Saturday, April 30, 2016

Awesomely Shitty Movies: Last Action Hero

Welcome to yet another Awesomely Shitty Movies, where I, your faithful editor, examine an old classic cinema turd and analyze its pros and cons.

Today it's the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger flop, Last Action Hero!  Released just a week after the mega-blockbuster Jurassic Park, LAH didn't stand a chance at the box office and it predictably died a quick death.  Last Action Hero tells the story of Danny Madigan, a 12-year-old boy obsessed with Schwarzenegger movies, specifically his fictitious Jack Slater series.  Danny frequently cuts school to visit a nearby run-down theater, owned by his elderly friend Nick.  One night Nick invites Danny to a private midnight screening of Jack Slater IV, and gives him an old-timey movie ticket which was supposedly a gift from Harry Houdini.  Unbeknownst to both of them, the ticket has magical properties, and upon being torn in half, it opens a portal between the real world and the one on the screen.  Danny unwittingly winds up inside the film and becomes Jack Slater's sidekick, and eventually both of them pursue the film's main villain Mr. Benedict back to the real world to save the real Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This is an unabashedly silly premise that had already been much more skillfully explored in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo, where Mia Farrow's character goes to see a film so many times one of the characters begins interacting with her and escapes the confines of the screen.  You won't find Purple Rose in an ASM column, as there isn't anything shitty about it - it's a very smart, well-made film, unlike this one.  Still, despite being a dumbed down echo of Purple Rose, Last Action Hero is not without its charm; it has some entertaining action scenes sprinkled with satire, plus some fun comedy elements.  But yeah, there's a lot wrong with it too. 

The Awesome


Going into this movie I was pleasantly surprised by how much the filmmakers satirized the concept of the summer blockbuster.  Last Action Hero pokes fun at the action movie genre at almost every turn (not unlike the way Scream picks apart horror films - RIP Wes Craven), which for a movie nerd like me made for quite a lark.  Arnold seems right at home dissecting the very type of film that made him an international megastar, and it's refreshing to see a mainstream commercial movie actor not take himself too seriously.  Inside the Jack Slater movie Danny is able to consistently predict what's about to happen because everything in the movie is an action film cliche.  And of course being an action movie cliche himself, Jack has no idea; on the contrary, he keeps insisting his world is real.  This all made for an amusing, self-aware tone at a time when the action film genre was in desperate need of a shakeup.

Little Details

This movie is full of fun little moments and in-jokes, like when Danny takes Jack to a video store to prove he's a fictional character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Terminator 2 standee they find depicts the T-800 played by Sylvester Stallone instead.  I also found Danny's action movie daydream version of Hamlet as played by Arnold pretty damn funny ("To be, or not to be....not to be," **Cue explosion**).  There are numerous cameos as well, like Robert Patrick as a T-1000, Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammel (from Basic Instinct), Danny Devito as an animated police cat, Ian McKellan as Death (from The Seventh Seal), and others.  LAH is full of little sight gags and Easter eggs.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Wrestling Throwback: Lou Thesz vs. Buddy Rogers (June 21, 1950)

This week I happened to stumble upon a super old-school match on YouTube (one of many actually).  How old-school?  Try 65 years old-school.

This match is from June 21, 1950, pitting NWA World Champion Lou Thesz against the original "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers.  As with all Title matches of the time, this was 2 out of 3 falls with a sixty-minute time limit.  The bout took place at Wrigley Field and was later broadcast on the Wrestling from Chicago TV series.

Watching this match was a delightful little time-traveling experience.  I'd never seen any complete Thesz or Rogers matches, and certainly not from their respective prime years (WWE needs to add some pre-1975 content to the Network).  This match actually took place only two years after Thesz first won the NWA World Title, during his six-plus-year reign.  The grappling style on display here was very fluid and athletic, and in fact much more diverse than I would've expected from that period.  During the first fall both guys concentrated on wear-down mat holds like side headlocks and armbars (Thesz even used a keylock at one point), but as the match wore on the moves became much more high-impact.

Rogers dominated most of the first fall, holding a standing headlock and frequently throwing punches to Thesz's face while obstructing the referee's line of sight - a brilliantly simple heel tactic.  After sixteen minutes he hit his finisher, the piledriver, which in this case looked just like the variation Mick Foley later used.  This surprised me actually, given how different Foley's overall style was from Rogers'.  Even more amazingly this wouldn't be the only move Foley lifted from Rogers' arsenal.

The second fall was much shorter but Rogers controlled most of this as well, once again relying on barely-covert punches to the face, to the point of Thesz's forehead bleeding hardway in multiple places.  Finally the referee held back Rogers' arm, allowing Thesz to escape and apply an Airplane Spin into a slam, good for the second fall.

Dan's Top 9: Movies That SHOULD Be Remade

by Dan Moore


A little while ago, my esteemed colleague Justin Ballard wrote an article about unnecessary remakes. I agreed with all of 'em except Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I have no loyalty to the original and the remakes, prequels and sequels have been decent (albeit forgetful) horror movies. It got me to thinking though…what flicks are out there that need a new version? These aren’t all necessarily bad movies; just flicks I feel need an updating. Starting off here with a few sequels.

9. Beverly Hills Cop 3

The first two Cop flicks are two of the funniest Eddie Murphy movies ever made. They show Murphy at the very apex of his comedic powers. Both of them are eminently re-watchable. Then they laid this turd on our doorsteps. While the first two are filled with hilarious jokes and boobies, this one is a hodgepodge of boring set pieces and an unreal annoying Eddie Murphy performance. Need this remade with the true Axel Foley, cursing up a storm and shooting bad guys with his friends, Detectives Taggart & Rosewood.

George Lucas cameo’d in this, and even the maker of the
Star Wars prequels couldn’t believe how bad this was. 

8. Lethal Weapon 4

Filled with two of the most memorable cops ever put to screen, Riggs & Murtagh became friends to all of us that have watched the original 3 over and over again. Incredible action scenes and a real sense of comradery between the two leads make Lethal Weapons 1,2 & 3 some of the best buddy cop movies ever made. And then part 4 showed up. With NOTHING resembling a cohesive script and chock full of waaaay too many characters, Lethal Weapon 4 was DOA. They shoulda went with a less-is-more approach like the original cause this movie SUCKS.

7. Battlefield Earth

When watching a movie with 10-foot dreadlocked aliens, I’m always hoping for veiled messages from a space cult delivered by an overacting John Travolta. This is an awful movie filled with all kinds of subliminal speak for L. Ron Hubbard’s Space Diary, er I mean, "Religion."  But at its very basic level is a decent sci-fi movie idea: Aliens took over earth, and hundreds of years later a human rebellion tries to take it back. Too bad it was all gummed up with the word of Xenu.

Yeah, this is all your favorite Hollywood stars' religious deity. Makes sense.

6. Event Horizon 

A buncha astronauts head up to space to help some other astronauts that disappeared years earlier down a black hole. They get on the lost ship and realize that black hole led straight to HELL. Awesome premise, right? The first 60 minutes are AWESOME. They set up such a great idea and lose it completely in the last half hour. It’s not scary, it’s silly, all leading up to a scarred-up Sam Neill in a diaper dispatching the rest of his crew. Why would a space movie need to have a slasher last half hour? Oh wait…

5. Sunshine

…here’s another one in space that shits the bed on the landing. The sun is fading away, a buncha scientists and astronauts go up in space to drop a nuke on the sun to restart it but disappear. A new buncha scientists and astronauts go up to drop another nuke, find the old ship, and AGAIN it devolves into a slasher flick. Which is a shame, because up until the last half hour, Sunshine is a very intelligent sci-fi flick. It tries to show this unlikely premise with some reality until Jason X shows up and kills everybody. Director Danny Boyle can’t make a good movie and fuck up the ending again, can he?

4. 28 Days Later

JESUS CHRIST, AGAIN WITH THIS, DANNY BOYLE? Zombies decimate the world, a bike messenger escapes downtown London with some friends out to the country, and they come upon some army soldiers in a giant house. These army guys are HORNY and wanna do the womens, YEEEEAAAAHH. And then the bike messenger beats up the army guys and save the day. THE FUCKING BIKE MESSENGER. 28 Days is one of the scariest flicks around, filled with gore and the living dead. ZOMBIES are more believable than the ending where an emaciated ginger bicycle boy beats up trained army soldiers.

This guy took out a platoon of soldiers.  Yeah ok.

3. Dune

This is an overly long movie about some people in a distant desert world riding giant sand worms. With a bunch of gross people with boils and shit oozing from their faces. And Sting is in it. The singer, not the wrestler (though, HOLY SHIT, how much better would that be?) This flick needs to be remade solely because I don’t understand a fucking thing about it. Not a fucking thing. But there’s something there that could be good.

Just not this guy

2. Spawn

This superhero flick could really benefit from the fact that superhero movies now are taken a bit more seriously. This is an ugly-looking movie filled with far too much CGI. You make it now with more practical effects, a more serious take on the subject (a la Batman Begins) and Todd McFarlane’s demonic creature might start up a franchise.

1. Reign of Fire

This movie still pisses me off. Amazing premise. Kid goes into subway, finds a goddamn DRAGON and unleashes a flying lizard army upon the world. The Dragons scorch the earth and it’s awesome. Oh wait, no, we don’t know that its awesome because it’s told with fucking newspaper clippings. Yeah, the cool idea of dragons destroying earth and all of mankind is told in flashbacks due to, I assume, too small a budget. This movie wastes two decent performances from Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey. There’s like three dragon scenes in the whole movie. The rest of the movie is crybaby humans in a basement of a castle bitching about dragons. What are they bitching about, I DON’T SEE ANY DRAGONS. Such high hopes for this movie, and it delivered nothing it promised.

There's more action in the poster than the actual movie.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

WWE Payback 2016 Predictions

Welcome to another round of WWE Predictions here at, where my esteemed (not really) colleague Dan Moore and I attempt prodigious feats of prognostication!

Yeah, so we both did horribly picking WrestleMania 32 winners, mostly because the booking at that show made no sense whatsoever.  I scored 5/11 and Dan turned in a measly 3/11.  Unreal.  Get your head outta your ass, Dan.

But maybe we can redeem ourselves this month, as WWE presents a PPV that looks WAAAAY better than WM32, Payback!  With Shane McMahon in charge (despite losing his WrestleMania match with control of RAW on the line - makes sense), RAW has become a much more watchable endeavor.  Fresh matchups, focus on newer talent, consistent wins to build up said talent, etc.  I'm sure control of RAW will go back to The A-Snore-ity soon (Get it?  Like "Authority" but with snoring?), but for a few weeks anyway things have actually been intriguing for a change.  So let's look at the Payback lineup...

Pre-Show US Championship: Kalisto vs. Ryback

Sigh.  Remember a year ago when John Cena made the US Title relevant again?  Yeah, that's all out the window.  We're back to this belt being a worthless piece of patriotic tin defended on a pre-show between two guys they've barely shown on RAW or Smackdown.  This match means absolutely zilch.

Justin's pick: I guess Kalisto retains again
Dan's pick: Dude, I don’t care. Have Ryback win, make him go on a killing spree.

Tag Team Tournament Finals: Enzo & Cass vs. The Vaudvillains

I like that there are actually enough teams now to do an 8-team tournament.  I like that the #1 Contenders' spot is meaningful enough for 8 teams to want to vie for it.  I like that two entertaining NXT call-up teams are in the finals.  This should be a solid outing.  Enzo & Cass are already over.  Not so sure about the Vaudvillains.

Justin's pick: I imagine the VVs win through nefarious means, perhaps due to Dudleyz interference.
Dan's pick: I like the cut of these Vaudvillains' gib.

Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

Corbin was called up a little too soon in my estimation.  There are many more deserving NXT guys right now than he.  But he's got a pretty good character and a good look, and Ziggler will certainly make him look like a monster.  Poor Dolph.

Justin's pick: Corbin obviously
Dan's pick: I don’t care for this Corbin fellow. He’s balding, he wears a leather vest, and he stole "Lone Wolf" from Rambo. That said, Ziggler hasn’t won shit since back in the 60s. Bye bye, Dolph.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2016 Predictions

Welcome to another set of PPV Predictions!

Today we're looking at the upcoming NJPW Wrestling Dontaku show taking place this Tuesday, May 3rd.  Initially this was to be the second of a double-shot, as Wrestling Hinokuni had been scheduled for April 29th.  But after the earthquake that took place in Kunamoto on April 14th, New Japan opted to cancel Hinokuni and spread those nine scheduled matches across three shows.  Two of them will now take place at Dontaku, while the rest will happen on Road to Dontaku shows.  I was actually more excited about the Hinokuni lineup than Dontaku's, but the additions to this card have made this quite a stacked show.  So let's take a look...

Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Juice Robinson & Captain New Japan

This'll be another basic opening squash for Fale, who's been feuding with Hiroshi Tanahashi.  Nothing more, nothing less.

My Pick: Fale & Takahashi

Kazushi Sakuraba, Will Ospreay, Yoshi-Hashi & Gedo vs. Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask, Jay White & David Finlay

This one should be a lot of fun actually.  Ospreay is really something to behold, and the idea of him mixing it up with Tiger Mask and especially Jay White is quite appealing.  I'd love to see a singles feud between Ospreay and White.  I'd also like to see more done with Tiger Mask, as he's always fun to watch.

My Pick: Team Chaos probably wins here, given the other team has two Young Lions

IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship: Roppongi Vice vs. Matt Sydal & Ricochet

A rematch from Invasion Attack, this match should be just as good as that one.  The jury's still out on whether Ricochet is jumping to WWE, but the fact that he and Sydal dropped the titles so quickly kinda points to that scenario.  This match is likely just to cement RPG Vice as the top dogs in the division.

My Pick: RPG Vice

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin & Yoshitatsu vs. The Elite

Another rematch from IA, their first encounter was loads of fun and I expect more of the same.  Tatsu has adopted a "Bullet Club Hunter" gimmick, complete with Triple H-style mannerisms and ring gear.  Get it?  Hunter?  Anyway, should be another fun match, though I'm not sure why the Six-Man straps aren't on the line. (UPDATE: The straps are now up for grabs!)

My Pick: Since these belts have been jumping around like crazy I'll go with The Elite to regain.

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Guerrillas of Destiny vs. Great Bash Heel

Yeesh, the first go-round between these two teams was not good.  The third Invasion Attack rematch on this card, this one's not likely to be much better, but hopefully Tama Tonga and his brother Tanga Roa will get their shit together.  This tag division desperately needs some depth.  Maybe bring back the Briscoes to help out?

My Pick: I could see Makabe and Honma regaining the straps until the Guerrillas improve their in-ring game.

NEVER Openweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Yuji Nagata

This one should be BRUTAL.  Both of these dudes spent some time in MMA and work a very stiff style.  I anticipate some crazy strike battles and a good submission game on both sides.  Shibata has been working his way through the older guard stars, so a win over their de facto leader would be a feather in his cap.

My pick: Shibata

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Kushida vs. Jushin Thunder Liger

Along those same lines, Kushida has been an excellent custodian/representative for the Jr. division and is now facing probably the greatest Jr. of all time in Liger.  This has a real "passing of the torch" flavor to it and I look forward to seeing if Liger's able to keep up with Kushida in 2016.  Meanwhile I hope New Japan has a host of newbies ready to challenge Kushida next.

My pick: Kushida

Evil vs. Hirooki Goto

These two wrestled last fall and it was more of an angle than a match.  I think this will be a much stronger showing.  Evil has been improving and Goto seems more motivated now that he's involved with Chaos.  Should be an entertaining brawl.

My pick: Evil needs the win to move up the card a bit and maybe challenge Shibata next

Kazuchika Okada vs. Sanada

The former IWGP Champ vs. the newest Ingobernable.  I'm not very familiar with Sanada's work, as I didn't catch his time in TNA, but he's apparently a good hand in the ring.  I expect loads of outside interference, with Okada eventually overcoming the odds to keep him looking strong after dropping the belt.

My pick: Okada

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii

I love this matchup.  Naito's been playing a great douchebag heel and Ishii is a no-bullshit bruiser who isn't gonna be amused or thrown off by Naito's mind games.  On paper this match actually looks more fun to me than Okada-Naito did.  Ishii will look to punish the crap out of Naito and I imagine there will be some shenanigans from Naito's stablemates.  Obviously Ishii isn't winning the strap here but it's nice to see him headline a PPV.

My pick: Naito

There's your lineup.  Looks like a helluva fun show with a lot of variety and five title matches.  While I still miss Nakamura, Styles and Ibushi on NJPW shows, it's a fun time to be a fan of this company.  Thanks for reading!  Comment below with your picks!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The History of WCW SuperBrawl (1992)

Welcome back to The History of WCW SuperBrawl!

SuperBrawl II - Milwaukee Theater - 2.29.92

The second edition was a streamlined eight-match show that made great use of WCW's thinning roster and put the focus back on a strong in-ring product.  1992 was the year the company got back to basics and this show set the tone.  Flair's 1991 departure had left a huge hole in the roster and this was where that wound finally started healing over.  Jesse Ventura made his WCW debut on this show and it's great now to hear him and Jim Ross as a broadcast team.  Interestingly Ventura was the first to point out that if Ross wore a cowboy hat he'd look like JR from Dallas.  I think Vince owes Ventura credit for Ross's WWF marketability as Good Ol' JR.

Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Brian Pillman was a goddamn helluvan opening match, for the Light Heavyweight Title.  This match showcased all kinds of action North American fans weren't yet accustomed to and helped introduce Liger to a new audience.  There was a miscue or two but overall this was full of great false finishes and big high spots.  Pillman won with a bridging leg cradle after Liger missed a top-rope splash.

This was crazy goddamn stuff for 1992

Second was Terry Taylor, under the Ted Dibiase-esque "Taylor Made Man" persona, against Marcus Bagwell.  What really should've been a throwaway was actually pretty entertaining while it lasted.  The ending was totally flat and felt like a mistake (the wrestlers even kept going after the pin was counted), but otherwise not too bad.

Cactus Jack vs. Ron Simmons was next and these two beat the hell out of each other for six-and-a-half minutes.  Much like Pillman vs. Windham the year before, this was way better than its running time would suggest.  Damn good slugfest.

Mankind beats up Faarooq

The one match I was dreading was Van Hammer & Tom Zenk vs. Richard Morton & Vinnie Vegas, but actually this was not as bad as it looked on paper.  The action was fine when Zenk and/or Morton was in the ring but Kevin Nash was pretty bad in 1992.  I'm not sure why they thought turning Morton heel was ever a good idea.  This went longer than it should've but it was still watchable.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Black Trunks, Black Boots: The Appeal and the Success of the NJPW Young Lions

by Landon Wayne

When you think of Japanese pro wrestling, New Japan in particular, what comes to mind? Well, there’s the Ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi whom many credit with bringing New Japan into the prominence and success the company enjoys today. Or you could turn to a star of the past, like Yuji Nagata, the Blue Justice who once held the record for most title defenses of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, in a reign that spanned over a year. Maybe you think of the NEVER Openweight Title, and the current holder Katsuyori Shibata, who demonstrates the puroresu old ways with merciless strikes and submissions. I could go on, but the keen reader would have noticed the unifying thread that connects the above men. All of them were at one point young boys in New Japan, or Young Lions as they’ve become known. Many, including myself, can and do argue that their success and popularity can be directly correlated to their tenures as the extras of the company.

So, what’s a Young Lion? For the uninformed or out of the loop, Young Lions are the men who started training at, or had a little training before going to, the New Japan Dojo. They’re the men you see taking entrance gear and titles from their owners before matches start, helping wrestlers to the back after matches should they need assistance, and they’re typically in opening matches taking the deciding fall in tag matches or singles matches. These are all simply at-event or on-camera duties, as they have other tasks from sunrise to sunset, as WWE wrestler Finn Balor has attested.

“I was [24 and] a full young boy, so I’d be woken up at 7:30, clean the toilets, clean the ring, sweep outside the streets...You basically run all the errands for the older wrestlers, it’s almost like a hazing.”

-Finn Balor, Talk Is Jericho, May 20th, 2015

The difference between the Young Lions and WWE’s enhancement talent is that the Young Lions will eventually make something of themselves in New Japan. In each match, they get progressively more and more offense and time. While they are jobbers, they are typically made to look good in their matches. Each wrestler is able to build a repertoire of moves in their efforts against the established wrestlers of the company. Along with their moveset is built a personality that they can carry throughout their time with the company. But the most important aspect of these matches are the chemistry they build with the established wrestlers inside the ring, serving them later when it comes time to be in more competitive and longer matches. But chemistry is also established with the fans, the men and women getting to see the future and find their new favorites. In WWE [and I promise I’m not turning this into a WWE rant] men like Zack Ryder and Jack Swagger are brought in to make their opponents look good, but that’s about it. You never see a focus on the talent or personality of the losing party. Men come to the main roster hot and either stay hot or cool off perpetually, a pyramid scheme that requires fresh faces to be slingshotted regularly. Meanwhile, Tanahashis and Shibatas can be on top much longer because their fan base is comprised of much fewer bandwagoners and more career-long fans. Because they remember when Hiroshi wore those black trunks "and dammit, I’ve been with him all the way and I’m not abandoning ship now."

Game of Thrones: Season Six, Episode 1 - “The Red Woman”

by Dan Moore

This just in: Lord Commander of the Night's Watch Jon Snow is still dead. But there’s definitely some goings-ons afoot that could lead to his resurrection. Last night’s season premiere of  GoT, “The Red Woman,” was a tad underwhelming, as the show has so many moving pieces at this point that it’s tough to focus on any one of them for an extended period of time. It feels like we get one scene of each of the main characters and then hurry up, we gotta move onto the next ones!

That being said, the premier episode set up things nicely for the season, as brief as each setup was. We got:

---Arya doing her best Nick Parker impression as a blind pseudo samurai in the streets of Braavos (Yeah, I dropped a reference to a completely obscure and shitty Rutger Hauer action movie where he’s blind. Deal with it)
Love this flick.

--- Margaery still in jail trying to make demands on Jumpin’ Jack Flash, to no avail (Yeah, I dropped a reference to a somewhat obscure Whoopi Goldberg movie. Deal with it)

Not this one so much

---There’s a major Coup d'état as the Sand Snakes are bumping off everyone in Dorne. They seem like nice girls.

---The Boltons are very happy Stannis was killed (of course we never saw his body)

Friday, April 22, 2016

NXT: Live from Lowell, MA

Welp, the NXT crew just rocked my socks off.

I had the privilege of attending the house show last night in Lowell, MA (NXT's first-ever visit to New England) and was treated to one of the most fun nights of live wrestling I've ever seen (Even my wife had a good time watching a wrestling event, and that's saying someting).  Legit, I've been attending wrestling events just shy of 29 years, and this made me feel 12 years old again.  The eight matches were all a breeze to sit through, the crowd ate up every minute of it, and there wasn't a shred of cynicism about this show.  When 2800 jaded, smart wrestling fans buy into every babyface and boo every heel (except Samoa Joe, who's just too awesome to hate), you know you've done something right.  This was such a refreshing experience after years of being forced to question every bonehead decision made by main roster Creative.  NXT's product is so simple and untainted any wrestling fan can appreciate it.  The average episode of RAW is just over three hours and is a chore to sit through.  This show was two hours and forty-five minutes and cruised by at about a hundred miles an hour.  And on top of all this, the show ended with a monumental NXT Title change!  But we'll get to that....

These were balcony seats and our view was still amazing

Even the show opener, pitting Mojo Rawley against Riddick Moss (who got several "Who are you?" chants) was fun to watch, mostly due to Rawley's unparalleled energy.  He's no Kurt Angle between the ropes, but it's impossible not to like the guy.  He just gives off the air of someone who's so happy to be there it becomes infectious.

That goes double for the babyface team in match #2.  Bayley and Carmella faced Dana Brooke and Peyton Royce in a classic old-school undercard-type match, where the babyfaces got the better of the heels almost all the way through and the crowd was tickled pink.  Is there a more likable figure in all of pro wrestling right now than Bayley?  To anyone who thinks traditional babyfaces don't work in 2016, Exhibit fucking A.

The third match nearly stole the show, as Tommaso Ciampa faced the former Biff Busick, Chris Girard in a sick display of technical wrestling that eventually included some brutal chop battles.  Going into this I wasn't very familiar with either guy (aside from their names), but the match was so good they both won me over.

Another technical standout was Austin Aries vs. Manny Andrade (formerly La Sombra).  Andrade was very over here and thus Aries worked as a de facto heel.  Their chemistry was fantastic and I'd love to see more of this pairing.  After a ton of near-falls Aries broke out the Last Chancery for the tap-out win.  Super fun match.

The moment I was most looking forward to was next.  Shinsuke Nakamura, currently my favorite wrestler in the world, made his New England debut against Elias Samson (who had Honky Tonk Man heat in this building).  Nak's entrance felt like a huge moment, even in this small, stripped-down venue.  Aside from the main event finish, Nakamura had the biggest pop of the night.  The match itself was little more than a five-minute showcase (even billed as such on the program), but it was a magical thing to finally see Nakamura in person.  There is no one else in wrestling with that level of charisma.

My god.....LOOK AT HIM

Michael Drinan Remembers Prince (1958-2016)

I was never much into Prince. Some of it had to do with the timing of his career vs. when I was born, but most of it had to do with the music I was into it at the different highlights of his career. I was born in 1980, which pretty much wipes out his first six albums for me because I was too young and it was before I took any interest in music. My first realization of Prince came when I was seven when he released Sign o' The Times, but at the time my interests lay solely in rock music and the burgeoning hip hop genre. Certain music has a way of introducing itself to you at certain, specific times in your life which causes you to miss other music as it's also happening.

Prince came much more into my interests when he made the Batman soundtrack and followed it up with his early '90s work Graffiti Bridge, Diamonds and Pearls, and "The Love Symbol" album. Even though my attention and focus at the time was centered around Metallica and the explosion of grunge music, it was difficult to ignore the noise Prince was making with his music, his name, and his standoff with his record label. I was captivated by Prince, but maintained a distance from his music because I wasn't sure what he and his work were all about. He was a mystery to me and, years later I realized, that was kind of the point.

There are a few artists throughout the history of popular music that I might not have been interested in, for one reason or another, but understood their greatness and genius. Pink Floyd is one of those artists. I never got into Pink Floyd, even after multiple attempts, but I knew they were great simply because I had ears and listened to how they played and how their songs were structured. Prince was that same kind of artist for me. I could enjoy his songs all day every day and some I knew the words to, but for whatever reason, I just couldn't get into Prince.

Throwback Thursday: NXT Title Changes Hands at House Show

by Landon Wayne

Well shit,

Less than a day after I state that I can’t wait for Samoa Joe to be NXT Champion, I get the news that he dethroned Finn Balor at the NXT house show in Lowell, Massachusetts. In an era where it’s almost taboo for something important to happen while the cameras are off, the fact a title changed hands at a main event is almost unheard of. The last time the titles changed off camera that I can remember was When the team of Paul London and Brian Kendrick defeated Cade and Murdoch while in South Africa for the World Tag Titles in 2007 (That’s a good trivia fact for you.)

On the cynical side, though, this may be a set up for Finn to gain the title back soon. In the aforementioned title change, Cade and Murdoch regained their titles three days later on the same tour. Until Samoa Joe comes to Florida with the belt and stands in front of the TV, I remain excited yet skeptical about this turn of events.

Then again, I was this way when Ishii won the ROH TV championship. And now we’re on day 63.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

NXT Weekly Recap: April 20th, 2016 (Samoa Joe vs. Apollo Crews)

Welcome to the first of many weekly NXT reviews from our newest writer Landon Wayne!  

Landon is a Buffalo native with three passions in life: Food, professional wrestling and video games. He can be typically found scouring New Japan World for hidden gems, reliving old memories on the WWE Network, or playing old video games on an emulator. The ability to download a pizza still eludes him.

Follow Landon on Twitter @LWayne21

I have a long history with NXT. My first NXT episode was sometime in 2013, before you could find NXT anywhere except dedicated stream sites (not that I use them…). I was at their first show outside of Florida when they went to Columbus in 2015, and then again in 2016. To say I’m a fan of the brand is an understatement. That’s not to say I think all is well and fantastic in the land of the future stars, and I promise to give a fair and unbiased look at the NXT product as it comes out…at least, as unbiased as I can give it.

American Alpha defeated Enzo and Big Cass

The opening match of the hour finds a tag match between the incumbent champions and two of the main roster’s newest stars. With the insertion of these two and the Vaudvillains in the main roster, the tag ranks in NXT have thinned considerably, much as the Women’s roster did last summer. Hopefully both American Alpha and the Revival will remain in Florida for a while to help new teams build up.

The match was interesting in that both teams are faces, and both took turns getting the heat on the other; Jason beating on Enzo, then Cass beating on Gable. This was really about as good as a match between these two could get without a turn or a proper buildup. Jason fired up twice in the process of winning, the champs eventually hitting Enzo with their assisted backdrop.

**3/4 for a solid match with nothing really botched or going wrong.

Backstage, Apollo Crews talked about how he had followed Joe even before he was wrestling, and how he was ready for him. Decent 15-second promo.

No Way Jose hype video played, and apparently he’s wrestling next. I have a bad feeling about this.

No Way Jose defeated Alexander Wolfe

I was not disappointed. Not only is his name ACTUALLY No Way Jose, but it’s a dancing gimmick. I faintly remember this man being in a squash tag match earlier in the year, there’s no way one could forget that hair. I tried my best not to focus on the gimmick, but it found a way to be prevalent throughout the match. Can’t wait to hear Michael Cole call him "So much fun to watch!" He won a short match with some kind of heart punch(?). Not impressed but willing to give it a chance. Definitely want to see more of his opponent though.

*1/2 - debut match, not much more it could’ve been.

Backstage a suit interviewed Austin Aries. Aries talked about Baron Corbin and how he doesn’t need luck, 'cause he has skill. If Corbin or anyone wants to find him, they know where to look. Still really excited for Aries to be here. I expect his rise in notoriety and popularity to be as gradual and as steady as it was in TNA when he first debuted. Wait and watch is what I say.

Elias Sampson is playing "Wonderwall" when William Regal tells him he’ll be facing Shinsuke Nakamura next week. Good.

Remembering Chyna (1970-2016)

In yet another case of a once beloved wrestling star dying tragically young, Chyna (Joanie Laurer) was found dead in her home yesterday at the age of 45.  Sadly I can't say I was surprised when I heard the news.  Chyna had clearly been in a very bad place for several years, having posted numerous internet videos of herself very obviously under the influence of some substance.

But once upon a time Chyna was a uniquely gifted WWF wrestler and personality, brought in as a bodyguard for Hunter Hearst Helmsley before eventually becoming the first and only female Intercontinental Champion.  I remember upon her debut, being knocked out by what an unusual choice she was for a "heater" as they call it.  Hunter was a snobby blueblood character who now needed a woman to do his fighting for him (To be fair, a woman who looked like she could beat the crap out of most of the guys).  Such a pairing had never been attempted before in wrestling; bodyguards were always large dudes, like Diesel or Mr. Hughes.  Bringing in a female bodybuilder, particularly one with such a fantastic aura about her, immediately made Hunter stand out from the pack.  While I don't doubt Triple H would still have become a big star regardless of Chyna's involvement, there's no denying the positive effect her presence had on his career from 1997-1999.

After eighteen or so months in the company Chyna finally made the foray into being an active wrestler, becoming the first woman to participate in the Royal Rumble and the King of the Ring tournament.  There was even a tease of her challenging Steve Austin for the WWF Title at SummerSlam that year, and the fact that fans didn't totally reject that idea is a testament to how believable Chyna was as an imposing figure.  True such a match would never have been a five-star classic, but an Austin-Chyna main event would certainly have garnered big mainstream attention.

In October of 1999 Chyna captured the IC Championship from Jeff Jarrett, and this groundbreaking turn of events was initially very well-received.  Chyna was hugely popular at this time and it felt like a major gender barrier had been broken down.  Here was an extremely athletic, muscular woman who had also developed a much more feminine look (thanks in no small part to some cosmetic surgery), but who carried enough credibility that we all bought her beating up a male wrestler on her way to a Championship.

2000 saw her paired with Eddie Guerrero as his girlfriend/in-ring rival, in what was a very intriguing six-month arc.  This allowed the company to explore what would happen if two active wrestlers became romantically involved.  It was something very different, and Chyna was once again crossing barriers.

Her final run in the company was in the more traditional role of Women's Champion, and due largely to the dissolvement of her relationship with Triple H and his subsequent relationship with Stephanie McMahon, she left the company shortly thereafter.  It's a shame such a pioneer so suddenly ended her connection with the industry in which she'd made such an impact.

Regardless of her choices post-WWF, Chyna will always be remembered as a trailblazing female performer in a male-dominated industry, whose influence can never be discounted.

RIP Chyna (1970-2016)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Movie Review: Locke (2014)

Writer-Director Steven Knight's Locke is a riveting 85-minute character study that takes place entirely in the front seat of a car.  There's no way a movie this constrained should work as a compelling piece of drama, but it does, completely, in a way that is urgent, honest, and feels absolutely real.

Locke stars the always spellbinding Tom Hardy as the title character, a construction foreman who's just abandoned a major cement-pouring job and confessed an extramarital affair to his wife, to be with his mistress as she gives birth to their unexpected child.  The entirety of the film deals with the consequences of this decision and we spend 85 minutes with Locke on his car ride as he juggles/manages these crises and relationships via Bluetooth.  Hardy's performance is a masterful exercise in believable restraint as he attempts to talk these various characters down from their respective ledges.  The script wisely makes Locke the paragon of composed reasoning; a lesser film would've shown us Hardy chewing the (limited) scenery and playing to the cheap seats.  Locke's adherence to logic is almost cruel at times; when his mistress asks if he loves her he replies, "How could I?  I hardly know you."

Locke's motivation for this desertion of his life's commitments is gradually made clear as he sporadically carries on a one-sided conversation with his dead father, who was absent during Locke's childhood.  He thinks he's doing the right thing, being there for this lonely woman when she needs someone most, and ensuring his newborn child doesn't grow up without a father.  In a way this is an act of supreme selflessness - "I made one mistake and I'm trying to make it right."

If it seems like I've given away too many plot points, I haven't really.  This film isn't about story progression, but about the strength of this one character and the actor bringing him to life.  Hardy is really something to behold here; despite the film literally being comprised of a series of cellphone conversations our attention never wavers.  The power of his performance and the character interactions keeps us transfixed for nearly an hour and a half.  It feels as though we're sitting in the passenger seat, living out this personal catastrophe with him.  I must also credit the vocal performances of the folks on the other end of the various phone calls, with whom Hardy conversed in real time (Evidently the entire film was shot in real time, which gives it the feel of a one-man stage play), including Sherlock's Andrew Scott as Locke's colleague Donal, Ruth Wilson as his wife Katrina, Olivia Colman as his mistress Bethan, and Ben Daniels as his boss Gareth (who appears in Locke's phone contacts as "Bastard").

Locke is a uniquely engrossing and deeply personal cinematic experience; we spend 85 minutes with this noble but flawed person at his lowest point and watch him try to make sense of it all.  This film is simple, powerful, and deals with complex real-life issues we can all identify with.

I give it ***1/2 out of ****

The History of WCW SuperBrawl (1991)

Welcome to another PPV History series!  Today we'll be talking about WCW's secondary tentpole show, SuperBrawl!

Introduced in 1991, SuperBrawl was obviously meant as a flagship show on par with Starrcade.  The first edition was in May of that year before it was moved to February going forward.  In many cases SuperBrawl featured rematches from the previous Starrcade, and in some cases, particularly when Starrcade had a non-traditional format, SuperBrawl felt like the bigger show.

But let's take a look at the full history of this PPV series.....

SuperBrawl - Bayfront Arena - 5.19.91

The inaugural show was built around an international rematch from the WCW/NJPW Supershow, where Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Ric Flair for the NWA World Title, but not the WCW World Title.  This was during the messy NWA-to-WCW transition period, where the lineage of the two championships was muddy at best (New Japan only recognized the NWA Title in the first match).  So a rematch was signed to reunify the belts, but in the US only the WCW Title was acknowledged for some reason.  The PPV was loaded up with 12 matches, several of which could've easily been trimmed, but still had some worthy bouts, particularly toward the end.

The show opened with The Fabulous Freebirds vs. the Young Pistols in a decent little tag bout for the vacant US Tag belts.  Pistols got screwed thanks to outside interference.  Nothing compared to the Pistols' match with the Midnight Express, but solid enough.

Dan Spivey vs. Ricky Morton was a shockingly entertaining squash, and what's more shocking is how agile Spivey used to be.  If only that Dan Spivey had played Waylon Mercy, he'd have been a great upper midcard heel in the WWF.

Nikita Koloff vs. Tommy Rich was another glorified squash to get Koloff over again as a monster heel.  Rich's career high took place when he won the NWA Title at 21.  He never got pushed hard again.

Dustin Rhodes vs. Terrence Taylor was pretty good.  Dustin looked more jacked than I ever remember seeing him.  He'd just returned to WCW and got an undefeated streak, which continued here after failed outside interference from Mr. Hughes.  I definitely underrated Dustin for many years, as even in a minor undercard match he could go.

Two pointless squashes followed, taking valuable time away from the real bouts.  Big Josh (soon to be Doink the Clown) beat Black Bart, and Oz (soon to be Vinnie Vegas, later to be Diesel, later to be Kevin Nash, later to be Mr. Quad Tear) killed Tim Parker.  Why anyone thought these were PPV-worthy I don't know.

Lotta blood

A shockingly good Taped Fist match was next (what a dumb stipulation) as Barry Windham beat the piss out of Brian Pillman.  Both guys bled early and this had some pretty violent action, particularly a spot where Windham pulled Pillman off the entrance ramp and carried him down head-first on the security railing.  Looked great.  For only six minutes this was pretty damn good.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

WWE vs. NJPW Supercard II

Welcome to the 2nd Annual WWE vs. NJPW Supercard!  Some of you may recall the dream PPV I assembled last year, which culminated in a Daniel Bryan-Shinsuke Nakamura main event we were so close to seeing in real life (Seriously, Nakamura jumps to WWE and a week later Bryan retires?  What kinda shit is that??).  Well the rosters on both sides look quite different than they did a year ago, so I've decided to turn this piece into a yearly tradition.  Read on!

WWE's roster has been plagued with injuries as you know, so the available talent pool is most certainly not at 100%.  But there's also been an influx of outside stars brought in, plus some NXT call-ups, making this collection of talent actually pretty fresh and exciting overall.  It's just up to the company to make sure they come across as stars we can invest in.

New Japan's in the same boat but for a different reason.  WWE has been raiding the New Japan roster since WrestleKingdom, forcing bookers Jado and Gedo to reshuffle the deck and really get creative with the stories being told.  Thus far they've defied expectations and presented some excellent shows, and the new directions they've chosen are clicking with the audience.  Much like the WWF circa 1998, many new opportunities have opened up for this roster to climb the ol' ladder and carry the company forward.  It's made for an intriguing and unpredictable time in New Japan.

So let's take a look at the 2016 face-off!

Cesaro vs. Hirooki Goto

Kicking things off is a battle of two extremely talented wrestlers who seemingly haven't reached their potential.  Cesaro is pound-for-pound one of the most gifted athletes in all of WWE, possessing freakish strength rivaling that of Brock Lesnar, and incredible agility on par with Chris Jericho.  There should be no ceiling for the Swiss Superman, yet he hasn't quite risen to main event status.  Hopefully that will change in 2016.

Hirooki Goto is a former IWGP IC Champ but has never won the top Championship.  But two months ago he joined the vaunted Chaos stable led by Kazuchika Okada, hoping the change of scenery would improve his main event prospects.  Goto has long been viewed as a very capable wrestler who can deliver big matches, but something of a gatekeeper.

Both wrestlers will be eager to prove their mettle and make a big statement.  Cesaro will look to outmaneuver Goto and hit numerous European uppercuts, while Goto's attack will focus on the head and neck.  After eleven minutes of furious action Cesaro's pure athleticism wins out as he counters a Shouten attempt with a forearm uppercut, followed by the Neutralizer.

Kalisto vs. Kushida

It's a dazzling aerial battle as the WWE US Champion faces the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion!  Kalisto has managed to break out of a moderately successful tag team and become a singles champ, hoping to succeed Rey Mysterio as WWE's top hispanic star.  The diminutive luchadore has taken much of Rey's signature style and turned up the volume, slowly building his own highlight reel.  While he hasn't been pushed very well as the US Champ, Kalisto is nontheless extremely exciting to watch and his best days are still ahead.

Kushida has become one of New Japan's finest in-ring talents, utilizing a mix of aerial strikes and MMA submissions, and demonstrating impressive ring generalship to make every spot count.  Another former tag specialist, he's grown into an excellent Jr. Heavyweight representative, already helping elevate this Title to the same level of importance as the NEVER Openweight belt.  In another year he may have done for the Jr. belt what Nakamura did for the Intercontinental.

This will be a fast-paced, blazing contest with loads of crowd-pleasing moves.  Kalisto will look to keep things quick, using his slight speed advantage, while Kushida will try to ground the lucha star and soften up the arm for his Hoverboard armlock.  After twelve spectacular minutes Kushida finally counters Kalisto's Salida del Sol and locks in the Hoverboard, forcing the tapout.

Sami Zayn vs. Katsuyori Shibata

Sami Zayn is becoming one of my favorite WWE workers, always delivering passionate, gritty matchups that connect with the crowd.  He's easily the most likable babyface on the main roster and I hope management allows him to reach his full potential as an underdog star.  Whether facing a smaller star like himself or a larger bully of an opponent, Zayn is able to adjust his style to put on the best match possible.

The current NEVER Openweight Champ, Shibata is one of the most brutal strikers in New Japan, playing off his MMA experience and bringing a lethal combination of forearms, kicks and headbutts.  Anytime Shibata's in there, be prepared to cringe as he tries to literally beat his opponent into unconsciousness.  His rear naked choke/Penalty Kick combination is one of NJPW's most effective finishers.

This would be a real test of Zayn's toughness, as Shibata would endeavor to pound the crap out of him.  Zayn would need to use his agility to play a hit-and-run game.  At the twelve-minute mark, after absorbing incredible punishment, Zayn would eventually fall to the choke/Penalty Kick.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Music Review: Babymetal - Metal Resistance

Japanese "idol group" Babymetal is a band whose music should be nowhere near as skillfully crafted or sonically rewarding as it is.  Considering the group was a producer-assembled offshoot of a J-Pop vocal group comprised of 12-year-olds, I was almost ready to dismiss them as a disingenuous corporate creation.  But then I listened to their new album Metal Resistance.  Dammit, this thing's good.

The band's music pays homage to numerous metal bands and subgenres, notably Dream Theater (For backing instrumentalists to play recreate such a complex style is no small feat, incidentally), Sevendust, Slipknot, power metal bands like Helloween, and even some dubstep here and there.  Atop this molten barrage of guitars and drums are the hooky, saccharine melodies of three teenage girls.  These two elements should not mix well at all, but somehow they do.  The album's twelve tracks fly by, containing enough radio-friendly choruses for a Bieber record but enough machine-gun speed metal destruction for the Rockstar Mayhem Festival.  Almost all the lyrics are in Japanese, but don't let that deter you.  The melodies will be stuck in your head for days regardless.

The opener "Road of Resistance" is one of the most driving tracks on the album, assaulting the listener with blast-beats and background death vocals before lead singer Su-Metal jumps in with that sweet melody.  The Helloween influence is felt most strongly on this track.

One of the standouts is the second song "Karate," which features a snaky midtempo nu-metal groove I could easily hear on a Sevendust record.  The chorus is one of the strongest on the album and one of most instantly memorable hooks I've heard in a long time; this is some professional songwriting.

Track 3, "Adawama Fever," is equally hooky but in a more simplistic way.  The vocals dance over a syncopated beat before settling into a goofy but undeniably fun chorus having something to do with bubble gum.  This song is super high-energy.

One major stylistic departure is the piano ballad "No Rain, No Rainbow," which shows off Su-Metal's increasingly self-assured vocals.  For an 18-year-old she can really belt out these tunes and I look forward to hearing what she can do as she matures.  Evidently this one was written a while back but Su-Metal didn't feel comfortable recording it until after she'd extensively performed it live and could emotionally get inside of the song.  The wait paid off; she sings this one like she means it.

The Dream Theater influence is front and center on the late-album song "Tales of the Destinies," a track full of odd meters, start-stop riffs, and numerous time changes.  But then the chorus explodes right out of a Helloween album, the band pounding out impossibly fast riffs while Su-Metal's uplifting chorus melody soars.

My favorite track is the album closer, "The One," which is the only song delivered totally in English.  The lyrics seem pretty crudely written (probably due in part to the translation), but this is an anthemic prog-metal masterpiece that would serve very well as the grand finale to a rock opera.  It's got one of those rare choruses you can hear on a loop and never tire of, and when it eventually fades out to close the album you can't wait to start over again.

Metal Resistance has a little something for everyone who likes loud, energetic music.  It's slickly produced, expertly played heavy metal with some of the most hauntingly catchy hooks you're likely to hear.  The impetus behind this band may have been one of commercialism, but when it comes to creating a deceptively challenging hard rock album with strong re-listen value, Babymetal is the real deal.  This is one of the best albums so far this year.

I give the album **** out of *****

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

NJPW Invasion Attack: The Surprise Hit of the Spring!

I said in my Preview & Predictions column (I got 8 for 9 baby!) for Invasion Attack that today's NJPW feels a lot like the WWF circa 1998.  In both cases the company had lost several top talents and was forced to shake things up and make the most of what they had left.  And that mentality came through big at this past Sunday's PPV, as New Japan put the focus on several new or reinvigorated stars, creating a renewed sense of excitement out of a difficult situation.

After the usual warm-up tag matches, one a squash (Fale & Takahashi vs. Taguchi & Robinson), the other designed to return some older stars to roles of prominence (Liger, Nagata & Kojima vs. Sakuraba, Yano & Yoshi-Hashi), the show settled into a nearly unbroken string of top-notch bouts.

New Chaos partners Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii had a nice little match against Los Ingobernables members Evil and Bushi that helped further establish this faction rivalry (more on that later).  I like the move of adding Goto to the Chaos group, as he'd become pretty stagnant in 2015 despite a short run with the IC belt.

The show really took off with matches 4-7, starting with Matt Sydal & Ricochet against Roppongi Vice.  This was an excellent Jr. Tag bout that reframed Rocky Romero and Trent Barretta as a major force in that division.  Sadly Ricochet's loss here telegraphed what I feared - that a jump to WWE is imminent.  That puts yet another hole in New Japan's roster.

Ricochet, don't go!!

The fifth match for me stole the show, as Jr. Heavyweight Champ Kushida defended against the debuting Will Ospreay.  If you haven't seen the 22-year-old Brit Ospreay, stop reading this column and go watch this match (Come back though as soon as you're done).  Ospreay is really something special, particularly for someone with only four years' experience.  His agility is off the charts, plus he can grapple like nobody's business.  The reversals and aerial moves in this match were unbelievable and I found myself repeatedly saying out loud, "Come on!"  There are rumors that Ospreay is also headed to WWE soon and I really hope New Japan was shrewd enough to lock him in for at least a year.  This guy could be a top-tier player in NJPW (and probably anywhere else, but I'd rather he stuck around).

Unreal match

The hits continued with a wild, extremely satisfying Six-Man Tag Title match, as Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks faced Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, and the returing Yoshitatsu.  Omega repeatedly teased hitting Yoshi with the Styles Clash, the move that injured him in late 2014, which immediately built sympathy for the returning babyface.  The near-falls and tandem moves in this match were lightning-fast and plentiful, and team Tanahashi won the straps in the end to create a feelgood moment.  Also Michael Elgin made a challenge for Omega's Intercontinental Title, which should be an amazing bout.  Love where this is headed.

Side note: I hope The Elite, as Omega and the Bucks are calling themselves, split off to form their own group.  The Bullet Club thing has kinda run its course and with all the top core members gone they're more or less reduced to a midcard act, minus the three Elite members.  Fale, Takahashi and the Guerrillas of Destiny should come up with a new name perhaps and just do their own thing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Monday Night RAW: Shane Should Be In Charge for Realsies

Last night's RAW left me as optimistic about WWE's main roster as I've been in probably two years.  For the first time in 2016 RAW had a sense of urgency, like Creative actually gave a shit about what they were churning out.  I have to think Shane McMahon was contributing offscreen as well as on, because it makes no sense otherwise that a creative team demonstrating nothing but cosmic ineptitude for months suddenly becomes competent again simply based on this week's pretend authority figure.  Leave aside the fact that Shane being in charge onscreen makes zero sense and renders his entire two-month angle with The Undertaker meaningless, and that The Wyatts and The League of Nations have no reason to dislike each other.  This was easily the most entertaining RAW so far this year, and if Shane was indeed in on the Creative for this show, he needs to be given much more rope going forward.

First off, this show had three very good matches, one of which was easily PPV quality.

AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn was in my estimation AJ's best WWE match to date, proving wrong any doubters who thought he'd have trouble adjusting to the 'E style.  It certainly didn't hurt that he was in there with Zayn, who's become one of the best in-ring talents in the entire organization, but AJ looked like a major player here, right at home in McMahon's ring.  AJ definitely should've won at WrestleMania, but in the past eight days he's been booked with tremendous momentum and I'm sure at Payback he'll come off as a major threat to Roman's Empire.

Another standout match was Charlotte vs. Natalya; no surprise given the quality of their previous bouts.  Nattie was over HUGE, by the way.  The crowd went nuts when it looked like she won the belt.  Nice to see such a hot crowd for the women.  I assume based on Nattie's DQ win that she'll get another crack at the PPV, and that should be a classic.  No sign of Sasha or Becky, so I'm not sure what the plan is there.  I'm hoping they keep Sasha chasing Charlotte till SummerSlam so she can get a huge victory in Brooklyn.

The third good match was Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro for a shot at Miz's I-C belt.  This was another fine contest with two laugh-out-loud Owens moments.  The first was when Owens had Cesaro in a headlock and screamed, "I have the best headlocks!  Headlock master!"  I desperately hope this turns into a crowd chant and/or a T-shirt.  The other occurred when Owens rolled out of the ring in frustration, swatted JBL's hat off the commentators' table, and then picked it up for him, saying "I got carried away John."  Byron Saxton said something to JBL about the exchange, and JBL calmly replied, "Kevin Owens is a nice person.  He's a gentleman, Byron."  Cracked me up.  Anywho, Cesaro won the match and is now in line for a shot at The Miz.