By Andrew Berg
Wrestler of the Week – Bray Wyatt
As uneven as Wyatt’s feud with Ambrose has been, and as incoherent as his character can be at times, the last week was a snapshot of why WWE holds him in such high regard. He was held off of Raw a week earlier to prepare for the blowoff ambulance match with Ambrose. He wrestled Erick Rowan on Smackdown to build up to the match with Ambrose. He tried to psychologically manipulate Rowan and used mind games to set up for a quick Sister Abigail to win. When the match with Ambrose arrived on Raw, it lived up to expectations. It was better than most of the silly gimmick matches they have wrestled because it told a simple story that incorporated the more sensible parts of their program. Wyatt had a plan- he targeted Ambrose’s knee and reduced his mobility early in the match. Despite the injury, Ambrose continued to fight back until he nailed an elbow drop from the top of the ambulance through a table. Of course, Ambrose’s risk was too great and he did as much damage to himself. Wyatt recovered to hit Sister Abigail twice- once into the ambulance and once onto the floor. The match worked as a microcosm for the story they tried to tell throughout the feud. Wyatt has a plan and knows how to win at any cost while Ambrose is a loose cannon who does more harm than good to himself at times. If Wyatt could keep it simple like this more often, he would meet his potential.
Match of the Week – Tanahashi def. Okada
While I usually do not see Japanese wrestling on a regular basis and therefore do not try to analyze it, Wrestle Kingdom 9’s availability in the United States changed the equation. There were parts of this main event that reminded me of the Wrestlemania classics between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels- two huge stars threw everything they had at one another and seemingly nothing could keep the other man down. They fought outside the ring early in the match, but the drama took place in the center of the ring. Both wrestlers repeatedly kicked out of some of the best moves the other had to offer, including Tanahashi’s Sling Blade and High Fly Flow, as well as Okada’s picturesque dropkick and Rainmaker lariat. In the end, Tanahashi grounded Okada with a series of dragonscrew legwhips and abused his immobile opponent with three High Fly Flows in a row to get the pin. I was a bit surprised by the result because it seemed like the match was building to Okada ascending to the top spot, but the match was so good that the loss did not damage him.
Quote of the Week – JBL
“This card is more loaded than Johnny Manziel on the weekend!” –JBL. Not true, but a good one-liner to fill Jerry Lawler’s bad joke void.
Must See Wrestling
1. Wrestle Kingdom 9
Every January 4th, New Japan Pro Wrestling holds its biggest show of the year in the Tokyo Dome. I have seen replays of many of the major matches over the years, but due to an American production by Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling, this year was the first time I saw the entire event as it was intended. While the four hour card contained some filler, the two main events were outstanding. Tanahashi’s victory over Okada to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title was a classic in which the two stars took everything out of one another. The IWGP Intercontinental Title retention by Nakamura over Ibushi was hard-hitting and memorable. It was fun to hear Jim Ross call a wrestling event once again and Matt Striker added a lot of value with context for the matches.
2. The Authority Fires Team Cena
With the reinstatement of HHH and Stephanie McMahon, the wrestlers who helped get them fired in the first place found themselves in the crosshairs. Dolph Ziggler, Erick Rowan, and Ryback all faced physical punishment before The Authority summarily fired them and blamed it on John Cena. The angle has the potential to work in two ways. First, it lays more foundation for the eventually HHH-Sting match that will likely happen at Wrestlemania. Second, it keeps the three fired wrestlers in the spotlight when they return and gives them a reason to seek revenge.
3. New NXT Direction Becomes Clearer
A slow, steady change has taken place in the main event of NXT. The Ascension have ascended to the main roster and Tyson Kidd appears finished as a regular in NXT. Curtis Axel has taken a step back to become one of the main roster NXT regulars, but the more interesting development has been the focus on new wrestlers. Finn Balor and Hideo Itami beat the Ascension again this week to establish themselves as serious contenders. New champion Sami Zayn teased his return to confront Kevin Owens and get the ball rolling on a title feud that has the makings of a classic. Between those four, there is plenty of star power in NXT with the chance to always develop more.