a sense of who Titus or Darren Young are, but New Day has enough personality for that to not really matter.

Something from this match that applied to a few others as well: I’m really enjoying the ongoing trend of taunt- and move-stealing. New Day mimicked O’Neil’s barking thing, and I just can’t not love it, especially for a heel. It’s an age-old device, but Kevin Owens revitalized it when he started biting Cena’s schtick.

Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt

Derek: I’m cautiously optimistic. This feud has gotten a bit less screen time than I thought it would get, but it’s fairly interesting. They don’t like each other and they’re going to settle their differences through the magic of violence. I can get behind that.

roman sneak attack

While we’re here, there are two things I can’t get behind. The first is no Dean Ambrose. He hasn’t managed to insert himself into any of the storylines and looks to be getting the night off. I still wish he had entered into a mutually beneficial partnership with Brock Lesnar.

The second is (facepalm) no Divas match. Come on, guys! I just talked about what a good job you were doing, and now there’s no Divas match on the card?! It’s entirely possible that Stephanie will announce a “surprise” Divas match on Sunday (or maybe on Smackdown) but as it stands now, the Divas won’t be making an appearance. As the mass bewildered of Twitter would say, SMH.

Will: I don’t get the Ambrose non-usage at all. Even if he isn’t going to be in a match, he should somehow be involved, right? He and Reigns are still friends as far as we know, yet during the Reigns-Wyatt brawl — which was meant to be an Ambrose-Wyatt match — Dean just chilled out while his boy went to work. I suppose one could argue that he wanted to let Reigns handle his own business, but that’s awfully reasoned logic for an alleged lunatic.

The lack of a women’s (I’m just gonna call it women’s now) match sucks too, and it makes me wonder how long the whole NXT takeover plan has been in the works.

As for the actual Reigns-Wyatt match, who knows? As with many matches on the card, I’m not sure which way they’ll take it. Will it be a clean finish? Will a third party be involved? Will we be seeing a rematch or re-imagining at SummerSlam? As much as I enjoy Bray’s promos and vignettes, he’s a tough guy to peg with how little ring work he’s been doing recently.

Randy Orton vs. Sheamus

Derek: I keep forgetting Sheamus is Mr. Money in the Bank. I’m struggling to identify the most interesting thing he’s done in the last month. And he’s probably going to be champion before 2015 is over. I’ll enjoy watching that play out. Those won’t be fun Wrasslin’ Wednesdays.

I’m predicting an Orton victory because I remember he exists from time to time.

Will: I actively enjoy not caring about Sheamus. I don’t even dislike him. I just don’t care. I don’t know what I’m supposed to think about him. He’s a big pasty idiot with dumb hair and a worse goatee — is that what I’m supposed to think? I get that these guys have some history, and they’re not bad workers. They just don’t do much for me. 

John Cena vs. Kevin Owens (US Championship)

Derek: The weeks go on, and no one is tired of this feud. God bless these two.

Last week, we wondered how Cesaro would fit in to the picture, and WWE responded by tossing a recovered Rusev in as well. While Rusev appeared in this feud, Dolph Ziggler and Lana didn’t appear at all. Perhaps WWE realized everyone in that storyline is being run into the ground and they want to call a mulligan. That’s probably the wisest course of action.

triple suplex

As for the match, I think Cena wins again, but only because I think Owens is going over at SummerSlam. Cena hasn’t been on the winning side at SummerSlam since 2010, and that was a 7-on-7 match. The last time he won a singles match at SummerSlam was against Randy Orton in 2007. While CENAWINSLOL typically triumphs at WrestleMania (and most other times), he has mostly given the spotlight to others at SummerSlam. Since Owens is probably full-time WWE now, a SummerSlam win over Cena and US Championship run would do him some good.

Will: I would absolutely watch a three-hour show that was variations of matches with these four guys. Cesaro pulled out so many incredible moves that I lost count. Rusev survived the creative abortion that was the Ziggler feud, and looks like he could stay relevant post-Lana. Owens continues to excel acting as a sort of Joker to Cena’s Batman.

How about this: For all the lamenting we (and others) do about the pervasiveness of CENAWINSLOL, he is the guy who’s been at the center of all of this. All three of the other guys deserve credit for putting in good work in a big spot, but I think it says something that some of the best action of the summer has been the most Cena-centric. Maybe that’s just due to his longevity and thus our familiarity with him, but whatever the reason, here’s a tip of the cap to John Cena for making me care about all parties involved.

Ryback vs. Big Show vs. Miz (Intercontinental Championship)

Derek: Errrrrr. Ryback wins? Maybe he gets something more interesting to do before next month?

Will: This could be a fun little popcorn match. I’m looking forward to Miz’s inevitable begging not to get his ass kicked.

Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar (WWE World Heavyweight Championship)

Derek: I still can’t believe this match is happening at Battleground. A couple of weeks ago I predicted this match would end in shenanigans, and I’m sticking by that. The two have a great match, but something weird happens and they meet again next month for their “real” match.

Will: You’ve seen enough to know a thing or two about how this sort of match tends to go. It’s a legitimately huge one, and probably bigger than Battleground deserves. It’s a bit like the Reigns-Wyatt match in that I feel like something screwy will happen, but I have no idea what. Something screwy almost has to happen in any Lesnar match because he’s such a monster. Rollins’ smarminess only increases the odds. I can’t wait.


Who Got NeXT: Developmental Hits Columbus

NXT-Logo

What’s up NXT faithful! Welcome to another edition of Who Got NeXT.

If you didn’t already know, for the first time outside of Full Sail University, the NXT roster and some main roster talents were in Columbus a couple of weeks ago at the annual Arnold Classic. There were autographs signed, shows performed and all kinds of fun things happened.

But here, I talk about the show itself so lets get to it!

Wednesday’s show kicked off with a bang as Tyler Breeze and Kalisto battled in a singles match. Overall, this would be the best match of the show in my opinion. The luchador formerly known as Samuray Del Sol can hold his own in the ring by himself, and I would like to see him in singles action more away from Sin Cara. My highlight of the match was when he hit Tyler Breeze with a beautiful 450 splash that almost put Prince Pretty away. The bout went back and forth, but in the end Breeze hit his beauty shot to pin Kalisto for the three count.

After showing a clip from the convention, the NXT Tag Team Champions Blake & Murphy came out to the ring. But the real fun was when Enzo Amore’s music hit. The crowd popped the loudest that it did until that point (yeah, they’re REALLY over). Heck, every crowd knows the promo word-for-word and chants along with them, something I haven’t seen since the New Age Outlaws for god’s sake!

Anyways, Amore and Big Cass came out on the stage and did their usual awesome promo schtick, except they personalized it a bit for the champs. Enzo went to the mic and cut a hilarious bit.

“And as for ah, the Australian kid (Buddy Murphy). Why don’t you didgeridoo yourself a favor while you still have that NXT Tag title? Kick rocks in flip flops, break a toe and skidaddle sweet boy!”

Pure awesomeness that is Enzo Amore. But as for the match, it was a decent one that ended with a rollup by Buddy Murphy grabbing the tights and beating Colin Cassady after he was distracted by Carmella being accidentally hurt on the outside of the ring.

We then get to the women’s bout between Alexa Bliss and NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks, and unsurprisingly it was awesome. Alexa Bliss, a Columbus native and former cheerleader at the University of Akron, has a unique set of tools in her arsenal. She’s small, but she’s quick and agile which works to her advantage. Bliss is great in the way that she goes from a happy-go-lucky tinkerbell with glitter in her entrance to a fiery aggressor in the ring.

Banks and Bliss started off with “The Boss” dominating, but things eventually turned when Bliss hit a flipping knee on Banks and the two made their way to the outside. Bliss would eventually shove Banks into the turnbuckle pole and make it into the ring before the 10-count to defeat the women’s champ. This earned her a rematch and an NXT Women’s title shot next week.

Then we finally get to the moment Alex Riley was waiting for: his match with NXT Champion and resident bad man Kevin Owens. The match began with Owens absolutely decimating the former commentator. He picked him apart like he said he would, using brutal punches, senton splashes and a sleeper hold as the crowd chanted “Kill Owens Kill!” Riley looked like mincemeat to start, but eventually the man with “RAGE” gained a little momentum when he knocked Owens square in the face with a forearm and a huge spinebuster.

But this only enraged the champion, and he took it personally. After a few more beatings, Owens put Riley away with a pop-up powerbomb. When the match was over, Owens was set on making Riley his next victim and started attacking him on the outside. Once he set Riley up for another powerbomb on the apron, Finn Bálor’s music hit, and he jumped from the stage and started attacking the champion. The brawl would move to the ring where Bálor would set up for the Coup de Grace, but Owens escaped and the two stared each other down separated by the ring and the stage.

Next week’s WrestleMania edition of NXT should be epic. With all three championships on the line, it is sure to deliver a masterful show as WWE approaches closer and closer to the “Grandaddy of Them All.”