In this episode of Wrestling Night in America, PWTorch columnist Greg Parks breaks down both nights of WrestleMania with callers and emailers. Topics include the quality of the Firefly Funhouse match, the decision to put Charlotte over Rhea Ripley, the potential of wrestlers getting more creative freedom in the current environment, and more.
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•Poppy’s Portland Performance – HIT: I’ve never been a fan of live music performances on a wrestling show, unless they are playing a wrestler’s music as they walk to the ring. Poppy actually sucked me into their four- or five-minute performance to kick off Takeover Portland proper.
•Keith Lee (C) vs. Dominic Dijakovic – HIT: If you aren’t going to main event the show, you want to be the first and set the tone. A great decision to start the show with what they knew was going to be an excellent match. Coming into the show tonight, this was the match I was most looking forward to. So I did not complain that we jumped right into it. I loved the build to the match. For the most part, it started as a powerhouse power struggle. In a lot of ways, it was a very stereotypical “big man” match. Slow, but brutal. As the match progressed and the pacing quickened, as did their offense. The strong and powerful moves still played a part throughout the match, but both men were also able to showcase some of their high-flying abilities. Like Dijakovic’s springboard senton to Keith Lee as he was sitting in one of the announcer’s chairs. My only criticism here is that they did not sell the impact of that spot nearly enough. About two minutes later, they were both in the ring in a crazy powerful and fast sequence of moves. Like they were 100% fresh. I can’t be too picky though, because that sequence in particular lead to a kickout by Dijakovic at 2.933 seconds (an estimation, of course). I would have put money on the fact that Lee would have had the win there. But it wasn’t much longer before Lee would be able to secure the victory and retain his championship. Great show of respect by Lee at the end. Part of me wanted to see Dijakovic turn on him and beat him down to continue the feud. But this was a feel good and wholesome moment, and I’ll always take me a great and organic feeling wholesome moment any day.
•Tegan Nox vs. Dakota Kai in a Street Fight – HIT: Wow. In a PG environment, this is how a Street Fight should look. There was a fair amount of weapon use, but they didn’t rely on weapons to get themselves over. They weaved them into spots throughout the match and made them as impactful as they could. For example, when Nox put the trash can over Kai’s head as she was in a sitting position outside the ring and delivered a Shining Wizard. Or when Kai duct taped Nox’s hand to the ring post. As an IT Professional, in my opinion, I would like to tell the timekeeper to buy a new laptop. It looked like an older model Lenovo, and most warranties don’t cover accidental or intentional damage. However, it did make for a pretty cool weapon. See if Nox’ll sign it after the match and throw it on eBay. I was not expecting to see Raquelle Gonzales come to Kai’s defense and cost Nox the match. The audience was just as confused as Dakota Kai was as Gonzales raised her hand after the pinfall. I’m totally fine with the screwy finish here as long as it prolongs the Kai/Nox feud.
•Finn Balor vs Johnny Gargano – ½ HIT: The build to this match really didn’t have as much sizzle as I would have liked. NXT is usually pretty good with builds to high profile matches, but this didn’t really connect with either myself or my two counterparts on the PWTorch Dailycast, PWT Talks NXT. I’m the type of wrestling fan where a good story is real integral to how I perceive and enjoy a match. Where I wasn’t super invested in the story, I did find myself struggling to keep my focus on the match periodically throughout. I felt like the crowd may have felt the same way, as they weren’t quite as electric as I’d think the NXT brass would have hoped during some of the mid-points of the match. But, I must admit that they did hook me back in at the end, so I can’t give it a full miss. No doubt that this match was filled with athleticism, technical prowess and talent. But I just wasn’t invested in the feud which made it hard for me to get into the match.
•Rhea Ripley vs. Bianca Belair – HIT: I have grown to become such a fan of Belair’s over the past handful of months and Ripley has secured her spot as my favorite female competitor on the NXT roster. The announce team were really putting Bianca Belair over strong, almost to the point that I felt like she was the champion already. Not that she doesn’t deserve the praise, but she’s supposed to be the heel and they were touting her accolades like she was an up and coming babyface. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see her move up to the main roster and turn face, and maybe this is just a little trial run for that. It’s hard to root against a strong black woman with “Making Black History” patterned all over her attire, so I did not feel like she was positioned as a heel since the moment she walked through the curtain and into the arena. Her parents were ringside and acknowledged by commentary. All of a sudden, my prediction of “There’s no way Ripley loses” seemed like it may be in jeopardy. This was Bianca’s match to shine in. Rhea Ripley, at least in my eyes, is already a star in the making, if not already crossed that threshold to star. Bianca came off as such a credible threat to Ripley’s title, I genuinely began to believe she might actually win. I think this was so masterfully executed. Ripley retained her title and Bianca Belair’s stock was raised tenfold even in her loss. As I expected, after Ripley’s win, Charlotte attacked and announced that she picked Rhea’s NXT Championship to challenge for at WrestleMania. Then, she attacked Belair. That attack to Belair pretty much secured it for me. I’m predicting it now. Belair is added to their match at WrestleMania.
•Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish) vs. The Broserweights – HIT:Well, it was fun while it lasted. But the Broserweights entrance tonight officially marked the moment where the gimmick jumped the shark… Or should I say that it “jumped the Bobby Fish”? Not only did Riddle inorganically try to get a “How much fish could Bobby Fish fry if Bobby Fish could fry fish?” chant going, the crowd didn’t seem to be behind it either. Then, the dreaded “Words on the screen” returned with the words to the chant. Complete with a bouncing, karaoke-style fish that landed on each word as it was meant to be said. On top of that, the video wall graphics morphed into a cartoon fish with a Bobby Fish head, chanting along. Matt Riddle was manhandling Undisputed Era so badly, I daydreamed a little bit about him actually retiring Brock Lesnar. Where parts of this match felt more like a Tornado Tag rather than your traditional tag team contest, I loved the level of teamwork shown by both teams throughout. Especially during that dual-submission spot towards the end of the match. Even though I may not have liked their entrance, I was over the moon by the time they stripped Undisputed Era of their Tag Team gold. What a phenomenal performance by all involved.
•Adam Cole vs. Tommaso Ciampa – HIT : Going into this match, I really hadn’t come up with any sort of prediction as to who would win. Though, odds tipped in Ciampa’s favor after seeing KOR & Fish lose the NXT Tag Titles in the last match. I figured if UE were going to lose their gold, having it happen in one night may make for some good television going forward. As far as the match goes, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Cole or Ciampa match that wasn’t great or better and this was no exception. These two ring veterans put on one hell of a match and really played up the surgically repaired neck of Ciampa. At multiple points in the match, I cringed and winced as I watched Ciampa’s neck in potential jeopardy. Never once did they lose the crowd and the false finishes garnered such an emotional response from the audience. I can’t gush enough about this match. They pulled out all the stops and pulled me in every second of the bout. My only gripe was the finish. I feel like Ciampa and Gargano have reached El Generico/Sami Zayn and Kevin Steen/Owens level of “We’re friends!” “We’re bitter enemies”. But, their feud was the hottest thing of 2018 so if it’s reignited and done well, I can’t gripe too much.