Okay, are we ready for night 2? Let’s hope this one is a bit better. While I was mildly scathing of a lot of what happened in night 1, I am impressed at how many matches they managed to put together (obviously, this was not going to be two nights at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ stadium) at short notice. Not only that, but how many of the matches had a solid build, a justification for existing. Never forget:
We opened with Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley, and this was great. Probably the best actual match of the event. Charlotte was such a great dickhead that she reminded me of her dad. Even the story of the match was like a Ric Flair contest.
Next was Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley, and it was short but sweet. Basic set up of Black being the striker trying to evade the power moves of Lashley. They both had some good spots, the bulky Lashley had his working shoes on, but he got caught by Black’s finishing move the black mass (spinning heel kick), which the organisation are pushing as instant death.
Otis vs. Dolph Ziggler was a fun bit of soap opera. Otis is a chunky tag team wrestler, and his team – Heavy Machinery – are there to appeal to the everyman. They like beer and pies, and they’re not sculpted from granite. Story here was Otis had a date with his dream woman Mandy Rose. Her tag team partner Sonya Deville was in cahoots with bad guy Dolph Ziggler, who stole Mandy away. Otis was mad. So they had a fight.
This was actually really well done, as I usually like the Ziggler kind of character. He reminds me of the late great Mr. Perfect in look, demeanour and the fact they are/were great workhorses. But the narrative had me rooting for Otis, so well played. Otis obviously won the match and the affections of Mandy.
Edge vs. Randy Orton (last man standing) of hype behind it, but was awful. It was a slo-mo fight across the whole Performance Center. Story was that Edge had been retired for nine years with a neck injury and, just as he was ready for a return, his ex-friend Orton reinjured him. Why, Orton, why?! So they built this for a while, Orton had a strangely compelling motivation for this (“I love you too much to see you hurt by someone other than me; go home and be a family man”). But the match was aimless and felt never ending. It was shown up by two similar but far superior NXT brawls from Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano that bookended it, and it had a weird “gym equipment hanging” spot that evoked the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit. Grim.
Street Profits vs. Austin Theory and Angel Garza. This was a nothing match for the Raw tag titles. It was quite fun; both teams have a lot of potential. The Street Profits sometimes seemed a bit lost in there, and the finish was weird. Austin Theory had Angelo Dawkins up for his TKO, hit it and went for the pin. Montez Ford then came off the top rope, hitting Theory with a splash, which you have to imagine would also have hurt Dawkins. But Dawkins just rolled over and pinned Theory to retain. No biggie, I guess Dawkins had some wherewithal despite the damage. This is the issue with chucking together a bunch of matches at the last minute: if the participants aren’t very experienced, they need time to plan the match, which was clearly missing here.
Bayley vs. Sasha Banks vs. Naomi vs. Lacey Evans vs. Tamina Snuka. This was one that was thrown together at the last minute, by WWE “legend” Paige, but was a lot of fun. With this kind of match, I always have to check how someone wins. It could be first to get a pin, or it could be elimination. This was elimination. With Tamina as the big bruiser in this one, the others spent a lot of their time teaming up to get rid of her. Otherwise, you get this kind of thing:
The rest of it was pretty good. Sasha and Bayley teaming up against the faces and teasing dissent, but they made up in time to cheat to win, just as it seemed Lacey was going to win the title. A fun match.
John Cena vs. “the Fiend” Bray Wyatt was up next and easily the most entertaining thing over the two nights. Since I’ve been back on the wrestling, Wyatt has been the best thing in it. I missed most of the era of the Wyatt family, which seemed awesomely dark. But this new version of him, which plays on Wyatt’s defeat against Cena at WrestleMania 30, is like a mix of Mr Rogers, Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Stephen King.
Like Randy Orton before him, Bray Wyatt and his Slipknot-esque, silent alter ego the Fiend, has been on a run of claiming the scalps of veterans and legends. But Wyatt went one further and put photos of them on the wall of his “funhouse” with Xs over their eyes. Cena had always haunted him, though. So he challenged him to a Firefly Funhouse match.
Like the Boneyard match a night earlier, nobody knew what this entailed. Unlike the Boneyard match, this was absolute brilliance rather than complete shit. Wyatt and Cena went to a fictional arena, and Wyatt took Cena through his career, forcing him to relive his biggest moments, from his debut against Kurt Angle (which I remember), through his Thuganomics era, to the fateful WM30 match. It was executed brilliantly, almost Lynchian in the way it subverted traditional narrative and pulled the essence of the Cena and Wyatt characters apart. Perfect end to the show.
There was sadly one more match to go. Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre for the not-Universal-but-still-important belt. The build up for this had been very one-sided: McIntyre eliminated Lesnar from the Royal Rumble with his “claymore kick”, before winning that match and challenging Lesnar. He then hit Lesnar a few more times with the claymore kick the other week, really ramping up the suspense, right?
The match itself was almost identical to the Goldberg vs. Strowman match from the night before: Lesnar hit Drew with a few F5s, all of which were kicked out of, and McIntyre paid him back with a few claymore kicks, which were not kicked out of. End of show.
There was definitely a rushed feel to a lot of this, even the matches that had been a long time coming. And it’s disappointing that main even matches seem to have devolved into constant special moves with no build, no pacing, no storytelling. Is this what WWE is nowadays?