Metalhead’s Riff: Looking Back and Looking Forward (WWE, WM31, RAW, NJPW, Invasion Attack 2015)

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One of my habits,  when writing about a wrestling event, or anything else for that matter, is to  do a little research first and visit various site to get a general feel of the reactions towards that event/subject. I find  it helps me focus and makes it easier to express my own thoughts on said subject.

Doing so for Wrestlemania 31 was a rather interesting exercise, due to the fact that seldom in wrestling have the reactions been so varied. Depending on whom you choose to read, you went from boring, predictable, uninspired and one of the worst ever to wildly entertaining, fun,  delivering much more than it promised and one of the best ever. The differences grew even more when reading about the Main Event. From a dud, a so-so Lesnar One  Man Show saved by the Rollins cash-in and a predictable bore to a Lesnar masterpiece, a career making performance by Reigns and even the Match of the Year (said a perhaps somewhat over-enthusiastic writer who wasn’t even scared of comparing it favorably to Ibushi/Nakamura) you can read it all. Even the Rollins cash-in ranged from fantastic and creative to ruining a potential Match of the Year.

Now when opinions vary so greatly, one has to wonder, where does the truth lie? As often in these cases, somewhere in the middle. There were some good moments, some lesser ones, some incomprehensible ones but it did deliver the kind of spectacle everybody has come to expect from WWE. Some quick thoughts:

The Tag Team battle was fun to watch, but couldn’t hide the lack of depth in the Tag Team Division, or the fact that the Tag team titles are not deemed important enough to be on the main show.

The Battle Royal was not better or worse than most of these affairs, still some fun spots, the crowd was well into Mizdow (finally) giving Miz the boot, but, someone not named Jim Ross will have to explain the sense of having Big Show win this one to me. And no, the fact that he never won one is NOT a good argument. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the Big Show, but ANOTHER push? Surely not. Then again we can always hope that he will receive the same kind of push Cesaro got last year, then it would make sense.

The IC Ladder match delivered as expected, but fell short of bagging Match of the Night honors. Perhaps a little more time would have allowed a better pacing and some more psychology in this one, but it WAS fun, there were some impressive spots and it delivered the crowd-pleasing result I expected. A good start of the show. The legends segment with Bryan also got a smile and a laugh out of me so all good on that front.

Rollins/Orton also failed to steal the show. But still delivered a good match (if somewhat slow in its first phase) with a great finish. Those two can probably do better than that though.

Triple H/Sting. Sigh… I’ll admit to a bit of subjectivity here since I didn’t care one bit about that particular feud, I ended up not caring about the match either. So I’m one of the few who actually didn’t mind Triple H winning, because whatever. An overbooked and confusing mess, with one of the silliest entrance in the history of Wrestlemania, this one did nothing for me. The Madison Square Garden Curtain Call Memorial at the end didn’t help either. Still one must admit that the crowd WAS into this one, but on a personal level, simply not for me. Interestingly, this was also the longest match on the show (and that’s entrances and aftermath NOT included). Really? Sigh…

The Diva’s tried to do the most with the short time they were alloted so kudos to them for that. The Bella’s, well bless them they try. But Manami Toyota and Toshido Yamada they aren’t. A  couple of good spots and another crowd pleasing victory was all they were allowed. On the subject of time, i amused myself on calculating how much time the combined matches took (pre-show included). I came up with a result of around 2 hours and a half. On a total of 6 hours of show. One cannot help but think that it was not the matches (or this one in particular, see above) that needed to be cut down in time, but that may be just me.

There is making one’s entrance as a Terminator wannabe and then there is making one’s entrance ON A FREAKING TANK! And Lana was even there! Youhou! Anyway, this wasn’t bad only predictable. I’m gonna end up buying that “Spoiler: I win” T-shirt if they keep this up. Still, not a bad effort from the two of them.

The esteemed Mr Jim Ross tells us that: “Anyone who thinks that Wyatt took a step back because he did not win needs to re-evaluate their opinion“. Well let’s look at the facts here, one of the few wrestlers that HAS been pushed heavily this past months is left dead in the water while ‘Taker, after wrestling a slightly above average match, is back into retirement until next year presumably. What is it we need to re-evaluate exactly? Because, call me stupid, but I simply don’t get this one.

Who would have thought Lesnar/Reigns would get Match of the Night honors? Certainly not me. So respect to both of them for pulling this of. But Match of the Year like some suggested here and there? No thank you. Not even close. Still, a good match that, while basically a carbon-copy of Cena/Lesnar at Summerslam, certainly delivered and had me reacting to the action practically against my own will. Kudos for Reigns also, Lesnar delivered a strong performance but Reigns held his own in rather difficult circumstances. He showed me something here, perhaps it’s time for the crowds to cut him some slack. Or for WWE to turn him heel, one or the other. The Rollins cash-in was well done since they managed to add a surprising twist to the usual “bell rings/guys cashes in” routine. Well done by all involved, even the bookers.

Wrestlemania ended up being much better than it perhaps deserved to be given the lackluster and lazy booking that preceded it. But credit where credit is due, WWE managed to deliver something positive against all odds and did what they do best. Entertaining us. Perhaps not always like we want them to, but still.

 

The next night on RAW, WWE actually addressed one of the main issues I had with their product in recent months. Taking the belt of Lesnar while managing to keep his invincible aura was one step in the right direction. Again, don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Lesnar, on the contrary, but the limitations of Lesnar being champion and still only appearing at only a few shows because it says so in his contract deal have already abundantly been proven. So now we are left with one VERY pissed off Lesnar, an equally pissed off Stephanie and Paul Heyman kinda stuck between those two. In other words a story. And one I WANT them to tell.

I was sometimes bothered, lately, by the constant reminders that because keyfabe is death and this is the reality era, WWE can’t tell so much stories because people won’t buy it or whatever. Bullshit. That’s just an excuse to explain lazy uninspired booking. I’m honestly convinced that fans still want stories out of wrestling, perhaps slightly different ones than 10 years ago, but that is irrelevant. Storytelling in your feuds, championship chases, matches and in every aspect of wrestling is still VERY important. Case in point Lesnar gets suspended. Yes, It’s a story. Yes we  all know he’ll be back. Yes we all know this is because of his “limited appearances ” contract. But that all doesn’t matter it’s a good story and a logical reason and I, for one am all for it. As added bonuses we have Heyman now actually having an interlocutor (Steph) when he appears, AND both Champion and challengers having a rather large shadow looming over them, one they know will go straight after whoever is champion when he returns and will try smash trough everything and everyone that gets in his way to get there. That adds a certain  unpredictability to the product that can only enhance it. THANK YOU WWE! Finally.

In closing (well as far as WWE is concerned, I still have my NJPW prediction to do) a word about the IC and US titles. Having two wrestlers like Cena and Bryan as Champions is a good step in the right direction. But that’s only half the battle. It seems that Bryan will have to contend with an heel Sheamus, on top of everyone else, but that’s ok, I don’t really mind, there are enough challengers to mix it up anyway. But, and this is my concern, I was talking about stories above and they need some here too. Not only for the championship matches but also for the title chase. Create feuds between contenders, tournaments, Number 1 Challenger matches, in short create stories around, not only the IC title but BOTH titles and you might have a renewed interest in the various championships. Cena’s Open Challenge thing is actually rather interesting but, same thing, they need stories, they need Cena to appear vulnerable at times, the crowds needs to BELIEVE that one of those challengers could actually pull it off, otherwise the only thing that’s gonna gain value are, again, those “Spoiler: I win” T shirts.

WWE has taken the first necessary steps to make their product seem less stale. Now all they have to do is delivering consistently good shows, not only when it suits them but every week, otherwise, despite the more positive reactions they have right now, it’s gonna be a long wait until Summerslam.

 

But enough about WWE, it’s time to speak about NJPW’s Invasion Attack that’s happening this Sunday on PAy-Per-View. As usual now, I will be presenting you with the whole card and give you my expectations and predictions for each match  so without further ado:

Yuji Nagata, Captain New Japan, KUSHIDA, Alex Shelley and Yohei Komatsu vs Manabu Nakanishi, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Ryusuke Taguchi and Sho Tanaka:

Yes, I know, some complain about WWE just trowing guys together to have as many wrestlers as possible on the card and here we are, in NJPW, and they’re doing exactly the same thing. I guess it’s a thing of all promotions. But understandable. I’m not even sure if this is gonna be the dark match or the card opener, anyways this should be a fun little thing with some high flying, some brawling, some wrestling and everything a crowd needs to get warmed up.

Prediction: One of the two teams will win…

Tomoaki Honma, Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi, Tama Tonga and Cody Hall):

Most were expecting Kojima vs Tenzan for the NWA title at this card, but that match actually already happened (Tenzan won). So we are left with both teaming up again, this time with the red hot Honma. Are we gonna see further hostility between Kojima and Tenzan or is this actually the start of an Honma push? Both could happen. On the Bullet Club side, while Tonga and Takahasi can both go in the ring, their profile isn’t very high right now. The inclusion of Hall is interesting though, with some more experience Cody could be a very effective gaijin monster heel and easily outshine Fale and Gallows in the process. This should be fun, as all matches involving Honma are.

Winner: Honmamania!

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship – The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) vs Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero and Beretta):

This should be great. The IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship has delivered some of the most fun matches in recent times and will undoubtedly do so again here. Don’t expect too much in-ring psychology here, but simply amazing spots and sequences between those two teams. This is also one of those matches were there won’t really be a winner or a loser, both teams can win, both teams can loose, they will still be over and their rematch will still draw. Still I’m expecting Romero and Beretta to take this one on a (relative) upset here, if only to legitimize their newly formed alliance.

Winner: Roppongi Vice.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship – Kenny Omega vs Mascara Dorada:

This is one of the most unpredictable matches on the card. Not in terms of winner or loser but in terms of: will it be any good? I’ve said it before, IF Omega tones down his ineffective “cleaner” character and remembers he’s actually a pretty good wrestler and IF Dorada remembers that backflips and stuff are all very well but if you’re doing acrobatics in one corner and your opponent stands in the other corner then it’s actually a bit meaningless, THEN we’ll have a great match. Both are certainly capable of it. Their sequences with each-other, while wrestling in various six-man tag matches proved that. If not then we could have a disaster the size of Omega/Taguchi at New beginnings. This one actually depends on Omega. Forget about the gimmick, Kenny and this will be a great one.

Winner: Omega.

IWGP Tag Team Championship – Bullet Cub (Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows) vs The Kingdom (Michael Bennett and Matt Taven with Maria Kanellis):

The Kingdom is back in NJPW and, if rumors are to be believed, they could be staying for a lot longer than last time. Both Taven and Bennett are well appreciated by the office and top wrestlers like Tanahuchi and Maria is just LOVED by everyone, especially cameramen. Maria clearly being portrayed as the star of the team notwithstanding, both Taven and Bennett can go in that ring and could probably bring more to the table as Champs than Anderson and gallows who were getting stale anyway. Expect The Kingdom to take this one and come back to ROH with bragging rights at Global Wars.

Winner: Whoever is tasked with filming Maria… and The Kingdom.

Togi Makabe, Hirooki Goto and Tetsuya Naito vs Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI:

This is the match that caused some controversy. That Nakamura doesn’t defend his IC title on the card is one thing, but to not even put Ishii vs Makabe on there, a match all know WILL happen at some point? Japanese fans were said to be disappointed by this. On the plus side, putting these six into one ring almost guarantees a great match. Not just a trow away match either since the next challenger for Nakamura’s title (Goto or Naito) will somehow be decided here. Also expect some sort of showdown between Makabe and Ishii. I don’t know, while I get that people would have preferred the card to be loaded with singles title matches, a lot of things will happen in Japan the coming months (more on this later), so I guess the idea here is to keep fresh title matches for the coming events. Nakamura can of course headline anything and everything and even the NEVER title can headline some smaller events. Still those six will probably have some work to do to make the crowd happy, on the other hand, given the talent involved, they are more than up to the task.

Winner: Makabe, Goto and Naito, setting up the various title matches.

Hiroshi Tanahashi and Katsuyori Shibata vs Toru Yano and Kazushi Sakuraba:

Wrestling is fun sometimes. I used to hate the Yano character, but he has kinda grown on me lately. The “Master Thief” character who can steal away a match with sometimes ludicrous antics actually is a sometimes welcome change to the Japanese “Strong Style”, and, to my everlasting surprise, the feud between him and Tanahashi has actually proven entertaining. This could go any which way, either Yano does it again to up the ante for the inevitable Revenge Grudge match or he offers his tag team partner up to the wolves while making his triumphant exit. It sounds silly, it IS silly, but it’s fun so why not.

Winner: Yano whatever happens.

Kazuchika Okada vs Bad Luck Fale:

Ok, it isn’t like I have anything against Fale but this one has gone on for long enough. Fale is just to limited against someone like Okada who needs to move on towards bigger and better things (a feud with AJ styles?) urgently. This was one of the issues people had with the card, giving this a semi-final status over a expected NEVER title match just didn’t sit too well. The feud isn’t working, time to move on.

Winner: Okada to wrap up this feud! Please!

IWGP Heavyweight Championship – AJ Styles (c) vs Kota Ibushi:

This is the big one, the one everybody is waiting for, the one NJPW has been banking on to sell out the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the one they’re counting on to be a huge PPV draw. In fact you could state that the whole event is built around this one. Lets be fair here, by going all in on making Ibushi the next bona-fide Super main Eventer, NJPW is taking a risk. People have been complaining about some matches on the rest of the card so if Styles and Ibushi doesn’t deliver NJPW will experience some backlash for the first time since quite a while. That being said when you’re banking on two of the very best in the world to have that top match that will get everyone talking, maybe you aren’t taking THAT big of a risk. I fully expect Styles and Ibushi to pull this off. Aj Styles vs the current front runner for wrestler of the year is a match I’m extremely hyped for. This will deliver, there is no doubt in my mind. As for the winner, they can go either way here, there is no bad choice, but I still think this will be Ibushi’s big moment and that, with one swift strike, NJPW will add another super-worker to their main-event scene. Good times are ahead!

Winner: Ibushi.

To be fair, this card could (should?) have been stronger, but the NJPW booking team have been criticized before only for them to prove everyone wrong. The reasoning behind their Ibushi push IS sound, and they will have strong support from both tag team titles matches and (hopefully) Junior heavyweight match. On top of that, with Wrestling Hinokuni at the end of April, Wrestling Dontaku in early May, the Global Wars just after that and the Super Junior Tournament (which given NJPW’s good relations with ROH, Pro Wrestling NOAH and AAA should be amazing this year) just after THAT, the top Japanese promotion has a very busy schedule in the coming months. So perhaps Jado and Gedo (the NJPW bookers) will be proven right once again. Besides, by banking it all on one Super match they allow themselves to distribute  dream matches on ALL the other shows, which might just leave fans begging for more.

We’ll see, but I know one thing for sure… can’t wait for Sunday!

This is all from me this week, I will keep you all posted on the various news from Japan in the coming weeks. See you all later and have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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