WWE’s final pay-per-view of the year saw the end of a long-running feud… and a changing of the guard.
As usual, we’ll skip over the pre-show since everything on here gets repeated on the main PPV, with the exception of one match:
Rusev vs. Big Cass
Enzo returned to a good reaction… albeit for the usual catchphrases, and a red nose because we’re a week away from Christmas. The pre-match stuff went longer than the match did, which started with Cass taking Rusev into the corner with punches, before a big boot sent Rusev to the outside as we went to an early commercial.
We return to see Rusev back in the ring and trying to run away again as Cass kept on top of the Bulgarian, before Rusev fired up and went for a running boot… but it was caught as Cass followed up with a slam and an Empire Elbow drop. One Stinger splash later, Rusev rolled onto the apron, before going back to the floor.
Rusev even went into the crowd, with Cass following him. Enzo went after the pair of them, only for Lana to attack him from behind and feign an ankle injury… which meant that Rusev knocked Enzo down once more. In among all of that, the referee continued to count, and with Cass checking on Enzo rather than the count, Rusev slid in and took the win via count-out. This match did nothing for anybody, was too short to be anything, and ended up being no good. *
WWE Raw Tag Team Championship: The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston) (c) vs. Sheamus & Cesaro
This was New Day’s first appearance since securing the longest-ever WWE tag title run, and they immediately started on the back foot as Cesaro flew into Kofi with a dropkick at the bell.
Kofi tried to come back with a crossbody… which was blocked, as was a monkey flip… before Kofi landed on his feet from a Cesaro monkey flip too. A cheapshot led to Sheamus tagging in legally, as the challengers combined for a Finlay roll and a double stomp for a near-fall. Another near-fall came Sheamus’ way from a slingshot shoulder block, before knocking Big E off the apron as Kofi threatened to tag-out.
A pop-up uppercut earned Cesaro a near-fall as the challengers looked to end this early, but a missed shoulder charge in the corner gave Kofi a chance… to tag nobody. Finally Kofi tagged in after swerving Sheamus’ crossface chops, as the Irishman quickly ate a spear through the ropes and a big splash from Big E for the New Day’s first near-fall.
Sheamus quickly hit back with a reverse Hot Shot to Big E, who then replied with a powerbomb. The challengers again worked together to drop Big E with an assisted White Noise, before Cesaro landed a springboard corkscrew uppercut, only for Sheamus to inadvertently knock Cesaro down as he was going for a Giant Swing. Xavier Woods interjected himself behind the referee’s back, hitting an apron enziguiri on Cesaro, who then took a Big Ending… for a near-fall.
Sheamus got involved to block the Midnight Hour, as Cesaro finally got in his Giant Swing on Kofi, following through with a Sharpshooter… but Xavier got involved to distract the referee from the tap-out. Cesaro blocked a small package and deadlifted Kofi up into a suplex and eventually the Neutraliser… only for Big E to make the save.
Cesaro continued to fly with a tornillo to Big E on the outside, as Sheamus tagged in and levelled Woods with a Brogue Kick as Kofi was shoved aside. Kofi looked to grab the win with the SOS, but yet another kick out, and I’m feeling a title change here.
The end came with an ingenious routine: Sheamus reached out for the tag, but Cesaro came in without a tag being made. Not even a fake one. Kofi dropped Cesaro with the Trouble in Paradise… but Sheamus was still legal, and he ran over Kofi to make the pin and win the titles. A hell of an opening match here, with the Odd Couple tag team getting the overdue tag title win! ****
After the match, the New Day and Cesaro hugged it out, before Sheamus grabbed the tag title belts and posed with them. So Cesaro leapt into the crowd and celebrated there, as we go the boo/yay stuff. So we’re back to the odd couple warring after winning, huh?
Generic backstage promo with Kevin Owens continued to put himself over as the longest reigning WWE Universal champion. Chris Jericho walked in and received a gift from Owens… a new scarf. A scarf that Jericho threw to the floor.
Sami Zayn vs. Braun Strowman
The stipulation here is that if there’s no pin, submission, count-out or disqualification before the ten minute mark, Sami Zayn wins. Of course, the downside here is that unless Braun won in a squash, the crowd could be forgiven for thinking the finish was obvious.
Cat and mouse stuff from Zayn early, as his offence seemed to focus on ways of pushing Strowman away… before taking a biel throw into the corner. An avalanche led to Zayn rolling to the outside, where Strowman kept on top of him, then kept up choking on Zayn back inside the ring.
Zayn replied by low-bridging Strowman to the outside, before launching into a plancha that was caught and turned into some Snake Eyes. Strowman pulled up Zayn after a one-count when they returned to the ring, before the referee pushed Strowman away to check on Zayn. More clubbering blows followed, as Strowman again pulled Zayn up in the middle of a pinning attempt, before a short-arm lariat turned Sami inside out.
With a little under four minutes left, Mick Foley wearing the remnants of a wardrobe explosion came out with a towel. Zayn was thrown out towards Mick as they teased a Bob Backlund finish, with Strowman urging Mick to throw the towel in on Zayn. This killed a good minute of the match, as Zayn used Foley to pull himself up, before grabbing that towel and hurling it into the crowd.
Zayn took more strikes from Braun, who vowed that the blood of Sami would be on Foley’s hands, but this is where the comeback started. Strowman ran into the ringpost, then through the barricades by the timekeeper tables as Braun went from beast to bumbling. Braun beat the count-out as we entered the final minute, but he returned just in time to charge into the ringpost yet again, then take a crossbody for a near-fall, before a Helluva kick knocked Braun loopy as time ran out. So… Sami technically gets the win. Really, this match felt really padded, and would have been better a few minutes sorter without any of the storyline stuff tagged to it. **
They showed a video package of last Thursday’s announcement of the creation of the UK Championship Tournament. Pete Dunne and Trent Seven were name-checked, as was Nigel McGuinness in his role as the company’s newest announcer.
Number One Contender’s Match: Chris Jericho vs. Seth Rollins
It seems that Jericho’s falling out with Kevin Owens nudged him back towards being a babyface here, as he received duelling chants with Rollins at the start of the match.
Rollins and Jericho started with some mat-based stuff, before Jericho started going airborne with a missile dropkick for a near-fall. Jericho powdered to the outside to avoid a dropkick from Rollins, but only succeeded in taking a diving knee off the apron from the former Shield member. An eye rake got Jericho back into things, as he again used the cover of a referee to knock down Rollins to the floor with a springboard dropkick.
Jericho continued to wear down Rollins, who eventually fired back with a combination of palm strikes, before running into a knee to the midsection. A bulldog attempt from Jericho was countered as Seth shoved him into the middle turnbuckle, eventually following up with a Slingblade and a series of forearms. Rollins landed a Blockbuster neckbreaker for a near-fall, but it was too soon to try for a Pedigree as Rollins’ attempt was backdropped out of with ease.
A tope from Seth kept him in front, but a springboard back into the ring was caught as Jericho just about turned it into a Walls of Jericho… a hold that Seth finally broke by crawling towards the ropes. Rollins dropped Jericho with an enziguiri, then went airborne with a frog splash that missed, leading Jericho to a Lionsault for a near-fall. The reply came instantly with a Falcon Arrow from Rollins getting a two-count, before the John Cena nose-busting knee led to another blocked Pedigree that eventually ended in a ‘rana that turned into the Walls of Jericho.
Rollins squirmed out of the Walls and into a small package to get a near-fall, before Jericho went up top and dived into a superkick to the head. Second time was lucky for the frog splash,a s Kevin Owens jogged into the ring… and was promptly knocked out by Rollins. Owens’ distraction almost cost Jericho as the referee wasn’t able to count, before another Pedigree was backdropped out of. Seth hit the knee to the nose, before blocking a Codebreaker, then finally hit the Pedigree for the win. The crowd weren’t that much into this, but this was a really good match – nothing less than you’d expect! ***¾
Good to see the commentators sticking to the script – Jericho almost won in spite of Owens’ involvement, yet it was sold as “Owens costing Jericho the win”, when Owens had been long gone when the finish came.
WWE Cruiserweight Championship: The Brian Kendrick vs. TJ Perkins vs. Rich Swann (c)
Austin Aries was on commentary, replacing Byron Saxton for this match. The “show the crowd as often as we can” act got real old here, as Swann’s entrance featured no less than SIX shots of the crowd dancing along… there’s something to be said for that “less is more” maxim.
We had a fast and furious opening as everyone looked to target Kendrick early on, before a whiffed leapfrog from Swann saw Kendrick eat a knee to the head. Perkins and Swann worked a series of reversals, before they went to the outside, ending with Perkins fling in with a sunset flip off the top rope that turned into an attempt at the kneebar on Kendrick.
Swann flew back with an enziguiri to the back of Kendrick’s head, before a double ‘rana took down both of his challengers. Perkins was used as a launch-pad for a seated senton on Kendrick for a near-fall, as the pace started to slow down inexplicably. A missile dropkick from Swann knocked Perkins to the outside, and allowed Kendrick to surprise Swann with the Captain’s Hook… only for the hold to be relieved as Perkins locked in a knee-bar.
Swann saved the match with a leaping splash to Perkins, before taking a reverse STO into the middle turnbuckle. Perkins went back to the knee-bar, this time on Swann, but again Swann made the ropes… and the referee ordered a break despite this being a triple threat match. Perkins and Swann traded right hands, before decking a returning Kendrick with a superkick, as Swann eventually got the win with a superkick. That was somewhat abrupt, but pretty good for what it was. Six minute triple-threats won’t “make” the cruiserweights, but at least this was all-action for the time they got. ***
After the match, Swann celebrated with his title… before being interrupted by the returning Neville! Who was all smiles and ran into the ring to deck Swann with a right hand, and then Perkins got laid out with a series of kicks. Hey, angry Geordie Neville could be a hell of a kickstart to this division. Perkins and Swann were thrown into the crowd barriers, before Neville threw them back into the ring to just sneer over them.
Another backstage segment with Kevin Owens followed, as he tried to enter Chris Jericho’s locker room. It was locked, so instead Owens just stood outside and apologised. There was no response, so I guess Chris either wasn’t in, or he’s just broken little Kevin’s heart at Christmas.
30 Minute Iron Man Match for WWE Raw Women’s Championship: Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks (c)
Much like the earlier Zayn/Strowman match, the problem with such time-limited matches is that the crowd knows that the early parts really don’t matter. This was billed as “the final chapter” in the Charlotte/Sasha… let’s see how long that holds up for!
A long opening sequence saw the pair hold onto a collar-and-elbow tie-up with no end result, before Charlotte and Sasha remained grounded as they went for headlock takedowns. They exchanged near-falls too, but at the four minute mark, and with little prior offence, it’d have been a real shock for anything to have come from those.
Just as I typed that, Sasha went for the Bank Statement, but Charlotte was able to crawl out of the ring to avoid staying in the submission hold. An impressive cover from a schoolboy got Charlotte another near-fall, before Sasha turned a tiltawhirl into a schoolboy herself. Banks took Charlotte down with a sleeperhold with some body scissors, but Charlotte fought free, before attempting to “Alley Oop” Banks into the ringpost. Sasha blocked it and landed a Meteora double knees off the apron for an eventual near-fall.
Banks turned the start of a Bank Statement into a strait-jacket submission – complete with more bloody crowd shots. Sasha threw Flair outside and followed up with a tope that almost turned into a Lita-like suicide dive, before a sneaky leg trip from Charlotte knocked Banks off the apron and into the steel stairs. Subtlety – it’s not something they usually do in WWE!
Instead of taking the fall by count-out, Flair rolled Sasha into the ring for a near-fall, then took over with chokes and stomps over the fallen champion. Charlotte humped Banks’ face into the mat with the figure four headscissors as the match hit the halfway point, then followed up with a load of roll-throughs from the headscissors. Banks almost turned one of those rolls into a pin as she blocked it halfway through for a near-fall, before Flair picked up a two-count from an over-the-knee neckbreaker in the ropes.
Another fightback from Banks led to a running knee strike in the corner on Charlotte, before missing a crossbody as Flair followed up with the Natural Selection for a near-fall. Banks caught a moonsault attempt and countered by trying for a superplex, only to be shoved down as Charlotte landed a Natural Selection off the top rope to secure the first fall with a little over ten minutes left.
Flair stayed on top of Banks after taking the fall, scoring a near-fall from a back suplex , before Sasha shocked Flair with an equaliser after turning another tiltawhirl into a roll-up for the pin with eight minutes remaining. Banks went for the Bank Statement, but Flair shrugged it away and levelled the champion with a big boot for a near-fall as the pair looked to get the deciding pinfall.
Charlotte went up for the moonsault again, but Banks rolled away and caught her with the Bank Statement in the middle of the ring, before rolling Charlotte further away from the ropes to force a submission as just six minutes remained on the clock. Banks had the lead, and not that much time to defend it in… and Charlotte seemed to target the knee after stomping on it through the middle ropes.
As time ticked away, Flair continued to pound away on the knee, then wrapped it around the ringpost as this became a race against time for the challenger. The knee was wrenched away on even more, but Sasha almost ended thing with a roll-up before Flair hit a chop block to further soften her up for the inevitable Figure Eight. With two minutes left, Flair locked in the Figure Four, and fought to drag Sasha towards the middle of the ring, but the hold was reversed back and forth before Charlotte turned it into the Figure Eight with just seven seconds left… and Banks tapped as time ran out. We’re tied at 2-2, and that means one thing: sudden death overtime!
Banks hauled herself up via the ropes, but Charlotte kicked the bad knee to take her down once more, before overtime officially started with Flair going for another Figure Four, only for Banks to turn it into a roll-up for a two-count, busting her nose open in the middle of that exchange. An Exploder sent Banks flying, but she hit back with a delayed Bank Statement – a hold that Flair escaped by slowly manipulating the legs into a Figure Four – which again turned into the Figure Eight as Flair dragged the bloodied Banks away from the ropes for the eventual tap-out. That was fantastic – yes, you can quibble over how the heel won without overtly acting like a heel, or how this match could have been better without the Iron Man stipulation or the slow start, but this was a terrific way to end the storied rivalry. For now. ****
I’m not sure how much they’ll replay the visual of the bloodied Sasha tapping out, at least in colour, but that could well save Sasha long term. In the build-up to this, they showed a video package of all of the title changes between Sasha and Charlotte. Given that Charlotte won yet again on pay-per-view, and the nature of this particular win, I can’t help but feel that Sasha’s been hurt by this, and she’ll be knocked away from the title picture for quite some time.
WWE Universal Championship: Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens (c)
Kevin Owens started by immediately going to the outside to avoid Roman Reigns – who kept chasing after him to bring the match into the ring.
Reigns escaped a headlock via a side suplex for a near-fall early on, before sending Owens into the crowd barriers as this affair remained at a slow pace. After ending Reigns’ plans with the announce tables, Owens threw the challenger back in and hit a back senton for just a count of one, before taking a series of clotheslines from Reigns.
They again went outside, where Owens threw Reigns into the ring stairs, before leaping off the stairs with another back senton on the floor. Owens went back to a chinlock in the middle of the ring, then turned Reigns’ comeback into another bit of offence as he hit a neckbreaker and a flipping legdrop for some near-falls. Another chinlock, another fightback, but this time Owens missed his back senton as Reigns tried to get back to his feet.
A leaping clothesline from Reigns took down Owens, who was taken into the corner for some repeated clotheslines, only for Owens to fight back as the pair traded forearms. Owens hit a German suplex after getting out of a Samoan drop, but then ran into a big boot as he went for a cannonball in the corner.
Owens avoided a Superman punch and nailed a DDT, before mocking Reigns’ pose en route to a cannonball. A cannonball that was barely sold as Reigns came back with a Superman punch, then a superplex attempt that was blocked before Reigns landed another Superman punch. Second time was unlucky as Owens countered a superplex with a spin-out suplex from the middle rope, getting a near-fall out of it, before a senton bomb saw the champion land on Reigns’ knees.
Owens rolled to the outside as Reigns set-up for a Superman punch, but instead was left prey for the Drive-By apron dropkick… but Owens again rolled to the outside as he looked to avoid his challenger. Another Drive-By failed as Owens rolled away, then followed up with a superkick that placed Reigns onto the German announce table… and we know what usually happens: Frog Splash off the barricade, onto a table that did not break. So they did it again, and this time the table crumpled.
Reigns barely beat the count-out, but rolled into the path of another frog splash for a near-fall, before making another comeback, catching a kick and turning it into a sit-out powerbomb. A spear was countered by a knee to the head as Owens went for, and scored a pop-up powerbomb, only for Reigns to get a leg on the ropes just in time. Yet again, Owens rolled to the outside, as he went to grab his title belt, but the belt shot was interrupted by a spear from Reigns, leaving both men laying.
Of course, that acted as a cue for Chris Jericho to come down, teasing that he’d beat on his “former best friend”, and yes, Jericho dropped Owens with a Codebreaker, and there’s your DQ. A mediocre outing, with a throwaway, Raw-esque finish. **½
After the match, Jericho held Owens’ Universal title in his hand, but then handed it over… it was a ruse all along! There was no falling out, at least in Jericho’s eyes, and Roman got screwed. With Seth Rollins number one contender… what next? Jericho vs. Reigns at the Rumble, or does Roman have to win the Rumble to get another shot? Well, Seth Rollins came out, which led to a spear on Owens by Reigns, as Rollins finished off Jericho with a Pedigree. Jericho then took a Shield-esque powerbomb through the Spanish announce table to send the crowd home happy… but not before Rollins dragged Owens back onto the stage for another powerbomb through the English announce desk. Merry Christmas!
Going into this show, expectations were low. Yet again, WWE overdelivered – which highlighted a problem that the company has had for quite some time. In spite of storylines that can be seen a mile out (Charlotte regaining on PPV yet again, the Owens-Jericho falling out being a ruse…), the in-ring work overshadows this.
Much like how New Japan’s by-the-numbers booking is masked by the wrestling, the same is true here – something which makes these shows palatable for fans like myself who prefer wrestling, but maybe not so much for live crowds like the one in Pittsburgh who were mostly silent for the three-hour card. Maybe that’ll be used as the reason why Reigns yet again got a neutral-to-negative reaction, but it’s still abundantly clear: the WWE fan base do not perceive, nor want, Roman as the top guy. Will the message get through in 2017? Probably not…