Posted on Sunday, May 20, 2012
by Paul in Wrestling
Over the Limit is one of those generic pay-per-views that clogs up the annual schedule and that the company could probably quite happily do without. After the brief excitement of Brock Lesnar’s appearance last month, he’s been put on the back burner until Summerslam (in two shows time), so for the moment, we’re firmly in the annual post-Wrestlemania lull when not a great deal is happening. And it shows from the card, which is a mixture of essentially random pairings that might make for good matches, plus a storyline-driven main event that would probably have been better off on free television.
Before turning to the card, let’s quickly reflect on the latest overhaul of the company’s filming schedule. For some time now, the WWE shooting schedule has basically consisted of tapings on Monday and Tuesday, with an extra Sunday pay-per-view show every three to four weeks. The Monday taping consists of the live two-hour Raw broadcast together with some matches used for the internationally syndicated show Superstars; Tuesday generally records the two-hour Smackdown for broadcast on Friday, another Superstars match, and the dreaded NXT, featuring a mix of rookie and low-end roster members. The problem with NXT is that it’s not broadcast in the US (you can watch it online but almost nobody does), meaning that each show is taped before an utterly indifferent crowd who don’t recognise anyone.
The latter problem has been addressed by taking NXT off the road entirely. Instead, it’s now going to be filmed in a studio at Full Sail University in Florida, making full use of cheap labour from the students. They did the first taping this week and by all accounts it was a bit mixed – somebody decided that taping four weeks’ worth of matches in one go would be a wonderful idea, and naturally, by the end of this marathon, the beleaguered crowd were walking out. Still, in theory, filming NXT on a smaller scale before a regular live audience might improve the show.
More dubiously, the WWE has also announced that Raw is going to expand to three hours on a permanent basis. This brings in a bit of money but seems unlikely to do wonders for the product. With four hours of main programming already, it’s hard to imagine that any but the hardest of hardcore fans are desperate for a fifth. When Raw does three-hour specials, they tend to be full of padding already. And WCW tried the same thing in their latter years; the conventional wisdom is that it just burnt out the audience. At first glance this looks like a very bad idea, though it’s always possible that the extra time will be used to give lower-profile wrestlers some more airtime as a warm-up to the main eventers.
On with tonight’s card…
1. John Cena v. John Laurinaitis. Clearly positioned as the main event even though no title is on the line. Laurinaitis is the heel General Manager who’s been running both Raw and Smackdown ever since Wrestlemania (when his team of heel wrestlers defeated a babyface team representing Smackdown GM Teddy Long). That, naturally, has led into a reign-of-terror storyline – though not one that’s been particularly well thought through, since it tends to be ignored except in other storylines, and nobody has yet satisfactorily explained why the company’s anonymous Board of Directors, who are apparently supposed to be the good guys, tolerate Laurinaitis in the first place.
At any rate, the catalogue of stipulations here are: no DQ, no count-out, anyone interfering in the match will be fired automatically, and if Laurinaitis loses, he’s fired. Since Laurinaitis is a non-wrestler, this ought to be a bit of a foregone conclusion.
More accurately, Laurinaitis is a retired wrestler; in the 80s and 90s, he worked in America and Japan as Johnny Ace. By all accounts he was a middling performer, but he did have decent instincts for laying out a match. His history has been acknowledged on air, so it’s not impossible that they will actually do some sort of match here. Nonetheless, the real interest here is presumably supposed to lie in what the company does to avoid the seemingly-obvious outcome. The conventional wisdom is that Laurinaitis wins with the assistance of somebody who isn’t (in storyline terms) currently employed by the company in the first place, most likely the Big Show, who was conveniently “fired” on Monday.
That’s probably the best direction for them to go in, so far as long-term storyline development is concerned. It still doesn’t sound like a match I have any particular desire to pay to see. (Fortunately, this show is airing on Sky Sports in the UK.) I’d have thought this was something that would have worked better as a main event for Raw. But they’ve got a pay-per-view schedule to fill…
2. WWE Title: CM Punk v Daniel Bryan. The Raw version of the world title, though the division between the two rosters has largely been eroded by this point. Hence we have Bryan, a Smackdown wrestler, challenging for the belt. Punk has held the title since November, which is an unusually long reign in the current climate – you have to go back to 2008 to find someone who held it for longer. Nonetheless, I don’t see Bryan winning it here.
Bryan is in an odd position, having come off a successful run as heel champion on Smackdown which abruptly ended at Wrestlemania with an ill-conceived 18-second defeat to Sheamus. The idea was supposed to be that this would be an explosive start to Sheamus’ reign as babyface champion. What actually happened was that audiences interpreted it as a show of disrespect to Bryan as a performer and started vocally supporting him instead, resulting in the company having to work very hard to keep him as a heel. Smackdown needs to get on with its own storylines, so Bryan is instead being matched up to challenge for the Raw title. Punk and Bryan are both highly-respected indie wrestlers made good, and if they’re given time, there’s every possibility that this will be a very good match. I suspect it’s largely a case of finding something for Bryan to do to keep him at the top of the card, but it’s also at least an opportunity for the company to deliver a match with appeal to the hardcore fan base.
The other strand of Bryan’s current storyline is an odd feud with his ex-girlfriend AJ, whom he dumped after blaming his 18-second loss on her distracting him. AJ has been moping around ever since, alternately asking him to come back to her, or taking out her frustration on other female wrestlers by violently attacking them and getting herself disqualified. She’s apparently still meant to be a babyface, but since they can hardly be building to AJ v Bryan as a match, it’s more likely that she’s going to show up here either trying to win Bryan back by interfering to help him out, or doing the exact opposite to put him behind her. They’ve got to do something with her, at any rate.
Either way, my bet would be that Punk retains in a good match.
3. World Heavyweight Title: Sheamus v Alberto Del Rio v Randy Orton v Chris Jericho. This was originally meant to be Sheamus versus Alberto Del Rio, but somewhere along the line the company developed cold feet and decided to throw in another two main eventers. Sheamus’ title reign hasn’t quite taken hold yet; for whatever reason, fans outraged by the 18-second match at Wrestlemania threw their support entirely behind Bryan, and didn’t get behind Sheamus as a conquering babyface at all (even though from a logical standpoint, the booking screwed him out of the chance to have a proper match too). To overcome this, they needed to get him away from Bryan and onto another challenger.
Orton is the biggest babyface star on Smackdown, and he’s in need of a storyline after his feud with Kane ran its course. Chris Jericho is similarly a main event wrestler in need of a storyline to tide him over, though he’s a heel on loan from the Raw roster. Jericho is semi-retired and his current run seems mainly intended to help put over newer stars; he has therefore been losing a lot in his current run and they seem to be laying the groundwork for a story based on whether Jericho has simply failed to deliver on the promises he made when he returned. In any event, we know he’s not sticking around for too much longer because he’s planning a summer tour with his band. So it’s relatively unlikely that he wins.
That suggests two likely outcomes here – either they’re throwing more opponents at Sheamus in an attempt to give him the decisive victory that was intended the first time round, or they’ve panicked and the match is a device to switch the title direct to Orton as the bigger star. Neither would really surprise me. There’s also the outside possibility that they want to get the title onto Del Rio without having him pin Sheamus, so as to build to a singles rematch, but it seems too earlier in the storyline to make that switch.
This match actually does have a strong group of wrestler and a fair number of possible outcomes. It could be very good. I’m betting on Orton, since the whole build suggests a change of approach, but there are other viable possibilities.
4. WWE Tag Team Titles: R-Truth & Kofi Kingston v Jack Swagger & Dolph Ziggler. Goodness, somebody has finally remembered that Swagger and Ziggler are supposed to be an upper-midcard heel tag team. They were paired up a while ago as two rival heels both managed by Vicky Guerrero with a patchy relationship, but the storyline has rather tended to drift, possibly because the company keeps hesitating about what they want to do with Ziggler, a wrestler who many believe ought to be permanently promoted to a main event singles role.
R-Truth and Kofi Kingston are the reigning babyface champions. Kingston also had a recent title run with Evan Bourne which was rather derailed when Bourne kept getting injured or suspended, so this looks like a retooling of the act with R-Truth taking his place. There are worse things to do with him. Since Truth and Kingston haven’t had the titles long and haven’t got much else to do, I suspect this is just a case of feeding them a credible team of opponents to try and build up the titles. Still, once again, it’s a decent match on paper.
5. WWE Divas Title: Layla El v Beth Phoenix. Layla unexpectedly won the title in her return match when the WWE flew into a strop over the fact that everybody knew they were planning to put Kharma in that role. In the short term, this was a poor move, because Layla had been out for months with an injury and nobody really remembered her. That said, by the standards of the WWE women’s division, she’s really quite good, and it’s nice to see her getting a chance in the role.
Phoenix only just lost the title (to one of the Bella Twins, who left after their contract expired), and this is her obligatory rematch. It’s possible that the company has just decided to pull the plug on the whole storyline and wants to get the title back on her, but I’m hoping they can extend this feud a little longer, since it might actually be half decent. I’ll go for Layla retaining in some sort of inconclusive ending.
6. Kane v Zack Ryder. This is airing on YouTube before the show, as a promotional device. Kane will win and it will be terrible.
Worth getting? Well, hmm. The main event doesn’t belong on PPV at all, and the warm-up match will be dreadful, but everything else looks reasonably decent on paper. Could be a solid show for the hardcore fans who just want to see good matches.