This is more like it from the WWE Network. A relic from the past, much loved and missed by long-time fans like myself, reanimated exclusively on the Network. It's the kind of thing they should have been doing for a while, otherwise what else is there to retain the more casual viewers outside of the monthly pay-per-views? The old shows are great, but we have all seen them plenty of times. They are fine for a few months as a hook, but once you have watched everything you want to watch, then the need for fresh, first-run programming arises. They have figured that out now, and this week alone there is something new and potentially entertaining every night. For all my criticism of WWE this year, one thing I cannot praise them enough for is the Network. I think it is the best thing they have done in a long, long time.
The show opens with a brief graphic in memory of a true wrestling great, former AWA promoter Verne Gagne, who passed away yesterday at the age of 89. It's nice that they acknowledged him.
We start with a recap from Raw last night introduced by Jerry Lawler, showing how tonight's four semi-finalists made it to this stage. To recap: Bad News Barrett beat Dolph Ziggler after interference from Sheamus, R-Truth beat Stardust in a head-scratcher, Sheamus went over Dean Ambrose thanks to a Dolph run in leading to a DQ, and dark horse Neville pinned Luke Harper in a tidy little match. Of the four remaining, Sheamus is the only former winner of the tournament, having lifted the crowd in 2010. We cut to the locker room where he tells Byron Saxton someone will kiss his arse. That shtick is old already. Neville is with Renee Young and warns Sheamus that he is doing to show him what a "little fella" can do.
King of the Ring Semi Final
Sheamus vs. Neville
Remarkably, three of the four competitors remaining in the tournament are from the British Isles. I guess it is sort of fitting. Jerry Lawler demonstrates his worth right away by noting that Sheamus could become "the next Loch Ness Monster". JBL mocks him for mixing up Ireland and Scotland, as well he should. As has been the case for Neville in his matches of late, he faces a significant size disadvantage. It's something he is going to have to get used to in the land of the giants. So far he has fared relatively well, though how much faith WWE truly have in him will be shown tonight. It would be a bold but brilliant move to put him over. He is already getting good reactions, and to win the tournament would give fans more reason to believe in him and support him. Early on he has a hard time getting going, with Sheamus' size too much for him to overcome. He almost gets counted out a few minutes in when Sheamus charges him off the ring apron and into the announce desk, but he makes it back in. "Little fellas don't belong in my ring!" yells Vince McMahon, ahem, Sheamus. Sheamus hits White Noise, which is the cue for Dolph Ziggler to wander out with a microphone and show footage from Extreme Rules. Well, I don't agree with that behaviour at all. Why didn't the production guy just turn around and say, "Fuck off mate, there's a match going on!" The distraction allows Neville to kick Sheamus in the back of the head and then connect with the Red Arrow for the upset win. Well, they put Neville over, but he sure needed a whole lot of help to do it. And wow, was this ever brief. I know it is only an hour show, but there are only three matches! Post match, Dolph wants to collect on the stip that Sheamus failed to honour at Extreme Rules and have him kiss his "arse". It's a strange thing to be so adamant about. Instead they have a pull-apart brawl, in which Sheamus gets busted above the eye and juices a gusher! It's a mess! "Look at his eye, look at his eye!" bellows Cole, clearly having been given permission to draw attention to it. A shift in ordeals in the works perhaps? Probably not. WWE are just more willing to let their Network be PG-13 due to the demographic of the fan base watching it.
Final Rating: *
We get a commercial for the Network next, which is utterly spurious given this is a Network exclusive show we are watching. I get that they are looking to retain free subscribers, but this combined with the excessive shilling during the damn pay-per-view is bordering on excessive.
Backstage with Renee, Bad News warns Neville that he is going to be known as "the man nobody remembers". How can you be known as something if no one remembers you? R-Truth is with Saxton, and he is fast becoming one of the most hateable characters on WWE television with his inane ramblings and unspeakably shitty attempts at comedy. Apparently the guy hates spiders, so when he wins the tournament tonight he is doing to put a ban on them. Who writes this childish shit, really? Go away R-Truth, you were useless fifteen years ago and you haven't got any better since.
King of the Ring Semi Final
R-Truth vs. Bad News Barrett
That Truth is even in the tournament, never mind the semi finals, sadly sums up how important this tournament really is to WWE, no matter how much they champion it as being prestigious. "Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Harley Race" they yell. "Billy Gunn and Mabel" I retort. Indeed. There is only one winner here and the crowd knows it, so they sit on their hands for the majority of this. Truth attempts to give the impression he could win, but all the overly-twirly moves in the world can't convince me. It's notable that no one has mentioned the little rivalry these two had developed prior to WrestleMania due to Truth's brief spell as a comedy (I lose the term loosely) cat burglar. After a few minutes of tepid action, Truth gets a visual win, which doesn't count because Barrett's foot was on the ropes, before Bad News smashes him with the Bullhammer for the comfortable win. Instantly forgettable.
Final Rating: 1/2*
WWE take a time out to show a nice video package on Verne Gagne, though he would surely have cringed at being labelled "a pioneer of sports entertainment". The man was a true pioneer though, that much is correct, though of professional wrestling not sports entertainment. He was a great trainer too. The list of guys who sat under his learning tree reads like a who's who of the modern industry. Those unaware of Gagne would do well to study his life and career, because he was truly a remarkable man. Never mind WWE's occasional claims (though not tonight, obviously) of him being behind the times and missing the boat on Hulk Hogan, because it is just not true.
Backstage, Bad News Barrett claims to be on a roll. Yes, two wins is indeed the new definition of being on a roll. Surely Neville has a stronger claim to that, because as well as his two King of the Ring wins he also beat Barrett at Extreme Rules.
King of the Ring Final
Neville vs. Bad News Barrett
This is a rematch from (the pre-show of) Extreme Rules two nights ago then, a really entertaining match that Neville won cleanly. "Do you think Neville knows what awaits him here, King?" asks Michael Cole like an utter pillock. Of course he does! He beat him two days ago you gigantic tail! Knowing WWE booking #101 well, I would expect Bad News to go over here to even up the scorecard from Sunday, because even steven booking is their answer to everything. It's also the answer to the question, "How come no one in WWE is over?" The only good thing about the two super brief matches both guys had earlier is that no one has seen any of their stuff yet, outside of the finishers, so this still feels quite fresh. Bad News decides to focus his attack on Neville's back and ribs, repeatedly kicking him in both and stretching him with holds. Neville responds with kicks of his own, trying to chop Barrett down by going for his legs. "This gives Neville time to regroup," says Cole trying to call the future, just as Neville hits a springboard moonsault to the outside. Nice one, Cole. Neville unloads again with kicks and his swank stalling German suplex, but as he looks to mount a head of steam he gets caught with the Bossman Slam. He kicked out of it on Sunday and he does so again here. Wasteland is evaded by Neville, but he does one flip too many and gets caught in a second attempt that hits. Neville kicks out, again like he did on Sunday, then ducks a Bullhammer and bridges into a pin for a super close near fall. Neville tries for Red Arrow but sees Barrett move and changes direction in mid air, only for Barrett to knock him senseless with a desperate Bullhammer for the predictable win. How so very typical. It would be nice if for once, just once, Vince could think outside of the box and do something different. I don't dislike Barrett at all, and think he could make a really entertaining king because his gimmick and personality fit the role well. I just think it's a little boring. As for the match? Well, it was okay but nothing more. The bout they had on Sunday was certainly better.
Final Rating: **
Post match, Barrett performs his own coronation and then tells Jerry Lawler that he will rule the WWE with Bullhammers. I fully expect him to have dropped the whole "king" thing within a few weeks.
What We Said: You can't be overly offended by a sub-sixty minute show (it ran around 53 minutes in total), though this was a still something of a disappointment. All three matches were shorter than they really should have been, leaving them feeling rushed and secondary to the Network commercials and Dolph Ziggler's obsession with having his ass kissed. I appreciate WWE's attempt at reviving something from the past and utilising the vast array of trademarks they have at their disposal, but they need to put more effort in if they do it again. Worth seeing for curiosity only.