Cubed Circle Newsletter 143 – New Japan Kizuna Road & Death of Ustream iPPV
This week we take a quick look at New Japan’s recent Kizuna Road tour leading into the 2014 G1 Climax tournament, Ustream putting an end to their iPPV service, RAW from Monday with some clear misuse of young talent, ratings, and reviews of a fun edition of NXT, and SmackDown, with Ben Carass. We will also be previewing the G1 Climax next week, so look forward to that too. Until then, I hope everyone enjoys this week’s issue, and has a great week.
– Ryan Clingman, Cubed Circle Newsletter Editor
Two Major NJPW Title Changes at Kizuna Road
New Japan’s annual ‘Kizuna Road’ tour, that ends on July 13th , produced two major title changes, Yujiro Takahashi defeating Tomohiro Ishii, stealing his NEVER Openweight title in the process, at the June 29th Korakuen Hall show, and KUSHIDA capturing his first IWGP Junior Heavyweight title on the July 4th show also from Korakuen Hall. Kizuna Road was this year’s final tour leading into, another packed G1 Climax, opening on July 21st from the Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center.
From an overall perspective it was a tour that produced few stand-out matches, with KUSHIDA/Ibushi, which was expected to be a blow-away match, turning out to be a fair disappointment. The tour’s other main title match, Tomohiro Ishii/Yujiro Takahashi for the NEVER Openweight title, was as good as it could have been given the amount of interference towards the closing stretch. This was perhaps one scenario where the interfere was somewhat warranted however, although not to the outrageous degree that it was delivered at. Ishii lost very little in defeat, with Red Shoes taking a stereo flat-back-bump with Yujiro during an Ishii powerbomb, and the Bullet Club running in for an assault. The big spot was a CHAOS run-in, which saw Nakamura, Okada and YOSHI-HASHI neutralize Gallows, Anderson and Tonga, which is a moment that I would have thought to have been reserved for a future Okada/Styles or Nakamura/Styles IWGP Heavyweight title match – not that it wouldn’t still work, even after this defence. Even after the outside interference, Ishii held on, taking a low-blow, as well as the Tokyo Pimps and a powerbomb. He also scored a visual pin on Takahashi following a brain buster, whilst Red Shoes was selling one of many bumps. Takahashi eventually put Ishii away with his new Miami Shine finish, which is basically a Death Valley Bomb. As is usually the case in Korakuen Hall, the crowd was very much behind Ishii from the onset, which helped the finish come off better.
Ishii was the third NEVER Openweight champion, toppling Tetsuya Naito at the ‘New Beginning’ show earlier this year in Osaka. He only defended the title five times, but with outstanding matches against the likes of Naito and Ibushi, he has elevated the championship from a mere obscurity, bloating the title picture of the promotion, to a viable mid-card title. It would seem that the best move would have been to keep the title on Ishii, but with the G1 Climax coming up, and the attempted Bullet Club clean sweep of the championships, with the bizarre exclusion of the Junior Tag Team titles, it makes sense given their current direction. Tetsuya Naito was NEVER champion heading into last year’s G1, so they could have in theory kept the title on Ishii, but inevitably Naito ended up winning the G1 tournament, even if he did suffer four loses as a part of last year’s tournament. Still,Yujiro Takahashi is in the tournament as the current NEVER Openweight champion, as are Fale and Styles as the IWGP Intercontinental and IWGP Heavyweight champions respectively. This move may have just been made in order to prepare Ishii for a main event run without having him abandon the NEVER title, in the same way that Devitt did to the IWGP Junior title a couple of years ago.
As a title match, it was enjoyable, and made stronger by a passionate Korakuen crowd, who were heavily behind Ishii, as they have been for years. Takahashi, however, is in my view, far from a great worker, especially in his current role. I have always seen some decent room for improvement for Takahashi, but for the most part he has been rather slow to fill it. Regardless, the work in the match was pretty good, but everything after countless ref bumps and run-ins loses most of its meaning, and becomes very difficult to take seriously, which is how I feel when it comes to most major Bullet Club singles matches. – *** ¼.
Also on the June 29th show was a CHAOS/Bullet eight-person tag, with Nakamura, Okada & the Forever Hooligans working opposite Bad Luck Fale, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows & Tama Tonga. Anderson now has the gimmick of someone who says whatever he wants, this time sending a shout-out to Roman Reigns before the match. Like many a WWE TV multi-man match, there wasn’t much here until everyone began hitting all of their moves. Anderson pinned Rocky Romero with his fireman’s carry into a gun stun – ** ¾. Under that was a trios match as a part of the Hiroshi Tanahashi 15 year anniversary tour, with Hiroshi Tanahashi teaming with the Time Splitters against Ibushi, Desperado & Tetsuya Naito. The fun story here, was that Desperado was attempting to teach the consummate babyface, Ibushi, how to be a heel during the heat, which was a lot of fun. Ibushi also landed something that I don’t believe I have ever seen before, with Tanahashi lying on the top turnbuckle as if he was about to take Nakamura’s running knee in the corner, Ibushi did a standing moonsault into a kick to the back. They built to the July 5th Shelley/Desperado and KUSHIDA/Ibushi matches here, and for whatever reason, most of the exchanges in this match were more heated and more interesting than most of what we got in those two matches the next night. Desperado pinned Shelley with a roll-up after having him nearly collide with the referee off of a shove. This was a great effort from all six-men and the match of the night – *** ½.
KUSHIDA & Ibushi, which main evented the July 5th iPPV, was disappointing for a number of reasons. Despite Ibushi improving ever so much in the selling department over the last few years, that aspect of the match fell apart for him. One very notable example, was when Ibushi slipped on the apron, and sold his arm before he had even hit the ground, and this was at a time when it looked like his leg buckled. Now, the finish was in fact a Kimura submission, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t sell any other body part. Ibushi’s incessant need to clap along with the crowd, also didn’t help him much in the believability department. In terms of flying or athletics there was nothing out of the ordinary here, and that holds true for story-telling as well. Ibushi won the title exactly six months earlier at the Dome, ending Prince Devitt’s 419 day long title reign, a reign only comprising four defenses – *** ½
Lower down on the card was Shelley and Desperado, a match that Shelley ended up winning, after taking the fall for his team at the hands of Desperado on the June 29th show. Desperado has been losing a lot as of late, so it was good to see him get a win of at least some importance on June 29th. He also came out to assault KUSHIDA after the main event, joining Suzuki-gun, which is now a stable comprised of Suzuki, KES, Michinoku, Taichi (when he isn’t suspended), Takashi Iizuka and Desperado. There was also my match of the tour, with Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata, my tag team of the year thus far, going up against Hiroshi Tanahashi & Tetsuya Naito – unfortunately there was no Best of the Super Juniors 2012-esque, Naito/Tanahashi dissension here. The crowd wasn’t as hot as it could have been, but we got some teases of Tanahashi/Shibata, which is always fun. Hirooki Goto and Naito also worked well together, with Naito pinning Goto with the stardust press, although their earlier exchanges lacked the heat seen for Shibata/Tanahashi and Shibata/Naito. It’s a shame that Shibata & Goto lose so often, as they could be strong tag champions, something that the division desperately needs. – ****
It may seem that I am being overtly negative on this tour, but it should be said that traditionally tours before and after the G1 are lackluster, simply due to how taxing that tournament is. Consequently, there isn’t all that much to seek out from the Kizuna Road shows this year – no Gedo/Devitt, Suzuki/Ishii or Shibata/Goto, as we had last year. On the topic of the G1, we will have our annual preview of that tournament in next week’s issue.
Ustream Ends iPPV Services in the Shadow of Looming G1
In what is sad news primarily for fans of alternative wrestling products, Ustream has announced that it will be closing it’s iPPV services, with the majority of major pro-wrestling clients like New Japan and Ring of Honor, having no remaining shows with the company. From July 9th no pay-per-views past the dates of September 14th will be scheduled, event creation will be disabled from that date forward, and the service will cease completely effective October 1st – this is according to an official statement Ustream gave Live Audio Wrestling. Ustream has been a company that seemingly perfected, or got as close as possible, to something that so many have tried and failed with – internet pay-per-view, delivering the best service of any platform that I have used in the past. Their motives for this closure are unclear, although the general consensus seems to be that to continue hosting internet-pay-per-views they would have had to upgrade on support staff, which may have been an issue.
It won’t have a major effect on New Japan’s business, given that the vast majority of its buys are Japanese, with their local provider Nico Nico. Timing couldn’t have been much worse for foreign fans of the product, however, with the G1 Climax coming around in but a couple of weeks. New Japan has yet to make any announcements on whether or not they found, or have any plans to find, an alternative provider for foreign fans. It is well known that Bushi Road president and New Japan owner, Takaaki Kidani, is interested in expanding internationally wherever possible, so I would believe the chances of them finding a new service to be quite high. Whether they will find a solution in time for the G1 is a different story. Some non-Japanese speaking fans have apparently successfully ordered iPPVs through Nico Nico, but even amongst the couple of thousand suspected, regular iPPV buyers, I doubt that many will resort to navigating through Nico Nico in order to purchase a show, even if it is the G1.
Another company that will be effected, probably more than New Japan, is Ring of Honor, who just recently switched to the service. Of course Ring of Honor has had quite the assortment of iPPV problems in the past, but for whatever reason, Ustream has been able to carry their last three major shows, ‘Global Wars’, ‘War of the Worlds’, and ‘Best in the World’ with little to no problems. As of ‘Best in the World 2014’ last month, they have also ventured out into traditional pay-per-view, but according to a source in this week’s Wrestling Observer newsletter “[t]he 6/22 show actually beat the New York show on iPPV, even though it was available on regular PPV”. With ROH remaining a much smaller company than New Japan, and with a history of internet-pay-per-view issues, this must be a big disappointment for them too.
Dragon Gate has also run shows with Ustream in the past, although as far as I know, they’re primary internet-pay-per-view revenue comes from Nico Nico too.
Whilst I am fairly positive that Kidani and company will make a plan for international viewers in the long run, I just hope that after experiencing the 2013 G1 Climax as it happened, that we aren’t throttled back to the dark ages of waiting weeks for .rar files to pop up on file sharing sites for the next few months – particularly for the G1.
WWE Monday Night RAW July 7th 2014
Centre Bell, Montréal, Quebec
The WWE did not do a very good job with its young talent on this week’s edition of RAW. They beat one of their hottest, potentially future main event level stars, in Dean Ambrose in a competitive match to Randy Orton. It is a loss that by no means damages Ambrose long-term, but he has been on the ascent for some time, and whilst he is in a compelling program with Seth Rollins I see little benefit in having him lose clean, especially to someone like Randy Orton, who is an established star that doesn’t need the win, and certainly not from Ambrose. Cesaro lost to Kingston again, but then proceeded to destroy him after the match anyway, which doesn’t get anyone over, and is nonsensical for someone they are grooming, not for THE top spot, but for a top spot. There was also Bo Dallas, who has now been paired with Torito in an attempt to get him rushed, cheap heel heat, instead of letting the fans relationship with the character play out organically. There was nothing else that was necessarily bad on the show, although, likewise, there was nothing that got me excited for Battleground either.
There now exists a couple of new still pictures in the “Then. Now. Forever” graphic. Reigns was out to start the show, attempting to justify his place in the four-way, with explanations such as the Authority wanting him to neutralise Cena, although none of it made any sense at all. His promo was short, aggressive and intense, which is what I would have looked for. Kane walked down to the stage and stared idly at Reigns. Reigns called Kane Orton’s “b****” leading to a brawl. For whatever reason, Kane got the advantage and began to beat Reigns down clean, or at least in the context of a brawl. Referee’s were laid out, as Finaly, IRS, Jamie Noble and a couple of other agents ran down to break things up. Reigns, however, speared Finaly and threw Noble aside, ending the brawl. This was a fine brawl, but for a man that they are pushing as the future top babyface of the company, Reigns was dealt with far too easily by Kane. I have no issue with Kane getting the better of Reigns in this segment, but it shouldn’t have been done cleanly.
Usos were paired yet again with Harper & Rowan. Dueling “Let’s go Wyatts”/”Let’s go Usos” chants. The Wyatts worked as diabolical bullies, in much the same way as in their previous few outings. As they did at the pay-per-view, the Usos are now blatantly stealing the Young Bucks’ superkick gimmick. There was the usual, albeit very fun, nearfall run with one of the Usos, who wasn’t the legal man, being pinned with a discuss lariat from Harper – a unique spin on the usual twin switch gimmick. Orton was in the back with Kane attempting to garner a pledge of his support. Rollins then came by, with the Authority absent from the building, and said that he would think twice before cashing in on either one of them. Orton muttered to Kane that he hated Rollins, but Kane assured Orton that it was not as much as he hated Orton.
“On command of the Authority” Fox and Nikki Bella were booked in a singles match with one arm tied behind their backs. I can only imagine the story behind this match. Perhaps, Vince was on a Sharia law kick following the whole Emma debacle. Regardless, Fox attacked Nikki before her hands were tied, leading to a rough beating from Fox, seeing as how Nikki took everything with her hand underneath her. Fox then spilled some canned beverage all over Nikki; Red Bull perhaps? After the break Lana and Rusev were out, supposedly to cut a promo on Canada, but RVD interrupted before anything of note could be said. During some un-dynamic heat that had this crowd singing the ole song, an in-set promo from Colter aired. This match went too long considering the type of match that these two could have realistically worked. RVD was submitted with the camel clutch.
Chuck Liddell punched a rhino again. Ambrose and Orton had to follow. Ambrose is unfortunately still working in jeans and a vest; he had his shoulder taped up. Regardless, he was very over with this crowd, who were loudly chanting his name. Ambrose did the Ziggler style frenetic strikes in the corner that the crowd can barely keep up with. Everything that Ambrose does is so incredibly dynamic and absorbing, it counteracts Orton whose work is very much the opposite, and then some. Ambrose locked in a figure four of all things at one point. There was an awkward spot where Ambrose came off the top, seemingly for an axe handle or chock block, but they didn’t seem to be synchronised when Ambrose came down, which resulted in a couple of awkward seconds, which Orton quickly capitalized for. Ambrose then began to shower the ring with chairs. Ambrose was thrown into the post shoulder first and drilled with a draping DDT on the outside and was only back in at the count of nine. Ambrose went for jaw breaker lariat, but was caught with a RKO for the fall. I would have liked to have seen a hot star like Ambrose protected, but this was still a very good match. Cena was in the back cutting his usual promo about being a target when Roman Reigns came by for a confrontation. They are now pushing the Network as a service that you only need an email to sign up for — essentially a free trial. With the amount of free trials and how how hard they have been pushing them throughout the months, they look very desperate. In another match that we have seen many a time, Ziggler worked opposite ADR with Fandango on commentary. Fandango danced and shimmied on the announce table, with his musical accompaniment setting up for an ADR superkick victory. Now the team known as, Rhodedust, not DustDust unfortunately, were being and discussing the topic of bizarre.
Fandango, Layla and Summer had a segment backstage. Lawler welcomed Bret Hart into the ring, and he gave his usual Montreal speech, putting over the fans and making vague references to the Screw Job. Damien Sandhart then made it down, putting Canada down and saying that Hart mad a legitimate Michaels win seem like an elaborate screw job. Poor Sandow was laid out with a right hand. Sheamus’ music hit and he hugged and shook hands with Hart. They are pushing the Network Money in the Bank replay very hard now that they are cutting back on original programming. Hartdow and Sheamus had a match after the break. Sandow was in full Hitman attire of course, and was pinned with a brogue kick with JBL yelling, “not again, Bret screwed Bret!”. Young was in the back with Miz, who proceeded to read a fan mail from “Johnny Rougeaus”, a cute Montreal wrestling tie-in or a rib on Mr. Pyro & Bally Hoo himself, depending on how you heard it. I suspect the former. Jericho and his jacket were down for his first match back, with the Miz. Miz continuously sold and protected his face, being the “movie star” that he is. It’s pretty clear at this point that Miz is headed right back to the position from once he came. Miz locked in a figure four after some back and forth with Jericho making it to the ropes. Miz tapped to the Walls — thankfully no distraction finish. Bray did however, pop up in the dark at the top of the ramp in his rocking chair. Wyatt, whilst going on his usual tirade, brought up some of Jericho’s phrases, which doesn’t fit well with the gimmick. Jericho interrupted, and walked up the ramp looking for a fight, but the arena blacked out again and out popped Harper & Rowan. There was another Network free trial video before the break.
Paige was in the ring for a tag team match with AJ against the Funkadactyles. Paige introduced her partner, very happy; the insincere babyface. Dysfunctional team A versus dysfunctional team B. It was dysfunctional team A, Cameron & Naomi, that exploded (or whimpered) this week with Paige pinning Cameron with the Paige Turner. Cameron did a wacky forehead poke a couple of times, which led into a shoving match, wacky cat-fight, and referee pull-apart — no interest this had, believable they were not. After the break there was a recap of the Cesaro beat down on Kingston last week, with Cesaro and Heyman in-ring for a promo spot. Cesaro told Heyman that he shouldn’t speak English or French to the Qubecers, as neither the French nor the rest of Canada could stand them. Kingston had his ribs taped for the ensuing match and went straight after Cesaro. Cesaro delivered the safest release gut wrench slam on the apron, with Kingston ricocheting and holding onto the bottom rope. Cesaro worked over the midsection. Kingston won with a roll-up on Cesaro, which led into a second beat down. THIS ACCOMPLISHES NOTHING. Big E made the save. Seth Rollins approached Cena in the back, as the amicable heel. Cena said that the only guarantee that Rollins had was that he was in for the fight of his life. Another WWE Network package.
Bo Dallas had a comedy match with Torito, pinning him with a Bo Dog and celebrating with a victory lap after the match knocking Torito down on the way. There was a ‘The Monday Night War’ trailer. More shameless plugging ensued. Cena at one point had the STF locked in, when Kane’s pyro went off, leading to a Orton/Kane beat down. Roman Reigns made the save with a couple of superman punches, but Rollins took both Cena & Reigns out with the case. Rollins once again looked to cash in, when Ambrose flew in like a loose cannon, brawling with Rollins to the back. This left Cena and Orton in the ring. Cena laid Orton out with an AA, Kane looked for the chokeslam, but was caught off with a spear. This left Cena and Reigns in the ring as they lifted each other’s hands and stared down.
RAW Ratings for July 7th 2014
RAW continued its run of positive ratings this week, going against no strong, irregular competition. The show drew 4.38 million viewers and a 2.9 rating, initially expected to break the 3.0 threshold. The first hour drew 4.18 million viewers (1.706 million viewers and a 1.34 rating in the 18-49 demo), the second 4.51 million (1.954 million viewers and a 1.34 rating in the 18-49 demo) and the third with a nine minute overrun dropped to 4.45 (1.971 million viewers and a 1.55 rating in the 18-49 demo), breaking their impressive recent streak of growth into the third hour, although it is in no way a disappointment, especially when they peaked in the 18-49 demo in hour three.
As always, credit goes to @STD_85 for the 18-49 data.
WWE NXT – July 10th 2014
Full Sail University: Winter Park, FL.
Bayley made her entrance at the top of the show and Summer Rae appeared as her opponent. Renee Young and Albert bickered back and forth about Summer not earning a #1 contenders match.
#1Contenders Match: Summer Rae vs. Bayley – Summer pinned Bayley in 5:38 with the Summer crush (Big Show’s old final cut). Bayley outclassed Summer early and delivered a nice lucha armdrag out of the corner then scored some riding time on the mat. Bayley fell for the old chase the heel back inside the ring deal for the cut off and Summer got the heat. Charlotte was shown watching in the back. Bayley made her comeback and got a near-fall with a beautiful exploder – props to both girls. Summer grabbed the hair to break the belly-to-Bayley then hit her new finish. The ref started to count, but then saw that Bayley’s shoulder was not completely flat and he had to start his count over again; it made everyone look stupid and Summer was NOT happy at all. – Enjoyable match until the ref went into “call it like it’s a shoot” mode, which has to be one of the dumbest WWE edicts, right up there with “don’t call it a ‘belt’” and “shoot it like a soap-opera.” The heel vs. heel dynamic of Charlotte/Summer is a little odd, but the match is clearly just a way to give Charlotte a win over a main roster Diva so it isn’t that big of a deal.
They showed a promo from Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville after the Zayn/Gabriel match last week. Neville wasn’t that great; he called Kidd and Gabriel’s actions “shameful” then Sami took over. He said Neville was his friend and that Kidd had “brainwashed” Gabriel then stated that the heels had better not forget about them. – I don’t know what you do with Neville; he is outstanding in the ring but his promos are not really getting any better. On the other hand, Sami has it all and should have been given a call up a year ago. Eden told us that the #1 contender and “award winning music video artist,” Tyler Breeze had entered the building.
Sin Cara vs. Wesley Blake – Sin Cara over with a senton-bomb in 3:43. Blake sort of looks like a more defined Chris Hero and was trained by Dory Funk. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any footage of Blake on Dory’s !BANG! TV show, however if you go up to Dory’s website I guarantee you will have more fun there than watching this match. It is so ghetto and late 90s looking, it’s awesome.
Summer Rae and Sasha had some catty words for each other in the locker room. Summer told Sasha she would want to be her BFF again after she won the women’s title and said everyone would forget about Charlotte. CJ Parker called out Xavier Woods and apologised for what he said about him last week. Woods had none of it and tried to walk away, but CJ nailed him with his high-kick to the back of the head, which by the way very clearly missed and received “air kick” chants from the crowd. – This segment did nothing for me. Both characters are completely not over and the premise of the feud is more flimsy than TNA’s contract status with Spike. A totally wacky old-timey vignette for the Vaudvillains rolled, it was only about 30 seconds but it was fun.
Bull Dempsey vs. Angelo Dawkins – Dempsey won a squash with a modified northern-lights bomb in 3:01, not before doing the “big man won’t go down” spot then taking a bump off a dropkick. Afterwards, Bull said he wouldn’t stop his destruction until he became the NXT champ. – Don’t put your money on that one. Maybe Triple H is on a 1970’s body-type kick, however I have a feeling that if Vince finds out about a pasty, pudgy guy being pushed as a legitimate athlete on his dime then things will change rapidly for Bull. I’m not knocking the guy that is just the reality of Vince McMahon.
Sami Zayn conducted an interview with Adrian Neville backstage. Neville said they had been friends for ages and stated that they were going to take care of business against Kidd and Gabriel. Sami tossed the microphone over his head and poor little Devin had to run into shot to catch the thing.
Justin Gabriel & Tyson Kidd w/Natalya vs. Adrian Neville (NXT Champion) & Sami Zayn – Very good, fun TV main event. Kidd pinned Sami at 10:45 (TV Time). In true pro wrestling 101 style, the two babyfaces took the early stages and used some teamwork to shine; Neville landed a corkscrew moonsault off Sami’s back on Gabriel, which popped the crowd big time. Sami fought out of the heel’s corner, however Kidd dumped him over the top for the heat spot. Kidd and Gabriel worked over Sami, then Neville ran wild off the hot tag. Neville got a near-fall with a pop-up Liger-bomb on Gabriel then Kidd cut him off and landed a springboard elbow drop for another. Neville took out Gabriel with a tope and Sami took out everyone with a big plancha. For the finish, Kidd sold his knee and Nattie got on the apron to check on him. Kidd went after Sami, but Zayn nailed him with a right and Kidd bumped into Nattie who fell off the apron. As Sami went to check on her, Kidd rolled him up and held the tights to get the pin. Kidd celebrated on the ramp then remembered about Nattie and ran over to check on her. Sami and Neville looked disgusted and Kidd continued to celebrate as the show closed.
The main event alone is worth checking out, however the women’s opener was also better than anything you will see from the girls on Raw or SmackDown. They are also developing the main event scene nicely, with Tyson Kidd becoming more detestable every week and Tyler Breeze lurking in the shadows with his guaranteed title shot. The middle of the show wasn’t great, as who could possibly care about Sin Cara in 2014 and the CJ Parker/Xavier Woods feud is utterly uninspiring. Still, I recommend this episode for the two bookended matches and I also recommend going up to my new favourite website, dory-funk.com. It is truly wonderful.
WWE SmackDown – July 11th 2014.
Canadian Tire Centre: Ottawa, ON, Canada.
Rusev and Lana were out to open the show. Lana compared Roman Reigns to the “inferior” leaders of the US and Canada then declared that Rusev would CRUSH him tonight. Reigns came down through the fans; he told Rusev that he was standing in his ring and threatened to drop him with a superman punch if he made one false move. Reigns called for a referee to start their match right there and then, so Charles Robinson hit the ring and told Lana to step outside. She refused then declared Rusev would not compete under Reigns’ terms and the Russians backed off. Reigns and Rusev continued to stare each other down and exchange words to set up their match later on. – Decent attempt at a pre-match angle. It wasn’t a spectacular wild brawl, but it didn’t need to be for a match that seemingly came out of nowhere when they announced it on Raw. It kind of felt like a waste to throw this match together on a random SmackDown, as with the right build Rusev/Reigns could have easily been, and still could be, one of the top matches on a PPV.
Non-Title Match: AJ Lee (Divas Champion) vs. Cameron – AJ over in a dire affair, at 3:13. AJ was the face and sold right away. Cameron used CATTLE MUTILATION of all things! Naomi ran down to prevent Cameron from walking out and threw her back in the ring, where AJ landed a shining wizard for the win. – Thanks to the downright slothful booking of the women’s division, I find it impossible to believe that anyone could possibly care about the Funkadactyls feud or AJ vs. Paige.
Randy Orton was with Renee in the back. He droned on about winning the title at BattleGround and claimed he would introduce Jericho to the “Legend Killer.”
Adam Rose vs. Fandango w/Layla – Rose won via count-out in 1:55. Summer Rae came out with the Rosebuds and she instantly got into a catfight with Layla on the floor. Fandango tried to break it up, but he ended up taking a shot to the nose and was counted out. Rose hit Fandango with his finish afterwards and Summer partied with the Rosebuds. I’m not enthralled by the love triangle storyline, but at least this was quick and painless.
Renee interviewed Chris Jericho backstage. He put over his match with Bray Wyatt at BattleGround and referred to Bray as a “spider” that he would squash then stated he would crush the head of the Viper tonight.
Non-Title Match: The Usos (WWE Tag Team Champions) vs. Heath Slater & Titus O’Neil. – Usos got the win in 2:00. – One of those ass-backward squash matches were the faces sell for way too long then hit a couple of moves and win. Slater took the fall after a Superfly-splash. Byron Saxton interviewed the champs afterwards and announced that the match with the Wyatts at BattleGround would be 2/3 falls. Jey did a wacky old-school play-by-play of the Usos beating the Wyatts and stated they would still be the champs; it was different at least.
Randy Orton vs. Chris Jericho. – Orton pinned Jericho with the RKO at 11:38 (TV Time). The Wyatts appeared on the screen beforehand; Bray sang his song and told Jericho to save himself. Basic stuff early; Jericho landed his springboard dropkick and knocked Orton off the apron for his shine spot. Orton sent Jericho over the top then whipped him into the steps to start the heat. Orton sat in his beloved chin-lock and Jericho landed a belly-to-back as the transition to his comeback. They traded near-falls then Jericho countered the hangman DDT into the walls, but Orton got to the ropes. Orton connected with the hangman at the second time of asking, however Jericho countered the RKO and scored with the lionsault. The Wyatts’ image flashed across the screen and the lights went out, which distracted Jericho and Orton hit the RKO for the finish. – I know some people will not be happy about Jericho losing on TV before his match with Wyatt, however I’m not really going to complain about that. Although the distraction finish was pretty stupid. The real issue is that they booked this match in the first place. Orton is in the championship match at the PPV and is likely going to put over Reigns at SummerSlam, so it does sort of make sense. The only glaring problem is that Randy didn’t really need this win; the fans already see him at a certain level and beating Jericho isn’t going to elevate him any further. I suppose the argument could be made that Jericho is also at a certain level where one loss will not hurt him either, but still it would have been better for all parties, especially Bray Wyatt, if this match didn’t take place. And to be honest, it wasn’t even that good of a match.
Layla vs. Summer Rae w/ Special Referee, Fandango. – No contest. Fandango held both women back then they both turned and attacked him. Fandango fled, which left Summer and Layla alone in the ring to dance with each other. – A complete waste of everybody’s time: mine, yours, Syfy’s, Sky Sports’ and every other channel that carries this show. The future does not look good for Fandango now that he has no women. Maybe they can use him in a Disco Inferno type role, but my goodness did I hate Disco Inferno back in the day. He was an instant channel changer for me, although I would venture a guess that Fandango is a better all-round performer than Glen Gilbertti ever was.
Goldust w/Stardust vs. Curtis Axel w/Ryback. – Goldust over in 2:21. Stardust acted wacky at ringside and stole JBL’s hat. Goldie won with the final cut. Ryback went after Goldust, but Stardust blew some glitter in his face and sent him over the top. – Remember when the Rhodes Brothers actually meant something?
Bo Dallas vs. Diego & El Torito – Bo pinned Diego with the Bo-dog at 1:17. Before the match, Bo said he would be “handi-capable,” because all of his Bo-lievers would be his tag team partners. Torito never tagged in, but Bo gave him a Bo-dog afterwards and did his usual celebration.
Cole and JBL hyped the return of the Authority for Raw then announced: Cena, Ambrose & Reigns vs. Orton, Rollins & Kane as the main event on Monday.
Roman Reigns vs. Rusev w/Lana. – Reigns by DQ when Randy Orton interfered, at 6:42 (TV Time). There was a sign in the crowd that said, “Roman Reigs [sic] is the best” – who says that wrestling fans are stupid? Reigns got the best of the first mean guy exchange and Rusev stalled on the floor, where Lana screeched and held him back. Rusev had the heat after the break and he landed a big spinning heel-kick. Reigns Hulked up to break a nerve hold and started his comeback; he landed his running floor-to-apron dropkick then scored with the Superman punch. Reigns then set up for the spear, however Orton showed up and hung him across the top rope to cause the DQ. Reigns nailed Orton with the Superman punch, but turned right into a superkick from Rusev. Instead of telling him to “CRUSH”, Lana ordered Rusev to the back and Orton dropped Reigns with an RKO. The show went off air with Orton kneeling over the fallen Reigns. – For two relatively new singles acts, (I know Reigns has been around for a while as part of the Shield), Rusev and Reigns did a pretty good job of carrying the TV main event slot. It was obvious from the second it was announced on Raw that we’d get a screwy finish and if I were in charge this match wouldn’t have taken place for at least 6 months, but neither guy looked out of place here. I have come around on Rusev and Lana, mostly due to the buzz Lana’s Instagram has created with her awesomely wacky videos. My favourite is one that involves Rusev becoming enraged by an arcade machine and Lana declaring that he would CRUSH the thing. Even though some of the booking leaves a lot to be desired, you can’t fault the WWE when it comes to protecting guys that they see as potential top stars, and they have done a great job with Rusev and Reigns so far.
I have mixed feelings about SmackDown this week. The Jericho/Orton match was somewhat of a disappointment; it wasn’t bad or anything, but just lacked the quality that you would expect from those two. Plus the fact that they shouldn’t have even booked the thing in the first place makes it even more incomprehensible. It was intriguing to see Reigns and Rusev given the main event spot, which they handled well and seeing two fresh singles stars close out a very stale weekly show was refreshing, even if that match also didn’t really need to take place on such short notice. As usual, virtually everything else on the show was useless filler and in the case of the Fandango love triangle stuff, utter garbage. If I had to guess, I would say that Vince flipped his lid at last week’s 1.37 rating, even though it was the 4th of July, and ordered two big matches be given away without any real thought behind them . Some of the decision making on this show was quite frankly Russo-esque, however I’m in a forgiving mood this week so SmackDown gets a thumbs in the middle, if only for the performances of the two guys in the main event.
Bits & Pieces
As expected, Naomichi Marufuji defeated Yuji Nagata on July 5th at Korakuen Hall, capturing the GHC Heavyweight title for the second time. With Yuji Nagata in this year’s G1 Climax, it would have made no sense on NOAH’s part to have him go in as their world champion, and lose to many matches.
On the topic of NOAH, at press time, KENTA has just signed his contract with WWE at a WWE live event in Osaka. If there are any major developments that follow, we will have more on this next week.
Next Week’s Issue:
We have a big issue coming up next week with our annual preview of New Japan’s G1 Climax, the Battleground go-home shows, NXT with Ben Carass, RAW ratings, and more!
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