We’re in Memphis, Tennessee. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL & Jerry Lawler. This is the WWE’s latest PPV concept, a worthless February PPV event to milk the Elimination Chamber gimmick elsewhere in the year. It reminds me of PPV’s from February’s gone by where nothing happened bar the Wrestlemania title shot being on the line.
Dolph Ziggler, Ryback & Erick Rowan vs. Seth Rollins, The Big Show & Kane
They set this up on Smackdown three days ago. Rollins and Ziggler are too good to be hanging around in the opener but at least that means we don’t have a straight up tag featuring Show & Kane. I was hoping Ziggler & Rollins just wouldn’t tag out as they open the match and it’s pretty darn good. Show vs. Rowan is dreadful. They keep looking around at their surroundings to make sure they don’t botch anything but in working that safe it makes everything look so fake. Crowd chant for Ziggler and Ryback, which is bad news for Rowan, who got no reaction when the teams came out here either. Not that the WWE have done much of a job of getting him over but he’s not connecting with the fans. Unfortunately the heels work heat on Rowan to no reaction. Whatever happened to switching a match up if something wasn’t working? Is the whole match planned out and depends on this particular section being so boring? Ryback gets the hot tag and Rollins is the man to sell for him, which makes the Big Guy look a lot better than he is. Ryback is an idiot. He gets distracted going for Shellshock by J & J Security. Just hit your finisher and win, you mug! If they come in the ring it’s a DQ and you still win, you Muppet. Ziggler gets himself over by beating up guys bigger than him but Show knocks him out and Kane hits the chokeslam for the win. This deflates the crowd but aside from the tiresome heat on Rowan this was a solid opener.
Final Rating: **
Post Match: The Authority lay out the faces allowing a returning Randy Orton to run down and hit a bunch of RKO’s. Rollins legs it out of the building to sell Orton’s assault. Video Control takes us backstage to see Dusty Rhodes chatting with Goldust. “Try not to hurt him…because that’s the very end of it”. Goldust counters by saying he’ll beat Stardust, not Cody, and he’ll beat him so bad he won’t want to wear the Stardust gear ever again. “I’m bringing Cody home”.
Stardust vs. Goldust
If you’d told me in 1996 I would be watching Goldust wrestle a singles match in 2015 in the WWE I would have asked what the hell the WWE was…and then told you I didn’t believe it. Michael Cole gets confused by JBL referencing the Godfather because it’s a MAN’S FILM! “It’s like Michael and Fredo” - JBL. “You mean Frodo?” – Cole. Another mark against Cole and his pop culture knowledge being so effeminate. Being brothers Gold & Stardust know each other well and the chemistry is what you’d expect from a family feud. I love the crowd chanting “Cody” to wind Stardust up. It’s a pity Goldust is so broken down that he can’t run this match at any kind of pace. It results in a lot of psychological staring and pauses, which seem to be lost on the audience. After Goldust said he’d “beat him so bad” he’s taking it easy. The match is carried by personalities, rather than moves and the commentators suggest Cody has lost his original persona and become his alterego. Stardust’s reaction to the Cody chants is suitably maniacal but the match grinds to a virtual halt. Goldust gets a fluke roll up pin, which the ref botches the count of or Cody botches the kick-out on. I’m leaning toward the ref who didn’t actually count three. I’m aware this was more about the ongoing storyline than actual wrestling but the actual wrestling in this sucked. The botched finish did not help.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control gives us clips of Seth Rollins bad-mouthing Jon Stewart, which gets him a video riposte from Jon Stewart himself. “I’m coming for you Rollins!” Seth offers Jon to come and get him whenever he wants, he’s not hard to find. Elsewhere the Rhodes family have another chat but Stardust attacks Goldust to ruin that. “Here’s the news Dream, you killed him” says Stardust regarding Cody Rhodes and points out Goldust is an albatross who dragged him down. Good storyline, shame about the wrestling.
WWE Tag Team Championship
The Usos (c) vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd
This whole thing is such a waste of Cesaro. He doesn’t need to be there. The storyline is all about Kidd & Natalya vs. Usos & Naomi. Cesaro is just making up the numbers and for a man of his ability, that’s not acceptable. The match never really clicks. The crowd seem a bit distant and the wrestling is ok but nothing more. Cesaro occasionally wows with his power, like the superplex from the apron to the inside. The Usos manage a Samoan drop into the rail on Kidd, which is pretty cool. The match picks up after that with Kidd going after the win and the Sharpshooter gets a lot of support. Cesaro runs distraction and Kidd hits the Moss-Covered Family Three-Handled Credenza for a somewhat surprising title change. This took a while to get going but the latter stages made me genuinely excited for the potential of a tag division with Cesaro & Kidd on top. They need competition though and if this just exists as a way for the Usos to win the belts back at ‘Mania it’s a bit of a waste.
Final Rating: **1/4
Triple H vs. Sting
I’m not entirely sure what this is all about. Hunter has called Sting out but for what purpose exactly? For a fight? For a heart-to-heart? What everyone isn’t thrilled about is a mid-PPV promo from Triple H. Luckily he keeps it short and out comes Sting (not “String” as WWE.com recently typoed). Hunter repeats a lot of what he said last week, about Sting going down with the WCW ship and how he admired Sting for doing so. “My legacy is putting your legacy out of business”. “I guess at the end of the day, failure is what you do”. Hunter offers Sting the chance to walk away so they can do business, giving Sting DVD’s and action figures and maybe the Hall of Fame. It’s all a little condescending. Or he can get his ass kicked and his legacy erased (like Chris Benoit). Hunter goes for the sledgehammer but gets met with a baseball bat under the chin. Sting then does the ‘pointing at the Wrestlemania sign’ thing. I like that Sting didn’t say anything here as it hurts the illusion that Sad Mime Sting brings with him. Scorpion Deathdrop puts the exclamation point on things.
Video Control gives us clips from The Miz interviewing Paul Heyman on the pre-show. Heyman’s analysis of tonight’s main event is that it doesn’t matter because whoever wins will lose to Brock Lesnar and you can “believe that”.
WWE Diva’s Championship
Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige
Paige must be begging for someone else to get called up from NXT so she has someone to work with. The Bella’s are the worst aspect of the WWE’s “diva” division and are presumably deemed important because of their famous partners. That and the Total Divas TV show, which is the pits. I actually can’t tell Nikki and Brie apart but they are both quite dreadful in the ring. Paige tries to bump around to make the match work but Nikki’s offensive moveset is dreck. She does manage a big powerbomb out of the corner but the fans don’t respond to this at all. Unless Paige is on the verge of winning. The reaction to the PTO being ‘almost’ put on and then Nikki breaking with the ropes is indicative of that. Nikki wins with a roll up, complete with a handful of tights and the divas division continues to be utterly worthless. Paige did manage to carry Nikki out of negative stars though, proving there’s always a place for wrestlers on a wrestling show. Paige has a great character too. Nikki is a pair of tits in tight clothes so naturally she’s the champion. I can only hope for some kind of Wrestlemania resolution to this feud but seeing as one half of the feud is the Bellas, there will never be a good pay-off.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control gives us Breaking News: Triple H vs. Sting is signed for Wrestlemania.
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Bad News Barrett (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
This title is death. Winning the IC title turns you into a jobber. It’s like the belt is cursed. My hope is the WWE will elevate the IC title, making it actually worthwhile so the belt can headline shows. Although it would have been a good idea to do that BEFORE booking the WWE title onto a guy who’s never here. There are two ways to do this; 1. book the title onto someone who the fans already care about and have the wrestler care about the title or 2. make the champion a big deal. They’ve done a good job of this with Rusev but the IC title remains the title the WWE don’t seem to care about. If they don’t care about it then why should we? Also any champion doing a job should be a big deal, not something that happens every week. This is not complex booking. Barrett does good work in this; not looking at pinfalls when the ref is counting, thus not telegraphing his kick-outs. Ambrose takes it to him for most of the match until running into Wasteland. When Ambrose kicks out and hits his rebound lariat Barrett decides to take the count-out loss, which is the champion’s advantage. Ambrose gives him a kicking for that and the ref calls it a DQ. Bullshit. If you’re going to do a cheap finish then have Barrett get himself counted out. Put the heat on the heel, not the referee. Moronic booking. Cole suggests Ambrose got “more frustrated throughout the match” even though Barrett only tried to run at the end. Ambrose lays Barrett out with Dirty Deeds, just to reinforce that the IC champion is a jobber, and nicks the title belt.
Final Rating: *
Promo Time: The Undertaker?
Well, that was unexpected. Out come druids with torches and the BONG signals the arrival of…Bray Wyatt in a coffin. Wyatt talks about how Undertaker made him tremble but now he’s weak, broken and a shell of what he was. He claims Taker is “in limbo” and he needs to send him home. “At Wrestlemania I will claim the soul of the Undertaker”. This was a decent promo but the fans didn’t seem interested as soon as it was revealed there was no Undertaker. But they did all the cool parts of his entrance!
From there we go to Renee Young and the kick-off analysts, which is a bit weird but it reminds me that Renee is a far superior links person than Michael Cole. They should throw to these guys after every match. For starters it makes the whole thing feel like a legitimate sporting event with commentary and analysis.
WWE United States Championship
Rusev (c) vs. John Cena
Rusev is unbeaten. He owes a lot of that to Lana, whose promo skills have made the gimmick work. Every time I see her, it’s like watching Rocky IV all over again and if there’s a guy who needs a monster foreigner to fight it’s John Cena. And even against an evil Russian there are still loud “Cena sucks” chants. They try and work a shoot-style, which Cena isn’t suited to, so they quickly abandon it and just do Main Event Style instead. Rusev is booked strong here and gives Cena a solid beating. JBL tries to cover for Cena getting caught talking on camera by saying he “talking to himself”. When Cena does mount his comeback it’s all so familiar. Part of the frustration of watching Cena is seeing him do all the same shit in the same order in every match and nobody ever seems to counter anything. Then we’ve got Michael Cole and his newest irritating verbal tick of yelling “FOR THE WIN” on every near fall. Cena gets the Crossface and there he is talking on camera again. Rusev gets a major rub for powering out of the Crossface, breaking Cena’s freakishly powerful grip. And that’s how to get guys over. Cena gets the Struggle Snuggle instead and this time Rusev has to grab the ropes. FU…for 2. The weird thing with Cena is how he sells like he is dead and then he magically comes back to life. He did that again in between finishers here. Cena comes off the top, gets planted with the powerbomb and strapped in the Camel Clutch. Cena stands up out of it but Lana jumps in there, Rusev kicks him in the balls, then the face and Cena is unconscious apparently so the Camel Clutch finishes. They shot for epic here but neither man is particularly good at that. The match was sluggish, slow-paced and Cena’s DEATH sell on the finish was utterly ridiculous. He spends a good 3 minutes breathing in canvas. The fans supportively chant “you tapped out” at him. I was pleased to see the WWE not pull the carpet out from under Rusev but I sense his unbeaten run might not survive Wrestlemania. They booked him like a star here though, which is important as it might mean they’ve finally grasped how to get guys over again.
Final Rating: ***
WrestleMania Number One Contender's Match
Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan
A few truths before we get going. Firstly, I like Roman Reigns. I have nothing against him at all. He’s a good big man with a solid moveset and a great personality but the booking made him look like a knob and that’s why the fans turned on him. He didn’t do anything wrong, the writers did. He’s not a cartoony babyface like Cena, he’s his own damn thing and they have to write him that way. Secondly people didn’t boo Roman at the Rumble, they booed the Rumble because it was just awful booking. The fact the WWE came out of it discussing why people booed Roman and suggesting that he “wasn’t ready” for the spot is laughable. I would say whoever booked the Royal Rumble wasn’t ready to book a PPV. Send them to developmental to learn something.
Duelling chants to kick off, which is great news for the WWE because despite Bryan being the #1 face in the company (no matter what they think) there are people chanting against him. Bryan establishes the story very early with a headlock. The story being that he’s a better wrestler and Roman promptly powers out. Bryan then tries for a surfboard and Roman powers out of that too. Roman gets to look very dominant as he also shrugs off Bryan’s kicks. Bryan’s attempts to work over Roman’s legs is met with yet more power, in the form of punches. There are some fun counters like Bryan getting a 360 flip lariat for charging into the corner and Bryan booting Roman to block the Superman Punch. The kick lands right in the area where Roman had a hernia, which is solid psychology. Again Roman brings the power, blocking a super rana into a superbomb. The story they tell is a smart one of the wrestler versus the powerhouse. The clever storyteller versus the immovable object. Yes Lock and Roman gets into the ropes. “I have till five” – Daniel Bryan. YES!
They get into a nice rhythm of Bryan’s flying assaults being countered into power moves and then Bryan dodging follow up charging assaults. Bryan dives right into the Superman Punch…for 2. “Reigns is like really, are you kidding me?” – 12 year old valley girl Michael Cole. Spear is countered into an inside cradle for another near fall and the fans really erupt into the YES chants. Busaiku Knee Kick…gets 2. That makes Roman the first man to kick out of that particular move. Bryan goes for kicks and slaps but Roman no sells so he drags him down into an armbar into the Yes Lock. Reigns gets out and starts to land some serious lumber, at least I think it is through the dodgy zoom-in, zoom-out camerawork. Roman looks like a mega-star when he’s beating someone down. Bryan lines up the Busaiku Knee a second time but runs right into the Spear and Reigns regains his title shot.
Final Rating: ****
Verdict: The crowd did this show no favours at all. They didn’t respond to anything and turned their noses up at the last two matches despite them largely delivering. I thought the card in general was a hard sell but if there’s one thing that makes a bad thing better it’s crowd participation but Memphis didn’t seem too interested. The main event will leave a lasting impression as it’s the first time Roman Reigns has looked really good in singles. Daniel Bryan’s ideas carried the match and I did enjoy the little throwbacks to his American Dragon persona. Rusev vs. Cena was better than I was expecting but the uneven nature of Cena’s selling made the match hard to watch. The only other match that delivered was the tag title match but that was largely down to the title switch as the actual action wasn’t great. Elsewhere there were storylines to enjoy but everything is heading somewhere else. Which is the problem with the Road to Wrestlemania. Fastlane is just another stop off on the way to somewhere more interesting. With the WWE giving it away for free it was never going to be a home-run show but I don’t understand the mentality of having good shows and bad shows. Just try and put on the best show you can, every show.