It’s that time of year again. Pumpkins line the streets. Fake cobwebs are everywhere. Men in colorful tights lock themselves in a big cage to let out the monsters inside them and fight for the souls of the WWE Universe. In my first monthly WWE pay-per-view review, I’ll tell you which matches to watch and which to avoid like Big Boss Man carrying a plate of suspicious meat.
Dolph Ziggler vs Antonio Cesaro
What a great way to start the show. Ziggler and Cesaro are pound for pound the most underutilized superstars in WWE. This is exactly what you want in an opener. The Showoff and the Swiss Sensation maintain high energy across multiple pinfalls and build to the high spots in a way that makes it look easy. Goosing the audience with a slight surprise by not going to three falls wraps up the match nicely. You couldn’t ask for a more promising beginning.
Nikki Bella vs Brie Bella
What would a pay-per-view be without filler? As long as the Bellas are around, you’ll never have to know.
Goldust and Stardust vs The Usos
The Dust Brothers and the Usos are both really solid tag teams, but they can only carry the whole division for so long (see also: AJ vs Paige). There’s nothing wrong with the match, but outside of a few fresh moments (Stardust’s matching winning illegal butt kick had a crude stiffness that looked pleasantly unstaged), this is nothing we haven’t seen before.
John Cena vs Randy Orton
The other day I talked about the secret appeal of John Cena. Today, I’d like to talk about Randy Orton. He’s not a good wrestler. There is no other way to describe him, but there is a unique tragedy in the way that Randy Orton is not a good wrestler. I always get the sense that he is trying really, really hard to be the wrestler Vince McMahon wants you to believe he is. He’s done the research, he know what makes a good match, and he can hit those beats like a swiss clock. He knows when to antagonize the crowd, he knows when to punch the mat, and he knows when to do his compulsory “out of nowhere” RKO. And he has absolutely zero charisma. He’s got less personality than a glass of milk. Looking at Randy Orton for one second feels like staring at a blank wall for five hours. Cena’s a great straight man. His talent lies in enhancing the personality of his opponent to bring a great match out of them. So what happens when Cena the straight man goes up against Randy the robot? You get a something with all the trappings of a great match on paper that looks like two AIs in 2k15 in practice.
Sheamus vs Miz
How long will it before we decide to cut our losses with Sheamus? He’s better now than he was two years ago and he was better then than he was two years before that, but even after all that improvement, he’s not quite there. It’s not a good sign that Damien Sandow can put on a better show by himself outside the ring than the two competitors in the ring. It’s time WWE stopped screwing around and let him feud with Miz for the US title.
Rusev vs Big Show
Ah, xenophobia in wrestling. It’s a tradition that goes back to the very beginning of the business. Part of me wants to just enjoy this for the throwback that it is, but rampant jingoism isn’t as palatable today as it was when Sgt. Slaughter was protecting our sports arenas from the insidious influence of the Iron Sheik. Ditching Lana’s pro-Putin promos in favor of Rusev attacking an American serviceman only makes it worse. It feels like they’re toning down the ridiculous elements and making it more realistic as a way of legitimately pushing a repulsive philosophy. On top of that, Big Show and Rusev aren’t the most compelling pair in the ring.
AJ Lee vs Paige
AJ and Paige are both very talented wrestlers. They are also the only really talented women wrestlers who perform for WWE with any kind of regularity. There are so many great women killing it on the independent circuit (Candice LeRae, anyone?). It’s a damn shame to see all that talent go to waste.
Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose
Now we’re talking. Whatever happened in the middle of the show immediately faded from memory as soon as this match started. The match starts with Dean Ambrose, kendo stick on his back, throwing chair after chair into the ring. He doesn’t stop there. He pulls a table and a bag of miscellaneous implements of destruction out from under the ring too. Huge raises in stake were being made right out of the gate and already I was reminded of Mick Foley’s iconic Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring 1998. The tribute didn’t end there. Ambrose leaves the Cell, shouts, “We’re all gonna die tonight” and climbs to the top! Rollins follows him up and the tension is incredible. When Foley took his falls from the top of the fifteen foot cell, it was the craziest thing anyone had ever seen in a wrestling match. It was the kind of event that was amazing to see exactly one time. Watching Rollins and Ambrose on the top of that cage was legitimately terrifying. I knew they didn’t plan on jumping from the top, but man, does that chain link look flimsy. When they fell from halfway down the cage, it was not only a huge relief, but also exhilarating in its own right. Then, just like in ‘98, a full length, fantastic match came after the drop. We are watching two of the next great wrestlers at the top of their game. The match could have ended in traditional pinfall or submission and that would have been great. No sane fan could have gone home dissatisfied. But it didn’t end that way. Ambrose is getting ready to curb stomp Rollins face into the cinder blocks when the lights go out. Incantations are read and when the lights come back on a GHOST floats in the middle of the ring, menacing Dean Ambrose and allowing Bray Wyatt to land his finisher, ending the match in Rollins favor. Now, the ghost was a hologram, but I sincerely hope that within the story of WWE it was a real ghost. One of the company’s biggest problems in the last few years is its ill-fated quest for legitimacy. For a time, it seemed like they were trying to convince us that wrestling was UFC. This was a throwback to a time when the Undertaker received regenerative bursts of energy from Satan and it was perfect.