So it might have escaped your notice, but WWE had a big week. Starting with NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, in front of the biggest crowd the developmental brand has ever drawn, continuing through Summerslam, and onto Raw, over forty thousand seats were sold for their shows at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, although the rewards for those there were mixed, to say the least.
You can read about Takeover and Summerslam in the FREE edition of our magazine – available here – so let’s get straight onto Raw. The big storyline was Seth Rollins getting a statue, to be placed at WWE headquarters in Stamford, CT, alongside such legends as Bruno Sammartino & Andre the Giant. Rollins got the statue for holding the WWE World Heavyweight and WWE United States Heavyweight titles at the same time, which seems scant justification. I mean, if he got it for being the weakest booked, whiniest voiced champion of all time, I could see that…
The big unveiling of the statue was the main event on Raw, and anyone who’s ever seen any kind of wrestling show knew it wasn’t going to go well. Few could have thought, though, that under the tarpaulin supposedly hiding Rollins’s surprise would be Sting. And fewer still could have thought that that alone would earn Sting a shot at Rollins’s title at Night Of Champions. If that’s how low we’re setting the bar now, I can’t wait for Fandango headlining Survivor Series! I’m being disingenuous, of course, and Sting’s career in WCW should guarantee him a title shot anywhere he likes, but his WWE career has consisted of losing to a non-wrestler on his debut and sweating his facepaint off while people sang “Happy Birthday” out of tune.
Rollins addressed Sting’s heinous crime on Smackdown, but I kinda zone out of his promos now and I can’t really tell you anything he said.
Also on Raw was Brock Lesnar, again getting paid for bouncing up and down while Paul Heyman spoke. Don’t act like you wouldn’t take that job. Heyman cut one hell of a talky on The Undertaker, but their program has no momentum. When is the deciding match going to be held? Wrestlemania? That’s ages away so I don’t care. At least they tried to explain the awful finish to the match at Summerslam, even if it was as unsatisfactory after a night’s sleep as it was on the day. One day these non-finishes will bite them in the ass but I think people have been saying that for years and it never did WCW any harm, did it?
The highlight of Raw – and of anything this week outside Sasha Banks versus Bayley – was The New Day, who brought a TROMBONE to the show. Xavier Woods showed he’s not only a good wrestler, a great talker, and a PhD candidate, he can also blow a mean horn. Woods played the team in, and played Kalisto out, the moving tones of “Taps” accompanying the pinfall victory for the tag-team champions.
But then! the Dudley Boyz appeared! Yeah, I didn’t realise I’d missed them, either, and by the time they’d finished with The New Day I knew I hadn’t. They took the show back to 2001 – but without Austin or The Rock – and did their tired, old thing, and the crowd – the same people who still think it’s cool to boo John Cena – loved it. The Dudley Boyz returned on Smackdown and put away The Ascension, with D-Von – you guessed it – getting the tables. The New Day stole the show there, too, interrupting the tired old schtick with signs imploring the Dudleyz to spare those innocent tables and showing, once again, that they’re the best value on any WWE show this year.
Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose are best buds, and the talk of Ambrose turning on reigns at Summerslam proved to be just that – talk. They knocked back The Wyatt Family on the PPV and were inexplicably programmed against them once more on Raw, and to be honest the matches were pretty similar (save for Reigns taking a long nap on the floor). What did differ was a DYET! and a blackout and the appearance of a new Wyatt Family member, NXT-student Braun Stowman, who gained an extra R in his name to become Braun Strowman on the main roster. He manhandled Reigns and Ambrose, lifting them off their feet and choking them out and pretty much looking like a monster. JBL certainly thought so, imploring us to look at how much bigger Strowman was than Luke Harper. How much bigger? At least an inch.
The Wyatt Family and Ambrose and Reigns returned on Smackdown, interrupting the main event which was, to the delight of no-one, Ambrose versus Sheamus. Once again, Strowman destroyed the best budz and it looks like they’ll need some help. The original plan was for that help to be Sting but he’s tied up elsewhere, sweating his face off, and I’m praying for Fandango. A boy can dream!
Hey, do you remember the Divas Revolution? Well, I’m afraid to say it passed away on Raw, killed by a MizTV segment that was notable for Miz’s heeling telling too many home truths and Nikki Bella actually saying, “wins and losses don’t matter.” Yup, she said it. During this – and the match that followed – the crowd were BRUTAL to them here, matched only by how bad they were to Eva Marie and Carmella – mostly Eva Marie to be fair – on NXT on Wednesday, and some of the “divas” took to social media to rag on their harshitude. In the fans’ defence, though, the divas are pretty shit and no-one wants to see Alicia Fox score the winning pin in 2015.
Did you enjoy Stephen Amell from that Arrow TV show on Summerslam? Me too! I’m not sure his WWE story is done, because Stardust has renamed his finisher “The Queen’s Crossbow” and his segment on Raw did little to move him on from that feud. Instead, he turned on Bad News Barrett – writing him out so he can go and film a movie(!) – and continuing to battle Neville, that Arrow guy’s stand-in while he’s off doing TV stuff. The weirdest thing about this segment was that it was supposed to be Stardust & Barrett versus Neville & somebody and that somebody never got to come out and we never found out who it was. I’m picturing Fandango still waiting at Gorilla…
That other celebrity Summerslam guest, hobo presenter Jon Stewart, did make it to Raw, and he explained his reasons for turning on John Cena the night before. He didn’t want Ric Flair’s record to be beaten. That’s kinda weak from a guy who grew up in New York, and who probably had Flair beneath the Brooklyn Brawler before his brief WWF run in the early-90s. Anyway, Flair came out to tell Stewart he didn’t mind if Cena beat his record and, boy, was Stewart’s face red! Then it got even redder as Cena came out and AA’d him. I like Stewart but since his actions consigned us to more of Rollins with the belt – or a fifty-year old man taking it from him – I was pretty glad to see Cena take his revenge.
The finalists from Tough Enough were on all three big shows over the weekend, and the finale of that show was shown on Tuesday. The big favourites won – Josh and Sara Lee – and also had the better matches against WWE superstar Cesaro and WWE something Alicia Fox. They each got a one-year contract, worth $250,000, which makes the way that Sara Lee was BURIED on Tough Talk after the final all the more baffling. HHH, at least, tried to stick up for his investment, but it got really brutal for a while. Almost as brutal as the crowd for Eva Marie versus Carmella.
Back on Raw, a big eight-man rounded out the wrestling part of the show, and everyone involved got their shit in, including Lana and Summer Rae on the outside. The big moment, though, was the heel team turning on The Big Show, seemingly turning him babyface AGAIN, and the babyface team all hitting their finishers on him, turning him heel once more. On Smackdown, he was teamed with Rusev, who turned on him, and he hit the Russian with the knockout punch, possibly turning babyface for a second time in two days, although quite who cares at this point is unclear.
Caring is something that the NXT crowd – even the huge one in Brooklyn – does about Enzo & Big Cass, and their entrance for the opener on Wednesday’s show, taped before Takeover on Saturday, was INCREDIBLE. 15,000 people chanted along with Enzo’s schpiel and surely put to bed any doubts that they could make it on the main roster. I mean, they probably can’t but that’s more down to Kevin Dunn than the crowd. The opening eight-man tag – Enzo & Big Cass and The Hype Bros versus Dawson & Wilder and Jordan & Gable – was FUN. While no-one was over to the extent that Enzo & Big Cass were, even Zack Ryder got a massive WOO! WOO! WOO! from the crowd. Imagine that.
Because NXT doesn’t able to let the grass grow under its feet, the announcement of the Dusty Rhodes Tag-Team Classic gathered pace, and Neville threw himself into the hat. They’ve already taped some matches for the tournament – including one before Smackdown and another at a house show – and there’s some big names involved. Do we deserve NXT? Probably not, but I’m enjoying the ride.
Definitely not enjoying the ride was Eva Marie, who unsurprisingly got a HORRIBLE reaction from the Brooklyn crowd. That they put her out there in front of them at all, let alone against someone as green as Carmella, is astounding, and it’s like even NXT isn’t immune from sabotaging its own prospects sometimes.
As well as the Dusty Rhodes Tag-Team Classic, NXT also announced a UK tour and sowed the seeds for a return by Jushin Thunder Liger. The gossip machine had an indy promoter trying to get dates on him only to find WWE had already booked him. There’s rumours of him facing Chris Jericho at Madison Square Garden – which would mean me not seeing him in London the same weekend – and also more with Tyler Breeze, who put him over at Takeover. I’d accept any or both of these.
Watching NXT on the WWE Network is problem-free. That’s not something you could say about trying to watch the archived content, especially the older stuff. You know, the stuff a lot of people paying the money probably want to watch but that WWE doesn’t really want them to. There’s been huge issues with buffering that came to a head this week when WrestlingObserver.com’s Bryan Alvarez led a campaign on Twitter to get WWE to sort their shit out. Guess what? It seems like WWE did, indeed, sort their shit out, and people can watch, pretty much buffer-free. Social media is a good thing!
Social media is also a bad thing, and NXT-trainee – and Seth Rollins’s girlfriend – Zahra Schreiber found that out (again) when old tweets revealing she is a bitchy, homophobic, violent Nazi surfaced this week. WWE, which fired Hogan for saying “fucking niggers” is yet to respond, but you can’t see Schreiber – who had naked photos leaked when Rollins’s old girlfriend found out they’d been doing the nasty – being around much longer.
Unlike Bull Dempsey, who revealed on NXT that weeks of BULL!FIT! have left him… well, pretty much exactly the same as he was beforehand. But he’s got some momentum now, and downed Elias Sampson, who debuted a new guitar-playing drifter gimmick. Woody Guthrie once said, “this guitar kills fascists,” and maybe Sampson oughta point it towards Schreiber…
The new svelte Bull Dempsey and the new hobo (this Jon Stewart thing is catching on) Elias Sampson may be returning to NXT, but Charlotte and Becky Lynch are going the other way. In what was likely to be one of their last matches on the show, they fought Emma and Dana Brooke in a decent four-way which will be forever marred by a fucked-up finish. Becky Lynch forgot to kick out on two and the referee shoot counted the pin – to be fair, they’re told to – and Charlotte had to do the actual finish as a post-match beatdown. As goodbyes go, it wasn’t the best.
Smackdown has become a pointless watch lately, but did include a decent enough contest between Kevin Owens and Neville, which saw Owens’s post-Cena rehab continue. It also had a pretty bad backstage skit featuring the Bella Twins and Charlotte & Becky Lynch, during which it was revealed that Becky’s gimmick on the main roster is that she’s really, really annoying. Charlotte was good, though.
What the WWE Universe really wants to see, though, is Sasha Banks. She was easily the most over “diva” over the weekend, even on Raw, where she was conspicuous by her absence, and so they stuck her on commentary for the Bellas versus Charlotte & Becky Lynch match, along with Tamina & Naomi, because everyone knows the way to get this Divas Revolution over is to have lots of people talk over the match in the ring like it doesn’t actually matter.
And that was pretty much the week in WWE. The momentum going into the Summerslam weekend was strong, and they managed to keep it going through Raw and even into Smackdown. But with a Night Of Champions card looking almost a carbon copy of Summerslam, there’s already gloomy clouds on the horizon. Still, we’ll always have Brooklyn. And that trombone.