NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable

Welcome back to another NXT special. These are the WWE shows I look forward to most outside of the big four pay-per-views at this point. The NXT product is consistently the strongest WWE produces. Let’s see how they did:

#1 Contender Match: Tyler Breeze vs. Finn Balor

Awesome entrance for Breeze with the selfie girls. Only thing missing was his selfie stick. Unfortunate injury for Itami. Would have been nice to have him in there. And speaking of awesome entrances…it’s Finn Balor. The man with the best entrance this side of the Undertaker. This might be the coolest to date, and it helps convince me that Balor can hit it big on the main roster. An entrance is a huge part of getting over. And he’s got it all: the theme song, the gear, the mannerisms, the smoke. It’s an epic presentation befitting a world champion.

This match is fine, nothing too special. Tyler Breeze never really blows me away. Nothing wrong with him technically, I just find his matches to be very basic. His wrestling style doesn’t really fit his character. It seems like his moveset should be flashier than it is to play up how narcissistic he is.

Balor, on the other hand, is tremendous. One of the biggest qualities a babyface needs is fire, and Balor has plenty. When he gets going you believe he’s putting the hurt on his opponent, no matter how much bigger they are.

The near falls at the end were excellently done. They had me sold on a few of them, especially Breeze hitting the Beauty Shot coming out of the corner. Balor getting the win was definitely the right call.

Rating: **½. Decent match, nothing special. Balor has a lot to offer. Breeze would be a useful midcard heel in the vein of The Miz. Annoying, gets lots of heat, isn’t going to go too far up the card.

Dana Brooke and Emma vs. Charlotte and Bayley

This is an interesting group of wrestlers. Charlotte, clearly the next big thing in the main roster’s diva division. Emma, who got up to the big show and flopped. Dana Brooke, who’s just learning how to wrestle. And Bayley, who I can guarantee is going to be insanely over. If you don’t love Bayley, you’re a terrible person.

Emma turning heel is one of those things I love about wrestling. She was a nice girl, and it failed. So she turns bad. 100% reasonable and logical. And her having a problem with Bayley, who reminds her of her old persona, makes sense too. Simple, smart wrestling booking. Something that’s in short supply today.

This is a basic match, but that’s not a bad thing. The tag formula is well-worn, but that’s because it works. Bayley should be the one to take the heat, because she engenders so much sympathy from the crowd. And Charlotte should be the one to take the hot tag because she can dish out so much damage. Brooke’s role is kept to minimum, because she’s still learning. I wished they had more time, because it felt like the hot tag came too soon. I thought it would have made a little more sense for Dana and Emma to win, but it’s not a big deal.

Rating: *½. It was okay. Could have used more time. Hard to have a good tag match in seven minutes.

Baron Corbin vs. Rhyno

I’ve never been a huge Rhyno fan, but he’s had a nice run in NXT. It makes sense to have a few veterans on the roster. Only way for the young guys to get better is to work with experienced people. I’m waiting to see more from Corbin. He has everything a wrestling promoter could want: Size, athleticism, look, presence.

This was probably Corbin’s best match to date, although that isn’t saying much. Rhyno looked good, Corbin didn’t do a whole lot. The two highlights were Rhyno taking that big bump off the top rope down to the floor and Corbin hitting End of Days. That move is always impressive, but especially on a guy as heavy as Rhyno.

Rating: *¾. Progress for Corbin. More than just a squash, took a few bumps, made a comeback. Babysteps.

NXT Tag Team Championship: Blake and Murphy (c) vs. Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady

I love Enzo. Cass makes a good partner for him, but Enzo is the show. I have no doubt that Enzo and Cass should be on the main roster right now. They’re ready for it. No doubt they’d get over. It’s impossible to watch their entrance schtick and not get hyped. Blake and Murphy? Just two dudes.

Blake and Murphy are probably better than they get credit for. They’re an adequate heel tag team. They could use a gimmick upgrade and a team name, but they play their roles. Cass is a physical specimen who is well-served as part of a team because he’d probably get exposed in singles. But he’s perfect to just come in and clean house off the hot tag. This was a decent tag match, but I thought the finish was kind of weak. That Powerbomb/Back Stabber combination would have been a much better finish than Enzo getting pinned after falling off the top.

Rating: **. Decent tag match, not much beyond the standard formula.

NXT Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks (c) vs. Becky Lynch

Things I love about NXT: the women’s championship being the sub main event.

Praise heaped on the NXT women’s division at this point seems superfluous. It’s basically a given that any of their matches will be better than anything that happens on the main roster in the diva’s division. This match is hampered a bit by Becky’s face turn having come a bit soon and her not really getting over as a face. That said, Sasha worked so nasty that it generated some decent sympathy for Becky. Becky’s escape from the armbar by lifting Sasha off the group into a slam was amazing. Deserved the obnoxious “this is wrestling” chant that it received. They brought physicality, intensity, and drama that hadn’t been seen in any of the previous matches on the night.

They worked their asses off. Excellent match.

Rating: ****. Outstanding work from both women. Loved the working of the arm. Incredible intensity, super physical. That felt like a world championship match. Set a high standard for Owens and Zayn to try to live up to.

Also, the “Suplex City” chant was baller.

NXT Championship: Kevin Owens (c) vs. Sami Zayn

And here we have the best story in WWE, and probably all of wrestling. Kevin Owens is a monster. An evil, petty man with no moral center. Sami Zayn is as good a guy as there is in wrestling. Does he have the edge to beat a son of a bitch like Owens? It remains to be seen. As a side note, I love Zayn getting the shot against Cena two weeks before Owens did. It’s the exact reason Owens hates Zayn. Always cutting to the front of the line. It’s a personal issue between two real people with understandable stakes. They’ll fight until there is a winner. They’ll fight until one man can take no more.

And they bring the intensity. Zayn isn’t going to let Owens get away with stalling this time. They fight. All over the floor, into the crowd. Zayn hangs in there, but Owens is just too powerful. We get an extended beat down, and then an absolutely vicious Powerbomb onto the ring apron. Owens is relentless, and keeps going after Zayn. He won’t be stopped. Not by referees. Not by William Regal. But by one man…

SAMOA JOE IS IN NXT. NOT A DRILL.

And he’s called “Samoa Joe.” And he’s treated as a monstrous bad ass. A man who even Kevin Owens would back down from. Joe vs. Owens. I’m down with that.

Rating: **. More of an angle than match, and I don’t have a problem with that. The final chapter here has yet to be written. I hope this Owens/Zayn/Joe issue bleeds over onto Raw. I’d love to see NXT matches on the pay-per-views.

Overall: Another strong offering from NXT. The women’s match was the best of the night, Joe’s debut the big highlight. This show is a bit of a step down in overall quality from Rival, but it’s still strong, much better than the typical offering from the main roster.

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NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable

WWE Payback 2015

For WWE, the month of May always seems to be a down time. The Wrestlemania heat is gone, but the build for Summerslam hasn’t started yet. It’s a month of treading water. And that’s been especially true of this gloriously weird month that will end up featuring King of the Ring, the Payback pay-per-view, and an Elimination Chamber special on WWE Network. It seems like too much for one month, but somehow this has still been a dreadfully boring few weeks. Seth Rollins isn’t getting over as WWE Champion, Kane has inexplicably become the most important person on the show, and Randy Orton and Roman Reigns have no momentum behind them as challengers. Dean Ambrose being added to the main event will save it from being an all-time snoozer.

There are some positives on the undercard: John Cena’s run as U.S. Champion has been inspired, The New Day have proven to be tremendous heel tag champions, Sheamus continues to be rejuvenated in his new heel role, and Neville’s rise has been interesting to watch. But a show ultimately rises and falls with its main event, and right now the main event is ice cold.

Not much to say about the pre-show matches. Both were just filling time. I’m frustrated Sandow is back doing a comedy gimmick when I think he’s capable of contributing a lot more.

Sheamus vs. Dolph Ziggler

There’s been virtually no development to this rivalry since Extreme Rules, which is both a theme of the night and a major problem with the product right now. It’s just stasis. The stakes have actually been lowered from last month to this month, as there’s no stipulation to this match. Sheamus continues to impress me with his heel character, while Ziggler is in a bit of a funk. He’s risen from the depths he had fallen to this time last year (where he was feuding with Fandango and losing). But there doesn’t seem to be any interest from management in moving him up the card.

This is a good choice for the opener, as it’s just about impossible for these two to have a bad match against each other. Sheamus pretty quickly establishes control and puts a hurting on Ziggler. I do appreciate that he puts more effort into his holds than anyone else on the roster. He makes those Rear Chin Locks looks like they’d actually hurt.

The ass kissing shenanigans play too big a role in this match. The commentary is dreadful, as that’s the thing they spend most of the match talking about. Vince McMahon’s obsession with ass kissing strikes again. Ziggler gets split openly badly (didn’t see how it happened, but probably on the headbutt) and Sheamus levels him with a Brogue Kick for the win.

Rating: **3/4. Not great, not bad. Thought these two would work together better than they have. Should be the end of this feud, wouldn’t mind seeing Sheamus as the new IC Champion.

Kane/Seth Rollins Backstage Segment

This is the second pay-per-view in a row where they’ve done one of these that dragged on way too long. Long exposition here explaining the stakes of the main event. I feel like this job should just be trusted to the commentators.

2/3 Falls Match for Tag Team Championship: New Day (c) vs. Tyson Kidd and Cesaro

And now we get to arguably the best thing on the show. The New Day have been resurrected by their heel turn. They were completely dead in the water as babyfaces, but now find themselves as probably the most over heels on the roster. These guys wrestled Randy Orton and Roman Reigns a few weeks ago and didn’t seem out of place at all. They won the match and it seemed like the logical outcome.

Meanwhile, Kidd and Cesaro are proving to be pretty good babyfaces. Their personalities aren’t really shining (Cesaro doesn’t really have one, and Kidd’s character is naturally heelish) but they’re great in the ring. Cesaro has added a lot to his repertoire that convinces me he’s got a big run as a babyface in him before the end of the year.

As with last month, this match is a spectacle of the athleticism of the competitors. Cesaro is the star, and he shows off just how freakishly strong he is by slamming Big E like he’s a cruiserweight. The other real highlight is Xavier’s antics on the floor. He’s wickedly funny out there. Three or four times during this match he said something that made me bust out laughing. He’s perfect as a manager and mouthpiece.

Xavier trying to invoke Freebird Rules was fun, but it didn’t go anywhere. Would have liked to see Natalya beat him up there instead of just pulling him off. New Day worked a solid heat segment on Tyson’s ribs. These guys are bringing the lost art of tag wrestling back to WWE. We get a good heat segment, complete with hope spots and cut offs. All that was missing was the referee missing the hot tag.

The third fall was tremendous. The crowd was absolutely living and dying on the near falls. I don’t know if they love Kidd and Cesaro or just hate New Day, but it’s all working. And then we get a brilliant old-school finish with Woods pulling Twin Magic to get the pin. It was perfectly executed in a way that was plausible and didn’t look contrived. Woods and Kofi are about the same size and wear the same attire, it’s reasonable the referee wouldn’t notice they had switched places. Throwback tag match, probably the match of the night.

Rating: ****. Old-school tag wrestling. Such a beautiful thing to see back. This is the best tag rivalry WWE has had in years. Hope they keep it going. I’m intrigued to see what the Elimination Chamber match looks like.

Ryback promo nothing special, but liked the package featuring him before the match. I prefer that kind of video package over one that just recaps the stuff that’s happened the last few weeks.

Ryback vs. Bray Wyatt

Two aimless wrestlers paired up because neither has anything better to do. Two guys who are way less over than they used to be. Another generic Wyatt program. He probably needs a reboot at this point. Bringing back the Wyatt Family would be good, a face turn might be even better.

This match surpassed my expectations. The two big hosses just hit each other in the mouth. No messing around, just straight up physicality. Wyatt’s Senton Splash to the floor looked nasty and reports indicate he might have broken one of Ryback’s ribs.

The crowd wasn’t that into this match. They popped for the spots, but they were split. Lots of chants for Wyatt and weaker chants for Ryback. Neither guy has any momentum right now. Pretty good match, but not what Wyatt needs right now.

Rating: **¼. Probably about as good as it could be. Styles didn’t necessarily gel, but they made up for it with physicality.

I Quit Match for United States Championship: John Cena (c) vs. Rusev

This is one of those times where the bookers haven’t learned from their mistakes. Last year Bray Wyatt’s momentum was murdered by a never-ending feud with John Cena. This year, Rusev and Lana have both fallen victim to this rivalry. It probably should have ended after Wrestlemania and definitely should have ended after Extreme Rules. Rusev has cooled off significantly since February and Lana has gone from one of the top characters on the show to a submissive valet. Bad writing and booking all around.

And it’s a shame because Cena has never been more interesting. The open challenge gimmick is the highlight of Raw almost every week. This feud has totally fallen to the background because Cena’s title defenses are so much more interesting. I would have much preferred another Cena open challenge here.

This match is decent. It goes on for an extremely long time and I feel like the performers were undermined by the gimmick. “I Quit” matches are tough to pull off to begin with, as the stipulation eliminates near falls and causes a lot of choppiness (the sequence of move, referee sticking the microphone in the wrestler’s face, the wrestler saying “no!” gets tiresome). Add in that in the PG era you can’t have blood or any extreme violence and there just isn’t much you can do to make one of these matches interesting.

Almost all the big spots here are borrowed from past Cena matches: The step throwing from the Umaga Last Man Standing match, the pyro explosion from the Orton Iron Man Match, and the rope-assisted STF from the Umaga match. Notably, they’re all toned down to an extent. That’s just the time period we’re in. It’s a good thing WWE protects their wrestlers better, it just means they probably shouldn’t book these kinds of matches.

The finish was sort of what I had predicted, although executed more clumsily. I figured Lana would throw in the towel for Rusev, either to get back at him for mistreating her or to show compassion. Instead, they had her say that he was quitting. He was yelling in Bulgarian, so it’s hard to say if he was actually supposed to be quitting or not. It makes sense to protect Rusev, but I thought that came off poorly. At least this feud is over.

Rating: **1/2. Weird match. Dragged, but plenty of good stuff in there. I hope this feud is over.

The Bellas vs. Naomi and Tamina

As always, the women get stuck in a shit spot. This rivalry has surpassed my expectations as the Bellas have proven to be pretty decent faces and Naomi has been a borderline revelation as a heel. I like Tamina as Naomi’s muscle.

Nothing wrong with this match, it’s just a bit by the numbers. Brie gets worked over, hot tag to Nikki, heels win by nefarious means. Naomi needs a new finisher (hitting her opponent with her giant ass was okay when she was a comedic face, but she needs something more serious as a heel) but I hope she gets a title run soon.

Rating: *½. That was fine.

King Barrett vs. Neville

On the night of rematches, this might be the biggest offender. These guys have faced off a lot in the last few weeks. And this match really felt exactly the same as the previous ones. Except like with Ziggler and Sheamus, there was less on the line this time. Last time they fought in the finals of the King of the Ring tournament. This time, what was on the line? Is the winner in line for a title shot? Does the loser fall down the rankings? Nope. They’re just out there to fill time on a pay-per-view.

They have an adequate match that ends in dubious fashion when Barrett allows himself to get counted out. I don’t mind count out finishes, but this wasn’t a strong use of it. No one got over here, it just felt like a waste of everyone’s time.

Rating: *¾. Probably time for these two to take a break from fighting each other.

Fatal Fourway for WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose

Alright, main event time. When this was initially announced as Rollins vs. Orton vs. Reigns it looked like the most boring main event since Big Show vs. Orton at Survivor Series 2013. Thankfully Dean Ambrose was added to the mix to give this an element of intrigue. First time the three Shield members have faced off. And unlike Orton and Reigns, the crowd is actually into the idea of Ambrose being champion.

This is a good time to address the elephant in the room: Seth Rollins isn’t getting over as champion. I don’t blame him at all, he’s not in a position to succeed. He’s an illegitimate champion, which is fine. But then they add in a feud with Kane, being henpecked by Triple H, and having boring babyfaces challengers and he’s in a tough spot. Then add in that he doesn’t have a finishing move and he’s stuck squarely behind the eight ball.

But just when all hope was lost, this match comes along and kicks ass. They go right off the opening bell. And we have a Suicide Dive by Ambrose and a beautiful Plancha by Reigns. And then we break down into a series of singles matches, as is the pattern in WWE multi-way matches. That does give everyone a chance to shine, which is good even if it’s formulaic. It’s quickly noticeable that Ambrose is way more over than Orton or Reigns. The crowd is popping for everything he does.

Kane and J&J get involved almost right away. Not a fan of that, it’s better if they wait until Rollins is really in trouble. As it stood, the crowd didn’t react at all when they got involved. My other nitpick is that Ambrose is overdoing that spot where he rebounds off the ropes into a Clothesline. I think he did it three or four times in this match. It probably doesn’t need to be in every match, much less done multiple times.

Small complaints. More than made up for by the brilliant sequence where The Shield reunites outside the ring to put Orton through the announce table with the Triple Powerbomb. Enormous response from the crowd. I loved the whole thing, including Rollins trying to weasel into reforming the group and Dean and Roman not falling for it. Huge pop for the Powerbomb that put Kane and Rollins through the table.

And then we’re down to Reigns and Ambrose and the crowd is crazy for it. Naturally, Seth, Randy, and Kane all end up getting back into things. Everyone gets a teased victory until the match ends suddenly with Rollins hitting Orton with a weak-looking Pedigree. The perils of being a world champion with no finishing move.

Rating: ****. Loved it. Great main event, so much better than I was expecting. This was a time where overbooking and craziness worked. Nine times out of ten this much chaos would be a bad thing, but this was the tenth time. This match was a war, and Rollins was the survivor. I think everyone came out stronger, which is a sign of good booking.

Overall: A stronger show than I expected. This had been a weak month of TV, but this show delivered. A couple really awesome matches in the main event and the tag match, and everything else delivered to one extent or another. The main event match delivered even if the storyline still doesn’t interest me, so that’s an improvement on last month. Going forward we have a hot midcard, but still question marks at the top of the card. There’s almost certainly a Rollins/Kane match coming at either Elimination Chamber or Money in the Bank. I look forward to it just because it will be the end of this program. We have the Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank to carry things for the next two shows. Then they have to find a main event for Battleground as a bridge to getting Lesnar back for Summerslam. Hopefully we’re coming to the end of WWE’s annual post-Wrestlemania funk.

Grade: B+

WWE Payback 2015

Gem of the Week: Ricky Steamboat vs. Rick Rude, Beach Blast 1992

There were many great matches in the obscure world of early 1990s WCW. On the whole, the era produced a lot of bad wrestling. But there were moments of greatness, and one of them came when Ricky Steamboat and Rick Rude faced off in a 30 Minute Iron Man Match at Beach Blast 1992.

Rude had eeked out a victory over Steamboat at Superbrawl when his manager, Paul E. Dangerously (Paul Heyman) cracked Steamboat in the skull with his signature brick-sized cellphone. This would be the rematch, Steamboat’s bid to prove he was the better wrestler.

30 Minute Iron Man Match: Rick Rude vs. Ricky Steamboat

Most falls in 30 minutes wins. Rude escaped with his title due to Paul E. Dangerously’s interference at SuperBrawl. Now they’re going to determine who the better man is. Rude’s title is not on the line here, it’s just about pride. Both Dangerously and Madusa have been barred from ringside. Rude is out first to huge heat. He goes through his typical routine on the mic in the ring. Steamboat is out second with his wife and son.

Fall One

Steamboat hits a Rib Breaker to kick things off. Rude sells it like death and Steamboat goes right after the ribs. Steamboat applies a Bearhug. Rude gets out and knees Steamboat in the face. Nice shot to Steamboat’s previously broken nose. Steamboat gets Rude down and locks on a Bow and Arrow. Ventura says Rude should tap out to avoid further damage and save his strength.

Rude gets out after a thumb to the eye. Steamboat locks on a Boston Crab. He holds it for a few minutes before Rude gets the rope. Steamboat hits a Splash to the back. We’re six minutes in. Steamboat hits a series of kicks to Rude’s ribs. He was one of the best ever at working a body part, even as a babyface. Steamboat slams Rude with a Reverse Suplex. Rude counters a corner charge with a knee to the face and then grabs the tights for a pin with 22:18 left.

Rude 1, Steamboat 0

Fall Two

No rest period, they just go right back to it. Rude immediately hits the Rude Awakening for another pin with 21:20 left.

Rude 2, Steamboat 0

Fall Three

Rude hits a Back Breaker and goes to the top rope. He comes off with a Splash and is disqualified to lose the fall with 20:15 remaining.

Rude 2, Steamboat 1

Fall Four

Rude immediately rolls up an incapacitated Steamboat for another pin with 19:39 left.

Rude 3, Steamboat 1

Fall Five

Steamboat fights back and slams Rude face-first into the mat. He’s too hurt to follow it up and Rude applies a Camel Clutch. Ventura points out that it’s in Rude’s favor to waste time now that he has the lead. Rude holds the Camel Clutch for a few minutes until Steamboat powers out into an Electric Chair Drop. Steamboat tries a Splash, but Rude gets his knees up. Rude tries a series of pins, but Steamboat keeps kicking out. Rude applies a Chinlock with fifteen minutes left. Rude goes for a Tombstone Piledriver, but Steamboat manages to reverse into a Tombstone of his own and gets the pin with 12:22 left.

Rude 3, Steamboat 2

Fall Six

They both slowly get to their feet. Rude slams Steamboat into the turnbuckle and goes to the top rope. Steamboat stops him from coming off and Superplexes Rude! Not really clear why that’s legal but jumping from the top isn’t. Steamboat finally covers, but Rude kicks out. They do a Double KO as the clock ticks under 10 minutes. Rude lays on top of Steamboat for a lazy cover, but Steamboat gets a Crucifix Pin to win the fall with 9:38 left.

Rude 3, Steamboat 3

Fall Seven

Steamboat tries every pin combination he can think of, but can’t get a three. Rude headbutts Steamboat to slow him down and they’re both out. Rude makes it up first and slams Steamboat’s face into the mat. Rude works Steamboat over with Body Slams and Fist Drops. Rude chokes Steamboat. Rude goes for the Rude Awakening, but Steamboat powers out and hits his own Neckbreaker! Rude gets his foot on the rope at two. Steamboat drops knees with five minutes to go. Vertical Suplex by Steamboat. Back Suplex by Steamboat. Rude reverses an Irish Whip and locks in a Sleeper Hold with four minutes left.

Steamboat runs Rude into the turnbuckle to try to break it, but he can’t. Rude still has it locked in with three minutes left. Rude pulls Steamboat back from the ropes. Steamboat goes down to a knee with two minutes left. The referee checks the arm, but Steamboat keeps it up with one minute to go. Steamboat climbs up the second rope, kicks off, and bridges back into a pin 35 seconds left.

Steamboat 4, Rude 3

Rude goes desperation, hitting Steamboat with everything he has. Steamboat keeps kicking out. Rude gets a Body Slam with five seconds left, but Steamboat kicks out and wins 4-3.

Result: Steamboat 4, Rude 3

Analysis: ****1/4. Excellent match. I’m not a huge fan of the Iron Man Match as a concept because I feel like it sucks a lot of the drama out of all but the final minute of the match. However, these two worked so well together that they managed to entertain me throughout. I thought this match displayed excellent psychology in the way they worked on body parts and Rude sacrificing a fall to be able to pin Steamboat multiple times. Great effort by both men.

Gem of the Week: Ricky Steamboat vs. Rick Rude, Beach Blast 1992

King of the Ring 1994

July 19, 1994
Baltimore Arena
Baltimore, Maryland

Gorilla Monsoon, Randy Savage, and Baltimore Colts legend Art Donovan are on commentary tonight. Donovan’s performance is reputed to be Mike Adamle bad, so I’m looking forward to that. Asked for a prediction, Donovan quickly responds “Razor Ramon.” Alright, strong start for him.

Tournament Quarterfinal: Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Razor Ramon

Both these guys were defeated by Bret Hart last year. Bigelow fell in the finals, Ramon in the quarterfinal. Ramon defeated Kwang in the qualifier, Bigelow pinned Bob “Sparky Plugg” Holly. Savage says Razor has been “goal orientated” since losing the Intercontinental Title to Diesel. Razor throws his toothpick into Luna’s face, but that allows Bigelow to get the jump on him. We haven’t heard a word from Donovan in about five minutes.

Bigelow misses a Diving Headbutt, and he ends up getting wishboned on the ringpost after a series of reversals. Bam Bam quickly retakes the advantage. Bigelow gets him in a Torture Rack, prompting Art to ask “this is the guy I picked to win? Razor?” Razor slips out of the Rack and hits a Back Suplex. Art: “Now they’re both out. What happens now?” Razor slams Bigelow, but can’t hit the Razor’s Edge. Bigelow goes up top, looking for the Moonsault, but Razor slams him off into a pinning combination for the win.

Rating: **. Bit disappointing. Pretty slow-paced for a match that was less than ten minutes.

Todd Pettingill interviews Mabel and IRS, opponents in the next match.

Tournament Quarterfinal: Mabel vs. IRS

IRS defeated Scott Steiner in his qualifier, Mabel defeated Pierre Oulett. Art: “Is this guy one of the wrestlers? He looks like a businessman.” On Mabel: “Is he going to wrestle like that with his clothes on?” Most of this match is a long IRS Chin Lock. We get our first “how much does he weigh?” from Art. That will become a running theme tonight. Mabel fights out and gets a near fall with a Bossman Slam. Mabel goes up to the second rope, but IRS shakes the ropes he falls. IRS rolls him into a sloppy pin for the win.

Rating: ½*. Chin Lock, and then botched offense.

Stan Lane interviews Lex Luger. Lex picks Tatanka or Razor Ramon to win the tournament.

Tournament Quarterfinal: Owen Hart vs. Tatanka

Art asks how much both guys weigh. Savage estimates 235 pounds for Owen and 265-275 pounds for Tatanka. That’s “Native American” Tatanka. He’s not undefeated anymore, so the booking of these tournaments is a lot easier now.

Tatanka sends Owen flying all around the ring to start. They end up fighting out to the floor, where Owen posts Tatanka. They cut backstage, where Razor Ramon and IRS are fighting. Instantly, that match feels bigger. Tatanka makes his way back into the ring and gets drilled with a Missile Dropkick. Owen goes to a Sleeper Hold. Tatanka fights out and hits a DDT. Tatanka hits some chops and a Running Powerslam. Can’t keep Owen down. Tatanka goes for a Sunset Flip, but Owen sits down for the pin. Shades of the way his brother lost at Summerslam 1992.

Rating: **¾. Enjoyed that. Lot of action for eight minutes.

Pettingill interviews Diesel and Shawn Michaels. Their roles are reserved, as tonight Diesel will compete with Shawn in his corner. Shawn takes a few shots at Bret that were probably his real feelings.

Tournament Quarterfinal: The 1-2-3 Kid vs. Jeff Jarrett

Art doesn’t know who The Kid is. He also thinks he looks like a boxer. This is typical of Kid’s matches as he gets his ass handed to him for most of it. Kid gets a spurt of offense, but misses a Senton from the top rope. The Kid blocks a Superplex but can’t get the win with a Cross Body. Nice Spin Kick, but he misses a charge into the corner.

Now Jarrett goes to work on the knee. He tries for the Figure Four but gets rolled up for the pin by Kid.

Rating: **½. Solid match. Just a typical underdog story.

Jarrett flips out and Piledrives Kid three times in a row. He throws in a couple Elbow Drops too until the referees force him to the back.

Pettingill interviews Bret Hart. He’s defending the WWF Championship against Diesel tonight and has a surprise in store for him: a member of his family will be in his corner tonight.

WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. Diesel

Diesel’s Intercontinental Championship isn’t on the line here. He has everything to gain, nothing to lose. There can’t be anyone who didn’t wish this was Bret vs. Shawn instead of Bret vs. Diesel. Except maybe Art, because he has no idea who Shawn Michaels is. “Who is he? Is he another wrestler?” Bret’s cornerman is revealed as Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. Return of the Pink and Black Attack.

They’re evenly matched early. Diesel has the power advantage, but Bret gets shots in with his superior quickness. Art thinks Bret raked Diesel’s eyes and complains about it. Savage responds “I don’t think that actually happened, Art Donovan.” He was pretty clearly getting fed up at this point. Hart goes to work on Diesel’s legs and locks on the Figure Four. Diesel grabs the ropes, which he could probably do from anywhere in the ring. Bret posts Diesel’s legs, which is a bit heelish. Then Shawn Clotheslines him.

Neidhart chases Shawn all around the ring, which is a great visual. Diesel catches Bret out of the air coming off the rope and takes over the match. The next few minutes are a Detroit-style beatdown from Big Daddy Cool. Shawn gets up on the apron and exposes the turnbuckle. Bret manages to slip out an Argentine Backbreaker and turn it into a Sleeper Hold, but Diesel runs him into the corner. Bret goes back to the Sleeper and gets run into the corner again. Diesel whips Bret into Earl Hebner. He grabs his knee but doesn’t go down.

Diesel tries to ram Bret into the exposed turnbuckle, but The Hitman blocks and it’s Diesel to tastes the steel. Ten Punch from Bret, then a series of Clotheslines. Bret starts to run through the Five Moves of Doom with the Russian Legsweep and the Diving Elbow, then breaks out a Diving Bulldog. He goes for the Sharpshooter as Shawn gets up on the apron. Bret knocks him off the apron. Diesel and Bret fight over a Backslide, and Bret ends up flipping over him into a Small Package. That was cool.

Diesel hits a Big Boot, but Bret quickly comes back with the Sharpshooter. Diesel makes the ropes. Diesel distracts the referee, which allows Shawn to nail Bret with the IC Title. Diesel drops a big elbow, but Bret just barely kicks out. Diesel hiits the Jackknife Powerbomb and Neidhart Clotheslines him. Match ends in a disqualification.

Rating: ***¾. Really good match. Diesel got a bit blown up towards the end and things slowed down, but it was still a great show. Both guys wrestled a style that made sense, with Bret targeting Diesel’s legs and Diesel using his power to smash Bret. The DQ was fine, it was intriguing and left things open for a match down the line.

Neidhart takes off and heads to the back. Shawn and Diesel beat down Bret as referees fill the ring to try to stop them.

Pettengill interviews Jerry Lawler, who will face Roddy Piper tonight.

Tournament Semifinals: Razor Ramon vs. IRS

Razor jumps IRS on the floor as the bell rings. IRS takes control once they go to the ring. Razor ducks a Clothesline and IRS flies out to the floor. Nice bump. Back in the ring, IRS slows things down with a Chin Lock. Man, these IRS matches were boring. Art: “That’s kind of like missing a trap block.” Savage: “Exactly, except completely different.” IRS hits his Write Off Clothesline, but that only gets two. Razor comes back with the Razor’s Edge for the win.

Rating: ½*. Not a big IRS guy.

Pettengill was supposed to interview 1-2-3 Kid, but was unable to find him.

Tournament Semifinals: Owen Hart vs. The 1-2-3 Kid

If you frequent wrestling message boards, the topic of best short matches may come up at some point. Those threads are pointless, because the answer is so clear. It’s this match.

Kid limps to the ring and gets hit with a Baseball Slide immediately. Owen follows with a Suicide Dive through the ropes. He throws Kid into the ring, then hits a Splash from the top rope. Kid reverses a whip and Owen crushes his sternum on the turnbuckle. Moonsault by Kid gets two. Pinning combination by Kid gets two. Both men escape Arm Wringers and Kid levels Owen with a kick.

Owen comes back with an Enziguri. Kid gets a Northern Lights Suplex and the referee counts three, but Owen had his foot on the ropes so the match continues. Front Flip Plancha by Kid! He pummels Owen on the floor before throwing him back into the ring. Owen blocks a Crescent Kick and hits a big German Suplex for a two count. Kid gets a Victory Roll for two, but Owen reverses for his own two count. Owen blocks a Hurricanrana attempt with a Powerbomb and locks on the Sharpshooter for the submission victory.

Rating: ***¾. That match was 3:37 long. They packed 10 minutes of action into it, but it didn’t feel rushed at all. They were just both on their game on this night. If you want to known how good Waltman was before he got hurt, check this match out.

Coliseum Video Exclusive goes to Roddy Piper backstage. He…says some stuff.

World Tag Team Championship: The Headshrinkers (c) vs. Yokozuna and Crush

Not a whole lot to say about this one. Pretty steep drop for Yoko from being in the main event of Wrestlemania to a thrown together tag team in a filler match. This is a totally standard tag match. Speaking of guys falling down the card, Lex Luger wanders out to distract Crush. That allows Fatu to his a Crescent Kick for the win.

Rating: ¾* Definitely could have done without that.

Pettingill interviews Owen Hart, who wishes his dad Stu a happy Father’s Day.

Tournament Final: Owen Hart vs. Razor Ramon

Good match between two pros here. They run through some quality mat wrestling and counters for the early portion of the match. Owen goes to an Abdominal Stretch, but Razor gets out with a Hip Toss. Razor hits the Fallaway Slam. Owen comes back and goes for a Moonsault, but Razor crotches him and hits a Back Suplex from the top. Razor’s Edge time…but Owen Backdrops him over the top rope. That bump never struck me as a good idea. Wonder if that’s why he ended up needing a hip replacement.

Now Jim Neidhart comes down to ringside. Neidhart checks on Razor…then levels him with a Clothesline. Neidhart posts Razor, then throws him back into the ring. Owen hits a Flying Elbow for the win.

Rating: ***. Good match, and I liked the Neidhart turn.

Owen and Neidhart tune up Razor after the match and end up hitting him with a Hart Attack.

Ray Rougeau finds Bret backstage. He’s speechless.

The announcers try to figure out what the hell just happened. Unsurprisingly, Art Donovan isn’t much help. Savage says that he thinks Neidhart saved Bret so that Owen could be the one to beat him for the title. That makes sense, actually.

Time for Owen’s coronation. Neidhart crowns him as the new “King of Harts.”

Roddy Piper vs. Jerry Lawler

Huh. That’s an odd choice for the main event. Also sort of strange for this match to be happening at all in 1994. This is supposed to be a youth movement for the WWF, and here they feature what would have been a big match in 1985. Lawler had been mocking Piper on Raw since Piper came back to referee the main event at Wrestlemania. And so we have this match.

And it proves to be dreadfully boring. Neither guy had much business being in a pay-per-view main event in 1994. Lawler works boring offense, Piper punches him…it goes on for awhile. The ref gets bumped. Yeah, that’s just what this match needed! Lawler hits Piper with a foreign object and covers with his feet on the ropes, but only gets two. Piper hits a Back Suplex for the win.

Rating: Dud. That was abysmal. Slow, boring, neither guy was in shape. Shouldn’t have happened.

Overall: Pretty good show. Owen’s matches were strong, so was the title match. The main event was a complete stinker, but what proceeded it was above average.

Grade: B+

King of the Ring 1994

Gem of the Week: Bret Hart vs. Jean-Pierre LaFitte

Where it Happened: In Your House 3: Triple Header, September 24, 1995 in Saginaw, Michigan

The Story: Jean Pierre-Lafitte was Pierre from The Quebecers repackaged as a pirate. Unscrupulous pirate LaFitte stole Bret Hart’s sunglasses from a young fan and then stole Bret’s leather jacket. On a related note, this was one of WWE’s least popular periods ever.

The Match

McMahon interviews Bret on the big screen. He says this match is “captain crook against captain crunch.” Yikes.

Bret Hart vs. Jean Pierre LaFitte

Pierre wears the jacket out to the ring. Bret nails him with a Suicide Dive right off the bell! He didn’t even take his sunglasses off first. Bret rips the jacket off Pierre and beats him down on the floor. They go back to the ring and Bret works on Pierre’s arm. Bret misses a charge and hurts his shoulder on the post.

Pierre goes to work on Bret’s shoulder. Pierre charges Bret, who drops down and Backdrops him over the top. But Pierre lands on his feet! He drags Bret out and slams him shoulder-first into the steps. Pierre drags Bret back into the ring to punish him more. Pierre plants Bret with a Sidewalk Slam and goes to the top rope. Huge Leg Drop only gets two. Pierre goes for the Cannonball Splash (Swanton Bomb), but Bret moves.

Bret gets his first offense in forever with an Inverted Atomic Drop. Bret goes for the Sharpshooter but Pierre blocks. He goes for a Somersault Plancha, but misses. Jesus, he landed flat on the floor. That had to hurt. Bret sends Pierre into the steps. Bret starts rolling with his signature moves: Russian Legsweep, Backbreaker, Diving Elbow…but Pierre gets him with a boot to the face. Pierre really never did much after this, but he looked like a stud here. The genius of Bret Hart. Pierre blocks a Crucifix with a Rolling Samoan Drop.

Double Clothesline puts both guys down. Bret grabs Pierre’s legs, hooks them, and turns him over into the Sharpshooter for the submission victory.

Rating: ****. Awesome match, absolute forgotten gem. Bret goes in there with a tag wrestler with a silly gimmick in his first PPV singles match and absolutely tears the house down. Absolute legend. And I was impressed with Pierre, he had a mean streak and was a fantastic athlete. Took some big bumps here too. LaFitte’s WWF career ended in infamous fashion, as Kevin Nash refused to do a job for him at a house show in Montreal and he ended up getting run out of the company. Bret moved on to better things, as he would beat Diesel at Survivor Series two months later to win the WWF Championship for the third time.

Gem of the Week: Bret Hart vs. Jean-Pierre LaFitte