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!
5. ROH World Tag Team Champions The Addiction (Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian) Vs. The Motor City Machine Guns (Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley): Or let’s call it what it really is: four guys whom TNA foolishly let walk away in favor of ex-WWE rejects and have decided to show Dixie Carter the error of her ways. However, that would only work if she didn’t have an unidentified material for a brain. The match was going fine, with the in-ring work being up to the usual high standard of these two teams until the trainwreck of a finish. Guns had the match won when Kamaitachi came to ringside and picked a fight with NJPW talent Jay White. He yanked White over the guardrail and the two began brawling. They took their brawl into the ring, inadvertently breaking the pin attempt before resuming their brawl out of the ring. All this distracted ref Paul Turner, who tried to stop the brawl. With the ref distracted, Daniels gave Shelley a shot to the balls, incapacitating him. Shelley rolled out of the ring in pain. Without his partner, Sabin was easy prey for Daniels and Kazarian, who finished him off with the Best Meltzer Ever for the pin. The Wrestling Observer compared this finish by stating it was if he had become the booker and possessed twice the ego of Dusty Rhodes at his worst when booking NWA/WCW. I agree. This was the kind of convoluted, idiotic finish better found in WWE and TNA. I know ROH wants to be a Big Three player, but their strengths are in not imitating WWE and TNA. This finish marred what was a strong match. ***3/4
6. Unsanctioned Fight Without Honor: Steve Corino Vs. BJ Whitmer: I admit that I was apprehensive about this match. Corino hasn’t wrestled in years, largely retiring to a color commentary role with ROH and doing a great job with it. I was also wondering just how far would ROH take this match given that it was an unsanctioned Fight Without Honor. I’ve seen so-called Unsanctioned matches that had all the daring and danger of an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (namely a snoozefest of a match between Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels at Unforgiven 2008, which was anything but exciting). This was one of the sickest, goriest and wildest bloodbaths I’ve seen on a US PPV since old school ECW’s heyday. Either you love this kind of match or you don’t. When done well, like this match, I love it. Also a major plus is that this match is just about never done on a major wrestling PPV from one of the Big Three promotions, so it had the feeling of freshness and novelty instead of Just Another Brawl. YoCorino sported his classic bleached blond buzzcut look of old, signaling that the brawler was back. I did carp at one moment when Corino was busted open hardway over the eye and they stopped the match so the doctor could take a look. For a moment, I wondered if Vince McMahon had taken over. To my relief, this was just scripted as part of the match and used for psychology to get over the fact that Corino was vulnerable against a sociopathic opponent. It was brilliant booking that helped the match instead of hindering it. Corino bled an incredible sickening amount as his blond hair soon turned deep red. Corino returned the favor for the hardway eye shot by smashing a beer bottle over Whitmer’s head and rubbing the jagged bottleneck into the gaping wound, causing Whitmer to bleed a sickening amount of his own. Tables were brought out, ending with Whitmer driving Corino through one and both using the jagged pieces of the now broken table to gouge each other’s wounds even further. Corino seemed to be on the verge of gaining the upper hand when the image turned black. At first, I thought it was another technical issue, but it soon turned out to be a planned spot since when the lights returned, the legendary Kevin Sullivan, clad in his classic hooded purple robe, was in the ring. The crowd went nuts upon seeing a bona fide legend inside an ROH ring. Sullivan laid out Corino with the Golden Spike, allowing Whitmer to make the cover for the 1-2-3. At first, I admit that I carped over the interference finish. But upon further reflection, I realized that unlike the previous match, the interference and cheating made complete sense. Plus it leaves the window open for another sick Corino/Whitmer match on a future PPV, perhaps at Final Battle 2016 in December. Either way, I’m sold on a rematch. The best match of the show and one of the best matches of the year thus far. ******+++
7. ROH TV Champion Bobby Fish Vs. Dalton Castle: It was a big mistake to stage this match after one of the most exciting bloodbaths on a US PPV in a long time. Fish and Castle tried, but they had no chance at following Corino/Whitmer. Like AJ Styles/John Cena at Money in the Bank Sunday, this match wound up being a victim of my own expectations as I was expecting nothing short of great from these two. What we got was very good and the wrestling was solid, but something was missing. The live crowd wasn’t into it either, as they were still hopped up from the previous match and clearly didn’t want to see a purely technical bout. Not to mention that everyone watching wanted Castle to win the title and when he didn’t, it was disappointing. Fish played subtle heel since Castle always gets a thunderous babyface reaction whenever he enters the ring. It did seem as if Castle was going to pull off the win when he leveled Fish with a killer suplex. He signaled for the Bang A Rang, but Fish wrapped him up with a cradle to score the pin. It was kind of an anti-climatic finish. ***1/2
8. The Cabinet Approves Of This Message: The US presidential theme music rang out inside the Cabarrus Arena. No, President Obama didn’t make an appearance since he wouldn’t be caught dead appearing at a mere wrestling PPV. Nor was it a campaign stop for the odious likes of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. No, it was the debut of a new faction in ROH: the Cabinet. Headed up by Caprice Coleman, Rhett Titus and Kenny King, they declared war on the champions of ROH. They spoofed Trump by stating that they were going to make wrestling great again. Coleman stressed that Titus and King never lost the tag team titles and that they were going to bring back wrestling to ROH and do away with the endless flipping around and superkicks that have dominated the company as of late. It was an effective debut for a fresh new stable in a company that sure use one.
9. ROH World Heavyweight Champion Jay Lethal Vs. Jay Briscoe: This was a rematch one year in the making. At last year’s Best in the World event, then-TV champ Lethal defeated then-World champion Briscoe to win the World title in a phenomenal ******+++ match. So one year later, they faced off yet again. Since the show was running long at this point, this was a shorter than usual World title match, clocking in at roughly 16 minutes instead of the usual 30+ minutes. Yet it was just as awe-inspiringly great as their first PPV match. To their credit, they didn’t merely rehash last year’s match. It was a different match: faster paced, with a touch of hardcore thrown in at times. ROH finally decided to fix the mic issues and we at home at last got to hear the rabid live crowd in this PPV. Since they had limited time, both men just got right to it and went to work. Lethal hauled out the Black Machismo flying elbow drop to a huge pop. Briscoe used Lethal’s own Lethal Injection finisher for a near fall. Lethal used Briscoe’s own Jay Driller for a near fall of his own. Both traded wild topes through and off the ropes with the skill and precision of a luchador. Taeler Hendrix attempted to interfere early on, but was quickly sent to the back by the ref, ensuring that her interference would NOT play a role in the outcome of this match. If this was a WWE or TNA match, Hendrix would have returned and played a role in the finish. To ROH’s credit, they chose not to have her return, which was a major plus. After 16 minutes of killer action, Lethal finally scored the pin with the Lethal Injection. In what was a surprise, Lethal abode by the Code of Honor and shook Briscoe’s hand in a gesture of respect. Lethal has completed the babyface turn teased last month at Global Wars. Last Sunday, WWE finally booked a pair of World title matches to achieve maximum impact to begin the week. Now ROH has booked a World title match to achieve maximum impact to close the week. Kind of an interesting symmetry, isn’t it? ******+++
June wound up being a stacked month for pro wrestling PPVs. We began the month with a stellar NXT Takeover card. Then there was TNA Slammiversary, which all but the most stubborn and dedicated TNA fans that remain even bothered watching; I skipped it because life is too short to waste any more time on clueless co-owner Dixie Carter’s vanity vehicle. WWE Money in the Bank proved to be a disappointing show in execution.
And now the month comes to a close with Ring of Honor presenting their third annual Best in the World PPV. Despite the disadvantages of being held on a Friday night with a relatively late 9 PM Eastern start time, ROH wound up blowing away Money in the Bank and slightly edging out Takeover for the best wrestling PPV of the month. The wrestling inside the ring was at such a high level that it made Money in the Bank look like crap by comparison. All but one match was perfectly booked. The announcing by Kevin Kelly and Nigel McGuinness took care to make the wrestling itself the top focus, not kowtowing to sponsors and social media.
On the negative side, it soon became crystal clear that Sinclair Broadcasting, the owners of Ring of Honor, did nothing to address the technical problems that plagued their previous live PPV, Global Wars, last month. The live crowd was poorly micced, making it come across on television as if this show was taking place in the Tokyo Egg Dome in Japan, where fans remain quiet and don’t react much to the matches out of respect, rather than the Cabarrus Arena in Concord, North Carolina, where American wrestling fans react with passion and emotion towards what they’re seeing. There were also video issues as the image went black several times in the opening match.
If Sinclair wants ROH to become a major player in the wrestling PPV business, they need to start investing more in the technical department. It’s one thing for a house show to use second-grade sound and video equipment. It’s another to use the same for a major PPV seen worldwide at $50 a pop.
Kyle O’Reilly Vs. Kamaitachi: For those wondering, Kamaitachi is a former New Japan and CMLL wrestler who has relocated to the United States and is now a regular for ROH. This was his PPV debut. O’Reilly is getting a World title shot against the winner of Jay Lethal/Jay Briscoe at the TV tapings the following night, as the commentary made constant reference to it. It wound up tipping off the finish since there was no chance that O’Reilly was going to lose the eve before having the biggest match of his ROH singles career. On a technical level, the wrestling was superb. There were a few sloppy moments on Kamaitachi’s part, but that could be chalked up to him still getting used to an American style and ring. O’Reilly scored the win, making Kamaitachi tap out to the Fujiwara armbar. O’Reilly went to shake Kamaitachi’s hand as a sign of respect for their face-vs-face match, but Kamaitachi refused to shake hands, beginning a heel turn that could be completed later in the evening. A solid opener. ****1/2
ACH Vs. Silas Young: 2016 is proving to be the year ACH broke free from the midcard. With the departures of several key talent, I think ROH would be wise to take the opportunity and elevate ACH to the main event field. He had the best match of the year so far last month when he took then-IWGP World Champion Tetsuya Naito to the limit in a masterpiece of a title match at the NY leg of the War of the Worlds tour. Now he follows that up with another masterpiece. Considering that his opponent Silas Young is widely considered a good but not great worker, it proved that ACH can carry talent or in Young’s case, help a solid talent reach an exciting new plateau. This was a hell of an incredible match. ACH was simply incredible, once again taking an opponent to the limit with splendid results. To his credit, Young showed that he could hang with a lighter, faster opponent and even attempted some daring moves off the ropes himself. The finish came when ACH rolled out of the way of a Young springboard moonsault and finished off his quarry with the double jumping knees, followed by a brainbuster and the 450 Splash off the top rope for the win. ******+++
Battle For Respect: Mark Briscoe Vs. Roderick Strong: This marks the final ROH PPV appearance for Strong, as he appears to be NXT bound. This put the outcome in about as little doubt as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump becoming the top two presidential candidates despite being about as popular as anal warts. To his credit, unlike others who would be in the same position, Strong didn’t phone in his performance as he was determined to go out with a bang. This was a hell of match, with strong psychology and exciting action. It may be Mark Briscoe’s finest singles performance to date, proving that he can hang tough in a great match just like his brother Jay proved time and time again last year. There was a neat bit of psychology early on when Mark pulled off his hair, revealing a freshly shaved head. Since this is the same look his brother Jay has, it added a little extra dimension to the match- there may have been doubt as to whether this was truly Mark or if it was Jay doing a bit of Twin Switching. Just about the only negative I can think of is that since this was Strong’s last match, it became obvious that he wasn’t winning. I imagine those not in the know about Strong’s departure will probably rank this higher. The hits were hard and fast. Strong seemingly finished off Briscoe with the Gutbuster but Mark kicked out. Briscoe finally won the match, leveling off Strong with a vicious kick to the head for the pin. Fans chanted Thank You Roddy in acknowledgement that this was the end, at least for now, of Strong in ROH. Most expect him to sign with NXT soon, especially since with Vince McMahon planning to gut the NXT roster potentially of as many as 12 major names, Strong would be a perfect fit. ****3/4
Texas Tornado Match: Moose & War Machine Vs. The Bullet Club (Young Bucks & Adam Cole): Speaking of ROH stars becoming potential NXT signees, this is likely the final ROH PPV appearance of Moose, who is expected to report to the WWE Performance Center by September. It will be a serious loss for ROH and a great gain for NXT since Moose is an incredible natural wrestling talent considering this marks only his second year in professional wrestling. For a man of his size and experience, he is just awesome in the ring. Even though this was his potential swan song, you’d never know it based on his performance here. He went all out to give a strong in-ring performance and was simply fabulous. This was yet another chapter of the ongoing interpromotional feud between ROH and New Japan’s Bullet Club. ROH incredibly outbid WWE for the rights to license the name Bullet Club from New Japan for use in the US, so for those wondering why the AJ Styles, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows tandem are only referred to as The Club in WWE, that’s why. This match was off-the-charts and served as a textbook example of how to stage a Texas Tornado Rules match on a wrestling show, unlike the decidedly soft boiled and way too short Tornado match between The Usos and Anderson/Gallows on WWE Extreme Rules last month. Speaking of last month’s PPVs, you may recall that I criticized the Young Bucks match at Global Wars for being too predictable and reminiscent of earlier matches. To their credit, this match focused more on unpredictable action. Unfortunately, they still overuse the superkick, but at least it made logical sense to use multiple superkicks in this match since their opponents were such large men that it would take repeated superkicks just to knock them down. Moose did an incredible moonsault off the top rope and onto the Bullet Club that has to be seen to be believed. War Machine did their usual unique blend of solid wrestling and stiff brawling. What was a surprise was that the Young Bucks and Adam Cole retaliated as stiff and intensely as they received. It seemed as if Moose and War Machine were going to destroy the Bullet Club once and for all, but the Bucks and Cole had other ideas. They eliminated the threat of Rowe and Hanson with low blows and then finished off Moose with triple superkicks and the Meltzer Driver for the pin. All three kissed to celebrate, making me wonder if they are supposed to be gay in this storyline. If not, it made for a strange conclusion to a stellar match. ******+++
Money in the Bank 2016 was heavily hyped as being the greatest MITB PPV of all time. When it was all over a little after 11:30 PM Eastern time, their boasting turned out to be a tad premature.
The latest incarnation of Money in the Bank, taking place live from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, was just another Sunday night PPV. Only the main event featuring Roman Reigns defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Seth Rollins resembled anything close to an excellent match. Many of the matches were disappointing in one way or another. Some of the booking decisions were strange, to say the least.
I will say this in WWE’s defense. Despite the disappointments, this was the first post-Mania PPV to finally feel like a New Era had been ushered in. Fresher talent scored crucial wins over established talent, which wasn’t the case with Payback or Extreme Rules. The main event featured several surprises, all of which were for the betterment of the product and provided several tantalizing options for the future.
A thumbs in the middle for Money in the Bank. It’s not the greatest in history (that would be 2013’s edition) but it’s not the worst either (that would be 2011’s edition, which boasted a classic John Cena-CM Punk main event but had nothing else worth recommending, with 2014 a close second)
1. Pre-Show Match: Golden Truth Vs. Breeztango: This match didn’t look great on paper, but it could have been decent if not for one tragic booking decision. Since Tyler Breeze and Fandango were locked in a tanning booth by Goldust and R-Truth on last week’s Smackdown, they became “sunburned”, so the decision was made to milk this match for cheap laughs. The problem was that only one person found it funny: Vince McMahon. Certainly the audience didn’t find it humorous to see Breeze and Fandango wince in pain every time Golden Truth touched them. So that meant lots of stalling. There was very little in the way of actual wrestling in this match as a result. Then there was the fact that WWE suddenly expected us to care about four guys who lose all the time on television. Horrible match finally came to an end five interminable minutes later when Goldust finished off Fandango with the Final Cut. Consider it a mercy killing, not an end to the match. One of the worst matches of the year so far. -**
2. Pre-Show Match: The Dudley Boyz Vs. The Lucha Dragons: This match wasn’t as good as it could have been, but compared to the previous match, it was a classic. It didn’t start out well, as Bubba Ray Dudley has slowed down in the ring since packing on the pounds once again. Not to mention the Lucha Dragons were confined to being tossed around like rag dolls. Eventually the match picked up to the point that it became a fairly good match. The last three minutes were really good, with Kalisto going wild with the high flying. Kalisto flattened out Bubba with the Salida del Sol, allowing Sin Cara to finish him off with the Senton for the pin. **3/4
3. WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day (Kofi Kingston & Big E) Vs. Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows Vs. The Vaudevillains (Aiden English & Simon Gotch) Vs. Enzo Amore & Big Cass: This could have been a great match considering the talent involved. Alas, it was only very good. The main problem was they were only given 11 minutes of TV time for the match itself, which is far too short for a Fatal 4-Way loaded with talent like this one. As a result, the match was rather rough at times due to all eight men rushing to get in their high spots. Still, it was definitely exciting most of the way and unlike most of the other matches this evening, the fans were into it right at the start. It would have been even better had the endless 10 minute promo cutting before the bell rang had been trimmed and the extra time given to the match itself so these four teams could have had a classic match. It’s kind of sad to see the Vaudevillains stripped of what made them so special on NXT: their tongue-in-cheek humor. As humorless cardboard villains on the main roster, they aren’t getting over in the slightest. Enzo and Big Cass were the most over team, so naturally they weren’t going to win. Most expected (myself included) Anderson and Gallows to win the tag team titles, but in a surprise, the New Day retained when Kofi pinned English after Anderson and Gallows destroyed him with the Gallows Killer but couldn’t score the pin due to Enzo and Big Cass taking them out. ***1/2
4. Baron Corbin Vs. Dolph Ziggler: After the two traded wins on the pre-shows of the last two PPVs, Corbin and Ziggler had their rubber match of their feud on the main PPV itself. Their first two matches were terrible, but to my surprise, this one was actually pretty good. Perhaps it was a combination of working on the actual PPV instead of the pre-show and being given enough time to have a better match, since they had 12 minutes instead of the 8 or less their first two matches were given. Either way, this was a great improvement. The live crowd didn’t care and actually chanted boring, which it most certainly wasn’t. I still think Corbin was called up too soon from NXT as an additional year there would have done him a world of good. Still, he showed promise here, something he didn’t in his first two bouts with Ziggler and the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at Wrestlemania. Corbin scored the win with the End of Days, which was another pleasant surprise. ***1/4
5. Women’s Champion Charlotte & Dana Brooke Vs. Natalya & Becky Lynch: Reportedly, HHH had pitched a Money in the Bank ladder match featuring the women who have revitalized women’s wrestling in WWE. But to no one’s surprise, Vince McMahon said no, preferring to do just an ordinary tag team match. After eight or so months of longer women’s matches on WWE PPV, we were back to the rush job city of the Divas era, as they barely had 7 minutes here. Dana Brooke was given a hideous makeover, including make-up so overdone that it made me recall comedian Mario Cantone’s stand-up routine about Tonya Harding dubbed “Whores on Ice”. Brooke didn’t look impressive here, which just goes to show you that once out of the nurturing atmosphere of NXT, talent are still left out to dry on the main roster. Most of the match was below par considering the talent involved. It was decent, but it could have been great with more time and had it consisted of something more than Natalya being beaten on for most of the match. Charlotte cheated to win yet again when Brooke slammed Natalya into Becky Lynch, allowing the champ to finish off Nattie with the Natural Selection for the pin. Then came a WTF moment when Natalya turned on Becky, beating her to a pulp and then cursing at the fans when they started showering her with boos. So they turn Nattie heel for no reason whatsoever during a time when management is complaining about a lack of faces in the women’s division. And they wonder why people have no faith in the main roster product. **1/2
6. Sheamus Vs. Apollo Crews: Far and away the best match of the first half of the show, primarily because it was rock solid wrestling from start to finish. Crews looked great, pulling off every move with skill and precision. He did a moonsault off the ring apron and onto Sheamus outside the ring that was simply awesome. Sheamus was the ideal opponent for the up-and-coming Crews: hard hitting when necessary and a skilled in-ring worker who could pull off the wrestling end of things. This match was so good I wish they had been given more than just 9 minutes. Crews scored the pin by trapping Sheamus in a crucifix slide. The announcers played it as a total fluke, saying Crews was lucky when they should have been hyping his craftiness in getting one over on Sheamus. Crap like this is why fresh new talent like Crews have a hard time getting over in this company. ***3/4
7. John Cena Vs. AJ Styles: I wound up becoming a victim of my own expectations with this match. There was no match on this show I was looking forward to more as two of the greatest in-ring performers of their time were facing off for the very first time. I was expecting nothing short of a phenomenal match. Sadly, the match turned out to be less than phenomenal. It was way too slow moving during the first half of a 25 minute match. I don’t mind a Japanese-style slow build, but it felt more like stalling to stretch things out here. Cena seemed to have some ring rust as both men bungled entire spots with shocking sloppiness. Sloppiness and Cena haven’t been in tandem since 2005. They seemed to be telling the story that Styles was superior to Cena, but just couldn’t get the job done. Not the best story to tell considering Styles has lost his last three PPV matches. After ten minutes of snail-paced tedium, both men finally found their groove and started putting on a strong effort in the ring. Both men broke free from the other man’s submission finisher: Cena’s STF and Styles’ Calf Crusher. Cena took an insane bump on his head from the Styles Clash and managed to get up, which is a testament to his strength. The finish was a cluster as Cena had Styles up on his shoulders for the Attitude Adjustment, but Styles managed to shift their collective weight towards the ref, knocking him out. This allowed Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows to hit the ring and destroy Cena with the Magic Killer. Styles made the cover and the ref recovered in time for the 1-2-3. This ignored the stipulation of the match that Anderson and Gallows couldn’t interfere in the match. Then again, this is main roster WWE, where logic is a dirty word and the belief is fans have no long-term memory. Styles wins, but in a tainted manner that wasn’t nearly as effective as a clean pin over Cena (like Kevin Owens achieved last year at Elimination Chamber) would have been. Let’s hope their next match is better than this. ***1/4
8. Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Kevin Owens Vs. Dean Ambrose Vs. Chris Jericho Vs. Sami Zayn Vs. Cesaro Vs. Alberto Del Rio: WWE made a huge mistake putting Jericho in this match. Besides the fact that he’s a 46 year old veteran whose best days are behind him, adding him into what is supposed to be a fast paced match caused problems. Since he can’t move as fast as his fellow competitors, they couldn’t move as fast as they normally do to accommodate him. The result was a sluggish ladder match that wasn’t even close to the best this match usually delivers. Not to mention that it was a non-stop demolition derby devoid of psychology. There was one missed opportunity when Kevin Owens had Sami Zayn pinned to the ring apron with a giant ladder. He teased running up the ladder and flattening Zayn out with a running senton, but he chose to deliver a weak superkick instead. Fans live weren’t happy over this undelivered promise. There was one innovative spot where Del Rio clamped on the armbar onto Cesaro while atop a 15 foot high ladder. It was the usual daredevil ladder match spots, but something was missing. Jericho looked ancient in the ring and when he dominated large stretches, the match stopped dead. The best stuff in the match came from Cesaro, who was just awesome. Whether it was doing the European uppercut while on the ladder, to a triple set of running uppercuts to three men in the corner to breaking free from Del Rio’s armbar without breaking his arm, he really should be considered as a top claimant of the inevitable second World title that will be created once the brand split happens in July. The finish was heartpounding in one way. It looked as if WWE was going to do something stupid and have Jericho win the match by grabbing the briefcase. The fans were starting to boo, but along came Dean Ambrose who promptly slugged Jericho with such force that it caused him to fall off the ladder and right through another that was sandwiched between the bottom rope and the ladder. Ambrose grabbed the briefcase, which was a welcome sight indeed. Ambrose more than anyone else on the roster deserves to be in the top world title mix. **3/4
9. United States Champion Rusev Vs. Titus O’Neil: After two disappointing matches in a row, along came Rusev and O’Neil to set the ship right. No one was expecting much from this match, so with nothing to lose, both men went all out and had a really good and very stiff match. I applaud both for giving us a Grade-A effort during an evening with one underwhelming match after another. The match started out as a physical brawl, which was simply great and exciting as hell. Then they took it to the ring for some solid matwork that was quite impressive for two fairly large men. They even had Titus score several near-falls, allowing him to look as if he could pull off the upset. I was kind of hoping he would win the title, if only for a week, since Titus is an underrated talent that could use the rub of the title. But alas, even on Father’s Day, the MEGA Award winning Celebrity Dad of the Year couldn’t pull off the win. Rusev finished off Titus with a superkick, a stomp to the back and the Accolade for the tap out. Afterwards, Rusev walked up to Titus’ two sons at ringside and made fun of their father. Most noticeably, Rusev spoke with an American accent instead of the faux Bulgarian one he usually uses. Strong effort from all involved here. ***3/4
10. WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns Vs. Seth Rollins: Despite being the storyline heel, Rollins was heavily cheered. Despite being the storyline babyface, Reigns was booed out the building in what may have been the worst reaction he’s received to date since being anointed the latest Chosen One by Vince. This show desperately needed a great match to close the show and thankfully, Reigns and Rollins delivered. This was a near-perfect match and the only one resembling an excellent ****+ bout on this show. The fans started chanting “You Can’t Wrestle” to Reigns, which is beyond idiocy at this point. Now if they would have said “You Can’t Talk” or “You Have No Charisma”, then they’d be onto something. Reigns worked total heel style, right down to his mannerisms, trash talking and choice of spots. He did debut a killer new spot in which he lifted Rollins up in the Razor’s Edge and then turned it into a sitdown powerbomb. This spot was so impressive and looked so devastating that it should immediately be turned into his new finisher instead of the Spear, which is already used by at least two other wrestlers in other promotions and they both do it more effectively then Roman does. Some have knocked the match for being too long at 27 minutes, but when the work in-ring is this good, why complain? It was Reigns’ best performance in the ring since winning the title at Wrestlemania, atoning for a disappointing showing at Payback and Extreme Rules. Then again, Reigns and Rollins weren’t saddled with the overbooked mess that Reigns and AJ Styles were least month. It was a pair of simple stories well told: 1) Reigns finally getting his hands on the man who has been a thorn in his side for two years and 2) Rollins triumphantly returning to regain the World title he never lost in the ring due to injury. The last five minutes of this match were heartpounding and oozing genuine suspense as the match could go either way. Rollins nailed Reigns with the Pedigree but the champ kicked out. In a killer spot, Reigns went for the Spear but Rollins neatly reversed it into a second Pedigree for another near fall. Finally, Rollins lifted up Reigns and planted a third Pedigree to score a major surprise 1-2-3. Rollins cleanly pinned Reigns to regain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. ****3/4
The cheers were deafening when Rollins pulled off the win. But there was another surprise in store for us this evening. The theme music of Dean Ambrose, the newly christened Mr. Money in the Bank, rang out in the T-Mobile Arena to thunderous cheers. Rollins looked on in utter shock and stood up to stare his quarry down the ring entrance. Ambrose came from behind and clocked Rollins in the head with the briefcase. He then slid out of the ring and handed the briefcase to ref John Cone, who signaled for the bell, leading to…
11. WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins Vs. Dean Ambrose: Ambrose picked up Rollins’ carcass and promptly finished him off with Dirty Deeds in a mere nine seconds, finally winning the World title that should have been his last year. If you thought the cheers were deafening when Rollins won, they were nothing compared to the jubilation that erupted in the T-Mobile Arena when Cone handed Dean Ambrose the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Belt.
What a great moment it was! With Ambrose as World champion, there are so many tantalizing programs that can be done for the title. Ambrose lost to Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania. Now you have a top challenger for the title. Rollins will certainly want his rematch. So will Reigns. There’s also Kevin Owens, who has several victories over Ambrose during their feud over the IC title earlier this year. Then there’s Rusev, who having conquered the US title, might want to go after the World title to truly stick it to America. AJ Styles could challenge for the title. Or have Dean him go the distance with John Cena and win clean. Bray Wyatt holds several victories over Ambrose from their 2014 feud.
In the span of five minutes, I just came up with eight fresh and exciting feuds for Ambrose to defend his title in that takes us up to Wrestlemania 33. What I hope is that Dean Ambrose is not merely a transitional champion and the belt will go back to a babyface Reigns no one wants. The WWE World title is finally on the right guy. Don’t screw it up, Vince.
Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
This story takes place in 2014 and should serve as an idea of how the WWE handles a sticky situation.
So once upon a time, my husband used to be a wrestling promoter. We had an ex-employee who was a staffer. For the sake of not putting this guy over, let's pretend his name was “Timothy Mealy”.
Timothy had quit the company, and then lied and told everyone he was fired, so imagine my surprise when I found out he had moved to a new state, and was telling people he still worked for us. I don’t know if Timothy understood this, but when you tell my husband “I quit” that means you are no longer an employee here.
Timothy was siphoning a feed of the WWE Network off of a friend of his.
Timothy would hook a Roku box up to an old VCR, record onto VHS tape episodes of Countdown, and then use a Roxio cable to convert the VHS episodes onto DVD. Timothy would then sell these HD-to-VHS-to-DVD discs at wrestling shows, claiming to be representing my husband's company. Ironically, every disc was sold for $9.99.
Oh HELL no!!
So one morning, I fumbled around and got the number to WWE Corporate. I was going to let them know we were NOT affiliated with this loser and that he was bootlegging (and poorly) WWE Network.
When you call the number, you get a female robot, who is supposed to direct your call to the right department, based off of the initial phrase you give her. She works now, but the day that I called, there was a rare malfunction with the robot, sending me on a tailspin just trying to find the right area.
Robot: Welcome to WWE! Please state in a few short words what your call is about.
Me: Bootleg DVD.
Robot:…. I'm sorry, I did not catch that.
Me: BOOT LEG DEE VEE DEE.
Robot: *Ba-DOOP * Packapackapacka. Sending you to Stephanie McMahon Levesque.
Me: OH S***
Now, I was not prepared to talk to Stephanie, but I figure the robot must have figured out that Stephanie would want to know about this, seeing as how she is the boss's daughter.
I did not get to talk to her, but I did get her secretary. She sent me back to the robot and told me to try again, apologizing for the trouble.
Robot: Welcome to WWE! Please state in a few short words what your call is about.
Me: Bootleg DVD.
Robot:…. I'm sorry, I did not catch that.
Me: BOOT LEG DEE VEE DEE.
Robot: *Ba-DOOP * Packapackapacka. Sending you to Paul Levesque.
Me: OH S***
Now I really don't care what your stance is on the current product. You may hate Monday Night Raw. You may not even be a current WWE fan. But no matter where you are in life, if you were a fan in the 1990's, you will regress to the state of an eleven year old the moment the robot tells you that Triple H is about to pick up the phone and speak to you. You may have hated D-Generation X, but you will suddenly turn eleven years old the instant you are transferred.
And so I stand there, with less than two seconds to react.
His ringtone really is done by Motörhead.
“TIME TO PLAY THE GAAAAAAAME!!!” rips through my cell phone, followed by the laughter of late singer Lemmy and a guitar riff alerting me to an oncoming meeting with Hinter Hearst Helmsley.
You know what would suck about this moment?
Swallowing a gnat.
Which is exactly what I did as he picked up.
Me: ACK ACK ah ah ah?!?!?!
HHH: … I don't know this number.
Me: AH Wait A M-
I'm back to the robot. Flustered and coughing up a gnat.
Robot: Welcome to WWE! Please state in a few short words what your call is about.
Me: *GAAAAAAASP * Boot… leg… DVD
Robot:…. I'm sorry, I did not catch that.
Me: BOOT LEG DEE VEE DEE.
Robot: *Ba-DOOP * Packapackapacka. Sending you to Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
Me: OH S***
This time, I did not have two seconds to figure out what to say. His secretary picked up the phone immediately.
Secretary: Hi! Vince McMahon's office, how may I help you?
Me: Oh hai. I would like to report a bootleg DVD.
I explain to her how my morning has gone, with accidentally dialing both the boss's daughter and the boss's son in law, Timothy and the bootleg DVDs.
Secretary: Can you hold on a sec?
Muffled voice: Mmm hmm hmm hmm HMM hmm hmm.
Secretary: Well that was VINCE, and he said he's sorry about the robot, they're working on it now.
Muffled voice: Mmm hmm hmm hmm HMM hmm hmm.
Secretary: What's that?
Muffled voice: Mmm hmm hmm hmm HMM hmm hmm.
Secretary: Oh. Okay I'll tell her. He says that you need to call back on Thursday and ask for Keith in Fan Services. You want Keith's email? Vince says he's on vacation but will take your call on Thursday.
I jot down the email address.
Muffled voice: Mmm hmm hmm hmm HMM hmm hmm.
Secretary: Oh, and Vince says to have a nice day.
That Thursday, just as Vince McMahon said, I called Keith and gave him all of the information. I don't know what happened, but Timothy isn't selling bootleg DVDs anymore. Last I heard, he was working at some desk job. And I s*** you not, it pays $9.99 an hour.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!
Did you have any idea that Ring of Honor was offering up a live PPV on Mother’s Day? Yeah, me neither. I found out completely by accident that the first leg of ROH’s annual Global Wars showdown featuring the stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling was a PPV offering.
It turned out to be a solid kickoff to what would turn out to be a very eventful week of shows for ROH and New Japan. Until ROH Creative pulled a McMahon and shot themselves in the foot with an overbooked ending far too reminiscent of the NWO plague long overdue for a permanent cure, ROH Global Wars 2016 was a fine show. Last weekend’s WWE Payback was an entertaining enough show, but as far as actual wrestling and overall booking, ROH blew main roster WWE away.
However, ROH still has yet to completely fix the technical issues that constantly plague their live PPVs these days. While this time, the lighting was fine as was the camerawork, this time the sound became a real issue. For those of us watching at home, there was a discernible lack of crowd noise. According to those in the nose, this was attributed to the poor placement of the microphones placed in the arena to capture crowd noise. It wound up hurting the show somewhat since it seemed as if the live crowd could care less about the hot action inside the ring.
If ROH hopes to make regular PPV a viable outlet, they need to address these technical issues pronto. They also need to spend the money to visibly advertise these shows. Right now, they’re counting on a few mentions on the weekly TV show to get by. The only problem is that their television show is unavailable in large chunks of the United States other than the few boondock areas where Sinclair programming is accessible.
#1 Contender Fatal 4-Way: Dalton Castle Vs. Roderick Strong Vs. ACH Vs. Adam Page: The winner of this match would receive a future TV Title shot, presumably at the TV tapings in Las Vegas Wednesday or perhaps even the next live PPV, Best in the World 2016, next month. This was a hot opener, which is no surprise considering the talent involved. Castle reminds me very much of Lanny Poffo, a superb wrestler doing a semi-comedic gay gimmick. The one difference is that Castle is insanely over and pushed as a top worker while Poffo was treated as nothing more than a jobber during his WWF run in the mid-80s and early 90s. Strong was the former TV Champion who desperately wants his title back. Page and ACH are looking to make a mark and gain their first taste of championship gold. The poor crowd micing hurt the match a little as a televised bout, but the plethora of hot moves and killer spots more than made up for it. Strong seemingly had the match won, finishing off Page with the gutbuster but Castle hit the ring and took Strong out with the Bang-a-Rang. He collapsed onto Page for the win to the delight of the live crowd. They really should put the TV title on Castle. He’s a solid worker and over enough to carry the title quite easily. ****1/4
The Addiction (Christopher Daniels & Kazarian) Vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger & Cheeseburger: Cheeseburger was portrayed as the ultimate underdog on commentary, even pointing out his stick-thin physique as a sizable disadvantage. While this would be tantamount to a burial on a main roster WWE show, in ROH it managed to add some psychology to the match. Liger stuck mostly to mat wrestling, which is understandable given his age and decades of wear and tear on the body. Yet everything he did looked fantastic and it was evidence of just how good a wrestler Liger actually is. Daniels and Kazarian were great as usual, playing arrogant heels to perfection. Cheeseburger was allowed to get plenty of offense in and looked great while doing so. This was an excellent match with an effective surprise finish when Cheeseburger took advantage of a far-too-confident Daniels’ cocky stalling to roll him up in a Victory Roll for the pin. Daniels and Kazarian went crazy afterward, taking Liger out with a piledriver while finishing off Cheeseburger with a combination spike piledriver/Best Moonsault Ever. This new combo move has been dubbed Best Meltzer Ever, named after Wrestling Observer founder Dave Meltzer. When’s someone going to name their finisher after me? I’ll probably have to wait a few years for that one. ****1/4
ROH World Tag Team Champions War Machine (Rowe & Hanson) Vs. The Briscoes: Kevin Kelly’s commentary emphasized that should Jay and Mark Briscoe prevail, they would officially be ten-time ROH World Tag Team champions. This was a nice touch since it helped give the match a nail-biting dimension WWE’s primary announcing team wouldn’t have been allowed to give a similar bout. The match didn’t start out well at first, as both teams seemed to have trouble getting the match going. Luckily, they found the ideal solution to break free from the funk: just beat the living crap out of each other. This was one of the stiffest, intense and most brutal tag team matches I’ve seen take place outside of Japan. The last several minutes were extremely suspenseful and intense as they traded one near fall after another. I actually believed the Briscoes were going to pull off the victory, especially with the hype that they would become 10-time tag team champions should they prevail here. However, that milestone wasn’t in the cards as War Machine scored the victory after finishing off Jay with the Fallout double team finisher for the pin. ****3/4
IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Tetsuya Naito Vs. Kyle O’Reilly: This was a rematch from their singles bout last year at War of the Worlds Night 2 in Philadelphia. There was one primary difference: the Philly bout was played for humor while this one was dead serious in tone. Naito’s IWGP World title was not on the line in this match, which led many to believe that perhaps O’Reilly would score a win here. Such thinking certainly makes sense when you consider that O’Reilly is a regular in New Japan and they certainly need new title contenders. O’Reilly made a valiant effort, coming close to scoring a victory at times. O’Reilly went for a bridging back suplex but Naito kicked out and finished off his quarry with the Destino for the clean pin. To further his gimmick as a loose cannon World champion, he swiftly kicked O’Reilly in the balls after the match and threw around the IWGP World title belt like a rag doll. It worked to perfection. This was far and away the best match from a pure wrestling standpoint. ******
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Michael Elgin Vs. Kazuchika Okada & Moose: Tanahashi and Elgin are a regular tag team in New Japan Pro Wrestling while it was the first time pairing of Moose and Okada. It must have been deafening inside the Frontier Fieldhouse because even with the poor sound, one could hear the loud cheers for Tanahashi and Okada when they entered the arena. In fact, this was the most animated the crowd was on the TV broadcast. For many, this was the first chance to see the Tanahashi/Okada rivalry live and they weren’t going to let it slip through their fingers. This was the second best match of the show. Tanahashi/Okada gave us their usual magic inside the ring. For a guy with barely two years of in-ring experience to date, Moose continues to impress me as one of the most natural wrestlers I’ve ever seen. Everything he did looked great. Elgin was his usual solid self in the ring as well. Just a great back-and-forth tag team with a surprise finish when Moose gave Elgin his Spinning Spear, causing Elgin to stumble into Okada’s Rainmaker for the pin. This was considered an upset as Elgin and Tanahashi are an established tag team while Okada and Moose are not. ******
TV Champion Toshihiro Ishii Vs. Bobby Fish: This was billed as Fish’s last chance at the TV title, particularly since Fish was coming off of three straight unsuccessful title shots on ROH PPV. Announcer Kevin Kelly kept portraying Fish as the ultimate underdog, even mentioning his age of 39 several times throughout the match. This was one of the stiffest matches I’ve ever seen on an American PPV, as Fish matched Ishii blow-for-blow when it came to exchanging stiff, hard shots. They beat the holy crap out of each other, which made for exciting viewing at home. It made the so-called hard shots of Roman Reigns at the Payback PPV look pathetically phony by comparison. The lack of proper crowd noise hurt the match a little since it seemed as if they could care less about this great match as it was unfolding. The finish was sensational, as Fish captured the TV title by choking Ishii out. Ishii never tapped, so he didn’t come off as weak even with the loss. I imagine this match was even better live than it was on TV, where the rabid crowd noise would have given the bout that little bit extra. Still a great match. ****3/4
The Bullet Club (The Young Bucks & IWGP World Tag Team Champions Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) Vs. Kushida & Matt Sydal & The Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin): I don’t know about you, but these multi-man tag team matches featuring The Young Bucks are all starting to look alike. Don’t get me wrong- they are good matches. But after a while, we can pretty much predict how they’re going to go down. Tonight was no different. Thankfully, the level of talent within made it well worth watching, even when the inevitable spots of the Bucks superkicking everyone in sight and stalling for gags came to fruition. Match was largely a collection of high spots, all of which were well executed but psychology was sorely missed. Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa are the sons of wrestling legend Haku. You may even remember Loa during his brief WWE tenure as Camacho. They worked as total monster heels, no selling one spot after another. Meanwhile, the Bucks just about oversold on every offensive move dished out to them. Finish came when Kushida finally took out the Tonga brothers with a running flip dive, but inside the ring, the Bucks leveled Alex Shelley with- what else? – a superkick and the Meltzer Driver for the pin. ***1/4
ROH World Heavyweight Champion Jay Lethal Vs. Colt Cabana: This was an excellent match that wound up being treated as merely setup for an angle to close the show. Having abandoned the goofy comedy gimmick of old, Cabana was a real revelation, doing some of his best work in the ring to date. Lethal’s been a phenomenal World champion, just weeks away from his one year anniversary of winning the title at last year’s Best in the World PPV. Billed as an unresolved grudge match, it was a solid mix of brawling and wrestling action. It seemed as if Cabana was going to pull off the win of his career when all hell broke loose. He had Lethal in the Billy Goat’s Curse and it appeared as if Lethal was going to tap. Before he could, Lethal’s valet Taeler Hendrix yanked ref Todd Sinclair out the ring. Considering Sinclair is pushing 400 pounds, Hendrix is indeed one strong woman. The Young Bucks hit the ring and did- what else- one superkick after another. They superkicked Sinclair, then shockingly superkicked Hendrix. They entered the ring with Bullet Club T-shirts for Lethal and Cabana, but both men refused to accept the shirts. So what did you think happened? That’s right- the Bucks superkicked both men. But not before the lights went out and Adam Cole clad in a Bullet Club T-shirt appeared out of nowhere. The trio began superkicking everyone in sight- including announcers Kevin Kelly and Mr. Wrestling III (Steve Corino in a mask). Lethal was bound to the ring ropes with zip ties while the trio superkicked him to death. In other words, it’s the NWO/Nexus all over again. I’m so tired of evil factions of malcontents causing havoc through violence already. However, unlike WCW or WWE’s versions, there was a method to booker Delirious’ madness here that would pay off later in the week. ***3/4
There are reasons why WWE shouldn’t offer two PPV shows within a three-week span in a single month. Extreme Rules 2016 offered several such reasons, none of them good to justify the practice.
Extreme Rules 2016 was just another Sunday night PPV that felt like nothing special when it all over. A line-up that looked strong on paper was underwhelming in execution. Only the Intercontinental Championship match went above and beyond. Other matches started out strong but were defeated by poor, often lazy booking and being rushed for time.
So far, the so-called “New Era” of WWE seems an awful lot like the old era. As long as Vince McMahon remains in the position of calling every shot, no forward progressive progress will be made or last long in WWE. If Payback was the hint that this was so, Extreme Rules was the definitive proof.
Pre-Show Fracas: Straight Back To Dudleyville: The Dudley Boyz, Bubba Ray and D-Von, hit the ring to cut a promo against the latest thorn in their side, NXT call-up Big Cass Colin Cassidy. The Dudleys were cheered at first, so they quickly turned the New Jersey crowd against them by trashing the state. Big Cass came out and at first, I thought we’d get a kickass impromptu match, especially since there was well over 30 minutes of pre-show left. Alas, all we got was Big Cass swiftly cleaning house and laying out both Dudleys to the delight of the crowd. It wouldn’t have killed anyone to have a Big Cass/Bubba Ray or D-Von match. But why give fans an extra match when they can keep on chattering away and providing a hard sell to a PPV most people have already made up their minds to watch or order. As long as Vince McMahon remains as stubborn as a mule, he’ll never learn.
Pre-Show Match: No DQ- Baron Corbin Vs. Dolph Ziggler: Despite a one-hour pre-show, these two barely got 7 minutes to put on what should have been a hot match on paper. As a result, the match wasn’t any good. Free from HHH’s careful booking in NXT, Corbin’s shortcomings in the ring have become more glaringly obvious. He needed at least another year of seasoning in Florida. Perhaps I should be grateful that at least Corbin won this time, finishing off Ziggler with the End of Days. It was just about the only impressive spot in the match. Some have speculated that Ziggler was working hurt. That certainly would explain a lot. ½*
Texas Tornado Match: The Usos Vs. Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows: This was a hot opener and easily the best Texas Tornado match in many years. The only complaint is that it was a tad too short at barely 8 minutes. At least it started out hot and never let up in terms of exciting action. Finish was fairly clever and different. It appeared that the Usos were going to prevail as Jimmy Uso was all set to finish off Anderson with the Superfly Splash. Anderson rolled out of the way and Jimmy landed atop the ring bell that Anderson had dragged into the ring moments earlier. That was all Anderson and Gallows needed to finish off Jimmy with the Magic Killer for the pin. The right team won, but why did this match have to be so short? The work was magic and I could have easily gone for another 10 minutes. ***3/4
United States Champion Kalisto Vs. Rusev: After three straight demotions to the pre-show, the US Championship match finally returned to the main card. Despite the drastic size difference between the diminutive Kalisto and the bulkier Rusev, they worked well together and had a really good 10 minute match here. It also had strong psychology, built around the concept that Kalisto was entering his title defense smarting from a series of persistent attacks from the challenger. Then came the finishing sequence, which was one of the more clever and interesting I’ve seen in a singles championship match in a while. Kalisto attempted to counter Rusev’s Torture Rack with the Salida Del Sol, but Rusev slammed the champ hard into the ring apron. Kalisto laid there as if he was legitimately injured and at first, I believed that he was. It soon became apparent that this was part of the match as Rusev dragged Kalisto’s carcass back into the ring, kicked him hard in the back, swatted away the ref and locked on the Accolade. Since Kalisto was so small, Rusev was able to bend all the way backwards, looking as if he broke Kalisto in half. Kalisto tapped out, giving Rusev the win and his second US title. Despite being a heel, Rusev was heavily cheered by the live Jersey crowd. ***3/4
WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day Vs. The Vaudevillains: As an avid NXT fan, it was sad to see such a charismatic and talented team like Aiden English and Simon Gotch receive no reaction from the live crowd in New Jersey. It’s yet another sign that once hot NXT talent wind up on the main roster, they are deprived of what made them special. This was a good match, but considering how good both of these teams are, it should have been a lot better. It didn’t help that they only got six minutes of ring time, which made this bout seem as if it was solely designed as time filler, not a high-stakes major title match. It did seem as if the Vaudevillains would pull off an upset when English and Gotch finished off Big E, but it wasn’t to be. After Big E. recovered and speared English out of the ring, Kofi Kingston interfered, kicking Gotch in the skull. Xavier Woods nailed the Shining Wizard on Gotch’s corpse for the pin. It makes for a strange dynamic when the faces cheat while the heels play by the rules. ***1/4