13th December 2015.
WWE’s December pay-per-view has often been a source of enormous disappointment. Reaching back to 1995 and the disastrous buyrates of the In Your House expansion era. “Seasons Beatings” (really bad PPV name) did an almost embarrassing buyrate despite being headlined by the outstanding Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog match. Even further back than that the December PPV curse struck. This Tuesday In Texas (worst PPV name, ever) was headlined by the Immortal Hulk Hogan reclaiming his WWF Championship by pinning the Undertaker, only days after losing the belt. The show was routinely terrible featuring bouts such as Bulldog vs. Warlord, Bret Hart vs. Skinner and a much-hyped Randy Savage vs. Jake Roberts match, which was over in under seven minutes.
Over the years it’s been a bad show. 1996 was awful, including a poor Sid vs. Bret Hart title match and Taker vs. “The Executioner” in a silly Armageddon Rules match. 1997’s In Your House: DX was arguably the worst PPV of the year. 1998’s Rock Bottom was the one headlined by Steve Austin and Undertaker in a dreadful Buried Alive match. Later on the disastrous ECW PPV December to Dismember (actually this is the worst PPV name ever) ran in December, back in 2006. WWE had the nerve to run two PPV’s that month, the other headlined by Batista & John Cena vs. Finlay & Booker T. It’s a dead month for PPV. To try and compensate for the lack of any interesting angles in December, WWE switched the event to a TLC show back in 2009. That’s helped to improve match quality but going into the PPV we’re still looking at severe fan apathy and some of the lowest viewing figures in decades.
We’re in Boston, Massachusetts. Setting for Fallout 4. I bring this up as it’s one of the world’s most played video games at the moment and something I’m in the midst of really enjoying. But who to ultimately side with? Providing me with the option to choose different groups to support is much like wrestling. Ultimately I’m presented with an assortment of potential suitors and choose who I want to cheer for. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler. I can’t be alone in wanting Lawler to retire at this point. Along with Vince McMahon. Change is needed and having the same boss and same commentator as we had at the beginning of December PPV back in 1995 can’t be good for business. At least Vince is letting someone other than himself commentate but maybe he should commentate as at least he wouldn’t be in someone’s ear during the damn show. The colour guys might actually become useful. The opening video shows the sheer number of times Roman Reigns has choked when faced with the chance to become the Man in WWE. I agree that WrestleMania XXXI was too early for Reigns but taking the belt off him after five minutes and fifteen seconds has killed any momentum he built up after that. With Brock Lesnar out of the title picture it should have been the Roman Empire.
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. The Lucha Dragons vs. The Usos
Sign O’ The Times: “RAW is Booty”. Yes it is. The ladder match is a chance for new stars to be born. The New Day are already superstars as is evidenced by their pre-match promo where Big E can’t even say “Uso” without coming down with an injury. They even have a version of the five second pose incorporating all the catchphrases. The only downside to starting the show with the triangle ladder match is it will probably be the best match on the card. Sure, you want your opener to get the crowd going but the best match should surely be deeper into the card. Kalisto has potential to steal the show, if he doesn’t botch anything, but in Kofi Kingston he’s got someone with an amazing track record of ladder high spots. Xavier Woods does wonders in this match, doubling up as trombonist and colour commentator. His commentary is brilliant, including using WWE’s 2K16 video game to explain psychology. Ladder matches have been done to death so it’s tough to find new spots and kudos to the boys in this one, taking some horrible looking bumps to discover painful new territory. Pleasingly it all comes across as quite organic and there isn’t much in the way of spot-building. Sign O’ The Times: “Climb Faster”. At least these guys climb quickly until they’ve taken a beating. Spot of the match is Kalisto busting out the Salida del Sol off the top of the ladder. It’s the one time a ladder is set up in an odd place but it has a huge pay off. “That’s Sin Cara left in the ring” says Michael Cole. “That’s Kalisto. Sin Cara is down here on the floor passed out” yells Xavier, rightly putting Cole in his place and still finding time to throw his trombone at Kalisto and stop him winning the match. Kofi pulls the belts down for New Day to retain in a show-stealing opener.
Final Rating: ****
“Follow that” says JBL as they recap the highlights. Follow that, indeed. Good luck everyone else! Speaking of following this show; NXT Takeover London is on Wednesday.
Ryback vs. Rusev
I’m pleased they managed to fix the whole Lana face turn garbage and put her back with Rusev. They never should have split them up in the first place (see Wyatts, see Shield, etc). The quickly formed angle where Ryback accidentally injured Lana worked for me. It’s turned Rusev back into the ass-kicking Bulgarian Brute, who was doing fine until John Cena ruined his career earlier in the year. Lawler’s commentary goes completely off the deep end in this one. First taking a pop at marriage in general, presumably because Miss Kitty turned out to be a whore, before questioning the compatibility of people. “Ryback isn’t compatible with anyone…but that’s a good thing”. Huh? Every other thing he says leaves Cole confused, with good reason. Then he goes back to his main crutch; perving over women young enough to be his grandchildren. After the last match nobody cares about what they’re presented with. It’s a ponderous outing, headlined by Ryback’s stupidity (as he falls for another fake Lana injury) before Rusev bludgeons him into the Accolade for the win.
Final Rating: *3/4
WWE United States Championship
Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Jack Swagger
Del Rio has ditched Zeb Coulter ending their bizarre pairing and the failed Mex-America angle. Anyone could see that angle was going nowhere fast. It boggles the mind that someone even pitched it. Swagger’s “We The People” gimmick is still over, perhaps harnessing residual Cesaro love. Having chairs legal in a company that doesn’t allow chair shots is completely bizarre. It means they have to structure a nonsensical contest with no chair shots in it. Swagger being in this match is also odd as he’s hardly even appeared on RAW all year let alone PPV. In fact his last PPV match, Rumble not included, was last year’s TLC show where he lost to Rusev inside five minutes. No wonder nobody cares about him. They work the chair gimmick surprisingly well, sometimes hurling them carelessly at each other and Del Rio comes across far better than in any other match since his return. As for Swagger, his solid performance makes you wonder why he’s been given nothing to do for twelve months. Although his Patriot Lock with chair does nothing for me. That chair is just hanging there! Swagger’s performance is sufficient for me to get into him as the contest goes longer and actually want him to win. The no DQ aspect of a chair match allows them to use the ropes for submissions and the chairs allow Del Rio to a mean son of a bitch. Double stomp into chairs does it. An unexpectedly good match.
Final Rating: ***
Tag Team Tables Elimination Match
The Dudley Boyz, Tommy Dreamer & Rhyno vs. The Wyatt Family
Tommy Dreamer was a fun surprise when he showed up. Rhyno has been knocking around in NXT so he was less surprising. While I’m pleased to see all these formally hardcore gentlemen in the same place, I wish it wasn’t a tables match as generally tables matches suck. Especially ones under elimination rules. I’m sure these guys could have had a fun no DQ match and brawled all over the place to their hearts content without the nonsense that comes with the tables stipulation. The Wyatts desperately need a win, having been jobbed all to hell of late. They’re supposed to be a tough group but Luke Harper would probably job for me if I asked him nicely. The ECW foursome are strictly here for nostalgia purposes. At least they’re not trying to resurrect ECW again. Although the “E-C-Dub” chant will probably give Vince McMahon a few ideas. Hopefully to create a new show for adults, seeing as they make up a big chunk of his audience. Vince, you can use that one. Be my guest. This match is more for kids who like to see plunder shots. Pristine garbage cans and Braun Strowman blowing spots. At one point Bubba Dudley is walking toward him, very slowly, with a trashcan in front of himself. Just patiently waiting for Strowman to punch it. He has to stop and look over it for crying out loud! That’s one of several mistakes from the big galoot. He’s simply not good enough to be involved at this level.
The falls see the ECW guys go up 4-3 by tabling the useless Rowan with 3-D. As Rhyno is on the verge of dispatching Bray with a Gore, the Wyatt’s must be getting that sinking feeling again. Instead Harper boots Rhyno through a table for 3-3. Bray puts D-Von through a table with a urinage for 3-2. Dreamer, starting to show his age at 44 (hardcore is bad for you, Bubba is the same age), gets tabled by Harper leaving Bubba alone against three men. Bubba’s attempt at a fire table ends at the hands of big Braun and the Wyatt’s win. The disappointment of the dozens of guys with their camera phones out on the hard-cam side is palpable. If Strowman hadn’t sucked as badly as he did during this it might have been ok.
Final Rating: **
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
Owens’ IC title run has been a bit dull but that’s largely because they’ve had no one chasing him. He’s literally only defended against former champion Ryback, who was a pretty weak champion to begin with, and Chris Jericho who isn’t on TV. Frankly Owens, the best heel promo in the company, deserves better. This should be a big fight, seeing as it’s Owens’ toughest title defence to date, but the build has been minimal. To the point where the crowd isn’t really interested despite both men being big favourites. Also, they had the best match on the Survivor Series card and pre-show I was really looking forward to this but it just comes across as flat. Kevin does his best to get some heat going and yelling “who’s crazy now?” is a nice touch. Just as it starts to get going and drawing the crowd in it’s over. They do get in an awesome near fall where Owens takes the Dirty Deeds but barely gets a finger on the rope. However Ambrose finishes moments later by countering the Pop Up Powerbomb into a rana for the pin. Ambrose winning means less than it might have done if he’d not already been flirting with the WWE world title itself. It’d be like asking Sasha Banks out on a date, getting shot down a couple of times and marrying Snuka’s daughter instead. No offence to Tamina, or the IC strap, but it’s not quite the same is it?
Final Rating: **1/4
WWE Divas Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Paige
I’m finding it hard to decide who’s the heel in this feud now. I’m not sure WWE themselves actually know. Basically the crowd aren’t sure who to cheer for so cheer for no one, because they’re both horrible people. Edgy heel vs. edgy heel tends to work less well with women. They end up getting overly focused on Ric Flair at ringside and both liberally steal his spots. The best part of this is that they’re both probably better off as heels but they’re stuck with each other, trying to out-dick each other. Paige manages it by lifting the Figure Four but it gets a massive babyface reaction. You just can’t win. Not with Vince McMahon’s booking! It’s weird how the entire of her time in NXT, they deliberately distanced Charlotte from her Dad and made her become her own woman then as soon as she’s called up to the main roster Vince and his second generation erection wreck everything. The match gets progressively sloppier with Paige getting lucky on a botched DDT that she’s not seriously hurt. The Ram-Paige would finish but Ric puts his baby girls foot on the rope. Charlotte bashes Paige into an exposed turnbuckle to retain, out-heeling the heel who turned heel on her. Jokes on Paige, I guess.
Final Rating: **
Video Control takes us backstage where Becky Lynch isn’t best pleased with the manner in which Charlotte won. With them repositioning Sasha face, they could conceivably run with Charlotte vs. both girls over the coming months. If they let the NXT girls just wrestle, instead of constantly putting them in bullshit angles, it might just work.
Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Sheamus (c) vs. Roman Reigns
Jerry Lawler opts to make step-ladder jokes during this one. He really is the worst. Roman sets the tone by punching Sheamus square in the face right at the start of match, reddening his cheek. Sheamus must know he’s out of his league working main events so busts his ass to make sure it’s not a total disaster. Roman deliberately sets a ladder up in the position that injured Sheamus and put him out for months, tidily pointed out by Maggle. The match is fairly brutal with both guys crashing through tables and taking nasty bumps. You have to earn that main event spot and if you haven’t, looking at you Sheamus, you have to bust ass to prove you should stay there. I still find Sheamus unequivocally boring, especially in a match that runs over twenty minutes, but at least they try hard. As Sheamus takes one horrible looking bump into a hardened implement of the match’s title I can’t help but think one thing. “Chat shit, get banged”. That Jamie Vardy is on to something. The crowd roundly turn on the match around halfway through by chanting “NXT”. In a way it’s an approval of WWE’s future but it’s also a huge criticism of the current product. More specifically the creative behind it. More specifically Vince McMahon. Triple H must be feeling pretty goddamn smug right about now. He’s giving the fans what they want. Vince McMahon gives the fans what Vince McMahon wants. The match does have some sick bumps in it though, including Sheamus taking that ladder bump teased from the start and Sheamus taking the Superman Punch off the ladder through a table. Roman retains some credibility by having the League of Nations (Del Rio and Rusev) run in to stop him. It does rather beg the question; where is Ambrose? He’s not had Roman’s back of late. Was he party planning their celebration? I picture him preparing finger food while admiring his IC title. Anyway Sheamus pulls the belt down and Roman Reigns gets another clip of himself crying in defeat for his next loser video package. The big bumps made this one but I have no idea where they’re going with this. Roman must be the worst booked babyface in the past decade.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Post Match: Roman stops sobbing about his failure and destroys everyone with chair shots. Triple H comes down to tell him off so Roman bashes him too. The look of rage in Roman’s eyes is the first sign of legitimate star-making potential he’s demonstrated since the Shield. It’s amplified by Steph getting bent out of shape at ringside. The crowd end up chanting “thank you, Roman”. A bit of a turnaround from a crowd that has genuinely hated him all year long. Roman feuding with Triple H is an interesting move, and a popular one if the crowd in Boston are to be used as a barometer although I’ve had my fill of wrestler vs. authority figure angles. One would presume this will set up a Roman vs. Authority program going into WrestleMania where he’ll face off against the Tripper himself.
Summary: Started and ended well enough with the added bonus of Del Rio vs. Swagger being a good match. The rest came across like filler and the booking is still dragging the talent down but at least the PPV’s haven’t devolved into total crap yet, even if the TV is. With a lot of this booking it’s hard to judge whether it’s for the best or not. If Kevin Owens, for example, is destined for greater things then his loss to Dean Ambrose is a good thing. If not, then it’s puzzling. Given WWE’s track record over the past twelve months it’s hard to say. It might just be more 50-50 booking. He’ll probably pin Dean on RAW. So the show was ok, most of the PPV’s are, but the tag teams stole the show inside the first thirty minutes.