March 12, 2016
Formally entitled “March to WrestleMania” this Network special sits in between Fastlane and ‘Mania itself. Perhaps intended to create a bit of mischief by putting Triple H’s WWE Championship on the line, after general fan apathy toward the intended WrestleMania headline bout this year (Hunter vs.Roman Reigns).
We’re in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBLand Byron Saxton.
The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston) (c) vs. The League of Nations (Sheamus & King Barrett)
The New Day’s entrance is starting to get the sing-a-long treatment. It might have taken a while but they’re heading toward New Age Outlaws levels of popularity. New Day run some hilarious in-ring stuff, including unveiling a real genuine box of “BootyO’s” cereal (available from WWE’s online shop) and Big E pretending, convincingly, to be a child. It’s all so ridiculous but it doesn’t matter. Even the match doesn’t get in the way of it all with Xavier Woods shilling the cereal while a unicorn stampede crushes Barrett. Sheamus seems less angry than he should be with Kofi, considering Kingston has been openly mocking him in a series of video skits produced by the New Day to amuse themselves of late. Xavier turns this into a numbers game situation, which is the League’s fault for not bringing their other two guys and Big E finishes Wade with the Big Ending. Poor Wade Barrett is looking more and more like a jobber as every loss mounts up. I honestly don’t remember him winning since King of the Ring. I checked and his last televised singles win was in October on SmackDown. Five months ago.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control takes us backstage where Paul Heyman re-names Toronto as “Suplex City”. Heyman’s summation of how the match will go; “suplexed, F-5ed, conquered” is exactly how it should be booked. We go from there to Chris Jericho’s creepy t-shirt burning promo from SmackDown. A tremendous visual of Jericho murmuring “AJ Styles” through the flames is better than anything this feud/team has done so far.
Chris Jericho vs. Jack Swagger
Jericho cuts a bizarre anti-Canada promo pre-match, in an attempt to ensure he’s not cheered. “I am the greatest icon in the history of this country” says Jericho. “We want Bret” responds the crowd. “Canada stinks and Toronto is the anus” continues Jericho. Cole even references a match from 2010 when Swagger won the world title from Jericho. Are they not being produced tonight? Six years and a match that wasn’t “iconic” doesn’t get referenced. It was the biggest moment of Swagger’s career and he does tend to try hard when given chances. That “we, the people” shtick is still over. Probably because of Cesaro. Cole starts reeling off Jericho’s career history, going back to Smoky Mountain and they’re definitely not being produced. The match is ok but it feels like a TV match. A throwaway contest from SmackDown perhaps. The crowd eventually forgets Jericho’s promo and starts to cheer for him, seeing as they’ve got no investment in Swagger who’s barely been on TV for the past year (short feud with Alberto Del Rio in December aside). Jericho survives the Patriot Lock and wins with the Walls of Jericho. The teases for Swagger winning were almost getting me hooked but Jericho winning was no surprise. What was surprising was JBL’s insistence at chanting, by himself, “you’ve still got it” for a painfully long time after the match.
Final Rating: **1/2
NXT Tag Team Championship
The Revival (c) vs. Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady
Interesting to see this make it onto a network special but if rumours are to be believed Enzo and Cass will soon be plying their trade on the main roster. This could be a test of how over they are with a larger crowd. It doesn’t quite have the same impact as in Florida where every single person knows the spiel and does it along with Enzo but it’s a big reaction and crowd chant “NXT”. The crowd do manage to sing-a-long with S-A-W-F-T, which is pleasing and chances are Enzo and Cass will be getting the call soon. Cass is definitely a Vince McMahon kinda guy. He’s seven feet tall and you can’t teach that. The crowd sleeps on the match a bit but chances are Enzo and Cass won’t get long matches to begin with in the bigs. The tagging stuff gets over, especially Cass launching Amore over the top. The champs take over with the kind of generic heat they’re good at. Dash & Dawson’s ‘wrestlers’ gimmick feels like it dropped out of the 1980s, which is probably bad news for them in this company but they’re a solid throwback. The champs take out Cass with a 3-D on the floor and the crowd start to really get into the match. Enzo gets a few near falls before getting planted with the Shatter Machine. This was an excellent tag match with the Revival avoiding formula for a good chunk of the contest and the challengers doing outstanding work as hot faces. Match of the night.
Final Rating: ***3/4
WWE Divas Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Natalya
Nattie baited Charlotte into putting the belt on the line by saying that her uncle, Bret Hart, called the Flair’s cowards. Natalya dedicates the match to Bret and is wearing a Bret and Owen t-shirt, just to totally suck up to the crowd. When Charlotte won her NXT women’s title she beat Natalya*. It’s a match that Natalya is still talking about (check out her and Charlotte on Table for 3 with Tamina). They do some keen chaining on the mat, switching from one submission to the next. It’s a strong technical match that’s easy on the eyes. What isn’t easy on the eyes is Ric Flair at ringside, occasionally breaking into weird ticks like he’s being controlled by an 8-year old hitting the taunt button on a video game. The work isn’t as crisp as it could be but the mat game is solid. They have a decent little striking contest too, which shows Charlotte’s all-round game has improved since she hit the title scene. The match even gets into exciting territory when Nattie kicks out of Natural Selection, the move that beat her when Charlotte won the NXT women’s title. The crowd lose their minds as Natalya gets some near falls. Especially the Sharpshooter. That genuinely feels like a finish. Natalya gets distracted by Flair though and rolled up. Charlotte getting her feet on the ropes like a good heel. Charlotte may not have been ready for this spot but she’s grown into it rapidly. Building the women’s division around her has been a smart move.
Final Rating: ***1/4
*from NXT’s first Takeover show in May 2014. Second top on a solid card, where the dark match was Sasha Banks vs. Bayley, they went all out for nearly 17 minutes and had a **** match.
Bray Wyatt vs. Brock Lesnar
There was a time when WWE were leaning toward this being one of their big matches at WrestleMania. Unfortunately they’ve pretty much killed Bray’s gimmick by having him lose all his big matches for far too long and his group, the Wyatt Family, have been beaten too many times also. Wyatt brings Luke Harperwith him while Lesnar brings Paul Heyman. Lesnar doesn’t care if it’s two on one because that’s just another victim for Suplex City. The match ends up as Lesnar vs. Harper, which is better than Lesnar vs. Wyatt would have been. Harper gets an extended spell of offence before Brock shrugs him off and heads to Suplex City. F-5 ends it and Harper is pinned. Wyatt never even got into the ring. At least Bray got minor protection here but came across as a coward for not wanting to fight Brock himself.
Final Rating: **
Sami Zayn vs. Stardust
Nice to see Sami on the main roster as he’s over huge here, although that could be because we’re in his native Canada. Quite why he’s stuck in with Stardust is anyone’s guess. Maybe one of Vince’s challenges; try having a good match with this barm-pot. Sami doesn’t take long to completely outshine Stardust. Cole continues his unproduced rampage by referencing El Generico. He doesn’t say it but an El Generico reference is interesting in of itself. Now I have this visual of Cole sitting at home watching PWG tapes like a smart mark. Wishing he could be as funny as Excalibur and Chuck Taylor. Stardust is awful here, hooking a waistlock and having a chat about the rest of the match. The Stardust character has jumped the shark and shouldn’t be in there with useful talent like Sami. When Zayn is able to get a sequence of moves together the match is far better. Sami wins with the Helluva Kick. This was nothing much, other than a Sami Zayn showcase and it didn’t do a great job of that despite getting over 12 minutes. Stardust is played out. Filler.
Final Rating: *3/4
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Triple H (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
The storyline here is that Ambrose wants to destroy the existing WrestleMania card just because it’d be fun. Chaos, anarchy, good times. JBL references Terry Funk and the NWA title. It’s been an intriguing night for commentators asides. Cole points out this is Hunter’s first singles match since WrestleMania XXXIwhen he faced Sting. These two don’t click very well with Dean’s unorthodox nature meaning he works over the nose. It is one of Triple H’s most prominent features. As the match progresses it gets steadily worse as the lack of chemistry becomes ever more apparent. Hunter is more than a little rusty and Ambrose is not technically gifted enough to cover for that. One thing is clear, this should definitely be Hunter’s last world title. He simply cannot operate at this level now. Dean gets a decent run going once they’ve settled down and his high-octane strike sequences pay off. Ambrose even brings the grappling smarts and works the knee, specifically aiming for the Figure Four and then Sharpshooter submission victory. Dirty Deeds is a definite three count pin and the referee changes his mind because Ambrose’s leg is under the rope. Very awkward set up for that spot. The stunned reaction of the crowd when Ambrose got the pinfall was amazing. A pity it was immediately waved off. They do some antics with the announce table before Hunter wins clean with the Pedigree. The one moment where this match shone was when they had Dean win the match clean and then wave it off. The first half of this match was really clunky.
Final Rating: ***
Summary: The Network exclusive shows are proving to be a mixed bag. The main roster guys don’t seem to take them all that seriously but when NXT talent is called upon to flesh out the cards they’re producing the best work on the shows. I didn’t enjoy the main event as much as a lot of other reviewers but then I thought Triple H’s match with Sting was horrible too and people seemed to enjoy that. Ambrose brought some nice ideas to his big title match but ultimately the two main eventers simply didn’t gel together. Match of the night goes to Revival vs. Enzo & Cass, followed by the women’s match. Those are both worth your time.