The Main Event is a showcase match however, between the returning Randy Orton versus Brock Lesnar fresh off his much-publicised UFC200 match and USADA infraction, which Orton has been using to cheekily taunt Lesnar. Notably, these Superstars of decade-plus standing have never met in a major match despite the parallels in their WWE careers.
The card also features the SmackDown ladies in 6-woman tag-team action, John Cena and AJ Styles continue their rivalry, with Enzo & Big Cass tackling the burgeoning Canadian super-team of JeriKO. With 13 matches scheduled (over 2 discs) the action should come thick and fast for one of WWE's 'Big Four' events.
After an intro filled with Big Apple iconography, and a highlight run-down through the upcoming matches, we get our first match:
Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. JeriKO (Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens) [RAW]
Enzo and Cass, being the excellent mic-men that they are, pick up on the New-York theme with a fantastic Sinatra-inspired familiar in-ring promo, the inevitable conclusion being that JeriKO are S.A.W.F.T! I swear that the WWE haven't seen this level of catchphrase crowd interaction since the hey-day of the New Age Outlaws, superb stuff.
The match itself was showed why both teams should potentially worry the Champs, the New Day, Enzo & Cass cementing their fan-favourite status with deadly double-teaming, Cass in particular a dominant threat with his size and strength, picking up his opponents and partner to use as projectile weapons over the ropes with consummate ease. JeriKO respond with guile and Machiavellian tactics, applying their nous and experience to test Enzo Amore's copious resilience by trapping him in their corner by any means necessary.
Brawls break out around the ring, leading to a devastating cannonball from Kevin Owens on Big Cass into the barricade, leaving Enzo stranded with JeriKO. KO launches Amore air-bound, to land crashing into Chris's Codebreaker and prone for Jericho to pin. A nicely executed match to start the show and pump the viewer.
Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte – WWE Woman's Championship [RAW]
A quick highlight package of these athletes' heated feud, including Banks' recent championship win on RAW, is followed by some in-ring verbal sparring as the announcer is reading the billing. These aren't the only signs of how heated their rivalry has become, the opening minutes of the bout is fast ans frenetic with traded counters and pin attempts. That is right up to a nasty slip by Charlotte up high on the turnbuckles, dropping Sasha on the ropes which catapulted her to the mat head-first and uncontrolled, wrenching her back and neck in the impact.
This noticeably changes the pace of the match, every stretch and backbreaker bringing a wince to my face as Charlotte takes advantage of the injury, grinding away at Banks. With Dana Brooke barred from ringside, this looks like a good substitute for the 'leveller' she's used to getting. It's not all one way traffic though, any opportunity Sasha Banks has she goes for the high impact, first countering a Razor's Edge from the cornerpost into a Frankensteiner, followed shortly after with flying double knees to the former champion's chest on the unforgiving ringside floor. It takes more out of her than it does Ms. Flair, Charlotte finally countering a Bank Statement submission into a pin to regain the Title and maintain her unbeaten singles PPV streak.
The legitimate looking injury added an extra layer of gruesome interest to this match, which still managed to be impressively athletic despite its sometimes necessarily stilted nature.
The followers of Japanese and independent wrestling are treated to a little inside joke vignette. AJ is having a chat with The Club 'doctors' backstage, when fellow former Bullet Club member Finn Balor stops by then walks away without acknowledging the teased 'Too Sweet' hand-gestures. Sure to raise as many eyebrows as it does smiles.
The Miz (w/Maryse) (c) vs. Apollo Crews- WWE Intercontinental Championship [SD]
The slightly flat premise for this match is that five time and current Intercontinental champion, The Miz, is mixing up Apollo Crews for Apollo Creed, the Rocky film-franchise antagonist. Crews is understandably irked by this show of unrepentant unprofessionalism.
The Miz starts aggressively, pinning back the physically impressive Crews until he manages a pin attempt against the run of dominance. Miz tries an Axe-handle smash from the turnbuckle, but is met mid-air with a drop-kick. He counters one standing Moonsault, but succumbs to Apollo's second attempt to send him running scared for the entranceway. Crews is having none of it, drags the champ back to the ring, but gets distracted by Maryse as he enters the ropes. A fatal mistake, as one Skull-crushing Finale later, Miz has the pinfall victory to retain.
Quite frankly, a match that was as inspirational as the premise it was built on.
John Cena vs. AJ Styles [SD]
These two leading lights of SmackDown Live have been feuding for months, without definitive result, but the recent roster split has bereft Styles of his backup in the form of The Club, so this could be the match to put this rivalry to bed, considering they'll be tied up in the following bout.
The opening tie-up is pretty even, with Cena stronger and AJ quicker, but that isn't where the deadlock ends. Both athletes pull out their extensive arsenals immediately, although each is countered into another then back into yet more. An Attitude Adjustment is met with a Styles Clash or Suplex to the apron, while Styles' springboard attacks are countered into an STF or even an astonishing Canadian Destroyer-esque manoeuver. If that was Cena reaching deep into the weapons locker, then he did again moments later cracking out a Tornado DDT.
You can't crack out the big guns early without it taking its toll, but these two kept picking themselves up and increasing the calibre. A springboard Frankensteiner from Styles couldn't keep Cena's shoulders down, but neither could the return Super-AA floor Styles. It finally took a combination of finishers, a Clash followed by the Phenomenal Forearm to put pay to John Cena, a fair and square pinfall. Distraught and despondent, Cena leaves his 'Never Give Up' sweatband on the canvas before following the victorious Styles up the ramp. In my opinion, the spiralling knife-edge one-upmanship makes this match a modern classic.
The New Day (Xavier Woods & Kofi Kingston w/Jon Stewart) (c) vs. The Club (Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows) – WWE Tag Team Championship [RAW]
Before the teams come out, Jon Stewart comes to the ring and reveals himself to be standing in for Big E, due to his groinal incapacitation with 'Ringpostitis' caused by The Club, before introducing The New Day. The Club are still dressed as doctors when they enter, bearing specimen jars for all (now four) New Day members. Big E's jar contains two humorously over-sized spheres, whilst similarly Stewart's jar is hilariously small.
Xavier Woods gets an early pin attempt on Karl Anderson, his partner returning the favour before the match gets some double-team chaos. When semblance of order is restored, The Club keep Kofi Kingston away from a tag, before he gets a retaliatory strike against Luke Gallows to provoke a double hot-tag situation. Woods leaps three-quarters of the way across the ring to land a tightrope elbowdrop on Anderson.
A follow-up Kingston pin attempt is broken up by Gallows to set up the Magic Killer double team move, but before the legal Club-man can get in a pin, Jon Stewart rushes the ring (despite his promises of non-interference) and draws their ire. Cue a run-in from a returning Big E, to save Stewart from a bad case of Ringpostitis, and cause a DQ victory for The Club. A pretty average match, and the mix of New Day and Club antics are always likely to cause dubious finishes, as in this case.
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler – WWE World Championship [SD]
A highlight video of Ziggler's notable successes and numerous frustrations lead us in to this match, but the real heat can be felt as the SmackDown management team of Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon are needed to keep the two competitors separate before the bell.
Dolph uses the technical ability of his amateur background to good effect, whilst Ambrose resorts to his strong suit too and takes the match to ringside brawling. A Superplex from Ambrose gives him the space to slow the match, and grind Ziggler down on the mat. Ziggler responds with a sweet DDT and pulls off The Famouser on the second attempt to get Dean down for a two count.
Ambrose is constantly mocking Ziggler and has to drop down to ringside hard to break a retaliatory sleeper hold and gets a superkick for his troubles. With both athletes battered, they return to the ring. Ziggler performs his zig zag for a pin attempt, but another sleeper can't hold Ambrose down, and neither can a superplex, as Ambrose counters into the standing position to hit the Dirty Deeds and get the victorious pin. The match itself was definitely above average, but it didn't really feel worthy of being for this historic championship.
Becky Lynch, Naomi & Carmella vs. Alexa Bliss, Natalya & Nikki Bella [SD]
The 6 Woman tag team match featuring the SmackDown Live female roster starts with a few interesting entrances, including Naomi's excellent, rave-style Glow entrance, the billed Eva Marie being announced as on holiday in the British Isles (despite being laid off with a wellness suspension) and instead we're treated to Nikki Bella's comeback from a career-threatening neck injury.
The match itself is filled with the ladies cracking out their signature moves, to demonstrate their excellent skills, and quick tags. Alexa Bliss is by far the smallest athlete but makes up for it by having the biggest aggressive attitude, whilst Nikki Bella seems determined to take out her pent up aggression on Carmella. Not even Becky Lynch taking on all three opponents can save her from the inevitable once she finds herself back in the ring with The Bella Twin. A pin from the recovered Bella puts the icing on a fun and fast exhibition tag match.
'The Demon King' Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins – WWE Universal Championship [RAW]
Next up we get to see who is WWE's inaugural universal title holder and with the necessity of crowning the champion buy either pinfall or submission, it effectively makes the match no disqualification. The match gets under-way with the controversial new title belt and the RAW management team of Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon ringside.
Finn Balor, the demon king who battled his way past the cream of the RAW roster to earn his opportunity, starts aggressively trying to apply stomps, drop-kicks and his coup de gras finisher from the outset. Seth Rollins, the number one draft pick and automatic Challenger, responds with athletic resilience and powerful offence. A sickening blow to Balor's shoulder from Seth Rollins' bomb to the Barricades slows him only momentarily, responding with his own series of slams and throws until Rollins continues his onslaught.
Nothing can keep the supernatural demon king down though, picking himself up from a pedigree or bouncing back from a buckle bomb to launch dropkick after dropkick and stomp after stomp in return. Even the failure of a devastating Small Package Driver has Rollins' frustration and exhaustion building, until Finn unleashes another volley of feet culminating in his coup de gras double-foot stomp, giving the former NXT champion victory over the former WWE champion, to be the first Universal champion. A great match, where Seth Rollins' agile and usually effective attack was no match for the supernatural resilience and single-mindedness of Finn Balor.
Rusev (c) vs. Roman Reigns – WWE US Championship [RAW]
Before the ring announcer could finish his job and the timekeeper could ring the bell, Roman Reigns had launched a ringside attack on Rusev, demolishing the Bulgarian. Reigns bangs and bashes him off of every object available, leaving him with damaged ribs, unable to compete and surrounded by officials. A short, brutal, but somewhat exciting non-match.
'The Viper' Randy Orton vs. 'The Beast Incarnate' Brock Lesnar (w/Paul Heyman) [SD/RAW]
So here we are, the main event between two of 21st century wrestling's biggest names for the first time on a PPV event. A series of videos hyping the rivalry, finishing with a volley of verbal abuse from Brock Lesnar, plus the entourages ringside helps the big fight feel - and it certainly does feel more like an impending fight than a wrestling match.
From the outset, Brock seems Intent on applying his MMA style offence, sending Orton to the corners with punches, forearms and elbows. Orton himself manages to get enough space to attempt an RKO, which is deflected and only provokes Lesnar to take him to suplex City with half a dozen Germans.
The ringside area is no refuge for Randy either, Brock plucking him from the crowd to toss him through the Smackdown announce table on the second attempt, before dragging him to the ring for a 7th German suplex. The RAW announce table looks to be next, but the deadly Viper strikes with an RKO, leaving Lesnar stunned across the table instead. Back in the ring, a second RKO only serves to provoke the Beast Incarnate into an F-5.
It is at this point, with twenty-twenty hindsight, that Orton probably should have stayed down for the three-count. Brock discarded his gloves and elbow-pads and just brutalised Orton's head with a series of sickening blows, including an elbow strike that gashed deep, causing blood to pool on the canvas. He sent the officials and doctors scattering multiple times, going back to rain down more fists. Paul Heyman's face was ashen at his client's destruction, and not even the intervention of Shane McMahon was enough to stop the psychotic Beast, taking an unexpected F-5 to lie there nursing his ribs. Lesnar wins by TKO.
A shocking, brutal and bloody finale to this epic of an event.
But wait! There's more on this disc, the three under-card, pre-show matches included in 'Special Features' are great value for their addition. The 12-Man SmackDown Tag match was as fast and fun as the later 6-Woman equivalent, Zayn & Neville vs. The Dudley Boyz was a good show of athleticism against experience, and the first of the, potentially epic, Best-of-Seven heavyweight series in Sheamus vs. Cesaro.
Whilst not all the matches earn the distinction of being 'Great' there are plenty of classic and shocking moments on this DVD set. Styles versus Cena, the inaugural Universal Championship match and the bloody conclusion will all get looked upon as pivotal moments in WWE history, I'm sure, and with the bulk of the remaining matches being well constructed and entertaining, this set is fantastic value for money.
Out 10/10/2016 on www.wwedvd.co.uk.
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