Aside from about half of the main events, NXT has been a little underwhelming this year when compared against its usual high standards. However, with the number one contender’s match between Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn plus an eight-man tag team bout to kick the show off, I’m expecting it to start getting back on track tonight. Hosts are Tom Phillips and Corey Graves. When Rich Brennan was at the announce desk, I actually felt uncomfortable at times with the way Graves bullied him. But Graves is starting to grow on me now. His partnership with Phillips works well and he is an ardent defender of the English language, or more precisely, its correct usage, so that’s alright by me.
Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady & American Alpha vs. Blake & Murphy & Dash & Dawson
American Alpha are sporting new singlets with a design that makes them look like the Steiner Brothers from the early- to mid-nineties. They’re almost as awesome as the tag team wearing them. Speaking of new gear, Blake & Murphy are now rocking the Nightmare on Elm Street look. I like it, or more accurately, I like how it looks on Alexa Bliss. I think I’d be OK with her infiltrating my dreams and bludgeoning me to death; then again, I’m not sure that I could live with myself being killed. There’s too many “&” tag teams in this match. Given their new gear, perhaps Blake & Murphy should rename themselves after one of the Freddy Kruger franchise films. The Dream Warriors or The New Nightmares, something like that.
The uber-brilliant Chad Gable starts the match for the face team. I really believe that he could be the next Kurt Angle if WWE allow him to be. As the smaller guy on his team, though, he ends up taking the heat, which is fine, but it does mean we get to see less of his amazing arsenal of suplexes and submissions. Dash & Dawson, a real throwback to the tag teams of the eighties, do most of the donkey work here. I’m hoping to see American Alphas dethrone them and going on to battle my other favourite tag team, The Vaudevillains; however, I suspect Enzo & Cass might be getting a run with the straps. Jason Jordan, who has really come into his own since teaming with Gable, gets the hot tags and cleans house. Jason definitely got the better of two Freddys in this exchange. Alpha look to have Dawson beat with Grand Amplitude, only for Dash to make the save. Enzo & Cass finish Dawson off instead with the Rocket Launcher. Bliss is seething with disdain after the match.
Final Rating: **3/4
Backstage, Rich Brennan gets a word with Deanna Purrazzo. He wants to know how she’s feeling about going into a match with Asuka later tonight, especially after Asuka knocked her out the last time they met. She cuts a really bland promo before being interrupted by Emma and Dana Brook. My word, they are orange! They look like Rodney Trotter after Del turns up the timer on the solarium in the Tea for Three episode. Yak yak, blather blather. I can’t really understand (or care) what they are saying, as they are simply too orange.
Deanna Purrazzo vs. Asuka
Asuka should win this in two to four moves, like a fool’s mate in chess. However, Asuka’s last jobber match was quite disappointing. She let the female Tito Santana (or whatever the jobber’s name was) have far too much offence. This time, Asuka takes her opponent to school with kicks and submission holds. The only offence Deanna gets is pretty much what Asuka allows her. And then we get the smile, beautiful and deadly in equal measure. Purrazzo knows the game is up now. Three spinning back fists and a roundhouse kick seals it. Asuka put on a good clinic tonight, even if it wasn’t really much more than a squash match.
Final Rating: **1/4
Phillips and Graves recap last week’s events in the aftermath of the Women’s Championship match. I get chills watching how Asuka serves Bayley notice of her intentions on the title. The highlights segue into a pre-recorded promo from Nia Jax and Eva Marie. Jax’s whiny voice and constant high-rising intonations negate any aura that her physical presence might have. Not everything is a question, Nia. She needs to become a silent assassin quickly or damage all future credibility.
Tye Dillinger vs. Alex Riley
In this world we haven’t got the time for the likes of Riley. The smug git needs to blast right out of my stratosphere. Graves comes out with a corker of a line regarding Riley’s new look. “He looks like he’s been hanging out with Leonardo Di Caprio, getting attacked by bears,” he quips. Riley is a revenant of the time when NXT was a cringe-inducing reality TV show. Even before A-Ry became a Miz clone, I was alerted to what a twat he is when he did that fake sneeze – “I think I’m allergic to you” – line with Michael Cole. When you’re inferior to Miz and Michael Cole looks upon you with contempt, it’s time to get your arse down the road a little. I’m not particularly fond of Dillinger as a talent, but I am quite glad that he beats Riley with a roll up. Hardies, A-Ry. Future endeavors for Mr. Riley, please.
Final Rating: *1/4
Alex Reyes gets a word with the NXT Champion, Finn Bálor. He puts over Apollo Crews from last week and says that both Joe and Zayn are credible challengers for his title, though he intends on retaining it. Fairly bland stuff. I’d much prefer to watch him wrestle.
Backstage, Baron Corbin bursts in to William Regal’s office. He still thinks that he should be included in the number one contender’s match tonight, which is a frankly ludicrous suggestion. It’s a no from Regal, so Corbin makes some vague threat involving an eye for an eye. Corbin could be of much greater use to the general manager if he would just say which of the submission holds he tapped out to a couple of weeks ago.
Sami Zayn vs. Samoa Joe
Let me start by getting a potentially controversial statement out of the way. Sami Zayn is a heel. That is, the character’s persona, promos, general attitude/demeanor (and his flat cap) come across as a little too cocksure of himself, a little conceited. He gives off an air of arrogance about how good he is (he is good) and believes with a little too much John Cena-style fervor that he should always be in and around the main event because he’s reached that level, and even when he acknowledges others, it’s always a little bit passive-aggressive. Obviously the rapport that he has with the NXT crowds sort of urinates all other my Sami Zayn-as-heel chips, but there it is. As an in-ring talent he is brilliant, though, regardless of whether he’s heel or face.
The match starts off tentatively, with both men feeling each other out. It’s like containment strategy in chess, with neither man willing to risk a gambit. Sami gains the first slight advantage, low-bridging Joe out of the ring. Joe knows that a dive is coming, so promptly gets out of the way. At this point, we cut to a break so the Network can plug the soon-to-debut Edge & Christian Show. It looks like it reeks of awesomeness, and I will definitely be tuning in. Back to the action and Joe lays a trap for Sami, catching him in the corner with a side slam. He then proceeds to slow down the pace and keeps him in either a central position in the ring or hemmed in against the ropes. It’s smart because if he starts opening up space through Irish whips or running the ropes himself, he moves into Sami’s realm. Sami looks to have regained the advantage with the Blue Thunder Bomb, but Joe counters the Koji Clutch into a powerslam.
The match then moves away from chess and into a boxing match (though Chess Boxing is actually a thing). Sami is playing the part of Rocky Balboa against Apollo Creed (or Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago) by staying in the match, despite looking punch-drunk and having taken a merciless beating, on his instincts and determination alone. A Helluva kick out of nowhere seems to have got the three count for Zayn, but the referee declares that both men’s shoulders were down – even though Joe’s right shoulder is clearly an inch or two off the ground. The ref intends to call it a draw, so Regal comes down to ringside. Once again, he dithers like Hugh Grant in any Hugh Grant film instead of making a decision, so we go off air with a stalemate. I hope this is heading to a triple-threat match at the next Takeover event before Zayn vs. Bálor at a later date. I think that would be something special to behold.
Final Rating: ***1/4
THE NXT RECAP:
Most Entertaining: I’ll be as indecisive as Regal and say that Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn will have to share this one.
Least Entertaining: This is certain: Alex Riley.
Match of the Night: Joe vs. Zayn
Summary: This show was definitely more like it. The three major championship divisions of NXT all had a good showing tonight. The four teams in the opener demonstrated what a strong tag division NXT has, and that was without The Vaudevillains even making an appearance – I’m deliberately excluding the awful Hype Bros. from this conversation, by the way – while Asuka is looking a strong contender for Bayley’s Women’s Championship once all the crap has been disposed of in the run in. As for the title scene, it may seem a little inconclusive at the moment, but if it’s heading to a triple-threat match with Joe, Zayn, and Bálor, then I’m all for the booking as a means to a fantastic end. The only blot on the copybook tonight was Alex Riley. Overall, though, a definite recommendation.
Tonight is the go-home show for second installment of the Fastlane pay-per-view. And for the second consecutive year, the World Heavyweight Championship is held by a part-time worker who will not be working the pay-per-view. Therefore, the post-Rumble booking has revolved around a triple-threat match to determine the number one contender. With one of the participants also a part-timer – and not scheduled to make an appearance tonight – there doesn’t appear to be much to work with to sell the event. We’re in Anaheim, California. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL, and Byron Saxton.
Promo Time: Dean Ambrose
Ambrose did a good job getting over his recklessness / fearlessness last week against Brock Lesnar, and he thinks that he’s sufficiently angered the ‘Beast Incarnate’ so that he might just show up later. He won’t. The ‘Lunatic Fringe’ wants another F5 tonight. Instead, he gets Stephanie McMahon. WWE are promoting the WrestleMania Reading Challenge at the moment, so what better time for them to trade off big words. Dean’s prognosticator is countered by Steph’s filibustering. Steph accuses Ambrose of being over-reliant on his ‘brudda’, Roman Reigns and tells him that the only F5 he’ll be getting tonight is a Fatal Five-Way match for his Intercontinental Championship. If Reigns gets involved, Ambrose is out of the triple-threat at Fastlane, which suggests that it would be in Reigns’s interest to interfere.
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens vs. Stardust vs. Tyler Breeze vs. Dolph Ziggler
This could be a real treat of a match, especially if WWE had not spent several months burying Stardust and Breeze (and to a certain extent, Ziggler). I have a soft spot for ‘Prince Pretty’ and wish that he was still strutting his stuff back on NXT instead of being a jobber to the stars on RAW. I’d be really made up if they put the title on him tonight. The match is tornado rules, one fall to a finish, which suggests two things: one, that Ambrose is losing the title tonight; two, there will be a lot of brawling and selling on the outside while two or three of the men run spots in the ring.
After all entrances are televised, the match is joined in progress following a commercial break. For a while, Ambrose is the focal point in the ring, battling each of his challengers in turn while the other three sell on the outside (conveniently not captured on camera). Saxton astutely calls it a “revolving door.” The first big spot is when Kevin Owens powerbombs Breeze out of the ring and onto Stardust and Ziggler, which is immediately followed by a suicide dive from Ambrose to wipe them all out again. A second ad break really cuts up the flow of the match and makes it a disjointed viewing experience. When we return, Owens has everyone lined up for a cannonball, but after he delivers three, he gets a Supermodel Kick followed by the Beauty Shot for a close two count. There was a moment there, just a moment, when I believed for Breeze. It was a nice spot but draws the much-overused “this is awesome” chant from the crowd.
NOTE TO ALL CROWDS: If you keep chanting “this is awesome” at near enough every spot, then awesome will cease to hold sufficient distinction from ordinary.
The tease for Breeze was just that, as moments later he’s back in his usual place of taking the thee count after a Pop-Up Powerbomb from Owens. Of the four challengers, Owens is the most credible and probably the most deserving of this title. He celebrates by rolling in the aisle like a big giddy bear.
Final Rating: **3/4
Backstage, Renee Young catches her off-screen boyfriend, Dean Ambrose, for a word about his title loss. He’s quite philosophical about it and has his focus on Fastlane. We barely cut back to the announce desk before Cole throws it back to Renee, who is now standing by with the new Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens. Before he gets chance to bully her too much, Dolph also shows up to challenge him to a title match at Fastlane. I love Dolph, but I have to say that he’s done nothing to deserve one recently. Contrary to the opening promo, Owens shows that you don’t always needs to use big words. “Nah,” is his final answer.
Promo Time: The New Day
Big E is simply brilliant. He penguin-walks to the ring. We get a flashback to an episode of RAW from last September, where New Day were confronted by Edge & Christian backstage. It’s the kazoo vs. trombone skit where Big E tried to eat the plastic kazoo. The New Day are to be guests on a special edition of the Cutting Edge Peep Show at Fastlane. Cleary there are no credible contenders left for their tag titles, though I think I would prefer this anyway. I honestly considered transcribing the entire promo. That’s how great it is. The highlights are that Edge & Christian reek of booty, they broke fisticuffs rule 101 (bringing a kazoo to a trombone fight), and Big E is censored when he tries to say “Super Bowl.” Mark Henry is also booty, having deserted them in the eight-man tables match last week. He could’ve been the ‘World’s Strongest Unicorn’ but instead he’s the ‘World’s Largest Booty Hole’. This was gold. Solid, solid gold.
Big E vs. Mark Henry
We segue from the promo to this match after the break. It plods along at a tiresome pace, with the only two things of note being Big E declaring, “I’m his daddy now,” and executing a one-man Unicorn Stampede. The finish is awkward and weird, too. Big E has Henry up for the Big Ending, but Mark just falls off and is pinned. I’m sure something went awry here. Cole tries to cover by claiming that Henry is suffering adverse after-effects of two big splashes. This match was sheer booty.
Final Rating: ¼*
Exclusive Interview with Brie Bella
WWE are clearly hoping that the residue of fans’ good will from Daniel Bryan’s real-life retirement situation will carry over to his wife to get her feud with Charlotte over. I still don’t buy it as a credible pay-per-view title match. Charlotte and her dad interrupt the interview, which is not only good heel work – build heat by going against the only thing that fans care about: Daniel Bryan – but it also means that I don’t have to listen to Saxton interviewing Brie. Their argument stems around Bryan and they mention him every few seconds to ensure people don’t forget to invest in this angle by way of proxy. Looking at Ric Flair grinning with senility in the background, I stop listening to Charlotte and Brie henpeck each other and instead imagine Bryan vs. Flair when both in their prime. I do pick up on Brie accusing Charlotte of “literally throwing Daniel and Nikki in [her] face.” No, Brie, it’s FIGURATIVELY in this instance. It ends with Brie hitting multiple kicks a la her husband. Good try from Charlotte, but the Fastlane result must be a foregone conclusion in favour of the champ.
A.J. Styles vs. The Miz
After A.J. made his debut in the Royal Rumble match, a friend of mine messaged me to ask what I thought WWE would do with him creative-wise. I said, leave it a week or so and he’ll be stuck in a programme with Miz. At least he’s also had a couple of good matches with Chris Jericho, who happens to be the guest commentator for this match. On a side note, Cole points out actor Gerard Butler in the crowd, only, he pronounces it Gurred. Miz attacks Styles before the bell because he’s angry about having his teeth knocked out the last time they met. He gets way too much offence for my liking and even stops off to flap his gums at Jericho, apparently peeved that Y2J hijacked Miz TV on SmackDown! I really hope this isn’t heading to a triple threat at Fastlane. Jericho and Styles should be having their rubber match at the pay-per-view, and there should be no Miz in sight. For the go-home sequence, Miz kicks out of the Pelé kick, but then Styles gets to kick out of the Skull Crushing Finale in return. A.J. then submits the goofy one with the Calf Crusher. Miz isn’t even close to A.J.’s level. Post-match, Jericho grabs a mic but is immediately interrupted by Styles, who challenges him to the decider at Fastlane. Jericho doesn’t give the expected response, instead telling A.J. that he’ll give him an answer on SmackDown! In other words, we’ll put on the match, but please tune in to SmackDown!, people.
Final Rating: **
Promo Time: The Dudley Boyz
Basically, they recap their promo from SmackDown!. There’ll be no more tables, which is probably the best way they can manipulate the crowd into giving them heat, that and bitching about the attention Daniel Bryan has received recently (as they did on SmackDown!). It’s a decent old-school heel promo. They’re not a nostalgia act and they’re not relics, but they are the baddest tag team on the planet.
Paige vs. Summer Rae
I wasn’t even sure Summer Rae was still employed here. Paige is face again now because it suits Total Divas, even though we’re only a couple of months removed from her bringing up Reid Flair’s death to get herself over as a heel. Paige is fine as a wrestler and would be ideal in the midcard of an improved women’s division; Summer Rae is not. But spin my nipple nuts and send me to Alaska, Summer actually wins with a dodgy roll up! According to Cole, the win might put her in line for a “possible Divas Championship opportunity.” I sincerely hope not.
Final Rating: ½*
Promo Time: Paul Heyman
Truth be told, I look forward to Paul Heyman promos more than most matches on RAW these days. Heyman is confident of his client’s chances in the triple-threat match but wants to say his piece directly to Roman Reigns, who promptly shows up – it’s almost as if on cue. Reigns also becomes the first person to point to the WrestleMania sign tonight. I hate that. Heyman’s angle is that Roman needs to watch out for Ambrose at Fastlane. He must choose between promises to his family (apparently he’s told his little girl that he’ll be coming home as champion after ‘Mania) and loyalty to his friend. It’s like what Steph’s trying to do to them, only delivered much, much better. Reigns doesn’t seem fazed, reminding Paul that he’s already beaten Ambrose and that the score still has to be settled between him and Lesnar. They amicably shake on it, but as Heyman exits the ring, the Dudley Boyz ambush Reigns. Ambrose makes the save of course, setting up what should be an interesting tag match on SmackDown!, but teases Dirty Deeds on Roman afterwards.
Next week the Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award will be presented to one WWE Superstar. Apparently, it is to be an award bestowed with the utmost prestige. I hope it’s like the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellency and is given to pacify someone that they’ve made sterile.
Heath Slater vs. Zack Ryder
Slater is flanked by his Social Outcast buddies, with Bo Dallas appearing to have finished dropping beats in the studio. I know that the four jobbers (dare I say it) are having fun and trying to work with what they’ve got, but I can’t see them becoming the new New Day. Ryder has total control until he’s distracted by Dallas, and Slater wins with a DDT. Filler.
Final Rating: *
Video Control cuts to R-Truth in a restaurant on a Valentine’s date. Goldust is the waiter. These skits are intended, I think, to be comically awkward. Remove the word comically and you’ll be closer to the truth. Goldust metaphorically shoots his load over Truth’s date via a champagne bottle. I hate this entire angle. This isn’t 2003 and Truth isn’t Booker T.
Lucha Dragons & Neville vs. League of Nations (Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio & Rusev)
After rehashing the feud with Stardust and his Cosmic Wasteland on SmackDown!, Neville is back in six-man action along with the Dragons again. Their LON opponents are technically more credible this week, though they really represent embarrassment and failure when it comes to being a stable. They were formed to protect Sheamus’s World Heavyweight Championship, which he promptly lost. Now they’re all in the midcard where they belong. King Barrett stands around on the outside in his wrestling gear, but he’s definitely still injured. This match serves to have Del Rio beat the least capable of the faces, Sin Cara, to somehow prove that he will beat Kalisto in another United States Championship match between the two on the Fastlane pre-show (that it’s on the pre-show should tell you all you need to know). The double foot-stomp is performed while Sin Cara is hanging between the ropes rather than the usual Tree of Woe position. It makes it look even more hokey and contrived.
Final Rating: *
As part of the celebrations for Black History Month, video control shows a montage of Booker T’s career. I really enjoyed watching Booker work from back in his WCW days, and it’s a decent package, as it happens. There is even a clip from the Pulp Fiction spoof vignette that he did with Eddie Guerrero. I’d forgotten about that.
Next it’s footage from WWE’s Facebook page, showing the remnants of Team B.A.D. attacking Becky Lynch in the parking lot. Consequently, it’s Becky vs. Naomi later tonight.
Backstage, Renee gets a word with LON. Del Rio claims that Kalisto is a fluke champion, so challenges him to two out of three falls at Fastlane.
Becky Lynch vs. Naomi
Naomi’s colour-changing neon boot trims are funky. I also enjoy her new variation of a flurry of kicks, which highlight her footwear. That’s about it really. Becky wins by submission in short time, so Naomi and Tamina beat her up. Sasha Banks makes the save because she’s Becky’s, albeit reluctant, tag team partner on Sunday against B.A.D. It’s a positive step that we’re getting multiple women’s matches on RAW and on pay-per-view, but I get the impression that they’re keeping Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky from wrestling each other until a triple-threat at ‘Mania; unless Becky is very unlucky and misses out in place of a singles match.
Final Rating: *
Big Show vs. Braun Strowman
The battle of BS. This is your main event, folks! The Wyatts get to do a truncated version of their SmackDown! ‘Fall of the Titans’ promo. I actually enjoyed it, but I don’t like where it is heading. Strowman is possibly the oddest-shaped man I’ve ever clapped eyes on. He looks like Samwell Tarly of the Night’s Watch. I guess that makes Show a Wight Walker – not only a pun on his surname, but also a testament to the pedestrian pace at which he wrestles. And while I’m at it (safely behind my keyboard), what’s with Strowman’s tattoos? That grey-shading-tribal-Superman-logo one on his upper arm looks weird and far too small for the size of that limb.
Anaheim have the gall to start a “let’s go Big Show” chant, which is simply ridiculous. I’m sure there’s a parallel universe where Strowman surprises Big Show with a flying headscissors to start. Unfortunately, this is the universe where they’re two useless lugs. There’s no real match as such. The Wyatts jump show for the DQ. Ryback tries to make the save but is also caught out by the numbers game (stoopid!). Finally, Kane emerges from underneath the ring, which was once a cool spot but has been done to death over the years. And there are your titans: Show, Kane, and Ryback. They’re one shy in numbers, so I assume that Tiny Lister, a.k.a. Zeus will shortly be joining them. The reality is a six-man tag between the Wyatt followers and these three while Bray kick starts his WrestleMania programme with Brock. A truly awful finish to the show.
Final Rating: N/R
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Big E.
Least Entertaining: Mark Henry. It’s as if he’s regressed to 1996 levels of bad.
Quote of the Night: “You could’ve been the World’s Strongest Unicorn but you turned into the World’s Largest Booty Hole.”
Match of the Night: Ambrose vs. Owens vs. Stardust vs. Breeze vs. Ziggler
Summary: The majority of the wrestling on this show was simply horrible. On the other hand, there were a few good promos to at least partially save the day. Do any of the events that unfolded tonight make me want to watch Fastlane even more? Not really. Only the promise of New Day and Edge & Christian in the ring together is hyping me up for the show any more so than I already was (taking into account that I already think that the main event might be worthwhile, plus I’m expecting to see Styles-Jericho). In short, watch the promos, but skip all the matches except the first one.
With the majority of the roster already over in Europe for a tour, tonight’s show features a very small skeleton crew, meaning the likes of Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, the League of Nations and the Authority are nowhere to be seen. This show might have a chance of being entertaining, then.
Promo Time: Chris Jericho
There was once a time when Chris Jericho was one of the best talkers in the business. Unfortunately, those days have passed and he now exudes the air of an un-cool uncle desperately trying to prove that he is still “hip” and “with it”. Jericho these days tends to rely a lot on his past successes – because that is all he has left – and here it is no different when he brings up his classic ladder match with Shawn Michaels, eight years ago. That would be like the WWF in the Attitude Era referring back to the Hogan and Warrior days of 1990. Jericho is set to wrestle AJ Styles, who heads out with the intention of getting things underway immediately. Before they get doing the Social Outcasts – sans Bo Dallas – wander to ringside and cut their usual cringe-inducing promo that makes you slightly embarrassed to be watching something so juvenile. Fat Jericho tells them to hush and a ruckus breaks out. Jericho and AJ combine to take out J.O.B. Squad 2016, and Jericho decides on behalf of both of them that they are going to wrestle them in a tag match. AJ doesn't even get a say in it.
Curtis Axel & Adam Rose vs. AJ Styles & Chris Jericho
Like I said, there is only a few members of the roster here, so WWE are trying to stretch the talent they have as much as they can by having AJ and Jericho work twice. The Outcasts are basically crash test dummies for Jericho and AJ to do moves on in an attempt to outdo one another. Announcer Mauro Ranallo gets props for mentioning that Axel’s dad Curt Hennig started out in Portland Wrestling, which is the kind of insight you just don’t get from Michael Cole. AJ gets a brief beat down then fires back on Rose with his wonderful backhand flurry, then Jericho tags himself in when AJ strays towards him. Jericho fires up and connects with quebrada, only for AJ to tags himself back in and hit the springboard flying forearm to finish. Generic tag fare, for the most part. Post match, Jericho heels on AJ and drills him with the Codebreaker, setting up their match later on.
Final Rating: *1/2
Promo Time: The Dudley Boyz
Turning the duo heel on Monday was the smartest thing WWE could have done with the tandem, who were treading water after an initial hot return. Bubba is a great heel and could be a real player in WWE if given the chance to be himself. He says he is sick of hearing about Daniel Bryan and sick of a lot of things in WWE. He is not the only one. D-Von complains about people seeing the team as a nostalgia act, which is fair comment. The booking didn't help them at all. Bubba directs attention to a load of set up tables and says it will be the last time the fans ever see them because the Dudley Boyz are about more than getting easy pops from drilling opponents through tables. He forces stage hands to remove them, leaving one in the ring. Good heeling. “What about us? What about the Dudley Boyz?” he wines. The duo symbolically take the final table away, cementing their shift to the dark side. It is pleasing that a turn in WWE was actually given an explanation rather than simply happening in secret like every Big Show and Bellas turn. Quite a good promo here. Bubba is great on the stick. He could be the top heel WWE are so sorely lacking.
Sasha Banks vs. Naomi
Team BAD explode! Becky Lynch does commentary due to WWE’s creative bankruptcy. Sasha playing full-on babyface is strange to me. I know the crowd were getting behind her but that doesn't mean she needs to be generic smiling babyface. She needs to play “the Boss”, she will get cheered for it anyway because of how good at it she is. Unfortunately, WWE have no idea what to do with her because they don't get the character. For the most part the match is a clusterfuck, full of blown spots and lethargic action. Sasha tries to take it up a notch by taking a silly back bump on the apron which looks painful and barely gets a response. The risk is not worth the reward. She needs to slow down and cut that bump out, it will shorten her career. The match is long and the crowd is dead, and even the canned heat can’t save it. Naomi does her best to up the ante, hitting an amazing flurry of kicks like Low Ki if he was a Rockette. Becky – who is the worst commentator since the Bellas - offers, “She’s trying to KICK it up a notch. I will still KICK her lass (sic)” Only a WWE writer could come up with puns so lame. Becky doesn't help with her delivery because she sounds utterly bored. Either that, or she has had a stroke. Naomi is athletic but has no wrestling instincts at all and is oten in the wrong place, and while Sasha tries to lead her I get the sense that he is a little out of her element on the main roster, as if she is frightened of doing too much to take charge so she doesn't offend those with tenure. Good old politics. Tamina interferes but, incredibly, Banks kicks out of the distraction finish! Who does she think she is, John Cena? Tamina and Becky get into it on the outside and Tamina ends up sat in the announce chair. Sasha heads outside and kicks her out of the chair and Tamina takes the most reckless and uncoordinated bump ever. But it looks good. Back in the ring and a roll up from Naomi is countered into the Bank Statement for the Sasha win. Picked up towards the end but mostly useless.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, AJ Styles does a promo with JoJo. It’s good, he should be allowed to speak more. He responds to being coined a “redneck rookie”, saying he is proud of being a redneck, but he ain’t no rookie. He dismisses Jericho’s recent dissing of him as distraction tactics designed to cause him to make a mistake, pointing out that “this ain’t my first rodeo.” Quite.
Promo Time: The Wyatt Family
Bray offers a spot of poetry recital, which is the same mindless blabbering as usual, only it rhymes. Bray is the king of the gods, the family are his army, yadda, yadda. Bray says that after removing Show, Kane and Ryback from WWE screens, he wants to rid WWE of “all its titans”. If that means oversized lunks who cannot work, then great. Bring it on. Say, how about we start with his buddy Stroman? One thing I will give Braun credit for, he does have an amazing deep snarling voice. Unfortunately, I know this is all leading to a WrestleMania program between Wyatt and Lesnar, which sounds like an awful waste of Brock.
Stardust & The Ascension vs. Neville & The Lucha Dragons
What was the point of WWE putting the US Title back on Kalisto if they are just going to use him in throwaway six man tag matches every week? All of the great work that John Cena did making the belt worthwhile again has been unravelled in record time. I am flabbergasted that in February 2016 we are still being forced to watch Neville suffer through matches with the interminable Stardust. I am convinced they only work together so often so WWE’s resident cartoonist has an excuse to draw pre-match graphics. The match is quicker than lighting, with much flipping and flying at speed, then the Dragons and Neville all hitting their big finishing moves ending with a Neville Red Arrow for the win. At least the right guy went over, but this continued waste of Neville is frustrating.
Final Rating: **
AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho
Only three matches on the entire show, and two of them have featured this pair. I may be in the minority but I thought their match on Raw a few weeks back was really underwhelming, with Jericho looking in poor ring condition and half a step off the pace. On commentary Lawler is as bad as Jericho for brining up past, deciding that Jericho is obviously better than AJ because he defeated The Rock and Steve Austin in same night. That was nearly fifteen years ago! That’s like saying Pele is still the best footballer in the world, or that Michael Jordan should be playing in the NBA. Ranallo shows how commentating should be done by throwing in a Dynamite Kid reference after a snap suplex. One thing that becomes readily apparent when watching SmackDown! is how much of an unwanted third wheel charisma void Byron Saxton is. He is so out of place. Ranallo and the heelish Lawler would be a great team if they did not have to constantly stop and listen to Saxton’s inane ramblings. He merely stumbles through sentences without any comprehension of what he is saying, offering no insight whatsoever. And he is, inexplicably, on both shows. The match features lots of counters, move scouting, and impressive offence from Styles, with a more grounded approach comparatively adopted by Jericho. He is as sloppy as ever though, with no idea how to reverse the Styles Clash into the Walls of Jericho, so he improvises something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Brie Bella match. AJ’s transition from that into the Calf Crusher is far smoother. Moments later Jericho connects with the Codebreaker out of nowhere, giving him the clean win and subjecting AJ early to WWE’s ever-infuriating Even Steven toss. So to sum up, AJ got roundly dissed, cheap shotted and beaten up, then defeated. Great booking. The match was alright. People will inevitably rate it higher than it deserves because AJ is involved, but it was good, not special. Jericho doesn't have special matches anymore.
Final Rating: ***1/4
THE SMACKDOWN RECAP:
Most Entertaining: AJ Styles
Least Entertaining: Byron Saxton
Match of the Night: AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho
Summary: It was lovely to not have Roman and Ambrose forced down my throat to the point of nausea, but at the same time the lack of any real star power on the show other than the two guys in the main event made it feel like a strong episode of Superstars or Main Event rather than WWE’s secondary show. The problem with SmackDown! is that nothing tends to happen. The ring work is about the same as Raw, the promos and angles are often better because Vince McMahon does not always attend SmackDown! and thus the writers have a touch more freedom, however that also means they cannot go too far with anything for fear of repercussions. The result is a show like this, with decent wrestling carrying it through but absolutely nothing happening that would be considered can’t-miss. A reasonable effort, but ultimately pointless.
This week's NXT signals a new batch of episodes taped at the CFE Arena on the University of Central Florida Campus. A bigger arena, more fans...but honestly not much of a different look. Weird. Your hosts, as usual, are Tom Phillips and Corey Graves. Graves has become a way better commentator than I think he even thought he would be.
Baron Corbin vs. Johnny Gargano
Corbin is still mad about two weeks ago where he was tapped out by both Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe at the same time, thereby losing his chance at the #1 contendership to Finn Balor and his NXT Title. To soak his tears he instead gets to face another 'indie darling' in the form of Johnny Gargano. Gargano happens to be one of my favorites at the moment so I'm pumped about this development. Match starts with Gargano trying to use his speed to get some quick jabs in but Corbin stops that onslaught with a swift right hand to the mush. Corbin hammer whips Gargano in the corner then sarcastically gives him an ovation, a nice touch for a guy that's just so easy to hate. LOOK AT HIS FACE. Gargano mounts a comeback and staggers Corbin with a superkick, prompting the latter to bail to the floor. Gargano chases him back into the ring but eats the End of Days quickly and it's over. Good match for what it was. (5:56)
Final Rating: **
Rich Brennan is backstage with Sami Zayn, who takes on Samoa Joe next week for a shot at the NXT Championship. Zayn goes the generic wrestling promo route of guaranteeing a fight instead of a match next week then vows to be NXT Champion for the second time. Underwhelming.
A Vaudevillains vignette plays where their playful demeanor quickly turns dark, with the ragtime music following. They Heel Doinked.
The Hype Bros vs. John Skyler & Corey Hollis
Skyler's man-bun game is on point. The Hype Bros do their tag team thing for the first minute or so, with Ryder taking out their foes with a double baseball slide. Skyler and Hollis get a short burst of offense by working over Ryder in the corner but Ryder manages to fight out, tag Rawley, and it's all academic from there as the Hype Bros finish them off with the Hype Ryder. It was alright. The Hype Bros. aren't the worst tag team I've seen come out of NXT (this is where you envision me staring blankly at The Ascension). (3:29)
Final Rating: **
Rich Brennan is backstage with NXT Women's Champion Bayley and her best friend/opponent tonight Carmella. Bayley is proud of Carmella for winning the #1 contender's battle royal but isn't ready to give up her championship just yet, while Carmella puts this match over as the biggest of her career. They vow to remain friends after. Oh man I hope this isn't another heel turn situation.
Alexa Bliss vs. Cameron
Bliss is accompanied by her dubstep-loving tag team of Blake & Murphy. She and Blake are wearing matching Freddie Krueger sweaters but Blake's is cut off at the midriff because screw your conventions, America. Cameron is also playing a heel here so the NXT crowd choose to cheer for Bliss as she's technically one of their own. Cameron works Bliss over with double knees to the back and stops Bliss' comeback with a neckbreaker but soon Bliss is in control to hit what was supposed to be a backflip kneedrop. She misses completely. But hey that's all well and good because right after she finishes with a nice-looking Sparkle Splash and all is forgotten. Botch aside this was fine. NXT has a lot of matches that are fine. (4:13)
Final Rating: *3/4
Enzo Amore and Big Cass try to deliver a serious promo directed at NXT Tag Team Champions Dawson & Dash but they're interrupted by American Alpha. Chad Gable tries to throw an insult at Amore and Cass but can't quite get it out so Amore finishes it for him, and make fun of him for it. Gable counters by saying he's “layered like that”. Jason Jordan brings up the big 8-man tag team match for next week where the two teams will meet the Tag Team Champs and Blake & Murphy and they appear to be a united front. Gable tries to end things with a “Ready, Willing, and Gable” rally cry but no one does it and they all walk off. Chad Gable really is the new Kurt Angle, goddamn. Not complaining though, this was entertaining. [***]
Elias Sampson vs. Jesse Sorensen
Sampson and his dead in the water 'Drifter' gimmick continues. Ugh. His opponent this week is Jesse Sorensen, whom you may remember as the guy who almost died in a TNA ring then got fired from TNA after being offered a job for life due to the severity of the injury (a broken freakin' neck). Cool that he's bounced back and he's apparently able to wrestle just fine but part of me feels nervous just seeing him out here, even if he's been at it again for awhile. Anyway blah blah blah Sampson hits the neckbreaker for the win. This stupid Drifter thing, guys. Come on. (2:37)
Final Rating: N/R
Rich Brennan is standing by with Apollo Crews after we see a clip of Crews coming up short against Finn Balor last week. Crews says he now knows what he needs to do to become the best and the next time he wrestles everyone will see a new Apollo Crews. Okay.
NXT Women's Championship
Bayley (c) Vs. Carmella
The in-ring introductions get a little sprucing up, with both competitors bathed in spotlight as the rest of the arena is darkened. Nice touch. Bayley and Carmella hug to show how close they are and then it's off to the races as they do a little chain wrestling to jockey for position. The exchange ends in a double dropkick and both ladies stare one another down in a Mexican stand-off. This really is WWE's indie company. Bayley gets in a string of offense that ends with a kneedrop and a two-count and WWE Network cuts to commercial. That Edge & Christian show looks kinda funny.
Back live Carmella takes over with a monkey flip and a Thesz Press. Bayley counters with a clothesline and climbs the middle buckle but Carmella shoves her off. Carmella takes a second to think it over then gets a good head of steam and flattens Bayley with a tope suicida. It's so nice that she does it twice (sorry, channeling my inner-Ed Whalen) but she can't get the pinfall which understandably upsets her. The two then both try various roll-ups to pin one another, with Bayley kicking out off and countering a sunset flip with a roll-up to get the win. A damn fine match, especially since I wasn't really into the idea of Carmella getting a title shot. She's gotten way better than I remembered. Very good main event that gave Bayley another solid win and helped make Carmella look like a million bucks. (8:06 shown)
Final Rating: ***
Bayley and Carmella embrace and instead of a heel turn Carmella bails to the floor to give her best friend (okay seriously, when did they become best friends, because I really don't remember) her moment. No heel turns, yay! Eva Marie and Nia Jax spoil the party by attacking Carmella on the floor and laying waste to Bayley when she tries to help out. Marie and Jax bring Carmella into the ring and Jax flattens her with multiple legdrops until Asuka shows up to the roar of the crowd (stomp your feet to the ground). Asuka stares the two ladies down and they back away instead of attack, which is smart because Asuka will just straight to rip their eyes out Haku-style. Bayley rolls in to check on Carmella and Asuka turns her attention to the champion. Asuka stares her down, smiles, then gently bats at the Women's Championship to show that she's interested in getting a shot at the belt. Hell yes, sign me right the hell up for that one. A great segment to cap off a good match that set up a match I very much want to see. Can't argue with that.
Instead of ending on that note we instead go backstage for comments from Samoa Joe, who's still mad that Sami Zayn is ungrateful for the fact he saved Zayn's career. Joe says that next week Zayn will see the inevitable, that he will become the next NXT Champion. You couldn't have put this somewhere before the main event/post-match angle? Boo.
THE NXT RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Asuka. Her aura alone scared off Eva Marie and Nia Jax, and her simple way of asking for a shot at the NXT Women's Championship was stellar. Asuka is the real deal.
Least Entertaining: Elias Sampson. Someone shoot this Drifter gimmick in the head so this guy has a shot at life in NXT.
Best Match: Bayley vs. Carmella
Summary: A fine NXT episode this week, with a great main event and even better post-match angle. The rating gets bogged down a bit because while none of the matches rated were necessarily bad they were merely just fine. Not good, not bad, just there. Also seriously I loathe The Drifter almost as much as I love Asuka and that's a lot.
The internet was abuzz this afternoon after the announcement on Twitter from Daniel Bryan that he’d be retiring. There will be more on tonight’s show regarding that and although it has felt like it’s been coming for a while (his last match was in April of last year) it is a crushing disappointment. We open the show with a career retrospective of Bryan’s run from the gyms and Indies to main eventing WrestleMania XXX. It’s been one hell of a ride. Here are just a few recommended Daniel Bryan matches:
We’re in Seattle, Washington, which is where Bryan is from. Washington State that is. Hosts are Michael Cole, Byron Saxton and JBL.
Contract Signing for main event of Fastlane
The crowd don’t care about this at all and chant “Daniel Bryan”. Why even bother starting the show with this? Nobody cares, Steph! Not until Dean Ambrose joins us. I’ve been hearing rumblings that WWE is leaning toward Ambrose headlining WrestleMania due to his crowd responses. To be fair to the chosen one Roman Reigns gets a decent pop too. Steph’s only worth is to point out to Ambrose that Roman keeps stealing his spotlight. Brock Lesnar also gets a hearty pop. It’s actually tough to discern who the crowd favourite is although I suspect the Fastlane crowd will turn on Roman first. Steph gets everything signed and leaves allowing Paul Heyman to mock “little brother” Dean. The IC champ takes exception so Brock flips the tables on them sumbitches and hits the F5 on Ambrose. Triple H finally shows up to have a stare down and I notice he has “ferrum pugnus” on his Titantron. That’s Latin for “Iron Fist”. Is he trying for yet another nickname? Or has it been there forever and I’ve just never noticed?
Video Control takes us backstage where Dean Ambrose promises to “get” Brock Lesnar tonight.
Kevin Owens vs. Dolph Ziggler
Crowd is really into the aggressive Owens. He’s like this big bear, man. Owens secondary focus is yelling at Michael Cole. “Nobody likes me much, I guess” mumbles Cole, showing a chink of fragility and self-awareness. Owens’ aggression is par for the course, especially against Ziggles who gets beaten up for a living. When Ziggler gets going and the match becomes competitive it’s solid. Dolph is suffering from the past year or so of booking where he’s been reduced to typical midcard work. If WWE is planning on using him he needs some rebuilding. The crowd favour Owens due to his sturdy booking and motor-mouth. Ziggler dodges a Cannonball and pins using the ropes. Was that babyface cheating or a hint at something deeper? Either way it was a decent enough match, although the 50-50 booking is killing me.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control takes us backstage where the Usos are playing hard in the paint, or something. The Dudley Boyz turn up and seem upset at not being asked to be in a tables match with The New Day. The Dudleys talk their way into the match. Does that make it a triangle match or a four on three? It turns out it’s an eight man match with New Day having a mystery fourth man.
Charlotte vs. Alicia Fox
Nikki Bella is off being injured and Brie Bella is too busy with her husband, who’s the focus of this show. This leaves poor Foxy on her own. Alicia can’t take half of Charlotte’s spots properly, including the headscissors driver business. Her body position is all wrong. Charlotte does far better taking the comeback spots, including a satellite backbreaker, like a champ. Ugly spear sets up the Figure Eight. Foxy taps. Charlotte is doing a decent job as women’s champion. The Brie Bella match at Fastlane is most likely a combination of wanting to save the big match for WrestleMania (Charlotte vs. Sasha and perhaps Becky) and the timing of Bryan’s retirement.
Final Rating: ½*
MizTV: Chris Jericho
Miz is a bit upset with AJ Styles for breaking one of his teeth last week. He refers to AJ as a “redneck rookie” (last I checked, rookies hadn’t been wrestlers for 15 years but hey, it is the Miz talking), takes responsibility for Daniel Bryan’s career and generally acts like a total jerk until Chris Jericho turns up to be the guest. Jericho points out that Miz only ever talks about himself and isn’t very good at hosting talk shows. This is generally agreed so Jericho switches this over to the Highlight Reel instead. We get a lovely replay of Styles knocking the cap off one of Miz’s teeth with a spinning backfist on SmackDown. Miz is pretty fragile. It’s a good job he doesn’t work in Japan. Not that anyone would hire him over there. Miz’s claims to have an audition with Steven Spielberg are absolutely ridiculous. They throw to footage of AJ beating Jericho and low and behold he can take the backfist because he can actually work, unlike Mizanin who’s never graduated from the rookie class in terms difficulty. Miz vomits forth a load of company line about people outside of WWE not being as good as anyone in the company. He is a shill and a scumbag. Eventually Miz and Jericho stop running their mouths and AJ Styles shows up. The faces clear out the useless Miz and do a showdown to sell SmackDown. Hell, I’m sold. Despite Miz’s boring and worthless contributions to this segment it ended up working because of the talent involved.
Bray Wyatt vs. Ryback
Ryback’s costume makeover has turned him into a Goldberg clone, which is how he started out. Is the snazzy weightlifting belt supposed to make him more unique? The crowd immediately chant “Goldberg”, showing what a foolish decision the change in gear was. Why would you draw attention to your similarity to Goldberg after spending years trying to get away from it? The match is bland, unconvincing and has way too many co-operative spots. Ryback walks into Sister Abigail’s Kiss for the pin. The way they’ve repackaged Ryback makes me think he’s about to get released. That’s how much they’ve killed him.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control takes us to The New Day who are “working on the taaaables” according to Big E. Xavier Woods says there can’t be an 8-man tag because they’re a trio. Big E’s sense of self belief has multiplied to ridiculous levels over the past twelve months. He has so much confidence in everything he does. He knows he’s money now. Elsewhere Dean Ambrose tells Roman Reigns he doesn’t need his help to fight Brock Lesnar. Trouble a brewin’ in the remains of the Shield.
Titus O’Neil vs. Adam Rose
Rose is representing the #SocialOutcasts. I’ll give them props; the jobbers are trying really hard to get this angle over. However the sheer lack of talent in the group can’t be good for them in the long run. They see Heath as a leader and mouthpiece but he’s not a good promo. However the New Day showed that having a good time and going with whatever WWE give you can produce success. JBL compares the Social Outcasts to Leicester City, which isn’t a bad analogy if they weren’t still losers. Despite this being a virtual four on one Rose barely wins with a roll up and gets creamed by Titus while celebrating. The 2k16 Job Squad needed to win this one but barely did. At least Heath Slater looks like he’s enjoying himself.
Final Rating: ½*
Promo Time: Dean Ambrose
Ambrose is eager to fight Lesnar tonight, despite taking a kicking in the opening segment. Dean was unimpressed by the earlier F5 and requests another “with some stink on it”. Ambrose then reels off a list of abuse to provoke Brock into fighting him. Lesnar is amused at Dean’s provocation and I love that about him. He doesn’t need to take Ambrose’s challenge seriously until Dean does something to make himself a threat. Dean takes a beating and an F5 but begs for more. This time Roman Reigns runs down for the save, thus allowing Ambrose to punch Brock in the groin and get a measure of revenge. Albeit in somewhat cowardly fashion. This worked as Ambrose got the chance to show that a) he wasn’t just a third wheel at Fastlane and b) he’s not afraid of Lesnar because he’s nuts.
The Lucha Dragons vs. League of Nations (Alberto Del Rio & Rusev)
Sin Cara is back in action after a knee injury took him out for a short while. In the meantime Kalisto won the US title. The League of Nations feels completely redundant already with Sheamus having lost the WWE title despite their existence and nobody else having any motivation beyond Del Rio’s former US title push. The crowd wants Lana and Rusev agrees. Is she being punished for some locker room slight again? The match is sluggish when Sin Cara is in there but Kalisto raises the temperature with his high speed, high impact offence. Del Rio hits the double stomp with Kalisto treed for the pin. Why does anyone stay in place for that spot? Surely you know it’s coming, so just drop into a hanging position. Holding yourself in position for a spot just makes it look fake.
Final Rating: *1/4
Video Control takes us to R-Truth and the wacky Goldust, who’s impersonating Jimi Hendrix. Goldust smashes up his guitar. “Oh no, I destroyed Little Jimi”. Both guys say the names of Jimi Hendrix songs and it’s really awkward. And not in the way WWE’s writers were hoping.
Becky Lynch vs. Tamina
Sasha Banks joins commentary, pointing out her allegiance with Becky is the same as in NXT where they were a team. That and she has to team with someone because she has no friends and needs to fight former Team BAD buddies Tamina and Naomi. Sasha calls herself the “Beyonce of the group”, which is both accurate and appropriate. Becky & Sasha vs. Tamina & Naomi has been booked for Fastlane as Brie Bella is getting the title shot. Pleasing to see two women’s matches on the same PPV card. The crowd doesn’t care about this until Sasha gets provoked into action. Becky is protective of Sasha and gives Naomi the Exploder to save her but walks into a kick to the face for the loss. Of all these four girls they put Tamina over? I guess they needed to make Tamina look like a legitimate threat but the big story here is the uncomfortable team of Becky and Sasha. I like that they’re actually attempting two main show women’s storylines and they both make sense.
Final Rating: *
Video Control takes us backstage where the New Day schmooze a potential tag team partner and it’s Mark Henry. “We need his big body” says Kofi Kingston when Mark wants to play Francesca II.
The New Day & Mark Henry vs. The Usos & The Dudley Boyz
Mark, complete with unicorn horn, clapping and dancing makes him look like he’s alive again, after a few years of looking comatose. I know this isn’t new news but how on Earth were the Usos the Slammy Award winners for tag team of the year? Jey was only healthy four months out of the twelve. Even Jimmy and Jey should have thought twice before voting for themselves. The New Day irritate Henry into leaving thus allowing a four on three. There is miscommunication with the tables, with it being repositioned twice by the Usos in one spot before the Dudley Boyz hit a 3D through the table for the swift win. The interesting part comes post match when the Dudley Boyz decide to turn heel on the Usos, who’ve been booed a lot recently so that’s probably not the best of ideas. Jimmy takes a 3D through a table, which draws a “one more time” chant followed by an “E-C-Dub” chant, showing WWE doesn’t have their finger on the pulse when it comes to who are heels, faces and borderline one or the other in the company. I’m sure they’ll retcon this into a genuine heel turn but the Dudleys were cheered wildly for beating up the Usos here.
Final Rating: *1/2
Daniel Bryan’s Retirement Speech
Daniel has trimmed his beard and especially his hair since we last saw him but he’s as over as ever, greeted by an enormous “YES” chant. Watching him soak it all in is incredibly touching. He doesn’t even need to say anything as the crowd chant for five minutes. Daniel talks honestly about his career and how he got three concussions in his first five months in the ring but he kept passing tests despite repeated head injuries. He talks about the business and how much he’s enjoyed it. “I have loved this in a way I have not loved anything else”. He talks about wanting to have kids and the crowd chants “yes”. “That’s what Brie says all the time!” “That’s what she said” chants the crowd. I’m glad this is a joyous occasion but it brings a tear to my eye. Having officially retired Daniel starts to amuse himself. He talks about the Seahawks and how he reacts to his pop with an uncontrollable smirk. He talks about loving topes and how they make him feel like Superman. “I have wrestled in the parking lots of gas stations and I have wrestled in front of 70,000 plus in New Orleans”. It’s a modern day Dusty Rhodes pork n’ beans analogy. Bryan puts over Kane, William Regal and Connor the Crusher. Daniel is grateful for the career he’s had. “We do this because we love to do this”. Bryan references a RAW from two years ago where the crowd hijacked the show on Daniel’s behalf and gets choked up talking about how his Dad got to see that and what that meant to him. The ongoing theme is that Daniel is grateful for everything he’s gotten from wrestling. It’s a touching speech, which makes me cry. And with that one of the greatest wrestlers of our time is retired. I will certainly miss him. Talent like his doesn’t come along very often.
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Daniel Bryan. Thanks for the memories.
Least Entertaining: The Miz. Appropriate that Daniel Bryan’s ‘mentor’ would have a terrible outing on Bryan’s retirement show.
Quote of the Night: “Brock Lesnar has gone soft. That sounds like a personal problem. What’s wrong Brock? Can’t get it up for the big fight” – Dean Ambrose pokes an angry dog with a sharp stick.
Match of the Night: Kevin Owens vs. Dolph Ziggler
Summary: There were a few decent attempts to push Fastlane, although the crowd were only really here for one person and he won’t be at Fastlane or any other WWE PPV from now on. Daniel Bryan’s retirement is unfortunate because he was such a phenomenal in-ring performer but if it means he gets to live a normal life from now on and doesn’t suffer a serious head injury that does worse than end his career then it’ll be worth it. There are hundreds and hundreds of Daniel Bryan matches out there for us to enjoy, both in WWE and around the world prior to his WWE debut. He will be missed but he can still be enjoyed. Thank you, Daniel Bryan for everything you’ve done as a professional wrestler. I can honestly say you’ve never disappointed me. You’ve always been a joy to watch.
This week's SmackDown emanates from Memphis, TN. Mauro Ranallo, Byron Saxton, and Memphis' own Jerry Lawler are your commentators. I'm sure this surprises you. There's no opening RAW recap this week so I guess I didn't miss anything huge. Honestly I have no idea how people even still watch RAW at this point.
Roman Reigns vs. Rusev
I've barely watched any weekly TV over the past few years but even I'm rolling my eyes at this match happening again. At least there's a story behind it somewhat though as Rusev helped injure Reigns at the Royal Rumble by putting him through a table and Reigns gave him a receipt the next night on RAW. Rusev is accompanied by Alberto Del Rio and King Barrett, the latter in wrestling trunks like he isn't injured. Adorable. Super basic wrestling here with Del Rio and Barrett attacking Reigns before his Superman Punch to cause a disqualification super early. I think you know where this is headed. (3:02)
Final Rating: *
Dean Ambrose runs out to save Reigns from a 3-on-1 attack but ends up accidentally stage diving right into his 'brother' to create some intrigue for the #1 contender's triple threat at Fastlane. Considering they already proved they could fight each other and remain friends at Survivor Series this is wholly unnecessary. Rusev locks Ambrose in The Accolade until Reigns chases the heels off with a steel chair.
After the commercial break it's announced that Reigns and Ambrose will team up against Rusev and Del Rio in the main event. SHOCKING. Renee Young catches up with Ambrose backstage, who says hitting Reigns was an accident, that he sometimes gets his wires crossed when he's in the heat of battle. Ambrose says that he and Reigns have an understanding on when they hit each other and when they hit other people and tonight they will be hitting other people. Solid game plan to win the match tonight.
Kalisto vs. Kevin Owens
Kalisto's United States Championship is not on the line for this one. Dolph Ziggler is also ringside to provide commentary, furthering his feud with Owens. Bell rings and Owens immediately goes on the attack while Lawler immediately starts in with calling Kalisto a mosquito, even referencing the Zika Virus for maximum relevancy. Kalisto fights back with a tope con hilo but Owens dodges the Salina Del Sol and hits a German suplex to regain control as we go to commercial.
Back from break Owens spends his time beating Kalisto down while jawing at Ziggler. A senton and a belly-to-back into a gutbuster only net him two-counts. Kalisto dodges a second senton and hits his always cool corkscrew crossbody and short rana for a two-count of his own. Owens rolls to the floor and dodges a baseball slide, grabbing Kalisto in a fireman's carry and dropping him throat-first on the barricade. Owens clears the announce table and picks Kalisto up for a powerbomb, but instead of throwing him through the wood he throws him at Ziggler instead because he's a boss. Owens gives Ziggler a superkick for good measure and rolls Kalisto back into the ring. Ziggler causes a brief distraction and Kalisto underdogs his way to victory with a roll-up. A really fun match considering the amount of time they were given. Kalisto was a good tackling dummy for Owen's offense and vice versa and Owens throwing him into Ziggler was hilarious. Owens is so good. So so good. I'm a broken record and it's already February. (5:14 shown)
Final Rating: **3/4
Owens immediately attacks Kalisto after the match but Ziggler quickly makes the save and chases him down. No one comes out to Owens' aid so I guess we're only getting one thrown together tag team match tonight.
JoJo is standing by with The Miz. Miz is mad that the Academy Awards snubbed Santa's Helper and that his opponent tonight, AJ Styles, snubbed his offer to mentor him this past Monday on RAW considering all he did for Daniel Bryan. Miz says that tonight he's going to show 'the rookie' Styles that it takes more to succeed in the WWE than a Pele kick. That may be true but it never hurts to also have a Pele kick. Worked for Andre The Giant. I might have made that last thing up.
Ryback vs. Erick Rowan
Remember when Ryback was subjected to endless Goldberg chants during the first few years of his run? Well if you've been waiting to bring that one out of the mothballs now's your chance because Ryback has traded in his RVD singlets for the generic black trunks. This has to be on purpose right? WWE and Ryback aren't so dense that they don't see this correlation right? I'm not putting my faith into people who don't deserve it right? Moving on the match barely is so with Rowan's (accompanied by only Braun Strowman this time around) only big move being the double noogie vice crusher of death, which Lawler tells everyone is reminiscent of Sgt. Slaughter. Finally someone says it. Ryback eventually bounces back with a middle buckle missile dropkick and a running step-up knee and finishes off Rowan with the Meathook after Strowman attempted to distract him. Strowman tries to attack Ryback after but the Big Guy escapes before any real damage is done. A super quick match which is good because they two aren't engineered for Broadways but I'm honestly kind of surprised Ryback got the win here. The Wyatt Family decimated The Big Show on RAW but lose in under three minutes three days later? That's...weird. (2:57)
Final Rating: N/R
Renee Young is standing by backstage with Becky Lynch. They watch the footage from RAW where she and Sasha Banks accidentally teamed up to fight off Naomi and Tamina Snuka. Back live Sasha interrupts before Becky can get much of a word in and makes it a point to say that she doesn't 'do' friends. They bicker and in their arguing end up agreeing to team up against the former members of Team B.A.D. going forward. Honestly I kinda loved this, their bickering turned partnership agreement was wonderfully pulled off and felt natural.
AJ Styles vs. The Miz
Chris Jericho gets a televised entrance to do guest commentary. Since it's WrestleMania season I guess I can't skip Y2J by skipping RAW which is sad. It's still weird as hell seeing Styles in a WWE ring on a WWE show with WWE commentary doing WWE-like things (hashtag WWE). In a former life I was a hardcore TNA fan and in turn a big Styles fan so this is a shock to the system. Maybe when they relegate him to matches against Fandango on Superstars in a year or so I'll finally get over it (not that I want or truly think that'll happen, but you really never know with this company). Styles lights it up early but Miz takes control for the bulk of the match, with his pinfall attempts only netting him one-counts. Jericho is actually okay on commentary here as he puts over Styles but he, Saxton, and Lawler proceed to beat the 'Styles has to prove himself in WWE' point to death because they legitimately have nothing else to go on. Styles gets in a Pele Kick and teases the Styles Clash twice but Miz weasles his way out of it each time so he pulls out the Calf Kill...err Crusher and forces Miz to tap instead, putting over that he has another potential finisher to work with. I bet the folks scared to death to take the Styles Clash are happy about this one. This was a good match, Miz is underrated. (7:47 shown)
Final Rating: **3/4
To the surprise of no one Jericho gets on the house mic after the match and says that Styles has proven that he's good, but asks if he's great and challenges him to a rematch for next week's episode of SmackDown. They shake hands on it and have a stare down that lasts so long that it's almost surprising they didn't start kissing.
JoJo is standing by backstage with Roman Reigns. Reigns says that he knows what happened with Ambrose earlier was accident and that they are never on the same page but he digs that. He goes on to mention that while tonight was an accident the triple threat at Fastlane will be an 18-car pile-up which is still technically an accident so it's mostly the same thing.
WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day make their way out for the next match. Xavier Woods says they want to talk about their gold and talk about they do in their unique goofy way until their opponents tonight, #SocialOutcasts, interrupt. Is it my birthday? Heath Slater says 'Bo Rida' isn't here tonight because he's cutting a soon to be gold record and Adam Rose throws shade at The New Day by saying that it'll be actual gold as opposed to their championships which are bronze. Despite the jab Rose vows that they're going to snatch the titles from The New Day's waists. The New Day protest by asking them not to touch their wastes, Rose shoots back that they will indeed touch their waists. Seriously is it my birthday? Curtis Axel pipes in and says the horns on The New Day's head make them look like rhinos after having a hard time with the word rhinoceros. Happy Birthday to me. I loved every second of this; The New Day never fail to be entertaining and I'm still on board with #SocialOutcasts so it's cool to see them get a sort-of rub here.
The New Day vs. #SocialOutcasts
This is six-man tag team action so everyone not named Bo Dallas is involved. Slater and Rose have the advantage to start but then Big E tags in and lays waste to Rose with a release overhead belly-to-belly suplex. A Unicorn Stampede follows then Rose drops Woods with a spinebuster counter to Woods' front handspring clothesline. Axel gets the hot-ish tag (both teams are heels here so one is really cheering) and he and Kingston both jockey for position dodging each other's moves until he dents Kingston's face with a running knee. All six men start brawling and bodies fly everywhere. Axel tries to roll up a distracted Kingston but Woods pushes Axel's feet off the ropes so his partner can kick out. Kingston then rolls Axel up and with no Outcasts to stop it he uses his feet for leverage and for the pinfall victory. Short, sweet, and awesome. Pure fun. (3:58 shown)
Final Rating: **1/2
Charlotte vs. Alicia Fox
The WWE Divas Champion lost to Brie Bella on RAW Monday so now she's looking for revenge against Alicia Fox. Brie Bella won a match? Ew. Charlotte dominates for the bulk of it but Fox does still get in her bridging Northern Lights Suplex spot in before she's finished off with the Figure Eight. This was perfectly fine, though it's hard to believe that Fox is easier to beat than Brie Bella. Fox melts down after the match, screaming and ripping at her hair. She's doing that gimmick again, cool. (3:58)
Final Rating: *3/4
We go to footage from earlier today where R-Truth is disputing hotel charges with the concierge. Goldust shows up looking like a bellhop (with a painted face) and asks if he needs help. R-Truth has no interest in this and they fight over Truth's briefcase, resulting in its contents spilling everywhere. Apparently Goldust is goofy again and R-Truth is now fake Booker T. Boo-urns.
Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose vs. Alberto Del Rio & Rusev
Before the match starts we get another look at the footage of Ambrose accidentally hitting his friend Reigns during the opening show brawl. Lawler tries to paint it as Ambrose doing it on purpose despite both men saying it wasn't and no one buying this nonsense for a second. I hope WWE realizes this isn't a worthwhile angle and let it go next week. Reigns and Rusev go at it blow for blow to start until Rusev drops Reigns with a roundhouse kick to the skull. Nice. The League of Nations work Reigns over as Lawler once again pretending that Ambrose and Reigns have a problem with one another. Reigns gets a Samoan Drop in and Ambrose gets the hot tag, laying Rusev out with a flying missile dropkick. Rusev charges at Ambrose but ends up on the floor and Ambrose meets him with a tope suicida. Rusev escapes Dirty Deeds and kicks Ambrose in the side of the head, leading Ambrose to get in his rebound lariat spot. Reigns gets the tag and hits the Drive By on Rusev. King Barrett distracts Reigns, but Reigns dodges Rusev's attempt to blindside him and hits the Superman Punch. Del Rio breaks the count with a superkick. Fight goes to the floor and Ambrose accidentally hits Reigns with a tope suicida but Reigns catches him. Reigns is upset about this since it's the second time this happened tonight but saves him anyway from Rusev with a Superman Punch. He finishes things off soon after with a real janky-looking spear. Okay main event, but as I've said repeatedly already I'm not buying this whole friction thing yet no matter how many times Lawler tries to make it a thing. Stop trying to make fetch happen, King. (7:49)
Final Rating: **
THE SMACKDOWN RECAP:
Most Entertaining: An honest to god toss-up between The New Day and The Social Outcasts. Their interaction together before their match and the match itself were the highlight of this show without question.
Least Entertaining: Ryback and his acceptance of his Goldberg clone fate.
Match of the Night: The New Day vs. The Social Outcasts (technically AJ vs. Miz was better but I liked the former so much more)
Summary: An entertaining week of SmackDown; either this show has gotten a lot better since its move to USA or I just keep lucking out and getting the good weeks to review. Styles/Miz was solid and I can't say enough good about New Day/#SocialOutcasts, but I also need to throw props to the brief Sasha/Becky segment for being about the most natural fight between begrudging friends that I've seen in pro wrestling in quite awhile. The Reigns and Ambrose story plus that dumb Goldust/R-Truth skit brought it down a little bit but overall I give this a pretty strong thumbs up. At the very least SmackDown is worth watching just in case AJ Styles wants to debut another move.
When the chance to review the weekly NXT show came about, I must say I was excited. Seen as one of the best wrestling shows around today, NXT gives wrestling fans exactly what they are looking for; great wrestling action, sensible storyline builds and most importantly, an hour show that does not drag on with meaningless time fillers and endless promos. Even with the occasional boring show or flop of a match, it still means something to the point where you don’t want to miss it. WWE may still call it developmental, but don’t let the name fool you. NXT is the best thing WWE has going and the first project in a long time where they are doing everything right. Giving the fans exactly what they want to see...what a novel concept. On that note, let's get into the action of this week's edition where we are sure to see fallout from last week's triple threat number one contenders match for Finn Bálor’s NXT Championship. We are at Full Sail University with Tom Phillips and Corey Graves calling the action.
I want to make note that the intro for the show is hyping up tonight’s match between NXT Champion Finn Bálor and Apollo Crews. During the intro, they call this a “title free” match...what? In my twenty-five years of watching wrestling, never once have I heard this. Non-title match, yes, but title free I am not sure about.
The Vaudevillians vs. The Hype Bros
I like the Vaudevillains so much more as heels lending much better to their namesake. The Hype Bros get the early offense in the match, but the Vaudevillains quickly turn things around cutting off the ring using classic heel tag team attack on Zach Ryder. Ryder eventually escapes and gets the hot tag to Mojo Rawley, who runs wild on the Vaudevillians in a very “Titus O'Neil just got the hot tag” kind of way. As Rawley tears through the Vaudevillians, Corey Graves referring to the Bros lime green tights says “Slimmers on the loose at Full Sail again.” The comeback is short lived as Rawley gets thrown into the turnbuckle, falls over towards his corner and Ryder tags himself in. Ryder goes nowhere as he is double teamed followed by Simon Gotch hitting him with an uppercut to the back of the head sending him into Aiden English’s Whirling Dervish for the win. Takeaways from this match are the Vaudevillains make great heels, and I would be okay with never seeing the Hype Bros on this show again.
Final Rating: *1/4
After a look back at the Women’s battle royal from three weeks ago, we get a backstage interview with Carmella. This seems to be the attempt to show her as a contender for the NXT Women's Championship and not just the eye candy that accompanies Enzo and Cass. Point taken but nothing too special here. We also get a quick interview with NXT Tag Team Champions Dash and Dawson hyping a return match with Enzo and Cass. Mic skills are not their strong suit.
Carmella vs. Emma
The first thing I notice as Emma gets in the ring is how awkwardly small her gloves are. Maybe I just missed it and the new “in style” is the O.J. Simpson in court look. It may be because she is in the ring with the skilled Emma, but Carmella seems to be more smooth and more confident in the ring than in the past. Not saying she is good by any means, but the improvement shows. This match is a quick one with Emma going for a double arm suplex and Carmella reversing it into a backslide for the win. Yes, you read that right, a backslide for the win.
Final Rating: *1/2
A quick interview with Sami Zayn is shown with him discussing last week’s number one contenders match. They do the same with Samoa Joe, but instead of speaking he just scares the interviewer away. We also have a hype video for American Alpha. These guys are the best tag team going in WWE period.
Enzo and Cass vs. An Unnamed Team
Enzo and Cass make their usual entrance and give a promo about how when they get knocked down they always get back up. After the promo is over, I see the ref give the signal to ring the bell, and all the sudden there are two random jobbers on the ring apron ready to go. The guys names are not mentioned on commentary or are they mentioned at all throughout the match. This is a complete squash finishing with Cass throwing one guy out of the ring by his neck and hitting the other with their rocket launcher finisher off the top for the win. It’s excellent to see the occasional true squash match to hype up competitors.
Final Rating: *1/4
We are now taken to the office of NXT General Manager William Regal to give his decision on the finish to last week’s number one contender's triple threat match. Regal barely gets anything out before Baron Corbin interrupts. Regal tells him that he one hundred percent lost last week so he will not be included in the rematch. Corbin quickly leaves with no argument and Regal is still a badass. Regal announces that Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn will compete in a rematch for the number one contender spot. He doesn’t mention when or where leaving this segment entirely pointless.
Asuka vs. Santana Garrett
The announcer begins the match saying “The following contest is in the Women’s Division.” Thanks for clearing that up for us. With Garrett's background and recent success on the independent circuit, I wouldn’t mind seeing her signed to NXT full time. She would definitely be an asset. From the first lockup, you can tell these two have a lot more talent than a lot of women on the roster. Garrett gets the majority of the offense pounding away at Asuka with punches and kicks, but Asuka nails her with the “flying butt tackle” as the crowd begins the chant of “Asuka's gonna kill you”. Garrett goes back on offense quickly with an amazing looking side russian leg sweep and quickly locks on an armbar. Asuka makes a swift comeback and gets Garrett in the Asuka lock for the win. For what I’m sure was suppose to be considered a squash match for Asuka, Garrett was on offense easily ninety percent of this match.
Final Rating: *1/2
Finn Bálor has a fairly standard backstage interview here discussing the number one contender for his NXT Championship. They have focused much of the show around this which is not only showing how important it is for these competitors to be the number one contender, but also is giving incredible value to the NXT Championship. Well done.
Finn Bálor vs. Apollo Crews
I have complete faith going into this that we will get a great match out of these two. We get a handshake to start off showing the two babyfaces have respect for one another. The match gets going with Bálor having Crews in a headlock, and this goes on for a while. The Corey Graves calls it “a good job of grounding Apollo Crews.” I call it a very long headlock. We get a quick network commercial break, and when we get back, Crews has Bálor in a headlock! Battle of the headlocks tonight on NXT. This then moves to Bálor getting Crews in an armbar...at least it’s not a headlock. Finally, the two men increase the pace of the match with Graves saying that Bálor “is thinking maybe he should change the pace of the match.” You think? At this point, these guys look like they have been through a war and, for the most part, it has been nothing but a ground game of headlocks and armbars. The match picks up now with Crews attempting a backflip off the apron to the floor but misses landing on his feet with Bálor quickly sliding in the ring and launching himself back out onto Crews. Now that the action has picked up, I realize that the slow first half of the match really added to the later match intensity and the storytelling of the match as a whole. That is why these two are considered great a what they do taking us on a ride from start to finish. Crews tries to pick up Finn for a back body drop, but Bálor reverses and hits him with an Enzi Gauri kick to the head followed by a sling blade, a dropkick, and the Coup De Gra. Instead of going for the pin here, Bálor picks up Crews and hits a suplex into a DDT followed by a pinfall for the win. The finisher looked very similar to the Bloody Sunday he used in Japan. Good match by both men with the limited time they had.
Final Rating: ***
THE NXT RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Finn Bálor and Apollo Crews. These two showed off the skill of putting together a good match with limited time.
Least Entertaining: The Hype Bros. This partnership needs to end soon.
Match of the Night: Finn Bálor vs. Apollo Crews. May have had a slow start, but the match as a whole was well put together.
Summary: Even with the ratings I gave to most of the matches, this was a good show. We got a couple of squash matches to put over talent, a main event showcasing some of NXT’s best talent and the thing that NXT does best; storytelling that is continuously and slowly building to a bigger event. Maybe it is because of the pre-taping, but the writers at NXT get it. They have a goal of getting to the next Takeover event and make sure to tell a full story the whole way with great in ring action and promos that are short and to the point. I also want to make note that the two-man commentary team seems so much more efficient than the ramblings of a three-man booth. I know saying this is like a broken record, but WWE should recognize these things that are working so well for NXT and slowly work them into the main roster product. RAW and SmackDown! ratings are in the toilet, what would be the harm in just giving it a try? Until then I will continue to enjoy the success of NXT.
The long haul continues as we head into this week’s sure to be lackluster episode of SmackDown!. At least, the show has some consistency even if it is sub-par matches with no real progression in storylines. I hate to hammer on SmackDown! so hard, but WWE is making it so easy. The expectations at the beginning of the year were for SmackDown! to show up on the USA Network rejuvenated as an A show, but after a month of the same B rate content for our viewing pleasure, my faith has been lost. I still keep that shred of hope from week to week that we will see improvements and this week is no different. Previewed for tonight, we have a Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns, a United States Championship defense by Kalisto and AJ Styles making his first appearance on SmackDown!. Between the title match and AJ Styles being in the ring, we have hope for a decent show this evening. We are in Tampa, FL with Mauro Ranallo, Jerry “ The King” Lawler and Byron Saxton are on commentary.
Promo Time: The New Day
After and incredibly long show opening that recapped events from the Royal Rumble and the fallout on RAW, The New Day are out for a promo. By saying “With a historic week in our rearview mirror, we are jumping on the expressway to Fastlane”, Ranallo proves he can make any situation, as bad as it may be, sound intriguing. The New Day start into their usual flurry of nonsense complaining about what The Rock did to them on RAW. New Day promos use to be such an exciting part of the show, but now that they are given a segment on every show, it has become stale quickly. I never thought I would be saying this, but thankfully The Miz interrupts The New Day. Miz says he was also insulted by The Rock on Monday and before he gets much further, The Usos head down the ramp. The Uso’s new “Woah!” is way worse than anything New Day and Miz brought to the table. After some verbal back and forth, The Usos bring out Titus O'Neil and Dolph Ziggler and a brawl breaks out. We head to commercial and are sure to have an eight man tag match when we get back.
The New Day & The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler, Titus O’Neil & The Usos
When we get back from break, we have Xavier Woods and Jey Uso in to start the eight-man tag match. Much of the match is a standard eight-man tag match with everyone getting in for a few small spots. Big E gives Jimmy Uso a massive overhead belly to belly suplex that lands Jimmy legs first into the turnbuckles. While Xavier takes a break playing trombone, Ranallo says “has anyone ever asked Xavier what he did with the money his parents gave him for trombone lessons?”...comic gold. After a little more of a beat down on Jimmy, he gets the hot tag to Titus O'Neil, who then proceeds to do what he does best; running everyone over and hitting anything that moves. At this point, the match breaks down with everyone hitting the ring. The Uso’s perform a duel over the top dive onto Big E and Kofi on the outside followed by Ziggler hitting the Zig Zag on Woods sending him out of the ring. The Miz comes up behind Ziggler trying for the Skull Crushing Finale, but Ziggler reverses hitting Miz with a super kick sending him into the waiting arms of Titus O’Neil. Titus hits the Clash of the Titus for the victory. Fairly standard at eight man tag matches go, but it was not awful and had a decent finish.
Final Rating: **
WWE United States Championship
Kalisto (c) vs. Neville
Excitement ran through me when I saw Kalisto against Neville for tonight and a championship match at that. Let’s just hope WWE’s resident high flyers have a match as good as it sounds. Just a thought as Neville makes his entrance, but exactly how long is someone referred to as “Slammy Award winning”? Ranallo says this match has shades of The Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask. What an incredible reference making me thankful Maruo is here. The start of this match is just as expected with lots of high flying moves executed as quickly as possible. They end up on the outside where Kalisto goes for a hurricanrana but is caught by Neville. Neville then attempts to run Kalisto into the barricade, but at the last second Kalisto completes the hurricanrana sending Neville into the barricade. After a near double count out, both men are down on the mat as we head to commercial. Coming back in from the break, Kalisto springboards from the apron and is caught into a sitdown powerbomb by Neville for the near fall. It’s strange that Neville almost looks like the powerhouse in this match. Both men end up on the top turnbuckle and Kalisto hits a hurricanrana that sends Neville insanely high into the air and to the mat. After a little more back and forth, Neville goes for a belly to back suplex, but as he lifts Kalisto in the air, Kalisto grabs hold for the reversal into the Salida del Sol for the win. Excellent match loaded with action and a great finish. Reminded me of a cruiserweight match from the Monday night war days.
Final Rating: ***
Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel
I’ve come to the conclusion that Jericho no longer owns any shirts, just jackets and vests. Must be a rock star thing. Jericho briefly talks about his match with AJ Styles on RAW keeping the fire for a rematch alive and then introduces Dean Ambrose. Ambrose comes down with some sort of flower house plant which is sure to produce some comedy. Roman Reigns comes in right after. While talking about Roman Reigns, it is here that I notice Lawler laying on his new heel persona on commentary. I like how he has made it a transition over the past few weeks and not just flipped his character immediately. This shows the veteran talent of Lawler and his thought for the story. Ambrose starts by saying he brought Jericho a little gift. He didn’t know if it was because of budget cuts, but the Highlight Reel set could use a little “jazzing up”. Jericho emphasizes how good of friends Ambrose and Reigns are, but now they are going into battle. Seeing Roman and Dean have mic time side by side shows the contrast betweens Dean's talent for it and Roman’s forced delivery, even though it is getting better. Jericho asks what they are going to do when the bell rings at Fastlane and point at Roman without hesitation Dean say “I’m going to punch him right in the mouth”. They then discuss Brock with Roman telling Dean Brock is the real deal and Dean brushing it off saying he is the ironman of WWE. Dean makes it clear that technically he doesn’t have to beat Brock; he just has to beat Roman. At this point, the lights go out and the Wyatt Family appears on the stage. Bray rambles his standard apocalyptic nonsense with Roman responding “we don’t know what your talking about”. Bray challenges Reigns, Ambrose and Jericho to a match later on tonight against him and two of his guys.
AJ Styles vs. Curtis Axel
After an excellent showing at the Rumble and decent match with Chris Jericho on RAW, we now have our first appearance of AJ Styles on SmackDown!. We start with the Social Outcasts in the ring all getting in their quick mic time. Bo says “ my best friends year long run in the Royal Rumble match has finally come to an end” and they all hug Curtis Axel. Axel pushing them away saying “364 days, 3 minutes and 24 seconds.” Axel calls out AJ who even with the smaller SmackDown! crowd still gets a huge pop. After some average offense by Axel, AJ nails him with a Pele kick from the second rope in the corner. This looked awesome! A little more back and forth and the Social Outcasts begin attempted interference. Styles brushes them all off with ease and hits a diving front roll over the top to the outside on Slater and Bo. Styles springboards from the apron back in the ring, but is caught by Axel. Axel attempts a Perfect Plex, but Styles counters and hits another Pele kick. I love this move because no one else uses it except Finn Balor in NXT. AJ picks up Axel and hits him with the first Styles Clash since his arrival in WWE for the win. The fans went nuts for the finisher.
Final Rating: *3/4
Charlotte vs. Natalya
We get a rare televised match here from Natalya taking on Diva’s champion Charlotte. At the beginning in an inset promo, Natalya says she is back. Last time I checked she was already back and still had hardly any matches...we will see. These two had an amazing match in NXT, but obviously, that means nothing when up on the main roster. Ranallo calls Charlotte “the dirtiest diva in the game” referencing her father, Ric. The match starts off slow with some back and forth and an abdominal stretch trade off. Natalya ends up on the outside and is distracted by Flair on her way back into the ring. Charlotte chop blocks Natalya’s knee and quickly puts her in the figure eight for the tap-out victory. In pure heel fashion, Charlotte puts Natalya in the figure four after the match. Becky Lynch runs down to break it up, and Charlotte quickly retreats. This was a quick and effective match showcasing Charlotte’s heel persona, but I am left confused about who is feuding. Is it Becky and Charlotte? Wait, I thought it was now Charlotte and Sasha. Only time will tell when it comes to the Diva’s division.
Final Rating: *1/4
Here we get another segment with Goldust trying to convince R-Truth to be his tag team partner and form “The Golden Truth”. This is the same segment we have seen on every show between these to, except this time they are stretching to go for a run. Cheap comedy at best.
The Wyatt Family vs. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & Chris Jericho
It looks like the Wyatt family will be represented by Bray, Erick Rowan and Luke Harper with Braun Strowman on the outside. I am honestly sick and tired of these matches. The half-assed television main event where they stick a bunch of the top guys in a six-man tag match that will go nowhere and be forgotten before it is even over. I had a lot of hope for this show after having a good title match and a few decent contests in between, but before this match even starts my interest level hits rock bottom. Well, let’s get through this. The main part of the match we have a standard WWE multi-man tag match (much like the one that opened the show) with everyone getting their time in, a beat down of the baby faces and a hot tag. Strowman eventually gets involved for the disqualification and the Wyatts begin the beat down on Roman, Ambrose, and Jericho. It was nice to hear Ranallo give the official match decision which is often ignored by other lead announcers. Not long into the brawl, none other than The Big Show makes his way down to the ring. Yes, you heard me right, The Big Show. He has a stare down center ring with Strowman before they Wyatts attack him. Everyone comes back in the ring and the baby faces clean house and stand tall as the show goes off the air. All I got from this is that we may see an upcoming match between The Big Show and Braun Strowman....oh joy.
Final Rating: *
THE SMACKDOWN! RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Kalisto and Neville
Least Entertaining: The main event tag match. I feel like I have seen this hundreds of times.
Match of the Night: Neville vs. Kalisto for the United States Championship. Great action, not drawn out and a good finish.
Summary: I have to say, this episode of SmackDown! was better than most. While it still didn’t live up to “great show” standards by any means, it had its moments of entertainment. The Kalisto vs. Neville match was a very good championship match that gave us high flying action from start to finish. Also, any time that AJ Styles is on television for the near future is fan-pleasing gold. The show killer for me is the main event. How many times do we have to see this? I am so tired of time filling, get everyone out there crap matches that have hardly any entertainment value or progression to a storyline. I understand that the injuries of late have left WWE in a tight spot, but I’m sure that twenty or so writers can come up with something more creative than this. Again, this show had its high points compared to most SmackDown! episodes, but it’s the low points that really kill it.
Promo Time: Paul Heyman & Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is wrestling on the next pay-per-view so this is the typical Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar segment of the month. You literally don't even need to watch it to know what happens; Heyman cuts a promo that is better than most other talking segments on the show but he doesn't actually say much at all. Really it’s the usual circular nothingness with Heyman spelling out that Brock will win with ease, even though we all know he won’t, while Lesnar stands there dancing and bouncing. WWE waste their precious few Brock Lesnar appearances with such frequency that it is ridiculous. Ambrose interrupts, which Brock finds funny. Pleasingly, Ambrose dials down his usual cartoon wackiness and gets serious, telling Brock that he isn't afraid of him. Lesnar is tickled by that. Ambrose says he respects Brock and doesn't want to fight him, but that he will, and he is quite prepared to go to Suplex City hundreds of times. I have a feeling he will get his wish. Ambrose says his piece and leaves and for some reason Brock doesn't kill him. Nor does Roman Reigns show up. This did nothing to sell the Fast Lane match to me.
Kalisto vs. Rusev
Alberto Del Rio is commentating because WWE is bereft of fresh ideas and he is wrestling Kalisto again at Fast Lane. Well, why not? They have only wrestled half a dozen times already. This is an odd match to book because it doesn't help the champion at all. Every time WWE has an undersized wrestler as one of their champions they get booked as a fluke and forced to work against much bigger opponents, forced to play the overmatched underdog. Would it be such an issue to put Kalisto in there with guys closer to his size such as Neville or Kofi Kingston or AJ Styles? Instead we get the standard big man little man contest, but because Rusev is fairly decent and can bump well it is better than, say, Kalisto vs. Kane (*shudders*). Rusev has his hair out today to better sell for the little guy’s flippy moves and make them look like they connect. They end up on the outside where a rana off the announce table leads to a Kalisto count out win. A fairly entertaining match but typically half-assed champion booking from WWE. Just put the guy over!
Final Rating: **1/2
Backstage, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose mumble to each other while stood in front of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt, which is in a display case inside Stephanie’s office. Of course it is. Steph remains fully-heel, giving her an unbroken run of a few weeks, surely a record for her. She brings up Marty Jannetty and Randy Orton as examples of two wrestlers who trusted their partners and were stabbed in the back, suggesting Roman and Dean will turn on each other with the title up for grabs. She stirs the pot by referring to Dean as “Roman Reigns’ sidekick”, but they see through her games. A boring handicap tag match is announced for the main event pitting the Shield duo against New Day, which sounds absolutely pointless. Goodbye third hour rating.
We get a brief video detailing Nikki Bella’s recent surgery, which is confusingly set to sad as opposed to celebratory music. The Bellas are babyfaces this week, for anyone keeping track. Charlotte interrupts a Brie interview and realises that she might be responsible for ending Nikki’s career. All hail Queen Charlotte. Brie looks mad, I think. Mad or queasy.
The Usos vs. Curtis Axl & Heath Slater
The most interesting thing about this match, by far, is an hilarious botch from the ever-inept Lillian Garcia, who announces the Usos as the “Grammy Award winning tag team of the year,” as opposed to Slammy Award winning. Immediately JBL jumps all over it and rips her to shreds for being such a goof. WWE are so thrilled that Lillian – often an easy target for the bullies in the back – screwed up that they replay her mistake, which actually took place during the commercial break and nobody would have even known about if they hadn't pointed it out. Which makes this:
Instances WWE in 2016 used the incompetence of their own people as a plot point:
One. And counting
The chubby member of the Social Outcasts (Bo Dallas) is not out with the jobbers this week because his granddad Blackjack Mulligan has been taken sick in hospital. There is some unusual attire on display here, with Rose sporting plain black tights and stripy kick pads that make him look like a guy debuting fresh out of wrestling school. Jey Uso is wearing long blue tights rather than shorts, presumably so Michael Cole can tell the difference. He also looks like an indy guy. The match is boring as hell, but at least the jobbers get a decent length outing rather than the usual quick squash. Good for them.
Final Rating: 1/2*
MizTV: AJ Styles
What a waste of AJ Styles this is. Nobody wants to see him in a talking segment with the Miz, they want to see him wrestle. WWE is a company that specifically doesn't give its fans what they want, for reasons still unexplained with any degree of logic. It is hard work trying to support them or anyone on the roster because you know if you do they will be dead and buried within a few weeks so that someone else can take a turn in the spotlight. There is literally no reward to being a WWE fan. Miz tries to get the audience to chant with him at the start of the segment but nobody gives a damn. Usually MizTV is the death knell for a performer. Look what it did for the Divas Revolution last year. Miz gets some Vince-approved size jibes in there and won’t let AJ speak, but AJ takes it in his stride and lets him get on with it. Miz brings up Daniel Bryan, saying AJ reminds him of him because he is also short, an indy darling and a great ‘rassler. Gotta bury the wrestling. This company! It would be like the NFL saying football is a cheap rugby imitation and not all that entertaining, or the NHL promoting fighting ahead of the sport itself.
The gist is that Miz wants to mentor AJ. Wasn't he mentoring Neville recently? That was dropped like a sack of rocks. Miz turns on the crowd when they boo him, dropping his niceties facade and ripping into AJ. The crowd chant for AJ so I guess the book does work here, but it is still long-winded and boring. Miz calls AJ a “rookie redneck” and finally AJ loses his cool and decks him. Because the Miz character is a coward he runs away. This entire segment merely existed so that WWE could get their digs in on AJ early, because why wouldn't you undermine your hot new acquisition? Again, think real sports. If Real Madrid signed Lionel Messi would they play him out of position and run him down as not being good enough for their team just because he used to play for their hated rivals? To paraphrase Gorilla Monsoon; highly unlikely. This was a long way to go to build for a nothing SmackDown! midcard match. I cannot help but notice that AJ has already been pigeonholed in the same position as Neville and Kevin Owens; a great worker that the fans love but whom has no support from the office, leaving him trapped in a midcard purgatory.
Charlotte vs. Brie Bella
It is absolutely hilarious how little the crowd cares about Brie Bella. How can WWE seriously think anyone will cheer for her? She has flip-flopped alignment so many times that she is a dead character. She is also the worst wrestler on the roster with comical facials. For example, I can tell that she is angry because she scowls. It’s so bad. Brie tries Daniel Bryan’s moves to endear himself to the crowd, who proceed to ignore her. Ric Flair gets on apron to try and cause his usual distraction, causing Alicia to yells at him to get down in the least convincing manner imaginable. Flair, ever the gentleman, tries to kick her in the face and woos. He is great. Brie wins due to the distraction roll up going awry and Brie – the “babyface” – scoring with a roll up of her own. What the hell is wrong with this company!? Why? Why would you put the hopeless and roundly disliked Brie Bella over the Divas Champion? Michael Cole thinks Brie is now a contender for the title, compounding my misery. What happened to Sasha Banks? Are WWE wilfully trying to make this division fail so they can pathetically crow, “We told you so”? It certainly feels like intentional sabotage. Nobody can be this clueless so often, surely?
Final Rating: ¼*
WWE shares with the world the devastating news that Bret Hart has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Hart himself broke the news earlier in the day on social media, prompting a host of heartfelt messages from everyone in the industry. Bret Hart was and is my icon, my idol and my inspiration, so I am utterly shattered by the news. However, I know Bret Hart, he will fight it and overcome it. He has fought adversity all of his life and he always comes through eventually. We here at History of Wrestling are rooting for him all the way.
Big Show vs. Erik Rowan
Oh Jesus, I am getting flashbacks to the horrifying stairs match these two had at TLC 2014. Big Show has gone babyface again after last week’s interaction with The Rock. Naturally there is no explanation for his character’s ideals shift, he is just a good guy because he is a good guy. I have lost count of how many turns that is for him now. I am convinced WWE are doing it intentionally. Every time he turns he becomes less over and less relevant than before and now he is little more than the butt of a joke. Mercifully, the match is super-quick. Show wins with a chokeslam then squares up with Braun Strowman, while in the back Vince McMahon is rapidly nearing climax. The Wyatt Family (sans Bray, who is also at the hospital with his granddad) batter Show and a total of three people chant for him. The rest don't care. The beat down goes on for about an hour without generating an iota of heat. Nobody comes to help Show because he has no friends left due him being the least trustworthy man on the roster. He will turn on anyone at the drop of a hat.
Final Rating: SQUASH
Titus vs. Tyler Breeze
Tyler Breeze is wearing brown gear, which is a poor choice. Has any wrestler in history ever looked good in brown? This is an extended squash designed to put Titus over and nothing more. Breeze is finished. WWE need to send him back to NXT before his career implodes. It really makes NXT look bad that a guy who main evented there goes to the main roster and gets beaten every week by everybody. Triple H should really step in and say something. It will harm NXT if the trend continues.
Final Rating: 3/4*
Backstage, Brock and Triple H have a little confrontation, teasing a WrestleMania match that won’t happen. Nobody would want to see it anyway because we already saw Triple H massage his ego with a win over Lesnar three years ago. Oh yes, yes he did.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens
Again. It’s their usual decent match but I am tiring of Ziggler. He is never anything less than solid every week, but his long, samey matches are a drag. There is only so much heat you can watch before it becomes boring. Building heat is such a dated concept in modern wrestling anyway, because it just doesn't work anymore. Ziggler goes over clean with the ZigZag, which is baffling booking. It’s just more lame 50/50 crap. Hell, Dolph lost to Heath Slater only a few weeks ago, there is no way he should be beating someone like Kevin Owens. Ziggler is damaged goods with no hope of every cracking the glass ceiling having bumped his head on it so many times. Owens could still be a top heel in WWE, but they seem determined not to let him. He needs pushing and protecting, not dumped in nothing feuds with played out performers.
Final Rating: **
Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
Sasha went solo on SmackDown! but WWE decided not to air it for some reason. Here she gets a little promo time before her match to share the news, declaring herself on a quest to become Divas Champion. The remnants of Team B.A.D. head out to have a word. Tamina looks like she has had a stroke. Or is currently having a stroke. Her facial expressions are even worse than Brie Bella’s. Naomi thinks that just because Sasha wants to go solo there is no reason they can’t stay friends. Gee, I wonder where this could be leading. Sasha is reluctant at first then decides they can remain sisters, giving us all the aural assault of their “unity” screech one last time. Team B.A.D. stay at ringside to watch Sasha’s back, telegraphing the finish from the off with their presence. The match trundles along until the inevitable Team B.A.D. beat down, and I am at a loss for words as to how Becky and Sasha could have had such an incredible match in NXT then put on something as insipid and lifeless as this.
Final Rating: ½*
Chris Jericho says that unlike everyone else he is not talking about AJ Styles, he is thinking about him. He reckons AJ is here for the long haul and has proven himself in defeating him last week. So Jericho and AJ are doing program, it seems. I would be more excited if Jericho wasn't tubby and old.
In a bathroom, Goldust stands on a toilet waiting for R-Truth. Then he stands with his bare feet in the bowl. Urgh. He again asks Truth to be his partner, but the wild-eyed man-child is having none of it. “You’re a weirdo. You got doo-doo on your foot!” Highbrow. Goldust, whose delivery reminds me of Jon Lithgow at his best in Third Rock From The Sun, pulls some faces and experiences a bout of Tourettes.
New Day vs. Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose
Come the Raw main event, come another nondescript handicap match. I am terrified when I glance at the clock and realise there are around 30 minutes left on this show. At least. There is some hope when I notice Paul Heyman on commentary, though after a while he stops talking completely. Well, that’s good then. New Day are resplendent in pink, but the match is a really boring, overly-long, heat-filled affair. How appropriate that tomorrow is Groundhog Day, because I feel like I have seen this match, or an equivalent, every week for the past goddamn year. It is so long. Ambrose eventually goes over Big E with Dirty Deeds, prompting the arrival of Brock Lesnar to take him out with an F-5 as revenge for his sass earlier. This was a slog.
Final Rating: ½*
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Kalisto. He did well in his match against intentionally insurmountable odds. Plus, everyone else sucked.
Least Entertaining: Throw a dart at a list of everyone who was on this show and pick one. I did, and it was Brie Bella. Fancy that...
Quote of the Night: “The E is just as important as the W” – The Miz on the WWE initials. No it is not!
Match of the Night: Kalisto vs. Rusev
Summary: This show sucked the life out of me. I was already depressed about the Bret Hart news and this compounded my misery. What a waste of life sitting through this was. The booking tonight blew my mind. Almost every match had the wrong result as far as what they were looking to achieve, because they simply don't get it. They don't know how to build to anything anymore. WWE have their way of doing things, a set formula that they stick rigidly to week after week with no deviation, and the result is nothing shows like this.
When we at History of Wrestling decided to tackle all manner of wrestling business during 2016, the weekly NXT show popped up for review and I didn’t jump at the chance of doing it despite being a big fan. Why? I think it’s mainly because NXT is my Thursday relaxing hour of just watching wrestling and not having to write about it. If I’m not reviewing RAW I’m not watching all of RAW. NXT on the other hand, I watch every week. Would it get weird if I had to review it? I’ll take solace in the knowledge that we’re unlikely to recap Breaking Ground or Table for 3 anytime soon. They are pure wrestling relaxation TV.
We’re in Full Sail University, as always, for a show that was taped weeks ago during the hubbub surrounding potential major signings for NXT. Instead we focus here on the forthcoming number one contenders match for who gets the next shot at Finn Balor. Hosts are Tom Philips and Corey Graves. The latter is rapidly becoming my favourite WWE commentator.
American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan) vs. Blake & Murphy
American Alpha, complete with new name, are my favourite team in NXT and have been since their first time teaming up. Chad Gable is so great and he’s drawn out the persona of Jordan to the point where everyone loves them. Full Sail gives the “American Alpha” chant a go and it doesn’t sound as terrible as I thought it would. I dig the name, I just didn’t think it’d work as a chant. Jordan is the powerhouse and Gable the technician and they click beautifully as they share a love of suplexes. Which is why their finish is a double team suplex. The amazing thing about Gable is he’s barely got a year under his belt and he’s getting better by the match. He was the 2015 Rookie of the Year and at this rate, less than a month into 2016 he’ll be the year’s most improved worker too. Blake & Murphy are ok but I’ve only ever been into them as a unit because of their valet Alexa Bliss. She’s gotten particularly good at talking and working through sheer effort, considering she’s basically a model WWE trained to be a wrestler. It helps that she has an athletic background. Blake & Murphy show some good timing in this one, cutting off the ring and bouncing around when American Alpha are on offence. After Jordan gets the hot tag it’s over as a contest. American Alpha wins again. Sooner or later they’ll be tag champs in NXT. Should be a good match against the current tag champs Dash & Dawson as they believe in old school heel work and American Alpha are old school faces.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control takes us to Alex Reyes who interviews Emma and Dana Brooke about Bayley and Carmella. Dana seems to think Carmella can’t beat Emma or Bayley. Hell, she even lost to Blue Pants. Carmella’s record on NXT TV in 2015 was 2-7 but one of those two wins was over Emma, her opponent next week. From there we talk about Sami Zayn being in the Royal Rumble match repping NXT. His presence was slightly overwhelmed by the debut of AJ Styles but it was cool to see Sami in there.
Nia Jax vs. Liv Morgan
Nia needs work on both her mannerisms and her moves. Liv, who wrestled her first match ever six months ago, is coming on surprisingly quickly. She’s telegraphing her moves but she’s getting smoother by the match. Nia hits her legdrop for the pin. This isn’t 1984, get a better finish. Literally any power move would be better.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control checks in with Carmella who’s not impressed in the Emmalution. Enzo Amore & Big Cass decide to make fun of Dash & Dawson and how pudgy they are. Intense Enzo is very enjoyable. The Vaudevillains are shown next, as they were last week, looking all serious. Heel turn please.
Bull Dempsey vs. Alex Riley
I rock the BullFit gimmick. Moderately fit with a terrible body. Alex Riley has a terrible everything. He is the worst human being in the entire company, which is saying something. For your displeasure here’s an example of one of his tweets:
“I make no apologies from this point forward, ur either with me or u can kiss my ass, u wanted a cage animal… U got one”.
Punctuation, spelling and general nonsense aside I’m pretty sure no one asked for a “caged animal”. In fact people protest zoos and the cruelty that animals kept in captivity suffer. Also the option of being with someone or kissing their ass isn’t much of an option. Is ignoring you a third unwritten option? Riley’s problem is that he was a bad wrestler who perceived himself to be special, he got injured and nobody cared so now he’s back and nobody cares. He wins here and tries to behave like a heel. Riley is so boring and phoney I find him near impossible to watch.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control takes us to Alex Riley who cuts a bland promo about how upset he is at getting ignored by the executives at Stamford and getting no updates on NXT TV like Sami Zayn got. Yeah, but Sami Zayn is really good and you’re Alex Riley. Do you not see why nobody cares?
Elias Sampson vs. John Skyler
Sampson has a great character, where he’s hard to get a read on and is nicknamed “The Drifter”. It’s quite vague and I like that. Unfortunately Sampson is poor worker who doesn’t seem to understand the mechanics of what makes a move look good. The crowd are absolutely silent for the majority of the match, which in a place like Full Sail is terrible news. Sampson’s finishing neckbreaker is pretty cool. I’ll give him that. Corey Graves pretty much buries Sampson on commentary citing his lack of connection to the audience.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control takes us backstage where Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley argue about how hype Mojo is. Zack doesn’t seem to be into Rawley at all and this whole tag team experience looks to be grinding him down. I feel for him. Mojo is exhausting to listen to.
#1 Contenders Match
Baron Corbin vs. Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn
Zayn is the firm favourite as he’s the only face out there and a huge fan favourite before his injury lay off. The usual three-way shortfalls apply here. Corbin has to spend ages selling one spot while the other two work. Triple threat matches are extremely hard and require a lot of planning. Joe should know this, having worked in several excellent triple threat matches in TNA. This falls short on several counts until Joe starts to incorporate both opponents into his abuse. This mixes well into Sami’s plucky comeback spots and Baron’s…acceptance to let the other two lead. Corbin looks somewhat clumsy, apart from when he executes End of Days, impressively, on Joe. Helluva Kick should finish for Sami but Joe saves. Baron gets hooked in a Sharpshooter and a Crossface and taps out, leaving Sami and Joe both thinking they’ve won. They’ve actually done this in WWE before and the referee refused to acknowledge the submission (Benoit and Jericho on Austin if memory serves correctly). Because two men can’t win the same match. It’s why two men can’t pin a third and both win. Basically the referee’s decision is wrong. William Regal pops down and tells both men he’ll “review this tape”. The screwy finish aside this was a decent match. Corbin is steadily improving but he’s not ready for a big title match. Joe hasn’t been at his best in NXT while Sami has been injured for a year. It’s probably not the three best men to be put in this situation and I’m not sure they had adequate time to plan it out.
Final Rating: **3/4
THE NXT RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Chad Gable & Jason Jordan
Least Entertaining: Alex Riley
Match of the Night: Corbin vs. Joe vs. Zayn
Summary: Having seen a lot of NXT over the past 12 months I can confirm the show is usually a lot better than this. A lot of these matches came across as flat and disinteresting. While NXT has a strong locker room they didn’t get the best use out of it in this TV taping block. You can tell it’s towards the end of the taping too as the crowd is a bit burned out. Despite the main event being something they’d built towards the only match that fired throughout the hour was the American Alpha vs. Blake & Murphy match. Elsewhere it felt like a collection of talent I usually don’t care for like Sampson, Riley and Jax. An entirely skippable episode of NXT, which in itself is a rarity. If you actually like Alex Riley, you might enjoy seeing a new side to him but I’d rather just see his backside as the door hits it on his way out.