RAW Recap/Analysis – April 25, 2016

RAW continued its hot streak Monday night with another episode filled with plot growth, intrigue, and yes, a thrilling in-ring debut from Anderson and Gallows. The go-home show before Payback for many fans, it did its job in creating a lot of buzz for the first pay-per-view following WrestleMania.

Decisions, decisions

Once again, Shane O’Mac opened up Monday Night RAW with a huge smile on his face. But he didn’t get too much out before being interrupted by Stephanie McMahon. She played up being a Hartford native as obnoxiously as possible before saying that this would be his last week in charge before Vince McMahon would decide who would be in charge at Payback.

Shane made it very clear, as did Hartford, who the fan favorite was, and tried to make Stephanie leave, but she refused to leave the ring. Shane, undeterred, simply brought in security to escort her from the ring. She, quite literally, had to be dragged off, and Shane introduced the first match of the night.

AJ Styles vs. Sheamus

Sheamus started off strong, hitting a series of uppercuts and a double boot on Styles in the match’s early stages. But after telegraphing a charge, Styles began to mount a short comeback, his swift athleticism coming in handy. But Sheamus caught him outside the ring, throwing the Phenomenal One into the stairs hard.

He maintained his momentum a while longer, hitting Styles with a series of backbreakers before Styles bought himself valuable time by dodging a charge into the turnbuckle, going to the top rope before Sheamus caught him on the ropes, looking for a superplex. But Styles threw him off the ropes, hitting him time and time again with his swift offense.

Styles targeted his shoulders with a series of kicks before Sheamus caught him for a power slam for a near-fall. In return, Styles caught him with a pelee kick and proceeded to wear him down with a series of forearms, but Sheamus caught him up in the Clover Leaf. Styles made it to the ropes. Sheamus went for a Brogue, but Styles caught him with the Phenomenal Forearm for the victory. As he celebrated, Anderson and Gallows emerged, applauding. Styles looked concerned indeed. as did Roman, whose cousins the Usos offered him their support.

This was a very smart match. On Sunday, Styles will be facing a big brawler in Roman Reigns, so to properly build him up, he must defeat a big brawler. Sheamus is the perfect fit, boosted in credibility by his title reign last year, however unpleasant it was.

Styles looked incredible as usual, even if this wasn’t his strongest match. He really sold his underdog status convincingly while still showing off his athleticism and technical prowess. No better way to keep people interested than by letting one of their best workers do his thing.

Tag-Mania

New Day emerged to a sizable pop that Roman would probably kill for, talking about the upcoming finals for the Tag Team Tournament at Payback, but were interrupted by the Vaudvillains, who were in turn interrupted by Enzo and Cass.

Enzo easily talked trash, much to the New Day’s delight, and the champs reveled int he chaos, but made it clear that they would be tag team champions for a long time yet.

Seeing Enzo and Cass in the same ring as the New Day has long been a dream of mine. And though I didn’t expect it to come like this, the moment was as sweet as I imagined. These three teams are the future of tag team wrestling.

The Vaudvillains feel energized in their heel roles, working surprisingly well ont he mic and providing perfect foils for Enzo Amore and Big Cass, who are more over than WWE could have dreamed.

With these three teams at the helm, the tag team division could very well experience a new, bright era where they shine as they deserve. It’s been a long time coming indeed.

Backstage, Gallows and Anderson emerged from Styles’ locker room, ready for their match against the Usos.

The Usos vs. Gallows & Anderson

The match was aggressive from the get-go, the Usos still angry about their attack two weeks ago and Gallows and Anderson determined to make a statement.

Anderson and Gallows laid a beatdown on Jey Uso, with Gallows’ strength doing considerable damage. Anderson made himself known as well, methodically pounding the Samoan into the matt and targeting his shoulder.

He covered Jey several times for a near fall before tagging Gallows back in, isolating Jey in their corner and knocking Jimmy off the apron with a cheap shot.  He tagged Anderson back in, and the Machine Gun laid him out on the curtain before bring the action back into the ring, working Jey’s shoulder some more.

Jey looked to attempt to fight back, but Gallows wouldn’t allow it, shoving Jey off the top ropes and out of the ring, right into the barricade. After being further dominated through a commercial break, Jey finally fought back in long enough to tag in Jimmy, who hit a Samoan Drop on Anderson before being caught by a clothesline.

Gallows threw Jey over the barricade before Jimmy hit him through the ropes. Anderson sent him into the post before tagging Gallows back in for the Magic Killer for the win. The two continued their beatdown in the ring after the match’s conclusion, but Roman Reigns arrived to make the save.

He was booed, by the way, as Anderson and Gallows retreated.

Backstage, Renee looked to interview AJ Styles, and Anderson and Gallows assured Styles that they had his back, even though he didn’t want them to attack Reigns anymore.

This moment was surreal. Gallows and Anderson performed spectacularly, as expected, laying down a thrilling and convincing beating on the ever-energetic Uso twins. They worked in perfect harmony and drank up the crowd’s investment, showing exactly why they were such a draw back in Japan.

Their storyline with AJ Styles grows more and more intriguing every moment that goes by. Also, didn’t you love how the “babyface” got booed yet again?

Sami Zayn vs. Rusev

Rusev wasn’t in the mood for any fun and games, going right to work on the former NXT Champion. He refused to allow Zayn to regain any momentum at all, catching Zayn when he launched himself out of the ring and throwing him right into the apron. But a moonsault off the barricade allowed Zayn to regain some lost momentum.

Though Rusev regained control briefly, Zayn began fighting back, turning his energy up ten-fold, willing himself back into contention, reversing a powerbomb into a near-fall of his own. Rusev responded with a back body drop and Superkick, nearly getting the three-count.

Infuriated, Rusev looked to lock in the Accolade, but Zayn rolled him up quickly, stealing the victory. As he celebrated on the entrance ramp, however, he was ambushed from behind by a cold and calculating Kevin Owens.

Rusev seems to have his fire back, looking spectacular against Sami Zayn tonight. WWE aired a vignette detailing the long history between him and Kevin Owens, which worked wonders as well in hyping their Payback match.

The match had a dead crowd, but was a lot of fun nonetheless.

Apollo Crews vs. Stardust

Backstage, Stardust interrupted Apollo Crews’ interview with Renee Young before their match, becoming agitated when Crews called him “Cody.”

Fast-paced from the start, Crews let his agility shine as he took on Stardust, who looked more aggressive than usual in his offense against Crews. Stardust worked Crews’ arm for a while before going for a rollup, but Crews powered through, taking Stardust to town with enthusiasm.

He hit his standing moonsault (and former finisher), but Stardust rolled out. He couldn’t, however, escape from the spinning sit-down powerbomb, and Crews scored yet another win.

…I like Apollo, I really do. But he needs a direction, and fast.

Apologies, apologies

Ambrose told the crowd that though he was originally slated for the Ambrose Asylum, he wasn’t in the mood for entertainment. He wanted a good old fight, and cut a killer promo on Chris Jericho, saying that he doesn’t just demand respect, he fights for it.

He demanded that Chris Jericho come right to the ring, and a very perplexed Jericho sauntered right on in. Jericho was infuriated that Ambrose would dare call him out, and made it known, saying that Ambrose should get own on his knees and kiss his boots to thank him for even being in the ring with him.

Jericho demanded an apology then and there, so Ambrose gave him one . . . in the form of a series of punches. He looked to throw Jericho into the announce table, but Jericho stunned him on the table, locking him into the Walls of Jericho on the table. Officials broke it up, and Jericho left a prone Ambrose behind.

Put two of the most entertaining talkers and personalities in WWE together, and there are bound to be fireworks.

Jericho and Ambrose furthered their feud with precision, expertly drawing the crowd in, but something about this makes me believe that Payback won’t be their only encounter.

Natalya vs. Emma

With Charlotte on commentary, Natalya took on the Australian dynamite Emma, who took control early on with the aggression that has defined her new characterization. But soon enough, Natalya locked Emma into the Sharpshooter for the win.

Afterwards, WWE aired a tribute to Chyna.

Revolution, huh? How long did that match last?

Do better, WWE. Shame on you.

Baron Corbin vs. Damien Sandow

DAMIEN SANDOW.

SANDOW.

Before Baron Corbin could even finish his awesome entrance, Dolph Ziggler ambushed him on the stage. Corbin, terrified, retreated through the back, abandoning his match against Sandow.

I was so excited to see Sandow, and he didn’t even wrestle. What a sad, sad joke.

The Miz w/ Maryse

With his, yeah, absolutely stunning wife at his side, The Miz badmouthed Cesaro and any of his fans, calling them mindless wanderers. Miz said he brought prestige to the title, further calling the fans nerdy and lonely.

He was interrupted by Cesaro himself, dressed in his glorious suit, and laughed at his attempts to make the WWE Universe root for him. The Miz pulled off every impersonation int he book, and Cesaro admitted he was amused. Cesaro talked about the prestige of the title, and proclaimed his intent to take it.

“Do you feel lucky, punk? Do you?” Miz quoted.

“GO ahead,” Cesaro quoted right back, “Make my day.”

Miz looked to leave, trying to blindside Cesaro from behind, but the Swiss Superman caught him with an uppercut. He looked to take Miz swinging, but Maryse threw herself over his body to prevent it.

Cesaro grabbed the IC Title, gave it a look, and left head held high.

No charisma, eh?

Backstage, AJ Styles approached Reigns, proclaiming he was taking his title, and Reigns asked if he’d already bought ringside tickets for Gallows and Anderson before walking off.

Roman Reigns vs. Alberto Del Rio

Though the match started fairly even, Del Rio soon took the reigns early on in the match. The former champion beat down on him rather comfortably before Roman, out of nowhere, began powering back with headbutts and punches.

A series of clotheslines really sped things up for the Champion, who locked and loaded for the Superman Punch, but Del Rio dodged, rolling out of the ring before Reigns sent him right into the corner post.

Del Rio got Reigns with a kick to the jaw, but Reigns kicked out at two. Del Rio looked to capitalize, but Reigns hit him with a Superman Punch. But just as he really got fired up, Anderson and Gallows emerged, allowing Del Rio to roll him up and nearly win, but Roman got him with a spear for the count and win.

Anderson and Gallows beat Roman down after the match, but AJ Styles ran in, saving him. in thanks, Reigns hit him with a Superman Punch, taking out Gallows and Anderson. Styles himself responded with a Phenomenal Forearm.

This storyline is by far the most surprisingly intriguing one going into Payback. It’s so layered. We have AJ Styles trying to prevent Gallows and Anderson from interfering too much despite their lasting friendship and his nerves going into his match against Reigns. We have a supposed babyface champion who is displaying more heelish tendencies every day. And we have a rebelling fanbase determined to force Reigns into a  heel role.

Okay, Payback, I’m interested. Don’t let me down.

 

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WWE News Roundup: April 24, 2016

  • Former Intercontinental and Women’s Champion Chyna passed away this week at the age of 45. Her death is being treated as a possible overdose. Her manager is reportedly looking to donate her brain for CTE research. WWE posted a collection of her career highlights on Youtube, the first acknowledgment of her in years. You can read my tribute to her here.
  • Samoa Joe won the NXT Championship from Finn Balor at an NXT house show in Lowell, Massachusetts, fueling speculation that Balor would be joining former Bullet Club stablemates Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows on the main roster. The night he lost the title, he told a small group of fans as he boarded the tour bus, “See you Monday.” Later, however, he would claim in a promo that he was staying in NXT.
  • Conor McGregor made waves when he seemingly announced his retirement on Twitter and was immediately linked to WWE. However, he looks to simply be in a dispute with the UFC and any signs pointing to his signing with WWE is pure speculation.
  • Dave Meltzer revealed that Bray Wyatt will likely miss only six weeks due to his injury.
  • The Payback card is as follows: Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, The Miz vs. Cesaro for the Intercontinental Championship, Charlotte, with Ric Flair in her corner vs Natalya with Bret Hart in her corner for the WWE Women’s Championship, Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady vs. The Vaudevillains in the Tag Team Tournament finals, Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose, and Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens. Emma vs. Becky Lynch is expected to be added this week.

Chyna’s Legacy

When I found out yesterday that Joanie “Chyna” Laurer passed away yesterday, I was about to go to bed. But upon hearing the news, I could not sleep. I was too heartbroken, too shocked, too confused.

In the back of my mind, I always believed that one day, I would see Chyna inducted int he WWE Hall of Fame, standing up on the stage the night before WrestleMania, thanking her fans and relishing in her legendary status.

She will never get that moment now. But perhaps she’ll get the recognition.

The word “pioneer” too often gets thrown around in tributes and obituaries, but if anyone in the entire wrestling industry deserves the word, it’s Chyna. From her debut assisting Triple H at In Your House to her entrance in both the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring to her two reigns with the Intercontinental Championship, Chyna changed what it meant to be a woman in WWE.

Chyna was nobody’s toy or puppet. She was no valet. She was an enforcer and bodyguard, the strong and silent muscle of DX. She was sexy because of the power she exuded both physically and mentally. She subverted every stereotype about women the then-WWF itself perpetuated.

I was too young to see her during her prime, to experience her career as it happened. But when I first started watching wrestling, she was the one who most stood out to me whenever I watched matches back from the Attitude Era. I would look at her and just be in total and utter awe of her brilliance. Watching her was, in as few words as possible, an empowering experience.

That’s her real legacy. WWE will induct her into the Hall of Fame, just as she always wanted. But the most lasting thing about her career will be her fearless and trailblazing career, and the way she made the fans she loved so much feel.

Thank you, Chyna. Rest in peace. Rest in power.

 

Don’t treat me like a woman
Don’t treat me like a man
Don’t treat me like you know me
Treat me for just who I am

 

Chyna passes away at the age of 45

I don’t normally report deaths. This is an opinion blog and a recap blog, usually. But I had to say something.

As you all know, women’s wrestling is very important to me. And women’s wrestling has lost a legend and trailblazer tonight.

Chyna, the only woman to ever hold the Intercontinental Championship and former Women’s Champion has passed away.

Tomorrow I’ll write up a full article on what she has meant to this sport. Tonight, I will simply grieve along with the rest of the wrestling world.

Rest in peace. Thank you.

3 ways the Bullet Club can impact Payback

The Bullet Club has dominated New Japan Pro Wrestling since its formation by Prince Devitt (now Finn Balor) in 2013. It became a worldwide phenomenon, propelling its members into superstardom in the wrestling world. So much so that WWE came calling, and its founding members and Devitt’s successor as leader of the Bullet Club are now in WWE.

Finn Balor made his NXT debut in 2014 and is now the longest-reigning NXT Champion in history after defeating Kevin Owens in Japan in July 2015. AJ Styles made an explosive Royal Rumble debut and is the number one contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. And Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows made a huge statement in their RAW debuts last week, decimating the Usos and then laying out Roman Reigns this week.

Their presence in WWE and the company’s acknowledgment of their history together brings up a lot of different questions about the upcoming main event at Payback of AJ Styles versus Roman Reigns. So, here are 3 ways WWE could possibly involve the Bullet Club at Payback.

The Bullet Club help AJ Styles win

If WWE is determined to portray Roman Reigns as a sympathetic babyface (and I doubt they are, given his recent promos), the easiest way to truly rally casual fans behind his cause is to have AJ Styles reform the Bullet Club and cheat his way to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

This choice would almost certainly split audiences. The hardcore fans and many casual fans who have been endeared to Styles’ in-ring ability and earnest desire to perform at the top level will rally behind the ever-cool Bullet Club. Casual fans and children will root for the so-called underdog Reigns.

AJ has played a heel before. As beloved as they are, the Bullet Club is a heel faction, basically this generation’s NWO. I don’t doubt that he could pull it off. And as opposed I am to turning someone who is universally cheered heel while propping up a controversial champion on a pedestal, it would be really cool to potentially see this develop into a Shield/Bullet Club rivalry to last the summer.

AJ Styles drives the Bullet Club away

RAW hinted that AJ Styles had nothing to do with the attack on Reigns, with the veteran performer vehemently denying any involvement with his two friends on RAW and the boys themselves denying teaming up with Styles on SmackDown. So what if it really is as Styles claims, and he really is determined to win the title on his own?

This could turn out to be nothing, or it could be one of the biggest swerves of the year.

If AJ Styles continues to reject their help, his two friends can get angry, because why in the world would ANYONE reject their help? And when Styles finally, clearly tells them to stay away from his championship match at Payback, they agree, but it all seems too easy.

So at the match, just as AJ Styles is poised to win the title from Roman Reigns, Anderson and Gallows emerge from out of nowhere and lay him out, allowing Reigns to retain. This sets up a rampage through all of WWE for the dynamic duo and gives Styles a reason to stay int he main event scene for a rematch at Extreme Rules, then winning the MITB briefcase later in the summer.

Finn Balor calls the shots

This is my favorite theory, although it’s also the least likely to happen. What can I say, I’m a masochist.

Finn Balor has done everything there is to do at NXT. In many ways, he is everything NXT is supposed to be. He’s the top babyface there, perhaps only eclipsed by Bayley, and is the longest-reigning NXT Champion of all time. So, how can WWE best utilize him?

Turn him heel.

Anyone who has watched Balor’s work in Japan knows that he can work as a heel excellently. He has the mic skills needed to work crowds up, an entrance that works no matter what alignment he is and the swagger to be considered a legitimate threat.

At Payback, Styles is performing in the match of his life, locking Roman Reigns into the Calf Crusher, when the lights suddenly go dark. When they come back up, we see not just Anderson and Gallows in the ring, but Finn Balor. The three beat down both Reigns and Styles, and after Finn grabs a mic and tells Styles they tried giving him a chance, but he blew it.

Balor Club versus AJ Styles is a bit of a dream match. Styles came to New Japan the night Balor left, so we never got to see the two Bullet Club leaders square off in the ring. This is the kind of thrilling feuds that could draw some serious money for WWE if they market it as the dream match that it is. It could also draw attention to the NXT Championship the same way Kevin Owens did with it last summer.

How would you book the Bullet Club in WWE? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

RAW Recap/Analysis – April 18, 2016

WWE continued a trend of fun episodes of RAW during its broadcast from London, England. Fresh matchups and a huge surprise early on fueled a night full of unexpected twists and entertaining wrestling.

(A very full) Ambrose Asylum

Dean Ambrose opened the night with an episode of his brand new show: The Ambrose Asylum, being greeted with a big pop from an appreciative London crowd. He cracked a few jokes and then introduced his first guest: Shane McMahon.

London gave Shane a warm welcome and Ambrose agreed, showing the clip of Shane’s absolutely insane spot from WrestleMania (you know the one). He asked Shane what his agenda with WWE was, and Shane name-dropped stars such as AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, and Sasha Banks, and said he was there to give the WWE Universe what it deserved.

He was interrupted by Kevin Owens, who called Shane mad with power and accusing him of having a vendetta against him. Owens badmouthed Sami Zayn, and soon enough the man himself came out to confront him. Sami brought up their history and said that Owens would have never ended up in WWE without him.

To complete the party, Chris Jericho came out, mic in hand, and called Zayn an emotional idiot. He criticized McMahon, and the four in the ring began to bicker, with Dean telling everyone to be careful around his plant.

Shane then took the opportunity to book two matches for Payback, pitting Jericho against Ambrose and Owens against Zayn. He stepped out of the ring, taking the plant with him, and chaos broke out. Zayn and Ambrose threw Owens and Jericho out of the ring.

This was a bit of a hot mess, but enjoyable nonetheless. Frankly, anything that is not Authority-related is good for me.

Chris Jericho vs. Sami Zayn

Zayn started the match off hot, catching a grumpy Chris Jericho off guard with some swift, high-flying offense. Jericho, with some well-timed ring utilization, staged a comeback, wearing Zayn down on the ring and with a dropkick to the chest.

Jericho badmouthed Zayn as he locked him in a chokehold, but Zayn powered back with a series of clotheslines and a flying crossbody. He countered a lionsault and hit a Blue Thunder Bomb, but Jericho survived it, reversing into the Walls of Jericho. Zayn broke it, but it had done a lot of damage.

Zayn launched a frustrated Jericho out of the ring, flying through the ropes to attack Jericho with a flying DDT. But Jericho caught Zayn in the eyes, allowing him to hit a Codebreaker for the pinfall.

This was an excellent match, with Jericho utilizing classic heel tactics not involving a distraction to secure a win over Zayn, who still managed to come out of the match looking credible.

Backstage, Mauro Ranallo interviewed AJ Styles, and this was interrupted by Anderson and Gallows. The pair exchanged a warm greeting with Styles and the trio went off to catch up.

Enzo and Cass vs. The Dudley Boyz (Semifinals of the Tag Tourney)

London gave Enzo and Cass a huge ovation as they entered, and the pair wasted no time in getting their trash talking started for the receptive crowd before the Dudleys emerged.

Enzo started things off, energetic as ever even as both Dudleys began to wear into him.  Bubba Ray didn’t know quite what to make of Enzo’s manic energy, but Enzo running into him was like running into a brick wall. DeVon tagged in and continued the beatdown, and both veterans mocked him as they beat him down.

But Enzo couldn’t be kept down for the count, avoiding asplash off the top rope from Bubba Ray and tagging Big Cass in hot. Big Cass cleaned house, tagging Enzo in for the Rocket Launcher for a beautiful, clean victory.

Is there any doubt as to how incredibly hot Enzo and Cass are? The crowd went absolutely nuts for them, showing the kind of energy serenading Enzo Amore that can only be rivaled by the energy they showed booing Roman Reigns.

The Dudleys also feel fresher than ever against this dynamite duo, being given a pair who can easily match them both on the mic and in the ring. I hope this rivalry doesn’t die here, it’s too good to waste.

Bullet Club strikes

Roman Reigns entered to some pretty sizable boos, which were surprisingly not edited down. He spouted his usual line about being THE guy, talking down about AJ Styles and saying it was his time, and his era.

The crowd started chanting “BORING,” until AJ Styles entered to save the day, getting the kind of welcome he deserves. AJ gave Reigns his due credit, saying he would have to have the match of his life to become champion, but that he was ready to do so.

Reigns acknowledged how popular AJ Styles is, saying he would earn the respect of everyone and adding that he would rather be respected with the championship than liked without it. And Styles said he wanted both.

But as he left, Anderson and Gallows ambushed Reigns to huge cheers, laying him out in the ring as Styles watched from the ramp.

Backstage, AJ assured Roman that he had no idea what was going to happen, saying he didn’t need his friends to beat Reigns, and Roman said it wouldn’t matter either way.

Well, this is interesting.

First, I’m impressed that WWE did not even attempt to edit down the chorus of boos that greeted Roman Reigns, and also am impressed with the champ’s work on the mic. In his new, more arrogant and dispassionate attitude, he seems to be finally finding a real voice, gaining some serious heat when he talked down to AJ Styles and said he didn’t care about being liked. Styles also sounded stronger than ever on the mic, really getting the British crowd behind him with enviable ease.

Second, the Bullet Club’s interference sets up two possibilities: Styles turning heel on tweener Reigns and reforming the Bullet Club, or the Bullet Club turning on Styles and possibly going rogue or rallying behind a debuting Finn Balor.

Color me intrigued, WWE. Keep it up.

Baron Corbin vs. Fandango

With Dolph Ziggler on commentary, Baron Corbin squared off against Fandango, who apparently still exists. Bless him.

Corbin dominated the match, sending Fandango out of the ring and into Dolph Ziggler, getting an easy and decisive victory in no time. He wasn’t able to celebrate for long, with an infuriated Dolph Ziggler going after him, hitting the End of Days at ringside.

Baron Corbin looks to be settling right in on the main roster. His aura has not faded in the slightest and he’s looking better than ever in the ring. Good on you, big Banter. Good on you.

Miz TV

Introduced obnoxiously by Maryse, the Miz wasted no time in mocking Prince George and bragging about being Intercontinental Champion. The two then made out in the ring, and thank goodness were interrupted by Cesaro and his glorious suit.

Charisma showing easily, Cesaro mocked the Miz, who ignored him in favor of delivering a monologue from Taken. The crowd heckled him throughout, so he just delivered the last line again and again.

Cesaro cut him off, saying “when my hand goes up your mouth goes shut,” and the crowd absolutely ate it up. He proclaimed that he would in fact be the WWE Intercontinental Champion and quoted Roddy Piper:

“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

The Miz brushed this off and introduced Cesaro’s opponent: Rusev.

But Cesaro revealed that plans had changed, and Miz and the League of Nations would be teaming up against him and….(ripping away his suit to reveal a Booty-O’s shirt) THE NEW DAY!

Cesaro’s charisma shone brightly in this segment, but one of the biggest revelations was how good as a heel pair Miz and Maryse are. They drew heat easily, and Miz looks more and more credible every time she is at his side.

Cesaro & The New Day vs. The League of Nations & The Miz

London popped massively for the New Day, practically blowing the roof off the O2 Arena as they chanted along with Big E for their entrance.

Woods and Miz started things off, with Woods getting some early momentum against the Hollywood star and Big E tagging in to continue dishing out punishment. a tagged Kofi was soon subjected to some punishment from a tagged-in Alberto Del Rio, but a vertical leap allowed the New Day and Cesaro to hit the Unicorn Stampede.

The League of Nations regained some momentum over Xavier Woods, isolating him far away from his team and sending him out of the ring. The heels continued to beat down on him, preventing anyone from being there for Xavier to tag in.

Cesaro finally tagged in, taking Sheamus and the Miz to Uppercut City, even leaving the ring to take the others out before hitting a crossbody on Sheamus. Chaos erupted as all the teams got involved, with Big E evening things out for Cesaro to get the win.

Is there any group more over than the New Day? These guys got the pop of the night and delivered in the ring, clicking with Cesaro wonderfully. They were entertaining as hell, and it’s always great to see Xavier Woods int he ring AND getting some nice offense in.

Backstage, Mauro Ranallo interviewed Charlotte before Natalya interrupted, revealing that Bret Hart would be in her corner at Payback.

Natalya, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch & Paige vs. Charlotte, Naomi, Tamina & Summer Rae

No Superstar stayed in the ring for too long, all tagging in and out with ease. Paige got time to make more of a statement on her home turf, taking out both Naomi and Tamina with a dive from the ring as Becky took Charlotte down herself.

Speaking of the Lass Kicker, she took control of the match soon after, battling through interference from Tamina and Naomi both no matter which heel was tagged in. Summer Rae looked to continue beating the Irish Superstar down before tagging Naomi in.

Lynch was finally able to tag in a hot Natalya, who quickly sent Summer Rae to town before Charlotte tagged in. Tamina and Naomi attempted to break things up, but Sasha and Paige got rid of them, allowing Natalya to lock in the Sharpshooter on Charlotte, forcing her to tap.

Let me start with this: Natalya and Charlotte can build a feud without it being about the men in their families any day of the week. Natalya knows the business well, and Charlotte’s a natural. Adding Bret Hart to the mix is a bit of a distraction from who the true stars should be: the ladies.

That being said, this is Bret’s first appearance since his battle with prostate cancer, and I am thrilled to see him doing better. He and Ric will probably play the same roles they did at NXT in 2014 when the two women first faced off. I predict Bret will only serve to elevate his niece, just as he should.

The Vaudvillains vs. The Usos (Semifinals of the Tag Tourney)

Simon Gotch started things off strong before tagging Aiden English in to continue dishing out the punishment on Jimmy before Jey tagged in. He got some momentum back, hitting a kick tot he face and Samoan Drop before Gotch interfered.

Back in the ring, English worked Jey’s shoulder  before hitting the Whirling Dervish for a decisive victory.

An Apollo Crews vignette aired after, finally giving the casual WWE Universe a glimpse at the latest NXT callup.

NXT truly has arrived, my friends. Bask in the glory.

Apollo Crews vs. Heath Slater

On the deal that if he lost the match he would join the Social Outcasts, Apollo Crews took on Heath Slater.

Crews displayed his power and athleticism with practiced ease, hitting an impressive vertical suplex before a cheap shot by Slater allowed him to slow Crews down. Slater grounded the new Superstar, locking him in a chokehold and beating him down into the mat.

But Crews couldn’t be kept down for long, taking out Dallas and Axel at ringside before hitting a crossbody on Slater and escaping a rollup attempt. Hitting the sit-down powerbomb, Crews got the victory.

He didn’t get to celebrate for long as Owens entered for his main event against Dean Ambrose, not even sparing a glance for Crews as he entered.

Crews is fun in the ring, but if we don’t get to see a glimpse of who he is as a character, he will have a hard time getting any sort of reaction anywhere. I hope he’s given the chance to continue growing, because he really does have what it takes to be huge.

Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens

Owens and Ambrose wasted no time in exchanging blows and throwing each other into the turnbuckle. Ambrose took an early lead in the match against a frustrated Owens, who soon got Ambrose caught in a headlock, proclaiming himself the headlock master. Ambrose fought out, clocking Owens before hitting him with a suicide dive when he tried to retreat out of the ring.

In retaliation, Owens sent Ambrose over the announce table, and Ambrose soon returned the favor. However, Owens soon enough regained momentum, using his weight to punish Ambrose as fully as possible before locking in a chinlock.

Ambrose made it to his feet, escaping the lock and striking Owens before being sent over the top rope and being hit with a frog splash off the apron. Ambrose just barely beat the count back to the ring, only to be caught in another chinlock before reversing it into a powerbomb.

Ambrose got to the top rope, hitting a stunning flying elbow out of the ring on a fleeing Owens. Back in the ring, the two once again traded blows before Ambrose hit Owens with a wicked clothesline for a near fall and then a superplex from the ropes for another. Owens nearly hit his finisher, but Ambrose reversed it, only to get hit by a crazy move from the ropes by Owens.

Owens went for another splash from the ropes, but Ambrose hit him with the knees to the gut followed by Dirty Deeds for the victory, but Chris Jericho caught him with a Codebreaker to close out the night.

Another RAW, another fantastic showing from two of WWE’s best and most over workhorses. Hope to see them in the main event scene of pay-per-views soon enough. They both deserve it.

All in all, this week’s RAW continued the WWE’s trend of meaningful, fun hours of wrestling and yes, entertainment. I hope they can continue this for weeks to come.

 

RAW Recap/Analysis – April 11, 2016

Shane McMahon once again helmed Monday Night RAW, and if you thought the surprises would end at last week, you were proved wrong tonight with another fun episode full of surprises and, most importantly, good wrestling.

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Shane O’Mac himself opened RAW for the second week in a row, thanking the WWE Universe for their overwhelming support and announcing a Tag Team tournament for the chance to face The New Day for their titles. He also announced Sami Zayn versus AJ Styles for the chance to compete against Roman Reigns as well.

This prompted an interruption from Kevin Owens, who belittled McMahon for giving Zayn such an opportunity and accused McMahon for screwing him over. McMahon didn’t buy into Owens’ excuses, but did agree to give Owens his rematch for the Intercontinental Championship if he beat Cesaro.

Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro (No. 1 Contender’s match for the Intercontinental Championship)

Cesaro clearly intimidated the former IC Champ, who ducked out of the ring early on, and proved there was bark to his bite, having fun in the ring as he messed with Owens. Owens briefly gained some momentum, working Cesaro’s weak shoulder hard.

Owens got cocky, going for an uppercut of his own, and Cesaro took advantage, taking Owens to uppercut city, but Owens once again gained momentum by throwing Cesaro’s shoulder into the turnbuckle.

The two exchanged blows, with Cesaro making a comeback through the pain in his shoulders, hitting Owens with a crossbody into a crossface by Owens. Cesaro countered out, locking in the Sharpshooter, but Owens made it to the ropes, hitting the King of Swing with a Superkick and then a Frog Splash, but even then Cesaro kicked out.

He managed to take Owens for a brief swing, but his shoulder gave up on him. That wouldn’t stop him, as he hit Owens with the Neutralizer for the pinfall.

This was a fun match between two extremely talented and over workers, so I expected nothing less than excellence. They delivered. It’s so great to have Cesaro back, especially now that he has a new Bond-esque entrance. He’s a blast to watch, and now the IC picture is ten times more interesting.

Backstage, Dr. Phil confronted Charlotte, telling her to stop using her father to win. And Shane McMahon told an infuriated Kevin Owens to leave the building so he couldn’t ruin anything for Sami Zayn.

The Lucha Dragons vs. The Dudley Boyz

The New Day came out to open the Tag Team Tournament, sponsored by Booty-O’s, of course.

The Dudleys wasted no time in going right after the Lucha Dragons, putting Kallisto out of commission early on, busting his shoulder.

Sin Cara was subjected to what was basically a handicap match, being viciously beat by the two veterans. He managed to stage a brief comeback, gaining momentum against D-Von, but a hidden tag and a 3-D got the Dudleys a quick win.

But the Dudleys couldn’t celebrate for long, as Enzo and Cass emerged to break up their party. The Dudleys didn’t take too kindly to the interruption. Bubba Ray angrily pointed out that they paved the way for tag teams like them, to which Enzo and Cass cheekily replied that they paved their own roads.

Enzo and Cass were fun as ever, and the LA crowd chanted right along with them. Their dynamic with the Dudleys is already very entertaining, and it’s only getting better from here. The crowds are buying into Enzo and Cass quickly, but was anyone really surprised?

They took NXT by storm, and the regular crowds won’t be immune to their charms any less than the Full Sail faithful.

Roman Reigns

Reigns cut his usual promo about he wasn’t a good guy or a bad guy, just THE guy. And because WWE hates us, the League of Nations interrupted him. Reigns simply challenged them to come to the ring.

They did, but they were interrupted by the Wyatt Family, who simply stared Reigns down before Shane McMahon interrupted them, announcing Reigns and Wyatt versus two members of the League of Nations in the night’s main event.

His new catchphrase is already old. I hope WWE makes it into a t-shirt so I can buy one and then burn it.

Reigns is a thousand times more intriguing with this new, smug edge, and the pairing with the Wyatts was interesting considering their long feud from last year. However, it’s something fresh, and frankly, anything is better than seeing Reigns fighting Sheamus ever again.

Charlotte vs. Natalya (WWE Women’s Championship match)

With Dr. Phil at ringside to see if Charlotte would heed his advice, Natalya and Charlotte squared off for the WWE Women’s Championship.

Natalya instantly began to target Charlotte’s legs, prepping her for the inevitable Sharpshooter, but a Spinebuster began to slow her momentum. Natalya locked in an armbar, forcing Charlotte to retreat from the ring.

Upon re-entering, Charlotte was subject to more quick-paced offense from the Canadian Superstar. However, a neckbreaker allowed her to gain some control back, wearing Natalya down until Natalya attempted to lock in an armbar.

Charlotte locked in the Figure Four, but Natalya reversed it, forcing Charlotte to escape. In an ultimate show of disrespect, Charlotte locked in the Sharpshooter until Natalya reversed out of it, hitting a German Suplex and clothesline.

Charlotte fought back, attacking Nattie with a hard boot, repeatedly going for covers and missing a moonsault.

Natalya took advantage, locking in the Sharpshooter and making Charlotte tap, but a distraction by Ric Flair got Natalya the victory . . . by disqualification. So Nattie might have won, but Charlotte kept her title.

The finish was expected, of course, but the match was well-paced and given ample time to flourish. Charlotte and Natalya both work very well together, and continued to show their stuff in a submission wrestling clinic.

It’s disappointing that we didn’t get to see Emma and Becky Lynch further their feud, or Sasha Banks at all, but I know those girls will get their shot. For now, Natalya’s getting some well-deserved time in the spotlight. And Charlotte is proving that she doesn’t need her dad to be a star.

Backstage, Sami Zayn cut a heartfelt promo about not throwing away his shot, and AJ Styles told him that while he respected him and liked him, he intended to be the only one facing Roman Reigns for the title.

The Usos vs. The Social Outcasts

In the next first-round match of the Tag Team Tournament, the Usos took early control over Curtis Axel, who apparently wears jorts now. Axel mounted a bit of a comeback, locking Jey into a chokehold into a dropkick. A tagged-in Slater continued capitalizing on Axel’s momentum before tagging Axel back in.

Their momentum was cut short, however, when a premature Bo-train allowed the Usos to surprise the Outcasts with a rollup victory.

But in a shock move, both teams were ambushed by KARL ANDERSON AND DOC GALLOWS, who laid everyone out at ringside before being forced to leave ringside by officials.

I blinked, and suddenly my boys were on the screen. It happened that fast.

What a fun way for the two Bullet Club alumni to make their debuts! The crowd went nuts when they realized who was in the ring, and both Anderson and Gallows were radiating charisma.

The Tag Team Division is getting more and more loaded every week. I can’t wait to see where this all leads.

Backstage, Jojo tried getting a statement from The Miz, but Maryse pushed her aside and The Miz, in two takes, called himself the Swiss Superman’s kryptonite before looking terrified at the sight of Cesaro, who cheerfully told him he’d get a star-worthy beating.

Oh, and The Miz doesn’t drink “domestic” water. Classic.

AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn

Early on, the two former indy darlings felt each other out, testing the waters. Sami went for an early series of rollups, but Styles got out of both. Zayn and Styles both worked each other’s arms.

Zayn picked up momentum with some quick arm-drags, but Styles responded with an arm drag of his own. Zayn, getting fired up, chopped Styles and challenged him to do more, but Styles responded with a surprise dropkick followed by a suplex.

Now further in control, Styles took the action out of the ring briefly, hitting Zayn with a knee to the face, but Zayn sent Styles out of the ring in turn, flying over the ropes to take Styles down.

But his lead didn’t last long, as Styles worked Zayn with brutal intensity, absolutely torturing his back. He went for the Styles Clash, but Zayn reversed it into a near-rollup pin, getting three near-falls in a row.

Styles countered with a Pelee Kick, but Zayn got him right back with a Blue Thunder Bomb, almost ending the match right there. Styles locked in the Calf Crusher, and Zayn just barely made it to the ropes.

Styles went for a Sunset Flip, but Zayn made it to his feet, nearly hitting the Helluva Kick, but Styles dodged, hitting the Phenomenal Forearm for the pinfall.

Backstage, Styles praised Zayn, shaking his hand and telling him he would get another shot, and Shane McMahon praised THEM for an awesome match.

This match right here is why I love wrestling. It built slowly, a story of struggle against two opponents who respected each other unfolding at a leisurely pace before exploding into a series of fun spots and signatures.

Styles and Zayn worked wonderfully together, crafting a bout that was an absolute blast to watch. Shane’s praise was most certainly well-deserved.

Welcome to the Asylum

Chris Jericho introduced his biggest guest to date, praising them for their accomplishments and calling them a future Hall of Famer.

It was himself, naturally.

He offered the crowd the chance to bask in his glory, giving them the gift of Jericho, and said that nobody on the roster could touch him.

Dean Ambrose crashed his self-celebration, potted plant in hand, and casually told Jericho that this was his show now, and he had a memo from Shane McMahon to prove it.

Welcome to the Ambrose Asylum!

He casually teased Jericho over his scarf, and the furious vet told Ambrose that he would do whatever he wanted, threatening to bury Ambrose and calling him “boy.” Ambrose ignored that, bringing up the scarf again and planting Jericho with Dirty Deeds when his guest got handsy, shoving him.

Ambrose and Jericho have some crazy chemistry. Jericho’s uptight heel persona is a wonderful foil to Dean Ambrose, and his hijacking of the Highlight Reel was both funny and intriguing.

Jericho is still wrestling like he’s in his thirties. Ambrose is in his prime. This feud might be just the thing to put Ambrose back in the main event scene where he belongs.

Backstage, Goldust confronted R-Truth about putting them in the Tag Team Tournament, and even Dr. Phil didn’t want to bother with them.

Apollo Crews vs. Adam Rose

Crews wasted little time in showing off his quick athleticism. Rose showed brief signs of life, attacking Crews with ferocity, but a vertical suplex by Crews halted him in his tracks.

Crews went on a roll, and even an attempted distraction by Bo Dallas couldn’t stop him as he hit Rose with his new powerbomb finisher for the win.

I’m conflicted, you guys.

There’s no questioning that Apollo Crews is straight fire in the ring. He’s athletic, well-built, and technically sound. Physically, he’s the total package.

But aside from that, what do we know about him? What is there to know? Fans of NXT know how hard he’s worked to get here, but so far WWE has given us little reason to care about his rise other than he’s a star in the making.

Give him a character. Let him flesh it out. Let us get to know him. He almost has it all.

Roman Reigns & Bray Wyatt vs. The League of Nations

It took some convincing, but Bray convinced Roman to let him start things off against Sheamus, forcing Sheamus to retreat. Reigns soon tagged in, and the two double-teamed against Sheamus. Soon enough, Wyatt tagged himself back in to everyone’s pleasure, continuing to punish the Celtic Warrior.

Del Rio got some momentum back for the League of Nations, but Wyatt gained some momentum back long enough to tag in Reigns to yeah, a lot of boos and some desperate cheers. Reigns sent Sheamus retreating out of the ring, and the numbers game was not in his favor there.

Reigns took a whopping punishment at the hands of both Del Rio and Sheamus until he hit a Samoan Drop, tagging Bray Wyatt in red hot. Wyatt cleaned house, the crowd going insane for him, and even a distraction couldn’t get him pinned.

The other Wyatts arrived on the scene, neutralizing Rusev and allowing Bray to hit Sister Abigail for the pinfall. Roman hit a spear too, but this was Bray’s moment.

It was thrilling to see the crowd so firmly behind Bray Wyatt, who has been abused by WWE Creative for so long. He and Roman both performed well, capitalizing on their unlikely chemistry and flourishing together.

Overall, this RAW was fun. The matches all had stakes behind them, and many of the pairings were fresh. Here’s hoping WWE continues to build on its momentum going into Payback.

 

 

Gabby Books It: A Roman Reigns heel turn

In his triumphant first RAW as WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Roman Reigns was not given the hero’s welcome WWE would want. In fact, thunderous, unforgiving boos and furious jeers were hurtled at the new top dog no matter what he said or did.

But interestingly enough, Roman didn’t even attempt to get on the crowd’s good side. In fact, his entire promo reeked of, well, arrogance.

Perhaps Creative simply accepted that Dallas would boo him even if he rescued a dying puppy. Perhaps they didn’t even intend for him to come of as cocky as he did. Or perhaps they are finally pulling the trigger on what could be a masterful and career-defining heel turn.

As of right now, Roman Reigns has the kind of heat most heels would kill for. Yes, some kids and fans still cheer him on, but hardcore fans and even some disinterested casual fans hate him. In all honesty, he’s not good on the mic, somewhat limited (but technically sound) in the ring in terms of acrobatics, and feels force-fed to a resistant audience. He’s failed to truly connect with fans, and he’s suffering for it.

I don’t blame him in the slightest. I like him. He’s a great dad and a good ambassador for the company. But WWE is, first and foremost, a wrestling company. And if Roman is going to get over, he needs to turn to the dark side. I seem to recall another Samoan star doing the same.

And I have a plan for how to do it.

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First, let’s work on building his character. Right now, he’s a bland badass, throwing punches and defying authority but lacking anything to separate him from the pack. Kevin Owens throws punches just as hard. Dean Ambrose defies authority just as often. What defines Roman Reigns?

One word: arrogance. Infuse it into everything he does. Have him hold his belt high with a smug smile at every chance he gets. Let him sneer every time he utters his awful “Believe that” catchphrase. Turn his dull self-reliance into conceit. It’s not too much of a change, but it adds depth to a flat character, driving everything he does.

As for the turn? Well, every heel needs a beloved face to feast upon. And the WWE, it seems, already has one in mind: AJ Styles.

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The internet darling has quickly earned the love of the entire WWE Universe with his unrivaled in-ring ability. He is everything babyface Reigns is not: naturally charismatic, a bit smaller than the average star, and a flying powerhouse. His ringset is at least twice as large as Reigns’.

Just imagine the fury that will be unleashed when Roman retains his title against a beloved star with worldwide fame.

Let me make one thing clear: AJ Styles will, in my mind, be WWE World Heavyweight Champion at least once. But will it happen right now? I doubt it. Reigns is their guy, and while they may change how they present him, they won’t change where he is, whether we like it or not. That being said, let’s book this bad boy.

On RAW, AJ Styles opens the show, mic in hand. He talks about his long and successful career all around the world, and the goals he set for himself. He says his final goal used to be getting a WrestleMania moment. But now, he has a new one. He wants to be the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. He talks about how much the fan response to his success has meant, and says he wouldn’t be where he is without them.

Cue Roman Reigns, who enters to what will probably 70% boos and 30% cheers. For the first time, he openly acknowledges the fans’ disdain for him, and tells AJ Styles that he got where he is now not because of his fans, but because of himself. His fists got him his title, not the support of strangers. He says he isn’t letting his title go easily, whether the fans like it or not.

AJ Styles nods, and replies: “I believe that.”

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That night, Renee Young asks Roman what he thinks about AJ Styles. Roman says that he respects him, but then says that he isn’t the one who lasted an entire Royal Rumble match right down to the final three. He isn’t the one who won his WrestleMania match.

“Last time I checked, I’ve also been the Tag Team Champion as well,” he adds. “Styles didn’t win at WrestleMania. Styles didn’t become Tag Team Champion. So while I may respect him, I’m not afraid of him.”

That week on SmackDown, AJ Styles takes on Kevin Owens in the main event (setting up tension for a future rivalry). Backstage, Sami tells him to kick his ass, and Styles agrees. The two chat amicably as they walk down a hallway, but then they pass Roman, who just snorts at the two and walks off, patting his title.

The next week on RAW, Dean Ambrose opens the show, calling Roman out to the ring. He asks Roman what’s gotten into him, saying he’s not the brother he knew. Dean mentions Seth, saying he’s seen this all before, and bluntly asks Roman if he’s working for the Authority. Roman just laughs.

“I don’t need the Authority to do what you couldn’t: take this company over.”

He leaves a stunned Ambrose in the middle of the ring.

Renee tracks Reigns down and asks him why he would say something like that to his best friend, to which Reigns replies that it isn’t personal, just cold hard facts. He says that he knows the fans like Ambrose more, and says that he can have the WWE Universe: he’ll take the championship over them any day of the week.

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On SmackDown, AJ Styles teams up with Dean Ambrose to take on Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens. Styles and Ambrose prove to be an excellent team against their two rivals, with Styles getting the pin on Jericho, hitting the Styles Clash after Ambrose hits Dirty Deeds. Kevin Owens was taken out of the picture by an ambush from Sami Zayn, because heck yeah this feud is going to get some nice airtime!

After the match, Ambrose gives Styles a mic, and Styles calls out Reigns, saying that he wants to make his championship match official, challenging him to defend his title at Payback. Reigns comes out, and looks at Ambrose, puzzled.

“You’re supporting this, bro?” he asks. Ambrose shrugs.

“Well, I figured you wouldn’t need anybody to take him out anyways, so why not?” Dean says flatly. Reigns accepts Styles’ challenge and Ambrose and Styles stand tall to close the night.

That week, Reigns is the guest on Michael Cole’s weekly interview segment. He repeats that he’s not a good guy or a bad guy, just THE guy. He says AJ Styles may have been the top wrestler around the world, but the WWE is HIS yard. He says he’s not afraid of AJ Styles or anyone else.

On RAW, Reigns cuts a promo on Styles, saying that his three months in the WWE is nothing compared to his three years. He criticizes the hardcore fans for hating him so much, saying that they should get lives of their own instead of demeaning his work (Reigns has actually said something similar to this already). He says that Styles may have worked for over a decade to get to where he is, but Reigns didn’t even need half the time to rise to the top.

Styles takes offense to this, running into the ring. The two stare each other down, and finally shake hands. All seems well as Styles leaves, but then Reigns spears him from behind to close out the show standing tall.

On SmackDown, Styles cuts a promo on Reigns, calling him an entitled brat and a coward. He points out stars like Dean Ambrose and Sami Zayn, calling them the heroes Reigns never could be.

Reigns comes out and charges at him, but Styles is too quick on his feet, hitting him with the Phenomenal Forearm and locking in the Calf Crusher to close out the show.

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You can bet that the Chicago crowd, a historically smart collection of fans, will be behind AJ Styles completely at Payback.

In the match, Styles puts on an incredible performance, nearly getting a pinfall many times. In the match, he is clearly the dominant performer and better wrestler, rallying Chicago behind him as he wears Roman Reigns down. But then, Roman does the unthinkable, pulling out a crowbar. When the ref is turned, he spears the official, but claims it was an accident.

While the ref is down, he brutally attacks Styles with the crowbar, beating him until he is nearly limp. When the ref rises again, he hits Styles with a Superman Punch and Spear, taking him down for the three-count.

The crowd is furious. This time, Roman basks in the boos, continuing to attack Styles until Ambrose, fresh off a victory over Chris Jericho, comes to his rescue. Reigns attacks him with a crowbar as well, and it looks like he’s going to literally kill them, until music we haven’t heard in months blasts through Chicago, and Seth Rollins emerges, finally taking Roman down and holding up the belt to end the night.

 

Styles will be a bonafide star, with the potential to continue feuding with Reigns or spark something with Rollins. AJ Styles and Seth Rollins can square off for the Money in the Bank briefcase, feuding through SummerSlam while Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns have their long-awaited feud. Styles can cash in and hold the belt through the Royal Rumble, dropping it to Reigns who can defend it against Ambrose and Rollins at WrestleMania. And Reigns will be the most hated villain in WWE.

There you have it. WWE, I dare you to do better. 😉

 

RAW Recap/Analysis – April 4, 2016

Tonight’s RAW was alive with energy, fresh faces and new rivalries. Surprise endings and electric debuts coupled with a wild post-Mania crowd made this Monday’s episode of the WWE’s flagship program one to remember, and certainly the best of 2016 so far.

Let’s break it all down.

Christmas for smarks everywhere

Vince McMahon started off RAW, acknowledging his son’s wild antics at last night’s WrestleMania and even acknowledging the crowd’s consistent booing of Roman.

But he was soon interrupted by Shane McMahon himself, battered and bruised and barely walking. He shook Vince’s hand and thanked all of the fans for the reception they all gave him. And the crowd was grateful as he was. But Vince wouldn’t let him leave so fast, saying that no one would upstage him.

To prove his point, and just because, Vince gave Shane control of RAW tonight.

And because Shane is the best? Well…

The New Day vs. The League of Nations (WWE Tag Team Championship match)

The New Day entered to an absolutely thunderous ovation, the crowd welcoming them like heroes. They discussed the awesome Stunner Xavier Woods took and showed off the giant piece of Booty-O’s from their entrance, dubbing it the “Booty of Life.” Xavier sang to the tune of “Circle of Life.” It was AMAZING.

Kofi started off hot, sending Sheamus hard out of the ring as Big E sent out Barrett before they double-teamed to further punish Sheamus. But a distraction from Rusev allowed the League of Nations to take control of the match, using their own numbers game against the New Day.

The crowd began the wave, and even Sheamus joined in. Big E and Barrett both tagged in, and Big E took swift control of the match, isolating Barrett for some double teaming. Kofi scored the pinfall.

Infuriated, Sheamus took to the mic, and the League beat down poor Barrett, rolling him out of the ring. Then, the lights went out, and when they came back on, the Wyatts were there, beating them down with brutal ease.

What a fun way to kick off RAW, and what a welcome dominant showing for the Wyatts. It was fresh, unexpected, and most of all….the Wyatts won. God bless.

Backstage, Vince told Renee that RAW would be an absolute trainwreck.

HA.

Sasha Banks vs. Summer Rae

In the ring, Summer Rae trashed Sasha Banks, who quickly interrupted her, taking the mic right out of her hand and slapping her clean in the face. Summer rolled right out of the ring, clearly terrified, and Sasha pulled her right back in.

Summer Rae took an early lead, but Sasha had plenty of fight left in her, locking in the Banks Statement in no time.

This match was short (my common complaint) but it was Sasha Banks, so the crowd ate it up. And after Mania, she will not just fade into the background, and we can all Bank on it.

Apollo Crews vs. Tyler Breeze

Is this NXT?!

Crews wasted little time in showing off his swift athleticism, but Tyler Breeze soon mounted a comeback to the enjoyment of the RAW crowd with a Superkick. However, a moonsault and spinout powerbomb allowed Crews to get the pinfall.

This match served its purpose, showing off Crews’ agility and fun ringwork against an opponent who, while sadly a jobber now, knows him well and has a history with him. Crews, in my opinion, is still a little green for a main roster jump, but he was, after all, running out of steam in NXT. Perhaps this is just what he needs to finally tap into the final ingredient needed to make him the next big thing.

Roman Reigns vs. literally everyone

Oh, man. Those boos were absolutely BRUTAL.

“Aw, come on,” Roman started, saying he wasn’t a bad guy or a good guy, but THE guy, and announced an open challenge for his new championship.

Chris Jericho answered. The crowd cheered him out of principle, but Jericho told them to shut up and called Roman and the crowd idiots. The crowd turned that into a chant. He said he buried AJ Styles and demanded a championship match.

But he was interrupted by AJ Styles, who wanted a shot himself. So did Kevin Owens, who entered with a fury. And Sami Zayn.

Owens and Zayn barely even looked at Roman, as did Styles and Jericho. Two brawls broke out as Roman looked on incredulously, and Reigns speared Jericho. He still couldn’t get any cheers.

Backstage, Shane told Roman that the night’s main event would be a Fatal Four Way between the four men for his title.

This was no fluke. This crowd, while louder, is not unique. It’s a reflection of the sentiments of fans around the world. We’re not buying into this, and it’s likely we never will until something changes.

Roman displayed some heelish mannerisms tonight, acting more arrogant than any babyface ought to.  It was a thousand times more interesting than any of his bland babyface work, and I enjoyed it immensely. I hope it just gets more pointed as time goes on.

Oh, and Roman? Seth is the man, not you. #GimmickInfringement

Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler

Baron Corbin’s entrance was just as electric on RAW as it’s always been on NXT.  The Battle Royale victor introduced himself by detailing his path of devastation and saying he would crush anyone in his way.

Corbin could not be taken down by Ziggler’s quick-paced offense, on his feet even after a dropkick. He tossed Ziggler out of the ring like a rag doll. But the Showoff managed to wear him down with swift strikes and a reversal.

But this wasn’t his showcase. Favoring the knee he “hurt” in the ladder match, Ziggler went for the Fameasser and hit it, but Corbin kicked out, taking their fight into the crowd. He threw Ziggler through the barricade and into the garbage cans, earning himself and Ziggler a countout.

Furious, Corbin tossed Ziggler back to ringside and hit the End of Days on the seasoned performer.

This was as good a way to properly debut Corbin as any. He’s been really coming into his own as a monster heel on NXT, so seeing him get this opportunity is a welcome change. The midcard needs some good heels other than Owens and Miz, and a fresh face might be just the thing to help elevate it.

Zack Ryder vs. The Miz (Intercontinental Championship match)

The crowd had a lot of love to offer to Zack Ryder, who said that WrestleMania was the greatest night of his life. He thanked his father for always being there for him, but soon enough was cut off by the Miz.

Miz called Ryder a one-hit wonder and told him he ruined his WrestleMania.

“Sucks to be you, bro,” Ryder replied.

Miz challenged Ryder for a title match, and the new champion accepted.

Ryder wasted little time in showing off his aerial arsenal of moves against the Miz, flying off the top rope and then diving out of the ring to a pop from the crowd. The Miz fought back briefly, working Ryder cruelly.

Ryder looked to hit a missile dropkick, but the Miz dodged for a near-fall. Ryder got one  of his own with an impressive reversal, but even that wasn’t ment to be. The crowd rallying behind him, Ryder ascended the ropes, but the Miz joined him there before Ryder pushed him off, hitting him with an el-bro drop. He had it, but Miz got his foot on the ropes.

Miz found some new momentum here, sending Ryder into the barricade right in front of his father. Daddy didn’t take too well to this, shoving Miz to the ground. And the Miz’s wife wasn’t too pleased with THIS, slapping him. Distracted, Ryder took the skull-crushing finale and Miz had the title once more.

….I’m just really sad, you guys. Ryder has a rematch on SmackDown, but I’m still terrified he’ll get buried. Again.

Women’s Wrestling

With the entire Women’s Division standing in the ring, Lita praised them for all of their work and called down Charlotte herself to the ring to receive her championship formally.

Holding the belt, Charlotte proclaimed that the belt was about all of the women in the WWE, and about the crowd, who were too busy cheering and begging for Bayley. Charlotte held the title high, saying that it was the future, and, most importantly, it was thanks to her dad.

Returning to her heelish side, she thanked her father and held the title high. Her gloating did little else but drive the women from the ring. It was Natalya who grabbed a mic, saying that she needed to learn about humility, challenging her to a match.

In reply, Charlotte said her family would always be better, narrowly escaping a Sharpshooter from Natalya and retreating.

I’ll wait a few weeks before completely condemning this, but if this leads to Sasha once again being kept out of the title picture, the WWE is missing a valuable chance to truly elevate the division. On the other hand, Natalya is the most criminally underutilized women on the roster. And after Roadblock, she deserves a chance to shine.

I’m sad Bayley didn’t debut, but we all know it’s inevitable. I can be patient. The crowd made a statement with those cheers tonight, and you just know management heard them.

The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz (Tables match)

The match, well, was basically like all of their other matches. Trades of momentum, flying Usos. There were tables. The Dudleys were cool. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But in my opinion, the best thing about this match was the chants. Nakamura…Jordan and Gable…it was amazing.

Naturally, the Dudleys won. Because 50/50 booking. Funnily enough, the timekeeper rang the bell too early, and the Dudleys reacted hilariously.

Backstage, Kevin Owens attacked Sami Zayn as he was being interviewed, powerbombing him through a table, effectively taking him out of the Fatal Four-Way.

“MY NAME IS-“

FINALLY!

Enzo Amore and Big Cass entered to what might be the biggest pop of the night to the puzzlement of the Dudleys. Enzo wasted no time in smack talking the Dudleys to everyone’s delight.

Big Cass challenged the two veterans to come down to the ring, and the infuriated team teased a fight, but retreated.

Well, that didn’t sit too well with the dynamite duo. There’s only one word to describe them, and Cass spelled it out for all of us.

S-A-W-F-T.

Enzo and Cass have been ready to make the leap to the main roster for a long time now. Their charisma and energy in the ring are rivaled only by the New Day, and the Dudleys are a perfect foil to introduce them to the wider WWE audience. It’s a shame Carmella is still in NXT, but I’d rather let her continue to grow as her own wrestler before bringing her up for good.

Congrats, boys. Welcome to the roster. You’ll be champs in no time.

AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro (No. 1 contender’s match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship)

With Sami Zayn unable to compete, the final competitor, to the delight of Dallas, was revealed to be . . .

CESARO!!!

Cesaro immediately went after Owens and Styles after Jericho. And soon enough, it was Styles and Cesaro staring each other down in the ring and then going after it. the electricity was palpable as the two ring generals went at it with their quick offensive styles.

Deep breaths, you guys. This is REAL LIFE.

Soon enough, Owens and Cesaro were brawling at ringside , and Cesaro was facing down Jericho. Styles beat Jericho down, clearly infuriated, but it was Cesaro who landed a massive powerbomb of the other three from the ropes into the mat in an owesome Tower of Doom.

Again, Styles and Cesaro went at it before Cesaro caught him with a wicked uppercut. Owens went after Jericho, scoring a near-fall, but it wasn’t enough as he drove himself into the turnbuckle when Jericho dodged. He went for a lionsault, but Owens reversed it.

Each star continued to go at it, with Cesaro going uppercut crazy on the other three. And boy, the crowd ate it up, especially when Cesaro took Jericho swinging. Owens nearly took out Styles, but it was broken up. This pattern continued for some time, with each man breaking up pins left and right.

Jericho locked in the Walls of Jericho, but Cesaro reversed it into the Sharpshooter. Styles broke it up, and he and Owens went at it. Jericho got a near-fall on Styles, who finally hit the Styles Clash for the pinfall.

This is what heaven feels like. This was very nearly the perfect RAW, certainly the best of the year. And it definitely hints towards the long-overdue Roman Reigns heel turn, because there’s no way anyone can stay babyface against the likes of AJ Styles.

RAW did what it’s been struggling to do for a long time: it left me wanting more. It changed the landscape of each title picture. And while it certainly had its low points, it its ending gave me hope.

Bring on 2016, WWE. I’m ready.

 

How the Four Horsewomen brought back Women’s Wrestling

Forget the disheartening booking of WrestleMania 32 and its lackluster buildup. Forget that the Authority is still in power. Forget that only one title changed hands, that Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles lost. Forget all of it. Because when we look back on WrestleMania 32 a year, two years, or ten years from now, only one thing will be immortalized in wrestling history.

And it’s not Roman Reigns. It’s not The Rock or John Cena.

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It’s this.

For years, the women of the WWE have been referred to as Divas, which by definition means, “a woman regarded as temperamental or haughty.” They’ve been booked as catty, boy crazy bitches whose motivations have more to do with stealing spotlights than stealing shows.

Their championship belt, once a standard of excellence held by the likes of Alundra Blayze, Trish Stratus, Chyna and Lita was reduced to a pink and silver butterfly belt that looked more like a toy than a title.

Their matches were woefully short, an excuse to give crowds bathroom breaks rather than entertainment. They were demeaned and sexualized. Their own title was rarely defended at WrestleMania itself. A man once won the Miss WrestleMania battle royale. I won’t even get into the bra and panty matches or bikini contests.

Less focus was put on their athleticism. The WWE chose to push them as reality television stars, spotlighting beautiful women over athletes. Gail Kim left because of this. AJ Lee’s record-breaking reign was broken by a lesser athlete, and even when she was with the WWE her character was diminished to an obsessive stalker. Paige lost her spark, and Emma and Natalya were lost in the shuffle.

But during all of this, a revolution was brewing down in NXT. Four women honed their craft down in developmental, slowly but surely changing the game.

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A second-generation dynamite athlete, Charlotte’s strength and agility in the ring, coupled with an impressive match with Natalya in 2014 thrust her into the spotlight early on. A performer with an unrivaled crowd connection, the ultimate underdog Bayley rose through the ranks to become one of the best wrestlers in the world, male or female. A spitfire wrestler with an affinity for suplexes, Becky Lynch’s endless energy and technical skill earned her fast respect. A boss in every sense of the word, Sasha Banks cemented herself as the top star of NXT quickly, her aggressive style making her one of the WWE’s best heels.

While the Divas of the WWE squabbled over fame in three-minute catfights, the women of NXT rose to main event status. A Fatal Four Way in February of 2015 cemented theii place at the top of the card. In July of 2015, Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks made their shocking debuts on Monday Night RAW.

Dubbed by Stephanie McMahon as the Divas Revolution, the top nine Divas of the roster were all pinned against each other in directionless tag matches, all while Nikki Bella held the butterfly. Charlotte and Becky teamed with Paige. Sasha teamed with Naomi and Tamina, all against Alicia Fox and the Bella Twins.

The Horsewomen all drew excited reactions, but even after Charlotte won the Divas Championship, something felt off. They were not being utilized properly.

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Charlotte was reduced to a bland babyface who relied on her father to draw reactions. Becky Lynch became a mere plucky sidekick. Sasha Banks was tied down in Team BAD, mysteriously out of title contention despite being undefeated in singles competition.

But change is never a linear progression of success. Not all was going wrong for the women of the WWE. At NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, Sasha Banks and Bayley put on the match of the year, coronating Bayley as the NXT Women’s Champion. At the next Takeover, they were the main event in a historic 30-minute Iron Man match.

Charlotte turned heel, finding a whole new fire within herself with her new freedom. Becky was positioned as a top babyface, her ultimate underdog status finding the perfect harmony with Charlotte’s arrogance.

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Bayley, the only one of the Horsewomen to remain in NXT, elevated the championship and brought it to new heights. She brought the best out of all of her challengers: Carmella, Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax and even Eva Marie. She and Japanese sensation Asuka brought the division to a new level.

But the evolution was not complete. How could it be, when all the Horsewomen had left to aspire to was a butterfly belt and the name “Diva?”

The hints of this final evolution began to drop at the Royal Rumble, when Becky Lynch and Charlotte put on a fantastic match capped off by a triumphant return by Sasha Banks to title contention. Over the months, a Triple Threat was set up for WrestleMania, and as the Showcase of the immortals drew closer, electricity surrounded the bout.

At NXT Takeover: Dallas, Asuka defeated Bayley to win the NXT Women’s Championship in a fantastic bout that succeeded despite following Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura.

And at WrestleMania, Hall of Famer Lita unveiled a new WWE Women’s Championship belt, modeled after the belt the male Superstars fight for. It’s absolutely stunning to behold, and no longer looks like a Barbie toy. It’s a legitimate title.

Even more, the WWE is dropping the term “Diva” in favor of something worthy of its athletes.

“Our female performers are world-class athletes, actors, public speakers and philanthropists. They’re role models, inspiring and empowering women and girls to be confident and strong. They dedicate themselves to WWE, achieve great success and earn the same respect as their male counterparts. Therefore, from this point forward, all of our performers – male and female – will be known as Superstars,” Stephanie McMahon announced.

Sasha, Charlotte and Becky put on the match of the night at WrestleMania 32. Soon enough, Bayley will join them. With the likes of Paige, Natalya, Emma, Naomi, Summer Rae and more behind them, these Superstars have forced everyone in the WWE to up their game, including the likes of the Bella Twins and yeah, even Eva Marie. Everyone is performing at a new level, because the Horsewomen, the trailblazers, raised the bar.

The world is changing. For years, the WWE have been far behind in regards to the treatment of its women. And while there is still a long way to go, the Four Horsewomen have made history. In NXT, on RAW and now at WrestleMania.

Just as Sasha Banks’ entrance music says, the sky’s the limit.