Another week, another three-and-a-half hours of WWE programming that you probably missed. No, I'm not talking about the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view and the free pre-show. I'm talking about the C, D, E and F shows that play throughout the week, under most WWE fans' radars.
Since WWE's focus this week was completely on Hell in a Cell, I use the last slide to analyze whether this past week's editions of these shows added anything to this month's pay-per-view experience. If you've been watching these shows, I'd be interested to hear your take.
But if you're reading this article, you may be one of the many people that don’t have time to watch shows like NXT, Superstars, Main Event and Saturday Morning Slam. That means you probably don’t have time to read lengthy reviews of each show, complete with commentary, predictions and cynical sidetracks. You're probably frustrated that you've already made it to the end of the third paragraph of this article and you have yet to read about any results from any show.
My "notes" version of all four shows is below.
If it piques your interest enough to read on, the slideshow breaks down the shows individually, segment by segment, complete with my questions and predictions.
DD Bonus: In addition to the questions that conclude each individual slide, I have some added bonus questions that I'd like to use to challenge "Dustin's Diamonds." I know you can do it.
There's a bonus question on the NXT slide related to British female wrestlers, and another on the SMS slide about "monster" gimmicks.
Highlights of the Action
On NXT, the show opens with a victory for Brodus Clay (which we don't see very often anymore) over Camacho. In the second match, Kassius Ohno lost to Trent Baretta after Richie Steamboat caused a distraction.
In Divas tag action, Layla pins Audrey Marie as they teamed with Alicia Fox and Paige respectively. In a squash match that followed, Bronson pounded Lincoln Brodrick before forcing him to tap out.
In the main event, Seth Rollins defeated Heath Slater, who was accompanied by Vicki Guerrero.
On Main Event, the format remains the same. After video packages for and interviews with both participants in the main event, theirs is the first match we see. This week, Ryback essentially squashes Dolph Ziggler, who is not accompanied to the ring by Vicki.
After two Raw Rebounds and some HIAC promotion, the final match of the night sees ADR get a clean win over Sin Cara. Post-match, both the Primetime Players and Randy Orton make an appearance, setting up a six-man tag for next week featuring Randy Orton, Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio vs. Alberto Del Rio and the Primetime Players.
On Superstars, we are immediately treated to a very solid match in which the Usos get a rare victory over the Primetime Players.
A couple of lengthy Raw Rebounds prevents us from more than one other match, in which we see Jinder Mahal force Tyson Kidd to tap, with minimal assistance from the rest of the 3MB.
On Saturday Morning Slam, Brodus Clay got a victory over Epico after hitting him with the Splat, and Antonio Cesaro defeated Derrick Bateman in a non-title match after executing the Neutralizer.
The theme of the week was Halloween-based, so the other segments included Kane looking back at some of WWE's greatest "monsters," Kaitlynn demonstrating how to make a penguin costume, and a "3rd Degree" segment in which the superstars talked about their favorite Halloween costumes.
Now, if you care to read more about any of these happenings, please enjoy the slideshow.
As NXT opens, we see Heath Slater backstage. He is talking to Dusty Rhodes, asking for a title shot against NXT Champion Seth Rollins. Vicki Guerrero joins the conversation, siding with Heath. She claims she is at NXT to see the future stars of WWE, implying that she may manage them one day.
Dusty does not give Slater a title match. Instead, he tells Slater that he must prove that he's worthy of a title match, and sets him up with a non-title match against the champion.
We then cut to the arena where Brodus Clay is making his way to the ring for the first match of the evening. His opponent is Camacho. The commentators that will guide us through this episode are Tony Luftman and William Regal. Matt Striker is handling the ring introductions.
Brodus Clay vs. Camacho (televised match length 3:54)
The Funkasauras takes control of the match early on, exploiting his size and strength advantage. After a few minutes, Camacho is able to retaliate, even hoisting the big man up for a Samoan drop. Control of the match goes back-and-forth a couple of times before Brodus finally gets Camacho down, hits the Splat running splash and takes home a victory.
Per usual, there is a post-match in-ring dance party with the Funkadactyls and some of the kids from the audience.
Immediately following the match, we see a vignette for Paige. She says she's not a "diva," she's a fighter. We find out she will be competing later in the evening. It's not until a little later in the show that they announce Paige and Audrey Marie will team up against Layla and Alicia Fox.
We go back to the arena where Byron Saxton is interviewing Richie Steamboat, who "has not been cleared to wrestle tonight" due to injuries he supposedly suffered during last week's six-man tag team match. He calls Kassius (which he pronounced KASS-ee-us, intentionally I believe) Ohno a coward for hitting him from behind.
Of course, this prompts Kassius Ohno to interrupt the interview. He has four things to say. He corrects Richie's mispronunciation of "Kassius," says that Richie is just upset because Ricky wasn't a good father, says that he is moving on from Steamboat to try to become NXT Champion, and finally gives Richie a towel so that he "can throw it in."
As we head to a commercial break, Kassius is headed to the ring for his match. He is facing the recently-returned Trent Baretta.
Kassius Ohno vs. Trent Baretta (televised match length 6:49)
Trent uses his speed and quickness to take the advantage very early in the match, but it does not take long for Ohno to take control. After being dominated for a few minutes, Baretta manages to get Ohno out of the ring, then hits Ohno with a running somersault from inside the ring over the top rope. As they remain outside the ring, Ohno regains control of the match and takes things back inside the ring.
This ebb-and-flow continues throughout the match, Baretta using his speed and quickness, Ohno using his strength and brutality. It showcased both men's abilities very nicely. The match ends when Richie Steamboat comes to ringside. He has Ohno's towel in hand, throws it at Ohno to temporarily blind him, allowing Baretta to get the win.
Before we go to commercial break, we find out the women's tag match will be next.
Paige & Audrey Marie vs. Layla & Alicia Fox (televised match length 5:03)
If it were up to me, Paige and Audrey Marie would be on regular WWE programming, and the team of Layla and Alicia would be confined to NXT. Unfortunately, it's not up to me. The commentators are really playing up the idea that the NXT Divas have to show that they're as good as the WWE Divas so that they can move on up, career-wise.
Paige and Alicia start off the match for their respective tag teams. I know that I generally come down hard on Alicia, but she looked pretty solid as the match began. But it only lasted a few minutes before both Divas tagged out. Layla and Audrey were surprisingly solid as well. Perhaps the future of the WWE Divas division isn't as bad as it is often projected.
As Layla makes the tag and Audrey continues to be punished by Alicia, Regal brings up a good point: this may be the only time in WWE or NXT history that two British females are in the ring at the same time.
DD BONUS: Can you think of any instance in WWE (or NXT) history that proves Regal wrong? Has there ever been a time when two British females were in the same match?
I was genuinely (and pleasantly) surprised at the number of near-falls and pinning combinations that we saw all throughout this match. If every WWE Divas match was this solid, the division would get the same level of respect as the TNA Knockouts, and big-time players like Beth Phoenix and Gail Kim wouldn't leave WWE for greener pastures.
Paige seemed to be in control of Layla near the end when Audrey blind-tagged herself in. Paige laid Layla out before leaving the ring. Audrey went for a lazy cover, which Layla managed to reverse and get the pinfall victory for her team.
Backstage, Briley Pierce interviews Seth Rollins, asking about his main event match against Heath Slater. The promo was alright, but not at the level of a bona fide WWE Superstar. Essentially, he calls Vicki old and says that Slater's 15 minutes of fame is up.
We see a quick vignette for Bronson. It reminded me of the vignettes we'd see for Brodus Clay before they threw the Funkasauras swerve. He is up next.
Bronson vs. Lincoln Brodrick (televised match length 1:07)
Despite the fact that Lincoln Brodrick is built like David Otunga and Bronson is built more like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Bronson basically pounds on Brodrick for about a minute before making him tap out with some sort of leglock submission that looked to me like a modified Figure Four.
Backstage, Ohno is pissed that he lost, destroying one of the Full Sail University classrooms. He stares into the camera but doesn't say a word. He's holding the towel that cost him his match earlier in the show.
Back in the arena, Antonio Cesaro is on the mic. He basically just talks trash about the US before telling the audience that he is their champion. He then requests that everyone stand for "the national anthem." Once the reluctant audience begins to stand up, Cesaro calls for the Swiss national anthem. Before it can be played, Tyson Kidd interrupts.
As Kidd comes to the ring, he makes fun of Cesaro's "man purse," and then tells the US Champion that he wants a shot at the belt. They mix it up for a few seconds before Kidd sends Cesaro out of the ring. Cesaro rips off his shirt and Kidd invites him back into the ring. At that point, of course, Cesaro just leaves without ever answering Kidd's challenge.
After the commercial break, Vicki gives Heath Slater an introduction not unlike the one she gives for Dolph Ziggler. As always, Jim Ross joins the commentary team for the main event.
Seth Rollins vs. Heath Slater (televised match length 6:47)
The opening minutes of the match are a little slow, as the two men feel each other out and try to take the early advantage.
Being a very proud resident of Des Moines, Iowa, it's my duty to bring to attention any mention of "The Hawkeye State." It was nice to hear Jim Ross say, "Seth Rollins [is] from the state of Iowa, one of the states known for their amateur wrestling." Sure, it's not that big of a compliment, but we take what we can get.
The match remains fairly even until Slater gets sent to the outside and takes the opportunity to confide in Vicki Guerrero. This sends us to a commercial break, and when we return, Rollins has control of the match, which has moved back into the ring.
As Rollins climbs to the top rope, Vicki does her job and serves as a distraction. It gives Slater a chance to take control of the match again, which he does. He remains in control until he attempts a powerbomb. Rollins escapes, lands a brutal kick to the back of Slater's head, then hits a high-impact finisher, the name of which is unknown to both JR and Regal.
Prediction: It won't be too long (another year or so) before they bring Bronson up to the major shows, but his current gimmick won't be any more successful than Tensai's gimmick currently is.
Question: Is it a good sign or bad sign that NXT seems to be featuring more and more guys that have already made it to Raw and SmackDown? Does making appearances on NXT mean that WWE feels you have something you need to improve on? Or should it merely be seen as a treat to the talent and fans of NXT?
The show opens with co-hosts Michale Cole and The Miz in the ring. As the format for this show goes, they show promos for both participants in the main event of Main Event, this week being Ryback and Dolph Ziggler.
After the video packages, Matt Striker interviews Ryback backstage. When asked about his match against CM Punk at HIAC, Ryback only gives a two-sentence response: "Watch what I do to Ziggler. It's feeding time."
Josh Matthews is in the locker room, trying to get a word from Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler refuses to say anything after Josh tries to ask him about Ryback three different times. The next thing we see is Ryback making his way to the ring.
Ryback vs. Dolph Ziggler (televised match length 5:35)
We return from commercial break, and Ryback is still alone in the ring. Ziggler makes his way to the ring, sans Vicki. Cole explains that it is because she has all sorts of new responsibility now with her new role on Raw.
The booking of this match is a complete disservice to Ziggler. His refusal to give an interview in the interview is clearly because he is too nervous about his match with Ryback. When he gets to the ring for the match, the look on his face says again that he is hopeless, that he doesn't believe he has a chance to win.
After Ryback managed to beat Ziggler out of the ring, Mr. Money-In-The-Bank ran to the back, with Ryback in hot pursuit. This sends us to a commercial break. When we return, Ryback emerges from the back with Ziggler hoisted on his shoulders and brings the match back to the ring.
During the entire course of the match, Ziggler has less than a minute of total offense. As the match ends in typical Ryback fashion, it simply feels like an extended-length squash match.
When we return from the next commercial break, we get a Raw Rebound. Then some promotion for Hell in a Cell. Then another Raw Rebound. Unbelievable.
Cole and Miz are in the ring to interview Paul Heyman. Heyman does the interview from the TitanTron; are they still calling it that? They ask Heyman what he thinks of Punk's chances after seeing what Ryback just did to Ziggler.
Heyman just says that Punk can't be compared to Ziggler, so their question doesn't make any sense. A standard Heyman promo talking up one of his own. After we return from the next commercial break, we are ready for Alberto Del Rio vs. Sin Cara.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Sin Cara (televised match length 5:05)
The match starts out with both men trying to gain the advantage, going through a lot of the moves and routines you'd expect from these two. Although they are building ADR as the favorite, no one has a clear advantage after the first few minutes. However, as we head to a commercial break, Sin Cara is down outside the ring.
When we return from the break, both superstars are back in the ring as ADR is trying to rip Sin Cara's mask off. Through the rest of the match, Sin Cara manages to get in a few short bursts of offense, but never enough to keep control. ADR ends up winning with the Cross Armbreaker.
Post-match, ADR is going through a standard heel promo to get the audience to react. Primetime Players come out and initially have a problem with ADR. It doesn't take much convincing, however, for ADR to redirect their aggression towards Sin Cara.
The post-match beating on Sin Cara is enough to prompt a response from Randy Orton, who manages to clear the ring and save the young luchadore. This sets up next week's Main Event, featuring a six-man tag with ADR and the Primetime Players against The Viper, Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio.
Prediction: Even with The Miz on commentary, this show will never be "must-see" for most of the WWE Universe. The unnecessarily long promotion of the show's first match, coupled with too many Raw Rebounds and a lack of any major storyline progressions, will keep many fans turned off.
Question: We just saw Orton vs. ADR and Rey/Cara vs. PTP at the pay-per-view. Will next week's Main Event serve as the final chapter for these feuds or rekindle the fire until Survivor Series?
Scott Stanford and Josh Matthews are on commentary as The Usos make their way to the ring for the opening match. As the Primetime Players make their way to the ring, Matthews and Stanford remind us that Hell in a Cell is just around the corner, implying that this episode will center around Sunday's event. Neither of these teams are scheduled to be a part this month's pay-per-view.
The Usos vs. The Primetime Players (televised match length 8:25)
Jimmy Uso (the one with the full sleeve tattoo, as Stanford points out) starts off the match against Darren Young, both men trying to gain the early advantage for their respective teams. The Usos make a lot of quick tags early in the match, utilizing their tag team specialist tactics to gain the early control.
It isn't long before the script is flipped, however. Titus gets the tag and quickly takes control for his team, and the PTP begin to make frequent tags and subject Jimmy Uso to a lot of double-team offense. Control of the match continues back-and-forth in this manner until we reach our first commercial break.
When we return from the break, Titus is in the ring with control over Jay Uso. When Jay gets in some offense, it leads to a race for the hot tag, and both Darren Young and Jimmy Uso enter the fray, Jimmy with the advantage initially. Titus tries to make a save, but this brings in the other Uso, and the Samoan brothers take him out with a double-superkick.
To my surprise, the Usos keep control of the match until Jimmy hits Darren with a Samoan splash to pick up the pinfall victory for Rikishi's twin boys.
This week's oft-repeated Raw Rebound evolves around AJ's announcement that she's stepping down as Raw GM and her alleged affair with John Cena. We're informed that this is what we'll see after the commercial break.
After that Raw Rebound, we are told that Tyson Kidd vs. Jinder Mahal will be up next, which I can only assume means we'll also get to see Drew McIntyre and Heath Slater, 3MB in full-effect.
Tyson Kidd vs. Jinder Mahal (televised match length 5:06)
The early portion of the match focuses on both men's advantage over the other, Kidd emphasizing his speed and agility, Mahal emphasizing his size and strength. The match remains fairly even until just before the commercial break, when Heath Slater causes a momentary distraction, giving Mahal the advantage as Kidd is sent to the outside of the ring.
When we return from the break, Mahal has maintained control, continually playing to his strength advantage. Before the match ends, Kidd gets in a short burst of offense, but it's not enough. Mahal hits a high knee to set up the Camel Clutch, and the last graduate of the Hart Dungeon is forced to tap.
The conclusion of this match sends us to a commercial break. The remainder of the program is simply a twelve-minute replay of Raw's main event, the lumberjack match between Punk and Sheamus. That's the only thing we see after the last commercial break.
Prediction: Despite their loss here to the Usos, and their loss to Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara at the pay-per-view, the Primetime Players will be feuding for the WWE Tag Team Championship by WrestleMania 29, if they don't already have the belts.
Question: Has WWE Creative come up with anything for Tyson Kidd, long-term? Every time it looks like he's about to get a solid push, he goes back to jobbing for guys like Jinder Mahal.
As Saturday Morning Slam opens, we are told that the main event will see United States Champion Antonio Cesaro take on Derrick Bateman. But to kick things off, The Funkasaurus makes his way to the ring, accompanied by the Funkadactyls. He'll face off against Epico, who is accompanied to the ring by Primo. Josh Matthews and The Miz are on commentary.
Brodus Clay vs. Epico (televised match length 2:07)
Brodus has been doing the job somewhat regularly on Raw and SmackDown, so you've got to believe this is a small way in which they're trying to maintain his relevance and avoid simply killing the strong push he received when he arrived.
Per usual for SMS, the in-ring psychology is clearly geared specifically for the Saturday morning kids. From Primo's attempts to distract Clay, to the way they exaggerated Clay's size and strength advantage, this match was for the future generation of the WWE Universe. Brodus gets a quick and decisive win after his Splat, the running splash.
Playing up a Halloween theme this week, the first segment after the commercial break is hosted by Kane. He's going to tell us which other "monsters" in WWE's history that he enjoyed. The video package included The Boogeyman, Papa Shango (The Godfather's early voodoo gimmick), The Undertaker, and Kane himself.
DD Bonus: I assume that almost everyone that posts on B/R would say that The Undertaker has the best "monster" or "dark" gimmick of all time. Does Kane come in at No. 2? Do Papa Shango or The Boogeyman come anywhere close? Are there any "demons" in pro wrestling history that are actually more impressive than the Dead Man?
The next segment features Kaitlynn demonstrating how to construct a penguin costume for Halloween. Not worth watching, unless you have some very strong feelings for Kaitlynn. Honestly, the costume wasn't even impressive.
This week's "3rd Degree" asked different Superstars and Divas about their favorite Halloween costumes. Another segment worth skipping if you're over the age of six.
After a commercial break, it's time for Cesaro vs. Bateman. They are playing up the fact that Bateman is an underdog in this match; we'll see how that plays out on SMS. Apparently, his gimmick is something like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, in that he's just obsessed with America and the flag, starts U-S-A chants, etc.
Antonio Cesaro vs. Derrick Bateman (televised match length 7:26)
Bateman's exaggerated patriotism plays perfectly into Cesaro's new claim that no American will ever beat him, and they play that angle up the entire match. This one goes long enough that it's interrupted by commercial break, which happens when Bateman manages to send Cesaro out of the ring.
When we come back from commercial, Cesaro is back in the ring and back in control. The advantage actually goes back-and-forth a few times before the end, teasing that Bateman may pull off a big upset. In the end, Cesaro hits the Neutralizer for the win, and the program ends.
Prediction: Regardless of the initial ratings, WWE will continue to tweak this show until they have just the right formula to connect with the youth. It's an interesting process, watching them add and remove recurring segments every week.
Question: As the WWE continues to slowly move back to more mature content, will a show like this get left behind?
Pay-per-views are a central piece of any successful professional wrestling business plan. The storylines that a company builds through free television almost always have their conclusions and resolutions on the pay-per-views. Therefore, for a company like WWE to be successful, the programming available on free television needs to entice the patron to pay around $45 every month to see the resolution as it is happening on PPV.
To that end, I'm not sure that these programs do a lot to help the pay-per-view buyrates, with the possible exception of Main Event. All it takes is a look at their projected audience and their ability to work a pay-per-view into their show.
The fans who are watching NXT or Superstars are likely already diehard fans of WWE's product. No one else seems to know (or even care) that these shows exist. If you are aware of these shows and you're watching them, it probably means you specifically have an interest in the future of the WWE.
If you are that interested, you've probably already made up your mind as to whether you'll be watching the pay-per-view. The major storylines are never advanced on these shows, and the participants showcased are rarely going to be making any pay-per-view appearances.
Saturday Morning Slam may have a small impact on pay-per-view buyrates, but not much. The only new fans that SMS is going to attract are very young children. While they're watching SMS and they see a promo for something like Hell in a Cell, they may ask their parents right then and there if they can order it. But most likely, when the show is no longer on, they won't even be thinking of it. And neither are their parents, who have to fork over the money to watch the pay-per-view.
Main Event is really the only one of these shows that I feel could have any sort of real impact on pay-per-view buyrates, but even that would be minimal. As I've argued before, Main Event will attract the casual wrestling fan who doesn't want to invest two or three hours to watch Raw or SmackDown. However, if done right, Main Event could draw them in for the opening match, which could mean they stick around afterwards for a little bit to see the next match.
While they're waiting, they'll likely be exposed to a Raw Rebound and a promo for the next pay-per-view. If the action and drama on Main Event are good enough, the casual fan may decide to watch the pay-per-view, or may at least tune in to Raw or SmackDown, and could get sucked into the pay-per-view after that.
But the primary purpose of these shows probably isn't to convince fans to buy pay-per-views. Rather than serving marketing purposes, these shows emphasize "product development." They are building the superstars of tomorrow and working out the kinks of the current roster. If, by chance, someone gets hooked into the pay-per-view, all the better.
That's just not their purpose.