The WWE London Report Card: Time to Play the Game

Unless you’ve been living under a wrestling rock (no, not Dwayne), you’ll be aware of some of the activities that have taken place on WWE’s house shows this past week. With ‘The Big Dog’ unable to make the trip to the UK, a man with even funnier nicknames has had to step in, which has left us with an obscene main event that would’ve seemed ridiculous just a month ago but as things stand, is kind of awesome.

Considering that I’m always on top of the hot topics and the fact that this is one of the most discussed house show loops ever, it should be of no surprise that I have you all covered with a big time report card here from London. With that being said, let’s head to Wembley Arena and get comfortable in this crowd full of Dean Ambrose shirt-wearing drunks. Wish me luck!

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DISCLAIMER: any wild predictions I make that you disagree with will likely be proven completely wrong in the coming weeks, months and years anyway so don’t worry too much. Basically, take everything you read from this point forward with a grain of salt as its credibility is preposterously low.

ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: The following ‘article’ will be very low on wrestling insight as frankly, it’s a house show, who cares about the wrestling? I’m here for funny faces and silliness so keep that in mind as you attempt to take something from this sure to be calamitous report card. Thanks

Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe

We get things started with a NXT TakeOver: London rematch between Finn Balor and Samoa Joe, all in the same exact venue as their 2015 title encounter. Both of these guys received huge pops and they got straight into the action, going back and forth with all their signature offense and continually cutting each other off just as they were getting some sustained momentum. Both guys are super smooth and that shows even more in person as they work together seamlessly but what makes thing even better is that Joe brings the aggression to make it all flow organically and naturally.

 A lot of people on this show were cheered loudly in their entrance but these two were actually over to the point where all of their offense was established with the audience. That wasn't the case for everyone on this show (more on that soon) but it was here and that wasn't just due to them opening. It’s not hard to see why they are over either as both men have genuine presence that really comes through live. Joe in particular has a swagger and aura completely unique to him and that’s one of the things that make him so special. After around 10 minutes, Finn won with the Coup de Grace and this was a super fun opener.

Grade: B+

Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, Bo Dallas and Elias vs. Goldust, Heath Slater, Rhyno and Jason Jordan

Time to get emotional guys. The lights were down and when they came up, we were greeted by Elias and friends. Samson talked some smack before opting to sing Wonderwall as long as the crowd sung along with him. They did just that and suddenly Samson was a babyface but then as the music stopped a “you still suck” chant emerged and this may in fact be the greatest gimmick of all time. Samson then sung his own verse in which in more words he basically just said that London sucked. This ruled.

‘The Natural’ Dustin Rhodes was now here and received a strong reaction before his babyface buddies joined him. Jason Jordan didn’t receive quite as friendly a response which really is a shame. I sympathize with him as I honestly don’t think he’s to blame in the slightest. The actual wrestling here was slim but delightful nonetheless as we started with Bo and Heath before Gallows and Rhyno came in to do some big man spots. If the Big LG was around in the 80s he’d have been touring the world working Hogan in main events. That’s a compliment by the way, a big one.

Karl and Goldust were in next and had what felt like a short teaser of a WCW Saturday Night classic they’d have had in a different world and universe. Jordan soon made a massive hot tag on Karl and after everyone else came in and hit a cool move, pinned Anderson with his finish. Though I know it’s nothing new, Jordan’s hot tag really is spectacular and highlights how good of an athlete he really is. On the other hand, Elias barely entered and to me that makes this gimmick even better.

Don’t care how short, silly or stupid this match was, it was incredible fun and my favorite of the night. Great shenanigans all round even to Karl counting the lights after he’d been pinned. Loved it.

Grade: A*

Asuka vs. Mickie James

Time for a “women’s division match” now as we get a TakeOver: Toronto rematch one year later. Big pops for both women and they got things going with the old Regal-Finlay tie up and grapple to the outside gimmick but when they finally broke they were greeted by complete silence and suddenly, this match had no heat. They carried on with the usual babyface vs. babyface spots until Asuka faked Mickie out on a handshake offer and went to work on her. Mickie’s selling is tremendous but the audience seemed uninterested in Asuka’s offense and that surprised me.

Her mannerisms didn't really connect either and in fairness I think that may have been due to her working the purest female babyface on the roster in Mickie. Nonetheless, James made her comeback but Asuka quickly turned things around and won with the Asuka Lock. She left to little fanfare and the focus was on Mickie as she was applauded to the back like the Ricky Morton that she is. I’m not trying to be overly critical of Asuka here and this was a fine match but there was nothing about her offense that stood out and considering that’s kind of her gimmick, it all came across a little flat.

Not everyone was mincing their words though and just a row in front of me sat of a young girl sporting pigtails and an Alexa Bliss t-shirt and it’s fair to say that she was very unimpressed. She quickly took the chance to aggressively heckle the former NXT champ too, loudly shouting “Alexa could beat you!” over and over again. This was tremendous and somehow, someway likely feeds into Vince’s evil master-plan as this inevitable feud approaches. To conclude, solid wrestling match, just no heat.

Grade: C

Trent Seven and Tyler Bate vs. Joseph Conners and Tyson T-Bone

Friends, I have a confession to make. As the music of Mr Conners and Mr….T-Bone hit, my interest rapidly dwindled. Honestly, I was too busy discussing Asuka’s struggles to really judge any of this stuff and sadly, I hardly watched but basically, the heels beat up Trent in the most uninteresting fashion possible and Tyler eventually made the hot tag. Bate did the airplane spin as usual and was even brilliantly assisted by Trent as he became dizzy. They then won with a move.

It must be said that Moustache Mountain received a solid reaction but no one seemed to care at all when the bell rung and that was partly due to the very bland match formula they went with. It seems somewhat counter-intuitive to have them on the show if they are going to wrestle in a style so flat and unremarkable. Cool moment for the guys involved anyway and it served its purpose I suppose.

Grade: N/A (out of my element)

Cruiserweight Title

Enzo Amore (c) vs. Kalisto

Time for our first title match of the night now as the company’s most prestigious belt is on the line. Enzo is here to cut a heel promo first though and regardless of whether or not it’s the cool opinion to have right now, he was great here and I have no problem saying it. He got cheered before and after anyway but did his best to garner some heat and even refused to spell the word soft. Good, kids should go to school for that kind of thing. Either way, onto the “match”.

Enzo run away from Kalisto which is tremendous heat considering the size of the Lucha Lucha man and after a couple of minutes, Amore pulled Kalisto’s foot out from under him and sent him face first onto the top turnbuckle. He then hit his finish and won. Wow.  This match was hindered by how short it was but also much more awesome for that very same reason. I don’t want to watch Enzo wrestle for very long, or at all preferably, and the idea of Kalisto losing flat in three minutes really makes me smile.

Enzo is very charismatic in person and was a ton of fun in this format. Kalisto…not so much but people love doing the “Lucha” thing so good luck to him. He opted against selling on his way to the back though and instead sprinted up the ramp to complete his little chant one more time. If he’d have done that back in the good old days Arn would’ve greeted him with a DDT on the concrete and dragged him out of the building. What I’m saying is things change.

Grade: C-

Kane vs. Braun Strowman

Time for the big blokes now as “The Monster Among Men” fist fights “The Big Red Machine.” Awesome. Both guys were unsurprisingly super over and they briefly brawled before Kane began to get the upper hand on the outside. He then got a table out to a huge pop but Braun fought back so Kane simply grabbed a chair and hit him in the shin with it for a DQ finish. Braun wasn’t getting put through no table though and valiantly fought off the chokeslam to hit the running powerslam through it. Well, this was something. No complaints though, people love tables.

Grade: N/A due to lack of actual wrestling (it ruled though)

Bayley and Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss

After the intermission we were welcomed back by the wacky waving inflatable tube men (and Bayley) as we get into a women’s division tag match. Bayley attempted to be kind to fans and this cost her as Alexa punched her in the spine a ton and before long we were into a very shenanigan heavy heat segment. Bliss and Bayley can wrestle each other in this environment forever without ever doing anything dangerous as they are so comically contrasting and have great chemistry. Speaking of such, Alexa doesn’t even tease doing wrestling moves anymore and instead sticks purely to trash talk and wacky mannerisms. I don’t say that as a bad thing though, it’s actually quite brilliant.

The crowd was behind Bayley as she sold but she did receive some heat from a gentleman near me. Then again, in fairness he was the person I attended the event with so I’m unsure of his credibility in this journalistic report. As the heat continued it was increasingly clear that Nia has gotten so much better character-wise since teaming with Alexa as she now seems much more confident as far as body language and her stuff in between the moves is infinitely smoother.

Sasha soon made the hot tag and run wild on Alexa before the babyfaces tried another double suplex on Jax, this time they were successful but sadly almost killed poor Nia as she seemed to land directly on her head. Thankfully she was fine, or looked it at least. Meanwhile, Banks put the Bank Statement on Bliss and got the tap. Fun match here and the heels were particularly tremendous with all kind of antics here, showing again why the WWE has so missed the boat with them as an on-screen duo. Oh well, guess we’ve got to save some things for Total Divas huh?

Grade: B

Intercontinental Title

Matt Hardy vs. The Miz

Just like every other veteran brother on this show, Matt received a tremendous pop and the audience seemed to really appreciate his presence. Miz was out next with the Miztourage behind him and he cut a full Rick Rude pre-match promo (sweathog talk included) and I was now very happy. Miz is a great talker and has tremendous little heel shenanigans but I would say that when you see him wrestle live, he doesn't have the aura or charisma that some of his peers do and instead relies more on his incredibly quick wrestling mind to keep people entertained. Miz’s look isn’t exactly spectacular live either though so maybe that’s part of it.

He mostly stalled here which did garner great heat but can slightly wear on you after two hours of wrestling. I understand that’s the point though so yes, I’ve been worked hook, line and sinker. On the other side, Matt is also a very smart wrestler too and this meant that somehow, these two men did absolutely nothing but by the end had the people absolutely hooked on their every move. Genius really. The finish came when Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel (more on him later) were ejected but came back to distract the referee and allowed Miz to strike a lethal eye poke.

Matt sold this by turning around, punching the air and then turning back around directly into the skull crushing finale for the pin. This match was solid and they worked the people into really believing but for me the star was Curtis Axel. Sporting a neck-brace and selling every step, he was simply superb at engaging the crowd and making people hate him all whilst having a great time doing it. He’s so great in this role and that’s in large part due to his obviously tremendous instincts. Great job.

Grade: B-

Bray Wyatt and The Bar vs. The SHHHIELD

Main event time now and it’s the match that’s captured more retweets than a Lio Rush burial as Hunter Hearst Helmsley joins Seth and Dean to fight the bad guys. Firstly, wow was the babyface side over here and a brawl immediately broke out as the heels took advantage of Triple H pondering whether or not to wear the Shield vest but after they removed them he finally put it on in the most dramatic, Triple H fashion imaginable. Incredible stuff. The babyfaces’ success continued including them teasing a triple (get it?) dive but Hunter instead just stepped through the middle rope and punched Bray Wyatt in the face.

The fun soon ended though as heels beat up Dean and then Seth in very ponderous heat segments done in a plodding fashion purely to make the main event a reasonable length. Sheamus gets all the heat for his duo with Cesaro but as I’ve said before, their control segments don’t often do much for me and can be a little meandering at times. Cesaro isn’t a guy that’s personality or presence is particularly present either and that shows in this format as it’s the characters that really shine live.

After what must’ve been a full ten minute heat segment, HHH came in and hit a pedigree on Cesaro but the pin was broke up. The babyfaces immediately got rid of Sheamus and Bray though and then hit the Shield triple powerbomb for the win…only after Hunter did his best Roman Reigns impression of course. Fine main event and the audience loved it but I don’t think it was really for me, that’s irrelevant though as again, this crowd absolutely ate it up.

Grade: C+

Final Thoughts

I don’t know if it comes through in the ‘analysis’ here or the grades I’ve given but I really did have a wonderful time at this show. There was nothing blow-away or so great that it’ll stick with me but I personally just love watching some of these men and women perform in this environment as you can really see that they are all just having fun. It can really allow you to appreciate these characters even more when you see how much they enjoy enraging and engaging a crowd as energetic as this one. The variety on these shows never ceases to amaze me either. There really is something for everyone. Great crowd, great night and a super fun show. Big thumbs up from me.

Grade: B

Please comment your thoughts below or just tweet me abuse like many others already do @JoeHulbert5 and I’ll see all you at Full Sail.

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