Best: Dolph Ziggler Enters The Kumite
One of the most surprising parts of the show for me was the sudden awesomeness of Alexander Rusev, a SHOOT BULGARIAN~ who hasn’t really shown up (besides a random loss to Bo Dallas back in May) since the FCW days.
If you haven’t seen him, Rusev looks a lot like the sumo guy from Bloodsport, has a Muay Thai background (which is code for “walks around the ring with his hands in the air and sometimes throws kicks” in WWE Speak), brings a board with his opponent’s name on it to the ring and BREAKS it when he’s ready to break them. When you attend the live show and they’re all SPECIAL GUEST DOLPH ZIGGLER, SPECIAL GUEST DOLPH ZIGGLER EVERYONE, DOLPH ZIGGLER’S COMIN’ UP LATER STICK AROUND and he’s facing a guy who is barely ever on television, you think it’s gonna be a quick squash and that’s gonna be that.
What we got was the OPPOSITE of that, and I loved it. Rusev is a MONSTER. If wrestling needs anything, it needs a bad-ass fat martial arts guy. His offense is wonderful, from that fallaway slam where he holds you against the ropes and knees your ribs to shit (and its finish, which is “dump that motherf**ker over the top to the floor”) to his attempt at a top-rope splash (!!), Rusev won me over more than any new NXT guy NOT accompanied by a streaming video gimmick. I want to see more of him. NXT needs a new Big E Langston, and I’m down for it being Bul E Garian.
I’m also really happy to see Ziggler wrestling the kind of babyface match we never get to see him wrestle on Raw. This is what he should be doing. Showing off, getting caught doing it, showing resilience and coming back with his quickness and smarts. And lots of dropkicks. This helped me remember why I liked Ziggler in the first place. Distraction losses and ratchet title runs do not.
Best: And Now, Your WWE Match Of The Year
I can’t say enough about the Antonio Cesaro vs. Sami Zayn 2-out-of-3 falls match. I can’t. I’ve been talking it up for a month on social media, and I hope you take the time to watch it yourself, and not just rely on that awkward 3-minute Hulu Plus clip and word of mouth.
Watching it live was special. The feeling in the crowd was electric. Not that “THIS IS E-LECTRIC” Michael Cole kind of electric. Actual electricity. Hairs standing up on our arms. We knew it was going to be a great match, because shit, why wouldn’t it be, but what we got was so far beyond our expectations we couldn’t handle it. Listen to the crowd during the last 8 minutes of the match. Listen to those “match of the year” chants. Those are sincere. I’m one of those voices, and while I can’t speak for everyone yelling it, I was screaming MATCH OF THE YEAR as loud as I could so Cesaro, Zayn, and anyone who signs their paychecks would hear it and know it.
The opening video package adds to the feeling. We didn’t get that, obviously. The first 30 seconds of the match are more exciting than things you see on pay-per-views, and on top of that, it all made sense. Zayn knows he’s physically outmatched but STILL underestimated, so he goes for the gold immediately, taking out Cesaro with the most powerful bombs he can throw and getting a flash pin. He tries to keep that going, but as soon as Cesaro takes control, he TAKES CONTROL. By this point, we’re hopping up and down on our seats, popping for chinlocks because the wrestlers have made them MATTER. By the time Cesaro’s swinging Zayn around by his neck and squatting over him trying to twist his head off, we’re like, “shit, that’s gotta be it.” And it is.
That leads to a finale as good as any I’ve seen. It’s got a nice mixture of callbacks to their previous matches (the Yoshi Tonic counter) and things WWE audiences have never seen. The tornado DDT through the ring ropes is the big one. El Generico used to do that all the time, but Zayn’s never pulled it out, and it was one of those things you thought WWE would just quietly remove from his matches, like the top rope brainbuster. When Cesaro rolled to the outside and Zayn rolled out diagonally, my brain started subconsciously screaming DUDE, DUDE, and by the time Cesaro started standing up I started violently nudging my friend Ariana, yelling HE’S GONNA DO THE DDT, OH MY GOD HE’S GONNA DO THE DDT. And then BOOM. WWE audiences have seen a move that makes me go “how the f**king f**k did he do that” every single time he does it.
It all builds to the finish, and what a finish it was.
Worst: Alex Riley Should Really Stop Namedropping The Miz
Oh, before we write up the finish, yo Alex Riley, I know the only thing you’ve ever done is “know the Miz,” but nobody gives a shit about you and the Miz. Stop trying to work that into every conversation.
“Cesaro with a chinlock! This could be it!”
“That reminds me of the time I broke away from the Miz and locked chins with him! So I know about chinlocks!”
“OH MY GOD WHAT AN AMAZING TORNADO DDT”
“ONE TIME MIZ TOLD ME NOT TO DO A TORNADO DDT AND I WAS LIKE SCREW YOU DUDE BUT NO HE WAS RIGHT I SHOULD NOT DO TORNADO DDTS”
Bring back William Regal. Or Maddox. Or anybody.
Best: A Finish I Will Never Forget
The power of the match for me is that I’ve seen El Generico and Claudio Castagnoli have great matches before, and what they did here trumped all of it. The tornado DDT through the ropes is a great example, because as cool as it is in an armory, it becomes LEGENDARY when WWE fans can see it, tell their friends about it and build folk stories about how great this guy is as he rises to the top. That’s what’s happening with Bray Wyatt on Raw right now. He hasn’t been great off a microphone, but he’s got so much good will and NO NO NO WE SWEAR HE’S AMAZING built up he can coast on shitty R-Truth squashes for another six months without fail.
Another example is the finish, where Cesaro stops a Zayn DDT and counters it in Swiss Death. I’ve seen them do that in Ring of Honor before, right? But here, two things make it more important:
1. The tornado DDT out of the corner is Zayn’s finish, not just a move he does. So when we’re 20 minutes into a 2-out-of-3 falls match and Zayn goes for it, he’s going for his last big move of the night. Make or break. Live or die. If he hits it, it’s over, and he proves Cesaro wrong. If he doesn’t … well, he’s probably toast.
2. They almost messed it up. That’s what’s so special about this move. Cesaro was just supposed to pull him up out of the stalled DDT position and hurl him into the air in one motion. That’s how they’ve done it before. Something went wrong, though, and Cesaro lost control on the way up … but he’s SO F**KING STRONG that he was able to steady himself and keep Zayn in the air Dirty Dancing style until he could get his footing. So a guy walks around WITH A GROWN MAN HELD OVER HIS HEAD WITHOUT ANY ASSISTANCE WHATSOEVER, then squats and f**king LAUNCHES him into the air for the Swiss Death. Instead of a “whoaaa … OHH!” reaction, you get “whoaaa .. ooooh … OOOH, OH GOD, OH GOD, WHOA, OH SHIIIIT YOU’RE DEAD, YOU’RE DEAD.” Even the announcers start losing their shit here, which they NEVER do in NXT. Alex Riley even lost THE MIZ’s shit.
I will never forget the experience of seeing this match live. I urge every single person reading to try to get to a live NXT taping, or … hell, don’t. Stay at home and pirate it or whatever so we can keep it to a comfortable few-hundred people losing their minds at the greatest wrestling on the planet and never let it grow too big. But know who these men and women are, support them, and learn to love wrestling again. Because wrestling is pretty goddamn great sometimes.