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Monday, 30 April 2007

Backlash Thoughts

A few thoughts then, on last night’s Backlash Pay Per View, and in summary, I am glad it was NOT Pay to view here in the UK.

The show itself was not wholly bad, but they really will have a problem if they continue to try to retain the Tri-branded feel to the events.

Every match on the Pay Per View was a title match. That might sound like a good thing, but actually there are so many titles now that the novelty value diminishes, and that matches become a little less special. Let’s take it match by match…….

The Hardys def. Cade & Murdoch
Although Matt and Jeff are a major hand for the WWE, there is now a problem because there are no credible challengers. When The Hardys were on top before, you had Edge and Christian, The Dudleys, The Acolytes, Too Cool and The New Age Outlaws/Road Dogg & X-Pac at various times. Now, Cade & Murdoch on RAW, and Deuce & Domino and Kendrick & London on SD are the only real teams out there. I can only see Matt & Jeff having to feud at some point.

The match itself was fairly solid, but I don’t think anyone thought for a second that Cade and Murdoch would go over, did they? Sound opener, though, I suppose, and standard fare to allow an early face pop.

Melina def. Mickie James

Another retention by the champion, and Melina is looking increasingly sound as a worker. Mickie is probably the most technically sound female in the company, and I would like to see whether, now that all PPVs will be tri-branded, whether the Woman’s title will be open to all, because Jillian is fast improving. Remember Victoria is in the equation, and actually the division isn’t looking all that bad.

The match, once again, was fairly average, but then there has been relatively no build up except for the fact that Mickie wants the belt back. Melina is best rounded character in the Divas division though, so understandable that she retained.

Before the US title match, there was a backstage interview where Maria quizzed Edge, but he was interrupted by Ken Kennedy. He teased that he would cash in the money in the bank after the fatal fourway for the WWE championship. He ultimately didn’t, but I kinda like the idea that he might continually tease this. I like running threads that play out eventually, but take a while to culminate. Hopefully this will be used well enough – I think that Kennedy has the potential to be the next Rock. I genuine rate him that highly.

Chris Benoit def. MVP
A third consecutive title is retained, but MVP, both here and at Wrestlemania, has really impressed me. This was the bets match of the night, and Benoit utilizing a small package to win reminded me of Bret Hart, who very often did not win matches with the Sharpshooter, instead often finding pinning combination to close bouts out.

Benoit is floundering a bit though. I’m begging to see him be given a run at the top, especially on RAW. Benoit taking on Edge or HBK would be a money feud, and Cena does need fresh competition.

Onto the “World” titles then, and…………….wait for it………….

Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon and Umaga def. Bobby Lashley – Vince McMahon is the ECW champion.
I am now fully convinced that the whole ECW experiment has all along been for four purposes. One was to give various talent something to do, especially RVD, who management is tired with despite the fact the fans are not, and others that the fans have not accepted, like Snitsky, Striker and Thorn. The second function is that future stars like CM Punk and possibly Elijah Burke and Monty Brown can gradually get themselves ready for the big time – like a bigger version of OVW. Thirdly, it’s a chance to figure Bobby Lashley as a main eventer, which he clearly isn’t, because he has about as much personality as Boogeyman’s worms, and wrestles exactly the same as Batista.

And fourth, and most importantly, ECW is to be used as Vince’s plaything, to be buried, in exactly the same way that WCW was, and that Eric Bischoff was. Mission accomplished. God knows where they go from here. The fact is, hardly anyone cared about the ECW championship anyway, and now even less will. Sure, Vince is entertaining, and the whole Trump thing was good stuff, but do we really need Vince as 2-time world champion, which technically is what he is?

Undertaker and Batista draw a last man standing match. Taker retains the title.
You know what this means don’t you? A third go round of this feud, and I’d suspect that a Hell in a Cell match might be on the horizon, although they might go with a ‘Taker special’ like a Buried Alive or a casket match. This match was good for what it was. It was never going to be like an Angle/Michaels, or a Jericho/Benoit affair, so to be fair these guys, it served its purpose well, if the ending was a little contrived.

The beauty of having Taker as the World champ is that there is an opportunity to really elevate someone who makes it to the top. Let’s say for example Edge, or Kennedy, or someone challenges The Undertaker for his belt, and takes it, they can always have that claim, just like Jericho could talk about the first ever Undisputed title, having beaten Rock and Austin. The trouble is, they’ll make it bloody Mysterio, who I think is a fabulous performer, but do you buy the fact that he could beat the Undertaker? No. Please don’t let it be Rey who finally kills off the Deadman.

John Cena def. Randy Orton, Edge and Shawn Michaels
I don’t know whether I liked the ending of this or not. Firstly, I thought ths might be the opportunity WWE would take to take the belt off of Cena, because I really think they will soon, only to have it him take it back quickly, like previously with Edge and Van Dam. However, they didn’t, and managed to book the match to make HBK look like the star, so I sense another Cena v HBK match, because that’s now RAW and then Backlash where HBK has looked the better man, but Cena still has the strap.

Cena is good for business, simple as, so for those that don’t like him, get used to it. It’s a major trump card for the WWE, because on one hand you could have the old Ric Flair in NWA syndrome, where the hated Flair was on top, and was so despised that people turned out and tuned in to see him get toppled. Some may do this with Cena. Others (kids, mainly, but some others) love him so their most over superstar is the champ.

Personally, I admire Cena for what he has achieved. He isn’t very technically sound, but neither is Batista. Neither is Taker anymore, but they because they are big men, they wrestle differently. I witnessed Cena v HBK live in London, and it was outstanding, and it takes two to tangle.

Judgment Day is three weeks away. Expect Cena v HBK in some sort of gimmick match (Ladder? Iron Man?) and Taker v Batista in a cell or Casket. You hear it here first.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

The Not-so-Hardcore diary: Part Two

Tuesday 24th April


After a day working in Wapping in the offices of The Sun, I arrive at Earls Court a little latter than last evening, as the prospect of buying drinks for £3.60 rather than getting them free from a table stacked with them rankles with me slightly.

I meet up with Stu and Rich, two guys I bumped into and shared a drink with post-show last night. Turns out that Stu is a fellow journo who I only met because he was sat directly in front of me at RAW, and noticed my furious pen-scribbling. He knows Simon in a convoluted way, and after conversations take many twists, it turns out that he went to the same university and did the same course as me. Small world.

The three of us hang around near the entrance to the backstage area, and get a quick glance at Smackdown GM Teddy Long, as well as all 5 members that beganh the night as the New Breed. Matt striker is startlingly small.


The show begins with a dark match which turns out to be probably the best match all night. And there are to be some good ones. Matt & Jeff Hardy take on Shane Helms (I can’t call him Gregory) and Chavo Guerrero, as those in our section mutter that potentially the four most talented athletes in the building are jerking the curtain in a mcth that no-one else will see.

The Hardys remind me of the Dudleys and The Road Warriors, in that they are so, so much better as a unit, although Matt & Jeff probably have more ability that either Hawk, Animal, Bubba or D-Von as singles wrestlers.

Oh, the Hardys won by the way.

Tazz and Joey Styles make their way out, as I spot Shane Warne, legendary cricketer in the front row, accompanied by loads of blokes with almost identical blond highlights.

After last night’s Cena/HBK main event, we now get another Wrestlemania rematch, as Umaga emerges to do battle with Lashley. Sans McMahon and Trump. Well, there’s no Vince to begin with, as The Boss does emerge later on, after Estrada interferes, drawing the DQ, then gets launched, and I mean really launched, by Lashley.

Several New Breed backstage segments are piped into the arena throughout the ECW taping, and are met with no reaction. Poor Punk.

A group of kids behind me begin a small “We want Divas” chant. Ah, start ‘em young, eh?

Snitsky, looking like an Anaemic Kane, squashes Balls Mahoney. Why isn’t Balls in the originals?

The main event of Eeseedubya is a 4 on 4 Survivor Series-style elimination match, with Burke, Brown (not Cor Von), Striker and White Fang (Thorn) taking on Sabu, RVD, Dreamer and Sandman.

CM Punk is instructed by Burke to take a seat and watch and ringside, and (shock, and indeed, horror) costs Burke the match, deliberately. So either this was a hastily conceived angle that they decided to rush through in two weeks, or they panicked at making Punk a heel and decided to switch him back. Either way, it shows just how painful ECW is right now.

Ropes change, commentator change, tron image change, and it’s time for Smackdown!

A cool spot opens the show as Batista is shown on the big screen fighting with Kennedy, before the cameraman gets bumped, cutting the feed. Big Dave then emerges, grappling now with Finlay, before being jumped by Mr K.

BONG! And the lights go out. When they come back on, Undertaker is in the ring. BONG! And the lights go out. When they come back on, Undertaker is no longer in the ring.

Teddy Long makes Taker & Batista v Kennedy & Finlay in a shocking announcement which shocked……well no-one, but it should be pretty cool.

BANG! Kane’s pyro is the loudest thing I have ever heard in my life, and when you are not expecting it, is even worse. I sense people laughing at my rather girly reaction, and brace myself Boogeyman’s pyro, which is right up there. Last night fireworks were at a premium, tonight its like Fawkes and Catesby have provided the goods they tried to in 1605.

And speaking of conspiratorial Englishmen here come Steve (not William) Regal and Dave Taylor, and a surprisingly good contest follows. The same pattern as last night is followed, with children who know no better (or have not been taught to be patriotic) cheer the face team, while the rest of back Regal and Taylor.

The Boogeyman is the most animated tag partner I’ve ever seen, bouncing around the apron like a lunatic. However, it is Kane that spends about 15 minutes in the ring, Boogey takes about 30 second, before the bizarre team in red do the business.

Next, it’s London……in London. Paul London that is, accompanying Brian Kendrick, who takes on One of Deuce or Domino……….the ring announcer suggests it is Deuce, although absolutely no-one near me can tell the difference.

Deuce (who used to be called 40-30, and will soon have his name changed to ‘Advanatge’) gets the W with a stiff leg lariat, in a match which I personally enjoyed, but I got the feeling that those who are not accustomed to psychological technical affairs.

Those that did enjoy the antics of the boys who evoke memories of Grease, will probably be Hopelessly Devoted to Wrestling, and will spend Summer Nights thinking it sThe One that They Want to see. Maybe.

More disturbing pyro as the ever-improving MVP hits the arena, and when announcing Scottish Champion “Hamlet MacBeth”, provides the line of the night. After a weak Braveheart gag, Montel informs us that Mr MacBeth can shoot lightening bolts form his Arse. Quality. If you don’t get it, go watch Braveheart. A cracking film, despite being historical bollocks.

MacBeth gets squashed (“out, damn high spot”) and wait……is this a US Champion I see before me? Out comes Benoit, and we have our third Wrestlemania rematch of the week. However, MVP does a walkout, which we kind of expected, seeing as they will fight at Backlash. Benoit was perhaps as over as any wrestler from any brand, up there with HBK, RVD and Taker, and the still Pro-Bret fans in the UK went wild for the Sharpshooter.

Next, it’s Jillian, sans Hall, and look at those……I mean her. She gets the stick and vocally hits on Prince William, calling Kate Middleton ‘trailer park trash’ and refers to the heir to the throne as ‘little Willy’. Hmm.

Anyway, her usual crooning, she is interrupted my Michelle, who comes out to a McCool reception, and actually the match proves that Jillian can work. Ironically, a crap singer wins the match with a modified X-Factor.

Major pop for Ken Kennedy. IN fact it reminded me of a Kurt Angle reaction. You know, pop like crazy as a reaction to his music, then remember he is a heel and boo him. Kennedy is the standout breakthrough star of the last 12 months. Like Brown is the new black, Money in the Bank is the new Royal Rumble. Kennedy deserves his title shot.

Mr Kennedy intersperses his normal mic work with a couple of cheap digs at Football (soccer) and then is joined by Fit Finley, both looking like Romanian players at the 1998 World Cup.

Batista gets a big pop – and so do my eardrums with his pyro. Although I was more prepared this time. Taker comes out, and I swear they put the air-con on in the arena, it genuinely got cold. Unless they were genuine goose bumps, which is possible.

Not a memorable match, made all the more annoying for me when they make a NO DQ stipulation……..but then make the illegal man wait on the apron. But it’s no-DQ, so why are you stopping him?

After a cracking ring exit spot, Taker walks the ropes, and for some reason the people shout for a Vince Vaughn film?

The ref is then distracted by Kennedy, to allow Finlay to hit a shillelagh shot……BUT ITS NO DQ!!!

Batista gets the pin after a Taker chokeslam, and then gets the mic and proclaims that he will win the belt back. This elicits boos, and Taker’s rebuttal is met with approval. This is where the shows ends.

So, there we go. The first time I’ve attended wrestling events for over 10 years. And the two most over superstars, the two booked as the most dominant on each brand, were Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. The two active performers who have been on the roster longest on the top.

What glass ceiling?

Friday, 27 April 2007

The Not-so-Hardcore Diary - a guide to the WWE in England

So what do you want to know about first? My drinking and shooting the shit with Celebs? The T-shirt that Mick Foley personalised? Working for the biggest paper in the country? Or maybe the first time I’ve met someone in person who was familiar with Ref365? Even if it did turn out that I was at the same Uni as him, even the same course as him, for 6 months.

Well, actually, you’ve probably come here because you are a wrestling fan, so I’ll try to stick to the action in the arena, and just occasionally embellish this with personal tales of enjoyment.

Today is Wednesday, 25 April 2007, and I am writing this on a train heading back to my native Devon, having spent two days in that there London place, Earls Court specifically, taking in WWE’s three flagship shows, RAW, SmackDown and ECW, being recorded.

On the train on the way up, and in breaks in my stay, I read Mick Foley’s latest offering, The Hardcore Diaries (little did I know that about 6 hours after I picked up the book I would meet the great man) so I think it’s probably best I offer a series of diary entries of sorts, I order to maintain some sense of linearity. So here we go.

Monday 23rd April (St Georges Day)

Despite following the world of Pro Wrestling, Sports Entertainment, or whatever term you lovingly refer to this little niche world as, for over 15 years, I’ve actually only attended one live show prior to this week, and that was a rather tepid house show in Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena (NIA) in November 1996.

I have been working with Simon Rothstein, Showbiz editor of the Sun Online, who moonlights as Simon Lilsboy on the Sun’s Wrestling page Over the Top Rope. Having had some past experience of writing Wrestling columns for various websites in the past, Si has allowed me to try out my skills within his pages, and has kindly organised press tickets for each night’s tapings.
So with the combination of the two paragraphs above, you might be able to understand how conflicting my emotions are. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all positive, but on one hand a fan, feeling about tens younger than my real age (I’m 23) feeling all excited about seeing the cream of Sports Entertainment (and Kevin Thorn) but on the other side of the equation I am a professional, plying my trade for Her Majesty’s Gutter Press (cf Mike Parry, Talksport) so need to keep my emotions in check.

The train from Newton Abbot station, about 15 miles from Exeter, is late. Quelle surprise. I’ve planned ahead and got here half an hour early, and now find that works in Cornwall have delayed me leaving this platform until at least 10.30am.

We finally get moving (although we will pick up another hours worth of delay on the way) and I settle into 23a (prescient considered today’s date’s significance) to be greeted by two very nice, but very middle class, ladies. Mother and Daughter, they are travelling from Truro to London to see the Sound of Music. They will later be joined by another daughter at Taunton. I curse letting the batteries in my iPod run out, because as pleasant as these ladies are, their incessant talk of break-ups, jobs, and…….woman’s issues (I refuse to talk about menstruation…….period). Effortlessly they segue from talking about ‘times of the month’ into what they watched on TV. I only just resist the urge to do a ‘period drama’ joke to two unknown women I met less than 20 minutes previously.

I’ve got stuck well into the new Foley book, and am struck at how different the tone is to Mick’s previous two non-fiction efforts. He has become more cynical; with Wrestling, with Vince McMahon, and with the world. Reading about the anatomy of this angle is something I am looking forward to, but thus far, Foley’s opinion of the angle is greatly different to my recollections.

The third lady for whom the Hills are shortly to become Alive joins us, and resembles Judith Chalmers and David Dickinson at their most vivid hues. Once again a well-spoken middle-class lady, she causes consternation in her familial coven group as she produces Heat magazine as an accompaniment to the collection already on the table which includes a Marks and Spencers catalogue and Prima.

The matriarch of the trio expresses her scorn for said magazine. Her contempt lasts about 4 minutes, as she then begins to express her dislike for Charlotte Church’s suitor (or otherwise) Gavin Henson and Britney Spears, then explains how she would like to read Kerry Katona’s new book.

And they call wrestling fake?

We roll up to Paddington station, after the Von Trappy family fawn for about 20 minutes over a small dog (I’m crap on breeds, but it may have been a Yorkshire Terrier.) before the dog’s owner explains that he hates having to bring his dog from Plymouth to London like this, but it’ll be the last time, because he is travelling here to dump his girlfriend.

I then consider whether he will do this with an RKO sparking a vicious heel turn. My God my mind is corrupted.

I’m now in my hotel room, 516 in the Hotel Ibis (I thought it was 316 for a second which would have been amazing) overlooking both Earls Court arenas, literally 5 minutes walk from the building in which John Cena will Wrestlemania rematch against Shawn Michaels tonight, and just another short sojourn round the corner to Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge where Jose Mourinho’s side will take on Liverpool on Wednesday. Jose is supposedly attending RAW with his kids tonight, maybe I’ll get a few words with the Special One. Maybe I’ll butter him up with ‘Man U don’t give away penalties’ rhetoric.

After a travesty of joke of a Sirloin Steak (“if that is medium, then so is Viscera’s shirt size,” I comment to no-one) I get to Earl’s Court to see at least a hundred people already queuing, and the doors don’t even open until 6pm. Seeing grown men in John Cena shirts, hats, camouflage trousers and replica belts is a sight I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing.

Helpful security men refuse me entry, displaying scepticism of my journalistic credentials, presumably because the official WWE invite to pre-show drinks that I have looks a little home-made (or maybe he’s read 365 and thinks I’m not very good). By 5pm a suited gentleman with an official WWE badge arrives, and I, along with various other invited guests, am granted entry. By this time my Sun colleague Simon has joined me, and immediately starts firing off stories from Wrestlemania in Detroit and a few rumours about some WWE personnel that I absolutely cannot repeat. When (if) it becomes public, knowledge, I will immediately edit this entry to suggest I broke the story!

I’ve opted to celebrate St George’s Day in the correct spirit…… drinking several bottles of German beer. (It is called Becks, though, so a homage to a past England captain). My disappointment with the (mis)steak is subsiding with every little delicacy the waitresses bring us, including…….well I don’t know names, but Lamb and Chicken, on sticks with dips and stuff……….I may cancel that interview with Good Food magazine.

Simon and I have been joined by journos from Front, Sky Sports and then Radio 1, as DJs Joel (as in “JK and”) and Ferg and a producer join us (embarrassingly, I’ve forgotten the producers name. Sorry mate. But he was a top bloke).

In all honesty, Joel initially strikes me as a flash so-and-so, with his WWE jacket embroidered with various WWE finishing moves. I’ve pegged him as a Johnny-come-lately wrestling fan, blagging trips to shows on Radio 1’s name, and a slap in the face to real wrestling fans who would kill for a ticket.

However, he then drops a Flair/Steamboat reference, and goes on to mention various superstars and matches I had enjoyed, forgotten or never even heard of. This bloke is a fan, a real fan, and I feel like a fool for doubting him. He’s also a cracking bloke. I even make him laugh with a suggestion that Richard O’Brien is returning for a wacky new gameshow “The Crystal Meth”. He’s a jolly nice chap into the bargain, as is Ferg, and between us we speculate who will be occupying the table which we have all been ordered to keep vacated by WWE officials.

“It’ll be someone like Scotty 2 Hotty.” Says Joel. “They won’t give us anyone of any note……..”

Simon and I take our places in the crowd, directly to the left of the hard camera, and in line with the top of the RAW ramp. Seated in the row behind us is former QPR and Spurs manager Gerry Francis, and during the evening reports reach us that Bruce Jones (Les Battersby from Corrie) Doug Williams (British wrestler) and John Salako (terrific footballer, crap pundit) are in attendance. No Jose yet though.

You want to know to know what? Who came to the table. Oh no-one really, just THE HARDYS AND MICK FOLEY. Simon, who interviewed John Cena today, notes surprise at the quality of guests but stays cool. Joel, Ferg, Rich from Sky and myself basically mark out, grab our souvenir Wrestlemania Revenge t-shirts and get in line.

In a moment which impresses me more than having a beer (well he had wine) with a radio one chart show host, Mick remembers Joel from an interview they did, and then knows Rich also. Cool stuff. He looks at me to see if he recognises me………and he face draws a bigger blank than Rolf Harris illustrating a Torquay United scoresheet.

I’m determined to have a Foley moment, though, and decide on a clever line (ok, obvious, and not at all subtle, but all I could think of) based on the T-shirt’s subject matter.

“Hey Mick” Seriously, I said that, in the biggest attempt at a disguise of discomfort in my whole life. He begins to sign, and I refer to a pretty foxy diva who happens to be featured on the shirt “I guess anything with the beautiful Melina on, has got to be worth having, huh?” Mick stopped signing, looked up at me, and laughed. A genuine laugh, and here it comes….HOKEY THUMPS UP! I refrain from performing a one-man cheap pop, and watch as not only does Mick sign my shirt, but the Hardcore legend then tells me that this deserves a special embellishment, and draws a speech bubble from Melina’s mouth, with her saying the words “Wow, I sure do like Mick Foley.”

Mick then shows Matt Hardy, and shows him the unique marking (the shirt, not me fawning). Matt Hardy (what version are we up to now? V2? V8? Vista?) exclaims“Wow, that’s pretty special,” before putting his own Twist (of fate) on the garment.

So that I don’t get carried away, Jeff greets me with the same kind of apathy I get when I try to talk Wrestling with my Mum, and signs while he displays an eerily similar expression to a tramp I saw at Paddington a little earlier.

But two out of three ain’t bad, and this will be a treasured possession…………….until my Nan finds it and washes it, probably.

After some promo videos on the Tron, which is cleverly centralised within a structure resembling the Union Jack, then ring announcer Todd Grisham who explain some matches will be taped for Heat, we are greeted by a familiar “Woo” as the legendary Nature Boy himself is the first out to greet us. Ric Flair is over like grover in Earls Court, and he assumes the responsibility of telling us that the WWE superstars love England, thanks us for coming and tells us to enjoy the show.

Talk in our section centres mainly over Randy Orton’s misdemeanour in Milan last week, which has seen him sent home, even though he is still billed for this show. Simon has heard that Cena v HBK will be an Iron Man match, but when he asked Cena, the Champ denied this knowledge. We’ll see.

*I’ll stop doing the timed entries for a bit, because to be fair I didn’t keep tabs throughout.*
First up for heat we have Kenny Dykstra against that apathetic signing, hair braided son of a gun, Jeff Hardy, who despite my petty disappointment at not joining in my light-hearted banter which no doubt Matt Hardy and Mick Foley will talk about for years to come I love Jeff Hardy in the ring, and he takes the opening contest via a Swanton Bomb in short order, with all moves you would expect to see, including a Whisper in the Wind which is extremely impressive up close.

Diva time next, as Victoria emerges for a contest with the lovely Mickie James………………………………………………………………………………………………………………sorry, just needed a Mickie moment. I allow myself one a day. No not that.

And the first chant of the night? “We want puppies”. Ironically Crufts was at the NIA arena I believe this year. Why would adolescent males want to see small dogs though?

Alexis La-renamed wins with a jumping spinning DDT, after taking one hell of a bump. I say bump, Mickie took a Victoria punch and fell into the splits. Haven’t seen that one before.
Our first pyro of the evening signals the arrival of the winner of the 2006 John Major award for outstanding charisma, Chris Masters. His opponent will be Val Venis, They both win. And both lose.

In an extremely nonsensical finish, Masters wins with a Full Nelson slam out of the Masterlock, and is retreating to the back when Venis grabs the stick, and challenges Masters to get back in the ring. The Masterpiece does so, and the Big Valbowski beats him in like a minute. Why? What was the point?

I can time check this because it was important and I looked. Midway through the above match, we get word that Jose is indeed here, and may feature in an angle with Shane McMahon during the show.

Out come Cryme Time, because London so needs more petty criminals. Their opponents are Haas and Benjamin (I cannot call them The World’s Greatest Tag Team. I’ll compromise with WGTT) emerge to a surprisingly warm reception. Shelton is particurly over, eliciting a “Lets go Shelton” chant with morphs into “Lets go Cryme Time”.

Shelton looks the most impressive in this match by absolutely miles, making you wonder why the hell he is only doing a tag team match on Heat.

The big guy in Cryme Time (sorry, I don’t recall which is Shad and which is JTG) does a Hogan at one point and rips his shirt open in a manner resembling the days of Hulkamania. No one is fooled, as there is clearly no resemblance. Cryme Time are black, whereas Hogan is Orange.
Oh, Cryme Time win by the way.

This match really showed up the divide between younger fans, who cheered for the face team of Cryme Time, because WWE educates them to do so, and older fans, who were clearly behind the more talented duo of Haas and Benjamin. Thank goodness the clean cut collegiate athletes got their comeuppance at the hands of the delinquents. What a good message the WWE portrays these days.

Speaking of fan divide, if they are like this for a Heat match with WGTT and Cryme Time, what the hell will happen when Cena gets out here?

Todd Grisham tells the crowd to hold signs up because RAW is about to start. The music hits and the signs go up. This is as good a time as any to fill you in on the best ones I saw. Or at least the most memorable.

Monday Night RAW – favourite signs:
“I ‘heart’ Minge”
“Eat my arse”
“FU Cena Haters” – now does mean they are saying ‘FU’ because they are Cena haters, or they are saying ‘FU’ to the Cena haters. This is very confusing until I notice that the holder of the sign has the full Cena regalia which I mentioned earlier. He’s a Cena fan.
“Vince fears IWC”
“Umaga fears Jamal”
“No Chance in Hell of Hat Hair”
“Fruity, fruity, fruity, fruity Skittles”

So Grisham insists RAW is imminent, but first Eugene and Johnny Nitro emerge to wrestle another match with the Heat regalia still around. The bottles of beer get their first fall, and I have to take a loo break. Returning, I catch Nitro polish Eugene off.

And here comes one of the two greatest announcers of all the time (The other is Joey Styles.), it’s JR. Boomer Sooner, whatever the hell that means. The King comes out to a big ‘Jerry, Jerry’ chant which I assume is for Mr Lawler and not for Mr Francis.

The show opens with Shane McMahon, dressed to compete. He goads the ringside Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, offering him the opportunity to join the Boy Wonder in the ring. Jose declines, grinning hugely at the rather hostile reception the crowd affords him.

Shane brings out British wrestler Robbie Brookside, and declares a No DQ stipulation. Within the first 10 minutes of RAW we are treated to a Shane Terminator, which is incredibly impressive in person.

Umaga and Vince get involved, and ‘Brookie’ is squashed worse than a spider Rikishi accidentally sat on.

A HBK/Cena video airs, and Cena is booed heavily by the older generation, whereas high-pitch cheering suggest the ladies and kids are behind the Champ.

As I look down to write in my notepad, the pyro goes off for Matt Hardy amusing those around me greatly as I jump out of my skin.

Matt takes on Trevor Murdoch in a follow up to Cade beating Jeff last week. Murdoch looks to botch a version of the Canadian Destroyer, as the ref throws up the crossed hands after the match (I don’t think this will be on TV, making it seem more legit) and Hardy looks hurt. He is helped to the back by several trainers.

Melina (who apparently sure does like Mick Foley) dismisses the gorgeous Maria is short order. Is that all the divas we are getting?

A very quick backstage Carlito/Flair segment is shown and so is a graphic advertising Edge v Orton. Hmmm, can’t see that happening, but how will they get round that? Maybe an extended Cena/HBK match to kid on they ran out of time for the Edge/Orton bout?

The Great Khali emerges, making Peter Crouch look like Danny de Vito. Man this guy is big!
Interesting chant as ‘Khali sucks’ merges into ‘Carlito’ chants. Khali annihilates Carlito, presumably as a punishment for Carlito slating Khali’s place on the Mania card.

A great call from Grisham which I’m sure won’t air, when he apologises for his voice because he had a sore throat – he attributes this to having ‘kissed a girl from Wales last night’. Superb.

HBK/Cena is next, and the usual mixed reaction occurs, but by the end of the bout, I defy any right-thinking person in the building to suggest the match was anything but a classic. A brilliantly paced, well thought out match, which included a brilliant blocked plancha spot.
I always measure the strength of match against how predictable it was. On this occasion, I genuinely had no idea who would win, and it was ultimately HBK after a few false finishes. The cheer when Michaels reached the ropes while in the STFU reminded me of when someone converts a penalty in football.

Michaels eventually won an absolute cracker after he kicked out of an FU, and Cena kicked out of an initial superkick. A second dose of Chin Music following, and that was all she wrote.

The night ended with a crowd going home very satisfied, and a six of 6 of us, self-confessed wrestling fans, fanatics and cynics every one of us, raving about the main event.

That’s more than enough for now, I’ll be back in the next couple of days to fill you in on how Tuesday panned out.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Ask the Ref

Ref365 answers your questions - new article now live on Football365 - link

Random Raw Thoughts…………

  • Santino Marella? Just in case you weren’t sure if he was a plant or not, they give him Gorilla Monsoon’s real surname.
  • I’ve been made aware that this guy is from OVW, where he has beenwrestling as Boris Alexiev. However, if they portray him as a fluke champion, and he goes on to be a star in Italy, I wonder whether the rumours that he is to marry the Brunette actress Courtene di Coxio, from the hit Italian Comedy series, Amici.
  • Since he was crowned in Milan, will Santino be known as the Internazionale champion?
  • Worth noting how the WWE use subtle techniques. Many have wondered why Torrie and Carlito are matched up. Well I would suspect that there will be a Ric Flair and Carlito split and feud very soon. I would bet real money that when one man is turned (likely Carlito) it will involve the former Mrs Kidman.
  • Wahey, next week will be my first live RAW, and my first live WWE for over a decade, and I get Cena vs HBK? Sweet.
  • Cade was known as Garrision Cade for some time. He wanted to Just Be Lance. He was aligned with Coach, and wanted to Just Be Lance. Then tagged with Mark Jindrak, and wanted to Just Be Lance. Now he is Lance. Just Be Lance. Just Be Lance…….JBL…..JBL…..
  • King often talks about Canada being Bizarroworld with fans chanting for heels, but what the hell is wrong with Milan? It sounded very much to me like piped cheers for Super Crazy and then a “lets go Masters” chant? By Gawd, King!
  • I was certain that the Italian commentary position would be shattered at some point a la the Spanish table usually. Wouldn’t it have been sweet to see a Hugo and Carlos run-in to rebuke the Italians for gimmick infringement!
  • Off to Earls Court on Monday for RAW, and am excited, but it is tempered with the knowledge that very little usually happens on the last RAW before a pay-per-view. I hope I am wrong………………

That’s why we’re journalists! (sing to the tune: La Donna e Mobile from Rigoletto………..ok, the “Who needs Mourinho" chant)

I read an article in the Daily Mail today in regards to the shortlists for the PFA Player of the Years awards, with which I need to take a bit of issue.

My Football365 colleague Philip Cornwall has written on the site today stating that it is essentially a two horse race between Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo. I think he is pretty much spot on.

However, the Mail correspondent, Ivan Speck, who I actually think is a terrific writer, suggests that the inclusion on the shortlist of Steven Gerrard and Cesc Fabregas is a bit suspect.

So who do you suggest instead, Ivan? He asks if Gerrard and Fabregas are more deserving than Pompey trio David James, Sol Campbell and Matthew Taylor? Answer: yes.

He then suggests three more potential candidates. Dimitar Berbatov, Ben Foster and Obafemi Martins.

Now Berbatov has been excellent this season, whenever I have seen him, and Martin Jol should be applauded for this signing, but again you are looking at whether he has been a better player than any of those on the list, which apart from the aforementioned Gerrads, Fabregas, Drogba and Ronaldo, also includes Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. And frankly, he hasn’t bettered any of these.

As for the other two, Martins, although looking pacy and dangerous, has shown form which has been patchy at best. And although I rate Foster, and hope that he is the number one keeper at Old Trafford next year, and for England for many years to come, can you really tell me, with a straight face, that the best player in the Premiership is the bottom side’s goalkeeper.

And, to be fair, there is one seriously neglected point. Who do you think decides the shortlist? It’s the players, and they have already voted. The shortlist is just to inform everyone that one of those six will be winning, and that this is the top 6.

Meanwhile, it is refreshing to see a few different names on the Young Players list. Fabregas and Ronaldo appear again, joined by Wayne Rooney, but it is great to see young Englishmen Micah Richards and Aaron Lennon, as well as bargain of the millennium Kevin Doyle.

However, I suspect a certain Portuguese winger will be likely to pick up one, maybe two awards.

Nudge, nudge, Wink Wink.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Red Devils v Blues – get used to it

If you are a fan of any football team in the country apart from Manchester United or Chelsea, then, face it, it is time to take a back seat. The season ends in approximately 5 weeks, and between now and then you can look forward to the following games:

Manchester United v AC Milan (twice)
Chelsea v Liverpool (Twice)
Manchester United v Chelsea (league, May 9)
Manchester United v Chelsea (FA Cup final)

And potentially they may face off in The Champions League final as well.

So is this a good thing? Some would argue no, that two teams’ dominance of English football is bad for the longevity of the game. But don’t forget that Hooliganism would ruin the game, Bosman would ruin the game, and players wages will ruin the game. All complete nonsense, and don’t forget that when Mr Abramovich took over the purse strings at Stamford Bridge, many said that Chelsea would dominate for many years. They managed two.

It is a credit to Sir Alex Ferguson and his team that Manchester United have been the country’s leading team thus far. And if Fergie’s charges typify their manager’s spirit, then the drive, determination, will to win and sheer bloody mindedness (that’s meant as a compliment, folks) shows that the Chelsea side take after their gaffer as well.

Say what you like about Jose, but the man is a winner, and it would have been all too easy for him to see the writing on the wall for his job, phone in the effort, not put much in, and accept a worthy second. That’s not Jose’s style.

I think it is fantastic, as a Premiership neutral, to have this potentially thrilling conclusion to the season ahead of us. Think about this, despite leading the Premiership and going after a treble, United could end up with nothing. Zip. Zilch. Diddly Squat. The Square root of fu……well, nothing.

By the same token, despite currently still laying claims to be able to take every trophy possible, I doubt Roman will be satisfied with the Special One only bringing home the Carling Cup, which is very much the consolation prize to the big four. And that could happen.

I imagine the tabloids will very soon go into overdrive with the war of words or the ‘mind games’ as they like to express it, and although Jose and Sir Alex are different characters with conflicting styles, I get the feeling there is a mutual respect between the two, something which I don’t think exists between either man and Arsene Wenger.

It largely doesn’t bother me which sides comes out on top in any competition – I’m just happy to see things go down to the wire.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Sportz entertainment is here to stay!

Wrestlemania 23 last night from Detroit was an event which will not have pleased the traditionalist, but for newer fans of the genre, and those enjoy a great story told and a rollercoaster ride, then last night 4-hour cruise in the Motor City was up your street.

And pour moi, a fairly respectable 5 out of 8 on the predictions front. Let’s take a look.

We kick off with Rikishi singing “America the Beautiful”. Shouldn’t he have done “Samoa the Wonderful” or something? Ok it was Aretha Franklin, but it was the spit of when The Big Kish dressed up as a woman for the Stephanie/Bischoff HLA spot a few years back. (and if you see that reference elsewhere, I swear I told my Sun colleague Simon that one!)

The announcers are all introduced, and I thought it was a nice touch by Joey Styles and Tazz to mention JR and Lawler’s Hall of Fame induction, but little would they know by the end of the night ECW announcer are the NEW Spanish broadcast team.

A brave move to go with the Money in the Bank to open the show, and I do feel it was an error to have so many people involved. Don’t get me wrong, the match was excellent, and with a legacy of Ladder matches and TLCs at Wrestlemania, this had some tough acts to follow, but I felt that by having 8 men involved, when a spot for two men had to be done, it felt a bit tacked on that 6 blokes were down injured to allow it to happen.

CM Punk does the swinging ladder spot – its CM FUNK!!

Obviously the biggest talking point will be the Bombs Away splash that Jeff Hardy did onto Edge, and if that was all gimmicked, then it was a truly awesome spot. I want to think that both guys are fine, that the ladder was built to break and that it was a spot to build to a feud. I spy an Edge interview where he blames Jeff Hardy for not getting a title shot, that Jeff could have taken the gold but would rather try to kill Edge. It might take Edge to spur the clearly talented but lethargic Jeff hardy to a series of good encounters.

Anyway, prediction 1 comes in. There are big things in Ken Kennedy’s future. He can do the business in the ring, has a terrific look and cuts a mean promo. Although if he does the Money in the Bank……….bank tag line too much it might start to sound like an intense episode of The Weakest Link.

Predictions: 1-0

Kane v The Great Khali was, as expected a slow, run of the mill affair. Mercifully, it was fairly short, and since I was expecting very little my expectations were met. I have no idea where they are going with Khali – who can he possibly feud with. They have done the Taker and Kane feuds, Show is gone, and he stinks up the place. The only way he can get worse is if they feud him with Chris Masters.

Anyhoo, I said Khali would win, so that’s another for me.

Predictions: 2-0

We hit the backstage area for a fun backstage nostalgia spot, involving Cryme Tyme talking to Eugene, cheering him up with the ECW expose dancers, who were then joined by Moolah and Mae Young. Oh dear. Anyway, The Doctor of Style, Slick, made a reappearance, as did Jimmy Hart, IRS, Sgt. Slaughter, Brisco, Patterson, Steamboat (major pop) The Dream, and then Simmons………….damn! Fun spot needed after Kane-Khali put all to sleep.

Next up was MVP v Benoit, with little build up or excitement, but MVP came up with the best performance of his short WWE career in my opinion, and a neat little technical battle, with psychology followed through because Benoit couldn’t beat him with the crossface due to his injured arm. MVP’s stock raised, but my first prediction failure.

I’d love to know who put this match together, as in which agents, or whether it was just the combatant, because it was very nicely worked. MVP wrestled terrifically here, but he has an awful gimmick. Ditch that and he could go places.

Predictions: 2-1

Clip from the Hall of Fame Ceremony, and it shows that Howard Finkel is more over than MVP.

Backstage Donald Trump is visited by the Boogeyman and no-sells him. Elsewhere, The Big Show smiles and Jim Cornette hits a trainee. (For the lawyers reading, no he didn’t – actually I love James E, so don’t take me seriously)

The World title match is here, and a poll shows Undertaker is expected to win by more than 80% of the audience. My Sun colleague Simon, who is in the building, describes Batista as having a ‘doing the job’ face. Quelle Surprise.

I think Undertaker’s entrance was longer than the whole Women’s title match later in the evening.

JBL shows what a great Colour guy he is, and UT takes the stairs spot as only he can. Some steady brawling here, but big spots hit, and OH MY GOD, Joey Styles and Tazz have to scram as their table is smashed – told you J

This tells you the nature of a character being over: The Undertaker is receiving enormous reaction on every punch. Yes, punches are the most over thing of the night, that is how great Taker is.

Taker kicks out of the Batista Bomb, and big Dave is DEAD after the Tombstone.

Typical Deadman celebration, and I spot a fan with a whiteboard saying 15-0. What a great idea! A whiteboard to wipe off and create new signs on the fly! Well done that man.

Anyway, I said taker to win, so 3-1 at half-time.

Predictions: 3-1

Backstage we go again, and Mystic Mack has struck – did I or did I not say pre-Mania Stephanie would appear. Well she does, and it seems that she has given birth to a CAMERA. Gynecologists unite in shock, as they thought WWE females only gave birth to styrofoam hands.

ECW New Breed v Originals now, and its concessions time in the arena, as a boring match leads to RVD getting a pin to delight or enthusiasm of no-one, including himself. I feels sorry for Tommy Dreamer, as he seems to genuinely love doing what he is doing, but the rest dial it in. I get another one wrong.

How pale is Kevin Thorn? From now on, with his Vampire tendencies, I will now refer to him as White Fang.

Predictions: 3-2

The Hitman is on PPV!! OK, it was Thomas Hearns and no Bret Hart, but even so……….

From the quartets to the Barbershop, and what is undoubtedly the best story of the evening. Lashley and Umaga do a decent job, with The Bulldozer even doing in the inside-out flip like his old man, who is now resting after his America the Beautiful effort. But the interest is on Austin and the Billionaires. Ref bump (on Austin!) leads to Shane’s intervention. He and Umaga double team Lashley, Shane hits a Van Terminator before Austin recovers to nail Shane-O-Mac, Trump spears McMahon (GORE! Gore by Trump!) and Austin drops a stunner on Umaga.

The chair comes in, and McMahon does the facial expressions only he can, and the three faces get to work shaving Vinny Mac’s bonce.

And then to cap it off, after downing beers with Austin and Lashley, Trump eats a Stunner. Great stuff all round.

Predicitions: 4-2

Out come the ladies, and lumberjills surround the ring. It is suggested on commentary that Ashley, playboy covergirls, if you haven’t heard, it one of the sexiest women on earth. This despite evidence to the contrary, as she isn’t even one of the sexiest girls around that ring. I’ll take Torrie, Candice, Maria, Brooke, Layla, Kelly and the lovely Mickie James any day of the week. In fact there are seven there, I’ll have one a day for a week.

Melina wins a match which makes Kane/Khali look like Flair v Steamboat. Boring and pointless, and the girls all have a scrap at the end for the hell of it. It looked like a hen night in Blackpool.

Predictions 4-3

HBK v Cena round the night off, and there is no doubt that Cena is the biggest player WWE have had since Rock and Austin retired. I don’t care if some cheer and some boo. Its better they do that than do nothing. Everything he does has some reaction.

However, this match started incredibly slowly, and I feared the worst especially when it looked to me as though HBK genuinely hurt his knee doing a springboard moonsault onto the announce table. (By the way, he did that spot two years ago, but he couldn’t perform the whole moonsault, more a spinning cross-body. Shows that the guy is in great shape) It picked up, and to be fair, Michaels led Cena to a belter.

I think it was obvious Cena would go over, and the only thing now is where to take this? I smell a rematch before Triple H returns to the picture. Although depending on how soon he cashes in the Money in the Bank, Kennedy/Cena will make a great programme.

Final Predicitions: 5-3

Not a bad score really, and certainly a terrific ‘mania. I think it was so good because I didn’t really expect much. The match quality wasn’t sky high, and there were certainly no classics in the region of HBK/Angle or Bret/Austin, but even so, very solid storytelling and great performances – I don’t recall any or many blown spots.

8.5 out of ten, only diminished by three slow matches and a slight lack of technical skill, MVP and Benoit apart.

It would be interesting to know what you guys think, do post your comments.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Wrestlemania 23 Predictions

Mere hours to go until the biggest show in the WWE calendar, and I have literally just seen a television advert for the Pay Per View. Wrestlemania 23: All Grown Up. I have two major problems with this.

Firstly, that’s the name Stephanie McMahon’s theme music, so I’m now petrified she will appear at some point. Steph, don’t do it, your weak-quadded hubby is recovering from a serious injury, and he must be constantly dehydrated due to the fact that every time he drinks water he spits it all over the place. Look after him.

Secondly, the advert has several superstars talking about their dreams and what Wrestlemania means to them. Then we hear Torrie’s voice saying she is able to show she is “more than just a pretty face.” Which is true, she has a cute ass and a great rack too, thanks to her tag team partners, Mother Nature and the Plastic Surgeon.

Anyway, onto Mania, and I thought I’d better have a stab at trying to predict the outcomes and their significance. Its been an odd build up, because I don’t think that many of the matches are that appetizing, yet it has been built up and promoting fantastically well – I hope that the storylines and psychology are strong enough to cover for what looks a ropy card.

Chris Benoit v Montel Vontavious Porter – US Championship
I think this will probably open the night. Two reasons. This is a very hastily arranged match with little heat. (MVP actually has less heat than a broken fridge-freezer…… Greenland) The second reason is that history has shown that the IC title or Cruiserweight title has been used in the opening spot.

I, frankly, feel sorry for Benoit because I don’t see much in MVP, and Benoit has been woefully underused ever since back in 2004 when went from losing the belt to Randy Orton on one PPV, then jerking the curtain at the next. I have heard talk of Benoit moving permanently to RAW, so they would need to get the belt off him. It was also raise MVP’s stock and give him a bit more heat to have him go over Benoit, with the help of the ropes, and claim the title.

Prediction: MVP (by way of cheating)

ECW – New Breed (Elijah Burke, Marcus cor Von, Matt Striker, Kevin Thorn) v The ECW Originals (Rob Van Dam, Sabu, Tommy Dreamer, The Sandman)

Poor, poor ECW. I think this is possibly the saddest match on the card. Matt Striker, the half-trick pony, brought in on a whim because he was in the news. When you are a poor man’s Dean Douglas, you know you are struggling. Kevin Thorn, who found a more boring gimmick than Mordecai. Elijah Burke, the Black Hole of Personality, and Marcus Cor Von, the Alpha Male with the name almost certainly created when someone was joking in the creative meeting but Steph and Michael Hayes took it seriously.

All of these misfits against Rob Van Dam, who is a shadow of the shadow of his former self; Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, and The Sandman – The Innovator of Violence, the Homicidal, Suicdal Death defying lunatic and The Extreme Icon. All being asked to do ordinary, boring, 3-minute matches with no weapons. Go figure.

Suffice to say, interest in limited (much like ECW as a whole) and the only outcome I can see is the New Breed (they even stole a WCW stable name, that’s how bad the angle is) going over, because that’s the way the wind is blowing. There are a couple of ECW guys without a match. How about Stitsky rearing his (considerably) ugly head to push the New Breed to victory.

Prediction – The New Breed

Kane v The Great Khali

Because Khali v Taker was such a great success……….

Kane is penciled in for some time off post-Mania, and I see no reason why Kane, who lets face it has had his best times, would be allowed to get the better of Khali in this one.

Prediction: The Great Khali – and hopefully the match will be shorter than this section.

Melina v Ashley – Women’s title Jumberjill match

A playboy covergirl, only in the match because of the publicity, v a moderately talented improver, with *allegedly* heat backstage. Ashley is going to win, and will probably lose the title back to Melina on Raw in the very near future.

Oh, and every other diva in the company will surround the ring. This match will probably go in between the title bouts at the end of the show.

Hey, Ric, Carlos? Isn’t it nice to know that while you aren’t on the show this year, that all the highly talented divas who just by sheer coincidence happen to be attractive and dress scantily clad, get a payoff for being Lumberjills.

Prediction: Ashley, with all the other girls, err, brawling. And probably losing garments.

Money in the bank Ladder match – Edge, Mr. Kennedy, Randy Orton, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, King Booker, CM Punk, Fit Finlay.

We can use the McNichol Eliminator (patent pending) for this one:

Can CM Punk win it? No. He is a future star, and may one day have a crack at the pig one, but his stock isn’t high enough yet, after being booked to lose to Hardcore Holly and Test a few weeks back, don’t expect him to topple the others. Down to Seven.

The Hardys will never move from their position. To be fair, they have done well to get back to a position as they are in, after their respective issues, but aside from probably providing the vast majority of high spots in the match, they can’t win. Down to five.

Finlay has been a solid performer, but especially due to his constant double act that little Bas……what, I can’t say that now? Oh dammit – Hornswoggle it is. Anyway, Finlay is a solid hand, but not World title material. Dismiss him from this. Down to Four.

I just can’t see King Booker doing it. They’ve given him a title run, had their fun with his royalty act since King of the Ring, but it is a step back to put him over here. Down to three.

So that leaves Edge, Orton and Kennedy. It looks for all the world like Edge and Orton will have an upcoming programme. I would imagine this would centre from one costing the other this match. Maybe Orton with his hands on the briefcase and an Edge spear off the ladder? Down to one.

So that leaves Mr. Kennedy-Kennedy. A real up and coming star, someone who really does ‘have it’ and someone the WWE could really get behind. A good look, solid in the ring and an awesome promo. This could be his year.

Prediction: Mr. Kennedy-Kennedy

The Battle of the Billionaires: Umaga (w/Vince McMahon) v Bobby Lashley (w/Donald Trump). Special referee Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Well this is obviously the most hyped of all the matches on the card, and to be fair, although I don’t think it’ll be a 5-star classic, I’m sure it’ll live up to hype in terms of storyline and emotion.

Lashley has to win, because it will be Vince that has his head shaved, and will probably get a stunner from Austin for the hell of it. Should be a lot of fun, but maybe not a catch-as-catch-can thriller.

Prediction: Lashley

Batista v Undertaker – World Heavyweight Title

Apparently these guys are pretty annoyed that they aren’t going to be in the final match, and in fairness I don’t blame them, because the Rumble winner is suppose to main event Wrestlemania. However, you do get the feeling that this won’t be nearly as entertaining as HBK/Cena, so it makes sense.

I’ve looked at this in various ways, and I can only see an Undertaker victory, maintaining the streak and then Batista getting his belt back at a later stage. Batista’s character can further be solidified her. If he is to be a longer-term heel, he bitterly attacks the seriously over Taker. If he is retained a face, then he graciously shakes hands.

Prediction: Undertaker

John Cena v Shawn Michaels – WWE Championship match

Michaels is probably the most over babyface in the company, and the best thing about Cena is that everyone has an opinion about him, positive or negative. I can’t help but feel that it is in the long term interests of the WWE to keep Cena up there and continue to build round him. He is the future, and although Michaels is a hell of a worker, I don’t think he needs the belt to push him further in the hearts of the fans, whereas a win over HBK gives Cena credence.

I’m going for Cena, and this is the match which has the biggest question mark over quality. This has the potential to be anywhere in the range from a great match full of psychology, to a slow drawn out snoozefest. Hopefully the former.

Prediction: John Cena

Ok then, enjoy the show folks, I’ll be back as soon as I can with a review.