The pressure was on in Chicago and not just at the United Center with the Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinal. Over at the Allstate Arena, World Wrestling Entertainment faced pressure of their own. With the success of NXT Takeover, the focus of WWE's main roster was to not be upstaged by their developmental brethren. The first match of the pay-per-view broadcast delivered for the most part. A match for the United States title, Sheamus and Cesaro traded high impact moves and blows. With Cesaro's momentum in full, well, swing, he spun Sheamus in the air for over twenty seconds in another of many impressive feats of strength for the Swiss Superman. Unfortunately, following this apex of the match, the rug got pulled out from under us all when Sheamus rolled Cesaro up in a a small package for the win, retaining the title. The crowd was in the know, however, because they saw that Cesaro is an ascending talent that is on the verge of main event status. He has the skills in the ring and now he has the mouthpiece in Paul Heyman. He'll be in the world title hunt within months.
WWE booking in PPVs has been curious as far as running order. Last month, they booked the Divas title match in between the first Shield/Evolution battle and the Daniel Bryan/Kane WWE World Heavyweight championship bout. Curiously, they start with Cesaro/Sheamus and then follow up with Cody Rhodes and Goldust against Ryback and Curtis Axel (two guys that generate zero heat as heels). The match itself wasn't bad but it was appropriately brief. Clearly, this was just a time filler, despite the theatrics with the brothers afterward. As a side note, what is the point of Goldust if he isn't being sexually confusing to his opponents.
For the first time since being called up to the main roster, Rusev faced someone who could challenge him physically. For the first time in a while, Big E faced someone that fans preferred him to. Something had to give. After a few heavy shots to each other, E ends up like the rest, tapping beneath the weight of the Accolade. This one could have benefited from being a longer fight. Instead it was some surprisingly entertaining filler. But that's what happens when you don't have a World title match on the card.
Next, the most recent promotion in the organization gets a chance on his first PPV. Jerry “the King” Lawler made an excellent point that perhaps a guy, in Bo Dallas,with two main roster matches under his belt doesn't really deserve a spot on a PPV. Kofi Kingston, who deserves better than being a squash victim, should have a prominent role on a PPV. Having Kane come out and lay Kofi out so Bo can try and get his catch phrase over isn't the best use of a superior talent.
Rob Van Dam and Bad News Barrett is a classic example of two performers going in opposite directions. RVD is one of the greatest in-ring entertainers of all-time but what made him great was his unpredictability and recklessness. With WWE in PG, Van Dam's style is neutered and extremely limited, rather than just being extreme. Just once, it would be nice to see him do something we haven't seen a million times. Maybe he's just run out of ideas after 25 years in the business. Barrett has been a World champ before but this Bad News gimmick has the longest legs of anything he's tried to-date. After all, BNB had a match against Rey Mysterio a month or so ago and that may have been the first time Rey has ever been jeered. As a long time RVD fan, it hurts to say that this match was hindered by Van Dam aside from his slingshot DDT leading to a flurry at the end. This culminated in BNB hitting a wicked Bull Hammer elbow. There aren't enough realistic single shot finishers but the Bull Hammer definitely looks like it could take your head off.
WWE has done an excellent job in Chicago of dealing with the CM Punk chants. Punk's own friend Paul Heyman even reminded the crowd that Punk was watching his beloved Blackhawks 17 miles away. Stephanie McMahon even offhandedly called him a quitter. As much as the company misses Punk's presence, they have handled the situation nicely. Though the company's current top draw, Daniel Bryan, is on the sidelines, they even made a good use of him and gave his wife, Brie Bella, her first significant moment since coming to WWE as she slapped the taste out of the mouth of Stephanie. Stephanie sold it wonderfully as her face shifted from smug superiority to shaken, scurrying victim.
Mick Foley said it best weeks ago when he said he was over John Cena's shtick. The legend said that Cena always seemed like he was out to “sell me something”. Sure enough, there was Cena facing yet another up-and-comer that has already usurped his popularity (among non- 12-and-under girls) in Bray Wyatt, holding a little towel or something with yet another slogan. Wyatt's influence isn't the only thing that grows with each appearance. His sheer in-ring ability gets more and more captivating. He's unique blend of strength and quickness, impressive for a man his size. He is so violently fluid.
To Cena's credit, he takes some crazy bumps but he is Rocky Maivia good guy milquetoast. It's unclear what anyone should connect with outside of the bright colors he wears. Like the song he sings, Bray has the whole WWE universe in his hands. A master of ring psychology already, he has the potential to be a more athletic version of Mick Foley. Perhaps this is why the hardcore legend feels the way he does about Cena. This match, though, marked a turning point for the franchise. Cena had to show a new ruthlessness. You don't suffer the series of indignities he has without being angry enough to throw steel steps into the face of Wyatt. That was one of those OMG moments that WWE loves so much. So shocking was it that the cameras and commentaries largely missed Wyatt hitting Cena with Sister Abigail on the floor.
Even though the involvement of Luke Harper and Erick Rowan threatened to lessen the impact of the match, it was their fighting with the Usos that gave Cena and Wyatt much needed breathers. It was like having a bonus match in the middle of the match. Harper and the Usos are also excellent young performers and any excuse to get them some action is a good one. The last moments of the match were just back-to-back titanic thuds. Even though it was a Last Man Standing match, it's hard to believe the limits Cena was pushed to both physically and mentally. If this rivalry keeps going, topping this chapter is going to be extremely difficult as this may be both men's finest hour. Too bad Cena took his victory lap as another opportunity to hock his wares.
No offense to Paige and Alicia Fox but there is absolutely no way that this clash should follow the Cena/Wyatt match. Even though it's a Divas title match, there was certain to be a letdown. That being said, the ladies were game. Even at only 21, champion Paige is the best female wrestler in the WWE to come along since Natalya. Fox, a former champion, had been largely forgotten until recently. She is certainly more capable than most of the Divas roster. Her moves have a crispness and physicality. Had this been on earlier in the night, the crowd certainly would have reacted stronger despite the rushed ending. Once again, the Divas suffer from poor booking as this is another bout that deserved more time, and not just for Alicia's tantrum (funny as it was).
The main event, and what should have been last month's main event, was next. First thought, what is Batista wearing? This is how he wants the WWE Universe to remember him while he's on hiatus? Moving on. The match is, essentially, a six-man Survivor Series bout. What makes it great is that after each man is eliminated, the complexion of the match changes completely. It would be awhile for the first man down. For a match in this era, it was brutal and in the best way. Evolution didn't just beat down the Shield at times but they staged a tableau. They made Roman Reigns pay for the sins of the group as Batista and Randy Orton caned him while Triple H held him down. The incapacitated the upstart trio with no intention of making a pin attempt.
Not until the swan dive by the real MVP of the Shield, Seth Rollins, that there was any momentum swing. All six men would crawl back to the ring like men dying of thirst in a desert. Rollins, with a Reigns assist would eliminate the unfortunately garbed Batista for the first man eliminated. Dean Ambrose would then drive Orton's head into a chair, leaving Triple H as the last remaining member of Evolution. Batista said goodbye in style with a spear to Ambrose. Dean's luck would continue to go downhill as Triple H hit him with a sledgehammer to the face. Rollins hit the Game with a flying knee, stunning the legend long enough for Reigns to spear him for the win.
For a match with an ending that was so uncertain ended up being a shutout. No one turned on each other. There was no outside interference, just a clear winner. Sadly, a clean win in sports entertainment is a rarity. That there was no swerve was the swerve. A satisfying ending to a very good event.