smackdown

Daniel Bryan versus Dolph Ziggler (WWE Smackdown, 19/03/2015) by Dominic Griffin

There’s been a lot of criticism over the outcome of this week’s Intercontinental Title Contender Gauntlet Match, but all of that misplaced hand-wringing misses the most important thing about the final bout. It’s. Fucking. Great.

Everything else about the build to the IC Ladder Match at Wrestlemania has been an unmitigated clusterfuck, but this smartly booked showcase was a real palate cleanser, giving every one of the contenders time to shine (except R. Truth, sadly.) Of course, the last two men in this chain end up being Daniel Bryan, the de facto fave of the so called IWC, and Dolph Ziggler, the man who kept the flame alive while Bryan was out with a neck injury. You can call it shameless fanservice, but cutting out a slice of TV time for two great workers in their prime is a welcome change of pace, regardless of how controversial a PPV match it’s building to.

Watching Bryan and Ziggler go back in forth in 2015 (as opposed to their underrated opener from Bragging Rights 2010), you can’t help but think about Bret Hart and Curt Hennig, or Dean Malenko and Chris Jericho mixing it up on old Nitros. These two are so evenly matched, and Bryan’s long absence has added a new element to their dynamic. In the past, Bryan was always considered the better of the two, and he still may have that upper hand, but it’s clear here Ziggler is more than on his level, no longer just overselling set dressing accompanying Bryan’s expert repertoire. Now they’re countering one another’s signature moves (the running knee getting cut off by a superkick is amazing) and Ziggler’s offense feels more believable than it has in ages.

Some may balk at Bryan losing to Ziggler and lump it in with the rest of his poor booking since returning to action. but the match ends in the kind of clean, decisive finish fans have complained about Raw and Smackdown lacking of late. The little bit of post match business, with Ziggler going for the ROH handshake and Bryan subtly seething, gives hope at a more substantive feud between the two this summer, perhaps with the white belt on the line. One can only hope.

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lashleyangle

Bobby Lashley versus Kurt Angle (Impact Wrestling, 20/03/2015) by Nicholas Tasca

From a biased point of view, this is a match I wanted to see back in 2005 when I was relatively new to the WWE and a HUGE fan of Bobby Lashley.

Unfortunately, Kurt Angle left the WWE shortly after Lashley rose to prominence in the “New ECW’s” main event scene. To finally see this match as huge fans of both Angle and Lashley was a real treat.

However, from a purely critical standpoint, this match had it all: plenty of offense, great back and forth action, and a clean finish – something I value considering the all too familiar cheap victories Lashley had earned over the past year or so.

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gravec

Mil Muertes versus Fenix (Lucha Underground, 18/03/2015) by Alan Boon

As someone who really isn’t all that big a fan of The Undertaker, I’ve never liked casket matches. They’re a really awkward sell. Beat a man up so bad you can stuff him into a coffin? Why not beat a man up so badly you can pin his shoulders to the mat? Or get him to submit? Or, if you really want to have something special, why not beat him up so badly he can’t answer a ten-count? Yeah, casket matches suck.

This “Grave Consequences” battle – a casket match in all but name – does NOT suck. It’s the feud-ending clash between The Man Of A Thousand Deaths and The Man Of A Thousand Lives. Only a death-themed encounter, complete with extras from a Dia de los Muertos parade, could really end this one.

They use the casket in innovative ways, too. It’s not just a piece of the background, inanimate until the final seconds – or those rubbish teases that you never quite believe in ordinary casket matches. It’s a launch pad, a battering ram, a shield, and finally a casket again.

I won’t spoil this but it’s bloody and violent and breath-taking and everything a main event should be. Yeah, you might get more out of it if you’ve been following the feud, but it stands on its own, answering that ten count all day.

You can watch the match in full here, on El Rey’s YouTube channel.