WWE Honors Dusty Rhodes
At the top of the program, WWE ran a fantastic promo package that respectfully and appropriately catalogued the illustrious career of the late Dusty Rhodes. After the video package, the entire roster- including the likes of Vince McMahon and Daniel Bryan- gathered on the entrance ramp to pay their respects during a 10 Bell Salute and clapped along to his theme song. WWE knows that sentimentality is part of its bread and butter, and also knows how to put together a tremendous video package. With a subject as deserving of that honor as Dusty, it is a great combination.
Seth Rollins def. Dean Ambrose in a Ladder Match to Remain WWE World Champion
Much like at Elimination Chamber, the live crowd sounded emotionally spent going into the main event. Once again, Rollins and Ambrose used their advanced understanding of ring psychology to reenergize them, slowly but surely.
Before the match even started, HHH ratcheted up the intensity. Kane, J&J Security, and Stephanie McMahon all gloated that Rollins would not have their help, but HHH gave a rousing pep talk in which he encouraged Rollins to fulfill his potential and become the star he can be.
The pep talk did not appear effective out of the gates, as Ambrose grounded Rollins with an array of mat-based offense. He connected with a suicide dive, and when Rollins tried the same, he met him with a ladder. Ambrose stayed in complete control with a double-underhook suplex onto a ladder and an elbow drop off of an even taller ladder.
With the advantage in hand, Ambrose started to climb. In the nick of time, Rollins retrieved a chair and smashed Ambrose with it in the knee. That opening provided a strategy for Rollins for the rest of the match while he continued to target the bad knee. He hit it with a ladder, smashed it between the two sides of a ladder, and locked Ambrose in a Figure Four around the ring post. He put Ambrose in another Figure Four in the middle of the ring and talked trash until Ambrose reversed the pressure.
From that point, every time Ambrose tried to put together some offense, Rollins was able to side track him with shots to the knee. Even after he ducked a thrown ladder and rebounded from between the ropes twice to deliver a clothesline, Rollins was able to get away before Ambrose could catch him.
After they fought through the crowd, Rollins bridged a ladder between the ring and the announce table. He tried to powerbomb Ambrose onto it from inside the ring, but Ambrose escaped and back-dropped Rollins to crack the ladder in half. With Rollins indisposed, Ambrose hobbled to retrieve another ladder and limped his way up the rungs. It took him long enough for Rollins to recover and they fought to the floor again. Rollins tried a Pedigree on the Spanish announce table. Ambrose blocked and countered with Dirty Deeds- apparently smacking the back of his head on a monitor in the process.
When Ambrose hopped his way back up the ladder in the ring, Rollins ran in with another monitor and again smashed Ambrose in the injured knee. Unable to climb, Ambrose merely grasped at Rollins’s legs. Rollins came down from the ladder and put Ambrose out with a Pedigree. Once again, Ambrose willed himself to pull Rollins down. They went back outside the ring, where Rollins smashed Ambrose’s head into the side of a ladder and launched him into the barricade with a pair of running powerbombs.
Rollins pulled together a broken ladder and several chairs to create a pile of debris, onto which he powerbombed Ambrose once again. With Ambrose motionless on the floor, Rollins buried him with used ladders and chairs. As Rollins neared the top of the ladder, Ambrose somehow once again recovered and made his way up the ladder. They fought for the belt at the top of the ladder and pulled it down simultaneously. As they fell to the mat, the belt bounced to Rollins and he was declared the winner.
The match was a brutal epic by WWE standards- exceptionally violent and well over 30 minutes. Ambrose was so resilient that he came away looking more like a star than ever before. On the other hand, HHH’s embrace at the end of the show reminded everyone not to take Rollins for granted. He was, once again, terrific in his supreme athleticism and ring psychology.
John Cena def. Kevin Owens
Although it appeared that Cena and Owens set an impossibly high standard the first time they wrestled at Elimination Chamber, the rematch proved that it was no fluke. Owens and Cena somehow put on a sequel to that match that was every bit as inventive, compelling, and jaw-dropping. One could even argue that the match was better because the finish set up for so much more intrigue in the future.
Owens received an amazing reaction from the Columbus crowd before the match even started, a clear sign that his phenomenal work shines through his heel character. They kept things simple early in the match with clotheslines, headlocks, and chinlocks. When Cena went for a side slam, Owens countered into a headlock takeover and did his own Five Knuckle Shuffle. He tried an AA, but Cena escaped and put him in an STF.
The counter put Cena in control of the match. He hit an inverted vertical suplex and leapfrogged a Pop-Up Powerbomb and finished his interrupted Five Knuckle Shuffle. Owens blocked an AA to turn the momentum. He hit a German suplex, a cannonball, and a White Noise-like backbreaker for a two count. He went for a top rope cannonball and Cena got his knees up to block it.
After an electric chair facebuster (similar to the one Nikki Bella used earlier in the night), Cena hit an AA for a near fall. He thought he won the match and uncharacteristically argued with the referee. Cena went for a second-rope AA, but Owens countered with a spinning powerbomb. Cena then countered a Pop-Up Powerbomb with a hurricarana, only for Owens to go straight into a superkick for a two count.
After a tornado DDT, Cena missed a leg drop. That gave Owens the opening to hit a package side slam. Owens missed a moonsault, which let Cena hit an AA for another near fall. Again, the frustrated Cena argued with the referee. Owens then blocked a superplex attempt and turned it into an inverted superplex for his own two count. Once Owens recovered, he walked into an STF, and Cena did not want to break when Owens reached the ropes.
Cena, getting desperate, pulled out a version of the Canadian Destroyer- a front facing flip powerbomb- that got him a near fall. He ran at Owens and Owens turned it into a Pop-Up Powrbomb for a two count. Cena then hit a springboard stunner and an AA to win the match. After the bell, Cena shook Owens’s hand and raised it in the air. Owens responded with a kick to Cena’s stomach and a powerbomb on the ring apron. He finally drew a wave of boos and walked away laughing maniacally.
Even before he got his heat back with the well-executed attack, Owens came out of the match looking great. He matched Cena move-for-move and neither wrestler wasted any motion in the entire match. The post-match attack was a large-scale version of what Owens did to Sami Zayn and it worked on the bigger stage. While the two matches have been exhausting, I can’t wait for the rubber match.
Sheamus Wins Money in the Bank
Right from the opening bell, Sheamus asserted himself as a dominant force in the ladder match. He was the first to climb the ladder until Kane tore him down. He continued to dominate until Neville and Kofi Kingston formed a temporary alliance to briefly take him out.
It was Roman Reigns’s turn to shine after that. He powerbombed Kingston onto a ladder and then powerbombed Neville on top of Kingston. Orton pulled off a hat trick of RKOs from that time with finishers on Kane, Kingston, and Neville.
Over the next few moments, Sheamus once again got close to the top of the ladder. Dolph Ziggler blocked him from retrieving the briefcase and they skirmished near the top rungs. Sheamus tried to hit White Noise, but Ziggler countered into a version of the Zig Zag off of the ladder. Neville took advantage ad hit a Red Arrow on the downed Sheamus.
Reigns recovered and hit a Superman Punch on Orton and a plancha to the floor on the other six wrestlers. New Day emerged to help Kingston into the ring and he got onto the ladder, but Reigns pulled him off of the ladder and powerbombed him onto the crowd of wrestlers on the floor. Orton joined Reigns in the ring and Reigns blocked an RKO and rebounded with a spear. Reigns climbed to the top with no opposition, only for the lights to go out and Bray Wyatt to appear. Wyatt shoved Reigns off of the ladder and hit him with Sister Abigail to take him out of the match (here’s hoping that a Reigns-Wyatt rivalry works better than the one between Wyatt and Reigns’s friend Dean Ambrose).
At last, Sheamus and Neville made it to the top of the ladder. Neville tried to reach over Sheamus and Sheamus gouged Neville’s eyes to force him downward. That left Sheamus alone to grab the briefcase and win the match. Of the seven participants, I am least interested in seeing Sheamus pursue the title. Perhaps that’s the point- with little else going on, Sheamus needs the storyline enhancement more than the rest. If that’s the case, it does not speak well for his championship chances.
Nikki Bella def. Paige to Remain Divas Champion
Paige gave a fantastic pre-match interview focused on taking the responsibility to create change in the Divas division. The promo foreshadowed a terrific match that was one of the better matches in the division in quite a long time.
Earl in the match, Paige hit an apron cannonball, only for Nikki to answer with an electric chair into a hot shot on the barricade. Paige’s knee to Nikki’s jaw gave way to a lariat from Nikki and a springboard vertical suplex. Paige got a two count off of a superkick, but Nikki quickly recovered to hit a spinebuster.
Both wrestlers repeatedly got close to their finishing moves. Paige got a version of the PTO that didn’t quite immobilize Nikki and let her get to the ropes. Paige fought herself free from a couple of attempts at the Rack Attack, and answered the second one with the Rampage for a near fall.
They elbowed one another off of the ropes to the floor and Brie replaced Nikki to try Twin Magic. Instead, Paige countered and rolled into her own small package for a three count. The referee seemed confused- he neither honored his own three count nor disqualified Nikki when Brie unstuffed her bra to reveal herself. As Paige lashed out at Brie, Nikki came back into the ring, hit a running forearm, and ended the match with the Rack Attack. The finish was odd and confusing, but ultimately cemented Nikki as a vile heel. It also did not take away from Nikki’s best title defense to date.
Prime Time Players def. New Day to Become Tag Team Champions
Other than the title change, everything in this match would have felt at home in hour two of an episode of Raw. The slot immediately after the Owens-Cena emotional drain required a come-down, which only makes the title change feel more out of place.
New Day isolated Darren Young and worked well together. Big E hit him with a huge side slam to get a near fall. Young got a hot tag to Titus O’Neil, which let him go on one of his trademark rampages. Big E speared Young off of the apron, but that left Xavier Woods alone with O’Neil. After a failed schoolboy by Woods, O’Neil won the match with a sitout powerbomb. For the sake of posterity, I think it’s a good thing for the Prime Time Players to have a title win on their resume. At the same time, this match did no favors for the division.
Big Show def. Ryback by DQ; Ryback Remains Intercontinental Champion
Big Show’s greatest asset is, obviously, his size. Therefore, it should be obvious that his matches revolve around his size rather than athleticism or wrestling ability. While this match was far from a classic, it was serviceable because it gave Ryback a few chances to use Big Show to show off his strength.
Ryback hit a Meathook Clothesline out of the gate, but could not follow it with Shell-Shocked. Instead, he wound up on the floor and scuffled with Miz on guest commentary. After a Big Show spear, Ryback answered with a cross-armbreaker and an impressive vertical suplex. He tried for another Meathook and Big Show met him with a chokeslam. He hit a KO punch and it knocked Ryback to the floor. As he dragged Ryback into the ring, Miz jumped Big Show with a microphone to cause a DQ. It was a disappointing finish to a so-so match. With Big Show involved, that means it exceeded expectations.