Around the Loop: Fantasy Booking vs Reality in Saudi Arabia

Goldberg vs. The Undertaker happened…

Now, let us never speak of it again.

To say that the latest in the ten-year series of controversial, but profitable, super house shows WWE is presenting in Saudi Arabia was less than a “WrestleMania equivalent” would be putting things mildly. They brought the giant screen, Hunter’s motor-tricycle thing, a bunch of extras, a money cannon for Shane, and all the pyro in the world. But, is that all that we are supposed to think of when it comes to the granddaddy of them all? Isn’t wrestling supposed to be part of the deal as well? Now, being fair to the WWE talents, they did put on matches, take bumps, and sweat through the insane Middle Eastern heat throughout the course of Super Showdown but, since none of the matches had any actual consequences, it is hard not to feel flat coming out of the event. This is especially true since we know all the title matches will be repeated at Stomping Grounds in a few short weeks.

Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin both lost their title matches and immediately called their shots for another match with Kofi Kingston and Seth Rollins. Which makes sense, because when a team loses a championship game in “real” pro sports, they immediately get to ask for another championship game, right? Yeah, I know, wrestling… sports entertainment… isn’t real sports, but if there aren’t rules or reasons, then what are we watching happen, and why?

As down on the event as I am, I do want to once again state that there is a positive to all this mess. The crowd may have been a little quiet, but there were happy kids in that sweltering arena having a good time. There was a group of guys that started an “NXT” chant when HHH hit the ring. And, there were the children at a local orphanage that got a visit from Xavier Woods and Big E. Yes, there is a lot of murk and shadiness to WWE taking money from the Saudi government and letting them dictate who can and can’t work. It sucks that the ladies can’t wrestle, and one of these fantasy-booked “legend” matches is going to get someone killed if they don’t stop. But, I firmly believe it is worth dropping the cynicism for just a moment and allow ourselves to appreciate how it felt for some of those fans that got to be there to see the larger-than-life characters of the WWE up close and in person. It doesn’t make everything better, and it is only a moment in part of a larger, deeper discussion, but its a moment worth taking none the less.

My final note on Super Showdown is about the sad mess that was Goldberg versus The Undertaker. I know, I said we should never talk about it again, but I do want to say this: In their prime, an eight-minute match between these two would have been bad. At this point, well past their prime and covered in ring rust, putting two humans, because that’s what wrestlers are, in a position like this was irresponsible on everyone’s part, regardless of how much money was on the table. Another inch on that Jackhammer and the Undertaker would have had a broken neck. Goldberg has a concussion and the Tombstone Piledriver nearly killed him. Letting the Saudi Prince fantasy book Attitude Era matches has had nearly fatal consequences for Goldberg, The Undertaker, and Shawn Michaels. Sending these guys over to please a 90s wrestling mark with a penchant for dismembering journalists is not a sustainable practice.

If only the WWE had a roster bloated enough to field a 50(1) man battle royal that they could draw from to build new stars and attractions, so their best money match doesn’t have to include guys in their fifties almost crippling themselves with botches…

NXT UK is the sleeper wrestling show we all need to get behind

With so much wrestling product out there, and the field about to expand further with AEW going weekly in the fall, a show that deserves our eyeballs is the UK expansion of the NXT brand. It’s a tight, hour-long show that runs after NXT proper and features more or less the same formula as its US counterpart. Multiple weeks are filmed in one shot, so stars appear in one or two segments over a three week programming period. New talents are given a chance in 70/30 competitive matches with established performers. Quirky characters are interviewed backstage to establish motivations. And, most importantly, everyone is there because they want to win championships and they always come back to that in promos. It’s simple stuff, but it works.

In the tag team division, The Grizzled Young Veterans continue to cut old school heel promos and present themselves as top guys. Zack Gibson, the mouthpiece of the duo, is the most hated guy in UK wrestling (“If you hate Gibson, shoes off!”). His mic work is clear, pointed and cutting. No goofy gimmicks, no Icy Hot in his opponent’s tights or back shaving; he’s just a jerk that thinks he’s better than everyone and has a belt to prove it.

This past week saw the crowning of a new number one contender in “The Kiwi Buzzsaw” Travis Banks. Banks won a match, entered a fatal four way, won and now he gets to fight WALTER. Banks will likely be playing the role of the underdog babyface that ultimately falls short to the Ring General, but it is matches like this that make a champion. If the challenger beat someone to get there, the match means something and thus so does the champion going over (*cough* Ziggler title shot. *cough*).

Speaking of the Austrian powerhouse, WALTER now has two wingmen in the form of Aichner and Bartel, creating a third three-man team to vie for power atop the NXT UK landscape. We now have the B I G S T R O N G B O I S of British Strong Style, the burly Scottish badasses of Gallus, and WALTER’S new team of Imperium. One can only hope that one day, we see all three of these groups locked inside a War Games cage. Until then, I look forward to stiff chops, huge pops for the boys from Mustache Mountain, and solid competitive matches with championship consequences for all three teams.

Seriously, if you as a wrestling fan haven’t given NXT UK a chance, I cannot recommend enough that you do so. It’s not as flashy as WWE proper and most of the talents would be undersized by main roster standards. But the action is solid, the work is excellent, and the characters are well defined and compelling. It’s NXT, but with British accents. What could be better than that?

What’s next for Johnny Wrestling?

Top to bottom, you would be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable wrestling show than NXT TakeOver XXV. Each match was hard fought, competitive, and worked with urgency. It felt like the performers came in with a chip on their shoulders and that they wanted to remind the wrestling world just why the black and yellow is so great.

This fighting spirit was most personified by the sensational championship match between Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole that resulted in the Panama City Playboy capturing his first NXT world title.

As big a Johnny Wrestling fan as I am, it stung a bit to see him drop the belt so soon into his reign, but his mixed crowd reactions of late suggest that maybe we are all ready for a little break. Johnny has now appeared in 14 TakeOvers, stealing or coming close to stealing each and every one of them. He is clearly a proud project for HBK and HHH, and there is no denying that he brings the goods each and every time. However, he is also the first of the NXT superstars to emerge as a lifer for the brand, with only a short WWE call-up. Many of his peers (Ricochet, Aleister Black, etc.) have already made the trip to RAW or SmackDown Live. Audience fatigue is a real thing, so I would really like to see Johnny take some time off TV, heal up that knee, and return to the monster pop that only a Full Sail crowd can give him.

Just please, please keep him away from Vince McMahon, who will take one look at him and dump him into the purple purgatory that is 205 Live. Even Johnny Wrestling can’t make that ship float.

So, until the Godfather acknowledges that pimping isn’t actually as challenging as he has previously let on, I’ll see you marks around the loop.

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