Note: Spoilers will come quick, thick and fast in this review. You have been warned! For the very first time for a WWE Premium Live Event (or, in my day, […]
Note: Spoilers will come quick, thick and fast in this review. You have been warned!
For the very first time for a WWE Premium Live Event (or, in my day, what we’d just refer to as a Pay-Per-View or PPV), I was there. That’s probably not surprising seeing as I’m not a particularly outgoing or gregarious person, but also the last one held in the UK was SummerSlam in 1992 – an event which made a huge impact on countless wrestling fans, not least because the Intercontinental title was won by the British Bulldog, who beat brother-in-law Bret Hart for the belt.
It was a phenomenal, riveting event with one hell of a payoff for British fans – so when Clash at the Castle was announced earlier this year, it was naturally quite a big deal, to say the least.
Headlined by a main event that’d see Scottish superstar Drew McIntyre take on the dominant champion Roman Reigns, it was billed and promoted with McIntyre front and centre. His build up and the drama of his hard work and perseverance, along with the fact that this was McIntyre in the UK, if not quite at home, made it feel as if we were going to get that British Bulldog SummerSlam 92 moment that’d live in infamy and create thousands of wrestling fans from people who’d previously only given it a passing glance or not given it a chance (usually citing the ‘it’s fake’ nonsense).
All of the pieces were in place, yet WWE can’t resist themselves when it comes to Reigns – and unfortunately they left a sour taste in the mouth of thousands of fans with a ridiculous ending to the main event.
When something like that happens and the rug is pulled from under you right when it looks like things are going the way they should, it’s incredibly deflating. And it’s easy to then carry that negative energy with you once the dust has settled, forgetting just how good the main event was until that point – but also just how good the whole show was in general.
0. Theory and Alpha Academy vs Madcap Moss and The Street Profits
Marked as ‘zero’ on my numbered entry list here as it was a warm-up match rather than part of the main event, this six-man tag – with a seemingly thrown together alliance on both sides – was a lot of fun, delivering some satisfying action and allowing the crowd to get into the rhythm of seeing wrestling live, rather than on TV.
It takes some getting used to; being as far away from the action as you are in a stadium, you can’t hear the bumps and there’s no commentary, so you rely on a combination of seeing the action unfold at a great distance as well as the big screens in the arena.
This was a great match to get the crowd warmed up to though, with plenty of varied spots and back-and-forth drama before the good guys – with Madcap Moss having recently taken a face turn (that is to say, he’s now cheered rather than booed!) – in Moss and The Street Profits taking the win.
1. Bianca Belair, Alexa Bliss & Asuka vs Damage Control
With an injured Becky Lynch having to pull out, Alexa Bliss took her place for the face team – which was fine, but did leave the opening match at a UK PLE without a British participant.
Regardless of that, this six woman tag match delivered some spectacular action and a thrilling end, with bad girls Damage Control (pictured) taking the win and positioning themselves as a major threat to the Women’s Division. Excellent stuff.
2. Gunther vs Sheamus
Current Intercontinental champion, the Austrian wrestler Gunther – under his previous moniker, Walter – was a dominant force in WWE’s NXT UK division, but took some time to really shine when brought to the main US roster.
Irish brawler Sheamus – with his distinctively pale skin and fiery red hair – has been with WWE for a very long time, but for whatever reason has always felt underrated and perhaps even underused to a certain extent, despite being a solid worker and frequently giving excellent performances.
With the title on the line and two burly brutes known for their hard-hitting styles facing off to either retain or win that belt, this was always going to be a good match.
Yet these guys didn’t give us a good match. They turned in what was the best match of the night. It was just as hard-hitting and physical as we would have expected, but both Gunther and Sheamus turned it up to 11 with some genuinely intense and brutal moments.
The crowd was on fire for Sheamus; usually a heel (that’s a bad guy, the opposite of face, for the uninitiated!), he’s generally met with lukewarm responses or outright booing. A near-enough hometown crowd was on his side all the way here though, and despite the fact that he lost, this was a genuinely spectacular performance that should hopefully give him (and his two stablemates, Ridge Holland and Pete ‘Butch’ Dunne, who feel a bit wasted at the moment) a lot more opportunity to shine.
The same can be said of Gunther, whose stable Imperium was reunited after they lost a member earlier this year. Though returning member Giovanni Vinci (a rebranded Fabian Aichner) has been lumbered with an atrocious grinning model gimmick in NXT 2.0 recently, that was nowhere to be seen here in the gloriously OTT intro from third piece of the Imperium puzzle, Ludwig Kaiser.
This should set up some great confrontations between the Brawling Brutes (aka Sheamus’s stable) and Imperium – and my hat goes off to both participants of this match, who gave it their all. Sheamus getting a standing ovation from the crowd was beautiful too. Well deserved and long overdue for the Celtic Warrior.
3. Liv Morgan vs Shayna Baszler
My opinion of this match may change once I’ve watched the Clash at the Castle event on TV, but – perhaps because it came after the electrifying Intercontinental Championship match, which saw Sheamus lose on ‘home’ turf – the crowd was deflated and couldn’t be any less into this Smackdown Women’s Championship match.
It didn’t help that Liv Morgan – since a dramatic and overdue championship win at Money in the Bank earlier this year – had lost some steam and appeal by winning in a slightly dirty manner against Ronda Rousey at SummerSlam. It instantly turned audiences against Morgan and she’s struggled to get them back on side since.
Shayna Baszler, with her brutal submission techniques and fearsome look, is a great contrast to the squeaky clean Morgan – so this should have been a really interesting match.
Sadly, the crowd just wasn’t invested and there were few memorable moments here, which is a real shame. Liv’s win to retain didn’t get much of a reaction either; I don’t think anyone would have been particularly bothered if Baszler has won, so perhaps this was a lose-lose situation for the fight anyway.
4. Edge & Rey Mysterio vs Finn Balor & Damian Priest
A really fun feud has been brewing between Judgment Day – the gothic stable created by Edge before they turned on him, now comprised of Finn Balor, Damian Priest and Rhea Ripley – and the Mysterious (father and son team Rey and Dominik). With veteran Edge on the side of the Mysterios, seeking to exact revenge on his former stablemates, the scene was set for a fun battle with high dramatic stakes.
And it didn’t disappoint. Rey’s son Dominik at ringside and Ripley there too – with some hilarious segments recently involving Ripley kidnapping and/or dominating Dominik in some way – this was full of action in and out of the ring. Old hands Rey and Edge delivered each other’s signature moves in some moments that the crowd exploded at, but the most interesting development occured after the Mysterio/Edge win.
Yep, Dominik turned on his father and Edge, with a low blow to his Dad’s partner that saw his shoe fly off. Rey, trying to defuse the situation, took a brutal clothesline – with Dom walking shoeless and moody backstage to a universal chorus of boos from the crowd. Though Dom’s heel turn has been telegraphed for a while, it was really well done and great fun to watch live. I’m not sure Dom will really convince as a heel going forward, but this was an entertaining ending to an excellent match.
Note that Finn Balor was the lone Brit in this fight, making it the second fight a UK wrestler was involved in on the night – and the second loss.
5. Seth Rollins vs Matt Riddle
Vicious verbal sparring – that got both heated and very personal – raised the drama for this match between Matt Riddle and Seth ‘Freakin’ Rollins.
Despite the villainous Rollins being the obvious bad guy in the fight, the crowd were clearly behind him, singing his theme throughout and not seeming to give a damn about poor, barefoot Riddle.
Nevertheless, both wrestlers put on great performances here and with Seth taking the win, the crowd were ecstatic. Rollins is just such a fun heel; sometimes, it’s good to be bad.
6. Drew McIntyre vs Roman Reigns
This was a stunner of a match, with the crowd hotter than the sun, plenty of incredibly dramatic twists and a genuinely stunning performance by Drew McIntyre.
Yet that ending absolutely sucked, there’s no doubt about it. You could feel the atmosphere change, you could see people walking out in disgust at yet another win-with-assistance by the supposedly all-powerful and unbeatable Reigns, who can’t just win a fight on his own.
Despite all of the well handled drama and fantastic build up – with McIntyre getting at least part of his old theme song back and an unprecedented hero’s welcome from the crowd – the match wasn’t perfect.
Karrion Kross and Scarlett were revealed to be in the audience at ringside and – with Kross having recently returned to WWE to target McIntyre – it was obvious that there’d be some shenanigans involving them. It turned out to be a minor and fairly inconsequential distraction that McIntyre recovered from, however, which did make it feel quite pointless (though of course it was a relief that this didn’t cost McIntyre the match at that point).
Boxer Tyson Fury’s presence had also been revealed earlier in the night and interactions between him and Reigns backstage were shown, so it was almost a given that he’d be involved in some form. However, his knockout punch to Theory, who attempted to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase to pin the champ, wasn’t what was expected. Given the audience reaction to Theory’s cash in attempt though, it was a very popular inclusion. Theory just has a very punchable face, it has to be said.
Dramatic false finish after false finish raised the pulse and drove up stress levels of everyone in attendance, but when McIntyre was cheated out of his three count win by a mystery assailant pulling the ref out of the ring, we knew what was coming.
Here was the fabled Roman Reigns assisted win in all its ‘glory’; with McIntyre distracted by the youngest Uso brother – and cousin of Reigns, the NXT wrestler Solo Sikoa – Reigns delivered a spear and pinned McIntyre.
It felt like a cheap way to end the night. And it was.
WWE have painted themselves into a corner by giving Reigns the belts for both brands; he feels like a part timer who rarely defends his belts, doesn’t ever seem to win without some kind of outside interference and yet somehow still maintains this image of being unstoppable. It’s complete bullshit and – with Reigns having held the championship for two years now – is incredibly overplayed and boring, to the extent that it doesn’t feel like any fight he’s in matters.
For this to have happened again, in a UK based PLE with a British challenger who is never likely to get an opportunity like this again, really rankled. It was an absolutely boneheaded decision to let things unfold this way, regardless of how Reigns has been built up and how the expectation is that he can only be beaten at WrestleMania or whatever. That just moves the drama from his matches over the next eight months or so to an even lower point.
The post-match standoff between Reigns and Fury – in which the audience were looking for Reigns to get the Theory treatment from the boxer – fizzled into a handshake, causing further boos. The handshake itself felt off, seeing as – like the rest of the 62k plus audience – Fury had just witnessed Reigns win with interference.
And the bizarre sing-along led by Fury, joined by McIntyre, just felt like a piss poor attempt to get the audience back on side too – many of whom had long since departed the arena.
Perhaps it’s our fault as fans, daring to believe that change really could come with ex-wrestler Triple H now in charge of creative. He’s been responsible for some daring, yet popular changes recently despite only having been in charge for a few months – yet it seems that some of the old regime’s way of thinking persists in some ways.
A great night, an excellent selection of matches – but perhaps one of the worst climaxes in recent memory and one which will foster resentment with UK fans for a long time to come.
We got our new SummerSlam, but it’s going to be memorable for the wrong reasons.
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