Between The Ropes Wrestling Podcast – July 10, 2013

Better late than never – Brian and Steve talk about Raw from Monday night including the debut of the Wyatt Family, Daniel Bryan’s role this week and if he is being used too much, the lead up to the Money in the Bank PPV, Vickie Guerrero out as the Raw GM as well as Matt Morgan getting his release from TNA Wrestling.

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WWE Smackdown Rundown – June 28th, 2013

wwe smackdown logoIf you missed Smackdown last night, you missed the best (major) wrestling show of the week. WWE put together a fun, athletic two hours for Friday Night that delivered from top to bottom. Let’s check it out. [Read more...]

‘Monday Night Raw’ Reaction and Review – 6/24/2013

For complete coverage of everything that happened last night, check out the WWE Raw Rundown.

image2993Things got off to a hot start last night, with the Daniel Bryan/Randy Orton stuff. Although cancelling the match and postponing it until later in the night felt like a cheap way to squeeze every last drop out of this feud, it made a lot of sense to have this rivalry headline the show. Especially if, and I’m just guess here, this was their final match.

Bryan winning here made sense, as he needed a way to re-legitimize himself as a singles wrestler. I’m just curious what’s in store next for Orton. Their mutual-respect handshake at the end makes it seem like they’re putting the brakes on a Orton heel-turn. Then again, this could just be setting the WWE Universe up for a swerve.

Speaking of set-ups, I think it’s pretty obvious here that Punk is being “set-up” by Paul Heyman. Their interactions last night carried a lot of weight and emotion, which was good. But it’s also the exact type of thing that will be replayed over and over once Heyman finally turns on Punk. Overall, this seems to be a great way to extend the feud between now and Summerslam without using up all of Brock Lesnar’s appearance dates.

The Shield has officially dropped to lower mid-card duty (don’t say we didn’t warn you). Hopefully their feud with The Usos will be quick and painless. This is the major consequence of no long term build with The Usos – that is, nobody gives a crap about their storyline.

Money in the Bank participants were announced last night, albeit rather informally. I can’t help but imagine this would have carried so much more weight had they let the wrestlers come out to the ring and jabber back-and-forth about who was going to win. I’m also confused about whether or not this is the only Money in the Bank match this year. If so, this is a stacked match, and should be very entertaining. If not, I think the company would have been wise to limit the participants here by spotlighting a few key performers (imagine how great a four-way Punk vs. Bryan vs. Orton vs. RVD MITB match would be), and then save the “all hands on deck” match for the World Heavyweight Championship MITB.

The McMahons were featured again, just not quite as heavily. It seems like creative wanted to put them back on TV, but now has no idea where to go with this storyline. At least Vickie seems to be shining in her role as “pawn” in the game of WWE Corporate chess.

Overall show was definitely lacking. About halfway through, the momentum completely died. Mark Henry’s segment fell flat (they should’ve just stuck with Cena’s promo, and kept Henry off TV another week), CM Punk had a lackluster match with Darren Young, and the spark from last week seemed to have evaporated. We’re officially back in the summer hangover – let’s just hope things pick back up again BEFORE MITB.

The Shield’s Loss is a Loss for WWE

The ShieldJust to catch up: If you missed Friday Night Smackdown this past week, then you also missed a pretty big development for one of WWE’s hottest acts. The Shield, who have seemed unstoppable since their debut last November, finally saw defeat.

Re-read that first paragraph. Summary: “If you missed Friday Night Smackdown, then you missed The Shield’s first loss.”

See, no matter how I word it, it still doesn’t sit right with me. Wasn’t this supposed to be a big freakin’ deal? Wasn’t WWE propelling these guys to bigger and better things? Doesn’t JBL call this group “the best faction ever” on a weekly basis? So why, then, would WWE give this important moment away in such a careless fashion?

Don’t get me wrong, the moment was handled perfectly fine on Friday night. Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton, and Kane celebrated their victory with a hot Greensboro crowd. Lilian Garcia even got back on the mic to make sure everybody knew this was the trio’s first loss as a three-man group.  But from a big-picture perspective, this sucks.

These guys were positioned to lose on a big stage, to a big opponent. Our own Brian Fritz promoted his own fantasy booking scenario on the BTR Podcast where The Undertaker would return at Summerslam, team with Bryan and Kane, and finally give The Shield what’s coming to them. This sounded like great booking. It would sell a few more PPVs, give the babyface Undertaker his revenge, and further promote The Shield by losing on a big stage. Plus, there’d be little shame in losing to three veterans.

Instead, WWE creative got bored and decided to hot shot the angle.

There was little-to-no promotion for this three-on-three encounter.  In fact, all the focus was on Sunday and the respective United States and Tag Team title matches (matches that, for the record, were booked just earlier this week). The hype train had us headed towards the PPV, not stopping off at the Smackdown station to see whether or not The Shield could remain undefeated.

I’m not saying that big, unexpected moments don’t have a place in the modern WWE – quite the contrary. Smart surprises should be staples of any pro wrestling organization. They keep things fresh for the fans, and give companies that much sought after water-cooler talk. I’d cite Del Rio’s World Heavyweight Championship win back in January as a perfect example. Being an established main-eventer, he didn’t need a huge build, and he was fresh into a face turn. Plus, WWE pulled the trigger on the title-change during the long void between TLC and Royal Rumble. It was a great way to create viewer interest.

But that’s not what happened on Friday night. Instead, when nobody was watching, and when nobody was told to watch, WWE gave The Shield its most damaging loss yet. And It left a lot of money on the table by doing so.

I’m not just counting potential Pay-Per-View buys of people hoping to witness the trio’s first loss. I’m including the credibility hit that these guys took as a whole. These guys had become must-see TV, both together and individually, because of the aura that surrounded them. Not even company demigod Cena could topple them. Now, they’re just another mid-card act, with mid-card titles, who have seen their greatest strength – being undefeated – completely vanish.

In all fairness, I have no perspective here on WWE’s big-picture. And what happens next with The Shield will depend mostly on how the creative team positions them coming out of Payback.

But this whole angle still feels like a giant missed opportunity, or at the very least, a rapid misfire. It’s simply not the way WWE should be handling the hottest group in pro wrestling today.

WWE Payback 2013 – Staff Predictions

wwepaybackThis Sunday, it is the WWE Payback pay-per-view.  Here is the predictions from the Between The Ropes staff for each match on the show.

 

Payback Match Kickoff – Sheamus vs. Damien Sandow

Brian Fritz:  Sheamus is really caught in limbo right now when it comes to his place in the pecking order.  While Sandow should win here and get a bigger push, I think Sheamus comes away with the win.

Steve Muehlhausen:  This match will be on the kickoff portion of the show starting at 7:30 ET on basically every platform known to man. The feud has been scuttled as it is hard to believe what Shaemus is saying while Sandow has been carrying this feud. Sheamus doesn’t need the win here as Sandow wins in an upset.

Michael A. Wiseman:  I think Sandow wins this match, though I think he cheats to win (or otherwise resorts to heel-like tactics). But I don’t expect much out of this one.  WWE never gives their pre-shows matches much time to breathe, and this feud, despite the long(ish) build, is booked to be forgettable. Sheamus gets his revenge the next night on ‘Raw.’

Marshall Bowen:  Sheamus wins this one to get the night started and get the crowd rowdy and energetic for the night to come.

 

United States Championship – Dean Ambrose vs. Kane

Brian:  Dean Ambrose should retain the title.  The Shield is the hottest act in the WWE right now and all of them have belts and rightfully so.  Hopefully, Ambrose and Kane will be able to crank it up more than their recent match on Raw.

Steve:  They had a lackluster match on Raw with Kane winning by DQ, which was the reason Vickie Guerrero gave Kane a rematch. Ambrose will retain here as they should have more time here.

Michael:  Dean Ambrose is the obvious pick here. I expect an entertaining product from these two – Ambrose can go in the ring, and Kane is a very capable veteran. The fact that this match was added less than a week out says that creative isn’t taking the possibility of a title change seriously. Also, WWE would be foolish to start breaking down The Shield just one month after they regained a lot of momentum. Then again, the company isn’t know for putting a lot of thought into these decisions.

Marshall:  Kane is Ambrose’s monster to prove himself with in his young U.S. title reign and will prove the dominance that The Shield will continue to have over the summer.

 

Divas Championship – Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee

Brian:   For a few months now it seems that AJ would eventually win the Divas Championship only for it not to happen.   That should end here with AJ finally get a title to match her Ziggy’s.  She’ll probably get some help from Big E at ringside but AJ finally get the Divas championship.

Steve:  We have seen this story play out over the last month as the secret admirer storyline has started. A great promo on Monday’s Raw by Lee as Big E Langston came to reveal he was the secret admirer. It ended up being a ruse with Lee behind the ruse. Lee should win the title here but I feel Kaitlyn will win here to advance the feud for another month.

Michael:  AJ wins cleanly and finally takes home the Divas Championship. Her promo this past Monday on Raw was money, and she is primed to be the spark the Divas Division so desperately needs. The storyline coming out of this Sunday will be that the numerous distractions cost Kaitlyn her championship.

Marshall:  AJ takes this one with some help from Dolph and Big E. AJ has been building to this moment for well over a year now and this is finally the time to pull the trigger.

 

Intercontinental Championship – Wade Barrett vs. The Miz vs. Curtis Axel

Brian:  With Curtis Axel being inserted into the match for Fandango who is sidelined with a concussion, it makes sense that the latest Paul Heyman guy win the title here.  I think Axel will win the title but I wonder what this means to how he is perceived in the company.  Rather than being a main-event level guy, I think he is a notch down.  By the way, I think his feud with Triple H is over already with Hunter having bigger things to deal with.

Steve:  This match was supposed to be a three way with Fandango in the match but he suffered a concussion about two weeks during a Smackdown taping. Surprised WWE inserted Axel in the match considering where he has been positioned so far. Have Axel winning the match here as it will build him up more and be like his father in winning the IC Title.

Michael:  Most people seem to be in agreement that Curtis Axel was added to this match so WWE could immediately quickly build on his hot debut with an Intercontinental Championship reign. And while I agree, I think it’s the wrong decision. Axel has been hanging around the upper mid-card since his debut, so this feud just feels like a step back. Hopefully they give him a real storyline coming out of Sunday.

Marshall:  I’m going out on a limb and saying Curtis Axel gets the win and the 2-0 for the night for Paul Heyman. Part of this prediction comes from the rapid fire re-debut Axel has had in these past few weeks.

 

WWE Tag Team Titles – The Shield vs. Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan

Brian:  The obvious thing to happen here would be The Shield retaining the title and Orton and Bryan having issues during the match leading to a feud between the two.  I’ll go with that scenario because I believe sometimes the obvious thing to do is also the right thing.  Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s wrong and too bad if the audience sees it coming as long as you still make it entertaining.  The real question will be is Orton or Bryan turning heel or could neither and they feud as babyfaces.

Steve:  This was the last match I was expecting going into Raw last week. Seemed like WWE was heading towards an Orton/Bryan showdown. WWE flipped things and decided to go this route. This should one of the two best matches on the show considering the workers in the ring. The intriguing part will the Orton/Bryan dynamic. Have Reigns and Rollins retaining with Orton turning on Bryan.

Michael:  Orton and Bryan have no business winning the titles. That’s exactly why I’m going to predict that they win here. WWE seems to like Daniel Bryan in this position, and the company has always found success with the oddball pairings. While I don’t think they’ll hold the championship for very long (maybe not even past the next night on Raw), I think Orton finally cements his heel turn whenever they lose the titles back in the eventual rematch. On the down side, creative seems to be cooling on The Shield.

Marshall:  The Shield retain against the former champ and his new partner, the combination of Bryan and Orton is not as fluid as a team as Rollins and Reigns.

 

CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho

Brian:  I think CM Punk wins the match but there are a lot of different directions they can go here when it comes to Punk, Jericho and Heyman during and following the match.  Punk should get a hero’s welcome by the hometown crowd for what should be the best match on the card.

Steve:  This should be the match on the card. Everytime these two step into the ring, the matches are top notch. Like how the match has been built with Paul Heyman representing Punk. WWE did a good job here in not bringing Punk back until Payback. Jericho wins the match as Heyman will accidentally cost Punk the match as the build will start of the breakup between Punk and Heyman.

Michael:  Punk has to win here. It’s unfortunate for Jericho, who rarely ever seems to string together more than two victories in a row, but Punk’s hometown crowd would likely riot if he failed to win. I’m more curious to see how the company positions Punk coming out of this match. Is he coming back to stay? I’m not sure. I do think, though, that his turn against Paul Heyman starts this Sunday.

Marshall:  In his return to Chi-Town Punk defeats Jericho to kick off his summer as one of the top heels.

 

World Heavyweight Championship – Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio

Brian:  This should be a very good, under the radar match with Ziggler retaining the title.  I hope he gets a pinfall victory rather than there being a cheap DQ finish to the match and the feud continuing.  It’s time for both parties to move on even though Ziggler was sidelined with a concussion.  They both need fresh feuds at this point.

Steve:  A late add to this event since Ziggler was only cleared about 10 days ago to return to the ring. Ziggler had been out since May 7 when he suffered a concussion. Del Rio became the number one contender when he defeated Jack Swagger at Extreme Rules last month. Hard to build a match with this short notice but a story is there for the match. Ziggler should go over here to help build him through the summer.

Michael:  Alberto Del Rio has been the unfortunate victim of circumstance here. While waiting on Ziggler to return, he’s been given very little to sink his teeth into. These two will put together an entertaining 12-15 minutes (if WWE gives them that long), but Big E will distract and the champion will retain. I think Ziggler moves on to a bigger challenge from here (Sheamus or Punk) while Del Rio finds himself back in the mid-card.

Marshall:  Dolph wins this match, Del Rio will be the step in his title reign that really helps to establish his reign and guarantees a great match for the crowd and the audience.

 

WWE Championship – John Cena vs. Ryback (Three Stages of Hell match)

Brian:  As much as the WWE has tried to make Ryback into a monster, it really hasn’t caught on.  And this match just doesn’t have the feel of a scary, crazy match.  Instead, it feels like the next step in a feud that has been pretty pedestrian.  Cena walks away the title here and I hope he walks away from this feud although I could see it going one more month.  But this should be the end.

Steve:  This match is a three stages of hell match with the first match being a lumberjack match, the second being a tables match and if it goes to a third fall an ambulance match. This is coming off an actual pretty good match they had at Extreme Rules. It will be hard to take this match as three stages of hell considering none of the matches are that brutal. It will be interesting to see how Ryback does here as this match should go between 40-45 minutes. This match will go all three falls as Cena will win the first fall, Ryback the second and Cena will win the third fall to retain the WWE championship.

Michael:  Let’s get this out of the way: Cena wins. He pins Ryback in the Lumberjack Match, Ryback evens the score with the Table Match, and Cena finishes things off in the Ambulance Match. I don’t see a scenario where Ryback walks out with the championship (or why WWE would even want Ryback, a man who has to be prompted to finish his sentences, as their top guy). Unfortunately, there’s not much to get excited about with this one. The stipulations suck, the feud has been tame, and the outcome doesn’t seem in doubt at all.  Think about this: CM Punk hasn’t been on WWE Television since the night after Wrestlemania, but his match this Sunday feels like a much bigger deal. Oh well.

Marshall:  This match will go to John Cena after going through all three stages of the match. Ryback still isn’t established enough for the championship and seems like he’s there to be the giant Cena decimates in this current title run.

Previewing WWE Payback

wwepayback
WWE returns to pay-per-view tomorrow night with their June event, Payback. This event seems to be trying to build itself around it’s title sake by having most of the matches taking place focus on return matches from the Extreme Rules event, the ongoing rivalry with The Shield, and what could perhaps be the payoff to the only rivalry going on in the Diva division currently.

 

The event will be headlined by a Three Stages of Hell match for the WWE Championship in which John Cena will put his title on the line against Ryback. These two met at last month’s Extreme Rules event for the bel , only for their Last Man Standing match to end in a no contest after Ryback drove Cena and himself through the stage for the event and neither could answer a 10 count. This match will ultimately see all three stipulations – Lumberjack, Table, & Ambulance match – come into play with the end result of Cena walking out of the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL with the title firmly around his waist. In the end WWE still doesn’t know what exactly they are doing with the Ryback character and putting the WWE title isn’t going to help that.

 

Key matches on the undercard include Chris Jericho facing off against the returning CM Punk. As Jericho mentioned on Raw this past week this will be the third match these two have had the last being at the Extreme Rules 2012 event, which also took place in Rosemont. The title isn’t on the line this time, and Punk hasn’t made any appearances on TV since losing to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania in April. In the end, this match will be a great back and forth contest of technical wresting skill as both of the these executed in their previous two efforts, and Punk will win it. Even though Jericho has been the one on TV building up the match Punk will walk out of his hometown crowd with the win to set up what needs to be an interesting storyline with him for the summer that I can see leading to a match with Curtis Axel at SummerSlam in a battle of Paul Heyman guys, but that’s getting a little ahead of myself.

 

Alberto Del Rio will finally get his return match for the World Heavyweight Championship against the champ, Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler was supposed to defend the title in a triple threat ladder match against Del Rio and Jack Swagger but his concussion change that course a bit. In keeping with the name of the pay-per-view this will finally be Del Rio’s chance to get some measure of payback on the man who took the title from him in April. For Ziggler, he needs to help make that title matter and prove that there is a reason for him to be holding it. Add in the assistance of Big E Langston and AJ Lee and all signs point to Ziggler retaining. I would also expect this to be the feud that carries that title for the summer, with the occasional cameo from Swagger.

 

All of the members of The Shield will be in action defending their newly won gold as US Champion Dean Ambrose defends against Kane and the odd pairing of Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton will face Tag Team champs Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. In the end The Shield will remain victorious in both regards. Let’s face it they didn’t put the titles on them for The Shield to hot potato the belts in a month’s time.

 

The Intercontinental Championship is on the line in a Triple Threat Match pitting champion Wade Barrett against former champion The Miz and newcomer Curtis Axel. in keeping with the payback motif Barrett and The Miz will be goign back and forth in this match just enough to allow Axel (replacing the injured Fandango) to swoop in and take the title off of Barrett. Factoring into that decision will be the presence of Paul Heyman, who I’m fairly confident will make presence noticed.

 

The Divas division will be highlighted on this pay-per-view as Champion Kaitlin takes on her former partner and friend AJ Lee. This confrontation has been building for a while and is leading to what feels like the 9th reboot the Divas DIvision has had in the past three years. AJ will walk out of the arena with the belt, thanks in part to some from Doplh and Big E, and the audience will continue to wonder what the summer holds for the Divas division.

 

Sheamus takes on Damien Sandow in the pre-show match and will easily win in it to start the night off. The tradition since the beginning of these pre-shows has almost been to let the champion or the babyface get the win, and this will be no different.

 

Non-match wise I would expect to see something to follow up the Triple H/Vince confrontations of the past few weeks on the show to build up to something heading into SummerSlam, I just don’t quite know what yet.

 

Check back later in the week to see how my predictions hold up to the results, and catch WWE Payback live tomorrow night on pay-per-view.

WWE Smackdown Rundown – June 15th, 2013

smackdown outlineThe word “mediocre” comes to mind when discussing this week’s Smackdown. WWE creative seemed to check out for the night, save for one very questionable booking decision. Let’s break it down: [Read more...]

‘Monday Night Raw’ Review – 6/10/2013

hhhaxelRaw opened up strong last night, delivering on Triple H’s promise from last week to start the show off by fighting Curtis Axel. Vince’s interference here by flexing his “Chairman of the Board” role here was great, Triple H restarting the match as a 60-minute Iron Man match was hilarious, and the segment went on exactly as long as it needed to. It peaked my interest as a viewer. Plus, I like the way Curtis Axel was highlighted here in a secondary role. He looks major league being in a segment with both Vince and Triple H.

Unfortunately, the rest of the show failed to deliver on this set-up. While I initially gave the storyline a “good” last night, a few things didn’t settle well with me. First, why was Stephanie McMahon playing peace-keeper the rest of the night, whenever she was the one last week denying Triple H the right to wrestle? Secondly, the last segment of the night, with the “group hug” between the three, seemed to be played more for laughs than anything else. It was entertaining, but did little to raise the stakes between Vince and Triple H. I expected more.

 

Chris Jericho cut a fantastic promo on CM Punk.  If you listened closely, though, you probably realized this was a face vs. face build, with all the talk of respect, etc.  Then the CM Punk chants broke out. For anybody doubting Punk’s return as a good guy, revisit this segment from last night. Either way, these two should put on an epic contest this Sunday.

The Team Hell No/Randy Orton Situation took an interesting turn last night. Booking Bryan and Orton in a match together this Sunday creates high-drama between the two. I’m just glad WWE actually took the time to give us a reason why these guys should be challenging for the respective championships.

Fandango was probably the biggest loser coming out of Raw. Putting Axel in his place on Sunday was a great booking decision in my eyes, and I think he’s the odds-on favorite to walk away with the win. It was also an unexpected surprise.  However, I suspect that this was originally the plan intended for Fandango, and wonder what his storyline will be once he returns.

The Divas Division was promoted effectively last night.  I anticipated this segment, with Kaitlyn’s admirer revealing himself, would suck. When Big E came out, my greatest fears were realized. However, seeing him (literally) drop Kaitlyn in the middle of the ring made me gasp in surprise, and when AJ came out, everything finally clicked.

These two ladies are doing all they can to make the fans care about women’s wrestling in WWE again. AJ’s promo on Kaitlyn was entertaining, energetic, and showed a sign of life that’s been missing in the Diva’s Division for years. I’m actually looking forward to seeing these two fight.

 

The Ryback-Cena confrontation was hyped all night, and I think it delivered in a way these two haven’t before. Ryback seemed confident on the mic, and John Cena brought back his serious voice. I know the lumberjacks were strictly there to sell the stipulation on Sunday, but I liked how they were effectively booked to keep either man from looking dominant when these two finally got their hands on each other. Having everybody in the ring was a great visual to end the show on, and should stick with potential PPV buyers throughout the week.  I always say that less is more with Cena, and last night was proof.

 

The overall show was lighter on wrestling this week, but heavier on story. Considering that WWE had only announced 3 matches for the PPV this Sunday, the company needed to start promoting something if it expected the fans to care. Luckily, the show proved very entertaining from top to bottom. While some feuds show obvious signs of being rushed (I’m looking at you, Kane-Ambrose), others culminated in exciting ways.  Plus, the show had a number of surprises to keep viewers intrigued.

It wasn’t the greatest Raw of all time, and wrestling-only fans were probably disappointed (at least Bryan & Rollins put on a great show), but WWE gave viewers a reason to care about the product again. If you missed last night, make sure you catch the highlights.

WWE Raw Highlights – June 10th, 2013

rawHere’s a quick look at tonight’s very entertaining edition of Raw.  Be sure to check back tomorrow for a more in-depth review of everything important that took place, along with a few more thoughts and opinions. [Read more...]

WWE Smackdown Rundown – June 7th, 2013

wwe smackdown logoAnother great outing for Friday Night Smackdown, with all the right elements of an entertaining pro-wrestling show. Let’s dig in. [Read more...]

WWE Raw Rundown – June 3rd, 2013

rawWWE had its hands full with NBA competition last night.  Unfortunately, it failed to rise to the occasion. Read on for my thoughts on last night’s Raw.

[Read more...]

WWE Smackdown Rundown – May 31st, 2013

wwe smackdown logoVery entertaining edition of WWE Smackdown last night.  Check out the breakdown below.

The Good:

Opening Match – Kane def. Seth Rollins: Great way to kick off the show. Rollins and Kane worked a slow, methodical match pace, and WWE gave them some real time to do what they wanted. Rollins looked smart here for trying to take Kane out at the knees, and Kane really put the younger star over here by selling as well as he did (this is a true veteran).

I liked the ending of the match, where Bryan interfered and allowed Kane to get the chokeslam and pin. This match made Team Hell No look unified (after a few weeks of dissension), and it was fun to see them steal a page from The Shield. Since Rollins looked so strong throughout the match against a former world champion, I don’t think the loss took anything away from him. Similarly, this continues the feud between the two teams in a logical manner by making Kane seem like a credible threat.

Roman Reigns def. Daniel Bryan by DQ (due to Kane’s Interference): Really loved how this match picked up immediately after the last match – tying these two segments together not only makes sense, but it makes for great continuity on the show (where so many times pro wrestling events feel like a stiched-together circus of events). Reigns looked solid here by showing his strength, and Bryan did a great job (as always) of building momentum in the match and getting the fans behind him.

The ending was fun. Bryan rolled a pin attempt into the ‘no-lock,’ and Reigns used his strength to fight his way to the ropes. I loved how Reigns then provoked Kane, who retaliated with a punch, thus causing the DQ. This is a genuine heel tactic, and a great way to put heat on The Shield. I’m also glad the emphasis was put on Kane causing the confusion here instead of Bryan. Short, but fun, match, and great segment overall.

Curtis Axel def. Sin Cara: Let me start off by praising WWE for not making them wrestle under those stupid Sin Cara lights. Paul Heyman did a great job of building up Axel before the match. Seriously, the man could sell a baby kitten as a World Champion. Axel also took the mic and sounded intimidating without turning into a monotone robot (see: Ryback).

Match was quick. Sin Cara got a few botched offensive moves, but Axel quickly shut him down and finished him with the perfect plex. It made him look very strong, and able to quickly adapt. I think this is good for his build. He needs more easy wins like this against lower and mid-card talent, while brushing shoulders with the big boys.

Big E Langston def. Alberto Del Rio: Decent back-and-forth. Big E wins after AJ grabs Del Rio which let Big E throw him into a ring post. The match was only OK (not as good as their other two outings), but does a lot for Big E’s continued momentum.

Ryback dismantled Kofi Kingston: Ryback entered via an ambulance. Is this a thing now? Kofi looked game by attacking Ryback head-on, and not showing any fear. While I question the decision to give Kingston so much offense against Ryback, the ending of this segment sold me on it. Ryback put Kofi through multiple tables, and looked like a monster. The announcers also did a good job by recapping the seriousness of Kingston’s injuries.

Jericho def. Cody Rhodes: Jericho is such a good worker, in great shape, and able to keep up with wrestlers much younger than him. These two put together a fast-paced match. Fun reversals with good near falls. Short but sweet. My favorite match of the night.

Wyatt Family Video: Apparently I missed this Monday night? Kudos to WWE for replaying it here, and for revisiting the promo videos as a way to introduce superstars (I feel like they’ve done a lot less of this in recent years).

Ambrose vs. Randy Orton ends in count-out (The Shield interferes): Ambrose wrestling in the main event is big. He looked like a serious threat here – this is how you build a star (and props to Ambrose for running with the ball). These guys put together an entertaining 10-minute brawl that elevates both men while leaving the possibility open for future encounters.

The Shiled interfered, but then Team Hell No came out to help Orton. I’m hoping this leads to a fruitful Ambrose vs Orton rivalry.

Submission Reversals: I really like the chain wrestling out of submission moves (both the no-lock and cross-armbreaker were broken-up). It’s believable, and creates an air of unpredictability in the match.

Overall Show: While Smackdown has always been the “B show” to Raw (and has become even less important since the brand extension ended), the creative team did a great job here of building an entertaining, wrestling-heavy show. Almost every match had some greater implication behind it, made sense in context of the larger story, and showcased fun in-ring action. No major surprises here, but that’s not always a bad thing.

The Bad:

Damien Sandow “Challenge” Segment: First off, where’d his robe go? I’m not a big fan of the suit. I liked how WWE followed up last week’s segment with another “Ancient Greek Challenge” segment (with a follow-the-ball game), and I thought there were a few really funny lines by both men: Sandow’s “Congratulations – your idiot license is good for another year!” and Sheamus’s “playing with your cup and tiny balls” retort. However, I hate how foolish Sheamus made Sandow look here. Is this a feud? If so, why should we take Sandow seriously?

The Ugly:

Show him your balls chant during the Sandow segment was pretty funny. But, to quote Sheamus, “I don’t think anybody wants to see that.”

Sin Cola: Apparently this trends a lot on Twitter, as a way to both make fun of Sin Cara and confuse the masses (people asking what ‘Sin Cola’ is just keeps it trending). Either way, I approve.

Between The Ropes Wrestling Podcast – May 29, 2013

braywyattBrian and Steve discuss the latest in wrestling including the youth movement in the WWE with The Shield, Bray Wyatt and family coming in and others, CM Punk being advertised for his return at the WWE Payback PPV and whether or not he will face Chris Jericho, what to do with Punk once he returns, Curtis Axel and his first two weeks on Raw, the Ryback – John Cena dynamic, the WWE app, TNA Slammiversary (which is actually this Sunday) and more.

Play

WWE Raw Rundown – May 27th, 2013

rawAfter two solid weeks of programming, WWE takes a few steps back with an overall mediocre show, highlighted by a couple of strong matches and one hugely entertaining segment.

The Good:

Memorial Day Tribute: Say what you will about WWE pandering to it’s fans, at least it has the respect to give back to our troops.

Opening Segment w/Paul Heyman & Curtis Axel: Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel came out after Ryback left to challenge John Cena. I like it, it gave Axel the spotlight again, and showed he was willing to fight. And at least John Cena looked like he takes this challenge seriously. Short but effective segment, and good build for the main event later.

Del Rio def. Big E Langston: Good continuation of last weeks rivalry, and a great way to keep Ziggler spotlighted while he’s on the sidelines. Still wish they would actually put him on the show (does a concussion mean he can’t talk on the mic?). Del Rio wins by smacking Big E into a ringpost. Wasn’t quite as much fun as the match from last week, and feels like a general retread, but I enjoyed seeing Del Rio pick up the win because of AJ’s mistake. Also, Del Rio deserves the win and, because of the fluke, keeps Big E from looking weak. Didn’t like the argument at the end between AJ and Big E Langston – are they setting up a potential breakup? I hope not. It feels too early.

Daniel Bryan and Kane backstage segment: Fun segment. I liked the surprise appearance by Bret Hart, and thought the pep-talk he gave to Bryan was entertaining. Plus, Bryan’s line – “And you? You’re just Kane.”

Dean Ambrose def. Kofi Kingston to retain the IC Championship: Besides the early commercial break, I enjoyed this. These guys match up very well. The crowd seemed reluctant to get into this at first, but the multiple near-falls drew people back in. Anti-climatic ending, with Kofi getting knocked out on the steel steps, but it made Ambrose look DOMINANT. Very good for him, and glad to see him win this one on his own. The brawl afterwards between Team Hell No and The Shield made sense, and was a perfect lead-in to the next segment.

The Shield def. Team Hell No to retain the Tag Team Titles: This rivalry has been a ton of fun. These two teams have a lot of in-ring chemistry, and I love the fact that each one has a “big guy/small guy” dynamic. This match isn’t quite as good as their fight last week, but I still enjoyed the heck out of it. The distention at the end between Kane and Bryan, which causes Kane to lose the match, still feels somewhat forced. Also, Daniel Bryan is insanely popular, so I question WWE’s decision to have him be the cause of Team Hell No’s downfall while treating Kane like the sympathetic teammate. On the other hand, I like Bryan a lot more when he’s acting crazy.

Triple H Update: I like how they explained Triple H’s injury last week came from the Sledgehammer to the jaw at Extreme Rules. It really helped sell the intensity of that match. By announcing him for next weeks show, they give us incentive to tune in.

Fandango def. Wade Barrett w/ The Miz as special guest referee: Fine for what it was. Basically, The Miz attacks everybody, and comes out looking like the babyface should. The next logical step in this three-man rivalry.

Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel w/ Paul Heyman: Finally something truly interesting happened on one of these “WWE Talk Show” segments. Probably the highlight of last night’s show. Love that Jericho addressed the CM Punk issue directly, and how it felt unexpected. Paul Heyman did such a great job defending Punk while still acting clueless, and Jericho goading him into a match seemed very believable. Also, reminding everybody that Payback takes place in Punk’s hometown only makes sense. Putting Jericho – Punk on the card will definitely sell some PPVs, and ensure a packed house. Most importantly, this segment is a reminder of how talented speakers can effectively sell a match.

Wade Barrett’s New Music: Maybe it just feels refreshing, but I really dig it.

More title matches: I like this “more title matches, but fewer title changes” concept. It keeps the card interesting without devaluing the championships themselves. It’s also given us some very good matches in the past few weeks.

 

The Bad:

Show Opening w/John Cena: So. Many. Boos. This is exactly what I expected from Cena – more comedy to bury Ryback (yes, we get it, he acts like a caveman), and then an unexpected change to the stipulation of the match. Apparently it’s impossible for the man to come out and legitimately act like he’s still banged up from Extreme Rules, or like he even takes his opponent seriously.

And now, Cena wants this to be a “Three Stages of Hell” match, with stage one being a lumberjack match, stage two being a tables match, and stage three the expected ambulance match. I have so many issues with this. First off, this rivalry hasn’t built up to a “Three Stages of Hell” match, so it feels like adding a gimmick for gimmick’s sake. Plus, lumberjack matches and table matches just feel so boring and inconclusive. So what’s the point here, WWE? The ambulance match gimmick makes sense, and that’s obviously why you saved it for the last fall. What’s the deal with all the fluff? It just seems overbooked.

Tensai, Brodus Clay, and The Great Khali def. 3MB: Match ended in a giant brawl with Slater getting buried. Does this serve a real point? There’s no storyline here, just generic mid-card filler. Superstars like Antonio Cesaro are preempted because of this?

The Bellas def. Natalya and Kaitlyn: This was dumb and a waste of time. Didn’t do much to further the division or any storyline, other than making fun of Natalya.

Curtis Axel – Bret Hart backstage segment: Bret Hart tells Axel to get rid of Heyman. Axel says Heyman is the only one who paid him any attention. While I’m always happy to see Hart, it is what it is.

Randy Orton and Sheamus def. Team Rhodes Scholars: Are these guys a tag-team again, or what? While I love ‘Rhodes Scholars,’ the crowd is mostly dead. Still happy to see these guys get spotlighted with two former world champions. However, the match had a much slower pace, and the ending was never in doubt. Too much time here for what feels like filler. Sheamus brogue kick pins Sandow, and the burial of Sandow and Rhodes continues (can we not get these guys in a real storyline?).

Axel def. John Cena via count-out: Axel looks like such a big deal with Paul Heyman, and being in the ring with John Cena. His intensity is infectious. However, the slow match with “generic Cena wrestling” was dull. I’m glad Axel got the upper-hand against Cena for much of the match, but the crowd wasn’t impressed, as evidenced by the “booring” chants.

When the ambulance drove in, I thought this segment held promise. But Cena losing by count-out (to go attack Ryback in the ambulance?) really made him look dumb. Also, a second flukey win by Axel really isn’t building him up much. I don’t know how to feel about this, exactly.

The brawl between Ryback and Cena was okay, but it honestly didn’t accomplish much. I was glad to see Ryback get the upper hand, which at least sells him as credible competition to Cena’s title (more than Cena did earlier in the night), but still felt total indifference to this segment. We’ve seen them brawl, we’ve seen them argue. I’m bored by this feud.

WWE Fan Voting: Feels too inconsequential to matter anymore.

Three Hours of Raw: Cut out the filler, this could’ve been two strong hours. Instead, by 9:30, I was checking Facebook, flipping the channel, everything. The Heyman-Jericho segment saved hour 3, but otherwise, everything after “The Shield” felt like a snoozefest. I think it’s simply too much on a weekly basis.

 

The Ugly:

Stupid backstage segment involving cake and Hornswaggle. I wish I was making this stuff up.

Natalya’s Birthday: The Great Khali sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. I pray nobody ever has a birthday around Khali again.

Shawn Michael’s Beard: This is what retirement does to you, folks.

WWE Smackdown Rundown – May 24th, 2013

smackdownDecent edition of Smackdown this week.  Show kicked off fun and had a few short, but entertaining, matches. Unfortunately, it felt like it lacked any real star power.

The Good:

Opening Segment – Miz TV w/ Fandango: While I’m not normally a huge fan of the Miz TV segments, I thought this one did a good job of helping build towards the Intercontinental Championship match later.  There were a few great throwaway lines by Miz here – “Your ego is the only thing more annoying than your name” and calling Fandango a “bag of skittles” both stood out.  Furthermore, Wade Barrett coming out and interrupting made sense (because of what happened on Raw), and it seemed like a great way to kick-off an Intercontinental Championship feud. Barrett also got a few cheers for attacking Fandango. Could a possible face turn be in his future? I think it could be refreshing for his career if handled correctly.

Miz vs Wade Barret for the IC Championship ends in DQ when Fandango Interferes: This was a soft “good” for me. While the back-and-forth between Miz and Barrett was fun for the 30 seconds it lasted, Fandango’s dancing just made everything too distracting from the in-ring product. However, I liked it because it furthered the storyline between the three men, and It’s been awhile since we’ve had a good mid-card championship feud.

Daniel Bryan def. Jack Swagger: These two weren’t given much time to work, but they still put together a fun match. I loved the ending here, with Swagger in the “no-lock” almost reaching the ropes and still tapping out. I also thought the announcers did a good job of building up how important this match was to Bryan and regaining his confidence by proving he isn’t the weak-link.

Great ending, with Swagger in the “no-lock” almost reaching the ropes but still tapping out.. Short match, broken up by a commercial break, but I like the story it tells about Bryan. He’s trying to prove himself and build back up his psyche. Nice storytelling here for Bryan. Too bad Swagger is not in a free-fall…again.

Damien Sandow Segment: This guy is money on the mic. He speaks down the audience, and carries that air of superiority better than almost any other heel on the roster. I loved the “Call Washington! I’ve just found the problem in the education system!” directed at Matt Striker and his substitute-teaching background.  Sheamus came out, which was actually a fun surprise. I think he works really well in this “correcting the heel” type-role (as he did with Henry). Is it too much to ask for a feud between these two? Sandow looked smart by escaping the Brogue kick, but looked really dumb afterwards when Striker landed on him.

Jericho def. Big Show via count-out: OK match. Slow, plodding pace at first, but they picked it up towards the end with a good number of reversals. Entertaining with a good small guy vs. big guy dynamic in play. On the other hand, it felt like they left this open for more. Is this a rivalry anybody really wants to see?

The Shield def. Randy Orton, Sheamus, and Kofi Kingston: While this format feels a little old, and the match from Monday night was better, these guys all put out a pretty good effort here. Glad The Shield won again, and I’m always happy to see Kofi Kingston wrestle with the big boys.

 

The Bad:

Team Hell No backstage segment: This one almost ended up as a “good” for me, simply because I like the fact that this backstage segment helped build up a story. However, I fear that WWE is handling this one all wrong. The focus is too much on Bryan being crazy and Kane being the sympathetic one. I still think there’s money to be made with this team and it’s revenge on The Shield.  I also believe Bryan has a lot more to offer as a face, and Kane likewise as a heel, especially if they ever pull the trigger on a rivalry between these two.

Curtis Axel def. Sin Cara: For starters, WHY is Sin Cara still allowed to wrestle with the lights down like that? What makes him special now? This would have been much more impressive had Axel come out and dominated here. Instead, he looks like just another mid-carder here who barely pulls of a win against Sin Cara, a guy we rarely see on TV anymore. Is this what being a “Paul Heyman Guy” does for you? Disappointing.

Dean Ambrose vs. Kofi Kingston for the U.S. Championship ends in DQ: This match kicked off with a fun, fast pace. These two work very well together. However, after about three minutes, The Shield came out to interfere (so why did Ambrose tell them to stay back at the beginning?), followed by Orton and Sheamus to save the day.

This didn’t make sense to me. Shouldn’t Kane and Bryan be interfering? Also, I thought Orton and Sheamus had moved on past their feud with The Shield?  Furthermore, Teddy Long had to come out and make it a “three-on-three” match, as though we haven’t seen enough of those recently.  Actually, he said, “This show isn’t going to end like that!” (in reference to the brawl). Of course it isn’t, Teddy, there’s still about 20 minutes left in the show.  But I guess that’s the new format for Smackdown – let everybody interfere, and make your main even a “surprise” tag-team matchup. It just feels stale.

 

The Ugly:

Fake Audience Noises: The crowd doesn’t go from dead silence, to maximum boo/cheer level, back to dead silence like that.

Fandango on Commentary: Not to knock his skills here, but he sounds like a phone-sex operator.

ECU is Josh Matthews favorite university: As an NC State graduate (known rival of the ECU Pirates), this displeases me greatly.

Between The Ropes Wrestling Podcast – May 21, 2013

hhhaxelBrian and Steve are back to talk about the WWE Extreme Rules PPV from over the weekend, what wrestlers can learn from Brock Lesnar, Raw from Monday night, the debut of Curtis Axel, more young guys getting involved in WWE and where they could be going with them, The Shield and their current run, Ryback’s promo to start the show, the Triple H storyline and how much he may be wrestling going forward and more.

Play

WWE Raw Rundown – May 20th, 2013

rawSolid night for WWE Raw on Monday. While it didn’t change the landscape of the WWE (or even slightly alter it), the well-paced show gave us a few intriguing segments and some entertaining matches. Let’s dig in.

The Good:

The Opening Segment w/Ryback (first 5 minutes): This segment was a hot way to kick off the show. The ambulance driving into the arena at the opening caught the attention of viewers, and Michael Cole sold the mystery of the whole thing (my wife joked that Del Rio must have brought back the car gimmick). Then Goldberg…er, Ryback came out of the back.

I liked Ryback here at first – he seemed intense, focused. The way he put over his conquering of Cena from Sunday night, while also laying the seeds for an Ambulance match at Payback, created a great wrestling promo. This was the best Ryback has been on the mic. And then he started talking about the audience… (see below)

Sheamus def Titus O Neil: At first, I hated seeing a tag-team split up for singles action. Then, WWE surprisingly made Titus O Neil feel like a legitimate prime-time player.  O’Neil looked big and solid, espeically with another big man like Sheamus, and got a surprising amount of offense against the main-eventer.  In fact, O’Neil dominated Sheamus for most of the match, picking him up and tossing him around like a rag doll.  Is WWE prepping us for an eventual Prime-Time Players split?

Sheamus wins only by fighting his way back into it, but O’Neil looks strong in defeat. Fun, lengthy match.

Paul Heyman’s “New Guy”: With the rumors of RVD and a Ryback switch floating on Twitter shortly before the show, I was disappointed with the eventual reveal of McGillicutty…er, Curtis Axel.  On the flip-side, this gave people at home incentive to watch Raw, to see what happened. I also appreciate the fact that they gave us a reason, and a good one at that, for his new name (too often WWE has selective memory loss).  I also like how Heyman put him over even more by using Lesnar as the example, pointing the finger back and the audience and reminding them how they never took Lesnar seriously at first, either. Also liked how the announcers put his “pedigree” over.

I think this segment finally took off when Triple H came in as an unexpected surprise, though. Love him or hate him, he understands what it takes to sell a moment. His intensity during this face-off was great, and the challenge set up an intriguing main-event later in the night. Anytime Heyman and Hunter share the ring, I’m glued to the TV.

The Shield Gloating Segment: “The Shield brought power back to these titles.”  Ambrose is such a good talker. His swagger, his intensity, it’s infectious.  He has a unique promo style.  You’ll notice that the audience doesn’t “WHAT?” him, they actually boo him.  It’s called talent, folks.  They do, however, “WHAT?” Roman Reigns.

The Shield def Team Hell No & Kingston:  Overall, great match with good tags that shifted the momentum back and forth. One thing I really liked seeing was effective tagging in-and-out, and effective usage of corners. The middle of the match was slow, but it picked back up at the end. These guys all work well together. And good decision on WWE’s part to give the match to the Shield – they needed this win to cement their victory from last night. The frenetic-pace down the stretch made for an entertaining 20 minutes. Better than the Tag Team Championship last night.

Langston def. Alberto Del Rio: Good matchup here of “technique vs strength.”  These guys matched up well, and both played to their individual strength.  Big E was spotlighted in a big way, and the fact that he walks away with the win is both surprising and refreshing (and since it was due to AJ’s interference, it takes nothing away from Del Rio).  Also, this helps make Del Rio’s number one contendership story a lot more interesting.

AJ def. Layla: Michael Cole – “I cannot wait to see the Bellas on Total Divas in July on E! It’s going to be something.”  Yes, it is going to be SOMETHING…  Good athleticism here, but the crowd is dead. The Diva’s division is dead.  This AJ Lee – Caitlyn rivalry needs to pickup to stick some life back in it.  AJ looked very impressive with her submission, and I’m glad they’re giving her some wins towards what looks like an eventual championship match (and run?)

Randy Orton def. Jack Swagger: Little bit of catch-as-catch-can wrestling to start off the match. Nice. These two have some decent in-ring chemistry. Jack Swagger wrestled out of the RKO, and turned it into a Patriot Lock. Fun stuff. But Swagger loses clean, so where does he go from here? He needs a revamp again, or something, I don’t know. However, Orton chasing Ziggler as champion could be fun (yes, I know Del Rio gets a title match first).

Pecking Order: WWE understands something that TNA historically has not – Main Eventers and World Champions should look generally stronger than the rest of the card, without completely burying the other performers. I’m glad Sheamus won, because he’s the more “seasoned” wrestler, but Titus O’Neil still looked great in defeat. Makes sense for the ‘pecking order.’ On the other hand, Del Rio’s loss doesn’t take much away from him – but it does a whole lot for the rising stock of Big E Langston.

PPV Recap: WWE did a good job of recapping the important events from ‘Extreme Rules.’

 

The Bad:

Opening Segment w/Ryback (after the first 5 minutes): WWE needs to learn that with Ryback, less is more. He’s a hulking monster, not Hamlet. His promo on Cena was FANTASTIC. The he started fumbling through something about the audience going to the hospital.  Blah Blah Blah. Booring.

Look, I get it.  WWE wants desperately for the fans to hate him, so they think that having him directly insult the audience will achieve that.  If he had just stopped with the Cena stuff, he likely would have gotten more cheers than boos. Unfortunately, he’s still not a good enough talker to warrant this much mic time. This is why I believe his current heel push came too soon.

Wade Barret’s New Music: Seriously, this man is very talented, but WWE has NO IDEA what to do with him. They try to throw a new shine on him every few weeks and see what sticks.

Jericho and Miz def Wade Barrett and Fandango:  As the first match of the night, the audience was hot.  Too bad this was a giant waste of time for everybody involved. Fandango started dancing in the middle, leaving Wade Barrett to get buried by Miz and Jericho. He got hit with every finisher, and looked bad in defeat.  Way to treat your IC champion. Then, Fandango ran out afterwards. Are we to assume the Fandango – Jericho feud is continuing? I hope not.

Cody Rhoes def. Zack Ryder: Bleh, short match where Ryder loses again. Ryback came out afterwards to put Ryder in an ambulance. The whole segment felt lifeless.

Triple H vs Axel: Nice to see Axel get a little bit of offense in here. Also, putting a young talent in the ring with a veteran is good experience, and helps sell the match. Unfortunately, the Triple H injury was a minor miss for me, and created a weird ending to an otherwise entertaining show. What’s the storyline here? Are we supposed to worry about Triple H’s in-ring future? Like Michael Cole pointed out – this is his first match on Raw in years. What’s the endgame?

Live Audience Interactions: Fandango pushed a fan over on the way out. Audience members are CONSTANTLY touching The Shield. Something needs to change here.

PPV Fallout: While they recapped the events, they didn’t discuss the fallout very much (the Instant Replay comes to mind). Also, John Cena was noticeably absent. Why have him no-sell the injury by refusing an ambulance, just to have him stay off Raw?

 

The Ugly:

Shameless Product Placement: Last week Dominoes, this week Sonic. At least the audience gets free stuff? Michael Cole sold this better than he did any other match of the night.

Jerry ‘Horn Dog” Lawler: This isn’t the attitude era anymore, fellas.  Making a statement about Summer Rae like, “I would like to read her book, and I would prefer the brail edition,” just feels inappropriate.

Kevin Jonas – SOCIAL MEDIA AMBASSADOR: There aren’t enough curse words in the English language to express my disdain over this. Way to be a Twitter whore, WWE.

 

Think I got it all wrong? Give me your opinion on Twitter – follow me @therealwiseman

WWE Extreme Rules 2013 Rundown


wwe-extreme-rules-2013
Although the build was terrible heading into ‘Extreme Rules,’ WWE put together an entertaining three-hours last night. While no match was an instant classic, the intensity throughout the last hour of the Pay Per View plus a few stand-out performances created a solid pro wrestling event.

The Good:

Chris Jericho def. Fandango: This rivalry was decent, and took a turn at Wrestlemania with Fandango’s surprising victory. The back-and-forth in this match was exciting. Chris Jericho does more to put over young superstars than anybody else in the WWE, but I’m happy to see him win here. Plus, his Codebraker from the top rope looked sweet.

Dean Ambrose def. Kofi Kingston for the U.S. Title: Really liked that Ambrose sent his “hounds of justice” away so he could win this one on his own. These guys put on a fun, fast-paced match, and the crowd was solidly behind Kofi. No doubt this is good for Ambrose.

Sheamus def. Mark Henry in a Strap Match: While this match slowed down the pace of the PPV, I liked the placement on the card (after two exciting matches), and thought Henry and Sheamus used the gimmick surprisingly well. Going around the outside of the ring was creative, as was Henry picking Sheamus up (and having Sheamus tag the corners without Henry knowing). Overall, while I always hate seeing ‘the world’s strongest man’ lose, I’m glad they ended it the match in a direct fashion – Sheamus brogue-kicking Henry and tagging the last turnbuckle gave the fans something to cheer about.

The Shield: After languishing as main-event filler for the last few weeks (months?), it’s good to see them with forward momentum again. This felt like a logical next-step for this unstoppable team, and I think it opens up a world of possibilities as far as title-defenses and new matchups are concerned. Let’s just hope this turns out better than The Nexus…or Nexus 2.0… or The Corre…

Randy Orton def. The Big Show: Started off a little slow, but really picked up towards the end. Had a good, attitude-era “hardcore” feel to it. I liked seeing Big Show break two different Kendo sticks to really emphasise his power, and was happy to see the return of Randy Orton’s punt (even if it is a heel move). He really played to his hometown crowd here, and the fans went nuts with the win. I would be happy to see him step up into the main-event picture.

John Cena vs Ryback ends in no-contest: I was happy to see a little more offense from Ryback, even though it was mostly more power slam variations. He seems a lot more confident in the ring, and his presence is growing. I still argue he isn’t ready for this heel persona being pushed down our throats, but he and Cena turned a lackluster build into a fun match. This is the kind of brawl these two thrive in.

Now, about that finish – I really liked the visual of seeing them plow through the stage, and the surprise of it all. However, doesn’t this (yet again) completely undermine the gimmick? I’m pretty sure I saw Ryback walk away, so shouldn’t he win? On the positive side, I guess it keeps Ryback looking strong without moving the championship. But, when Cena comes out tomorrow night and delivers his preacher-man speech, and eventually pins Ryback next month at Payback, this will all be for naught.

Brock Lesnar def. HHH in a Steel-Cage Match: Let me get this out of the way: I love the new steel cage. The previous one looked outdated, and compared to the size of TNA’s, looked really small. This one looks major league.

Triple H surprising Brock Lesnar from behind was a fun way to start the match, and I thought both of these guys brought an intensity that’s hard to find in WWE these days. Brock Lesnar sold an early knee injury, and it allowed them to tell an interesting story in the ring. Really liked the hidden sledgehammer. And although Paul Heyman interfering undermines the gimmick, it made for a great moment in the match with the pedigree. Glad to see Lesnar get the win via pinfall, and feel like this was a great way to end the feud.

While I’m not normally a fan of WWE Championship matches coming before a different main event, I think this match deserved to go on last. It had the best build, the best intensity, and truly felt like the final chapter in a 10-month long feud.

The Bad:

The Miz def. Cody Rhodes: This isn’t here because of the quality of the match (which, because of the technical issues, I can’t comment on). Instead, the fact that Cody Rhodes and The Miz have been delegated to what is essentially “Superstars” duty drives me crazy. Two years ago, these guys both had major wins at Wrestlemania 27 – and now WWE can’t give them a real storyline, much less get them on a minor PPV card? Groan.

Alberto Del Rio def. Jack Swagger to become Number One Contender: This match really wasn’t that bad – however, it came in the middle of the card, and seemed to lack that intensity all the other matches had. It felt kind of slow, and put the crowd to sleep. I think the “I Quit” gimmick hurt it, because the ref intervening every little bit really slowed down the pace. And while I liked the Coulter swerve of throwing in Del Rios towel, I think it was better played for laughs than as a legitimate means of ending the match, After all, isn’t saying “I Quit” the whole point of the match? I would have enjoyed this match a lot more on Raw or Smackdown.

The Shield def. Team Hell No for the Tag Team Championship: This is not about the OUTCOME (see above) as much as is it the match itself. I’m never crazy about a Tornado match, because it evokes the same chaos of bad triple-threat for fatal-four-way matches. Also, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns botched their finisher. This one felt hard to follow, and took me out of the moment.

The Use of Instant-Replay: I know this was included to capitalize on the recent baseball controversy, but it sets a bad precedent for WWE. Not that I expect them to follow up with this again, but for fans who watched the match, we now know WWE monitors everything. Why would they EVER let somebody cheat again? Seems false in a business where lying, cheating, and stealing are the norm.

Mid-card Title Situation: Both titles have changed hands TWICE since the Wrestlemania pre-show. It made sense to have two titles when there were two brands, but now they feel even cheaper than TV championships. Where’s the prestige?

The Ugly:

Jack Swagger on the Mic: Imagine you’re a professional wrestler, whose job it is to speak intensely and sell matches, and you’re given a manager because you fumble around on the mic and people don’t find you interesting. Now, imagine the only thing you’re ever allowed to say is, “We, the people.” Welcome to Jack Swagger’s world.

Kaitlyn’s Secret Admirer: It’s probably The Great Khali or Hornswaggle. Painful either way.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think! Follow me on Twitter @therealwiseman