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Figure Four Weekly: Can a reboot salvage 205 Live?

Can a reboot salvage 205 Live?

 

by Joseph Currier (@josephcurrier)

While it's probably best to be skeptical at this point, the beginnings of a reboot for 205 Live began last Tuesday.

A week after Enzo Amore was fired when a rape allegation against him stemming from last October was made public (and Amore reportedly didn't inform the company of the investigation prior to the public finding out), WWE announced a 205 Live general manager and a 16-man tournament to crown a new Cruiserweight Champion. The bracket has yet to be revealed, but the tournament finals are scheduled for WrestleMania.

Rockstar Spud, now going by the name Drake Maverick, made his debut and was introduced as the new GM by Daniel Bryan. Bryan called Spud someone who is going to usher in a new era and said his leadership will give everyone the type of cruiserweight action they've wanted all along.

Cedric Alexander and TJP advanced in the first two tournament matches. But it was the inclusion of outsiders that offered the most hope going forward. Tyler Bate, who was in town for Royal Rumble weekend, boosted the quality of the episode by losing to TJP in a very good match. Roderick Strong will face Hideo Itami this week, and the quality of that should be indicative of how serious WWE is about changing the in-ring product for the cruiserweights. Strong should be allowed to do everything possible to make Itami look good.

Bringing in wrestlers who aren't on the regular roster for occasional appearances is a great idea if they fit in with the theme of the show. Just last month, that was Goldust making cameos as WWE had an entirely different vision for what they wanted 205 Live to be. A consistent long-term identity for the show is vital if it's going to succeed. It was at its strongest point when Neville was the focus of the division and elevating everyone around him. It then became the Enzo Amore show, with Amore adding some built-in star power and WWE-style comedy but taking away from what the original identity was supposed to be.

Last week indicated that the focus will now be back on stronger in-ring action. The conditions that made the Cruiserweight Classic such a success can't entirely be replicated on 205 Live in its current form, but a tournament is the best way to shift that focus back. And if the finals happen on the actual WrestleMania card instead of in front of a nearly-empty stadium on the pre-show, it would prove to viewers that WWE is serious about the division.

But the problems with 205 Live go beyond the quality of its matches. The cruiserweight division has been established as something that just isn't very important. No matter how good they are, the matches on Raw are heatless and only serve to fill up a segment or two on the episode. Title defenses on pay-per-views are relegated to the pre-show or are of lesser importance than any other main card program.

Even past that, taping after SmackDown is a fatal flaw that cannot be overcome without significant changes. When fans come to the Tuesday tapings to see AJ Styles, Randy Orton. Shinsuke Nakamura, Charlotte Flair, and Kevin Owens, 205 Live is nothing more than a glorified version of Main Event. And when wrestlers like Styles on SmackDown and Finn Balor on Raw wrestle the same night as the cruiserweights do, the division is offering nothing markedly different than is already being featured on five hours of main roster programming. With that, the WWE Network's only live weekly in-ring series feels more like filler than content that offers subscribers added value.

Pointing out 205 Live's flaws is easy. Many of them have been apparent since its debut in November of 2016. Even some of the fixes are fairly obvious. The biggest question is if WWE will ever devote the resources needed to improve things. Doing sets of tapings at Full Sail University like NXT does is one of those obvious solutions. The smaller crowds would be there solely to see the cruiserweights, they would react far better, and the quality would improve because of it. But that would eliminate the series' biggest selling point for WWE -- the fact that it's live every week. Going live from any other location wouldn't be cost effective since the production for SmackDown on Tuesdays is already in place.

Regardless of where it's filmed, it's time for WWE to actually commit to 205 Live if they're going to go forward with the show. The Cruiserweight Championship needs to become a legitimately strong secondary title, and the division needs real star power. The current roster has been damaged to a point that it will be hard to recover from. The only way to fix that is to add people who the audience sees as important and to inject difference-making talent into the division. Signing Rey Mysterio, who looked great and got an incredible response when he appeared at the Royal Rumble, and having him wrestle semi-frequently would do wonders. Bate and Pete Dunne could be featured as the company still works out whatever they're planning for the United Kingdom. Strong could make appearances while still being in NXT. And there are wrestlers with superstar potential like Ricochet and Johnny Gargano who would be invaluable additions. 205 Live just needs to be seen as something that has the ability to launch someone's career instead of derail it.

Whether 205 Live will ever be able to actually find its footing remains to be seen. And everything up until this point has indicated that major changes are needed rather than a minor reboot. The Cruiserweight Classic was some of the most inspired programming that WWE has produced over the last several years, but the series that it launched is an entirely different product. With so much talent getting time on Raw and their own weekly show on the Network, it would be a shame if we looked back at this cruiserweight division as the missed opportunity that it has been up to this point.

 

Mexico Notes

 

by Steve Sims (@DrLuchaJr)

Tons of news

AAA held a press conference (a major one) and a TV taping last week. They formalized big news not just for the upcoming Rey de Reyes show in Puebla on March 4, but also some early directions for TripleMania XXVI, likely in August and likely, though not actually announced, in Mexico City. First, for Rey de Reyes, they confirmed that El Hijo Del Fantasma would bet his mask against the hair of El Texano Jr. in the main event. Additionally, the winner of that match will be one of four men invited to a four-way-dance as the main event of TripleMania, with each participant laying his hair or mask on the line as the case may be. The winner of the Rey de Reyes headliner will join The Pyscho Clown, who will risk his mask yet again in a TM estelar. Coming out to support Psycho Clown at this past Friday's TV taping were family member Maximo (brother) and La Mascara (cousin), now full-time AAA, using those very names they sported in CMLL. The TV taping last Friday on Twitch went will, and kicked off AAA's channel on that service. Some of the Twitch initially broadcast historical content has been strong, so there's hope for that. Still, the nagging question lingers as to how Televisa will react to their TV being a re-broadcast of something another TV channel has shown. AAA's Televisa slot is the single most important asset they have and one trusts they aren't placing that asset at risk. Finally, at the press conference, AAA hinted at a Lady Shani mask versus Fabi Apache hair match at TM 26. That will be something to see if it comes off; Fabi has in the past fought against this stipulation pretty hard.

CMLL held a very CMLL-ish TV taping this past Friday night – Block A of the annual rudo/tecnico tournament highlighted the card, and it went exactly paint-by-numbers to the letter as one would expect going in, from the pairings, to the style the matches were worked, to the winners (Volador Jr./Ultimo Guerrero). The card featured more-eagerly-anticipated-than-normal 1st and 2nd matches, the first of which petered out after an injury to Electrico and the second of which was fine as the debut of NJPW's Kawato San and the continuation of Virus's being assigned as the personal in-ring trainer for promising youngster Audaz. The main event was switched around the day of the show. Anel de Oro joined the tecnico team, and Cuatrero joined the rudo team. They feuded with a typical straight-fall mask-ripping DQ finish to lead to post-match microphone challenges. El Angel De Oro challenged Cuatrero to a match of máscara contra máscara, and it would strongly appear as if that will be on the card for March's El Homenaje a Dos Leyendas. Angel de Oro is a long-time third-from-the-top sort of guy who has had enough title/big match wins that he's moved into semifinals. Cuatrero, one-third of the Nuevo Generación Dinamita trio, has had three total singles matches in CMLL (two versus Angel de Oro, one of which was winning the CMLL World Middleweight Championship on the recent FantasticaMania tour, and the other was Tuesday of this week). Niebla Roja, the brother of Angel de Oro, lost his mask last September at the anniversary show and the general reaction has been that it was a positive step for his career. Putting Niebla Roja and Gran Guerrero in a mega show main event was a stretch; putting Cuatrero in there will be a triple stretch. Not sure how many fans will want to pay elevated prices to see Cuatrero, though a very promising newcomer (well, he's in his eighth year, but really only the last two out of Arena Mexico) with a likely big career ahead of him, risk his mask. CMLL holds a press conference later this week to formally confirm the date, time, location, and 2nd legend to be honored

 

Europe Notes

 

by Oliver Court (@AnotherOli)

The talk of the town this week was the main event of PROGRESS Chapter 62; WALTER vs Timothy Thatcher for the Atlas Championship. It's been a little bit of a slow start for Europe in 2018, but this match was the first universally acknowledged banger of the year, as the Ringkampf duo brought forward the physical style they have mastered in a big way. This was anything but a friendly competition between the boys as we saw at wXw Inner Circle back in October, instead the main event championship scenario unleashed the vicious side of WALTER and the tenacity of Thatcher was there to match it. We caught a glimpse of heel WALTER, who stood dominant in wXw in early 2017 before the Ringkampf story had to be changed up, as he brutalised Thatcher with curb stomps and chops to the head, only for Thatcher to withstand more and more bullying punishment. It was a great dynamic that made the physicality of the match pop out. Thatcher didn't oversell, as he has been prone to do, but instead let that physicality speak for itself. It's another defining moment in the rise of WALTER to indie superstardom – in the same week as WALTER/Dragunov landing in the Top 10 in the Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year poll, the highest ranked non-NJPW/WWE match – but also a showcase for Thatcher in a main event scenario away from his controversial EVOLVE run. When it comes to Thatcher, if he's in the Ringkampf gear, he's proven he can deliver.

For wXw, it's their final 'marquee' show before the huge 16 Carat weekender, Dead End, this Friday. It's the final major chance to build stories and intrigue for the tournament, with the main event seeing Bad Bones defend the Unified Title against Mike Bailey, who will be in Europe for the next month or so. Perhaps even more interesting than the show itself is the wonderful match graphics wXw have produced, imitating the Metal Gear Solid Codec call screens. wXw have upped their production game over the past year or so and it's put them ahead of almost every other indie out there in terms of creating good-looking, cohesive graphics for shows. Every marquee event feels special and different and it's a testament to the great work their full-time team is doing.

 

Japan Notes

 

by Alan Counihan (@Alan4L)

All Japan's big show in Yokohama on Saturday received glowing reviews and was yet another sign that the company has hit its stride as a product, however it was announcements made at the show which had the most buzz. The longest running tournament in Japan, the Champion Carnival, is usually a highlight of the Spring months and this year AJPW are going all in with an incredible field of talent with two huge outside names bolstering their trusted regulars.

Dragon Gate's Shingo Takagi taking a spot in the A Block was a surprise but Pro Wrestling NOAH Vice President Naomichi Marufuji being announced for the B Block left jaws on the floor. Marufuji is a product of the All Japan dojo system in the 90s but was a part of the large group that formed NOAH in 2000. He rose to prominence in over the course of the past 18 years to the point now where he is seen as NOAH's key figure inside and outside the ring. Whilst he has wrestled for AJPW since the split (in 2008 he won their junior title), he has not done so since the acrimonious departure of Jun Akiyama and others in 2013. Akiyama is now the head of All Japan, and nobody expected he and Marufuji to be working together anytime soon. Not only will Maru be working for Jun, he'll also be wrestling him as they are in the same block. The block will also see a first time match-up of Marufuji vs. AJPW loyalist Suwama which should be extremely interesting.

Takagi coming in for the tournament is yet another sign that DG is cool with letting him extend his wings across the Japanese wrestling landscape. He worked for Wrestle-1, Big Japan and Fortune Dream in 2017, and is now started to take more of a background role in his home promotion as DG gets behind its new generation of heels in Eita, T-Hawk and El Lindman.

The other big news was the announcement of a streaming service as AJPW joins the ranks of New Japan, DDT, Stardom and BJW in offering online viewing capabilities to their fans. This is a very interesting one as AJPW's content is broadcast on three different TV stations and it is currently unknown as to which if any of those will be partnering with them. Samurai TV (one of the three) already partner with DDT to help provide their service but they leave BJW and Stardom to their own devices for theirs. If GAORA are involved in this, or even at the very least giving their blessing, it could have ramifications on Dragon Gate as they currently air exclusively on that channel. A DG streaming service would no doubt be very popular to Western fans and likely take second behind New Japan World in that marketplace.

 

Vinny's TV Reviews

 

by Bryan's Friend Vince (@FO_VVerhei)

Retro NWA (11/14/87)

Show opened with horrible quality video of Kendall Windham wrestling Larry Zbyszko. Did the Network get this show off a garage sale VHS tape? Kendall missed a crossbody and his neck hit the ropes and they cut away.

Ron Simmons joined the announcers for a promo. He said Starrcade would be worse than a major war in the projects. He said two brothers had forgotten what it was like to grow up and having to fight your own family for clothes or food. He was very upset with the JIVE TONES. Oh lord.

Steve Williams vs. Rex King. Doc hit the powerslam a minute in, but wasn't done yet. He hit a press slam where King was waving his arms in the air. Good lord. He did his spear, which is more like a running backdrop, and the powerslam again for the win. I want a time machine so I can make mixed martial arts a viable career in the early 1980s so Doc can jump into the octagon. Doc and his Hulk Hogan moustache cut a promo saying Barry Windham was a great wrestler and he was a Barry Windham fan, but in that ring it would be one-on-one, and may the best man win. He talked about defending the UWF belt all over the world, how it took him a long time to get it, despite people stabbing him in the back. He pushed hard that it would not be a fight, it would be a wrestling match, and listed all the techniques he would use. I enjoyed this.

STARRCADE CONTROL CENTER. This was the go-home show to the go-home show for Starrcade. Schiavonie ran down all the big matches at Starrcade. Jim Crockett said they had one more stipulation to add to the show, and he was making Johnny Weaver "the keeper of the key" in the Luger-Rhodes cage match, so he would be locking and unlocking the door. Johnny cut a promo about the match, sounding like someone had used the Weaver lock on him. They showed Mighty Wilbur laying out Paul Jones with an elbow and a splash, then leaving the ring to shake the fans' hands. Tony then announced Wilbur vs. Ivan Koloff for Starrcade. Wilbur stared right at a cue card and awkwardly read from it. He stopped talking and waited for them to turn the card and they didn't and he said "THAT'S IT!" This was wonderfully bad.

Michael Hayes & Jimmy Garvin vs. Eric Long & Gary Phelps. Crowd sure was lively this week. Not sure which geek it was, but one of them dead-weighted Garvin on a bodyslam. So Garvin just dropped him to earth awkwardly. They threw him from the ring and had him bump on the concrete repeatedly, then continued to stiff him and not let him tag out. "This guy's unconscious!" Jimmy Crockett declared. Eventually they let him tag out. Eric Long was apparently the horrible wrestler. Gary Phelps was the pudgy guy with the singlet specifically designed to lift and separate his man boobs, but at least he could work. They beat him for a while and Hayes pinned him with a bulldog.

Sorta-Freebirds cut a promo after the break. They hyped up Starrcade, then called out the winners of the tag title match, adding that it would probably be the Road Warriors. Hayes talked about Starrcade, saying people would lose titles, money, egos, maybe even careers, but they weren't losing anything.

Rick Steiner vs. Keith Steinborn. I think this was Rick's Saturday night debut. He was massive and threw him around early, also using some swank amateur style takedowns. Mismatched boots and kneepads, even back in the day. Jimmy Crockett had never seen anything like Rick's slam into the turnbuckles and could not contain his mirth. "OH YEAH!" he screamed, five times in a row. The beating went on for a while, and finally Rick won with a belly-to-belly. All I can think right now is I would pay hundreds to see Steve Williams vs. Rick Steiner.

It was time for the SPAM SLAM OF THE WEEK. It was the Garvin Stomp, which isn't even technically a slam. Which I guess is appropriate because Spam isn't technically food.

Dusty Rhodes cut a promo passionately plugging a tape called THE DANGER ZONE. They went right to break, then came back for a Superpowers promo. Nikita said he could not wait for Starrcade and the TV title unification match against Terry Taylor. Dusty listed every single babyface on the roster and said they were responsible for the hottest product on TV. He started calling out Lex Luger, saying if he wanted to be the legend, all he had to do, Hoss, was beat the legend.

Ricky Santana vs. Bob Emery. Nothing happened, then Ricky screamed and won with a flying bodypress. Ricky cut a promo saying there would be winners and losers at Starrcade, but his money was on Dusty Rhodes and Ronnie Garvin. He spoke in Spanish a bit, then called out Ric Flair and spoke in Spanish more. Uh-oh. There's gonna be an ass-beating next week. He was done, but then Kevin Sullivan interrupted and said there was no way in hell Ronnie Garvin could ever beat Ric Flair. Well he did, so there must be. He also said there was no way Luger could beat Rhodes in a cage. He was extra cranked up this week. He said Steve Williams, the UWF champion, might be capable of beating Flair, and Windham had no chance of beating Williams. I wish this guy would either pick a side or just get his own program to talk about.

Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson vs. B.T. Washington & El Negro. Washington had bare feet and and Hawaiian trunks over black tights like every 1980s Polynesian wrestler. Horsemen made short work of them and pinned Negro with a double gourdbuster. Gimmick was that Negro was a 300-pounder, and hitting this move on him proved they could hit it on the Road Warriors too. They cut a promo referencing this, saying neither Animal nor Hawk weighed even 300 pounds, let alone this 350-pounder. They talked about the Warriors getting nervous and throwing up at Starrcade, talked about how they learned from everyone, and they'd still be champions after Starrcade.

Ivan Koloff & Warlord vs. Curtis Thompson Max McGyver. Warlord did a press slam into a backbreaker. It was horrifying, like he legit dropped him and had to stick his knee out to break his fall. They won quickly with the backbreaker/elbow combo. Paul Jones then cut a promo, apologizing to the people for bringing in the gutless monster Mighty Wilbur. Ivan promised this grape-picker would be back in California with his fruit. He mentioned Wilbur calling Jones Puddinhead and Jones shouted "PUDDINHEAD JONES!" and Warlord lost it and started laughing. Ivan said this was all Red Bastien's fault, and he was going to take personal pleasure in embarrassing Wilbur. "I'M GOING TO REVENGE PAUL JONES! I'M GOING TO TAKE IT OUT OF YOUR BIG UGLY BODY!" This was just outstanding. Must-see stuff.

JJ Dillon and Lex Luger cut a promo. I'll be honest, I was still recovering from the Jones promo and didn't take in a lot of this. But I did catch Lex saying "stupidstars." Fans started chanting "STEROIDS!" That was about it.

Lex Luger vs. Tony Suber. Well this was terrible. They were on totally different pages from start to finish. Guys would get whipped into the ropes and just stop running. Like, more than once. Even when things went right, it didn't look good. Lex tried the torture rack. Suber couldn't get up and was hanging upside down for a while. So Lex dropped him on the back of his neck. Very scary. Lex just hit an elbowsmash and won. My GOD this was terrible.

Ric Flair cut a promo. He talked about growing up with money, and bragged about his clothes, his watches, his shoes, his cars, his house, and how being born with a golden spoon in his mouth had led him to be world champion. He said it was a time of free agency, and he and Dusty Rhodes and all the other stars would only choose to work for Jim Crockett if it was the best thing going. He called the fans idiots and they booed. Now Ronnie Garvin had to wrestle the man with the golden spoon, and soon he'd be a five-time champion. This was awesome.

Johnny Weaver was sitting around a campfire, inviting us to join him for a cup of coffee. He told us about being in the first one, suffering a broken arm, fighting 20 or 30 cowboys, in a BUNKHOUSE STAMPEDE. Everyone would be in ther shirts and jeans and boots and spurs, and the winner was the last one left standing. He talked about Dory Funk Jr. doing the first one in Texas, and they showed this awful battle royal going on as a sad tune played on a single guitar. You can bring any weapon, Weaver said, a cowbell or a good branding iron, but there would be no friends when there was money involved. But the winner could call himself the Bull of the Woods.

Ronnie Garvin, looking like absolute shit, came out for a promo. Trucker hat, denim jacket, the works. He claimed 180 million people in this country wore jeans. I tuned him out. I am so over Ronnie Garvin as world champ.

Larry Zbyszko vs. Ricky Nelson. Baby Doll was with Zbyszko in her return to the territory. Larry beat him up for a while and won with a neckbreaker. Larry cut a promo saying he had come to the top territory to win the top belts, and Baby Doll already had scouting reports on all the big names in the territory. He offered Barry Windham a chance to surrender the Western States title before he got embarrassed. He moved on to Dusty Rhodes, saying Baby Doll knew more about him than his own mother did, and now Larry did too. They were going right to the top, you see. This wasn't very good.

Eddie Gilbert & Terry Taylor vs. Trent Knight & George Fox. Match was joined in progress. George Fox was fucking horrendous. As soon as they got him in the ring they pinned him with something like a 3D, dropping his neck across the rope. They cut a promo. Fans chanted "GEEK!" at Taylor. He cut this totally bland promo, and then Gilbert started talking. Why the hell was Gilbert positioned as the sidekick here? He was a MUCH better promo, a better worker, way more star power, he was just SHORTER. This irritated me.

Jim Cornette promo. Cornette said the Midnight Express was out doing charity work, supplying a home for unwed mothers with more unwed mothers. He plugged the WarGames match in New York, and the scaffold match at Starrcade.

Barry Windham vs. Cougar Jay. Barry won quickly with a superplex. He cut a promo after the break, saying that Dr. Death was underestimating him, but after the match they would walk away friends and competitors. He added that Zbyszko had no idea how hard he had worked to get that belt.

Luke Williams & Johnny Ace vs. David Isley & Tommy Angel. Butch Miller was on commentary talking about how great it was to wave the New Zealand flag, where men were men and women were women and the land was filled with song and beauty. Could you believe that Johnny Ace was once a bloody Yankee? Now he was the man of men and the Sheepherders had another win. I don't know what actually happened in the ring and it doesn't matter, THE SHEEPHERDERS ARE THE BEST. Then Butch cut a promo about the Nassau Stadium, where they would defend the UWF tag titles against the Lightning Express, and then the next day they would be at Starrcade, because the best tag teams in the world would be there, and he called out every team on the roster. GOD the Sheepherders were great.

Rock & Roll Express cut a promo. Gibson was talking and it sucked and Morton just interrupted him and started running down Cornette and Bubba.

Shaska Whatley & Tiger Conway Jr. vs. The Menace & Alan Martin. They fucking killed Martin several times and he frantically tagged out. Jesus this match. Jive Tones tried two double teams at once and poor Menace had no idea which bump to take. The horrendousness continued and the Jive Tones won with a fucked-up double legsweep. An unbelievably bad match and I can't believe there were not serious injuries. Three of these men are the Worst Wrestlers of all Time of the Week, and none of them are They cut a promo running down Simmons and Rhodes and Ronnie Garvin and that was that, and the show ended. Well this went out on a terrible note.

WWF Retro Raw 297 (2/1/99)

Highlights of Mankind defeating Rock in the empty arena match the night before to regain the WWF title. This included the shots where there was apparently a camera mounted on the forklift that Foley talked about hating so much in his book.

Shane McMahon explained to the Corporation that Vince was in Texas trying to provoke Steve Austin to get their contract broken. He asked where Kane was. Test said Kane needed a Mydol and was always in a bad mood. Yes. Also, Big Bossman called Terri Runnels a bitch for literally no reason at all. We're off to a fine start here.

Corporation hit the ring for a promo. Shane immediately said he had this and sent everyone else to the back. You see, if Austin laid a finger on Vince, he'd be fired on the spot. They can't just fire him right now? There was a cage hanging above the ring, and Shane ordered it lowered, then talked about how his dad would beat Austin at St. Valentine's Day Massacre. X-Pac was sitting on the cage as it lowered, and they cut backstage where DX was brawling with the Corporation. Shane did not back down and went to brawl with X-Pac and got his ass kicked. Chyna ran down and just walked into the cage and confronted X-Pac. He refused to hit her and kicked Shane, but Chyna low-blowed him, then held him as Shane hit punches, and they left together.

They aired the WWF Super Bowl commercial. It was funny.

Vince was in Texas with the Stooges, who were decked out like Cowboys trying to fit in. Vince said to follow his lead, he knew how to deal with these people. He asked the bartender if she had seen Stone Cold Steve Austin, and made fun of the way she talked. She threatened them with a bat and they left.

Billy Gunn vs. Val Venis. Ken Shamrock was on commentary for this match between the guy who mooned his sister and the guy who fucked his sister. Shamrock said he would tell her sister she was not allowed to go out with Val anymore. They had lots of shots of women swooning over him. Billy mooned Val and the fight was on. Michael Cole, who is terrible, asked Shamrock if he considered that his sister's relationship with Val might be consensual. MIGHT be? If not this story is even uglier than I thought. Crowd was chanting that Shamrock sucked. Lawler was blatantly trying to antagonize Shamrock, saying, you know, Val's hands were all over your sister's body in that shower, and if I were you, I'd be tearing the hair out of his pornographic head. He actually said that. Val used a chinlock and Billy actually did the Hulk Hogan finger wave to fire up. And then Val kicked his ass anyway. Billy is the biggest geek in this feud. Not once has he ever looked like a guy who DESERVES the IC title, just a guy who's picking a fight. Anyway, Val was beating Billy's ass when Shamrock attacked with a chair for the DQ. Billy chased Shamrock away but then Val laid out Billy with the chair. BILLY IS A GEEK.

Mankind was spending Rock's money and bought an unmasked Max Mini for $487. They went to commercial and then Rock was on the phone with Vince calling Mankind a retard. Shane had called Kane a retard earlier. Yeah, this would not fly in 2018.

Kevin Kelly interviewed Debra. She said nobody would beat Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett for the tag titles because she was hot. Mark Henry came and said, quote, "I think me and you should hook up." Jarrett and Owen jumped him from behind and laid him out. And that was it.

Mankind was giving investment advice to Kurrgan backstage.

D-Lo Brown came out with PMS. They told him they needed to teach a pig another lesson. D-Lo wanted to know when this crap was going to stop, hadn't he done enough to prove how sorry he was for making her lose her baby. He said this. Jacqueline said they were not done with him yet, and Lawler randomly said "you skank." Jesus this show. Terri said Bossman had called her a bitch, now D-Lo would make him his bitch. D-Lo was not happy to hear this.

D-Lo Brown vs. Big Bossman. Match went two minutes. D-Lo hit the frog splash but PMS distracted the ref. Then Bossman hit the Bubba slam for the win. Bossman continued to beat D-Lo after the match until Henry ran out for the save. So are Henry and D-Lo faces? They are now feuding with the Corporation and Owen and Jarrett.

Pat Patterson was hitting on women and getting hit in the nuts for his troubles.

Blue Meanie came out to dance, allegedly as an audition for a TV show about male dancers. Goldust came out and kicked him in the balls. This was a segment.

Henry was giving D-Lo a speech about how it wasn't his fault Terri lost her baby. The masseuse said Terri had never been pregnant. "You'd better not kayfabe," D-Lo said, "you'd better start shooting with me here." Doc said Terri had never been pregnant. D-Lo was appalled.

Droz vs. Kurrgan. Droz demanded the Oddities leave the ring. Announcers bragged about the Royal Rumble breaking PPV records. I was blown way by the competence shown in this match. It was a perfectly acceptable pro wrestling encounter. I mean, it went two minutes, but still. Droz hit a broomhandle to the throat from the floor, then hit "a football tackle from the top rope" for the win. He continued the attack until Golga and Giant Silva returned to make the save.

Vince took the Stooges out for barbecue. They had a bowl of baked beans big enough for 20 people. The Stooges were loving the food and dribbling sauce everywhere but Vince took a bite of brisket and spat it out. Brisco chewed out the waitress, saying Mr. Mack Man was from Greenwich, Connecticut, and deserved better food than this. She dumped a small serving of beans on his head. I can only assume there will be more from this barbecue joint to come. Either that or she refused to dump the bowl of beans because she'd be the one cleaning it up too.

Mideon & Viscera & Undertaker vs. Brood. Mideon and Viscera hit the ring. Taker stayed in his throne onstage. Then when the Brood came out of their ring of fire they had to walk right by Taker, but nothing happened. So it was really a 3-on-2 handicap match, though I'm pretty sure the two outweighed the three. Christian did a frog elbow here, when Mark Briscoe was 14 years old, and then the Acolytes hit the ring for the DQ and Taker walked down to the ring. Refs came out to clear the ring, but the Brood threw the refs out and called for the Ministry to beat them up more. Faarooq dominatored Gangrel right onto his head. They put a noose around his neck, Taker put his hands on Gangrel's head, and they threw him over the rope and hung him. Can you hang a vampire? Crowd had zero idea what to make of this.

Mankind walked up to Debra and said "I brought you something for your boobs." He said they made him feel tingly but he was concerned she would catch a fatal chest cold, and so he bought her a sweater.

Mankind came out for a promo, champion again, in what appeared to be doctor's scrubs and tennis shoes. Rock immediately interrupted, running down Mankind and saying he needed a forklift to win. He demanded Mankind return the $97,000. Mankind said it was down to about $72,000. And he did say he would return the cash if Rock gave him an empty arena match, but he changed his mind. He admitted Rock made a million bucks and looked like a million bucks, but he was still the biggest horse's ass in wrestling. Rock trying to stifle a laugh at some of this was awesome. Mankind offered a rematch, and so Rock challenged him to a last man standing match at St. Valentine's Day massacre. Mankind accepted and Rock called him retarded again.

They did a parody of their own Super Bowl commercial. That was weird.

Vince and the Stooges thought they had Austin trapped at a firing range. Vince explained he would pick a fight, Austin would hit him, and then the Stooges would jump him while Vince got the car. They were NOT down with this plan. "There's guns in there.".

After the break, the nefarious plot unfolded. Vince opened the door and saw what he thought was Austin, but it was some other bald-headed, gun-totin' Texan. He threatened to shoot Vince, then told him what bar Austin was at.

Road Dogg & Al Snow vs. Acolytes in a hardcore tag team match. Oh god. They brawled on the floor and hit each other with shit. In the head. Hard. So why is this match even happening? Is there going to be a hardcore tag team division? They brawled through the crowd and threw beer on each other, then brawled backstage, then into the parking lot and TOTAL DARKNESS. A fan threw beer in Bradshaw's face so Bradshaw punched the fan out. One table got set up in the ring and one got set up in the parking lot. Viscera appeared and caught Al and slammed him through something. Acolytes powerbombed Dogg through a table and pinned him. This was sucky and pointless. Druids came out and cleared Dogg and the table out of the ring. Taker came out and the Ministry saluted him, then unmasked the Druids to reveal the Brood.

Road Dogg and Al Snow yelled at each other in the parking lot. Al turned his back and Dogg hit him from behind with a chair. What an asshole. Like, is everyone on this show a total dick? I guess Mankind is the one exception.

McMahon found Austin at a bar and tried to pick a fight, calling him chickenshit repeatedly. Austin said no, I'll wait till it's nice and legal in a steel cage. Vince kept up his tirade. Austin said he was going to leave and wouldn't hit Vince, but he invited everyone else to show Vince a good time. The rednecks all started walking Vince down and they went to break.

Triple H vs. Kane in a cage match. Hunter called Chyna a "big bitch" in his promo. Kane destroyed him and randomly set off his pyro in the middle of the match. Now they were wrestling in red light. And then it went away and the normal lights were back. GOD THIS WAS BORING. Hunter, while trying to escape, was able to drag a chair into the cage, and he hit Kane in the head with it real hard. Kane tried to climb out and Hunter yanked him down to the mat. Yes, Kane, took a flat back bump off the top rope. That's ridiculous for a guy his size in a total nothing Raw main event. Match continued and Kane hit a chokeslam. He went to leave, but X-Pac was there to slam the door on his head. Then Kane tried to climb out but X-Pac climbed up the outside to fight him. Hunter started to climb out the other side but Chyna ran out and grabbed his leg, but he kicked her down and climbed out to win. People were JUMPING UP AND DOWN for this finish, the hero Triple H needing his lil buddy to run interference to win. The Attitude Era was weird, man. Chyna challenged Hunter to, uh, something at St. Valentine's Day massacre. She wasn't specific.

The finishes on this show were: DQ due to outside interference; pin after a guy was distracted by his own managers; pin after a weapon shot; DQ due to an attack that was apparently welcomed; clean pin, I suppose, in a tag match; cage escape thanks to abundant interference from multiple people.

WCW Monday Nitro 177 (2/1/99)

Great irritation: I could not get this episode to play on its own. I had to put it on my WATCHLIST first, then it would play. Grrr.

Curt Hennig and Barry Windham arrived at the building, saying they were in the tag team tournament, and if they won the belts they'd get their hands on Hall and Nash. Yes, the tag belts are just a stepping stone to the REAL prize, a match against the Outsiders.

They showed video of the Nitro Girls rehearsing when Scott Steiner came out to fuck them. As Kimberly tried to get away from him, she tripped over one of the other Nitro Girls and was apparently knocked out cold.

Mean Gene called out "K-Dog" and Rey Mysterio Jr. for a promo. REY IS STILL WEARING THE LWO SHIRT. Then he talked about growing up watching "Kevin and Lex," and when he showed up in WCW for the first time, "they showed that love to me, they guided me through, they gave me respect." HE LAWN DARTED YOU INTO THE SIDE OF A BUILDING. Jesus, Rey is booked worse here than he was as world champion in WWE. He vowed to beat Lex. Konnan said you didn't need to be 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds to get into wrestling and he would make those strawberries bow down. They challenged Nash and Luger to a tag match with Rey's mask against Nash's hair or Luger's hair or Elizabeth's hair. And nothing was settled and they left.

The B-Teamers were at the airport when Vince showed up and said all the rental cars had been rented. "WHERE'S OUR TAURUSES AT?" Brian Adams asked. Stevie Ray got them a limo. There wasn't room for everyone, so they kicked Vince out and said they'd meet him in the building. Vince threatened to call Kevin and get a ride. Kevin said he'd be there soon. Another limo pulled up. The Wolfpac invited him in and they pulled away.

Nitro Girls, sans Kimberly, danced.

Ric Flair had Eric Bischoff in a dunk tank in the parking lot, outside, at night, in Minneapolis, in January. I'm pretty sure a boss who forced his employee to do this would be fired. Flair talked about all the things Bischoff had made him do, South Dakota radio spots and matches against Curt Hennig.

Curt Hennig & Barry Windham vs. Chris Benoit & Dean Malenko. Did we mention this is a DOUBLE-ELIMINATION TOURNAMENT? Because we've got to make it as complicated as possible to guaranTEE WCW fucks it up. Suspended ref Scott Dickinson was in the crowd again. Heat on Benoit. He kicked out of Windham's lariat. Nobody seemed to realize that was Barry's finish. There was a close-up of Barry's leg and you could see the massive kneebrace he had on under his jeans. Wait a minute, this guy needed a kneebrace, and then pulled tight jeans on OVER it? They had plenty of time and it turned into a good match. Weird comeback as Dean tagged in and ran wild, but then tagged Benoit back in and a four-way broke out. Windham hit a superplex on Malenko, but they were not the legal men, and Benoit broke up the illegal pin with a diving headbutt. Hennig hit Benoit with a fisherman's suplex for the win. This was fun.

JJ Dillon took five throws to get Bischoff into the dunk tank. This made La Parka happy.

The Wolfpac arrived at the building. Nash was stunned to see the B-Teamers had a limo too. Stevie Ray stooged off Vince and said he had dropped the ball on everything. Then Vince got out of the Wolfpac's limo. There was the least intense faceoff ever between Stevie Ray and Vince and Scott Norton made peace.

Stevie Ray was bitching after the break that they weren't going to have food or drinks. Then they stepped in the locker room and there were women waiting for them and they were happy.

Mean Gene called Flair out for a promo. They said Hulk Hogan's jet had broken down and he wouldn't be on the show tonight. He talked about the nWo, including "Virgil." He ranted off a list of great wrestlers and said he would never look like Hogan, but he would tie him in a knot. He promised he would do or die at the PPV. That seems extreme. He booked Bret Hart vs. Chris Benoit for the US title at SuperBrawl. Disco Inferno and Scott Hall interrupted. He claimed he should be the top contender to the US title, and Benoit came out to debate the point. He threatened to "introduce my foot to your brown eye." Well no wonder it took him years more to be a main eventer. A brawl broke out, the Horsemen won, and Flair booked Benoit vs. Hall for tonight.

Van Hammer vs. Kenny Kaos. Announcers acknowledged the death of Giant Baba. This match was so awful they cut to Scott Dickinson walking out. I laughed my ass off. Sandman walked out wrapped in barbed wire. Keep in mind we have only seen him hanging out in Raven's garage and playing backgammon to this point. Hammer won with an Alabama slam, and Sandman immediately attacked him with the stick. He clonked Kaos for good measure. Schiavonie had no idea who this man was and I'm CERTAIN that was a shoot. Sandman said it pissed him off when somebody tried to rip off his work. He claimed to be the first man to do a no-ropes barbed wire match, and the first to use a barbed wire bat, and the first guy to do a barbed wire dive off a cage through a table. He called out Bam Bam Bagelow, and said he wasn't leaving until Bigelow came out.

Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Sandman. Sandman wasn't tied up in barbed wire anymore. His offense consisted entirely of cane shots. Bam Bam bent a chair over his head and then hit a superkick. "This guy" made a comeback and wrapped the barbed wire around the turnbuckles. They teased it but did not deliver right away, but eventually Bam Bam hit an avalanche into the wire, a diving headbutt, and a Greetings from Asbury Park onto a chair for the win. I should clarify this was clearly fake wire.

Back at the dunk tank. I will add that you could see Bischoff's breath, it was legit cold out there. A cameraman threw 2,000 baseballs and some hit the target but Bischoff never got wet and that was it.

Luger-Liz video package. This was not live, but Liz was so quiet I had to crank my volume to hear this. She gave a ridiculously wooden delivery about how great it was to be part of an elite group like the nWo. Lex ran down all of Goldberg's assets, but said he was no Total Package, and laying Goldberg out had been the greatest moment of his career.

Scott Dickinson was at the dunk tank now. he hit the target and the fucking cameraman missed Bischoff going into the tank.

Dallas Page was talking to Kidman backstage and got the news about what happened to Kimberly. He stormed into the nWo locker room and slammed the door behind him. Thankfully they had a camera in there too. He demanded to know where Steiner was but they all just laughed at him. He warned them to pray that Kimberly was fine and left. Steiner came in through the back door and said he never touched Kimberly, she slipped. He had a girl in the showers, implied it was Kim, and went back to fucking her. Nash sent Vince to tell Page Steiner would accept any match he wanted, and then to slap Page in the mouth. Vince said OK and left, and passed the buck to Disco.

Page went to the ring and called out Steiner. Disco came out and told him to quit crying. He told Page he'd get a match with Steiner at SuperBrawl, then slapped his mouth. He turned to the back, expecting backup, but there was none. Page dropped Disco with a cutter and stormed to the back.

Vince met with the nWo and apparently got credit for a job well done. Page got into his car and left.

Lash LeRoux vs. Kidman. Bobby Heenan had mysteriously no-showed so Zbyszko was sticking around to do commentary. Nice bowl-cut Lash. He had Kanyon syndrome, where almost every thing he did had to be a finisher or a big dive or something. And when he wasn't doing a big move his offense sucked. He did the most embarrassing punch combo and laid Kidman out and then went right to a chinlock. Oh god. Minneapolis crowd got bored and started chanting that Green Bay sucked. Kidman missed a top rope splash and Lash went to ANOTHER REST HOLD. DUDE. Match just kept dragging on. Kidman kicked out of a fireman's carry Michinoku driver. He was so eager to hit his finish on TV that he let the guy kick out the first time it was used. Crowd just got deader and deader. Kidman countered a powerbomb and won with the shooting star press. A very bad match.

They found Heenan. He was at the dunk tank. It was getting colder and now you could see everyone's breath. Heenan said he had no beef with Bischoff and was going to hand him the balls so nobody else could dunk him. Then he tripped into the target and sent Bischoff into the water.

Hulk Hogan was in a limo talking to somebody. Chuck Zito I guess? They were running down David Flair and appeared to be stalking him.

Mean Gene interviewed Booker T backstage. He kept trying to talk about his torn ACL and loss to Bret Hart and Gene kept interrupting. It was very irritating. Finally Booker said he had a match with Disco Inferno at SuperBrawl, and he was going to run Disco over and raise the roof.

Scott Steiner and Buff Bagwell came out for a promo. Scott used the word "mesmermized," which does not exist. He said the last time he had wrestled Page, the stipulation had been that if he won, he'd get to show Kimberly what it was like to be with a real man. He insisted Kimberly was flirting with him backstage, and Page needed to step aside and let nature take its course.

Chris Jericho vs. Scott Steiner. What an odd match. Jericho played de facto babyface. Bagwell jumped from behind on the floor right in front of the ref. Not a DQ. Then as Jericho stumbled by, Buff held up his hands and screamed he was innocent, then poked Jericho in the eye and cackled. God Buff was fun. They went back and forth a few minutes. Looked like Jericho killed him with a quebrada. He dropped Steiner with a superkick, then decided this was a good time to walk out. When you're winning? Saturn came out in a dress and threw Jericho back in the ring, and Steiner hooked the recliner for the win. Well this was a fun and refreshing new matchup, dumb finish aside.

Nash, Luger, and Liz came out for a promo. They laughed at Konnan and Rey challenging them, let alone with stipulations. They agreed to put Liz's hair on the line. She was not down with this, but they assured her everything would be fine, and that there once was a Star Trek movie with a sexy bald woman. They all proceeded to make the biggest joke of the whole thing, this here mask vs. hair match.

Cat came out for a promo. He demanded to be referred to as the Greatest of all Time, then dared the fans or anyone else to come fight him. Cut to the nWo locker room, where they claimed Cat had called Norton out. Norton had no problem with this.

Cat vs. Scott Norton. Cat insisted he had not called Norton out, but since he was there, Cat would have to whup him. Norton abused him and it was glorious. Finally Cat hit a series of kicks, but Norton grabbed him and threw him down. It wasn't a slam or a suplex, there was zero technique here, he just herced him up and threw him back down. Cat hit a blatant low blow. Not a DQ. Norton was chopping him so hard that Cat's skin was turning red, and I'd like to remind you that Cat wasn't white. The torture continued and the crowd was chanting "PUSSYCAT!" "There's no wrestling here at all," Heenan noted. This beating just continued and continued and I had zero interest in seeing it end. Cat finally dragged Sonny Onoo into the ring and threw him into Norton to cut him off. This was not a DQ And then Norton no-sold everything and laid him out anyway. At last he hit a powerbomb and won. An all-time great squash right here. I watched the entire match with a smile on my face, and if I had more time I would rewind this right now and watch the entire thing over again.

Mean Gene brought Goldberg out for an interview. Gene asked about the streak, but Goldberg said the past was the past, so forget about it, because I have. He said Bigelow wasn't an extremist or the beast from the east, he was just NEXT.

Malenko and Flair were throwing balls at the dunk tank. Flair cheated and Bischoff got tanked. He promised he would get the last laugh on Flair, asking where his kid was.

Scott Hall vs. Chris Benoit. Michael Buffer called this "a special heavyweight eliminator match" for a title shot against "Bret Hitman Clark." This guy got paid SO MUCH MONEY to get everyone's name wrong. He talked about Hall's "disdain for formal rules." Bret joined the commentary desk. He said even with his severe groin injury, he was still better than Hall or Benoit, and he said hello to his cat Smokey. He didn't understand why Flair was holding a grudge "just because I beat him." Benoit hooked the crossface, but Disco pulled him out of the ring. Mongo came out to take Disco to the back. They cut away from the match to show Mongo dragging Disco into the Horsemen locker room, where Arn Anderson was waiting with a tire iron. Back in the ring, Bret repeated that he would beat either Hall or Benoit and enjoy doing it and made his exit. He was tremendous while he was out there. No surprise, but they had a really good wrestling match. I took great joy in Hall hooking an abdominal stretch and being very, VERY sneaky about grabbing the ropes. Benoit made his comeback and hit the headbutt when Nash hit the ring. Benoit fought him off, but Hall cut him off in the corner and hit the edge for the win. So yes, apparently, it's Hart-Hall at SuperBrawl for the US title. Well that's weird.

Hogan finally identified Zito, who looked like Stallone and imitated Rocky, calling Hulk Thunderlips. Hulk explained that while Flair was in Minnesota, they were in Charlotte to ruin his life. They spotted David parking in Flair's spot at the gym and followed him in. Back at Nitro, Flair, Malenko, and Arn were watching this on a monitor. Hogan and Chuck decided at the last second this shouldn't be on camera and shut things down, and that is how the show ended. Pretty good show, I thought.

The finishes on this show were: clean pin; clean pin; clean pin in a hardcore match; clean pin; submission after reams of interference; clean pin; pin after distraction.

WWE NXT (1/31/18)

Show opened with highlights of Takeover. The last shot, with Candice LaRae kneeling over Johnny Gargano's prone body as Tomasso Ciampa stood stoically in the background, was a true work of art.

Nikki Cross vs. Lacey Evans. Nikki's Ultimate Warrior entrance in the big arena was freakin' great. They had a GREAT FIGHT. Jesus, even the taped stuff at TakeOver was great. Nikki was on the middle rope and Lacey tripped her down and Nikki hit the mat HARD. Good god. Lacey hit the Ultimo Guerrero headstand into a bronco buster, but missed a moonsault, and Nikki made her comeback and won with the fisherman's swinging neckbreaker. This was a tremendous three-minute TV match. Just awesome.

Clips of Undisputed Era defeating Authors of Pain at TakeOver, then Ember Moon's win over Shayna Baszler. Then Shayna Baszler did a backstage interview. She said Ember hadn't beaten her, she had survived, and barely. Go to medical and ask Ember how she's feeling, and then ask who really won tonight. Then they showed Ember competing in the women's Royal Rumble.

Then we got shots of the Cole-Black extreme rules match. OK, must all of these air at the same time? Undisputed Era then did a backstage promo asking what had gone wrong. They vowed Sanity would pay for this. They put up a graphic for the UE-Sanity tag match next week. LOOK AT ALEXANDER WOLFE. That guy is awesome.

MORE VIDEOS. Velveteen Dream beat Kassius Ohno. He did a backstage promo. He was asked about his vow to win in 30 seconds. He knew what he said, and Ohno knew what he said, which is why Ohno has knocked out his mouthpiece. He asked her to read his trunks, which read "DREAM OVER," and said "good talk.".

TM61 vs. Ealy Brothers. The long-haired Australian got a haircut to match his partner. Gonna make it harder to tell them apart. Well, he still has the giant tattoo. And the giant kneebrace. None of this stopped him from hitting a huge dive 30 seconds in. Ealys got the heat with twin magic and proceeded to clobber. That went a minute, then Shane Thorn (the tattooed one) got a hot tag and ran wild. He about killed a guy with a cannonball into the corner. They won with what's basically a double razor's edge called thunder valley. This was fine.

Recap of guys posing with their year-end awards, but we were told to go to the website for a list of winners. They abruptly cut to the very end of a TM61 promo. I can only assume the first half of this sucked and they salvaged what they could.

Clips of Almas-Gargano at TakeOver. This got way more time than all the other highlight reels. As it should have. This made it look like an all-time classic, a once-in-a-lifetime battle. Which, I mean, it was. Then they interviewed Ciampa backstage. Well, they tried to, but he refused to say anything.

They showed Almas competing in the Royal Rumble, going for almost 30 minutes, and eliminating Kofi Kingston. No reference to Randy Orton eliminating him like a geek. They interviewed him backstage. He was ALL beat up. Zalena talked about how great he was and Andrade said it was only the beginning. They asked where Gargano had been. I think Andrade said Gargano had been watching the Rumble on TV, but I'm not sure. His English still needs work.

Highlights of Adam Cole in the Rumble, then plugging Cole vs. Killian Dain for next week.

Roderick Strong vs. Tyler Bate. Tyler's entrance where he comes out casually tying the waistband on his trunks, totally at ease with this main event in front of thousands of people and global viewership. This match was fucking awesome. They went back and forth a million miles an hour. Roddy was the bigger man for the first time probably since joining the company, and he took advantage of it with more power moves than usual, and manhandling Bate with bullying submission moves. Bate made an awesome comeback with ridiculous suplexes. These guys were working their asses off and barely sweating. Great spot where they hit about six big-move counters in a row. After a good ten-plus minutes of frenetic pace they finally did a double-down and got a dueling chant. Bate tried the Tyler driver, but his back had been worn down and he couldn't get it. Roddy got like an eighth wind and hit a half-dozen awesome moves and won with a suplex into a backbreaker. THAT WAS GREAT. This was better than most of the matches at TakeOver, and from a purely athletic standpoint may have topped them all. Jesus. So Roddy will now be the first American to compete for the UK title, facing Pete Dunne at an undetermined point. Combine this with the TakeOver show itself, and you probably had the best WWE show of the year.

 

Bryan's TV Reviews

 

by Bryan Alvarez (@BryanAlvarez)

WWE RAW

Announcers introduce JONATHAN COACHMAN who is replacing Booker T. What a lateral move, at best.

Stephanie comes out, a TRAILBLAZER, they say, in the WOMEN'S EVOLUTION, or REVOLUTION, or whatever it is. She says they celebrated 25 years last week and tonight they kick off 25 more. She plugs all the women's matches from last night, then talks the debut of WWE's newest star, Ronda Rousey. Tonight, she says, is about the winner of the women's Rumble, Asuka. Calls her down to the ring. She tells Asuka that Alexa has to defend the title in four weeks in the first-ever all-women's Elimination Chamber match. But this is Asuka's moment to tell the people what she wants to say. She cuts a better promo in Japanese than most WWE women cut in English. Points to the sign. At WrestleMania, she says, I will become the champion because no one is ready for Asuka. SHE IS SO GREAT. Out comes Sasha Banks. She says Asuka always says nobody is ready for Asuka, but last night she proved she could go the distance and she's ready for Asuka tonight. So Steph signs the match.

Announcers note there will be six men's Elimination Chamber qualifying matches, three of them tonight.

Kane vs. Braun Strowman Last Man Standing. They started this match during the commercial break. They come back from break and they brawl for like maybe three minutes, then Braun tips the announcer's table over onto him and supposedly crushes him, and so he's the winner. No idea why they ever bothered with this match. The paramedics are called to take care of Kane. They send Corey Graves to say, "Braun, that's a human being, what did you just do?" Braun says Kurt told him it was last man standing and he did his job. Announcers are appalled. They claim Braun has stepped over the line again. All the stupid things Braun and Roman Reigns and Brock and Kane have done, and this is the one that's over the line, Braun tipped a table over onto a guy. Backstage, Kurt confronts Braun and says my God, can you give me a break, you've stepped over the line again and when is it going to end? Braun flips his lid on Kurt and says -- CORRECTLY, I MIGHT ADD -- that Kurt signed a last man standing match between the two, he destroyed the guy, and he's going to destroy everyone at Elimination Chamber.

Elias out to cut a promo and get people chanting WALK WITH ELIAS. IF ONLY THIS GUY COULD WRESTLE. He signs a song about how this is his night. Quite frankly, it was probably his best performance ever.

Matt Hardy vs. Elias. Announcers vow to give us an update on Kane as soon as possible, noting only that he has been taken to A LOCAL MEDICAL FACILITY. For the first time in Raw history, their table is broken but in the middle of the show geeks come in to build them a new table. Keep in mind they're doing commentary just fine -- well, fine by Raw standards -- without a table. Elias worked over his shoulder, smashing it into the post repeatedly. Matt made his comeback, hit the side effect for a nearfall. Was setting up for the twist of fate when Bray Wyatt's music hit. Cole said they had issues. Actually, they teamed up together at the Royal Rumble. Matt is distracted and Elias beats him with the neckbreaker, so he's in the Elimination Chamber. Bray laughs at Matt afterwards. Matt doesn't appear to find it funny this week.

Miz promo. Says Roman is allegedly owed an Intercontinental Title rematch. Says what about himself, he's owed rose petals and utter silence for his great promos, and he'll be owed a standing ovation after his win tonight.

Miz vs. Roman Reigns. Roman beat the hell out of him early, ran him into the steps, etc. He eventually gets a chair and chases the Miztourage away. He's about to use it on Miz but the ref warns it'll be a DQ, so he tosses it down but then gets posted for the heat. They go to commercial, return for a chinlock, then Roman hits a Samoan drop and it's nearfall time. Roman with his big comeback, hits the big boot and sets up for the punch. Miz with a chopblock to cut him off. Roman took an awesome bump for that. Miz with the figure four to the bad knee. Roman, of course, does not submit. Miz tries to take off the corner pad like last week but the ref catches him. Miz manages to hit an eye poke and the skull crushing finale but Roman kicked out. Roman with the superman punch for a nearfall. "THIS IS AWESOME!" Miztourage back out. Roman lays out Axel, takes out Bo, tosses Miz inside. Both guys interfere again, Roman takes them out, spears Bo in mid-ring -- yes, he's doing spots inside the ring -- and them Miz rolls Roman up for the pin. Good match, finish was kind of ridiculous to the point that even the announcers had to admit the ref let a lot of stuff go on.

Revival vs. Rhino & Heath Slater. Rhino gets the hot tag and runs wild. Hits a shoulder block off the middle rope and a belly-to-belly and it breaks down into a four-way. Dawson with another chop block, the move of the night, and they hit shatter machine for the pin.

Charlie interviews the Revival. They ask her how they compare to the Graham Brothers. She admits she has no idea who they are. Dawson says they're not surprised. They say they learn from the past but the fans can't stop living in it. Coach has no idea who the Graham Brothers are.

Announcement that the Dudleys are going into the Hall of Fame.

Finn Balor promo with Gallows and Anderson. Finn says for 57 minutes and 38 seconds he fought everyone last night, all to try to get a title shot at WrestleMania. Says it was taken away from him by John Cena, so tonight, if he wants an opportunity to challenge for the title, he has to step up to the man who cost him the match. Says he's not just stepping up, he'll step over him.

Sasha promo. She's been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. Last night Asuka made history but tonight it's her turn. They went back and forth early. Sasha finally cut her off with the double knees, then hit it again in the corner and worked over her midsection. Coach claimed these were the deepest waters Asuka has ever been in. He's just making shit up, but to be fair, he was much better than Booker T. Asuka finally got pissed and fired up, but Asuka put her in the Banks statement. Asuka cradled her way free. So then Sasha went for a dive and Asuka was supposed to kick her in mid-move, but something went totally wrong and Sasha just fell straight down onto her head on the black mats. I have no idea what happened, it didn't look like she got her feet hooked which is how these things usually go wrong. Was like she ran into an invisible wall. The ref was right there and immediately gave the single fist meaning she was OK, but holy shit that was scary. Asuka continued to kill her with strikes inside the ring and then put her in the armbar. Sasha cradled her for a nearfall. Asuka went for the flying hip attack but Sasha moved and Asuka tumbled to the outside. That was scary too but was totally in control. Sasha with the double knees off the apron and the top but Asuka kicked out. Sasha with the banks statement again but Asuka got the ropes, then switched into the Asuka lock for the submission. This was a great TV match, near-death experiences aside.

John Cena cell phone promo. They're totally overdoing this gimmick. Gist of it is that people keep asking him when he's done, but he's just getting started. Byron says Finn Balor is the FACE THAT RUNS THE PLACE. That's AJ Styles.

Sheamus & Cesaro vs. Titus & Apollo Crews for the WWE Tag Team Titles. Pretty much a totally dead crowd during the heat on Titus. Crews gets the hot tag and runs wild. Made a good enough comeback and that the crowd got into it. Hit his standing moonsault on Cesaro for the nearfall. Graves called it a standing shooting star press. Not sure what's up with the commentators the last few days but they're all out to lunch. AND SPEAKING OF, Apollo gets launched by Cesaro and is supposed to do a huracanrana on Sheamus but he forgets and Sheamus powerbombs him but simultaneously takes a flip bump expecting a huracanrana. Bar finally hit Crews with the combo white noise for the pin. Everyone in this company needs a week off.

Ronda Rousey video package.

John Cena vs. Finn Balor. I'm not sure if it was a beachball or what, but something happened in the crowd and the fans were totally distracted, so John, ever the professional, went to the old-school Hogan/Warrior GRECO-ROMAN KNUCKLE LOCK while the fans got it out of their systems. They went to break and came back and Cena was working him over. Finn made his big comeback. Fans were going nuts with "LET'S GO BALOR!" chants. They traded shots in mid-ring and Cena laid him out with a big boot. Went for the AA but Finn hit the Pele kick. Hit the sling blade and went for the dropkick in the corner but Cena laid him out with a clothesline. He hit the AA but Balor kicked out. He hit the dropkick and went up top for the double footstomp. Cena moved and hit the STF. Finn escaped and tried to climb up top for the footstomp but Cena cut him off and hit the middle rope AA for the pin. Good match. Lots of good wrestling on the show.

Smackdown

Nakamura came out to do a promo. He says Sami Zayn knee to the face. John Cena knee to the face. Roman Reigns knee to the face. And at WrestleMania, AJ Styles, knee to the face, NEW WWE CHAMPION! THIS PROMO RULED. Sami and Kevin come out. Kevin says they should be co-champions right now but Shane McMahon is hell bent on holding them down. Sami says the ref has ONE JOB, protect the integrity of the match. Says Kevin's passion coupled with the incompetence of the referee got them into this problem. Says that's why they have every right to another opportunity at the WWE. Says at WrestleMania it's not going to be Shinsuke vs. AJ, it'll be Shinsuke vs. the two of them. Nakamura says AJ was the winner and they are losers. Out comes AJ Styles. Can't help but notice his music starts with YEP. He says WrestleMania will be a match between himself and Shinsuke Nakamura. But tonight in Philly he wants to turn this dream match into a dream team. By the grace of God they've dropped the references to KAMI. Sami and Kevin's response is "NOPE!", so the babyfaces punch them. And that's the end of the segment.

Sami and Kevin meet with Daniel Bryan. He says AJ and Nakamura don't have the power to make matches. But I do, he says. So you guys are having the match tonight. Says the referee's decision was final. The referee made a mistake. Kevin is gobsmacked. Says this is no simple mistake, this was a life-changing catastrophe. He begs him to make it right. Says they deserve another opportunity at the title. Bryan says he agrees with them, so tonight they'll get another opportunity at the WWE Title. Next week, he says, he's got a huge main event and the winner faces AJ Styles at Fast Lane. Kevin knows what's coming but Sami doesn't, and, of course, Bryan says the match is Sami vs. Kevin.

Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev Day vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Zack Ryder in a number-one contender's match for the US Title. Bobby Roode does commentary and claims the WWE version of the US Title is the most prestigious title in the history of this industry. You kidding me, dude? Rusev teases a dive but Sunil Singh grabs his leg. Aiden goes after him, they get into an argument, and New Day's pancakes get spilled. THE NEW DAY IS MORE UPSET ABOUT THEIR STUPID PANCAKES THAN THIS WRESTLING MATCH. The ref has no time for this bullshit so he ejects all four of them. Ryder makes a big comeback, hits the Broski boot, but then Jinder superkicks him in the head. Rusev runs wild on everyone and goes for the double accolade on Ryder and Kofi. Jinder breaks it up. Rusev takes him out, takes out Zack and puts Kofi in the accolade. Kofi taps and RUSEV DAY IS THE NUMBER-ONE CONTENDER TO THE US TITLE! A deserving accolade, so to peak, for a FINE MAN. That match takes place next week.

Usos promo.

Fashion Files back. They're taking over social media backstage. Benjamin and Gable show up. Says the four of them are clowns and an embarrassment to the tag division. Breeze says an embarrassment like losing to the Usos twice in one night at Royal Rumble? Benjamin and Gable issue an open challenge and Ascension tells Breezango, "YOU GOT THIS!" .

Usos promo. They cut a promo about beating every team on the roster. Every time they name a team they scream "LOCKDOWN" and a graphic of a cage door slams on the screen. They conclude they are the best tag team in WWE. So they do their promo, then the lights go out and the Bludgeon Brothers appear to destroy two geeks.

Bludgeon Brothers destroy two geeks. Well, as advertised.

Daniel Bryan announces the goofy top ten list. He's doing this selfie-style on a cell phone except he's looking over the phone and not into it, plus they randomly are throwing up graphics on screen. This was like something out of a children's show. He's also not speaking real English. A bunch of stuff about FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES, and no mention of titles, belts, or anything else that normal people would actually care about. Says there will be a top ten list voted on by talent. He and Shane can't vote, and the SUPERSTARS can't vote for themselves. Not a fan.

Tye Dillinger meets with Shane. He's trying to talk to him but Baron Corbin shows up, they banter, and Shane signs a match for later.

Charlotte's weekly completely monotone promo. She says Sunday was the first time in her life she didn't want to be champion. She'd have rather been in the Royal Rumble. And then there was a moment that broke the Internet, she said. She mentions Rousey's name and people boo. Says she's going to walk into WrestleMania as the women's champion and wants to know who her opponent will be. Riott Squad comes out. Ruby cuts a promo about how Charlotte is impossibly talented but also impossible arrogant. Says there's only one Ruby Riott. But Charlotte is just a cheap imitation of her father. Says she's there to tell Charlotte her time is over, and she won't even make it to WrestleMania. "ARE YOU DONE YET," says Charlotte, and she does not pose this as a question. Goes "WHOO!" Then a fight breaks out. She clears the ring and challenges all three of them. So they get back in the ring and beat her up. LOL. Charlotte has no friends it seems. Suddenly, Carmella's music hits and she runs down to cash in her briefcase. As the ref is explaining this to the ring announcer Carmella tries a dropkick but hits the ref in the ass and he bumps outside. So she loses her chance.

AJ meets with Nakamura. Says we have a tag match tonight, do you want to talk strategy. Nakamura just keeps saying he's going to beat AJ at WrestleMania. Says it'll be fine tonight, just listen to me out there.

Baron Corbin vs. Tye Dillinger. Tye hasn't been on this show in months. They have a very basic match, most of which is during a commercial, and then Baron wins with the end of days.

Rusev and Bobby Roode hype up their match next week. They've got graphics that pop up recapping everything they say, like cartoon closed captions. I'll give it time but I don't like it.

Sami meets with Kevin. Sami says listen, the good news is one of us is getting a WWE Title shot. Kevin says yep. Then they start pushing each other's buttons about how the other is going to fail, just like they've failed in the past. Trouble is brewing.

Benjamin & Gable vs. Breezango. They had a fine little match that Gable and Benjamin won with the doomsday device. Gable and Benjamin feel like American Alpha did a few months in, good team, should probably be champions by now but instead they lose over and over again. I love the Usos but it's true, they've run through everyone but the Bludgeon Brothers and thus it's hard to take everyone else seriously. It's almost like the 125 pound division in UFC, Mighty Mouse has been champ forever, beaten everyone, and nobody cares about it because it's just the same challengers not being able to win over and over again.

Sami & Kevin vs. AJ & Nakamura. So the big spot is Sami gets laid out on the outside and Kevin, by himself, gets pissed and starts screaming at him. Says, "Are you my partner or not?", and demands he get back in the corner. Kevin rolls outside and gets into a huge argument with Sami. Fans are booing like crazy. Sami finally tells him to fuck off and heads to the back. "See how well you do out here without your guardian angel!" So they go to commercial and come back and Sami had a change of heart. He returns to help Kevin. But then Kevin starts screaming at him to get him, he's got it. Sami is pissed and tags him back in. Not they're tagging each other hard, then chopping each other to tag, and finally Sami gets pissed and leaves again. Owens, alone, runs wild on Styles until AJ hits the Pele kick and tags Nakamura. Kevin tries to flee but AJ throws him inside, then Nakamura hits the kinshasa for the pin. Sami puts his hands on his head backstage as he watches on the monitor. Renee walks up and says this isn't the end of their friendship. Says this is about a championship opportunity and Kevin knows that. Says Kevin always gets the opportunities and he's always overlooked, but next week he's not going to be known as Kevin's friend, he's gonna be known as the guy who beat Kevin Owens. Then, after Fast Lane he'll be known as the guy who beat AJ Styles, and be the new WWE Champion. This was a great promo. So, just to clear things up for everyone, the best friends hate each other and are preparing to fight, and the two WrestleMania main event opponents are friends who are working great together.