Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch vs. Tamina vs. Carmella vs. Natalya (WWE, Money in the Bank 2017)

Watch this match here. (Sub required, $9.99 monthly)

This was the first ever women’s Money in the Bank ladder match.

As is often the case with WWE, most of the talk surrounding this match centred on the finish, so I’d be remiss to start anywhere else. For those who didn’t see it, James Ellsworth, Carmella’s squeeze, knocked Becky Lynch off the ladder, climbed it himself, unhooked the titular briefcase, and tossed it to a prone Carmella on the mat, who was then declared the winner.

There’s a lot to wrap your head around here, but your tolerance for this finish will vary depending on how much stock you invested in the idea of this as a ‘historic’ match – and I don’t refer to it as such because WWE chose to use that verbiage. Bar the odd street fight here or there on very rare occasions, weapons-based gimmick matches were not the domain of women in WWE until very recently. To participate in a heavily promoted ladder match, one of the most popular stipulations in all of wrestling, after decades of men making their names this way, is a cool milestone – and an important one. I can 100% understand anyone who was frustrated with this finish if they were hoping for a more… traditional conclusion. I think people, especially WWE’s long-suffering female fans, wanted something that would be used in video packages for years to come. They wanted their version of Razor Ramon standing atop the ladder at Wrestlemania X with two Intercontinental titles. As Carmella herself alluded to on Twitter, they wanted their ‘boyhood dream’ moment. They didn’t get it. They didn’t even get the simple visual of a woman, be she heel, face or whatever, climbing the ladder and retrieving an object. That seems like a pretty low bar for WWE to miss.

Were this not a ‘first time ever’ occurence, I don’t think I or anyone else would care as much. The finish was a new idea to get some heat on a young heel, for a show that is sorely lacking one on the female side, so that much I can get on board with.

It’s an overly-cutesy finish, which I’ve grown to hate, and that’s WWE’s bread and butter these days. Any match that isn’t just two dudes trying to pin each other becomes a game of ‘how creative can we be?’ in this company. This was akin to Big Show losing a tables match by accidentally stepping on one and breaking it because he’s so fat. It was a cute idea; some people even loved it. But a lot of people just groaned. When a push comes to shove though, it just irks me because you only get so many ‘first time ever’ moments. This will always be the first ever ladder match with women in WWE. It will always be James Ellsworth. It will outlast both his and Carmella’s careers. And in years to come I think even people in favour of this finish will realize that.

As for the match, well, I don’t have another 500 words to say on that. It was a pretty lame ladder match, near the bottom of the Money in the Bank rankings, were you to be a big enough loser to sit down and actually rank them. While Charlotte wowed near the finish with another beautiful dive from the top rope to the floor; there wasn’t much to speak of here in terms of high risks, innovation or thrills. There were several instances where people came off very shakey and nervous, which is understandable, but the end result was a very underwhelming match, bell to bell. There was good heat though, with most of the nearfalls (is that what you call it when someone almost gets the thing in a ladder match? Answers on a postcard) generating a lot of crowd noise – but that only took the match so far.

Sami Callihan, Jake Crist and Dave Crist vs. Shane Strickland, Dezmond Xavier and Lio Rush (WrestleCircus, 31-April-17)

Watch this match here.

This was the exact kind of match that a lot of people hate but I have a great amount of time for.

These guys did ten million moves, tonnes of innovative stuff, some of which was innovative to the point of being overly-cute, and everyone got their shit in. There was no real rhyme or reason, in the sense I couldn’t recall who had taken what moves or what the throughline was supposed to be (there probably wasn’t one) but everyone was doing cool stuff so I didn’t care.

Lio Rush in particular looked incredible, with some spots that were obvious homages to classic Low-Ki trademarks, usually with a small twist to make them his own.

For such a young promotion, WrestleCircus already has a tremendous group of regulars, who were loud and engaged like a peak-PWG or top level UK indie crowd. The venue seems cool, and everything I’ve seen from them has a red hot atmosphere.

The main drawback here was the production which, frankly, sucked. The camera guys were completely unable to keep up with the early crowd-brawling, and even some of the early in-ring stuff – several spots were missed early on, enough that I could easily see people tapping out on this a few minutes in. They had two stationary hardcams, which were fine, so I suppose the editor(s) also deserve a slap on the wrist for neglecting to use them when the ringside crew was fumbling. Likewise, the commentary was total low-level indie noise and the promotion (like many others) would do well to offer alternate, commentary-free audio tracks on their video-on-demand service.

If you’re not into mile-a-minute move fests, avoid this like the plague. If you are easily bothered by shoddy production, you might want to give this a miss. If you like crazy move-a-thons, this is a treat of a freebie, featuring some of indie wrestling’s current hottest names.

Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton (WWE, Payback 2017)

Watch this match here. (Sub required, $9.99 monthly)

This was bad and it was never-fucking-ending.

It was a ‘House of Horrors’ match, which is the latest attempt to parlay Wyatt’s character into something other than plain old rasslin’ matches. Ironically, his plain old rasslin’ matches with The Shield and Daniel Bryan are some of his most highly regarded battles, unlike his reviled ‘spectacles’ such as the ‘Ring of Fire’ match with Kane, the compound brawl with The New Day, and Wrestlemania 33’s embarrassing spooky-slideshow, also featuring Orton.

There’s a certain pretentiousness that permeates everything WWE does with Wyatt, like they think there’s a depth or cleverness there that might break through to ‘casual’ audiences. The video package for this match had a whisper-y cover of ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses;’ akin to Hollywood’s current obsession with breathy covers of kids’ songs for their trailers. I feel like they expect a prime-time Emmy for this.

The match was divided into two segments; a pre-taped vignette in a creepy Blair Witch-like house, and then a brawl in the arena.

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The haunted house section was entirely based on editing and theatrics. There was spooky music, frequent camera cuts, an abundance of colourful lighting, all the clichéd haunted house imagery you would imagine and, scariest of all, they added THUD sound effects to every single punch either man threw. There really wasn’t much actual brawling – if you expected this to at least be a violent, prop-heavy backstage fight, you were wrong.

This basically served as the ‘heat’ of the match, with Wyatt having the jump on Orton as they went room to room. When Orton tried to fire back, Bray would bail.

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It’s WWE, so of course the whole affair was too campy to take seriously but, and this was the real failing of the match, they played it 100% serious.

As more time passes, and more people try and imitate it, you come to realise how on-point Matt Hardy’s wacky ‘short films’ were. They didn’t turn around TNA business, but they knew exactly what they were and they reinvigorated his career.

Because WWE is so unwilling to laugh at itself, and so cocksure about the ‘genius’ of the Bray Wyatt character, they doomed this match before it ever started.

Wyatt crushed Orton with a dirty-ass refrigerator and stole his limo (oh yeah, Randy Orton showed up in a limo, in slacks, with no shirt on) to end the first segment of the match. The crowd loudly booed as the commentators tried to act completely serious and recount what they just saw.

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After the Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe match, Wyatt returned to yet more booes. He then did his FULL ENTRANCE. I was begging for this to be a one-move/quick pinfall deal once he hit the ring, but no joy. When the lights came up at the conclusion of Wyatt’s drawn-out saunter, Orton was already in the ring. They brawled for another five excruciating minutes. Orton was in control before the Singh brothers and Jinder Mahal interfered, allowing Bray to get an utterly meaningless win.

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I went into this match sick-to-death of Bray, and very unimpressed with Orton’s level of effort since January. I came out of the match pretty sympathetic to both, as there was nothing they could do to save this. Both guys at least tried their best to show intensity in the house brawl, and it came across, but it was such a doomed segment that it didn’t matter.

I’d love to be the contrarian and say this was actually a lot of fun, but even in this era of endless hot takes, that would be too disingenuous.

This was absolutely painful to watch.

Nixon Newell vs. Chris Brookes (Fight Club: PRO, Rise Against 2017)

Watch this match here (€7.00)

This was part of Newell’s farewell weekend with FC:P, and her last clash in a long-standing rivalry with Brookes. You can tell both treat this feud with a lot of reverence, especially as proponents of intergender wrestling, so neither held back.

This was a street fight, starting outside the ring and featuring a variety of plunder. Newell hit three beautiful suicide dives early, paid off later in the match when Brookes side-stepped a fourth dive and Newell, to be blunt, ate shit; crashing and burning amidst the fans’ chairs.

The entire final third of the match revolved around treasing and bumping into thumbtacks. Both took some nasty spills, including Newell hitting a twisting Canadian Destroyer on Brookes, resulting in her own thigh being decorated in the tiny gold pins.

The closing moments had maybe one nearfall too many for my tastes, but it was apropos of the conclusion to a lenthy rivalry. Brookes won clean in the end.

I’m not much of an intergender guy, nor am I well versed in this feud’s history, but this was a good, intense brawl, treated like the participants really wanted to hurt each other and end the rivalry on top. It served as a refreshing change of pace on a show with a bevvy of comedy matches up until this point.

Trevor Lee vs. Chip Day (CWF Mid-Atlantic, CWF Worldwide, Episode 102)

Watch this match here.

I’m the typical ‘new viewer’ here; lured in entirely by the buzz this match has generated. I very rarely watch CWF. I have seen quite a bit of Trevor Lee, but don’t follow PWG or Impact regularly any more. I have never seen a Chip Day match prior to this.

With that said, this was about as much of a home-run as you could ask for, if this is the match people want to use to sell CWF to new fans. Every time I watch this promotion, it feels like it’s set in a parallel universe where the clock has been set back to zero – and I mean that in the best possible way. In an era where wrestlers are doing more and more STUFF, and they’re doing it faster and faster, CWF is unapologetically slower and more focused, and better yet, the fans in the Sportatorium are extremely receptive to it. This was paced like a classic world title  epic, hovering around a 30 minute run time and with an extensive feeling out process to open – but at no point did it drag. Day’s strikes are tremendous, and we were several minutes in before he broke one out – opting instead to tangle with Lee on the mat in the opening stretch.

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There was a gradual process where this match went from grappling, to stiff striking, to an absolutely bonkers closing stretch where Lee fired up with an amazing intensity, hit Day with everything he could throw at him, Day kicked out at one (illiciting a genuine standing ovation from the crowd) before eventually being put down by a Lee head kick. The emotion in this final few minutes was intense, really feeling like the culmination of a physical contest between two damn-near equals at the top of their game.

Along the way there were so many little touches that made it feel like a deliberate, intense, sporting affair – a welcome contrast to what a lot of top level indies offer today. Lee is excellent as an arrogant heel elsewhere, so I was surprised at how endearing he was as the wholesome babyface champion in this match. Likewise, Day came off well as the ‘every bit as good… just not good enough today’ challenger.

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Day sold the loss like it was the worst day of his life, which is unfortunately a rarity in wrestling these days. These two are almost certainly going to clash again in the near future, and I’ll make it my business to watch it. This was one of the best matches of the year that I’ve seen, and it achieved that by doing its own thing and not anyone else’s. CWF’s weekly show is free, so find a half hour in your day for this, and click the link above to check it out.

Walter vs. Ilja Dragunov (wXw, 16 Carat Gold 2017, Night 3)

Watch this match here (sub required, €9.99 monthly)

The buzz for this match after 16 Carat was huge. It got ‘must watch’ recommendations from folks who I trust like Alan4L, Allan Blackstock, and other reliable people who are not called A(l)lan.

Naturally there is a ‘live bump’ when it comes to wrestling – an added glow to a match that you only experience when in attendance. Sometimes an okay match is amazing live. Other times an amazing match is slightly more amazing. Luckily, this was the latter.

I was brand new to wXw before I watched this year’s 16 Carat, but the presenation of Walter was masterful — I’m actually fascinated to watch his back catalog of matches there. I know he’s been in wXw for years, so whether or not he’s been this well presented for his whole career intrigues me. He was the big, terrifying monster who looked impossible to hurt and effortlessly violent. Watching the whole tournament helps, but this is also conveyed when watching the match as a standalone. Dragunov is harder to describe; an entirely unique babyface. He’s like what Dean Ambrose espires to be in terms of bizarre charisma, with elements of the Ultimate Warrior to boot. But more importantly, there’s something about him that’s entirely his own that I can’t quite compare to any one who came before him, and that’s special.

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The match was largely Walter brutalizing Dragunov, who wouldn’t stay down, although Ilja did get some good flurries of offence to show he could hang. There was extended sequences of chopping which resulted in Dragunov’s chest turning a hideous shade of purple, and it looked as though it was peeling.

It was a classic match structure, carried by the charisma and presence of both men. It was a tournament final that actually lived up to the three shows that came before it, and that’s rare these days. The tournament as a whole is worth checking out, but if you’re limited on time, night three is a great introuction to wXw with a perfect main event to ensure you’ll come back for more.