Tag Archives: WWE

Review – WWE Fastlane

A sense of deflation is not ideal amongst WWE fans going into the biggest WrestleMania of all time.

But given its proximity – just four weeks away – Sunday’s Fastlane event, presented by the RAW brand, had a huge weight on its shoulders.

The best that can be said of Fastlane – and I’ve always thought that it sits far too close in WWE’s calendar to WrestleMania – is that it showcased the right talent, and planted seeds for storyline progression in the coming weeks and months.

The worst is, however, more noticeable. Milwaukee’s Bradley Centre witnessed two impressive winning streaks, those of Braun Strowman, yet to be pinned or submit, and Charlotte Flair, until now undefeated on pay-per-view, come to unnecessary and anti-climactic endings.

Fastlane, considered by fans and WWE officials a ‘B’ show, was not the right platform on which to halt the progress of two rising stars.

That is not to say that Strowman and Flair have been irreparably damaged by their respective defeats to Roman Reigns and Bayley.

Charlotte remains the best women’s wrestler in the company and Strowman has huge potential as the product’s only credible monster.

Painfully predictable

Clearly, though, WWE wanted Reigns to look strong heading into WrestleMania, where it is rumoured he will face The Undertaker.

“Sunday night’s event produced a painfully predictable main event… 22 seconds in total”

Fans will have seen his victory coming, but what made the whole thing worse was the lack of surprises in the match. It wasn’t spot-filled enough and, in defeat, Strowman didn’t look as convincing as his recent run suggested.

Flair will surely have a place in WrestleMania’s fatal-fourway match for the women’s title, set also to feature Nia Jax, Bayley and Sasha Banks.

It is likely that she will not drift too far from the championship picture, given her talent and popularity with fans. Banks’ match with Jax was slow and a little sloppy; I blame Jax for her stiff, methodical style.

Sunday night’s event also produced a painfully predictable main event. It was clear that either Brock Lesnar or Chris Jericho would interfere in Kevin Owens’ Universal title defence against Goldberg.

But obvious time constraints (thanks to the addition to the card of two unannounced matches) told fans that the show’s final bout would be short. And it was – 22 seconds in total.

Pleasant surprise

I did not want Owens to lose the belt. He is a much younger talent who has been on an incredible run of late. Goldberg is in the twilight of his career at 48, and since it was confirmed that Lesnar would be his WrestleMania opponent anyway, he did not need a belt to add any value to such a marquee match.

“Gallows and Andrews, are bland, and I can’t understand why WWE tag team gold remains around their waists”

Judging by the way he celebrated victory with his young son, the match felt like such a throwaway.

For Owens, the path ahead is clearly Jericho, a former partner whom he turned on mercilessly a few weeks back.

It was at least a pleasant surprise to see Jericho back on WWE duty; his absence from RAW the past few weeks has been glaring.

I think the two will have a stellar match in Orlando at WrestleMania 33, and having him screw Owens in his title defence provides a more heated backdrop to their feud.

Momentum

There were few particularly interesting things to take away from this year’s Fastlane.

The return of a 375lb Big Show was nice to see, the fans clearly into his new look, though this could possibly be due to the knowledge that his current run will be his last in WWE after almost 20 years with the company.

I wasn’t a fan of the manner in which he beat a much younger Rusev, but if WrestleMania is his final match, he must go in with solid momentum behind him. The break-up of Rusev and Jinder Mahal wasn’t going to be anything other than a mild understatement.

Enzo and Cass, whom I have come to like immensely, continued their losing streak in pay-per-view matches, which is shocking when one considers the excitement generated by the duo.

Their opponents, Gallows and Andrews, are bland by comparison and I can’t understand why WWE tag team gold remains around their waists. It is possible that a split for the former is in the works, but that does not mean a title run cannot work.

Lack of charisma

Even the opening contest, a decent match between Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe, couldn’t allow me to rate this PPV event at any more than two stars.

“If this is the Fastlane to WrestleMania, then I’d suggest we find a side route…”

Both men are undoubtedly technically gifted, but lack the charisma to really, fully integrate a crowd with a match.

Joe’s victory was made predictable by his recent introduction to WWE Television, and his relative freshness makes the crowd’s lack of investment into him somewhat odd.

In fact, ‘somewhat odd’ aptly summarises Sunday night’s show.

The wrong superstars were stunted just weeks before the biggest show of the year.

A part-timer, who has contributed just 48 seconds of match time since his return in the autumn, has been rewarded with a major championship run, and WWE insists on putting its lower-card belts on talent who just aren’t managing to capture the excitement of the live crowd.

If this is the Fastlane to WrestleMania, then I’d suggest we find a side route…

Five footballers who went on to strange second careers

Former Liverpool and French international striker Djibril Cisse recently announced his retirement from professional football.

The decision, he explained, was in part due to failing to earn a contract at Auxerre but also so that he could put his “mind, body and soul” into DJing, alongside working as a producer, pundit and producing his own clothing line.

The 35-year-old, who scored 19 goals for Liverpool in two seasons and earned more than 40 caps for France, surprised many with his desire to be a DJ, but he isn’t the only professional footballer to follow an intriguing career path after his playing days. Since so many coming out of the game go down the roads of managing, coaching or punditry, it is always interesting to watch former stars who do something entirely different.

Here are five of the most unlikely post-football career choices.

5) Dion Dublin – Host of Homes under the Hammer and inventor

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Dion Dublin was one of the big names in Midlands football during the early days of the Premier League, playing 145 games for Coventry City from 1994 to 1998 and 155 games for Aston Villa from 1999 to 2004, where he scored 48 goals in the most successful spell of his playing career.

He also had a brief stint at Manchester United, which was ruined by a broken leg, and won four caps for England in 1998.

Since retiring from football in 2008 after two years with Norwich, Dublin, now aged 47, has dabbled in the world of inventing, creating a musical instrument; a type of Cajon (a box-shaped percussion instrument played by slapping the front and rear faces) that he called ‘the dube’.

Aside from creative exploits, he has taken the well-trodden ex-footballer route of television punditry, but also, less obviously, as a presenter in his own right, since joining Lucy Alexander and Martin Roberts as a presenter of the popular daytime property show Homes under the Hammer in 2015

Upon being selected for the role, Dublin retorted: “When they offered it to me I was overjoyed. The only shorter phone call I had was when United signed me from Cambridge.”

4) Tim Wiese – WWE wrestler

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 15: Tim Wiese celebrates with The Usos during WWE Live 2014 at Festhalle on November 15, 2014 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Simon Hofmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Tim Wiese was an experienced goalkeeper, spending 13 seasons, from 2001 to 2014, in the top flight of German football, playing for both Hoffenheim and Werder Bremen.

However, heavy competition from the likes of Jens Lehmann, Oliver Kahn and Manuel Neuer meant he won just six caps for the national team, and after retiring from football in 2014 aged 33, Wiese traded in the football for weights, pursuing a career in bodybuilding.

It was this that led to his most recent unexpected career path – as a professional wrestler with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the world’s most high-profile wrestling organisation.

In 2015, Wiese took up an offer and began training for his new role. After receiving a personal invitation from Triple H (a former world champion, now WWE’s CEO) Weise was sent to WWE’s training facility in Florida and shortly afterwards, made his in-ring debut on WWE’s European tour in Munich, teaming up with the RAW Tag Team Champions Sheamus and Cesaro to defeat The Shining Stars and Bo Dallas.

As things stand, Wiese is yet to make his debut either in NXT or on the main roster (comprising of RAW on Monday night and SmackDown on Tuesday), and remains in full-time training.

3) Jerzy Dudek – Racing car driver

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Polish goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek was Liverpool’s number one between 2001 and 2005, and wrote his name in club folklore with his performance in the penalty shoot-out win over AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final.

He made 127 for the Reds appearances and won 60 caps for his country, seeing out the final years of his career as back-up to Iker Casillas at Real Madrid.  Following his retirement in 2011, Dudek opted for a new career behind the wheel of a racing car, and in 2014 completed his first full season in the Volkswagen Castrol Cup.

Interestingly, Dudek claims the two sports are very similar, telling FourFourTwo magazine: “My position in goal is about making quick decisions during the game.

“When you are racing in the car, you have to do the same, especially when you have to defend or attack, and control the car. This has helped me keep my focus and concentration, and maintain my physical ability to be a good driver.”

2) John Carew – Actor

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John Carew remains one of the most prolific Norwegian footballers of all time, scoring 24 goals for his national side in 91 appearances.

He made his mark in European football in spells with clubs including Valencia, Roma, Lyon and Besiktas, but is best known to English fans for his four seasons with Aston Villa from 2007-2011, during which time he made 113 appearances notching 37 goals.

After being released following an unspectacular spell at West Ham in 2012, Carew has pursued a professional acting career, starring in 2015 gangster movie Hovdinger in which he played the character Ivan.

Carew told VGTV: “‘It’s a fun and interesting role. I would compare myself with Will Smith and “The Rock” perhaps.”

1) Arjan De Zeeuw – Police detective

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Few ex-footballers have taken quite such an unlikely career path as former Barnsley, Wigan and Portsmouth defender Arjan De Zeeuw.

The centre back spent 17 years in English football, and was part of the Barnsley squad who reached the Premier League for the first time in their history in 1997, was named Portsmouth’s player of the Year in 2004, captained Wigan in the Carling Cup final 2006 and most bizarrely was named one of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s favourite footballers.

Despite the high regard in which he was held in English football, the Dutchman never earned an international call-up, and following his retirement in 2009 at the age of 39, he returned home to complete his training as a doctor, he began work as a forensic scientist and is now a police detective based in Alkmaar.

“It was never my intention to put my feet up after playing – I like to use my brain a little bit,” De Zeeuw told BBC Sport, adding that after playing football, he needed to ‘look at the world a bit more’, and that he liked the idea of justice and of trying to make the world a better and more equal place.

Five successful sporting switches

We all have an occasional urge to do something new to freshen up our lives, and trying out a new sport is one way of doing it.

But imagine if that urge could lead to a potentially lucrative and dazzling new career when you’re already made a name for yourself as a sportsman.

The most recent star to switch from one sport to another is former Bundesliga goalkeeper Tim Wiese, who made a successful WWE pro-wrestling debut in Munich.

We look at five other moves that paid off.

5. Andrew Flintoff – from cricket to boxing to cricket

Flintoff strikes a pose. Pic by Adam Cool© , flickr creative commons

Many cricketers have shown their talents for other sports. Dennis Compton, for example, played 78 Tests for England but also had a successful career as a footballer with Arsenal.

England legend Sir Ian Botham also played football whilst playing Test cricket, while South Africa’s Jonty Rhodes played hockey and was actually selected to represent his country at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

A more recent familiar example is Andrew Flintoff’s decision to try professional boxing after retiring from cricket. The former England all-rounder made his pro debut in Manchester 2012 against Richard Dawson from the US.

It ended successfully for Flintoff as he won the fight, which was filmed as part of a TV documentary about his switch from the pitch to the ring.

However, ‘Freddie’ decided to quit while and he was ahead opted instead to make a cricketing comeback.

He came out of retirement to compete for Lancashire in the 2014 Natwest T20 Blast, and also went to Australia later that year to play in the Big Bash for the Brisbane Heat, before finally calling it a day.

4. Adam Gemili – football to athletics

Team GB sprint star Adam Gemili’s footballing career started at Chelsea as a youth player since at the age of eight, and he went on to ply as a defender for Dagenham & Redbridge and Thurrock FC.

Maybe he suspected deep down that soccer stardom was out of his reach, so he opted to develop his other talent – for running fast – instead and left football behind in favour of athletics in 2012.

His most successful achievement on the track to date came at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when he finished second in the men’s 100m final.

Still only 23 years of age, he’s surely on course to add to his medals tally on the international stage in the next few years.

3. Fabien Barthez – from football to motorsport

MOTORSPORT - GT TOUR 2012 - PAUL RICARD - LE CASTELLET (FRA) - 26 TO 28/10/2012 - PHOTO : FLORENT GOODEN / DPPI - BARTHEZ FABIEN - TEAM SOFREV ASP FERRARI 458 ITALIA - AMBIANCE PORTRAITFormer Manchester United star Fabien Barthez was known as a fabulous shot stopper, and was named ‘keeper of the tournament as France won the 1998 World Cup.

He also helped his country to win Euro 2000, and won plenty of league titles and cups at club level for the likes of United, Marseille and Monaco.

After retiring in 2007, he swapped football strips for racing suits as he developed a successful career in motorsport.

He has competed in competitions including the Porsche Carrera Cup France, the FIA GT Series and Caterham Sigma Cup France.

In 2013 he was crowned French GT champion, and in 2014 took part in the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving a Ferrari 458, he and his co-drivers finished 29th overall and ninth in their class.

2. Sonny Bill Williams – from rugby league to boxing to rugby union

Sonny Bill Williams has had an extraordinary career. An true icon to many, the New Zealander has achieved a ton of success in his time.

From winning two Rugby World Cups and several honours in rugby league, to remaining unbeaten in his boxing career, Williams is surely on of the greatest athletes in the world.

He started out in rugby league, playing for the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters as well as for New Zealand.

He then decided to make a switch to boxing and was unbeaten in seven fights, winning them all, including three by knockout, and claiming the New Zealand heavyweight crown and WBA international belt along the way.

However, rugby union came calling again and he returned to the 15-man code in time to become part of the All Blacks squad which won the 2011 World Cup, helping them to retain it in 2015.

1. Brock Lesnar – multi-sport athlete

Not only he can fight, he can play American football too. Brock Lesnar has success written all over him.

Winning multiple championships in the WWE and New Japan pro-wrestling – as well as dominating the MMA/UFC scene – he also had a brief spell at the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL.

Lesnar signed with WWE in 2000, making his main roster debut in 2002. He went on to become the youngest undisputed WWE champion at the age of 25, a King of the Ring and Royal Rumble winner as well as ending Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak in 2014.

Nicknamed ‘The Beast’, Lesnar put his WWE career on hold in 2004 in order to pursue a career in American football as a defensive tackle. He was recruited by the Minnesota Vikings for the 2004-05 campaign and played several pre-season games but was then cut from their roster.

UFC came calling, and it was a fresh challenge for Lesnar. He had nine fights, winning six of them, but has now returned to the WWE and has a bout against Goldberg in the Survivor Series on November 20th.

Review – Smack ‘Em Up

“Whether its 10,000 or 100 people [watching], its all the same to me”

This exceptional BBC3 documentary followed Ireland’s Fergal Devitt on his journey from Bray, County Wicklow, to the biggest wrestling organisation in the world, the WWE.

A fundamental aspect of professional wrestling is the art of good storytelling, and producer Ronan McCloskey employs it well on the small screen.

Not only do we see Devitt’s development as a star of the ring, we also discover how his career has affected his life and relationships.

Anger, cockiness and humility are all shown to be part of his personality, and he works as hard as anybody despite being no spring chicken.

At the time of filming, Devitt was 32 years old and in his 13th year as a pro wrestler – only now is getting his chance in the big time.

Demanding

McCloskey also makes sure the viewer never forget the physical grind that goes with being a pro wrestler, especially in Devitt’s case. In one scene he recites the injuries he’s suffered in his career to date.

“I’ll start from the top down. Five concussions, separated shoulder 10 times, hyper-extended right elbow, broken left wrist, bruised kidney, broken tailbone, torn knee cartilage, dislocated jaw, burst eardrum and a couple of black eyes!”

This is even more impressive when we learn that pro wrestlers are not on guaranteed contracts like in mainstream sports.

They get paid when they wrestle, so to fight using a physically demanding style while carrying injuries takes courage and toughness.

Humbleness

The tale of Devitt’s journey to Japan to wrestle on the circuit there is fascinating and eye-opening. As a gaijin (the Japanese word for foreigner), he couldn’t speak the language and struggled to fit in at first.

He recalls how he was first introduced to the dojo where he trained in 2006, describing it as having the worst living conditions he’d ever encountered.

Devitt was made to cook and clean, and tried to learn what he could from the older, more experienced wrestlers, which speaks again to the overall message of his humbleness. He was a six-year veteran at that point so it must have been hard to swallow his pride and essentially start from the bottom again.

Smack ‘Em Up portrays one man’s hard work and desire to go as far as he can in this toughest of professions.

Devitt’s rise to WWE stardom is an inspiring and amazing story, and McCloskey relays it skilfully in this documentary.

Hyped to the max as NXT takes over London

Enthralling action, gripping plotlines, larger-than-life performances and personalities – I’ve seen all of this and more on my TV as a wrestling fan.

But actually being at a big-time live show turns all of those qualities up by 1,000, and for three hours you are removed from reality and immersed in the crazy, captivating world of pro wrestling.

“Young, old, families, friends, people on their own – none of those categories mattered. We were all in one category, wrestling fans”

When WWE NXT scheduled a network special event at the SSE Arena in Wembley for the finale of its UK tour, I knew I had to move fast.

Tickets sold out in less than five minutes, but luckily I secured mine and so became one of the privileged 10,000-plus fans in attendance on the night.

As somebody who had only ever watched wrestling on television, you could say I was than a little excited.

The moment I walked into the arena and saw the ring and the crowd, a massive grin spread across my face and pretty much stayed there for the whole evening.

As I located my seat, it was refreshing to see all types of people at the event. The young, the old, families, friends, people on their own – and none of those categories mattered. We were all in one category, wrestling fans.

Hyped up

Whatever you think of pro wrestling, it knows how to put on a show that makes fans feel it’s worth paying their hard-earned money to attend.

The party-like atmosphere at this one was in evidence even outside the arena, with the gathering hordes of WWE aficionados in high spirits, chanting all the way as they moved up the queue to get in.

” It was the perfect match to get the crowd up and gave the show a sense of momentum that never flagged”

The televised show started with a special appearance by probably the most recognisable face on the night, former superstar and now executive vice-president of talent relations/live events of WWE, Triple H.

It was like the Triple H of old. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand and hyped things up to the max as the first rendition of the NXT chant echoed around the cavernous venue.

The first match on the card was actually one of the night’s best, between Japanese star Asuka and Emma. These women really left it all in the ring, delivering intensity in every move.

Asuka showcased her submission expertise and hard-hitting style to claim the victory. It was the perfect match to get the crowd up and gave the show a sense of momentum that never flagged as the night went on.

Death defying

If I was to tell you what came next blew the roof off the place and produced the largest reaction of the night, you’d imagine it must have been a really intense back-and-forth contest with an array of exciting moves and death-defying leaps – but it was simply an entrance to the ring!

When Enzo Amore and Colin Cassidy’s music was pumped out, it really did feel like England had scored at the nearby national stadium. The crowd roared and sang along with every word of their famed opening entrance skit, complete with their native New York accent.

This segment really brought home why I originally became a pro wrestling fan. It’s an art that elevates audience participation to a level that leaves other forms of entertainment trailing in its wake.

A lot of the time, the wrestling isn’t what garners the loudest reaction but rather it’s the entrances, promos and catchphrases in which the crowd really feel most deeply involved.

Egged on

A fairly rudimentary match followed between crowd favourite Apollo Crews and the villainous Baron Corbin.

Some viewed this as the right time to get more drinks and food. Others aimed some vulgar chants at the evil Baron, who egged on the crowd, embraced their bile and basked in the hatred. Corbin went on to win and afterwards endured more profane abuse before, in typically British fashion, we clapped him off all the way.

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As we got further into the card, I could really sense the anticipation building for the last two matches – the championship contests were most likely the ones that people had really paid to see.

As Bayley made her memorable entrance and wrestled Nia Jax for the NXT Divas Championship, we Londoners started the now famous Bayley chant based on Hey Baby, the former UK no 1 song made famous by DJ Otzi.

Since the Wembley show, the chant has taken off and is now sung in Bayley’s honour at all the events she appear at back in the USA and elsewhere around the world. We were not only just there to witness and admire, but we were making history.

Brutality    

The main event was finally upon us and one word comes to mind when looking back – brutality. Reigning NXT heavyweight champion Finn Balor and challenger Samoa Joe really put it all on the line. The promise of blood, sweat and tears has become a cliché in the fight world, but this match lived up to it.

It truly had everything. Drama, emotion, violence, technical wrestling and no little amount of brawling. It truly did live up to its hype and delivered on all fronts, so much so that after Balor retained his belt to the delight of the crowd, he had to be carried out by medics. That’s what steel chairs, a table and a 300lb Samoan monster will do to you…

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The event drew to a close and I truly felt like I’d got my £60 worth, and left with a new-found respect for all the performers who had put their bodies through so much for our entertainment.

Wrestlers are on the road 300 days a year, fighting in a new city every night, and to experience it live was truly special – one hell of an emotional rollercoaster ride.

I recommend anybody to go next time WWE rolls into your town. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Even if you aren’t a wrestling fan, by the time you come out of the arena at the end of the show, you will be.