Doctor's Orders: WrestleMania Weekend Diary (NXT Takeover: Orlando Delivers With Match of the Year Frontrunner, Nakamura vs. Roode II)
By The Doc
Apr 1, 2017 - 11:13:04 PM
”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
It's WrestleMania Weekend, ladies and gentlemen! I will be posting thoughts here throughout the next few days regarding rumors, Hall of Fame speeches, ideas for matches, NXT Takeover: Orlando, etc., as well as submitting questions for your consideration and photos sent by those enthusiasts who made the trip to Orlando. Check the headline for updates and enjoy the weekend!
QUESTION: What did you think was the best match at NXT Takeover? Do you think WrestleMania can follow the event as a whole?
NXT went into Takeover: Orlando feeling as though they were still transitioning out of the Balor-Joe-Bayley era and simultaneously preparing themselves for imminent departures of other key stars in the post-WrestleMania 33 aftermath. Nevertheless, they collectively delivered one of the best special events in their history.
The eight-person tag team match to start the show was a lot of fun. A lack of cohesiveness from teams that oppose units the caliber of Sanity often take away from the story that can be told in a match like TO: ORL's opener, but there was enough story there, with Tye Dillinger especially, to bring something more to the table than just an endless series of move-sequences. Everyone got a chance to shine, as athletes or - not to be confused with and - as characters. (***)
Match 2 featuring the debuting Aleister Black against Andrade Almas offered the kind of action that Takeover events are becoming known for whenever Cien is on the card. What Almas has done, be it with Bobby Roode or Roddy Strong or now the artist formerly known as Tommy End is string together intricate sequences with relative ease; not all of them were quite so smooth against Black as they had been two months ago with Strong, but award bonus points for degree of difficulty (NOTE - Rewatched it this morning and it was very clunky; downgraded star-rating accordingly). Black won the match and got the star treatment, but Almas was given the chance to stay over by strutting his considerable stuff as well; it is time to commit to pushing Cien stronger. On Black's debut, I will say that I don't necessarily feel like his wrestling style in this match, combining with Almas for catch-as-catch-can, fit the persona they were presenting in his vignette. (**)
Perhaps the most anticipated non-WrestleMania match of the weekend was The Authors of Pain defending the NXT Tag Team Championships against DIY and The Revival. For about 20-minutes, the considerable hype was lived up to, with the brilliant psychology we had grown to expect from the challengers squaring off as opponents translating to their collective goal of taking out the champions. Once DIY was eliminated, the crowd checked out and got distracted from the action, which sort of distracted me as a viewer from the action, and even seemed to get the camera work out of sync. The climax, therefore, seemed a little disjointed. I got a few tweets from live attendees calling it one of the best matches that they had ever seen, so I suspect that future viewings might be better than the original. Overall, it was a top notch performance from all involved. I plan to watch it again before going to bed and I will update in the morning with additional thoughts, but for right now I'd call it Match of the Night runner-up. (**** ¼)
(NOTE - Rewatched it this morning and the same problem that plagued it last night plagued it this morning; camera work did this match a disservice, especially during the climax; not changing the rating, but not putting it in the MOTY category either)
I said on “The Doc Says” this week that the two acts who would determine the fate of Takeover this weekend were The Authors of Pain and Ember Moon; if they delivered huge, then Takeover: Orlando would succeed in a huge way. The Authors did their part, as did Moon, who joined forces with Asuka for the best Women's Title match in NXT in a year. Not to downplay the previous matches Asuka has had over the course of her title reign, but the story and the execution of the action in those prior bouts never quite matched up to the level that The Empress of Tomorrow and Moon were able to reach tonight. The simple story of Asuka, ever confident after being undefeated for so long, feeling as though she may have met her equal or superior and heeling it up accordingly to get a cheap win was supremely well told. I absolutely love it when a character works but creative decisions are made to evolve that character's narrative. More please! (*** ¾)
Bobby Roode vs. Shinsuke Nakamura was the best match on the show after one viewing, destined like their match two months ago to be among the Match of the Year candidates lost in the shuffle because of the style in which it was wrestled. There were no tables or crazy flips or dives, but what there was in place of those thrilling moves was straightforward pro wrestling in a main-event full of personality and stakes. Throughout the near thirty-minute run-time, you couldn't help but scan the babyface and heel sides of the roster to try and figure out who the next logical challenger would be for whichever combatant won the match; it had that added element of intrigue for me and felt like the winner's job was going to be a lot harder by the end of next week when the loser was presumably moved to the main roster. That said, Roode and Nakamura have awesome chemistry as characters that informs what they do in their matches; it's not the kind of chemistry that creates intricate sequences like in Almas-Black, but the sort that brings out unbridled passion in the audience and invests viewers in the rhythm, pace, flow, and ultimately the outcome of the performance. Owen Hart would look down and smile on it after his brother looked up and told him to check out what was going on at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Just a marvelously simple match that succeeded to the upper limits of its potential by doing exactly what was called for. Match of the Year frontrunner in my mind that sets the stage for everything tomorrow night to have to follow it. (**** ½)
Top to bottom, Takeover was top notch. Not quite Dallas because it didn't have a Nakamura-Zayn to compliment the three title matches, but still a tremendously put together event.
The Boss looking sharp...
QUESTION: If Enzo and Cass win the Tag Team Titles tomorrow night, how big are you going to pop?
I was listening to a WrestleMania preview podcast this morning and it dawned on me that, contrary to the statements I made on "The Doc Says" this week about the triple threat Tag Team Title match at WrestleMania being the biggest candidate for my bathroom break (mainly due to WWE's general treatment of tag team wrestling), the addition of the Ladder stipulation has changed my tune; I am now rather pumped about seeing The Realest Guys in the Room and Cesaro/Sheamus challenge Gallows and Anderson for the championships.
Say what you will about cluster-you-know-what-Ladder Matches, but tomorrow night's will be just the fifth Ladder Match of any type since last year's WrestleMania; it is still a stipulation that carries intrigue and prestige. However, the Mania versions in recent years have screamed, much as Money in the Bank did in its later years on the grandest stage, "This is our excuse to be creatively lazy and not build a mid-card portion of The Show of Shows." I personally abhorred that Daniel Bryan was involved two years ago and I know many of you were irritated as could be that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, rather than face each other one-on-one, were stuck in a spot-fest last year. I'm not feeling the same way about this year's Tag Title match. I think this is a good thing.
Last Sunday when recording my Mania preview, I had next to no interest in what I have come to feel is the likely opener tomorrow, even thinking it could end up on the pre-show. The addition of the ladders was just what the doctor ordered to add the missing element to an otherwise mundane situation. When you have well-defined characters deserving of one-on-one situations like Bryan or Ambrose or Ziggler or Owens or Zayn, the gimmick feels tawdry; the tag team scene is so chronically under-utilized, though, that the gimmick instead ups the stakes and places an "only four times per year is this stipulation employed"-type of spotlight on a division that needs the extra shine.
It's hard to yawn at a stunt-brawl, as WWE is so well-versed at booking Ladder matches of this type that they're routinely a 3-star minimum performance; it was very easy to yawn at a triple threat Tag match featuring teams struggling to pull the division out of its New Day-induced coma in the second half of 2016. The stipulation has given these three teams a life-line...and me a reason to care.
I recently heard a prominent member of pro wrestling's analytical community downplay the awesomeness that is the Hall of Fame Ceremony. Allow me to reiterate that I think it is simply one of the very best nights of the year. As wrestling fans, we love to talk about history and tonight was the latest example of WWE's most overt expression of celebrating history. I thought it was amazing, one of the best induction ceremonies that I can remember.
Couple of notes:
-Diamond Dallas Page's speech was one of the best ever delivered before it was even three-quarters of the way done. At its best, a Hall of Fame induction is not just an opportunity to say “Thank You,” but also a lesson in sports entertainment lore. If you never knew anything about DDP, then his speech tonight would have told you all that you needed to know; the hard work, the dream, the dedication, and the power of positivity were all highlighted in a very emotional, very personal story. Had Page's career happened in WWE, he would have already been one of the most celebrated icons ever. Not all underdog tales in wrestling involve athletes that were shorter than 6 feet tall and weighed less than 220 pounds.
-Jim Cornette was as entertaining as advertised. It was a blast to see him back in WWE and one can only hope that his charisma and knowledge of the business will someday be welcomed back in some form or fashion, even if just for a Hall of Fame induction of his own alongside The Midnight Express. The Rock 'n Roll Express was a long overdue entrant, frankly. What Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson did for tag team wrestling in the 1980s cannot be understated. Theirs was the speech you always know you will get each year, disjointed as it is genuine but totally captivating, especially for those of us with a personal attachment to the inductee. After a chance meeting in the Atlanta airport last year on the way to WrestleMania in Dallas, I had a beer with Morton and he gauged my interest in writing his biography. Though he probably will field a lot more offers now, my publisher has reached out in an effort to see if that discussion can be renewed and maybe lead somewhere. I'd be happy to write it if the timing worked out. I love that Morton and Gibson are now Hall of Famers. Huge thrill.
-”Ravishing” Rick Rude will no longer be part of those conversations we have each year about the obvious omissions from WWE's HOF. Thank goodness that he finally made it. Ricky Steamboat talked about how Rude was such a heel; truthfully, he was one of the greatest heels of all-time during a period where heat like he drew was the goal of the bad guy in the business. Today, if he did what he did back then, he would be cheered by us. It just wasn't like that back in the day. I thought his son did a great job with his speech and I pictured in my mind Vince McMahon asking him to try out at the PC; maybe his mom and sister are just tiny, but he looked massive and he clearly has some of his father's personality.
-Beth Phoenix gave one of the night's best speeches. There has been some chatter about how much she deserved the honor due to her era, but tonight was a night that better put into perspective women's wrestling post-Stratus/Lita. It will be interesting to see how WWE shapes the narrative about that period between 2006 and the Women's Revolution because, I think to many, Beth was a diamond in a very rough period for women's wrestling. At the end of the day, Phoenix was a dream-chaser who performed like she was living the life she had always wanted; she made the most of her opportunity, no matter how small that opportunity may look in hindsight compared to the chances that her successors receive today. I would show my daughter her speech someday as an example of empowerment. That was fantastic; night's best might be underselling it really. Loved seeing Edge, one of my all-time favorites, looking so happy and at peace with his little girl in his lap (and the Tony Chimel rib was great).
-Dana Warrior does a really nice job with the Warrior Award. She's a class act, and it's a shame that some of the fans in attendance were so disrespectful at times throughout the night. I sat near some of those types four years ago; it's embarrassing and it's why wrestling fans have a reputation in society as the world's biggest group of idiots. Anyhow, Eric Legrand was humble and inspiring and the last few minutes where he let loose by geeking out with old wrestling memories was the kind of thing you'd hope that all recipients in the future would be able to do given the platform.
-Teddy Long...my man, TRL. Rewind the clock thirteen years and I had just taken over the Smackdown Reviewer position on this website when Long was made Smackdown GM. My history with him dates all the way back to the Doom days in WCW. What a well-rounded career he had. I thought it was hilarious how he poked fun at himself, right at the end telling JBL he would put him in a match with “THE UNDATAKAH!!!” Good Lord, did that bring back some memories. We so often talk about the Attitude Era or prior around here; I'm looking forward to talking more about the 2000s someday soon.
-And speaking of the 2000s, that was when Kurt Angle became one of the greatest of all-time. Seeing him back in WWE after such a lengthy absence; man, eleven years goes by in an instant, doesn't it? That was incredible. Our Olympic Hero put the finishing touches on such an enjoyable, emotional experience. I teared up a few times, folks. I just absolutely loved being able to witness Angle in WWE again and that's one particular legend who I would love to see wrestle one more time.
That would be LOP's own, Samuel 'Plan, getting some love from Seth Rollins yesterday. You should check out that column, especially if you are struggling to get excited about WrestleMania (LOP Radio is another good option in the hype department, FYI).
QUESTION: What do you think about Dean Ambrose potentially ending up the pre-show at WrestleMania?
-In thinking more about the Cruiserweight Championship match, my usual stance on the pre-show is that it doesn't matter, but I am heavily invested in the performance and the outcome of the Neville-Aries match and think that this is one of those rare exceptions where a match that matters being on the pre-show by default makes the pre-show matter. They might actually get more time, ala Cesaro-Sheamus on the pre-show for Summerslam, by going this route too. If they still get short-changed on time and only 1/3 of the audience has filed in when they come out, I will be disappointed that it wound up on the pre-show.
-I have heard that the Smackdown Women's Title match got bumped up to the main card and would be happy if that was the case. The question would then naturally be which match got bumped down in its place on the pre-show. Scanning the line-up, how could it be anything other than Ambrose defending the Intercontinental Title against Baron Corbin? The Lunatic Fringe on the pre-show? I know, that seems a little funny to me too, but what other match could be pre-show bound?
Without bumping something, you're talking about an 11 match main card with plenty of New Day antics to boot and that would have to makings for a 73 hour show, which I do not want to see. I was with my 76 year old stepdad last year in Dallas and looked at my watch as Mania kept dragging on through The Rock's half-hour waste of time, wondering why they did not announce ahead of time that it could be a five-hour show. That was rough.
Ambrose on the pre-show, though....Wow, what a shame that would be. I'm in the camp that thought Ambrose was MVP runner-up last year and that a lot of people for some reason decided he was underwhelming thanks to a match at Mania 32 that wasn't his fault, a disappointing feud with Chris Jericho, and a good instead of stellar Summerslam World Title defense. I'd like to think of Ambrose as a core talent of this generation, but getting pre-showed would be a huge step back for him in my opinion; nothing he can't recover from in a month in the flow of the never-ending schedule, but the kind of thing that seems to write a different budding historical narrative about him overall. It's almost as if AJ Styles took the spot that Ambrose was destined for (any thoughts on that, LOP readers?).
One of the biggest Sasha Banks fans on planet earth, who has argued to me on social media that she should have won just about every match she has ever lost, snapped this photo of "The Boss" earlier today at Fan Axxess.
QUESTION: Did 205 Live have the best go-home show of the week before Mania?
I just finished watching 205 Live from the other night and found it to be as effective a go-home show as any of the others from the week despite it just having the one match at WrestleMania to hype. If you have not been watching the Cruiserweight-only program, once you do you will likely appreciate its simplicity; it is much like NXT's weekly program in that regard. The neatly booked hour does not often live up to its WWE tagline of "The Most Exciting Hour on Television," but it definitely never fails to entertain or to offer a quality match typically in the running for the best of the WWE week.
The King of the Cruiserweights losing the Cruiserweight Championship on Sunday would be a crime, in my opinion. There was the division before Neville, struggling to find itself as a week-to-week entity after the high had worn off from the Cruiserweight Classic; and then there has been the division after Neville, thriving as a program built around a strong, well-defined character who has peaked at PPV time each of the past three months, including on Tuesday with his "This is what 205 Live would be without me" promo and physical altercation with Austin Aries.
Watching Akira Tozawa vs. Brian Kendrick just before the final Neville-Aries segment, I found myself wondering if there would come a day when 205 Live would put two matches on a major PPV like Mania or Summerslam. Tozawa-Kendrick has been a nicely booked storyline and their match, while not the barn-burner that was the outstanding Neville-Mustafa Ali match from last week, was quite engaging. I could have easily bought into that as a PPV match.