WWE Raw Review February 24th 2014

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It’s fair to say things are not going according to plan. This was the Network launch; WWE putting on what they think is the best show they can. And, for the most part it was worryingly underwhelming.

This was a night where Hulk Hogan and The Untertaker returned, and Brock showed up. This was the biggest Raw since Raw 1000. How could it feel so flat?

For people who actually watch TNA (imagine the tiniest slice of a pie chart that you can. One that has to be labelled using an arrow), we know what to expect from 2014 Hogan. He trips over his words. His mind wanders. He is a legend; he is now actually quite old. It’s a bit like successfully palming off an elderly, slightly sad, high maintenance relative. He’s your problem now, WWE.

I will say one positive thing about this show: By beginning to actually acknowledge the boos for Batista they’re heading in the right direction. It’s not about turning him “heel”, it’s about giving him a persona that resonates in reality. That will help to get people invested in an Orton / Batista match, beyond simply hoping that it doesn’t happen.

I suspect it wont work, and here’s why: Fans aren’t booing Batista as such. They’re booing the fact that he will headline Wrestlemania. They’re booing the entire creative direction. I don’t know if that is actually fixable without changing the problem at source; i.e. cancelling or modifying the match. It might be. I’ll be impressed if they manage it.

And I’m not convinced that the crowd will be placated by Bryan vs Trips. Bryan’s whole schtick is being screwed out of the title. The only conceivable payoff is getting a clean shot at the title at Wrestlemania (win or lose). This has never been a revenge story about Triple H. And even if it was, the best revenge would be … winning the title. Bryan vs Trips doesn’t work; it feels like a consolation prize because it is.

I don’t want to moan too much. Batista aside, the in-ring product is as good as ever, but without the framework of intelligently booked stories it’s just Ring Of Honor with high production values. Christian, Cesaro and Swagger put in great shifts tonight. But the midcard is a wasteland of heatless feuds and abandoned directions. The main event is developing an entirely different problem: Being held captive by a star so over that the fans simply won’t accept a title match without him.

The solutions to these problems are fairly obvious. One assumes that either professional pride or contractual obligation are stopping them being pursued. As I’ve always said, I sincerely hope something can be worked out, or this is all a masterful work. With the current card, Wrestlemania thirty will flop, and that’ll damage the network and the future of the company.

WWE Elimination Chamber Review February 23rd 2014

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  • Isn’t it great to have a PPV theme which isn’t just a generic rock song?
  • What’s with the name cull? No more “Antonio”, no more “Langston”. Who decided this? What’s the point? It’s dead eyed corporate thinking of the worst kind.
  • Swagger had one of his good days against Biggie. Sadly, the Big Ending is still an awful, anticlimactic finisher.
  • I thought Barrat’s improvised stuff about his cherry picker breaking down was miles better than his scripted stuff. Take note, WWE Creative: You are repeatedly less witty, funny and smart than the talent you order about.
  • The New Age Outlaws continue their great storytelling run. However, I would caution that the crowd clearly don’t buy them as champions.
  • Just as I expected, they’ve slightly altered Titus’s theme. Sadly, his match has zero heat. The Prime Time Players were getting heat, and their split has evaporated it. Just another day at the office for Creative.
  • The crowd is chanting “this is awesome” before the Wyatt / Shield match even begins. A clear sign that they want to see the new stars above all else. A plea, sadly, falling on deaf ears for the most part. This is a great, well structured match. Spoiled slightly, strangely enough, by substandard camerawork. The announce table spot is almost completely missed. The cameras also fail to follow Bray and Ambrose into the crowd. How strange.
  • The AJ / Cameron match is actually a brave show from Cameron, but she’s not got the heat or the experience to make this matter. I’m actually glad Naomi didn’t have to go out and work this. She is better in the ring, but the crowd isn’t invested in her yet. And why should they be? They know almost nothing about her aside from she’s a kind of disco cheerleader. Creative’s fault again, I’m afraid.
  • Say what you want about moleface; That’s a great entrance theme. Still, there’s no stopping the crowd rebellion. One of the nice things about the commentators having to bury the crowd is that they actually talk about the match. Which is fine, actually. Del Rio carries Dave quite a lot, but it’s far from a disaster. The crowd are hilarious. “Boo-tista” indeed. It would be great if Dave grabbed the mic and actually asked them if they were chanting “Boo” or “Boo-tista”. Sorry, I’m imagining that wrestling can be fun and spontaneous. Just ignore me.
  • The main event is excellent. Christian puts in a great performance and justifies his spot in the match, even after entering to absolute silence. Cesaro is wearing giant white y-fronts, but is really showing what he can do. My notes are full of “Cesaro and x work brilliantly together”, until I simply have to admit that Cesaro works brilliantly with everyone. There are some lovely spots, like Orton’s return to the pod, and the brogue kick through it. There’s great use of the structure throughout. The Bryan screwjob ending is just wonderful, with fantastic shots of the crestfallen crowd. This is how wrestling should be. In Bryan, WWE have found an amazing underdog babyface, and we can expect to see him getting screwed in ever more creative ways for a long time to come.

This was an almost unbelievably predictable PPV, but still fun. It’s kind of creepy to see the Wrestlemania card taking shape exactly as it was rumored last year: Orton / Batista. Bryan / Kane. Cena / Wyatt. We laughed then, but it’s actually happening right before our eyes. Mark my words: That card is a disaster waiting to happen. So much so, that I simply refuse to believe the company will persevere with it.

TNA Impact Review February 20th 2014

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  • Little Gunner looks like such a cool teenage wrestling geek. Video packages like this make me all emotional.
  • The great thing about the Bobby Roode tweener turn is that I actually have faith in TNA carrying the angle through. I wouldn’t have had that a year ago.
  • We see a little more of what the Wolves can do. They have some very cool, distinctly indy-ish spots. Davy, grow a beard.
  • The ghost of bush league TNA is briefly raised with “Magnus Rules”. You what? You’ve decided, with no ring announcement at all, that this match will be no disqualification? And you’re vaguely suggesting that this has / might apply to all matches involving your present champion? Or might not? This didn’t need to be no DQ anyway. In fact, it was clearly booked to include the prospect of DQs, because the heels took care to make sure things happened behind ref’s back. Epic, inexplicable booking stupidity. Oh TNA, you break my heart sometimes.
  • Despite that, this is the proper wrestling match Magnus needed. It’s a lovely moment when the Wolves and Storm subvert the predictable heel run in. Gunner kicks out of Magnus’ finisher, and you imagine that maybe, just maybe, the unthinkable might happen. He even kicks out of belt shot a little later for a huge pop. Gunner’s hulking up works, and his brutal, desperate style has a little of Randy Savage about it. A really great main event to add to a long list of excellent TNA TV matches this year.
  • I’m a little worried about Storm’s heel turn. He’s a genuinely over babyface, and TNA have traditionally suffered from a lack of those. It’s a lot easier to turn somebody heel than it is to turn them face. TNA have just lost three of the most over faces in the company, and I’m not sure the math works out.

This was another fun, solid show from TNA. Ratings were down from last week, which puts paid to my theory that the recent increase in quality might be having a positive effect on viewership. It’s a shame, and it proves what a tough spot being number two to a corporate juggernaut like WWE really is. It also carries the prospect that a Gunner title match harmed ratings, and that doesn’t bode well for him. Still, the most we can ask is that the company put out the best product they can. For the moment, despite the odd glitch, 2014 TNA is a huge improvement over the 2013 version.

WWE Raw Review February 17th 2014

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  • Raw opens in probably the least imaginative way possible: Let’s bring out each Elimination Chamber participant in turn. Let’s have them talk for a bit. Bryan does look great though. He’s starting to exude real star power – which is frankly amazing. He didn’t always have it, but he does now.
  • Christian exhibiting some heelish tendencies makes perfect sense. It makes him a million times more interesting, and balances the Elimination Chamber match better. Now he should try eating some food.
  • I liked our little glimpse of NXT. It’s pretty funny that WWE’s untelevised developmental show looks about as big as the average (non UK) TNA Impact.
  • Roman Reigns is now starting to have a bit of a Kevin Nash vibe. No bad thing, but I can’t help feeling that his “overness” is not organic. We’ve been told he’s a big deal, so he is. Given that this is a clearly planned and telegraphed push, I expect that it will go somewhere. Not many people beat Henry clean.
  • The WWE clearly push stars when they decide it’s time, and someone upstairs has decided it’s Reigns’ time. They’re probably related to him actually, since half of the wrestling world seems to share some blood with Leati Joseph Anoa’i. In contrast, WWE actually seem to actively punish organic, spontaneous overness. That’s probably the main complaint I have about the modern product.
  • The Wyatts / Shield staredown worked last week. So let’s just do it again!
  • Cesaro / Cena was my favourite match of 2014 so far. Cesaro is a beast. It’s like they’ve suddenly realised how much fun they can have with this supernaturally strong and agile guy. That second rope superplex from the outside was just fantastic, as was the finish. Cena also deserves enormous credit for the second week running. The crowd are right; this *is* awesome.
  • On the other hand, I counted three entirely pointless, random midcard matches tonight. This lack of direction among most of the regular cast is becoming a serious problem. Part of the issue is undoubtedly the three hour format. Also, Punk being gone probably isn’t helping.

When was the last time something truly exciting happened on WWE TV? Apart from a rebellious, unplanned crowd reaction? The answer for me is Bryan’s short-lived title win at Summerslam. That’s a very long time ago. Apart from the brilliant Cena match, most of this show felt flat and padded. It’s almost like Creative forgot they had one more show to fill before the Pay Per View. Plus, is it just me or do only the main event and Wyatt / Shield matches hold any interest whatsoever for Sunday’s event?

The plus side is that there’s so much talent and crowd enthusiasm for the up and coming stars, particularly Bryan, that all of this could be turned around very quickly. But that would require the company to take some bold moves, and I’m not sure this comfortable, profitable, corporate, publicly owned version of the WWE is geared up for that.

TNA Impact Review February 13th 2014

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  • So we return to the parallel universe where crowds actually turn up to watch TNA: The UK. Magnus does a great job of neutralising any possibility of a positive fan reaction. He has quickly become excellent at drawing heat. Straight away this feels like a proper, big wrestling show.
  • Nice little things I like about the opening segment: Gunner’s humble entrance. MVP’s “C3PO” line.
  • I’m a sucker for some nice broad comedy. The line down the office between Dixie and MVP is priceless. I seem to be the only guy in the world who thinks TNA’s backstage segments have improved recently, but they never used to make me laugh this much.
  • MVP looks great in the ring. He should make a very nice special attraction as a wrestler. It’s great that he can still go, but I hope he doesn’t end up doing it every week. His real value to TNA is on the mic.
  • I’m not as crazy about Abyss as a lot of TNA fans. I’m glad this guy is prepared to throw himself onto tacks and through tables, but I’ve not cared for a lot of his in-ring work. However, with the debut of Joseph Park he showed he’s an able comedy actor who was a little wasted under a mask. I’m more a fan of his comedy than his drama, but he’s really emoting tonight, and it’s giving this angle real weight. I’m intrigued to see where Abyss ends up as a character, and I hope he’s got at least a little of Joseph in there.
  • And with that we’re introduced to Tim Burton Jeff. I think this could be a lot of fun, and goodness knows his character needed a refresh. I do wonder what his younger fans will make of it, and what it might do to TNA’s merch sales.
  • The appearance of Alpha Female actually provides a nice payoff for the sleazy little Sabin / Velvet angle. I’ll admit: it’s a good way to introduce a new talent. I just hope she isn’t drawn into anything too embarrassing before she gets over as the monster that the Knockouts division badly needs.
  • When Bully reveals a Liverpool shirt, it’s a great moment which demonstrates what’s wrong with Ultra Dark Bully. Fun little acts of provocation like that are out of character for him. Ultra Dark Bully is trying too hard. It’s not scary – it’s silly. But not silly enough to be funny.
  • This is a great hardcore match, though. Dramatic and brutal with a great story. It elevates Anderson and doesn’t harm Bully. Perfect, sensible, old school booking. More of this please.
  • I’m just going to come out and say it: Dixie is improving a lot. The final segment tonight with MVP was actually well acted (by wrestling standards), and intriguing. I know the purists would rather end with an in-ring segment, but received wisdom is that storyline-led final segments draw viewers in for the next show, and at least this one was quite good. Anyway, with TNA’s ratings up like they are, nobody’s in a position to argue with this logic for now.

This was the best single episode of Impact that I can remember. It’s all about the midcard. TNA don’t have a lot of talent on hand right now, but they’re focusing on giving everybody something significant to do. This is in contrast to the current WWE midcard, where virtually nobody has a meaningful feud. TNA’s approach is making for great shows and increased ratings. History would suggest that they’re very unlikely to keep this up, but it would be great for wrestling if they could.

WWE Raw Review February 10th 2014

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  • We open with Bryan chants. That didn’t take long. Then the man himself comes out looking like a million bucks. Just how over is this guy? Insane over, that’s how.
  • Bray Wyatt is great in an old school way. Like the ghost of 90s wrestling.
  • On the strength of tonight I can see why they haven’t truly given Reigns the mic yet. I remain unconvinced. It’s going to take more than Cole telling me he’s a big deal to make him a big deal.
  • The Real Americans vs Seamus and Christian was an absolute joy. Feel that reception for Cesareo. Also, Seamus looked great in this match; his charm all in his face. Even Christian was pretty tolerable, and the point of this match was surely to put over his resilience (and Cesaro’s popularity).
  • Another very quick Fandango win, rather like Xavier two weeks ago. Hmm.
  • Why don’t I care about Disgruntled Miz? Moaning is never very sympathetic I guess. Maybe they’re going somewhere with it.
  • I thought that Cole trying to get Batista over in their little recap segment was pitiful. I’m rapidly finding Cole a problem. For me, he just comes accross as a corporate shill. It’s one thing being a straight play-by-play guy, but he isn’t. In fact they don’t have a play-by-play guy, and spend most of their time completely ignoring what’s going on in the ring.
  • Nevertheless, for me the Batista segment actually worked. Keeping him largely off TV for now is a good move. His conversation with Trips made me feel like they may try to portray him as the ghost of the ruthless aggression era. It just might get him over.
  • Three cheers for the return of Del Rio’s original theme. I hope it wasn’t just that somebody hit the wrong button.
  • I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone booked as negatively as Ziggler these past 12 months. I actually suspect incompetence over malice. My working theory about WWE Creative is that they book way too far in advance, and have trouble adapting. Ziggler’s concussion last year caught them out, and they haven’t worked around it well.
  • The Usos are boring. There, I said it.
  • The crowd are making Wyatts vs Shield a big deal, and we know that these performers will deliver in the ring. This and the tag division are the things that are working in the midcard right now.
  • The second I saw Aksana’s knee botch on Naomi last week, I knew it was bad. It can’t see any explanation for her going in so hard there. She wasn’t rushed; she wasn’t off balance, and it’s served to completely derail a major storyline. It was nice to see her pinned by Cameron this week, but I don’t think she should even be on TV, unless she can explain what the fuck she was playing at with that knee.
  • The current WWE belt is just a giant corporate logo. Appropriate, but ugly.
  • Orton continues to be great in his heel role, and he put in a strong performance in tonight’s main event; drawing heat and dispatching imaginative, brutal spots. Cena deserves credit too. I enjoy the long tradition of needing two of your finishers to beat a top guy.

Watching WWE at the moment is like being entertainingly mis-sold a pension plan. They’re expert manipulators, and I now think they probably will succeed in getting the Wrestlemania card over as planned. It’s a shame though, because with Bryan they had something spontaneous and organic which could have made them a truckload of cash.

Much of the midcard also continues to be a mess, and that’ll continue as long as they insist on ignoring talent and fan reaction. However, the budget and the performances on display mean that Raw can’t fail to have a few highlights, and overall it remains an entertaining show.

TNA Impact Review February 6th 2014

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  • I’m all for starting with action, but this was a weird opening to the show; it wasn’t really clear what was going on as Abyss and Young brawled backstage. Still, the match contained some good old fashioned violence, in particular a brutal tack spot and unexpected table bump. Great fun.
  • MVP’s onscreen graphic must be the worst photo of him ever taken.
  • The other great thing about MVP is that he explained himself and his investor role in a way which made perfect sense. TNA *never* used to do this.
  • Ultra dark Bully, for me, discards what was good about his old heel character. Remember Calfzilla?
  • I really enjoyed Zema’s X-title cash in, and it was a genuine surprise. However, the match was too short. In fact all the Glasgow matches have been too short. Angle vs Magnus had the same problem. I know his character is a paper champion, but jeesh.
  • I like that it’s acknowledged that Christie actually watches the show. I enjoy Samuel Shaw’s American Psycho gimmick, but I hope that eventually they give him something more imaginative to do than stalk Hemme.
  • Sabin’s fake proposal was an improvement of this angle in the sense that it wasn’t uncomfortably sleazy. But it did come across as if written by a 12 year old boy.
  • The Roode / Joe match wasn’t as great as you’d expect, but at least it had a clean finish, and pushing Joe is the right thing to do. The match was not helped by again being too short, and the commentary team almost completely ignoring it.
  • I don’t know why we’re ending with Dixie. The crowd are visibly leaving. I concede: This is indeed proper “go away” heat. At least MVP’s promo picked things up. A borderline shoot; this guy just kills on the mic. I had no idea he was so charismatic. He’s a revelation.

Overall, I thought this was a decent enough show, spoiled somewhat by conspicuously short matches. It’s worth noting that Impact’s US TV ratings continue to climb. I personally hope they don’t start thinking that having shorter matches will improve ratings, even if it’s true.

I also notice not a word has been said about Impact’s ratings boost in the press. If TNA’s audience had declined 30%, I get the feeling we’d have heard about it. And much as I would love to read PWTorch, it’s so covered in browser hijack ads that I actually physically can’t.