Who knew this was going to be the most unpredictable PPV of the year? A bout of viral meningitis resulting in a constantly evolving card that whatever happened, gave the 13, 381 in attendance at the Minneapolis Target Centre, Minnesota an experience like very little else. The KickOff show gave us all the regular highlights as Renee Young, David Otunga & Peter Rosenberg, along with interviews with 2/3 of the Shield, The Miz & AJ Styles set us up for proceedings. Mickie James was in the social media lounge, Drew Gulak invaded the show to complain about his PowerPoint being bumped for time (Why?), Kurt Angle hung out with his ‘son’ backstage. But how was the actual wrestling?
Kick-Off Match: Sasha Banks def. Alicia Fox
Sasha came out in her Breast Cancer Awareness/Dean Malenko pink gear for a match that kept eyes on the women’s division showing that it’s possible to tell more than one story per division at once (in many ways, the story of the night). That said, this was a standard face victory pre-show match with that 50/50 booking everyone knows and loves but there was actually a hint too much of it. The whole point of the KickOff match is to warm up the crowd for the main show and this one spent far too long in rest holds, possibly because it was over 10 minutes. But the crowd enjoyed it and it managed to play all the hits with northern lights suplexes, backstabbers and of course finishing on that all important Bank Statement at 10:13. Solid stuff but nothing that couldn’t have been trimmed down to give Drew Gulak a chance to do at least a handful of PowerPoint slides.
Match 1: Asuka def. Emma
This felt a bit weird, they spend forever hyping Asuka, talking about how no-one’s ready for her, having matches to determine who gets to face her only for her to struggle to beat Emma. Emma! Not that I don’t love Emma but she’s hardly been booked as a destructive force. If you’d never seen Asuka before, I can’t imagine this is the best showcase of her individual style, unless of course you, much like Michael Cole, believe she’s there because ‘she loves to have fun and entertain the fans’. That said, Emma and Asuka had a great match back at NXT TakeOver: London and this one was a few steps below that but still a lot of fun with Asuka playing the cocky hero who learns that on the main roster, maybe someone is ready for her. Of course, Emma couldn’t hold her off for long and all it took was a well-timed kick and a quick transition to the Asuka Lock to get the tap out victory at 9:26. Not a complete failure and it had good energy with both women looking good but it didn’t feel like the Empress’ entrance we were promised.
Match 2: Cedric Alexander & Rich Swann def. The Brian Kendrick & Jack Gallagher
You wouldn’t believe it, but the crowd were actually awake for this, nay, they were active. Such is the sheer charisma and athletic ability of Alexander & Swann that they were able to do what seems often impossible at this point and get the crowd invested in the cruiserweights. This followed a reasonably standard structure with Swann playing a superb face-in-peril allowing Kendrick and Gallagher to look methodical and dangerous as they worked over him while allowing for enough hope spots to keep Swann looking resilient. Of course, once Swann hit the hot tag to Alexander, the match went a bit crazy but in a good way with everyone throwing out big moves and Kendrick continuing to be the Grima Wormtongue of WWE when it comes to covert tactics. The finish came when Kendrick locked the Captain’s Hook onto Alexander, only for Swann to break it up with a Pheonix Splash, allowing Alexander to hit the Lumbar Check for the pin at 7:54. Please let these two escape from the confines of 205 Live and make their way into the tag division proper, them vs The Bar would be mega.
Match 3: WWE Women’s Championship – Alexa Bliss (c) def. Mickey James
Before the match, Alexa Bliss was interviewed backstage, as per normal, she said Mickey was old. She also talked about her own bum but only gentlemanly responses please. The two of them put on the best match Mickie has had for years and probably one of the best Alexa has had. What works well about these two is that they are two of the best women there has been in terms of making what little material they’re given work but also just at making it seem like their feuds matter. You could have had this feud without the title and it still would have felt like it had stakes and that’s important. On an in-ring level, it was good, often very good and verging on great at times with Bliss’ chain wrestling getting smoother as her in-ring ability slowly starts to match up to her mastery of the microphone. James looked like she was out for blood and her strikes really reflected this. It’s difficult to pull off a clean heel victory and they just about pull it off here with Bliss having to slam James into the buckle before hitting a DDT for the pin at 11:27. It’s clear they’re saving the title for Asuka but I can’t help but wish James could have proved Bliss wrong here.
Match 4: WWE Cruiserweight Championship – Enzo Amore def. Kalisto (c)
And with that, everyone started theorising that Kalisto only won the title so that Enzo could win it back and equal the (still technically not officially) departing Neville’s total. So Amore came out and did his standard hype/annoy the crowd, this week’s edition: my throat hurts. The early sections of this match had some surprisingly smooth action as Amore tried to run away from Kalisto with the Samurai of the Sun being far too wised-up to the Bona-Fide G’s underhanded tactics to fall for them. However, when they tried to get into the actual match, it all fell apart. From the moment we discovered that Amore has no idea how to sell a hurricanrana onwards, the match lacked any sense of drama and it can’t be helped that the crowd went deadly silent for it. For all the best efforts of Kalisto to throw flips into it and Amore’s considerable skill on the mic, he still remains woeful in the ring. Enzo won at 8:31 with an eye-poke and a roll-up. We missed out on Drew Gulak’s PowerPoint presentation for this?
Match 5: Finn Balor def. AJ Styles
This was as good as you’d expect from these two, especially considering it was announced two days prior and Styles was clearly quite jet-lagged (and also missing his signature entrance jacket, or he just loves those WWE shop hoodies). Taking that into account, we can give it a hint of lee-way but considering the constant hyping of this as a dream match, and by all accounts it is as the first singles match and second ever match involving both of these competitors, their first of course being when the team of AJ, Christian Cage & Petey Williams defeated Devitt, Milano Collection AT & Minoru at Wrestle Kingdom II, but I could help but feel this was, as I said, a match as good as expected but never truly great.
It was a fascinating affair, playing off both men’s tenures at the top of the Bullet, Notorious Club as they ran through various Japanese hits like Styles hitting a brutal Ushigoroshi, Balor bringing back his 1916 poisoned DDT and also finishing off the match with possibly the deepest Coup de Grace double stomp you’ll see at 18:16. It was a smooth match with both men performing well, having great chemistry and working a face v face match which split support but maintained it, yet it still didn’t feel like the mat classic these two should have delivered. Maybe it’s down to a general feeling of respect from these two draining some of the vitality out of the encounter (as well as some incredibly poor acting by Balor when in submission holds) but while I can’t fault it on a technical level, especially considering the short time to put it together, I can’t embrace it on an emotional one. Still, thank f*ck we didn’t have to deal with Sister Abigail…
Match 6: Jason Jordan def. Elias
On the KickOff show, Jordan was annoyed that Elias interrupted his pep-talk with his Dad to request a concert so he interrupted his concert thrice, twice with a trolley of fruit and veg because Vince McMahon. I’m glad that we got four Elias & Jason Jordan segments over the KickOff and the main show including 8:33 of a match. It’s not like I actually wanted to see Drew Gulak’s cut-for-time PowerPoint Presentation, it’s not like if I wasn’t reviewing this, that was literally the only thing I was excited for on this card. The match itself was nothing to shout about with both men working the blandest form of heel control and babyface ‘fire’. The ending itself was interesting with Elias going for a suplex, Jordan reversing that into a small package roll-up with the cameras capturing that Elias clearly got his shoulder up but the ref didn’t see it. Are we about to see a Jason Jordan heel turn? I don’t know, probably.
Match 7: Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match: Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose & Kurt Angle def. The Miz, Sheamus, Cesaro, Braun Strowman & Kane
This was very long. At over 35 minutes, it really felt it. Sure, it was a lot of crowd-pleasing stuff but it really did not need all that was there. Already having the odds placed at 3 on 5, the face team were faced with one of the most beloved formats of multi-man matches, the fakeout stretcher. Early on Kurt Angle was taken away after an all-out assault by every male heel you care about on RAW and Kane, Seth and Dean would hold down the fort, bringing as Dean promised earlier ‘tables, ladders, chairs, war’ and just when hope was lost, up returned the angel or should I say Angle of suplexes. If there is one major positive to be taken away from this, it’s that Sheamus and Cesaro were presented like the main event-worthy talents they are, in fact everyone was given the star treatment, even Braun Strowman and as far as we can tell, he died via rubbish truck in the middle of the match.
It’s incredible that they were able to put together and reconfigure this match to deal with the unavoidable absence of Reigns and if anything, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the sections with Angle were the best work of the entire show, throwing out suplexes, Slams and Ankle Locks, doing the Shield entrance, hitting the triple powerbomb and roaring like he himself were the large dog, seeing ANgle back felt like the best kind of nostalgia, like what they’ve been trying to do with Shane but if Shane could throw a convincing punch. Overall, this match was an unwieldy, messy beast, it had a lot that didn’t work (especially table spots), but it had more that did. It’s not going to challenging for any match of the year awards but considering the effort it took to even get a show it, it’s a bloody miracle.