The weekend of August 19-21, 2016 marked an event that the most avid pro wrestling fan eagerly looked forward to for weeks: three straight nights of major pro wrestling PPVs featuring some of the best talent worldwide. Although WWE’s annual SummerSlam PPV received the most publicity on a mainstream basis and NXT’s latest Takeover event drew a lot of buzz, Ring of Honor’s latest live PPV, Death Before Dishonor XIV, managed to easily top the former and come within a hair of matching the latter.
A major plus was that after months of subpar sound hurting their PPVs, Sinclair Broadcasting finally upgraded their sound equipment and technical set up. So we could finally hear the live crowd at full throttle instead of a muted whisper. The poor sound made ROH’s previous PPVs look bush league when compared to the considerable resources WWE has at its’ disposal. The camerawork was also sharper and more professional, with no major technical screw-ups.
Now they are properly competitive with WWE and TNA production wise.
The show did boast the first terrible match on a live ROH PPV since their first in June 2014: a six-man grudge match that devolved into silly comedy instead of being the ass kicking contest it should have been. The tag team title triple threat match was also a disappointment. However, every other match was **** or better and several were just extraordinary. The booking of New Japan talent was more evenly doled out between losses and wins, no doubt a reaction to the defection of several high-profile ROH talent to NXT/WWE and Billy Corgan’s TNA and the increasing problem of fans believing that homegrown ROH talent has no chance of beating the Japanese stars.
1. #1 Contender’s Match: Kamaitachi Vs. Donovan Dijak Vs. Lio Rush Vs. Jay White: The winner of this match will receive a future TV title shot against the winner of Bobby Fish/Mark Briscoe, most likely at ROH’s next live PPV in September. This was a red-hot opener, as it seems to be a tradition to start off an ROH PPV with a sizzling Fatal 4-Way match. Rush was just incredible as this match was a star-making performance. He was simply great, risking his body and mind to provide one thrill after another. Despite the size difference of over a foot, Rush managed to nail a reverse hurricarana/Frankensteiner on Dijak outside the ring that has to be seen to be believed. Everybody had an opportunity to shine and despite towering over everyone else, Dijak managed to work well with his smaller opponents. I was kind of hoping Rush would win since he was the clear-cut standout, but Dijak scored the pin after finishing off Rush with the Feast Your Eyes, which is a reverse GTS, during which a wrestler slams his opponent into his knee rather than lifting the knee up into your opponent midswing. It looked great and completely devastating. ****1/2
Backstage, Silas Young cut a scathing anti-New Japan promo, echoing real life sentiments about the rising frustration over how New Japan and ROH talent has been booked as of late. There has been a loud contingent of wrestlers who left ROH in recent months, specifically Moose, Roderick Strong and Cedric Alexander, that complained about ROH’s booking of New Japan wrestlers consistently going over in matches featuring full-time ROH talent. It was an eerily effective promo that cut very close to the bone, I imagine.
2. Silas Young Vs. Katsuyori Shibata: Shibata is the current NEVER Openweight champion in New Japan, but the title was not at stake in this match. What WAS at stake was a TV title shot against the winner of Bobby Fish/Mark Briscoe at the TV tapings the following night. So two straight matches with a TV title shot at stake. It’s interesting to say the least. Shibata received a thundering reaction from the Las Vegas crowd. Young continues to improve greatly in the ring as this was one of his better matches, especially since it was heavy on pure mat wrestling for once. It was ultra-stiff and at times, brutally intense. With the exception of one sloppy bungle (which the live crowd heckled Young about for an eternity), Young’s in-ring work was super. The only problem- and it’s a major one that needs to be addressed soon- was that the fans clearly didn’t believe Young would score the pin and they were right: Shibata scored the pin after a penalty kick. So once again, instead of giving a TV title shot to a homegrown ROH wrestler who has been steadily improving with each match and has earned a title shot, ROH Creative went with the Japanese star, one who is not a big star that would provide a major rub for Fish or Briscoe even in defeat. This is a major issue that is bound to get worse as ROH keeps adding PPVs to their yearly schedule. Fans are starting to catch on that ROH talent will rarely ever score a victory over Japanese talent. It’s not going to help ROH’s talent one bit staying in this direction for much longer. Luckily some of the later matches would address this growing problem. Let’s hope it’s not too late. ****1/4
3. Grudge Match: Bullet Club (Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa & Yujiro Takahashi) Vs. Chaos (Rocky Romero & Trent Barreta & Toru Yano): For some strange reason, this grudge match was played completely for laughs. It was especially jarring considering that these two teams are at each other’s throats in New Japan. Although some of the comedy spots were clever and genuinely funny, after a while the exclusive focus on comedy became tiresome and stopped the match dead in its tracks. It was all the more galling considering the talent involved. Some of Yano’s facial expressions were hilarious, especially during a humorous moment when he shrugged his shoulders after accidentally clocking his own partners with a turnbuckle pad. I guess the match was No DQ since ref Tiger Hattori never called for the bell despite a weapon being used. A poor match at best that turned into a rotten shame at worst. Lucky for ROH, it wouldn’t be the worst match of the entire weekend thanks to a few badly booked and executed SummerSlam stinkers. *
The Bullet Club decided to continue beating on Yano after the match and Hangman Page (Adam Page, having reinvented himself from goofy hanger-on to threatening madman since turning heel and joining the Bullet Club last May) hit the ring to lynch Yano with his noose. Jay Briscoe came to the rescue, wielding a steel chair as a weapon and cleaned house until all that was left standing was himself and Page, leading to…
4. No Holds Barred, Anything Goes Grudge Match: Jay Briscoe Vs. Hangman Page: Now THIS is how you do a grudge match. This had to be the most violent match I’ve seen on a major PPV since the heyday of old school ECW. I thought it was the best match of the card, on par with the BJ Whitmer/Steve Corino bloodbath on ROH’s last PPV Best in the World. The match had the courage of some truly sicko convictions as Briscoe and Page truly took Anything Goes to a new extreme, including some novel uses for a hangman’s use, including a modified Stone Cold Stunner while holding it. This was Page’s arrival as a top-tier talent to look out for. Never has he looked so confident and impressive in the ring. For the second time in ROH’s recent product, I saw a homegrown star in the making. (The first was Dalton Castle, for those wondering.) Turning him from a goofball heel lackey of BJ Whitmer to the stone-cold executioner of the Bullet Club has done wonders for young Page. Briscoe deserves credit for helping elevate Page by being selfless enough to let him look strong and dominant. It worked wonders in establishing Page as a top player, especially after the company has lost several top stars to greener pastures. Wild match took the fight all over the place with enough tables and chairs busted to help fatten the bottom line of any supply house. Page was totally dominant towards the end, putting Briscoe through a table with the Rite of Passage. Briscoe was a bloody, sweaty mess. Rather than go for the pin right away, Page grabbed the noose and strangled Briscoe with it until he completely passed out. Page promptly nailed a second Rite of Passage and scored the biggest pinfall victory of his career to date. You’ll never see this kind of match on a WWE PPV any time soon. ******+++
5. IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada Vs. Dalton Castle: A funny thing happened on the way to a classic match. Fans popped like crazy for Okada and Castle, but seemed to care less about the superb mat wrestling on display. On a night when ROH techs finally addressed the sound problems that plagued their last few PPVs, they had to have a crowd that was more into cool ring entrances and high spots than psychology and matwork. Not helping matters was that the live crowd clearly believed Castle had no chance of winning against Okada. Too bad, because the match itself was a real treat. This was the best PPV showcase for Castle so far. He held his own against one of the greatest wrestlers in the world today and perhaps of all time, matching him move for move with skill and agility. I wonder if the flamboyant Lanny Poffoesque gimmick makes people forget just how skilled a wrestler Castle really is. To his credit, Okada gave Castle plenty of offense and allowed Castle to look like a million bucks even in losing. I can think of a few big names in other promotions who wouldn’t have given their opponents the spotlight to shine, especially one oversized, egotistical and extremely brutish Beast. Castle even had a big moment when he finished off Okada with the Bang-A-Rang but he couldn’t score the pin since the Rainmaker craftily rolled out of the ring before the cover. Eventually, Okada finished off Castle with a Tombstone piledriver and the Rainmaker for the pin. Perhaps the year’s most underrated match, judging from the live crowd reaction and the lack of love for the match amid fans online. ******
6. ROH TV Champion Bobby Fish Vs. Mark Briscoe: After several years establishing himself as a tag team specialist, Fish is really hitting his stride as a singles performer. This was his best TV title defense to date on live PPV. While Jay Briscoe is rightly acclaimed as a great singles talent, his brother Mark seldom ever receives the same acclaim. Mark Briscoe deserves major props for how good he is in singles action too. Briscoe eschewed his usual brawling style for a more technical mat game and to everyone’s surprise, it really worked. I thought it was some of the best mat wrestling of the entire weekend, although the live crowd became extremely fickle with the match, particularly the slower pace and the lack of daredevil high spots. Sometimes I wonder about the wrestling fans. Not every match has to consist of daredevil high spots! Sheesh. After a long, evenly matched bout, Fish scored the pin with a Falcon Arrow, retaining his TV title. Both men deserved better than the audience they managed to get here. Don’t be fooled by the people saying that something was missing in this match. It was as near-perfect as a TV title match can get. Perhaps this match will look better with age and gain a reappraisal from those currently underrating it. *****
7. ROH World Tag Team Champions The Addiction (Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian) Vs. Tetsuya Naito & EVIL Vs. Michael Elgin & Hiroshi Tanahashi: Many fans believed that this was the match of the night, but I found it disappointing both in execution and given the talent involved. For starters, how come War Machine were not included considering that they have unfinished business with all three teams in this match? I wonder if they’ll be the next disgruntled employees to leave ROH over the recent penchant of pushing New Japan talent ahead of homegrown ROH stars. Not to mention that these three-way tag team title matches are starting to get really old and predictable. I’m also fed up with the same boring finish of every Addiction title defense: Daniels and Kazarian cheat their way to a win or loss. I expect this kind of laziness from Vince McMahon’s WWE, not ROH. The live fans were happy since it eschewed mat wrestling for high spots, but at the expense of psychology and pacing. Compared to the tag team title match at NXT Takeover Brooklyn the following evening, this match was amateur night, which is sad and depressing considering all six men are amongst the best wrestlers in the world. Not helping matters was Matt Taven’s color commentary, which set new standards for grating obnoxiousness. The finish was acclaimed as clever, but it was just more of the same. Just as Elgin and Tanahashi had the match won, Daniels and Kazarian’s Japanese lackey Kamaitachi distracted the referee. This allowed Daniels and Kazarian to whack everyone with belt shots to the head. Yawn. Tanahashi managed to regain the advantage and finished off EVIL with the High Fly Low off the top rope. Daniels stole a tag by tapping Tanahashi’s boot, shoved Tanahashi out of the way and stole the pin by covering EVIL. The heel champs cheat their way to victory yet again. Double yawn. Can’t these guys win clean for once? Repetitive booking like this is what ruined Charlotte’s heel run as Divas/Women’s Champion this year on main roster WWE; must ROH resort to the same lazy booking? Taven announced after the match ended that he would be reviving The Kingdom, most likely after the next PPV in September, All Star Extravaganza. I imagine this will lead to an Addiction/Kingdom six-man feud for Final Battle, but that’s just a guess at this point. **3/4
8. ROH World Heavyweight Champion Jay Lethal Vs. Adam Cole: Between his record-setting TV title reign and his year-plus World title reign, Lethal has been some form of ROH singles champion since April 2014. Contrast that to WWE, where championships change hands more often than some people change their socks. Lethal has proven himself to be a top-tier championship caliber wrestler over the last two years. We’ve seen him go from hated heel to respected face in the span of his ROH World title reign. We’ve seen one incredible match after another. Tonight was no different. This was the grudge match everyone was waiting for after Cole and the Bullet Club attacked Lethal during his World title defense against Colt Cabana at May’s Global Wars PPV. Cole has kept making himself a very painful thorn in Lethal’s sign, even shaving off the champ’s cornrows in the aftermath of a locker room brawl on the most recent TV episodes. So the story was simple: Lethal was so hot to get his revenge that he might make a mistake that would cost him the title. After making a royal mess out of a grudge match earlier in the card, I was glad to see that ROH booking didn’t do the same with the main event. There was simply no time to waste, so they just got right to it, beating the living crap out of each other in true grudge match style. It was a more violent match than one would expect from Lethal, but it made sense given the story of ultimate revenge. The tables came out early but Lethal struggled to even find one as the ring crew thoughtlessly swept the party streamers that have become an ROH tradition to shower foreign talent and top-tier talent with under the ring apron instead of picking it up off camera. The tables were covered in streamer and Lethal was visibly irritated. Anyway, streamers proved to not be the only major error as Cole managed to roll off a table, causing Lethal to crash right through it during a Macho Man Flying Elbow Drop attempt. Lethal wound up being busted open by jagged table pieces, bleeding profusely. Lethal also went to the suicide tope one time too many, crashing rib-first into the guardrail during his sixth tope attempt. If this was WWE, the match would have been stopped dead both times, but since this was ROH, the match continued on. Perhaps because it was violent as hell, the live crowd was completely into Lethal/Cole. The rabid crowd noise helped this match greatly when watching it on TV, adding intense heat. There was simply no room for let up as the match was simply intense action from start-to-finish. Lethal seemingly put away his rival for good with the Lethal Injection but Cole incredibly kicked out. Cole seemingly finished off his prey with the Canadian Destroyer but Lethal kicked out. Lethal went once more for the Lethal Injection but Cole countered with a shining wizard and the knee to the gut for the 1-2-3. Cole becomes the third man in ROH history to win the ROH World Championship twice, following Austin Aries and Jay Briscoe. Cole didn’t have much time to celebrate his historic moment as Kyle O’Reilly, a recent victim of Cole and the Bullet Club, beat the crap out of the new champion with a clothesline and a stiff Brainbuster that would make Aries proud. I assumed that this was to establish O’Reilly was Cole’s first major challenger on PPV, but judging from the TV taping results, it looks like Michael Elgin will be getting that title shot instead at All Star Extravaganza. In a way, it makes sense since Elgin defeated Cole for the ROH World title on the premiere live PPV, Best in the World 2014, but if that was the direction they were heading in, why not have Elgin lay out Cole? This is the kind of thinking you’d expect from McMahon’s main roster WWE, not ROH. Sigh. ******+++
The three-day Weekend of Wrestling continued with NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II special, live once again from- where else?-Brooklyn, NY. The Barclays Center was packed with 15,671 fans, roughly 100 more than last year’s Takeover Brooklyn event.
As for the show itself, it was the usual super effort one has come to expect from the NXT Takeover franchise. It did feature one of the weakest NXT womens matches since Eva Marie was stinking out the joint on a weekly basis, as the after-effects of Vince McMahon’s premature roster poaching of NXT came back to bite them in the rear. However, every other match ranged from very good to off-the-charts. Under the careful guidance of HHH, even the weakest match was booked correctly with precision, skill and an eye towards a proper payoff in the future. More than I can say for what Vince McMahon and his Uncreative team did the following night.
Of the three major pro wrestling PPVs of the weekend, NXT Takeover wins the gold medal. It wasn’t the greatest Takeover event, but it was the best show of the weekend and once again, NXT showed up main roster WWE during a weekend of head-to-head shows. Only ROH provided serious competition with a strong PPV that kicked off the three-day weekend of major pro wrestling events.
Austin Aries Vs. No Way Jose: Despite being the storyline heel, Aries was given a thundering face reaction by the Brooklyn crowd. This wouldn’t be the last time such a phenomenon would occur this evening. Despite the worries that greenish up-and-comer Jose would struggle with his first televised high-profile live match, this was a solid opener. It soon became crystal clear that Aries was calling this match and it was certainly a testament to Aries’ skills in calling a match as he brought out the best in a promising rookie. To Jose’s credit, he proved to be a very good listener and more than held his own against a more experienced veteran. The live Brooklyn fans, a notoriously fickle and picky bunch, even got into it and started chanting for Jose in dueling chants with the pro-Aries contingent. Jose even broke free from Aries’ Last Chancery finisher and scored a near-fall with the Falcon Arrow, which certainly gave him some much needed cachet. However, a Jose victory wasn’t meant to be as Aries finished off his quarry with a sunset flip power bomb that transitioned into another Last Chancery for the tapout. ***3/4
As if the victory wasn’t enough, Aries started beating on Jose, turning him into the most dour sore winner since Stone Cold turned heel at Wrestlemania X-7. However, Aries let go of yet another Last Chancery when Hideo Itami made a surprise return after a year-plus on the shelf from a shoulder injury. Aries looked terrified as Itami glared at him from the stage. Itami soon found his way to the ring and Aries went for the attack. Itami was too quick for him and he soon devastated Aries with the GTS finisher that he hadn’t had the chance to use in his NXT tenure outside of a little-seen Wrestlemania 31 weekend fanfest show. So I guess we’re getting Aries/Itami at the next Takeover special, likely in October.
Ric Flair was in the audience with his soon to be fifth wife Fifi the Maid. He must be a glutton for punishment to want to add a potential fifth alimony to his financial woes.
Ember Moon Vs. Billie Kay: For those wondering, Moon is a recent arrival from the SHIMMER Women Athletes promotion, where she wrestled under the ring name Athena. This is where Vince McMahon’s main roster call-ups came to bite NXT big time as the extremely sloppy Kay got a PPV-level match despite being nowhere near ready to work a live televised match. To be honest, sloppy was putting it mildly as Kay botched one spot after another including Eat Defeat and a horrific powerbomb that could have killed Moon had she landed differently. She also failed to properly sell Moon’s offense. Despite this being her first NXT match, Moon got an incredible reaction from the live crowd. Well, fans can recognize actual talent when they can see it. Moon was simply awesome in the ring as everything she did looked great. Her work was so crisp and strong that she managed to overcome the liability of being stuck with a mediocre opponent and did enough to make the match fairly decent. Despite it being a weak match, this wound up being better than either of the two women’s matches on the main roster PPV the following night, which is certainly depressing. The finish was genuinely spectacular as Moon took Cena’s Stone Cold Stunner off the ropes to an insane new level by adding a tope and a twist before nailing the Stunner. Of course, Kay didn’t sell it. Moon is the real thing; Kay is still like a green banana in need of serious ripening. **1/4
3. Bobby Roode Vs. Andrade Cien Almas: It just wouldn’t be a Takeover special without Tom Phillips making a complete screw-up on commentary. This time around, he talked about how Roode traveled to Brooklyn from his Manhattan base via helicopter. Guess he wasn’t paying attention to the vignettes between matches that showed Roode traveling by limo, not copter. Despite being the storyline heel, Roode received a standing ovation and a total face reaction from the Brooklyn crowd, replete with 15,671 fans all singing the lyrics to Roode’s theme music and chanting “This is GLORIOUS!” It visibly shocked Roode, who clearly wasn’t expecting to receive such a superstar reaction and having never received such a reaction before, was even suppressing tears. Takeover Brooklyn II finally kicked off into high gear with this match. Roode seemed motivated to prove his worth as his performance here was miles better than the last year or two of his TNA tenure. Then again, he’s finally in an environment that isn’t dysfunctional and in which the head honcho isn’t more concerned with their own bid for stardom. Anyway, back to the match itself, which truly was glorious. Almas more than held his own in the ring against Roode and looked like a megastar by the time the match concluded. Even the Brooklyn crowd started giving him audible props midway through the match. Roode himself seemed to relish actually facing a quality opponent instead of the WWE rejects and assorted losers that were Dixie Carter’s pets in TNA. Almas scored several near-falls that had the live crowd completely unglued with suspense. Alas, a victory wasn’t meant to be for Almas as Roode finished off his opponent with the Glorious Slam (a modified pump handle slam) for the pin and a huge pop. ****1/2
4. NXT Tag Team Champions The Revival (Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson) Vs. Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa: This was the best match of the entire weekend, a rollercoaster ride that was an exciting throwback to the tag team classics of the 1980’s. We too often forget how good we had it then: The Wild Samoans, Tony Garea & Rick Martel, Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo, Tony Atlas & Rocky Johnson, Adrian Adonis & Dick Murdoch, Greg Valentine & Brutus Beefcake, The British Bulldogs, The Hart Foundation, The Midnight Express, The Brain Busters, The Fantastics, The Brain Busters (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard), The Killer Bees, Demolition, The Road Warriors, Strike Force were just a few of the teams that made tag team wrestling so great back then. Thanks to HHH’s willingness to revive some of the basic building blocks of what worked in the past, NXT’s tag team division is on its’ way to being the modern day equivalent of that boon period of tag team wrestling. This match features the tag team that I consider the best and most complete tag team in professional wrestling today: Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson. Their in-ring skills are outstanding. They understand the concept of classic tag team heel psychology, making them the single best heel tag team since Anderson & Blanchard. Their mic skills are surprisingly strong for up-and-comers. Their matches have been some of the best tag team matches on American TV to date. How Wilder and Dawson weren’t called up to the main roster while lesser talent like Mojo Rawley, Carmella and Baron Corbin somehow were is a mystery not even Sherlock Holmes, Monk or Columbo could crack. That’s not to slight Gargano and Ciampa, who made their mark on the indie circuit and ROH before finding a new home in NXT. They were sensational here, working so flawlessly with Wilder & Dawson that I hope this program continues. And judging from the most recent batch of TV tapings, it looks like HHH and his Creative team is going to keep this feud going. This is what sets him apart from his father-in law and the Hollywood sycophants that dominate main roster Creative: he sees something that works and doesn’t feel compelled to “fix” it or try to make the fans rue the day they get emotionally invested in something as simple as a classic tag team match. Even more amazing was that mere weeks after their star-making performances in a ******++++ Match of the Year candidate at the Cruiserweight Classic, Gargano and Ciampa managed to top that phenomenal bout with one that was even better. The match started slowly, as the classic tag team battles of the 80s so often did, building things up to a fever pitch that kept the live crowd unglued with suspense and delight. It was so great to see the classic tag team psychology of keeping the babyface team from making the tag, building up the heat to white hot incinerator levels that are so often missing from WWE’s main roster tag team matches these days. Another plus was that there was actual wrestling here rather than a collection of high spots or lame comedy, as Vince loves to load tag team matches with on the main roster. Fans popped huge when it appeared Gargano and Ciampa had won the tag team titles, but Wilder got his foot on the bottom rope and the match was restarted. The match told the story that Gargano’s knee was weakened from his encounter with Ciampa at the CWC weeks earlier, so Dawson & Wilder took advantage as the great heels would in the past. Eventually, the pain became too great to overcome and Gargano tapped out when Dawson reversed the Figure Four. This match is one for the memory banks. ******++++++++ (to infinity and beyond)
5. NXT Women’s Champion Asuka Vs. Bayley: I remember mentioning to friends that I felt sorry for the women who had to compete at SummerSlam since they would have a hard time following this eagerly anticipated rematch between two of NXT’s best women wrestlers. Then again, I didn’t think the main roster women would bomb so spectacularly when I made that remark. At first, I believed I had jinxed them, then I read that contrary to popular rumors, Vince McMahon WAS present and in charge at SummerSlam, so the jinx was already there. Anyway, back to the match. I thought it was a superb match, albeit not nearly as great as their Takeover: Dallas title change match. For starters, since Bayley made her main roster debut at Battleground last month, one figured this would be her swan song from NXT. Therefore, few believed she was regaining the title. That hurt the match a bit. Not helping matters was having to follow one of the greatest tag team matches of recent years. Still, this was a near-perfect match and they did a great job of parlaying Bayley’s underdog persona and the memory of her title win at last year’s Takeover: Brooklyn into sheer emotional drama. Asuka played the thin line between face and heel to perfection, eventually helping overcome the lack of fan expectation for a title change live in Brooklyn. Bayley managed to escape the Asuka Lock that caused her downfall in Dallas and even countered a second Asuka Lock into a near-fall. Each near-escape finally got the fans to start believing in the possibility of a title switch. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be as Asuka gave Bayley three stiff and swift kicks to the skull. Asuka covered Bayley’s seemingly lifeless corpse for the 1-2-3. In a show of respect for a worthy opponent, Asuka lifted up Bayley and embraced her now-defeated rival, all while choking back tears. Contrast this to Nikki Bella holding up her thumb and forefinger into the L for Loser position after winning a horrible match the night after. The difference between NXT’s women’s division and WWE’s is summed up in one word: respect. There is none on display in the main roster, as McMahon wants his women at each others' throats in constant acrimony. In NXT, respect is paid to a worthy opponent, even by the heels. It’s quite a contrast, isn’t it? ****3/4
6. NXT World Champion Samoa Joe Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: Vince McMahon has famously claimed that WWE fans would never truly embrace a Japanese wrestler. Along comes HHH to once again disprove his father-in-law’s harebrained theories as Nakamura received one of the most stunning babyface pops ever given to a Japanese wrestler appearing on a WWE or NXT program. Not only did fans give him a standing ovation, they proceeded to sing along to his theme music during his entrance, which was one of the more spectacular on an NXT show to date as it featured a live fiddle performance. Even Nakamura seemed surprised and moved by the rave reaction from the fans. Joe received some cheers, but the fans were overwhelmingly behind Nakamura, reacting to everything the King of Strong Style did. Some in the IWC have complained that the match was too slow and even too foreign, but I found it gripping from start to finish. This was a total Japanese-style match, with a slower-paced build to something more frenzied and brutal. Since Joe has legitimate Japanese wrestling experience and Nakamura is such a natural in the ring, it turned out to be a phenomenal match. It certainly proved that under the right hands, ROH no longer has an exclusive corner on genuine Japanese-style matches on American soil. The chain wrestling was superb, as both men showed they are masters of the mat. When the match finally kicked into high gear at the halfway point, it was simply off-the-charts brilliance. Joe confidently finished off Nakamura with the Muscle Buster, but just as he was secure in believing he had the match won, the King of Strong Style kicked out. Nakamura has his own moment of shock when Joe kicked out of the Kinshasa kick. Joe attempted the Kokina Klutch but Nakamura wiggled free and nailed Joe with a knee to the back of the head. One Kinshasa later and Nakamura scored the 1-2-3 to become the first Asian wrestler to hold the NXT World Championship. It was a history making night as the top two singles titles in NXT were both held by Japanese talent who were most worthy of being elevated to such heights. Some are complaining that Nakamura winning the title doesn’t do anything to elevate him. Little do these armchair critics realize that it’s the title that’s being elevated by being around the waist of one of Japan’s greatest talents. Strike that, one of the world’s greatest talents. Only good things can come from a Nakamura NXT World title reign. I can’t wait to see what’s next. ******+++
When I was in seventh grade, my grammar school decided to throw a Halloween party for the entire school. It was hyped for weeks as the greatest party of the school year. Their first school-wide Halloween party the year before was a big success and a good time was had by all, so we were really looking forward to the sequel. It turned out to be one big trick rather than a treat. The teacher in charge of putting the party together was beyond lazy and uninspired and needless to say, the party was just one big bore.
I normally wouldn’t start a wrestling recap with something so seemingly unrelated, but when SummerSlam 2016 ended after a marathon length of 6 hours and 6 minutes this past Sunday night, 25 year old memories of that bad Halloween party came flooding back. The three-day Weekend of Wrestling ended with a whimper instead of the bang that this show seemed poised to deliver on paper.
SummerSlam 2016 was the wrestling equivalent of said party: lazy, uninspired and overlong. This was not a good show at all. While it was packed with 13 matches, only two managed to live up to the high expectations on paper. Most of the matches wound up disappointing in one way or another. The booking had more holes than the entire production line of a Swiss cheese factory. Three matches had no proper finish. One match was a total bait-and-switch that only left a sour taste in the mouths of all watching. Both World titles and their respective champions were made to look unimportant while a pair of drug cheats got the top two matches on the card.
WWE is claiming a live attendance of 15,974 inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY for SummerSlam, allowing them to boast that main roster WWE one-upped NXT by a slight margin. However, NXT bested WWE in the one area that truly matters: show quality. I read in the Observer that the main roster talent and crew felt motivated to top NXT Takeover. If this is the product of a motivated roster and crew, I’d hate to see what a show would be like if they were complacent and idle. Thumbs down and a crummy end to a three-day Weekend of Wrestling!
1. Pre-Show Match: American Alpha & The Hype Bros & The Usos Vs. The Vaudevillains & The Ascension & Breeztango: I admit I had major apprehensions about this match. Lately, pre-show tag team matches have been a hot mess, featuring random pairings of leftover guys not featured on the main card rushing through a far too short match. Imagine my surprise when this 12-man, 6-team tag match bucked the odds and wound up being one of the better matches of the overall show. They had 11 minutes, which was a major improvement over the less than 4 matches pre-show tag bouts had been receiving as of late. All six teams also worked like they had something to prove, which in a way, they do considering Vince McMahon’s penchant for mismanaging tag team wrestling. This extra motivation made for an exciting match. Even Fandango seems to be flourishing in a tag team role, something I would never have believed possible. American Alpha were the standouts; everything they did was simply fantastic. They seem to be building to an Usos heel turn, which is just as well considering the tandem have been booed out of every arena recently due to their familial affiliation with Roman Reigns. Chad Gable and Jason Jordan had the match won against the Vaudevillains, but Jey Uso tagged himself in and helped his brother steal the victory away with the Uso Splash. There was subtle acrimony when the Usos blanched at Gable & Jordan when the latter team held up their compatriots’ arms in victory. Nice subtlety that is often lacking on the main roster WWE product. ***3/4
2. Pre-Show Match: Neville & Sami Zayn Vs. The Dudley Boyz: This would be the latest swan song of the Bubba Ray and D-Von on a WWE PPV as Vince McMahon chose to renege on a handshake deal he had made with the team a week before regarding a contract renewal. Geez, I remember the days when a McMahon handshake deal was actually ironclad. It appears that Neville and Zayn are being packaged as a permanent tag team instead of being pushed as the legitimate singles stars they were in NXT. Oh well, better a solid tag team with a good chance to dominate the division instead of being jobbed to oblivion to arrogant beasts like Brock Lesnar. Match was a basic tag team match, but solid most of the way. Since the Dudleys were leaving, it only made sense for them to put over the new team on the way out. Neville scored the pin after a Red Arrow on Bubba while Zayn held D-Von at bay. ***1/4
3. Pre-Show Match: Sheamus Vs. Cesaro, Best of 7 Series Match 1: This was supposed to be on the main PPV card, but with Baron Corbin/Kalisto being scrubbed due to a worked injury angle for the latter, they decided to stick this match on the pre-show, where they would receive less time to pull off the great match both are capable of. Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good match but not the great match both are capable of. If any match should have been made the sacrificial lamb, it should have been the six-woman tag team match, especially since it looked weak on paper and was even worse in execution. But since John Cena used his political muscle to ensure that his girlfriend's match remained on the main card, Cesaro and Sheamus were royally screwed. There was one amazing spot where Cesaro climbed atop the enlarged ringpost and leapt off, leveling Sheamus with a lariat that has to be seen to be believed. Since this was a throwback to the traditional Best of 7 series of JCP/NWA lore, it made sense for the heel to win the first encounter, which Sheamus did with one well placed Brogue Kick. Word on the street is that the winner of this series is in line for a shot at the Universal title. Cesaro should win, but if the rumors are true that Roman Reigns is getting yet another world title run, Vince will rehash Reigns/Sheamus, which was already done to death in late 2015/early 2016. ***1/4
4. Enzo Amore & Big Cass Vs. Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens: There may be no tag team on main roster WWE as completely over with live audiences as Enzo and Big Cass are. They are the most charismatic team I’ve seen in years. Fans actually recite their dialogue in stereo with Enzo and Big Cass, not to mention eagerly eat up everything the duo says and does with relish. So what does McMahon do with this potential gold mine? Continue to job them out. It was even worse this time around since 1) Jericho and Owens were thrown together at random with no real set-up or even a reason why; 2) Jericho is not the lightning sharp workhorse he once was, visibly older and slower and 3) Enzo and Big Cass were the hometown tag team, yet they proceed to lose to the foreigners. The match was fairly solid. Enzo is getting blamed for missing spots, but when you’re working with an older veteran who was lost much of the speed from his fastball, it’s definitely a difficult job. I thought he did quite well considering the handicap of being matched against Jericho. To be fair, Jericho did look better in the ring than he has the past few months but he’s still a long away from his prime. Hiding him in a tag team was a smart move. Owens was fantastic and whenever he was in, the match was really good. For the most part, it was a solid, fast-paced affair. Then came the crummy finish, where the wrong team went over and to add insult to injury, Jericho scored the pin. A thrown together team made out of spare parts just beat your regular full-time team. Morons. ***1/2
5. Women’s Champion Sasha Banks Vs. Charlotte: This was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the entire show because both of these women are amongst the best wrestlers in the country and even the world, yet the match was barely average and extremely sloppy. To those who have eagerly followed the previous Sasha/Charlotte classics on NXT and Raw, the match must have seemed as if Brie Bella and Kelly Kelly somehow tied up the real Sasha and Charlotte, disguised themselves as the better talents and proceeded to do their usual sloppy, lazy and uninspired Divas matches that tortured the masses five years ago. That preceding remark may have been a run-on sentence, but it was fitting for describing a run-on match. As it turned out, by evening’s end, we would find out that Sasha Banks was entering the match with a severe back and shoulder injury. This certainly explains why the match was so below par by the high standards of both women. Charlotte screwed up a spot on the ropes that resulted in Sasha being slammed hard back first on the mat. Sasha looked like she was seeing stars and certainly didn’t do her back injury any favors, much less the match. They went through the motions, lacking the smooth spark of their classic matches of the past. Sasha attempted to make Charlotte tap to the modified Crossface, but Charlotte sloppily rolled atop of Sasha and the ref counted the pin. At least she didn’t cheat this time to secure a victory. Knowing that Sasha was nowhere near ready to perform at her usual high level, WWE could have made a last minute change to the match on the pre-show. They could have removed Becky Lynch from the worthless six-woman tag and added her to Sasha/Charlotte, stating that it was the brainchild of Raw GM Mick Foley and Smackdown GM Daniel Bryan, who both desired to stage the rematch of the century and a last stab over deciding which brand would wind up with the title. The triple-threat could have hidden Sasha’s injury-induced weaknesses and a fired-up Becky would have been able to carry the load. Another option would have had Foley declare that Sasha was too injured to compete, so the title was vacated but that Charlotte would have to earn the title the hard way by facing his newest acquisition: Bayley. Either of those options would have been better than what they did go with in the end. **
6. Intercontinental Champion The Miz Vs. Apollo Crews: The Intercontinental Championship hasn’t felt relevant in years due to the lack of care on the part of WWE Creative in making it feel like the important secondary title it once was. This match did nothing to fix that problem. It wasn’t the fault of Miz or Crews, as both are solid workers and capable of having good matches. The problem fell entirely on Creative, who couldn’t be bothered to build this match up properly on the TV leading up to the PPV. Then there was the crummy finish. Both men were having a really good match, albeit one on the short side at 6 minutes. However, the finish was beyond crap, as Miz retained the title after his wife Maryse distracted the ref, allowing Hubby Dearest to ram Crews’ head into the giant ringpost, following it up with a Skull Crushing Finale for the pin. The IC title, its’ current champion and the up-and-coming Crews all continue to look weak. Way to go, Vince. ***1/2
7. John Cena Vs. AJ Styles: Far and away the best match of the show and the only one that was anything close to extraordinary. After disappointing at Money in the Bank with a sluggish match, both men make up for that lackluster bout with one of the year’s best matches. Cena has finally shaken off the ring rust that he accumulated over an eight-month shelving due to injury. Styles was finally allowed a showcase for his considerable in-ring talent. The match was refreshingly devoid of the constant outside interference and clusterf*** booking that has plagued all of Styles’ post-Mania 32 matches. After being lulled into a coma by the last few matches, the live crowd in Brooklyn finally came to life again. The crowd was largely anti-Cena. God these “John Cena Sucks” chants are getting old. Not to mention that such chants just expose how stupid the IWC clods actually are by insisting that Cena can’t wrestle when he’s proven for over 11 years that he is a superb all-around wrestler. Cena and Styles put on a real nailbiter, taking each other to the absolute limit. At 30 minutes, it was a long match but it was so brilliantly executed that it felt far shorter. The ending was a worry, especially since WWE has repeatedly done the wrong thing and book Cena to win yet feuds that he could easily afford to lose. Given that he’s taking three months off to film another season of a TV show that people clearly preferred watching paint dry instead of tuning in, it made sense for Styles to win. Thank the heavens that common sense prevailed. Styles finally pinned Cena with the springboard flying forearm after several attempts by each to put their quarry away for good. Cena sold the loss like it was a heartbreaking one, pulling off his “Never Give Up” armband and holding back tears. It felt as if the guy telling us never to give up just did. While shocking to some degree, it gives Cena’s character some much needed context for his inevitable return. This match blew away everything else on the show. ******+++
8. WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day (Xavier Woods & Kofi Kingston) Vs. Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows: I knew we were in for trouble once Anderson and Gallows were turned into jokester heels instead of the vicious monsters they were in Japan. I knew we were in for even more trouble once Jon Stewart showed up in the New Day’s corner. Yet I was unprepared for just how bad this match turned out to be. Without Big E, the New Day’s live reaction was noticeably muted. The Kofi-Woods tandem didn’t work and gel together as smoothly or sharply as the usual Kofi/Big E tandem, leaving me to wonder if Big E truly is the heart and soul of this group. Anderson and Gallows were so below par and clearly not allowed to work at their usual high level that it was just sad to watch. It was a depressing match fitting for an increasingly depressing night. The match plodded along with no excitement or good wrestling for what seemed like an eternity. Anderson and Gallows were just about to cover Woods’ corpse for the win after finishing him off with the Magic Killer when Stewart interfered. He started begging for mercy and straining for laughs that weren’t there, so Anderson and Gallows decided to give him the Big E treatment of ramming his balls straight into the ringpost. Before they could make Stewart a permanent castrato, Big E made his return and cleaned house. The ref just threw his hands up and gave up on this match, with no winner declared live. Lord knows I wanted to join him. The following day, WWE.com would clarify that Anderson and Gallows won via DQ. This wound up being the worst match of the entire weekend. What a depressing fact that it was this one. ½*
9. WWE World Heavyweight Champion Dean Ambrose Vs. Dolph Ziggler: At a time when a great match was desperately needed, two stellar in-ring performers gave us only an average one instead. This was yet another crushing disappointment in a show loaded with them: a great match on paper that turned out to be astonishingly mediocre in execution. It soon became clear that not one person watching the match live inside Barclays believed that Ziggler could plausibly pull off the win. He has been jobbed out to the point that no one believes he’s a plausible contender and serious threat to any World champion. Aside from the lack of plausibility and crowd heat, another problem was that Ambrose and Ziggler just didn’t gel as opponents, lacking that creative spark the best feuds often have. It wasn’t a bad match so much as a lazy one. When it was all over my immediate impression was that both men went through the motions and were more concerned with getting it over with as quickly as possible. There was no palpable suspense; Ziggler’s repeated act of constantly covering Ambrose to get near falls fell flat without the nail-biting moments or big moves to justify such a concept. Ambrose scored the pin with Dirty Deeds, but at the end, he didn’t come off looking like a dominant champion. **1/2
10. Becky Lynch & Carmella & Naomi Vs. Natalya & Alexa Bliss & ?????: Rather than acknowledging Eva Marie’s real life Wellness Policy suspension, Vince McMahon and his Uncreative team decided to treat us all like drooling morons. They foolishly decided to exploit anxiety and depression for cheap heat, claiming that Eva Marie ran away to Europe for rest. Eva Marie already has such white hot incinerator heat that she doesn’t need this much help. Not to mention that everyone knows she was suspended for abusing Adderall, a prescription drug intended to treat ADHD but is increasingly being abused a performance enhancing drug. Now you’d think that with the NXT talent still in town, they could have simply had current NXT Women’s champ Asuka (whose character walks the thin line between face and heel) make a main roster appearance. No, that would be too easy. Instead, Nikki Bella made her return, likely at an expensive premium. While she on occasion can have a good match, she is too often content to stick with the lazy sloppiness that marred the Divas division for far too long. Guess which Nikki showed up tonight? The match itself wasn’t good and largely purple piffle, primarily because other than Natalya and Becky Lynch, no one brought their A-game to the ring. Naomi was sloppy as hell, bungling such simple spots as punches and kicks. Alexa Bliss wasn’t allowed to do 1/16th of what she showed in her NXT tenure. Carmella was OK, but still has a long way to go as far as her in-ring ability goes. Match plodded on for 11 minutes, most of which stunk. Nikki finally tagged in and immediately botched a lariat attempt that was so awful looking that Stan Hansen suddenly wished he never invented the move. Nikki then took Alex Riley’s old Fireman’s Carry finisher the TKO as her own, screwing that one up as well, covering Carmella for the pin. After this turkey came to a close, Phoenix’s own Koriander Bullard sent me the following message: “I can't believe they wasted money on a Bella. After a whole weekend of promoting women! She is a waste of money. The amount of makeup she needs alone can plaster five NXT girls. ” I couldn’t have put it any better myself . Later in the week, we would have an answer as to why Nikki Bella was given PPV time while Sheamus/Cesaro was pushed to the rush-job land of the pre-show: Cena reportedly used his influence to get his girlfriend’s match on the main card. Reportedly, he’s also the driving force behind Nikki’s pending reign as the inaugural Smackdown women’s champion next month. Finally a legitimate reason to hate the guy! ¾*
11. Winner Becomes Inaugural Universal Champion- Finn Balor Vs. Seth Rollins: Balor wrestled in his Demon King makeup. He was undefeated whenever he wore this makeup in NXT, yet Cole and Co. couldn’t be bothered to make any mention of this on commentary. Then again, McMahon has publicly said he doesn’t get why NXT is so popular and his booking thus far of NXT call-ups has certainly bore this out. Balor/Rollins really should have been the main event, especially since it was crowning the inaugural champion of a brand new world championship. The fact that two guys both recently nailed for abusing PEDs still received the top two PPV match slots only further emphasizes that there is a hideous double standard still prevalent in WWE as long as McMahon remains in charge. I think it’s a total disgrace, but as long as McMahon remains in power, it won’t change. Anyway, Balor and Rollins deserve a ton of credit for giving us a great match on a night were one was desperately needed and desired. It was even more impressive upon discovering that Balor worked the entire second half with a severe shoulder injury incurred during a Buckle Bomb into the fan barrier outside the ring. It is believed that Balor made the tragic error of attempting to take the bump off his extended arm while grabbing onto the fan barrier. That hasn’t stopped that old disgruntled grouch Bret Hart from shouting out how Rollins was solely to blame for the injury, counting on all the gullible marks that believe every word he says to swallow such tripe. But that’s another article for another day. If there were negatives regarding the match, I admit the match being a tad too leisurely paced was one to be sure. Not helping was that early on in the match both men were visibly distracted by the live Brooklyn fans incessant chants against the newly unveiled Universal title belt, which Koriander Bullard cheekily dubbed the Kool-Aid Championship. Yes, it was so garishly red that even I half expected the Kool-Aid Man to burst through the Titantron. But I digress. It was easy to see why Rollins and Mick Foley were so royally pissed off at the fans’ tacky verbal hijacking. So as a result, both men had to take things up a notch in an attempt to get the live fans into the match and away from making lame mocking chants against the physical belt. They did so by having one of the stiffest matches not involving that oversized egotist Brock Lesnar. It wound up coming at a costly price considering Balor’s injury, so perhaps it was a bit too stiff. Both men got tons of near falls, including a Balor kickout of Rollins’ pedigree. Rollins attempted another Pedigree, but Balor broke free and leveled his rival with a flurry of running dropkicks. He scaled the ropes and finished off Rollins with the double foot stomp off the top ropes for the pin. The announcers hyped that Balor was the first man in all of pro wrestling to ever win a world title in his PPV debut. Guess we’re not counting The Giant’s WCW World title win at Halloween Havoc 1995. ****1/2
Unfortunately, Balor’s shoulder injury was severe enough to require surgery and a recovery time of between 6 months and 1 year, resulting in him vacating the Universal title 22 hours later on Monday Night Raw. If the word on the street proves accurate, Roman Reigns is scheduled to win the vacant Universal title this coming Monday on Raw, further proving that not only is Vince McMahon blindly stubborn and stone deaf when it comes to the virulent fan reaction to Reigns, but that the Wellness Policy means nothing when you’re a pet of the boss. Speaking of Reigns…
12. United States Champion Rusev Vs. Roman Reigns: What match? As Reigns was walking through the crowd en route to ringside, Rusev attacked the surly Samoan. Reigns fought back, sparking a full-fledged brawl. Something snapped inside Reigns, as he savagely beat Rusev to the point that the latter started clutching his ribs in pain. Reigns wouldn’t let up his attack, so the refs had no choice but to call off the official start of the match and eject Reigns from ringside. Reigns smirked as he was showered by a chorus of boos, especially when the live fans in Brooklyn realized there wasn’t going to be a match and were the victims of a McMahon-approved bait-and-switch. No Rating
13. Brock Lesnar Vs. Randy Orton: Lesnar’s popularity has taken a nosedive ever since it was reported that he was exempt from the company’s Wellness Policy and that McMahon flat out refuses to punish the egotistical PED-abusing Beast. He was booed out of the Barclays Center with such gusto that you’d think he had pulled down his shorts and taken a giant dump inside the ring. Orton received a shockingly strong face pop, partly because it was his major arena return after a long recovery from shoulder injuries and partly due to Lesnar being on the personal s***lists of many fans these days. Personal feelings aside, the two are both superb in-ring performers and they were up for a strong match. While Lesnar dominated most of the match, Orton was allowed some offense, preventing it from being a one-sided annihilation by Lesnar. Originally the match was supposed to be more evenly matched, but Lesnar flat out refused to go through with a 50-50 booked match. Boy, Dean Ambrose’s credibility sure shot up, didn’t it? (He directly blamed Lesnar for their lackluster Wrestlemania match, flat out saying that the Beast refused to cooperate and go with any booking other than him dominating.) Yet despite the booking changes, this was an excellent match; super stiff with a lot of heat. Then disaster struck. Lesnar took his gloves off and began brutally pounding on Orton’s head, busting him open with ultra-stiff elbow shots to the top of the skull. The blood started pouring like wine, prompting the ref and medics to attend to Orton’s wound. Normally I hate it when matches are stopped dead to seal up cuts, but since Orton’s blood was forming large puddles on the mat and he has a history of serious concussions, I concurred with the ref’s decision to stop the match. Where I disagreed was with rewarding Lesnar with an official victory he didn’t deserve. Take for example when the ref and medics started attending to a bloody, groggy Orton. A normal human being would step back and let the medics do their work, but not Lesnar. He pounced on Orton and kept pounding him in the head, making the cut even deeper and bloodier. After the refs pulled him away, Lesnar broke free and kept beating on Orton like a tackling dummy. Finally, the ref called for the bell. Considering that Anderson & Gallows/New Day and Reigns/Rusev were given non-finishes where no one won, I was appalled at the double standard in play by giving Lesnar a victory he didn’t deserve. What I wonder is why is Lesnar so seemingly bulletproof? Is McMahon really so afraid of Lesnar that he gave him the win in spite of a legitimate non-finish? The hilarity continued as Lesnar attacked Shane McMahon, who had entered the ring to check on Lesnar. While this was clearly an angle to set up a future match (which is currently scheduled to take place at the 2017 Royal Rumble PPV), it felt disquieting and tacky after seeing Randy Orton’s brains nearly ooze out of his skull. A flat finish to a flat PPV. How appropriate! ****
Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
I'm a subscriber to the WWE Network. I've been catching up as of late on a few tapings I didn't see all the way through during the Monday Night Wars.
As a woman, you can imagine that women's rights and how women are treated in the media are topics very important to me.
But… did the WWE just totally expose the act of victim shaming after rape?
For a company that has long been lauded for having questionable television, the WWE may have accidentally ripped open the proverbial curtain on a subject of victim-shaming, and exposed a seedy practice hidden right in our own backyard.
The date was November 29, 1999. The WWE was known as the WWF in those days, pending an unfair lawsuit from the World Wildlife Fund, and was dominating television screens during a time known as the Attitude Era. Monday Night Raw had earned itself an alarming TV14 rating, due to not only the usual violence involved with professional wrestling, but also for it's language, sexual content and a wide range of themes that would have made parents today cringe.
I'm sure you've no doubt seen clips of this particular episode on many a video package from the WWE in commercials for their DVD's and TV specials, but let's use the Network to rewind a little bit.
So we have a wedding in the ring. Pretty little Stephanie McMahon walks down the ramp with her father, Vince, and walks towards the ring. Dressed in angelic white, she's all smiles as her family cheers and grins at her entering the gate to marry her sweetheart, a blonde, muscular and charming young wrestler named Test. The glow on her teenage-looking face is as much aglow as the twinkling gems on her silver and diamond drop choker. Blood red roses adorn white gates, situated lovingly in front of and inside the wrestling ring, as the Billion-Dollar Princess receives help from her mother Linda and father up the stairs and into the squared circle.
Bride and groom are serenaded with an updated version of a song sung for Macho Man Randy Savage and Elizabeth's wedding, and then listen to a lovely sermon from the preacher.
Suddenly, Triple H appears, spoiling the pretty ceremony. An uninvited guest and personal enemy to Stephanie's father, Triple H directs the crowd's attention to the Titan Tron.
A grainy, nearly sepia-toned VHS video plays, showing Triple H driving through Las Vegas in the middle of the night and pointing out every adult book store, video store and club, then finally driving into a drive-through chapel.
He reads off the prices, and opts for a budget ceremony. Just $40.00 to say “I Do” no frills.
Driving through the most gorgeous drive-in imaginable, he points out all the painted cherubs on the ceiling before greeting a pastor. He produces the wedding license and a set of rings, and feigns Stephanie's voice, as the camera reveals Stephanie is passed out in the passenger side, propped up to look semi-awake. It's dark, so the pastor cannot tell the voice is not Stephanie and that the heiress to the WWE fortune is asleep, so she accepts Triple H's mock-voice as hers, and marries them.
The video then shows a man working at the chapel decorating the car. Jerry Lawler can be heard shouting, as it's revealed this young man was paid by Triple H to drug Stephanie at a party earlier the night the VHS was filmed. He then adds that the question is not “did he” but rather, how many times did he consummate their marriage while she was passed out.
Now if you're just watching a DVD vignette, you may remember what happens next. Triple H races off, while Vince holds his broken daughter and Test storms after her new husband.
But if you stopped watching here, or skipped ahead to the PPV, then you missed what the WWE did next.
Starting with that week's SmackDown taping, Stephanie returned to the ring to face the crowd. She at first blames herself for going to a party unchaperoned and for getting drugged by a stranger, but she slowly realizes that despite the guilt, it wasn't her fault. Nonetheless, she wants to set things right, despite feeling too much shame to call the police.
Her father and older brother Shane storm to the ring, understandably angry. But taking a more civilized approach, Stephanie encourages her father and brother to restrain their anger. She states through her tears that she is an adult, and she wants to handle this by herself. While her father is armed and ready to kill, he understands his daughter's request, and with much reluctance, backs down.
But what about Test, the charming young wrestler she was going to marry before all of this?
Heading backstage, she finds Test in a small room, and tries to explain what happened at the party, and that she can't remember anything. Still feeling victim guilt, she begs for forgiveness.
He can't even deal with her. What happened to her is too much for him.
In the subsequent weeks, he offers her no support, despite his anger towards Triple H. The entire event has upset him more than it should her, and he breaks off their engagement, eventually fading away from her. There was a brief feud with Triple H's faction D-Generation X, but this would quickly fizzle out. The following year would see Test briefly team with Triple H in a forgettable match, but ultimately, his feeling for Stephanie would be largely forgotten, despite having once fought her brother for the right to marry her earlier in 1999, with her hand as a trophy.
Now of course, there is a happy ending in all of this. December 12th the WWE held the Armageddon PPV. In a twist, Stephanie turns on her father, helps Triple H beat him in the main event, and then the following night, reveals that the entire rape and drugging was actually a clever act by the new couple. The duo had orchestrated the entire story to get back at Vince, who over the course of the 12 months of television leading up to this moment, had used Stephanie against her will as a business pawn, and had tried to not only marry her off to Test, but previously to The Undertaker, in a ritual that saw the princess stripped, re-dressed and tied to a crucifixion board, again in a business ploy developed by her father. So her marriage to Triple H was actually consensual after all.
The last minute consent may seem like a cop-out ending, but the entire two-week story uncovered the act of victim shaming and a post-rape lifestyle many young women face.
Test made the entire ordeal about himself, and broke up with Stephanie because she went to a party, got drugged and had someone else control her. Jerry Lawler threw jabs while on commentary that she had no right and no business being at a party without a chaperone, despite being an adult. Stephanie's circle hardly offered support, other than to either treat her as a trophy who had been stolen, a broken piece of merchandise, or as a harlot, the later of which would be parroted by the crowd, who slut shamed and cat called her at every turn, and would later continue chanting “slut” and “whore” at her in the years to come. In fact, it wasn't until after she became a mother to Triple H's real-life daughters that the crowd finally stopped accusing her of sleeping around. Countering the objectionable way she was treated up until the PPV, Jim Ross would often stand up for her against Lawler, insisting she was an innocent victim, but respecting her desire to fend for herself, withholding the name-calling until her official heel turn at Armageddon.
The WWE exposed rape culture and it's wide acceptance, and yet nobody has ever given the company credit for making the act look vile and unacceptable on television. All of the episodes leading up to and after the PPV, along with Armageddon itself, are currently available uncensored on the WWE Network. Unlike the current product, it's not suitable for children under the age of 14, but it is worth a second look.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!