Saturday 18 February 2017

WWE 'Best PPV Matches 2016' DVD Review By Tim Ricketts.

The Best Pay-per-View Matches compilation is often one of the most worth-while DVD sets to pick up, offering up an interesting selection that chronicles the year, barring Survivor series onwards presumably for production reasons. 

This year's iteration is presented by Lita, and whilst I normally enjoy her role as a talking head on the WWE Network, this one did not suit her talents.  Her reading of an autocue was obvious, with noticeable micro-pauses that left her sounding (and often looking) slightly uncomfortable. Nevertheless, her infrequent interjections add context to this match compilation.

DVD one focuses on the Road to WrestleMania, with the first stop being the time-honoured Royal Rumble and a Last Man Standing Match for the Intercontinental Championship between Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens.  A perfectly set match for two of the roster's most inventively dangerous brawlers, in which anything available at ringside was used a weapon.  Ambrose retained the championship by sending Owens through a stack of tables, unable to respond to the ten-count. Good match to open the Rumble, and this DVD set.  A highlight package of the PPV follows, including AJ Styles' WWE debut at number 3 in the Rumble match and Triple-H winning the Championship.

AJ Styles Enters The Royal Rumble

Next up are a pair of matches from Fastlane.  Styles' initial feud with Chris Jericho is featured in their bout from this event, a nicely-paced technical exposition from these experienced ring masters, whilst the number-one contender triple-threat main event of Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns sees Reigns meeting 'The Game' at WrestleMania.  I can see why this match was included for narrative continuity, although it isn't really up to the 'best' moniker in my opinion, largely due to the pace and predictability of the conclusion.  Fastlane highlights follow, but the Network-only 'Roadblock' event is understandably omitted from this set.

A hat-trick from the record-shattering WrestleMania XXXII in Arlington, Texas, completes the first disc.  Zack Ryder finally had a pay-off for all his hard work over the years, taking Owen's Intercontinental Championship in a 7-way ladder match.  Every competitor added something acrobatically exciting to this match, and with a couple of continuing or burgeoning feuds in operation there was some good psychology too.  The Triple Threat Match for the newly-forged Women’s Championship was up to its historic importance, Charlotte defeating Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch in the gritty technical style that these revolutionary ladies have become famous for.

The Undertaker Facing Off Against Shane McMahon

 The last match of the disc is the almost nostalgic Hell in a Cell between Shane McMahon and The Undertaker.  Shane-o-Mac rolled back the years to take one of those ultra-high dives that made him so famous, but other than that, these two competitors past their prime proved they can still put on a brutal bout in the WWE's famous steel structure.

The middle DVD starts with a continuation of modern wrestling's most enduring feud.  For those not familiar with Steen versus Generico, thankfully WWE brings Owens versus Zayn with a barnstorming encounter from Payback in May.  Highlights follow, with a subsequent rematch of the Payback main event, this time an Extreme Rules bout from the Extreme Rules event.  Roman retained his championship against the on-fire AJ Styles; but with both having a point to prove about being on the top of the card, what started as a promising anything-goes brawl ended up interference-laden as first The Club, then The Usos appear.

Money in the Bank is up next with its titular Ladder Match: Cesaro vs. Zayn vs. Ambrose vs. Del Rio vs. Owens vs. Jericho.  Ladder Matches with this many competitors are often fast-paced frenetic things and this captured that to a tee, with plenty of early ringside action. The zenith of this match came when all six men were battling atop two ladders, dropping one by one until only Ambrose and Owens were left, the former SHIELD man grabbing the Canadian through the top rungs and smashing him unconscious.  Taking the briefcase and the opportunity, Dean Ambrose also adds a new potential threat to the main event, conveniently next on this DVD.

Action from The Crazy MITB Match
Seth Rollins, back from injury and determined to regain the belt he was stripped of, had Reigns firmly in his sights. Roman had other ideas; even if he had given up trying to win over the still largely hostile WWE Universe, he needed to prove that he actually is 'the Guy' by putting away this particular personal demon.  He started the match with methodical control, making every strike, kick and manoeuvre as hard as possible, Rollins only retaliating occasionally on the counter.  The brutalised Architect finally established himself on to the match with some high-flying action from the turnbuckle to remind his former SHIELD team-mate why he had been champ too. Back in the ring, after some ringside brawling, Roman went for the Spear. Mid-air, the staggered Seth reacted instinctively to turn it into a Pedigree. One repetition on Roman was enough to get the pin, vindication and the Title.  This story wasn't over yet though.  Dean Ambrose's music hit, as did the MitB briefcase with Rollins' head, and all it took for us to have our third WWE Champion of the evening was one sweetly struck Dirty Deeds!

The Brand Split between RAW and SmackDown changed the layout of WWE before the next PPV, Battleground, and so the drafting of Superstars and titles came to the forefront.

The overwhelming sense of anticipation for the next bout lay in Sasha Banks' unknown teammate to face Charlotte and Dana Brooke, so when the music of the un-drafted, former NXT Women's Champion Bayley hit, the pop from the crowd was enormous.  The match itself was an opportunity to advance Charlotte and Banks' feud and introduce Bayley to the wider WWE Universe rather than any great technical exposition, compared to other Women's matches in this set.

Following up on the WWE Championship storyline, we have a No-DQ Triple-Threat match.  If either challenger dethrones SmackDown's Dean Ambrose, the historic title will be heading to RAW instead. The match was fast-paced and balanced, Ambrose brawling well, Rollins stunning with his high-flying athleticism and Reigns, back from a 30-day 'Wellness' suspension, taking out his obvious frustration with explosive power; all demonstrating the complementary styles that made them such a great team.  It was Ambrose however, biding his time whilst recovering ringside, that took advantage of Reigns wiping out Seth with a Spear to employ his own Dirty Deeds and get the 3-count.  Fantastically well executed Triple-threat that delivered a lot of uncertainty and suspense with the fast and brutal action. 

'Big Match John' versus AJ Styles at SummerSlam is probably my main-roster match of the year, so an excellent choice to start Disc three. Both athletes pulled out their extensive arsenals immediately, although each was countered into another then back into yet more.  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 left 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.

Next up we get to see WWE's inaugural Universal title holder. With the necessity of crowning the champion buy either pinfall or submission, it effectively makes the match no disqualification. Finn Balor, the demon king who battled his way past the cream of the RAW roster to earn his opportunity, started aggressively. Seth Rollins, the number one draft pick and automatic Challenger, responded with athletic resilience and powerful offence. A sickening blow to Balor's shoulder from Seth Rollins' bomb to the Barricades slowed him momentarily, and would prove to be significant in the coming days.

Finn Balor vs Seth Rollins From Summer Slam

They traded increasingly powerful manoeuvres, frustration and exhaustion building, until Finn unleashed another volley of feet which culminated in his coup de gras double-foot stomp. Former NXT champion was victory over former WWE champion, to be the first Universal champion.  A suitably great match, where Seth Rollins' agile and usually effective attack was no match for the supernatural resilience and single-mindedness of Finn Balor.  As usual, the highlight packages bookend each PPV.

September's SmackDown Live event, Backlash, is featured with a 6-Pack Challenge Match to crown the inaugural WWE Smackdown Women’s Champion.  Becky Lynch defeated Nikki Bella, Naomi, Natalya, Alexa Bliss and Carmella. While none of the women had excessive amounts of ring-time, each and every one gave enough to show exactly why they deserved to be there. In particular, the more recent NXT graduates were surprising in how aggressively engaging they were with the more experienced roster members.  The elimination stipulation also left the finish nice and clean with Lynch forcing Carmella to submit with the Dis-arm-her.

The clean finish contrasts starkly with that of the next match, the culmination of the Best of Seven Series between Cesaro and Sheamus at Clash of Champions.  Set up as a knife-edge encounter with the series at 3-3, the match itself was a take-no-prisoners brute-fest between two of RAW's rather under-appreciated heavyweights.  Rather than coming to a nice satisfying conclusion, however, the match ended when both men took a spill over the top rope and came crashing down on the floor.  A ringside Doctor declared them unable to continue. A No-Contest.  Whether this was legitimate or not, it was subsequently leveraged to pair these gents into a tag-team.

Another post-draft rivalry had formed on SmackDown, between Dolph Ziggler and intercontinental champion The Miz, culminating in a Career versus Title match at No Mercy.  Ziggler used rope-breaks well, and countered the incessant duplicity of Miz's camp (with wife Maryse and Dolph's former tag partners from the Spirit Squad interfering) to save his career and leave 'The King of Soft Style' humiliated and title-less.  Inspiring resilience from the ever durable Dolph.

The DVD set wraps up with another slice of history, as the RAW Champion Sasha Banks defends her title at Hell in a Cell, taking on Charlotte for the first women's match in the eponymous structure.  The action got started before the cell had descended, Charlotte taking it to Sasha, followed by a very long injury tease as Banks was stretchered away.  Abandoning the medics, the match finally got under-way in the cage.  This was a fully executed hardcore cell match, no halfway measures for such a momentous occasion, and a fantastic conclusion to this year's 'Best of' set.  Charlotte regained her championship, reversing Banks through a table before applying her Natural Selection finisher.

Every year, the 'Best of PPV Matches' DVDs are a fantastic summary of the most significant matches, but the 2016 vintage is a very refined one.  The acquisition of AJ Styles seems to have bought the best out of John Cena in years, the NXT production line is starting to deliver the goods on a consistent basis.  Add the continuing Women's Revolution, the Brand Split that seems to have learned the lessons of last time and a genuine atmosphere of change, and we have a collection of the best matches in years. Long may it continue.

Available now from

Wednesday 8 February 2017

A Woman's World: The Evolution of Womens Wrestling By Nathan K. Major

Many fans will get bleary eyed about how great the Attitude Era was, the big matches, the celebrities and the outlandish goings on are what sticks in the mind from that period of time, but not many people tend to remember the negatives about this time. Say what you want about the current product lacking a certain something, but I think we're spoiled when it comes to in-ring talent. The mid-card is filled with talented wrestlers, while others wait in the wings in NXT. The main glaring difference from the Attitude Era to now however, is this: The treatment of women.

Now, I may not be the best qualified person to speak of the injustices women face each day for daring to be different and in charge of themselves, but I am a big believer in Equality for all, and if that means I'm called a feminist then so be it, as if such a thing would be an insult. Besides, I don't tread on this sensitive topic alone, as I'm assisted on this look through history by Christy from @wrestlingsexism who is the fountain of knowledge and wisdom one needs in these situations (you can also check out Christy's blog here:

Way back when, your only exposure to women in the wrestling world was WWE, and it's questionable, at best, portrayal of women, yes they had a title, but it seemed like they couldn't be on screen without Jerry Lawler (don't get me started) yelling: “Puppies!” or something along those lines, and matches would consist of slapping, hair-pulling or spanking, because women, am I right lads? The women would be paraded around in various costumes like dress your own love dolls and not one of them was treat like you know, a human being with thoughts and emotions, no, to the WWE they were just bimbo's, in the tightest costume their seamstress could make.

And then there was the piece de resistance, the Bra and Panties match, can you imagine any other workplace where this would happen? Imagine for a moment you work in an office and your boss tells Sandra from accounts that she has to work in her underwear the next day, there'd be uproar! Recently Sasha Banks came out and mentioned this on RAW, and how women had evolved, this caused former writer Vince Russo to critisise Banks' as according to Russo they 'drew money' was this justification for having these matches? Christy thinks not: “No, absolutely not. That shows you consider money more important than respecting women and treating them like human beings.”

You're probably now thinking: “It wasn't all bad, what about Trish Stratus and Lita?” Ah yes, Lita, let's explore her background shall we? The first thing that springs to mind is her story with Kane and Gene Snitsky, anyone remember that little chestnut? Of course you do, it was that time that WWE thought that a miscarriage was a great story. Long story short, Kane forcibly marries Lita, oh did I forget to mention that he WON Lita's marriage? Yes, won as if she was a prize, anyhow, Lita eventually comes round to married life and they conceive a Demon baby, until one fateful night Snitsky hits Kane with a chair and he falls on his pregnant wife. Ugh. This makes me uncomfortable just typing about it. Snitsky would go on to say: “It wasn't his fault” and punt a baby doll into the crowd, Lita however would go without getting comeuppance, I assume because WWE just saw her as a prop that can be used and then forgotten about.

That wasn't all that poor Lita had to put up with though. In 2005 Lita had an affair with Edge, while she was in a relationship with Matt Hardy, an affair that went public online and got Matt fired for airing his dirty laundry in public. Obviously to cheat on someone is an awful thing to do, but she wasn't the first person to do it, and why for the rest of her run was she seen as somewhat of a 'whore' while Edge's 'Rated R Superstar' gimmick was supposed to be positive, he went on to be an 11 time World Champion and his retirement was met with emotion and a celebration of his career. Lita? Not so much. “When she retired from WWE, after years of putting her body on the line and being disrespected by fans and WWE alike, her send-off was being mocked and abused by Cryme Tyme. This was WWE's way of thanking one of their best and most popular women's wrestlers ever. With abuse and disrespect. And that just solidified my belief that WWE doesn't respect women. It had me in tears.” says Christy. The WWE thought it appropriate to send Lita off, by having Cryme Time (don't even mention the racial undertones of THAT gimmick) sell her panties to the audience. Yikes WWE, way to have tact, you afforded Trish a great send-off less than a year earlier, why do this to Lita?

It isn't even the more modern crowd that can land on the wrong side of offensive when it comes to women wrestling, the older guys, with their old school views unsurprisingly land themselves on the wrong side of internet debate, for instance, the always controversial Jim Cornette recently stated that it was 'unconvincing' for women to wrestle men as well as insinuating that women were weaker than men and this would be why, what does our sexism consultant Christy have to say about this? “I find it silly. Mostly because wrestling is, sorry to say, 'fake' and we're happy to accept smaller guys beating huge, big, tough guys, yet women beating men is a bridge too far? If it's written well, anything can be believable. If you start judging on what you think is believable, then you need to do this for all wrestlers and limit interaction between those in different weight classes, etc. Not just the women. You need to write it well, but that's the case for everything.”

It seems someone else disagrees with you there Corny. Even if you think about it though we shouldn't need to be told this, there are certain people who could beat the crap out of you no matter whether they were a man or a woman, would you say that Ronda Rousey or Amanda Nunes couldn't beat up say someone like, Kofi Kingston? Even in the wrestling world, would you tell Awesome Kong that she was weaker than you because she's a woman, if you would you're braver, or stupider than I.
Cornette however, doesn't take issue with Women's Wrestling, there are some old guys who are, take for instance, Greg Valentine, who a few years back said that women should be, and I quote: “Women should be at home, cooking, barefoot and pregnant.” Wow Greg wait to enter the 21st Century. What does Christy think? “He clearly doesn't belong in this century and I refuse to give his ancient, ridiculous opinions any serious thought. I don't have the energy to deal with men like that, really.” Not an entirely surprising response, but in all honesty what did he expect people to think? Did he expect society to see the ill of it's ways and set itself back another century or two? At what point does a wrestler, and not a very interesting one at that, think that it';s justifiable to say stuff like that?

Anyway, at least we're through the woods now right? Right? Well, not quite. While presentation of women has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, we still have some ways to go, take for example the recent Enzo Amore/Big Cass feud with Rusev and Lana. Don't get me wrong I like Enzo, he's a charismatic guy, I don't like what he's had written for him, the sort of half-sexual misogynistic comments that somehow make him a face, yet make Lana and Rusev heels because they're 'foreign'. “I have much more of an issue with the way Lana was treated there than Rusev. WWE seems to like writing their faces attack the heel's wife/girlfriend while feuding with the heel and it's so unnecessary. And almost all of these women only went through this for the sake of a man's storyline. It's not even their story. They don't come out the hero, or the victor. They facilitate a man's evolution. As if they're props. Just as Lana was the prop used for Enzo to feud with Rusev. Just as Eve was used for Kane and Cena to feud. To make Cena a bigger hero who could 'save the damsel'. That whole Enzo/Lana/Rusev angle still makes me angry.” More strong comments there from Christy, There's much to think about in this feud, and it just seems like women are given these sort of storylines by a writing staff and upper management made up of: “Mostly white, straight, middle-aged yes-men.” As Christy put it to me, this seems to be a problem widespread in all media that women aren't well written because they're frequently not written by women either.

Still, no-one can deny the progress made in-ring in the last few years, we've seen women headline PPVs, and weekly TV broadcasts, participate in matches that were previously for the men only, we've seen the hideously outdated term 'diva' phased out and the Women's Championship reinstated. “I'm not sure how much of it is willing and what is forced by society, but they treat their women so, so much better. Fewer degrading matches, more time given, more distinct characters and better chances to have excellent matches.” Says Christy of recent developments, but where do we go from here? Well I'd say the first big step should be more women in positions of power and creative (who don't have the surname McMahon) and the lessening of use of degrading relationship stories, I'd say that'd be the first step in a bold new direction.