PWTorch editor Wade Keller presents a special Thursday Flagship edition of the Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast featuring a WrestleMania 36 Preview with ex-WWE Creative Team member and professional stand-up comedian Matt McCarthy.
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ELI DRAKE VS. KEN ANDERSON – MISS: So for much of the lead up to this match (as well as with most of the NWA feuds so far), it never seemed apparent who is heel and who is face. When the entrances began and Eli Drake had music and came through the crowd, I thought I was right! Drake IS babyface! But then, Ken Anderson came out through the crowd and turned out that all entranced took this same path. So much for figuring out heel/face dynamics from entrances.
As a match, there’s very little to write home about. I was fixated on just how bloated Ken Anderson looked though; his belly hung over his trunks and folded the Anderson lettering over onto itself. He didn’t look good at all. I also felt this match went too long by a few minutes and I don’t even know how long it went. Had it gone longer, Ken would’ve completely blown up. Oof, not a good start.
The crowd seemed to be all in on Eli Drake, cheering his name during entrances and celebrations, but to quote the great Todd Martin, “It was a match.” Eli went over in a drop down after what looked we’d get a superplex (because Eli ran from catty-corner and jumped straight to the top rope and headlocked with ease), then it looked like Ken would counter with a powerbomb, and instead we got Drake just sitting on him and grabbing the legs. Weak finish, weak match, right guy went over at least.
NICK ALDIS/JAMES STORM with DAVE MARQUEZ – HIT: Nick Aldis came to the podium in wrestling attire and looking like a man worthy of the 10 pounds of gold. He talks about how the NWA was dead, a relic, but it’s back thanks to all of us and the crowd is red hot for the National Treasure. (Side note: Is Nick Aldis a national treasure for England or the four home nations that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? I need answers.) Marquez asks about Kamille but Aldis shakes him off reminding us of she’s got the night off, no excuses for this match.
James Storm then comes out from house right as Nick Aldis moves house left and stands next to Marquez, and he does his usual babyface spirited promo. So, like I said before, heel/face dynamic, who the hell knows. He says he’s a tough hombre and he will be announced as new World’s Champ and that Marquez will even say he’s sorry about Aldis’ damn luck.
It was short but effective. Two parties fighting over one belt, and they were face to face. A good trope that we don’t see too much anymore.
TASHA STEELZ VS THUNDER ROSA – HIT: Tasha walks down the stairs really engaging with the audience and it’s clear she’s a babyface when she calls herself a litany of nicknames all centered around her being of (Afro) Puerto Rican heritage and thus she’s spicy. Okay, that’s a miss but it’s a small miss. Thunder Rosa came out after and her facials were perfect. It was obvious she had no interest in this match and her body language suggested that this is beneath her, let’s get this over with and go home already.
Rosa controlled the overwhelming majority of this match and did it with dastardly offence like choking Steelz out against the ropes, kicks to the head in disgust, and wiping her feet in Steelz’ face while Tasha was in the tree of woe.
Thunder Rosa went over with a double stomp from the top rope to the back of Steelz, and it was the right call. Thunder Rosa is a good heel, and she’s gonna be a huge babyface but we’re not there yet. We saw enough offense from Tasha Steelz in her NWA debut to know she’s got the talent, but unlike AEW, they didn’t need to go 50/50 for 14 minutes. Fine match, nothing too special, but we got a new woman to a short roster and reinvigorated the heel portrayal of Thunder Rosa, especially post match when she executed a huge shoulder breaker on Ashley Vox, who attempted to save Steelz from further humiliation.
QUESTION MARK VS. TREVOR MURDOCH – HIT: The story of why this thing is a hit is in the pre-match. The match, Question Mark goes over via double Mongrovian Spike after Trevor Murdoch grabs the Mongrovian flag and throws it on the ground. What? Oh, what Mongrovian flag?! Yeah, let’s get to that.
Question Mark comes to the ring accompanied by Aron Stevens in full karate getup with a flag to this really cheesy 70s blaxploitation sounding music and it’s great. Stu Bennett puts over Question Mark as a grandmaster in Mongrovian karate as well as the 1998 acapella champ of Mongrovia, which makes me wonder if Question Mark was ever on Eurovision and if so, where is that footage because I need it.
Aron Stevens performs a Mongrovian flag celebration, in which a yellow and black flag is revealed with a question mark in the center third, an aardvark in the first third and like an emu or something in the final third. So Question Mark doesn’t just wear the punctuation in mask for no reason! It’s a matter of national pride! And Question Mark also sang the Mongrovian national anthem in true Nikolai Volkoff fashion–almost. There were no words! Question Mark stood in the center of the ring and growled out some noises to a melody ACAPELLA, hit a pregnant pause, and began again over top of the crowd cheering him. It was the stuff of legends.
The match was fine. To quote Todd again, “It was a match.” But it was the hijinx before and the Question Mark masked flag holder at ringside that made this segment a big hit.
NWA TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH: ROCK & ROLL EXPRESS VS. THE WILD CARDS – HUGE MISS: Okay, I don’t want to take up much space with this match because it wouldn’t be nice to Ricky and Robert. During entrances, the babyfaces came out with Homicide and Eddie Kingston as insurance and the Wild Cards came out with the Dawsons as insurance. Not sure why heels would need more heels as insurance but whatever. Another thing of note was the outfits; Ricky and Robert wore their 1986 Starrcade attire (hit), and the Wild Cards ditched their Satanic imagery cloaked kilts for tights with an ugly Uno card on one hip and their first names on their other leg. Thanks, Wild Cards, because although I still have no idea which is which, y’all tried. I’ll continue to refer to you two as 70s Porn and Long Hair.
That’s the good part. Now the rest.
Shenanigans was the story of the match as we needed to keep the titles on the sexagenarian tag team while making it somewhat believable. What we got instead was mistimed spots, a Canadian Destroyer that seemed to have Ricky taking the bump instead, and a spot that had 70s Porn run the ropes while hopping over Robert and Long Hair and then Long Hair popping up and running into 70s Porn and somewhere we got a pinfall after a double dropkick that we never actually saw. Yeesh.
Right choice to keep the belts on R&R because the heat that the Dawsons will get when they manhandle those geezers is going to be scorching. But this whole thing sucked.
ELI DRAKE W/ MARQUEZ – HIT: The crowd, much like myself, really loves Eli promos. And we all should because what he may lack in the ring, he more than makes up for on the microphone. He can talk you into a fight, even one you don’t really want to see, like the curtain jerker on this show. This was all about two things; one was setting Eli up as the next challenger to Aldis (or Storm) and the other was Ken Anderson attacking him from behind and turning completely heel after Pillmanizing Drake’s neck against the ring post and performing a Mic Check onto an chair. It was a vicious attack that really made Ken somewhat interesting and that Eli Drake sold in the aftermath very well. Obviously we’re going to get this match again and maybe Ken can get in better shape or cardio at least, but this segment generated enough buzz to make me not totally rule out a rematch with a good grudge match stipulation.
ALLYSIN KAY/ODB VS MELINA/MARTI BELLE – MISS ALL AROUND: If you told me Lagana, Corgan, and whomever else are in the braintrust at NWA never knew this match was happening (even though they announced it weeks ago) and were caught off guard when all these women showed up talking about a match, I’d believe it. So first it was any combination of Melina, Rosa, and Belle. Then it quickly became Melina and either Rosa or Belle. Then it was Belle for sure because Rosa would fight the debuting Tasha Steelz. So we already had three switches in two weeks from a show that was taped over a month ago. Okay, fine. Then Ashley Vox, who had been a key cog in all of this for every episode almost, was taken out by Thunder Rosa in a match earlier tonight for the fourth change. And then it was revealed, by Dave Marquez as a “surprise” to all of us AND ALLYSIN KAY WHO IS IN THE WOMEN’S LOCKER ROOM WITH ALL THE WOMEN, that ODB is now her partner.
The highlights were the first minutes when Allysin Kay was just beating Marti Belle from pillar to post (as she should per storyline of former besties), Marti Belle wore the same Dominican Republic Caribbean Series I have (de lo mio represent!), and Melina barely wrestled. The last part should be a miss because she’s a legend! All we heard for weeks was how legendary Melina is and she barely wrestled and when she did it was messed up spots and bad timing anyway.
In the end, ODB won over Marti Belle and to me, that made no sense. The obvious call was going to be Melina going over Kay to set up a title match and instead neither Melina nor Kay were involved in the pinfall, which is odd because the babyface team won and the dang blasted Women’s Champion wasn’t in on the pin. Huge miss, NWA.
CO-MAIN EVENT, NWA NATIONAL TITLE MATCH – COLT CABANA VS. RICKY STARKS VS ARON STEVENS (W/ QUESTION MARK) – HUGE HIT, HUGE: I am eating so much crow tonight because Aron Stevens was in the match of the night, played his role beautifully, and escaped as the new National Champion.
This was a match told in segments of one on one action really as Aron Stevens took powders but they were conveniently told as he deliberately went out of the ring to hide and bide time. In the meanwhile it was a lot of Starks vs Cabana and that just made me want to see that match. We got a beautiful segment of the match where Starks really cinched in a tight octopus hold on Cabana that was broken up and turned into Cabana putting Starks in the Billy Goat’s Curse which was broken up after Ricky Starks clawed to the rope and bit it for a break! Just a really good sequence with a great visual.
There were times the two babyfaces ganged up on Stevens only to then have one attack the other, and even times where Stevens dropped the comedy and went all in on hard hitting offense on Ricky Starks and isolating Cabana from getting back in the ring. He really performed greatly in this match, Stevens did, with knowing how to go on the attack with intensity to then showing cowardice and hiding while waiting for moments to sneak back in.
Unfortunately, the finish wasn’t quite seen as Cabana went for a Superman pin on Starks but flew too far and his upper body was past the ropes and Question Mark gave him the Spike. Some point after this, Stevens came back into the ring and pinned the prone Starks and took off with the National Title.
Really good match with a lot of good to really good one on one action as all the pieces rotated with believability. I do want to see a Starks-Cabana program and I thought the title made more sense on the cocky-or-confident Starks, but I’m intrigued to see where this goes with Stevens as champ and his companion, Question Mark, possibly looming as a challenger.
MAIN EVENT FOR THE NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP – NICK ALDIS VS JAMES STORM, TWO OUT OF THREE FALLS – NEUTRAL: In a nutshell, this was on the verge of being overbooked and reminiscent of 1998 WCW in its finish. Reading that together suggests a miss, but there were strongpoints to keep it from being so and just leveling it at solidly neutral. I really can’t lean a single degree in either direction on this match.
For in-ring action, this match was a bit of a clusterbang. There were a few timing issues between Cowboy and Aldis, none greater than how Aldis won the second fall in a roll-up that countered a roll-up but wasn’t crisp and looked like nobody had their shoulders down and everyone had their shoulders down. I told you, it was a bit of a cluster.
The first fall ended in short fashion, but I didn’t mind it because Kamille came out as a distraction but to Nick Aldis, who fell to the Last Shot superkick and gave Storm the 1-0 lead. I thought Bennett was great all night but really went full Bobby Heenan because he was sure Kamille was coming out in cahoots with Aldis and didn’t trust anything. It worked enough for me.
The second fall involved that weird finish and a couple slow counts from Tim Storm, who was referee because Aldis chose him for the second fall after Storm chose Brian Hebner. What I did like about this second fall segment was there was an old Attitude Era main event walk-and-brawl through the audience and outside the ring that culminated in Cowboy slamming Aldis’ head on the podium that held the 10 pounds of gold. Lovely poetry in how that was laid out. In a night where most action was inside the ring and has been since Power has been around, going outside made this match feel more personal. We did also get some more clairty on whether James is babyface or not when he brought a chair into the ring but was persuaded not to use it and gave it to acting referee Tim Storm.
The third fall segment is where this match fell apart. It was crowded with beautifully believable near falls for both combatants, but after a ref bump to Hebner (who won a coin toss to officiate the final fall in this almost overbooked match), Tim Storm eventually decided to act as referee again. Aldis retained his title after removing the turnbuckle pad and sending Cowboy headfirst into the steel and then wrapping his legs up in a Texas Cloverleaf. Cowboy Storm never tapped out as he was out cold from the turnbuckle post, so that protected him for a future title shot, and the removal of the padding blurred the line of is Aldis good or not. I love how his character never fully reveals itself; he works both sides so well and often can do so in the same promo, in the same sentence, and in the same match. I can’t sing his praises enough as he is truly carrying the NWA banner almost completely. In short, decent match that had its issues, the right guy went over, and Cowboy was protected and sent off as a hero from the standing ovation from the crowd. Perfectly neutral overall, if you ask me.
POST MATCH ALDIS W/ MARQUEZ – HIT?: Aldis heads to the podium with Dave after the match and celebrates the NWA and the fans for making this all come together and says that it’s wrestling for the NWA that gives the performers purpose in a crazy world. He also toots his own horn lifting Sweet Charlotte in the air victoriously as still the champ when that stupid ass trope of the lights going out occurs… WAIT! THAT’S MARTY SCURLL’S MUSIC! The Villain is here! Aldis and Scurll go toe to toe in the ring but with Scurll showing no fear and Aldis showing all fear, or maybe shock instead. Aldis walks out the ring slowly as Marty panders to the crowd and that’s our show.
Oh no it isn’t! Marquez is now with Marty Scurll at the podium. Marty says, “So this is the NWA!”
That’s it. That’s all he said. The feed ended right there. So I reckon this would be a hit, it was as the credit kyron showed, but who knows what Marty would have said.
OVERALL – 50.5% HIT: If we put hit and miss on a percentage scale, hit being from 50.0000001 to 100 and miss being from 0 to 49.99999999, this is just barely a hit. 50.5% sounds fine. We got a really fun three way dance told in a way that made sense and seemed kind of tongue-in-cheek on three way dances as a whole and that’s a hit. We got the debut of new women to a shallow women’s roster and that’s a hit. We got some clear delineation on some wrestlers in regards to heel or face. We got Question Mark in an excellent segment. There were things to like about the show, but unfortunately, the wrestling was lacking often and some of the booking decisions were uninspired or outright confusing. And they’ve got another PPV in six weeks. Yikes. Would I rewatch this show? No. But I would recommend it to someone who hasn’t seen it yet but i’d temper expectations.