Last December, GLCW, probably the largest wrestling promotion in Wisconsin, ran their annual Blizzard Brawl show. Every year, promoter Dave Herro spares no expense in making the event the most memorable of the year. From outstanding wrestling featuring the best of the Milwaukee scene, to beloved WWE Superstars, Blizzard Brawl is always the highlight of the Christmas Holiday Season.
And December, 2015 would be no exception to the rule. A surprise announcement was made that former D-Generation X member Chyna was joining the line-up. True to Dave's word, Chyna appeared to the delight of wrestling fans young and old, and from all accounts, was a class act.
She made a few more, occasional appearances at wrestling shows and the usual entertainment related shows. Not so much as a tour but in a series of surprise appearances. Not long ago, she made an appearance in Kentucky, which prompted the following dialogue.
At the time, my work schedule did not allow me the chance to make the trek north for the show. But I know a few wrestling fans around here, so I asked them if they were interested in going to the appearance. The response I got back was cold at best, and down right bitter and mean at worst.
One fan prattled on and on about Chyna's ill-fated reality show career, pointing out every alcohol soaked segment of VH1's The Surreal Life. Another threw slut-shaming slurs into the air and pointed out every botch and miscue from dozens of episodes of Monday Night Raw. Yet another pointed out her “Dominatrix-Xena” wardrobe, making fun of how out of place the garb looked with the more casual wear of D-X. And then a Holy Roller used this as a platform to beat his chest, misquote the Bible and prattle off a long list of lies and untruths about the porn industry, in relation to Chyna's movie career, which prompted another to give away details about the adult films I never asked for.
I sighed, and simply changed the subject. The angst-ridden comments led me to believe that even for Kentucky, this topic was too far gone to be salvaged by even the loudest “Bless your Heart”.
Well April 20th arrived, and I braced myself for a flood of marijuana talks, both pro and anti.
And you know, between the sudden announcement of Chyna's passing and the news of Harriet Tubman sharing the $20 bill with pro-slavery President Andrew Jackson, I don't think I even heard anything about the medicinal weed that entire day.
Instead, I saw those very same anti-Chyna naysayers, plastering Facebook with long-winded tributes and YouTube videos of her time in the ring. Only three guys mentioned her pornography career in still mean-spirited jest. As for the rest? I bet you've memorized the comments by now.
Oh Chyna was my childhood hero! #RIPChyna
Chyna was an inspiration to women everywhere. #BestInTheWorld
Chyna was my first crush growing up. #Heartbroken
Chyna was a brave soul and a pioneer to women. #ThankYouChyna
Chyna paved the way for women so they wouldn't be ashamed of sex or their bodies. #Empowering
Chyna was the best Women's champ ever!! #Chyna
Hey @WWE!! Induct Chyna already! #ChynaHOF
The very same people who a week earlier had been chiding Chyna on Twitter and making fun of her, were now praying for her soul to return, mourning her loss and sharing fond memories.
Have we become so spineless as a country that we think this is normal?
So-called “fans” of Chyna spent year after year, harassing this woman, wishing death upon her, slut-shaming her and even going so far as to heckle her at appearances and on social media.
The non-stop harassment was considered “normal” because she was a woman and based on her gender, “deserved” it.
The death threats? Also normal. You enjoy sex? You can wrestle? How dare you! Only MEN can enjoy those things. Now accept our unwarranted dick pics and like this abuse, like it right now, whore!
Be grateful to me for gracing you with my un-asked-for harassment. I bootlegged your matches via Justin.tv, that means I know more about wrestling than you ever did in your five plus years as an active competitor. I will armchair book and you will worship me for it!
Oh, you're dead now? You were my idol, my crush and my muse. I shall now flood the internet with my hatred of death for taking you so young. RIP in hashtags, Chyna-chan. I must now curse the WWE for not granting you co-ownership of the company, the heavyweight title and the main event spot at WrestleMania. Truthfully it was you who should have ended the Undertaker's streak, for now you are dead, which is erasing all of the harassment I bombarded your page with in life. Now people will know I was your number one fan, for I have hashtagged that match I said you botched with adornments of praise. Rest in power, my angel.
Unless I'm a jerk, trapped in 2010, who still thinks suicide-bating is funny, peaked in middle school and still live in my parents' basement. In which case I will now paste poorly photo-shopped pictures and dick pics all over the Facebook walls of your loved ones while I update your hate page. Your loved ones had better worship me and then kill themselves, or I will lie and tell people I exist on the Autism spectrum, so you can't sue me for harassing you into the ground. Worship my hashtag, my fake pictures are the “REAL truth” about you. And don't you dare tell me to stop! Your job is to like my harassment as me “expressing myself”. Your insistence that I stop is the REAL harassment, now I must report your Facebook! You are the one who needs to suck it up, while I post naked photos pf Chyna in an effort to demean her because she was a porn star. Don't be weak.
This is the psychotic, nonsensical treatment of celebrities male and female, is only highlighted in ignorance once death has reared it's unwelcome head. The insensitive monsters we are when a celebrity is alive, become simpering, crocodile criers when that same celebrity we tortured dies.
So I say we stop being fake.
If you don't like a celebrity, fine. But don't act like you were their biggest fan when they die.
If you were too cheap to pony up the $10 general admission ticket to see them when they were alive, don't act like your house is plastered in their posters when they die.
It's as sad and pathetic to watch as the dithered, misspelled, poorly photo-shopped “joke” you spammed on her Facebook memorial.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!
Joanie Laurer, known to wrestling fans worldwide as the ninth wonder of the world Chyna, passed away this week at the age of 45. Details are still sketchy about a cause of death, although police have officially ruled out suicide and are working on the theory that she either accidentally overdosed on or had a bad reaction to new anxiety medication she had recently started taking.
Laurer began her wrestling career as a trainee of the legendary Killer Kowalski, with The Fabulous Moolah lending input. She had already had legitimate training as a bodybuilder. In 1996, Kowalski introduced Laurer to Shawn Michaels and Paul Levesque, who had caught on in WWE under the ring name HHH. HHH had been in the market for a valet or manager and he felt Laurer could fit the bill as something unique and different. WWE owner Vince McMahon didn’t agree, but after several attempts at finding HHH a manager backfired, he finally agreed to give Laurer a shot.
Rechristened Chyna, Laurer was certainly a revolutionary figure in the world of wrestling. She was the first female valet who not only looked legitimately tough, but could dish it out as well as she could take it. Some men flatly refused to take bumps for Chyna, most notably Ahmed Johnson. But stars like Mick Foley, Goldust, The Rock and Kane willingly bumped for Chyna, helping get her over as an extremely tough threat outside the ring.
At the 1999 Royal Rumble, Chyna made history as the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble match as an active participant. In June 1999, Chyna once again made history as the first woman to participate in the then-annual King of the Ring tournament, losing in the first round to Road Dogg. She also briefly became the first woman to ever become the #1 Contender for the WWE World Championship, although the following week she lost her #1 contender ranking to Mankind in a match on Monday Night Raw that was better than expected.
On October 17, 1999, Chyna made history by becoming the first- and so far only- woman to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship, defeating future Ponzi Scheme enthusiast Jeff Jarrett in a “Good Housekeeping” match. Unfortunately, her first title reign was not the success WWE had been hoping for. Her first title defense against Chris Jericho at Survivor Series 1999 saw the heel Jericho get heavily cheered. The quality of her title defenses wasn’t great either, especially since in those days, the Intercontinental title was known as the workhorse title whose matches often stole the show.
However, WWE wasn’t ready to give up on Chyna as a singles star within the male wrestling division. Despite losing the IC title to Jericho at Armageddon 1999, a double pin finish on the final Smackdown show of 1999 saw Chyna sort of regain the championship, albeit with a gimmick that she and Jericho would co-exist as IC co-champs. For obvious reasons, that dynamic didn’t work either, so at the 2000 Royal Rumble at Madison Square Garden, the IC title was put up for grabs in a Triple Threat also featuring Hardcore Holly. Jericho emerged as the sole IC Champion in a good match.
Yet this wouldn’t be the end for Chyna as IC Champion. Fast forward eight months to SummerSlam 2000. In a mixed tag team match in which the winner of the fall would become the Intercontinental Champion, Chyna pinned Trish Stratus to win the title for a third time. Her third reign would come to an end in yet another triple threat match eight days later.
The following year, Chyna found herself moved over to the floundering Women’s division. She was said to be very reluctant about the move, preferring to work with men. At Wrestlemania X-7 on April Fools Day 2001, Chyna won the Women’s Championship, defeating Ivory in a match a lot better than expected going in. She would be the dominant Women’s champion of 2001, only losing the title when she left the company in November 2001. Some say it was amicable, others say it was a contract dispute. Many believe her exit was the delayed fallout from a year earlier, when her then-boyfriend HHH left her for now-wife Stephanie McMahon. Whatever the case, it was the last we’d see of Chyna in the WWE forever more.
In 2002, Laurer signed with New Japan Pro Wrestling, wrestling under her given name. She was featured in key matches against such distinguished male talent as Masahiro Chono, Gedo, Jedo and Jushin Liger. She even scored a win over a rookie Hiroshi Tanahashi, who would go on to superstardom in the 2010s. Despite the megapush designed by then-owner Antonio Inoki to get Laurer over as a top attraction, she never was accepted by the Japanese wrestling fans. She would part ways with New Japan by the end of the year.
After a failed attempt with Total Nonstop Action in 2004 that ended when she balked over putting woman wrestler Trinity over clean, life took a dark turn for Laurer. Drug addiction had a firm grip of Laurer’s life at the time. The horror stories quickly spread, including a disastrous appearance on the Howard Stern Show. Interviews were rife with off-the-wall statements and outright lies with little bearing on reality. Her on-and-off relationship with Sean “X-Pac” Waltman often resulted in public outbursts, including one infamous incident in which she stripped naked and dove into a tank full of fish at a restaurant in New York. They sold a sex tape for the money, which gained the couple further infamy with the general public.
Yet in recent years, it appeared as if she was finally conquering her demons. In 2011, Laurer brought Chyna back to pro wrestling, making a one-off appearance at TNA’s Sacrifice PPV. She teamed with Kurt Angle against Jarrett and his wife Karen (who used to be Angle’s wife- LONG story there we won’t go into there). Chyna looked to be in good shape, but the match wasn’t very good primarily because Karen Jarrett was not a trained wrestler and every time she tagged in, the match went to the toilet.
She made a few professional porn films, most notably portraying She-Hulk in a XXX Avengers parody that led to a solo spinoff feature. Some have criticized Laurer for “resorting” to making porn films, but none of those critics ever bothered to think that perhaps this was the only paying work Laurer could get that paid well enough for sheer survival at the time. She did make a return to Japan not as a wrestler, but as an English teacher in recent years.
Last year, Laurer had made overtures about making amends with WWE, with a possible Hall of Fame induction. Sadly, WWE chose to look the other way and ignore her. Now the public reconciliation is too late. No doubt WWE will induct Chyna posthumously.
I admit that I was never a big fan of Chyna. However, there is no denying that she was an important figure and top star of the much-lauded WWE Attitude Era. Laurer had effected positive change at a time when women were little more than eye candy outside the ring. Her achievements paved the way for the current wave of intergender matches that has taken wrestling by storm today, specifically in the Chikara and Lucha Underground promotions. So she was a flawed human being. Who isn’t, these days? Laurer deserves our respect for the positive contributions she gave pro wrestling. At least I wish to remember the good, at least on this cold, gloomy day.
10. The Third Annual Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal: The first two Andre battle royals were really good matches that showcased a mix of underused talent and reliable veterans. Unfortunately, thanks to a string of serious injuries, idiotic suspensions and just plain stubborness on the part of Vince McMahon, the third time was not a charm. The talent pool was especially thin this year, as only 20 participants were featured instead of the usual 30. The Wyatt Family, consisting of Bray Wyatt, Erick Rowan and Braun Stroman, were oddly not in the battle royal, despite being advertised as participants. Stroman was even pegged to win the battle royal. Unfortunately, WWE had other plans for the Wyatts- none of them good. As for who was in the battle royal, it wasn’t an impressive lot overall. Konnor, Viktor, Damien Sandow (who reportedly plans to give his notice- can’t say I blame him considering how WWE Creative refuses to push him despite being incredibly over with fans), Jack Swagger, Tyler Breeze, Goldust, R-Truth, Darren Young, Heath Slater, Curtis Axel, Adam Rose, Bo Dallas, Kane, The Big Show, Fandango and Mark Henry. Not an especially thrilling bunch who are taken seriously by fans these days. Oh wait, that’s only 16. So who were the surprises, then? NXT talent Baron Corbin was one. So were legends Diamond Dallas Page and Tatanka. Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal was the final entrant, primarily to set up a singles match with Show for Wrestlemania 33 next year. Other than a so-so double chokeslam with Show on Kane, Shaq didn’t do much more than grab Show by the throat and slowly inch towards the ropes for the expected spot when the other 18 gang up on the two behemoths. The timing was off as Shaq fell to Earth too quickly while Show took a lifetime reaching the floor. I imagine both were supposed to hit the floor at the same time. It was your typical low-grade battle royal, tedious and unexciting especially since there was no one the fans truly wanted to get behind. You need to have someone you can root for or believe can plausibly win to maintain interest. At least they did the right thing by having promising young NXT talent Corbin win the match instead of giving the aging Kane a win he didn’t need. DUD
The Rock Meets The Wyatt Family: The Rock hit the ring to a deafening pop, which served as a tribute to his lasting star power and an indictment of how WWE Creative has prevented younger, fresher talent from achieving the same. He announced that Wrestlemania 32 set a new indoor attendance record for a Wrestlemania show. The number announced was 101,763, but it was slightly exaggerated from the actual number of 98,763. McMahon is notorious for exaggerating Wrestlemania attendance records, even though the real numbers are often STILL very impressive and record breaking. The lights suddenly went out and the Wyatt Family theme music played, leading to the sight of 98,000+ cell phone lights swaying in the background. The fans just love the Wyatt Family, despite the best efforts of WWE Creative to marginalize them at every turn. Wyatt and Rock traded quips, which were as good as one would expect considering these guys are great talkers. Then something happened that made my stomach churn. Rock said that he was ready for a match and challenged any Wyatt family member to an impromptu match. He tore off his clothes to reveal that his wrestling trunks. The live crowd went wild, which lead to…
11. The Rock Vs. Erick Rowan: Rock immediately leveled Rowan with the Rock Bottom and covered for the pin in a mere six seconds. So a legend now considered an actor scores a quickie squash win over a full-time wrestler who is loaded with talent and should be better protected. Way to go, Vince. As if that wasn’t bad enough, John Cena made a surprise appearance and helped his frenemy destroy the other Wyatt Family members. Is this any way to treat one of the best factions WWE has had in years? No! Reportedly Rock had wanted to work with the Wyatts, but McMahon felt that having them decimated in this fashion by Rock and Cena would give them a meaningful rub. All I saw was the destruction of a super over act who should be in the top main event level mix, not being tossed around like soiled rag dolls by a retired wrestler. Ugh! DUD
12. WWE World Champion HHH Vs. Roman Reigns: This was an excellent match, slightly tempered by the fact that fans both attending live and watching at home were just plain exhausted by the time it finally began. HHH’s ring entrance was cool, as Stephanie McMahon appeared like a refugee from the Mad Max movie series, clad in a leather outfit that was surprisingly hot. It didn’t hurt that she cut a killer promo that really helped set the tone for the match itself. I think fans are so tired of the evil McMahon family antics that they repeatedly overlook just how good and effective Stephanie is on the mic. Reigns was booed, but not nearly as intensely as I expected, which I attribute to exhaustion from an overlong PPV. The match started very slowly, almost as if they were stymied by the subdued crowd reaction. Eventually things picked up to the point where the live crowd finally got into it. The psychology was off the charts, as most HHH matches tend to be. The guy is just a master of how to tap into heel psychology. Despite the periodic chants of “Reigns Can’t Wrestle”, Reigns showed once again that he definitely CAN wrestle and at a high level of quality. The finishing sequence was actually pretty clever. Reigns seemingly finished off HHH with the Spear but Stephanie yanked the ref out of the ring before the three count could be made. Since the match was no DQ, it was perfectly legal. Stephanie stepped into the ring and taunted Reigns while her husband got to his feet with the ref’s help. Reigns went for another Spear but HHH ducked out of the way and Stephanie was squashed instead. Fans finally cheered for something Reigns did at long last. HHH was fuming and hit the Pedigree but Reigns kept kicking out. After the two traded blows evenly, Stephanie recovered enough to retrieve the sledgehammer from underneath the ring. Reigns ducked the sledgehammer and nailed a Superman punch and Spear for the pin and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The crowd reaction was mixed with some cheers and some boos. I imagine the cheers were largely because the show was finally over after 6 hours and 48 minutes, including the pre-show. ****3/4
After the disappointment of Brock Lesnar Vs. Dean Ambrose, a cute and funny Snickers commercial made its’ worldwide television premiere. Ric Flair is getting visibly frustrated trying to teach someone how to say his trademark “WOOOOOOOOOOOO!” call. Zack Ryder keeps saying his catchphrase “Woo woo woo!” instead. Finally, Flair urges Ryder to eat a Snickers. It’s then revealed that it was Flair’s daughter Charlotte whom he was trying to teach all along.
Next up was the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2016. Not a bad selection of nominees, although I still believe that journalist Joan Lunden’s induction was solely a political favor to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, especially since she never contributed anything of note to WWE programming other than an appearance during WWE’s breast cancer fundraising awareness drive last October.
8. Triple Threat To Crown The Inaugural WWE Women's Champion: Charlotte Vs. Sasha Banks Vs. Becky Lynch: The most pleasant surprise of the year when it comes to pro wrestling is the marked improvement of women’s wrestling in main roster WWE. Once infamous for matches so bad that the fans attending live would treat it as a bathroom break or with total indifference, Divas title matches have been stealing the show as of late. I personally felt that Charlotte’s last three Divas title defenses were the standout matches of the last three PPVs. I felt going into Wrestlemania that this Divas triple threat title match would be the best match of the night. Sure enough, I wasn’t disappointed. Charlotte sported a ring robe made from the robe her father Ric Flair wore for his final WWE match. Sasha Banks paid tribute to her favorite wrestler Eddie Guerrero with her ring outfit as her cousin Snoop Dogg accompanied her to the ring. Lita stood in the ring holding the snazzy new WWE Women’s Championship belt, which was a nice touch that made this match feel like a major event. Everything about this match was just phenomenal. Three of the best women wrestlers in North America and perhaps the world doing what they do best for almost 20 minutes. What more can a wrestling fan ask for? The action was nonstop and exciting as hell. The announcers were still confused as to whether Charlotte was automatically the Women’s Champion or if the winner of the match would be crowned the first such champion. Even worse, no one bothered to clarify the issue, leaving the trio of Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler and JBL sounding foolish and confused at times. Luckily, it didn’t detract from the match. One thrilling moment after another and for once, a frenzy of near falls added to the match rather than detract from it. Sasha continued her tribute to Eddie by co-opting his Frog Splash as Charlotte had Becky in the Figure Eight. It was such a sight that even the live crowd in Dallas went nuts. Sasha had the match won after finishing off Lynch with the Banks Statement, but in a swerve, Charlotte tossed Sasha out of the way and took over, locking on the Figure Eight submission. Ric prevented Sasha from breaking the submission attempt and Becky tapped out. Charlotte is the final Divas Champion and the first Women’s Champion of the modern women’s wrestling era in main roster WWE. Many complained that Charlotte won, as they had expected Sasha to win the match. But it made sense for Charlotte to go over here, especially since Charlotte/Sasha could benefit from a slow build to SummerSlam. Hell, it should even co-main event the show. I felt this match should have main evented Wrestlemania 32. ******+++
9. Hell In A Cell: The Undertaker Vs. Shane McMahon: There may have been no match I was looking forward the least to than this Hell in a Cell match. If Undertaker lost, he would have to retire while Shane would gain control of Monday Night Raw. The thought of one of pro wrestling’s all time greatest icons ending his career with a loss to a non-wrestler that would rehash the McMahon family drama that helped cool off the hot streak of the Attitude Era made me want to barf. Speaking of said non-wrestler, while Shane was actually quite a good performer during the Attitude Era, it has been seven years since he last appeared in a wrestling match and he stank out the joint against Randy Orton. Add in the fact that both men are aging and not in the best of physical shape plus having to work what is historically one of the most violent matches in wrestling today all seemed to spell disaster. And for the first few minutes, it seemed like it was going to indeed be a disaster. Shane’s offense didn’t look good early on, with weak punches and sloppy work. However, something miraculous happened: both men found their groove and turned things around to the point that they had a hell of a match. At least one way better than I expected going in. The key apparently was to beat the crap out of each other for over 30 minutes and add in enough wild stunts to help overcome the legitimate shortcomings. It worked so well that even the skeptical live crowd in Dallas finally got into it, chanting “This is awesome”. One neat spot was Shane reversing the Hellsgate submission into the Sharpshooter, which looked fairly good. Eventually Shane retrieved bolt cutters from under the ring and started snipping away at one of the Cell panels. Taker promptly speared Shane through the weakened panel and right into one of the announce tables which got a hell of a pop. Taker proceeded to use several monitors to smack Shane upside the head with, but Shane fought back with a toolbox. Shane locked on a sleeper and both men went through another announcers table. Then came a stunt both so brave and so stupid that it has to be seen to be believed: with Taker unconscious atop a third table, Shane climbed the Cell walls and prepared for a flying elbow drop from a 20 foot cage. Taker rolled out of the way, causing Shane to damn near kill himself (although an airbag was clearly visible underneath the table on the live broadcast- you can be certain this will be edited out for the home video release) by crashing through the table from up on high. Taker looked legitimately concerned for Shane, but Shane still played the cocky guy who kept daring Taker to bring the fight on. Taker calmly lifted Shane onto his shoulders and carried him back into the ring. After another dare from Shane, Taker calmly nailed the Tombstone piledriver for the pin. Judging from the fact that the stipulations were ignored on the post-Mania Raw episode the following evening, I have the feeling Shane was originally supposed to win but that they got cold feet dreading a negative reaction to Taker losing to the boss’ son, so it was changed the day of the show. Too bad they forgot to make the necessary changes to their booking plans AFTER Mania. Shane did a stretcher job, but gave the live crowd a thumbs up to show that he was okay despite the carnage. ****3/4
Less than 48 hours after the wrestling world was stunned by the sudden passing of ECW alumni Balls Mahoney came a second blow. Former Ring of Honor and AAW wrestler Christian Able passed away at the young age of 32.
Able had started his career in 2006, and was a student of Dan Severn, and real-life friend and current WWE writer Jimmy Jacobs. Able is best known for his time as a member of the House of Truth stable with his best friend and tag team partner Josh "Jug" Raymond. Able had made appearances with CHIKARA and a dozen or so other companies during his ten short years on the circuit. Able was a charismatic heel in the ring, but a very humble and thoughtful man outside the squared circle.
I may have only met Able a handful of times, but one of the last times I saw him perform was one of the most energetic and amazing tag team matches I had seen in a long time, and deserves to be recounted here.
The night was September 24, 2010 in Berwyn, Illinois at AAW's Defining Moment: Fade to Black. The show was named in honor of longtime AAW standout Tyler Black, who gave his final "Indy" wrestling match to his home promotion, before heading to Florida to become future WWE Champion Seth Rollins. Rollins had just recently become tag team champions with Jimmy Jacobs at AAW, and in his last contracted performance was set to face off against the just budding House of Truth stable of Josh Raymond and Christian Able.
It was main event time. Able and Raymond followed the lead of manager Truth Martini, who was wearing a pristine, vanilla ice cream white suit and matching bandana, with his blonde hair spilling out from it.
The bell rings, Able goes after Jacobs to start things off. The two trade jabs and locks, before Able tags in Raymond. But after a few strikes, it's time for a breather. Able and Raymond have a huddle with Truth, but Raymond gets back into it. Tyler tags. There's a good bit of back and forth and a few armbars before Jacobs and Able tag back in. Jacobs has the upper hand until Able surprises with a vertical suplex. Before long, snapmares have been traded, and the two teams are neck and neck against each other. Raymond and Able temporarily take the lead, double-teaming Jacobs, but soon, Tyler steps in to even the score. The House of Truth head for the outside, only to have Jacobs and Tyler launch themselves at them! But once back in the ring, it's all business. After several strikes, the two teams go into trading chops, each one a luder *SMACK* than the last. Tyler, mocking future rival John Cena, does a "You can't See Meeeee" followed by an attempt of an STF onto Able, but Raymond makes a save. Able goes to the outside as Tyler tries to attack from the rope, but Able catches him, and rewards Tyler's efforts with a Lawn Dart, before returning him to Raymond. Raymond hits Tyler with a back cracker, but a pin attempt is foiled by Jacobs. Jacobs tries to hit the contra Code, but Able drops him with a powerbomb, then holds him down as Raymond hits a Lionsault for a two count. Gaining a second wind, Jacobs and Tyler try to superplex Raymond, but Able thwarts them quick with a push. Jacobs returns with a shooting star, but Able can't be taken down. Still, Jacobs goes for a flurry of strikes before Able catches him with a clothesline, then he kicks Tyler off the apron. He goes to powerbomb Jacobs again, but Tyler delivers a superkick before making a leap from the rope. But just as the former Age of The Fall members are about to retain the tag belts, Silas Young appears and beats Jacobs all the way to the back, leaving Tyler out all alone. Tyler holds his own, holding back Able with a Pele, but Able fights back. Able and Raymond go for the Tower of Truth for a two count, lighting up the crowd. A second attempt only angers Tyler, as he drives the two into a corner. Truth Martini hits the ropes to distract Tyler and almost whacks him with the book, but Tyler delivers a superkick to Truth. He then hits Able with a bucklebomb, but Raymond slides in from nowhere, pinning Tyler for a three count with a schoolboy roll-up, thus earning the AAW tag team titles for himself and Able.
As I snapped my disposable Kodak camera to capture the victory, Able ran past me, hogging the picture while holding his half of the belt up, screaming "WOOOOOOOOOOOOT!!!" with the elation of a child on Christmas morning. He ran around the ring at top speed, making faces at the crowd and laughing at Tyler, who stood in the ring looking as angry and confused as you would imagine.
Christian Able was old school. A devious heel with the body of a brawler, but he was never afraid to drop enough high-flying moves to make a gymnast jealous. But outside the ring, he was a polite charmer. Humble to a fault who never wanted to hog the spotlight nearly half as much as his on-screen persona would have you believe.
It's hard to believe that match was almost six years ago, and harder more to imagine that this bright, young talent has left us this soon. In his memory, I implore you to check out the match I speak so well of: http://smartmarkvideo.com/aaw-dvd-september-24-2010-defining-moment-fade-black-berwyn-il
It's too early to say why we lost this incredible wrestler so young, but it is my hope he will not be forgotten.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!
When all was said and done, WWE Wrestlemania 32 likely left wrestling fans feeling exhausted. Although the main PPV broadcast was scheduled for four hours, the usual time mismanagement at a Wrestlemania reached chronic proportions, causing the show to go 48 minutes over the scheduled 11 PM Eastern conclusion. So add in a two-hour pre-show, this Wrestlemania was almost 7 hours long. As much as I love wrestling, I was completely drained and exhausted by this brutally overlong show when it finally came to a close twelve minutes before midnight Eastern time.
Some wrestling fans proclaimed this the worst Wrestlemania show of all time. Although it certainly had some serious faults, Wrestlemania 32 was hardly the worst Mania ever. I guess people have forgotten all about such less-than-stellar Manias as 9, 11, 16, 25 and 27. The match quality was fairly solid overall. Some of the matches were way better than one expected them to be going in while some disappointed. Nothing really stank out the joint compared to previous Manias. The announcing was actually really good also. The end of the pitiful Divas division was a major plus as well.
That said, some of the booking decisions were strange to say the least. Most noticeably, way too many veterans, both retired and active, won over younger, fresher talent. It is not a great way to build to the future by having your newer talent lose, especially to those considered non-wrestlers or part-timers. The plethora of injuries that have seriously weakened the talent pool was very apparent in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. You know things are bad when they call up veterans and a retired basketball star to participate.
Despite the issues, Wrestlemania 32 was an easy thumbs up. I imagine that the home video version, where the three pre-show matches will be presented without the endless talking that made the pre-show tedious, will be a better experience.
Matches 1, 2 and 3 are recapped in the article 'Wrestlemania Pre-show Blues'.
4. Ladder Match: Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owens Vs. Sami Zayn Vs. Stardust Vs. Zack Ryder Vs. The Miz Vs. Dolph Ziggler Vs. Sin Cara: For the past few years, the ladder match had become my least favorite match out of all the various gimmick matches pro wrestling has to offer. They had devolved into shameless daredevil stunt shows and demolition derbies with little regard towards psychology and storytelling. However, last year, psychology and storytelling started making a comeback in WWE ladder matches. Talent also started innovating clever new spots instead of merely rehashing what Edge, Christian, the Dudleys and the Hardy Boyz perfected 15 years ago. This was one hell of a ladder match. All sorts of crazy spots here, but they all had a purpose that helped tell the story that the IC Championship was a desired goal and that these men will do anything to get it. Among the highlights were Sami Zayn’s Blue Thunderbomb off the ladder onto Ziggler; Zayn doing a suicide dive through the ladder rungs and onto a mass of bodies outside the ring; Sin Cara doing all sorts of crazy dives off and through ladders; Zayn taking Owens out with a running exploder suplex onto a ladder..I could go on. It appeared that Miz was going to win the match and grab the IC belt but in a major upset, Ryder shoved Miz off and grabbed the title. The wrestler the least likeliest to win just won. Fans were ecstatic while Ryder celebrated in the ring with his father. Of course, leave it to Vince McMahon to ruin the positive buzz generated by Ryder’s win by having him lose the IC title the following night on Raw to a guy who spent the last two years jobbing left and right. Way to go, Vince. A hot start to what would be one long night. ******+++
5. Chris Jericho Vs. AJ Styles: This show marked Jericho’s thirteenth Wrestlemania appearance and the very first one for Styles, the man who many felt was the heart and soul of the TNA promotion. If anyone needed a meaningful Wrestlemania win, it was Styles. Unfortunately, a pair of egos got in the way of such a needed win. The match itself was fantastic, with Jericho looking sharper in the ring than he has in the past year. Styles was just incredible in this match, clearly relishing the chance to wrestle on the biggest possible WWE stage for the first time. Some stalling at the start became tedious, but once they got going, the match delivered for the most part. Then it all came crashing with the finish. AJ was set to finish off Jericho with the flying springboard forearm, but Jericho nailed the Codebreaker for the pin. Jericho didn’t need the win here, especially since AJ Styles was planned to headline the next PPV challenging for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. My guess is that Jericho didn’t want to do the job and Vince McMahon’s ego didn’t want a ex-TNA talent prevailing in his Wrestlemania debut. Judging from the fact that Jericho has won several matches against younger talent who could use the rub of beating him, it’s sad that he’s apparently become just like the very veterans he once railed against in his memoirs. What a shame. ****1/2
6. The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods) Vs. The League of Nations (Sheamus & King Barrett & Alberto Del Rio & Rusev): Although it was advertised as a handicap match, Barrett didn’t tag in once. Either he’s nursing an injury or doing the least amount possible during his final months in WWE. Considering the litany of broken promises made to Barrett throughout his WWE career, I can’t say I blame him. He was promptly written off TV the following night on Raw, so I guess he decided to leave early. I don’t blame him. The tag team titles were not at stake, which took away what would have been some much needed juice and heat. Match was good, but considering the participants, it should have been a lot better. The finish came when the ref was distracted by a brawl between Big E and Kofi against Rusev and Del Rio, allowing Barrett to illegally clock Woods with the Bullhammer. Sheamus covered Woods’ remains for the pin. The indignities didn’t stop there as Barrett grabbed the mic and stated that no three men could destroy the League. That brought out a trio of legends: Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The three retired legends destroyed the League, making them all look like major league chumps in the process. Woods was given the stunner by Austin during the celebratory beer bash afterwoods while Big E and Kofi cowered away. You don’t know how tired I am of older wrestlers and retirees showing up the younger talent. That would be a recurring theme as this show progressed. ***1/2
7. No Holds Barred Street Fight- Brock Lesnar Vs. Dean Ambrose: On paper, this match should have been nothing short of terrific. Lesnar is a legitimate badass athlete; Ambrose can switch effortlessly between wrestling and brawling with equal aplomb. Alas, the match wound up being a big disappointment. For starters, whoever heard of a street fight in which the action is largely confined to fighting inside the ring? The classic street fight match features tons of out of the ring brawling. Even Renee Young made mention during the pre-show that there were plenty of places where Ambrose and Lesnar could wind up during their street fight, so even she was anticipating a traditional, anything goes street fight like the rest of us. Too bad no one in Creative or production clued her in that there were no plans for this street fight to resemble the traditional mold. The match wasn’t terrible, but I expect greatness from Lesnar and Ambrose PPV matches and this wasn’t anything close to great. Ambrose kept taking one German suplex after another from Lesnar, with the announcers keeping score for those viewing at home. Ambrose left to retrieve weapons, which consisted mostly of chairs and Kendo sticks. He did haul out the chainsaw that Terry Funk gifted him and the barbed wire baseball bat Mick Foley gifted him, but they weren’t used at all since both weapons would guarantee blood. Thanks to the toy contract with Mattel, WWE chickens out on blood in matches like this one that could sure use it. Both men did the best they could considering they were handcuffed by the limitations and a far too brief 13 minutes of ring time. Finally, Lesnar leveled Ambrose with a third F-5 onto a sea of steel chairs for the pin. Dean Ambrose yet again comes out on the short end of a major feud. ***1/4
Check back soon for Parts 2 and 3 of this Wrestlemania 32 recap!
It may sound awfully silly, but I actually had the Wrestlemania pre-show blues after it was over. I was actually looking forward to the pre-show for once, especially since it was originally announced as a stacked pre-show with four matches instead of the standard one or two. I figured that with a two-hour pre-show, there would be ample time to deliver four strong matches.
Then disaster struck. A last-minute decision moved the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal from the pre-show to the main PPV broadcast. This wound up causing major problems with time management of the PPV later on. Then those in charge of the ticket scanning system at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas didn’t bother testing the system prior to show time to make sure it was functional. It wasn’t, leading to the stadium not only having difficulty scanning tickets but processing the huge last-minute rush of fans who decided to buy tickets the day of the show.
So with all the delays caused by the faulty ticket scanning system, the decision was made to stall, stall and stall until they could stall no more. That meant lots of talking and chatter. LOTS of talking. Endless talking. You could grow cobwebs on your posterior waiting for the first match, which didn’t start until 5:45 PM Eastern time. While analysis and discussion was fine for about a half-hour or so, by the end of the two-hour pre-show, Renee Young, Booker T, Lita and Corey Graves found themselves repeating points that were already well made.
1. United States Champion Kalisto Vs. Ryback: Rumor had it that Kalisto had pitched a US title defense against his tag team partner Sin Cara, but to no one’s surprise, Vince McMahon said no. So we get yet another match in which there is a size difference of at least one foot between opponents. Sometimes this mismatch on paper can work when turned to reality, as it did at NXT Takeover on Friday. However, Austin Aries and Baron Corbin didn’t have the handicap of a styles clash to contend with. While Ryback has improved a lot since his early days as Skip Sheffield, a luchador he ain’t. Kalisto wasn’t allowed to show off any of his great high flying in the match as the majority of the bout was Ryback tossing him around like a rag doll. This was the kind of match you’d expect on a C-level show like Main Event and not on the biggest show of the year. Since people were still filing into the AT&T Stadium due to issues with the ticket scanning system, there wasn’t a full house. As a result, the match lacked the palpable crowd heat that would have helped. I was fully expecting Ryback to win the title since word on the street is that he’s in line to challenge Roman Reigns for the WWE World Championship, but I have a feeling all things have been reconsidered since he lost clean to Kalisto’s Salida Del Sol finisher. This was an average match at best. **
2. Total Divas (Brie Bella & Paige & Natalya & Alicia Fox & Eva Marie) Vs. BAD and Blonde (Lana & Emma & Summer Rae & Naomi & Tamina Snuka): What do you get when you try to shoehorn 10 Divas, several of whom are of marginal ring ability, into a non-elimination tag team match in barely 11 minutes? A mess, that’s what! Despite being on the babyface team, Eva Marie was booed out of the building. Not helping matters was how slow and mechanical the few spots she did were. They certainly got the name in regards to the heel team BAD and Blonde since they were pretty bad overall. Only Emma looked somewhat decent. For her big in-ring debut, Lana didn’t do anything besides a few mediocre kicks. Her biggest asset right now is her heel presence. As for the match, it was largely a collection of spots, some good and some bad and all too typical of why the Divas division was looked down upon. The match finally took off when Brie Bella tagged in as everything she did looked razor sharp, but it ended shortly after when Brie finished off Naomi with the Yes Lock for the tapout. Brie’s sister Nikki, sporting a neck brace, joined in what would be the last hurrah of not only the Divas, but the Bella Twins’ wrestling careers in WWE. **
In the first hour, Lita stated she had a major announcement that she would reveal during the second hour. As it turned out, it was confirming the rumors that had flown earlier in the week that WWE was finally abandoning the putrid Divas division and replacing it with a bona fide, wrestling-heavy Women’s division, replete with a new Women’s Championship belt. It’s about time since fans will no longer accept the mindless T&A displays that the Divas division had devolved to. It also made the planned Divas Championship Triple Threat match between Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch a major event, with the winner being crowned the first Women’s Champion. However, no one clued the announce team that this match was crowning a new champion and that Charlotte wasn’t automatically the Women’s Champion. It would prove embarrassing later on.
3. The Usos Vs. The Dudley Boyz: Since the pre-show had 30 minutes of TV time left and the AT&T Stadium was largely full, I was expecting a fairly long match here. The Usos were given an opportunity to showcase their stuff in a lengthy pre-show match at the previous two Wrestlemania shows. Coupled with the fact that this was a grudge match stemming from a Dudleys heel turn, this should have been a showstealer. Alas, while what they did was good, they barely had 5 minutes to do their stuff. So everything was a rush job. I suppose we can’t do without the constant reminders to order the WWE Network or PPV, even though by this late time on game day, most people have already decided one way or another. Since they were pressed for time, they just got right to it, brawling all over the ring. Both teams paid tribute to a legend: The Dudleys to newly inducted Hall of Famer Stan Hansen; the Usos to late relative Umaga. A nice touch, don’t you think? After a scant few minutes of intense back-and-forth, the Usos scored the win when they broke free from a Dudley Death Drop attempt and superkicked D-Von for the pin. The Dudleys didn’t take the loss well and attempted to retaliate by putting both Usos through tables. Alas, the Dudleys were made to look like chumps as the Usos turned the tables and put both Dudleys through tables with Superfly Splashes. The live crowd was royally pissed since they were pro-Dudleys despite this team being the heel team. Not to mention it made no sense having the Dudleys lose since this is intended to be a multi-match feud and tradition says the heel wins the first encounter. ***1/4
I don't think there has been a more fun Hall of Fame special in WWE history than the one that aired this past Saturday night from Dallas, Texas. In the hours before WrestleMania, the internet was still all abuzz about the rowdy induction of the Fabulous Freebirds and about the shocking announcement that Sting has officially retired from active competition.
But while these moments were history making in their own right, I feel the wrestling community didn't have enough time to acknowledge some of the more groundbreaking moments from the show. The WWE made some serious steps forwards with the broadcast, and they deserve to have those highlights acknowledged.
To start with, the induction of former WWE Diva Jacqueline is actually more amazing than people realize.
“Ms Jackie” as she's often known as at conventions, was the first Black woman to hold the Women's Championship, and the first Black woman to hold the Cruiserweight championship, the latter being a stunning achievement when you factor in that she was the third ever female to hold the male dominated title, and the second Black wrestler to hold it after Elix Skipper. And yet, despite this, the WWE did not acknowledge until recently that she was the first Black Women's Champion.
They simply listed her as A champion, meaning they viewed her on the same level as the rest of the roster, not noticing color until a few weeks before the induction. This is an incredible leap forward, as most companies even outside the squared circle, still view their workers in terms of color. Jacqueline is viewed as a brawler, not a shade of brown.
But another leap forward taken at the Hall of Fame last night comes in the form of the history of wrestling itself. And sadly, this was not well advertised prior to the Hall of Fame, but deserves its rightful place in the news.
Stan Hansen's induction concluded with an important term. He said he wanted to “thank the carpenters”. This is an old-school term that was used prior to the 1980's, that has since been replaced with the term “Jobber”. In the days of Stan Hansen, a “Jobber” (hapless light heavyweight sent out to be the punching bag to the guy about to be pushed) was called a “Carpenter” because these men and women were designed to take the falls needed to make the next big star look amazing.
Jobbers/Carpenters build the foundation for the more brilliant careers, but are often mistreated and over-looked by the fans. And yet on many occasions, those lesser known stars themselves have gone on to main event shows like WrestleMania. Some famous ex-Jobbers include Hall of Famer Mick Foley, Kane and at one point, even John Cena was a bright-eyed jobber on Velocity.
The introduction of the term synced well with the groundbreaking announcement of the Legacy branch of the Hall of Fame, which while unadvertised, was an important and vital addition of the show.
In a respectful video tribute, the WWE announced the following inductees into the Legacy:
Ed "The Strangler" Lewis: A member of the Gold Dust Trio, one of the first wrestling groups to travel beyond their territory, credited with modifying a side headlock to create the sleeper hold.
Lou Thesz: Creator of the Thez Press and the powerbomb, this former NWA “Hooker” wrestled off and on from 1932 to 1990.
Frank Gotch: One of wrestling's first “Superstars” branched out as the world's first wrestler-turned-actor by starring in the play All About A Bout and by fighting a Ju-Jitsu fighter in the White House, became one of the first wrestlers to branch into Mixed Martial Arts.
George Hackenschmidt: The first world-traveling Superstar and innovator of the modern-day Bear Hug, Hackenschmidt was an icon in Russia, France and England long before making a splash in America. He was also the first straight-edge wrestler and one of the first vegetarian grapplers.
Mildred Burke: This woman not only held the Women's championship for nearly 20 straight years undefeated, she was also one of the first women to wrestle men on a regular basis, and was responsible for the NWA accepting women's wrestling as legitimate competition, and not as a side-show act.
Pat O'Connor: A pioneer in his own right, this early televised Superstar was the first New Zealand native to win the NWA tag team championship and the AWA Heavyweight Championship.
"Sailor" Art Thomas: An incredible brawler, Sailor Thomas became the first black WWA world heavyweight champion on April 25, 1972 and was the third man of color to hold the belt, behind Mitsu Arakawa and Billy Red Cloud.
Some dispute the WWE for adding the above grapplers and for adding previous inductee Gorgeous George, since many of the names were not WWE wrestlers, but fans forget that WWE at one point was Capitol Wrestling, a tiny independent company that joined the NWA early in its start, which at one point owned many of the companies all of these legends worked for, not to mention that the eldest wrestlers of the group worked under the umbrella for the Gold Dust Trio, who in various ways helped shape what would become Capitol and subsequently Jess and Vince McMahon Sr.
By proxy, the WWE is acknowledging its own history in keeping these names in the Hall of Fame, but they have also shown honor to the overall history of wrestling itself and in doing so, have set a good example for other companies to follow.
This year's Hall of Fame expanded on the rich history and tradition of wrestling, and outclassed earlier televised installments with a good mixture of fun and grace. It is currently available on demand via the WWE Network and is worth the uncensored viewing.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!
Continuing where Part 1 left off...
3. Sami Zayn Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: If you thought the crowd reactions to American Alpha’s title win and Aries’ NXT debut were deafening, those were nothing compared to the reaction Japanese wrestling star Nakamura received from the live crowd in Dallas. This was the best match of the card: one of the stiffest and most brutal matches ever to take place on American soil. Both men sized each other up before trading some of the stiffest blows I’ve ever seen on a WWE show. Nakamura nailed such stiff kicks and chops that Zayn’s back and chest were as red and lumpy as raw hamburger meat afterward. Zayn fought back with a flurry of stiff forearms, busting open Nakamura’s nose. Nakamura fought back with ultrastiff kicks and knees to Zayn’s head and body. HHH wisely allowed Nakamura to retain the ring style and charisma that brought him great acclaim in his native Japan. By contrast, if this was the main roster WWE, Vince would force Nakamura to work a dumbed down style as a comedic jobber. This is what Vince has done to every Japanese wrestler since taking over the WWF, forgetting that when his father ran the company, the Japanese talents were treated seriously and with respect. The match continued to be very evenly matched. Nakamura lands more kicks to the head. Zayn fights back like a prize fighter quickly dodging a stronger opponent. Zayn nailed an armbar but Nakamura reversed it into a triangle submission that turned into a pin position. But Zayn reversed that into a submission of his own. Nakamura and Zayn traded more stiff kicks before the latter locked on the Koji Clutch for a near submission. Zayn misses a Helluva Kick, allowing Nakamura to nail the Blue Thunderbomb for a near fall. They took the action outside the ring where Nakamura dodged Zayn’s running DDT and slammed him hard into the floor. Back in the ring, the action continued to be evenly matched until Nakamura dodged the Helluva Kick once more and finished off Zayn with the running Bomaye knee to the head for the pin. Nakamura paid respect to Zayn by helping him up and embracing as the crowd chanted “Thank You Sami”, appropriate since this was Zayn’s swan song from NXT on the way to the main roster. Let’s hope WWE Creative doesn’t blow it this time with an NXT call-up. ******+++
4. NXT Women’s Champion Bayley Vs. Asuka: In what was one of the highpoints of Wrestlemania weekend, WWE made the long overdue decision to finally end the Divas division, rechristening it as an actual bona fide Women’s division. I’m convinced that this was due to HHH’s commitment to treat women’s wrestling in North America as a serious athletic division worthy of respect. Things have changed so drastically that fans will no longer tolerate the brainless, unathletic gigglefests that the Divas division often consisted of. The NXT women’s division featured some of the standout wrestling matches of 2015. Many believe (myself included) that the best wrestler of 2015 was Sasha Banks, who dominated the women’s title for close to eight months. In fact, several NXT women were strong contenders for that great honor, including the champ in this match, Bayley. Having to follow Nakamura/Zayn would be a tough act for any wrestler to follow, but Asuka and Bayley managed to do just that. The key may have been in making this one of the stiffest women’s matches ever to take place on any show connected to WWE. After a slow start that included some excellent mat wrestling, the match started to pick up steam with some of the stiffest blows ever doled out in a women’s match. Asuka dished out the punishment, but Bayley could dish it right back. The live crowd in Dallas was completely into this match, with their interest never flagging once. The story being told was that Bayley was an underdog who always managed to find a way to win, which made the finale a heartbreaker. Bayley attempted to finish off her rival with the Belly-to-Bayley suplex but Asuka gave her a stiff kick and locked on the Asuka Lock. Bayley struggled to break free but ultimately succumbed to the hold, passing out and giving Asuka the win and the Women’s Championship. Bayley sold a shoulder injury while Asuka played total heel in refusing to see if her opponent was all right after such a brutal match. A strong contender for Match of the Year. ******
Bobby Roode, who recently quit the TNA wrestling promotion, was in the audience here in Dallas. Guess who’s coming on board the NXT locomotive! I’ll bet you Cowboy James Storm is regretting his decision to turn down NXT to remain on board TNA, the current Titanic of professional wrestling.
5. NXT World Champion Finn Balor Vs. Samoa Joe: Balor came to the ring sporting a chainsaw, Leatherface style. Not only was it a tribute to a Japanese wrestling legend, but after all, they ARE in Texas. Let’s see how many people write in failing to get the reference. Since this was technically a grudge match, both men just got right to it by beating each other senseless with one stiff blow after another. Joe busted his cheek open hardway (meaning he didn’t use a blade to create that gash) after taking a nasty spill on the guardrail after a flying senton from Balor. The blood was flowing like wine, adding to the feel of this match being a brutal grudge match. Alas, since Vince McMahon was backstage and he is anti-blood to a sickening degree, the ref stopped the match dead to tend to Joe’s gash. Joe was royally pissed over the ref stoppage and tried to swat the medical staff away to no avail. The live Dallas crowd was even less pleased, making their displeasure over the situation extremely vocal to say the least. Unfortunately, the gash kept bleeding, resulting in several more ref stoppages. All this did was kill the hot momentum of the match and turn a hot crowd against the show in the process. Luckily, Joe and Balor worked extra hard to overcome these handicaps, with phenomenal ring work. Thankfully, it worked. Each near fall had the crowd riled up and energized. The finish was a neat tribute to the classic Bret Hart/Roddy Piper showdown at Wrestlemania VIII: Joe clamped on the Kokina Klutch, but Balor managed to stagger slowly to the ringpost and used his feet to launch himself backwards into a pin to retain his title. This was a stellar match that would have been a surefire ****** gem if not for those awful ref stoppages early on. ****3/4
Despite taking place on April 1, NXT Takeover Dallas was no April Fool’s joke. Taking place at the Kay Hutchinson Bailey Arena (apparently this country has gone from selling arena naming rights to corporations to selling naming rights to politicians dead or alive), this was one terrific show from start to finish. In fact, I believe Takeover Dallas may have been the best of the Takeover specials to date. Considering that all but one has been terrific, that is indeed saying something.
That’s not to say there weren’t a few issues. After all, no major wrestling card is perfect. Lead announcer Tom Phillips made several blunders over the course of the opening match, resulting in audibly annoyed color commentator Corey Graves having to correct him on-air. There was also the insipid stoppage of the main event multiple times, which you’ll read more about in Part 2 of this recap. It also would have been nice to be told that one match would not take place on the live broadcast. However, compared to the various faults of Wrestlemania two nights later, Takeover Dallas’ issues were more like hiccups.
A. Apollo Crews Vs. Elias Samson: This match was pulled last minute from the live broadcast, but was taped for airing on the April 6 episode of NXT. Reports from those attending live said the match was really bad, but having watched the broadcast version, I disagree with that consensus. It was not a great match, as Samson’s in-ring ability is mediocre at best. Not to mention this match was far too long for someone as marginal as Samson. Crews did as good a job as possible carrying a total zero like Samson and the match was definitely watchable. Crews scored the pin with a spinning power bomb. **1/2
Strangely, the live broadcast didn’t open with HHH making his customary welcoming remarks. The Wrestling Observer reports that this was a call by Vince McMahon, who was backstage since this was Wrestlemania weekend. Apparently, Vince was terrified of Roman Reigns being booed out of the building Sunday while HHH would be heavily cheered, as has been happening in arenas nationwide for the last three months whenever the two faced off. So he felt that by preemptively striking HHH off Takeover, the Dallas fans would rabidly cheer Reigns. Well, mission not accomplished as Reigns was definitely booed Sunday while HHH had far more cheers.
Another interesting note is that Takeover Dallas is the first NXT Takeover special to feature a corporate sponsor: DiGiorno. If this isn’t a sign that NXT is now a major player in the professional wrestling scene here in North America, nothing is.
1. NXT Tag Team Champions The Revival (Dash & Dawson) Vs. American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan): The show got off to a hot start as the crowd was amped up for this contest. It didn’t hurt to have two of the best tag teams in NXT facing off. This was a throwback to the great tag team battles of the 1980s, when tag teams like the British Bulldogs, Hart Foundation, Road Warriors, Demolition and the Brain Busters ruled supreme. Two solid tag teams fighting for the ultimate prize: the tag team titles. What a novel concept! It was also great to see the classic psychology of the traditional tag team match revived: specifically when the heel team isolates one member and prevents him from making the tag, prolonging the agony until the hot tag is finally made. When Gable finally made the hot tag to Jordan, the place exploded. This kind of psychology is largely absent from modern day tag team matches in main roster WWE, so it’s nice to see it used here. The Revival did screw up one spot, in which Gable was to be lifted up for a combination clothesline and power bomb. Alas, they didn’t get Gable up high enough and the move looked a tad sloppy. While some would dock the match a star or two for that miscue, I don’t believe it harmed the match to an irredeemable degree to justify that drastic action. Besides, both teams just dusted themselves off and kept going. There was one clever spot where Dash and Dawson switched places prior to a pin attempt. The live crowd took it as another screw up, but this was a throwback to the days when the heels would try and convince the ref that a tag had indeed been made. The last five minutes were thrilling, with one near fall after another. Finally, Gable and Jordan finished off Dawson with a dropkick that bridged into a suplex pin for the win and the titles. ******
Legendary wrestling announcer Jim Ross was shown in the audience, as was- most tellingly- New Japan Pro Wrestling star Kota Ibushi. I have a feeling that Ibushi is HHH’s next big signing from Japan and just in time for the eagerly anticipated Global Cruiserweight tournament that’s set for airing on the WWE Network in July.
2. Austin Aries Vs. Baron Corbin: The live crowd reaction to Aries was deafening, serving as a fitting rebuke to those TNA officials who foolishly let Aries walk away last year. It was quite a shock to realize just show short Aries is, especially when facing a man who is one foot and three inches taller. Despite the size difference, Aries and Corbin had a strong match. Corbin has shown great improvement since the days when his matches were limited to 30 second squashes. He plays the role of aggressive heel to perfection. Corbin still has some rough edges that need to be polished and sanded further, but the potential for greatness is there. Corbin dominated at first, tossing Aries around in brutal fashion. Aries made a comeback, only to be leveled by one of the most devastating spinning side slams in wrestling history. Eventually Corbin went for the End of Days, but Aries broke free and rolled up Corbin for the pin. Strong match with a clever finish, showing that size doesn’t always triumph over brains in the ring. ****
Scott Hall and Sean Waltman were shown in the audience. Hall looked fantastic, having successfully remained clean and sober for almost two years now. He looked happy to be there as the live crowd cheered around him. Unfortunately, time hasn’t been as kind to Waltman, who looked considerably older than his 42 years.