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Becky Lynch vs Sasha Banks

Review » Banks vs Lynch at NXT Takeover: Unstoppable

It is unusual to see a thriving women’s division under a WWE banner but on their triple-A league NXT you’ll find some of the best women wrestling today. Since the beginning the division has been hot, first of all ruled by Charlotte Flair and then, after a strong ascendancy, by “The Boss” Sasha Banks. More than any other title in NXT, the NXT Women’s Championship comes close to equalling the prestige of its main show cousin. At NXT Takeover: Unstoppable, that quality of competition was proven again when Banks met the challenge of Becky Lynch.

As I’ve mentioned before (and will continue to as long as it’s true), I haven’t really watched the show in a while and that includes NXT. I know they’ve been lighting it up, and I know Sasha Banks, but Lynch got going after I stopped following closely. I know she worked SHIMMER and comes from Ireland but that’s about it. Seeing her come out, appearance-wise she seems like a modern-age “punk rock chick,” thrown in elements of sci-fi dorkiness on top of the usual aggressive distortion-pedal vibe. Not sure of how she works from that but she looks confident, not rattled by how much the crowd loves the champion.

Sasha Banks I have seen before and I always thought she was good. This was maybe a year back. The word on the street these days is that she got great. Definitely she’s oozing overconfidence, to a level that’s almost overcompensating, though you’d never know it by the crowd reaction. She’s got an incredibly nasty presence, like you’d want to ask for an autograph but you’d be afraid she’d get her entourage to beat you up… or, given it’s Banks, just do it herself. How the NXT crowd doesn’t hate her is a bit crazy to me. On the other hand, what people pay to see is good wrestling. If you’re the person who delivers that week in and week out then maybe the crowd doesn’t care what you’re like.

parva on sashaprobably the best ever summary of sasha banks, courtesy of parv

NXT Women’s Championship Match
Sasha Banks© vs Becky Lynch

We start things off with a fierce lockup. Banks sends Lynch into the corner, but after an exchange Lynch hooks Banks into a pin. Banks showed plenty of ring intuition in the opening portion but Lynch seemed to have enough tricks to keep Banks guessing. Banks gets Lynch into the corner and takes a cheap shot. They fight their way to the apron and Banks finally turns things 180 degrees by snapping Lynch down into the apron onto her shoulder. Before this, Becky Lynch had done some arm work to help set up her seated armbar finish, but it was Sasha Banks who upped the ante on limbwork. An extended series of ground holds pretty nearly ruined Lynch’s arm. Against all odds, Lynch fought to her feet despite an armlock and lifted Banks overhead into a suplex. Lynch rallied, putting pressure onto Banks’s arm and even managing to lock the seated armbar in, only for Banks to get the ropes. Banks played a ref screen to distract Lynch and sent her out to the floor. Her dive only half-worked as Lynch caught her and sent her into the steps. Lynch gets Banks back in the ring, then tries for a top rope dive to finish it but it’s countered into the Bank Statement hold. Lynch can’t hold on and she taps out.

To me one of the hallmarks of NXT is really solid execution and this was right in that echelon. Both Banks and Lynch displayed good knowledge of escapes and counters, to the point that they were basically even on that score. Banks played up her evil side a hell of a lot and to great effect persona-wise. I liked that it played into her attack; the cheap shot which seems to just be out of spite is actually what sets up her comeback. Plus, she wasn’t fazed by the crowd loving her: she didn’t reject them but didn’t become a fan favorite, either. Strategically it was very basic — both tried to set up their finishing maneuvers, which were arm holds — but they worked the formula very well.

The major issue I have with the match is really in its solid-ness, though that sounds contradictory. Both women have their quirks — Banks tends to use more of a ground and speed moveset, while Lynch likes to hit and throw — but largely they work a very similar style: active, mobile, technical, with a good bit of artillery. Both of them simply want to wear down their opponent enough to win the match. No one’s trying for a massive offensive onslaught, no one’s trying to slow the match so far down that their opponent can’t build momentum. They were both looking for the same finish, it’s true, but why? Banks didn’t really try and disrupt what she had to know was Lynch’s target. It’s true she did get more offense on the arm, but really she was just the winning ram in a headbutting contest. Plus, if Banks had really worked the arm that badly, how could Lynch have hit that series of suplexes? As they always say, wrestling is a game of chess. You can have an exciting game between two masters but that doesn’t make them grandmasters. Skill does.

Bottom Line: A very fun limb-work match, great attitude from Banks and a great gutsy performance from Lynch. Not top level but these two can certainly get to a higher rung.

Sheamus vs Ziggler

Review » Sheamus vs Ziggler at WWE Payback

Not quite sure where I read it but it was brought up recently that in the wake of Daniel Bryan vacating the WWE Intercontinental Championship, loud in the chatter on who might succeed him are Dolph Ziggler and Sheamus. The Intercontinental belt has got a lot more attention from a lot better competition since the WWE World Heavyweight title unification. What we got to open WWE Payback wasn’t a title match, but don’t be surprised if it is one in the next few months.

When I started following wrestling closely again, I was weaned on Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling NOAH (I’m sure you’re surprised). In those fan scenes there’s a strong notion of paying dues when people come on the scene. If you don’t you sort of don’t deserve respect. Not a totally justified attitude coming from a fan, I get that, but it’s how it was. I’m saying all this to say that when Sheamus came onto the scene I resented him. Hotshotted to the top, I said. Who’d he ever beat? I think it took about a year and then he was one of my favorite guys on the roster. What’s important are the performances, not how long you’ve spent in the spotlight. I’m a huge fan of solid, hard-hitting heavyweight wrestling and that’s what Sheamus will deliver every night. From the get go Sheamus showed that he could battle the best and come out on top.

The complete opposite was Dolph Ziggler. Of course I liked it when guys from the indies made it up (CM Punk, Bryan), but as far as you could get a been-in-the-wars wrestler from the WWE system, Ziggler is it. Stuck it through the laughable Spirit Squad, got saddled with a ridiculous name, worked his ass off to convince people that he was the man and succeeded. On top of that his body is apparently made of rubber so everything he gets hit with looks devastating, and he’s one of the most agile and athletic wrestlers on the roster. Dolph Ziggler’s been in a lot of things I’ve enjoyed but no real classics, and perhaps that’s because he’s never had the stakes behind him. Every big match I can remember him in was mitigated somehow; his first Real World title win was immediately stripped, second came off of Money in the Bank and he never successfully defended it. I think he can get there but perhaps there’s an element that he needs to get onto before he hits that next level. Perhaps he just needs the rocket.

I haven’t watched too much of the show recently so I’m not sure how far back the issue between Sheamus and Ziggler goes, but there’s definite heat walking into this one. The clip they showed of Ziggler ekeing out a win in the Kiss Me Arse match, only to be double-crossed and humiliated by Sheamus, is really all the set-up you’ll need.

Challenge Match
Dolph Ziggler vs Sheamus

When you put Sheamus and Ziggler in the ring across from each other you know the basic story: the big bad bully’s going to try and squash the sneaky speedster. Dolph starts it off hot, though, trying to overwhelm Sheamus with offense. It doesn’t take long before Sheamus slows the pace right back down and we settle into a war of attrition. Sheamus’s wrenching headlock is a nice move, especially on someone who can be dragged around like Ziggler. Jerry Lawler suggests that Ziggler makes his fatal mistake later, but I think it was when he stops to make Sheamus kiss he arse. It’s not just that Sheamus gets crazy mad, it’s that Ziggler totally loses focus. He doesn’t try and hit Sheamus while he’s freaking out. He doesn’t do anything to capitalize. Dolph assumes at that point he’s got him beat. Sheamus then summons all his powers and hits Ziggler with a human blitzkrieg. Ziggler lands a desperate headbutt (King says the mistake’s here but Ziggler’s way done by this point) and a superkick for two. Sheamus just gets up — he just ∙ gets ∙ up — and levels Ziggler with a Brogue Kick to send him home.

Good athletic performances from both guys here and they definitely pulled out everything in their arsenals to rock their competition. However, like I said above, this was just attrition. When you strip away the differing movesets both guys had the exact same philosophy: keep on hitting him. Sheamus did a little bit of legwork early on but not enough to exploit or even really slow Ziggler down. For his part, Ziggler probably wasn’t going to have the leverage to worry a limb, but he didn’t try anything to keep Sheamus off-balance. There was no distancing, no especial dodges, no sense that he was working hard to Sheamus’s attack (like, if he knows the Brogue Kick is coming, maybe Ziggler still dodges the second one and Sheamus puts him down with something else). While the conflict between power and speed was there, it never really got built upon. Ultimately, from a strategic/tactical sense, Ziggler’s issue was that he tried to face a power guy with a frontal assault, which everything should tell you is a terrible idea. His hubris played a role and undid what might have ended up in a lucky win, but I think even without that Sheamus would have just battered him down. Should be telling that last month Ziggler just barely scratched out a win and even that got turned over.

Contrasting Dolph Ziggler against a guy like Daniel Bryan, a small guy who has achieved a lot, I think the sense of strategy is a key difference. Bryan won’t wrestle the same way against a guy who is three times his size as he would against a guy only twice his size. He’ll use his tools in order to break theirs down. I think that’s where his success as a performer comes from; he may be small but he doesn’t just fling himself wildly at his opponents. Ziggler wrestles Sheamus the exact same way he’d wrestle anyone else. He doesn’t adapt to the challenge as much as take it by the seat of his pants. That’ll give you a lot of great, gutsy performances, but it will never make you a top flight competitor. No one’s denying Ziggler’s athleticism, least of all me. However, to hit that next level I think Ziggler needs to figure out how a warrior like Sheamus can actually be defeated. As for Sheamus, I think he shows a lot of adaptability. If he needs to he can hit a high speed, but most of all, he constantly evolves his weaponry. I can’t lie that it’s a bit easier for a power wrestler who can usually count on having a strength advantage. That doesn’t mean Ziggler ought to slack in his thinking. Ziggler needs to show that he’s not just gutsy, he’s smart enough to overcome whatever he lacks in size.

Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a roller coaster, this will probably do you. However there’s no glue to hold it together and really make it strong.

Final Thought: Dolph Ziggler should give Mike Mondo a call. This is in no way a dig at Ziggler. Mondo’s legitimately one of the most inventive guys I’ve seen as far as changing his matches up.

Show vs. Reigns

Match Review – Reigns vs Show at Extreme Rules

Last night was WWE’s Extreme Rules, the catch-up show from WrestleMania. It was also probably the beginning of rebuilding Roman Reigns. I was last a semi-active watcher during The Shield‘s initial dominance of WWE and I’d always seen Reigns as the surefire breakout. Not to say he was my favorite — Dean Ambrose takes that title in a walk out of the three, and even though I’ve never been the biggest Tyler Black/Seth Rollins fan I knew him better than I knew Reigns — but I felt that he was the guy WWE was going to want to push. And I was right, as were a lot of people. It wasn’t hard to see. As they started to dismantle The Shield they were pushing Ambrose out of the main speaker role and giving it to Reigns, giving him the singles matches, trying to have him him end up with the lion’s share of the group’s popularity.

I wasn’t really watching for much of the post-breakup stuff. I followed results and news, though, and saw that real quickly Roman Reigns was not exactly turning out as the super-popular golden boy. Crowds were coming out against him and WWE was quickly playing the “fans can do whatever they want” card. He got locked into the main event at WrestleMania 31 against Brock Lesnar, the reigning WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Walking into that title match against The Beast, he was not popular. This should have been the peak of WWE’s nurturing their new superstar, a main event title match at WrestleMania. But to me, WrestleMania did anything but crown Reigns, literally or metaphorically.

So what’s happening now? Reigns needs to get some wins back. He’s got to start looking like the powerhouse that he first got popular as. At Extreme Rules, he came up against The Big Show in an effort to get that back under way. As a talent I think Big Show is slept on a lot. He’s an extremely versatile wrestler and great opponent, especially to prove your toughness against. If Reigns could have good performance here it could do a lot to help him get his credibility back.

That does rely heavily on your idea of what good is. As a tough guy, it certainly hits all the beats. Still, I felt the match was rather artless. I’m not sure that the blame can be placed entirely on Show and Reigns, except that they were in the ring. WWE likes to construct their matches around a series of big spots, which makes them feel very mechanical. As a last man standing match, what we got was a lot of set-up and hanging around, two WWE favorites.

Last Man Standing

I think what we’d expect to see here is the big man/little man interplay between Show and Reigns. They do use it a bit, mostly in that it’s very difficult for Reigns to take Show off his feet. At the same time, Reigns takes Show over the top with a clothesline about a minute in. He gets Show up for Samoan drop, hits a couple other slams, and basically shows he’s strong enough to deal with the giant. There’s a lot of Show proving that he’s the World’s Largest Athlete but not a whole lot of outright dominance from him. At best, he is standing groggy while Reigns is down, but it’s basically the same effect. Every time Show gets a hit in, Reigns will have an answer for him shortly. It’s a see-saw effect which makes it look very even but also means that no tension gets built. Since we’re pretty sure Reigns is going to come back with something soon, why would we be worried that he might be at the end of his rope?

The fact that Reigns is shown to be pretty near on Show’s level power-wise doesn’t leave a lot of other avenues for the match to go in its storyarc. Usually there would be a lot given into just how the size difference is being made up but there’s none of that here. That means that even the little bit of strategy that you’d usually see in a Big Show match — the little guy doing his damndest to get out of Show’s way — is thrown out the window. What’s left is a pretty flat match as far as its trajectory. We get a build-up of spots — from table teases to chairshots to table busting — but it never really feels like anybody is winning because nobody secures anything but a temporary advantage.

A last man standing match seems to bring up the image of a wild brawl, but the art of wrestling is to keep a strong sense of flow through the chaos. Strategies and tactics you can see do a lot to help that flow become realized. If Roman Reigns, say, is trying to take out The Big Show’s knees, we all have a focus: can Reigns do it, how will Show defend against it, will it be successful? If The Big Show feels that Reigns’s spear is his biggest weapon, why not try always to be behind Reigns, or to be so close that he can’t get the spear done? The most we got toward any sort of strategy in this match was Reigns attempting to use tables and chairs. This doesn’t really amount to a strategy, especially as it never seemed clear to me what he was bringing the tables out to do except to use them on Show. I mean, that might seem reductive, but “hurt your opponent” is so broad that I don’t think it really counts as a strategy in pro wrestling. If Reigns really could never lift Show and was trying to rely on the tables for extra impact, continually setting them up in the corners, that would make sense. That’s not how they played it.

Both guys did pretty well acting the thing out. Roman had some good facials, thinking particularly of when Show rolled out to the floor. They hit their spots and everything looked pretty good. I think Show is too big to do the spear if I’m honest — I feel like it looks best when it’s a big missile flying at you, like Goldberg or Rhyno; Show is like a truck rolling over you — but I’m guessing that was more as a way to fuck with Reigns. I just wasn’t feeling the flow of the match. After 30 seconds of guys hitting each other I get the idea, I then want to see them invest their time into trying to win a wrestling match. But, as is usual with WWE, the match’s action masks how little meat there is to keep you drawn in.

Bottom Line: If you like people being put through tables and smashing a bunch of stuff up, this’ll be your jam. There’s nothing deeper than that going on here.