”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
QUESTIONS OF THE DAY: What was your favorite match at Takeover last night? Was New Orleans the best Takeover ever?
My detailed thoughts on last night’s NXT Takeover can be found throughout the LOP Radio Aftershock program linked above, suffice to say that I thought it was arguably the best NXT special to date, better than the one I attended in Brooklyn last summer and on par with the tremendous Dallas show two years ago.
The Ladder Match that crowned the first NXT North American Champion was outstanding. Few in WWE’s signature gimmick library have ever eclipsed the 30-minute mark and none which had previously were of the stunt-brawl, multi-man variety, so do not be surprised if the Takeover: New Orleans opener becomes a template for main roster success at a show like Money in the Bank. Everyone in that match looked like a star, the innovation in spot creation was incredible and brutal, and in the end I think that the right man won to start that title’s lineage (interestingly, for all my talk yesterday of being lousy at predictions, I went 5-for-5 with Takeover). It was one of my favorite iterations of the stipulation in several years. (Doc’s Rating – **** ½)
Storytelling on a more cerebral level from the women’s division offered the card last night the change of pace it needed following that Ladder Match. Ember Moon has rounded into an elite storyteller, in my opinion, dating back to the work that she did with Asuka that culminated in her affecting Brooklyn loss and continuing through her feud with the new champ, Shayna Baszler, who in her right has proven adept in the storytelling department during her brief run under the WWE umbrella. I am a fan of Shayna’s style, particularly of her ability to latch on submissions out of nowhere; her counter of the Eclipse leading into the climactic eventual knock-out sequence was fantastic. Baszler-Moon II bordered on great and might rewatch as great, period, on replay. (Doc’s rating – *** ¾)
Tag Team wrestling was sort of put in the unenviable position of being the emotional come-down spot for TO:NO, but all six men still worked their butts off. Especially noteworthy from bell-to-bell were Pete Dunne (a minute maximizer if there ever was one) and Kyle O’Reilly (what a master striker he is). While the action was fun while it lasted, the heel turn by Roderick Strong, who joined the Undisputed Era, was eye-opening; as discussed heavily with Steven Bell and Samuel ‘Plan on the podcast last night, it was just a perception-altering for some and perception-enhancing for others kind of evening for the Undisputed Era. (Doc’s rating – *** ¼)
Aleister Black becoming NXT Champion was not a shock to the system by any means, but after watching Cien’s latest title match, I am not convinced that he shouldn’t still be leading the charge for NXT. I think Black is at his best when he shares the ring with someone more expressive and Andrade Almas has become a very emotionally-charged wrestler over the past year. Almas performed with as great a sense of urgency in putting over the new champ as he had in winning and successfully defending the title at the last two NXT specials. Dating back four Takeovers to Brooklyn III, Cien has gone four-for-four, having a quartet of distinctly different matches at each show. To Black’s credit, and I think I owe him a little bit more credit than I gave him on LOPR’s Takeover post-show, he has arguably gone four-for-four at the last four NXT specials in his own right, in terms of having four-star matches (that enough fours for one paragraph?); I look forward to seeing him grow further into his character as he steers the NXT ship from the titleholder position, but it will not upset me in the slightest of Cien gets the title back at some point (consolation prize: Almas vs. Ricochet). (Doc’s rating – ****)
Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa deserved the main-event spot. Has there ever been a more anticipated match in NXT and could it be argued that this was the most anticipated match of the entire WrestleMania weekend, even more so than Styles-Nakamura given the WWE Title bout’s lack of build compared to the utterly captivating build for the culmination of the DIY break-up? They certainly delivered in a big way. I re-watched it this morning and I may have sold it short on LOPR last night; I absolutely do think it belongs in the Match of the Year discussion, my reservation for putting it in that conversation after initial viewing probably a case of balancing knee-jerk reaction and pre-match expectations (think Rollins-HHH at WM33). The atmosphere was palpable, perhaps making the enduring quality of the Gargano vs. Ciampa experience the fact that the audience was fully committed to the traditional hero-villain dynamic; the physicality was exactly what was called for; and the last fifteen minutes were tantalizing, as on numerous occasions I felt like Gargano was about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. (Doc’s rating – **** ¾)
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What is your boldest match result or general prediction for WrestleMania weekend, NXT Takeover included?
WrestleMania weekend always make me pretty nostalgic about my wrestling fandom, and part of that has been my time writing about wrestling for LOP. It dawned on me this morning that I have very rarely done predictions over the years, either in column or podcast form, preferring to talk about other things that go beyond wins and losses in my previews. Part of that might be because I’m not exactly Nostradamus when it comes to correctly picking winners, but I thought I’d give it a shot today, an exercise sparked by what I feel are several tough calls on both the NXT and WWE cards.
-Johnny Gargano over Tommaso Ciampa is my pick for what might be the most anticipated in-ring performance of the weekend, though I could certainly see Ciampa winning to elongate this feud somehow.
-Aleister Black wins the NXT Championship from Cien Almas is probably the easiest call on the NXT card, though ‘Mania weekend through two years has not been the typical site of changing of the guards, if you will.
-Shayna Baszler should win tonight simply because I think it works better for her and the NXT division in the long run if there is some variety in the booking for the women’s division in NXT and we’ve just come off monstrous runs from all the other champions in division history, correct me if I’m wrong.
-The Undisputed Era gets the nod in the Tag Title – Dusty Classic hybrid, mainly because they need titles to keep people like me who aren’t all that into their act engaged with them
-Part of me says Adam Cole should win the Ladder Match to become North American Champion for the same reason as mentioned above regarding the Undisputed Era in general. I don’t know. I’d love to see a rocket strapped to Ricochet
-Moving into WrestleMania, I think Miz retains the Intercontinental Title, even though I appreciate the argument that he will drop it to spend time with his newborn at home
-Nia Jax winning the Raw Women’s Title appears obvious to me, but that’s the kind of pick that I made back when I consistently made predictions in the forums and got it wrong. I think this might end up being Alexa’s “WrestleMania Moment” somehow.
-I think the Usos will retain the Tag Team Titles from Smackdown and I still do believe that some sort of gimmick gets inserted at the last minute.
-Given the investment I made in the Cruiserweight Title Tournament, I am definitely very interested in its winner, and I hope it will be Mustafa Ali even though I suspect Cedric Alexander might be the safer prediction.
-Taker defeats Cena, Roman defeats Brock, Ronda and Kurt defeat Trips and Steph, Braun wins the Tag Team Titles by himself despite Angle’s demands, Roode regains the US Title, Sasha Banks wins the women’s Battle Royal, and Woken Matt wins the jobber Battle Royal
-Daniel Bryan’s triumphant return is not spoiled by a heel turn or heel shenanigans, despite the stipulation suggesting a result to the contrary; Bryan makes Zayn tap out in a sleeper pick for Match of the Night
-As mentioned in my preview podcast linked above, barely behind the WWE Title match on my “most interesting matches on the card” list is Charlotte vs. Asuka, which I think could just be a tremendous match if all the pieces fall into place. The safe pick is for Asuka to win the title, but I foresee Charlotte vs. Ronda Rousey as one of the most bankable picks for next year’s WrestleMania, so thinking like a WWE higher-up, The Queen seems like that much more of a threat if she ends Asuka’s streak. Boldly, I’m picking Charlotte to retain in a classic that ends in controversy.
-Conventional wisdom would also see Nakamura winning the WWE Title from AJ Styles, and I am pretty sure that conventional wisdom is leading us in the right direction. I’d rather Styles retain actually, but I’m picking Nakamura. Man, I hope that match delivers. Can you imagine what the narrative might be around here if it doesn’t?
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who among the following contemporary stars on the WrestleMania card this weekend will NOT get into the Hall of Fame someday: New Day, Usos, Asuka, Charlotte, Alexa, Nia, Styles, Nakamura, Balor, Rollins, Miz, Owens, Zayn, Roode, Mahal, Rusev, Strowman, Sheamus, and Cesaro?
I am very fond of the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. It is one of my favorite nights of the year, celebrating history so well as it does. Hogan’s class in ’05 hooked me on the WrestleMania weekend experience of hearing legends from my throughout my thirty year wrestling fandom and beyond speak about and get emotional recounting the memories of their storied careers. No other Hall of Fame offers quite that same kind of experience. I think it’s special.
So, as I customarily do, I sat down and watched about ten minutes of the red carpet show while tending to last minute kid-related bedtime duties, accordingly got to see New Day dressed up as Dr. Evil, Alexa Bliss be made to look three feet tall, and Charley Caruso kill it in that dress and then sat down to excitedly watch the 2018 HOF presentation. This year’s class, on paper, really did not inspire the same kinds of feelings in yours truly that others in more recent classes have (and nothing tops the 2013 ceremony that I saw live, particularly for the quality of the induction speeches), but remember that some wrestler is always some fan’s favorite wrestler.
The Dudley Boys being inducted by Edge and Christian was great. The video package for Bubba Ray and D’Von was outstanding (and unique), E&C got the night off to an amusing start (Christian does indeed deserve it), and then the Dudleys came out and delivered a captivating acceptance speech. I am a sucker for the stories that the Hall of Fame provides. I feel as though some of the best behind-the-scenes stories that I’ve ever heard have come from Hall of Fame speeches. I particularly enjoyed the one about Vince McMahon flying commercial airlines. As much as they went on to have me feeling all tingly when The Hardys and E&C joined them on stage for a heartfelt “thank you,” they had me feeling a range of emotions when their music seemed to hit prematurely only for a “producer” to come out and take a crash through a table to send them off quite deservedly as what I’d call the 2018 class’s second biggest act; not many tag teams have earned that kind of status, but they certainly have.
Hillbilly Jim was an interesting one for me. He always struck me as a great ambassador for WWE. I have been to five WrestleManias and I think I have seen him doing something promotional for WWE at every one of them. Good message regarding seizing opportunity, as was the line about “it’s not how I’d like to be remembered, it’s just that I’d like to be remembered”; and I always enjoy a good Andre drinking story. ‘Ole Hillbilly took full advantage of the stage provided him didn’t he?
Ivory’s infectious enthusiasm was charming, wasn’t it? I really enjoyed her wedding analogy. There are so many speeches each year and they are all given a good amount of time, so I appreciate some of the ingenuity used in recent years, especially from some of the female inductees (Beth Phoenix and Trish Stratus come to mind). And Molly Holly is just plain charming isn’t she? Has anyone aged better in the past fifteen years than Molly? Beautiful…
The celebrity wing of the Hall of Fame’s most recent inductee never really added much in the way of memories to my wrestling experience, but Triple H sure did a heck of a job selling me on his worthiness for the induction (which in fairness I never really questioned). Thrilled that he dressed for the occasion (sarcasm) and thought that his speech was exactly what it needed to be (genuinely).
“I can’t wait to be alone with my baby tonight!” God, that was terrible in a good way! Jeff Jarrett getting inducted was awesome in my opinion. I believe he is the only WWE Hall of Famer to have been a guest on LOP Radio and I had the pleasure of being the one to interview him in June 2015; one of the great pleasures of my time here honestly. Double J is an interesting guy who has done a lot for the business and he had a heck of a career. I rather wish the video package and the inductor, Road Dogg, had better highlighted his accolades beyond WWE, as they were vast and noteworthy.
JJ Robertson nearly stole the show. What an experience that must have been for him…
Mark Henry gave what I thought was one of the all-time great Hall of Fame speeches. I assumed it would be good – what a first few years of this decade he had, rounding into a legitimate headliner off-and-on. Maybe it was my general mindset toward the Hall being a little muted in its enthusiasm this year compared to recent years on account of just sheer exhaustion from an overloaded month of March across the board in my life, but for some reason I never thought that Henry might give one of the most emotionally engaged speeches in this televised era of the WWE Hall; as amazing as his faux-HOF speech on Raw in 2013 was, I feel like I should have, in hindsight, expected that incredibly balanced and heartfelt speech. Even if you do not like the Hall of Fame and rarely watch it, do yourself a favor and watch what Henry had to say (there’s one part about an annual HOF snub that would particularly interest you, I think).
Paul Heyman’s introduction of Goldberg was distinct, in that it utilized the heavily watched platform to hype the WrestleMania 34 main-event in a very TV-promo style; the synergy with Goldberg’s late stage acceptance dialogue, which might later be regarded as the first shot fired in a future Summerslam or WrestleMania match against Roman Reigns, felt like a test run for adding relevance to the Hall amidst mounting disinterest in the viewing format and backstage process.
Goldberg’s verbiage was stimulating enough to keep me from calling it a night early, knowing that tonight and tomorrow night are undoubtedly going to delay my usual bedtime routine by a couple of hours. He has that tone of voice that comes across as consistently condescending to me, but all the while the actual words that come out of his mouth are endearing; it was intriguing to me to hear him tell his story with wrestling, as I have never watched a documentary featuring his thoughts on the positive aspects of his career. Though I was never a big fan of Da Man, you cannot deny his credentials and, when you listen to legends like Arn Anderson remind fans who did not live the Monday Night Wars just how big of a deal that Goldberg was in the late ’90s, you are reminded of the upper limits to his iconic reputation, shaped during the most competitive period of the WrestleMania Era. He deserved to headline a class.