WWE rolled into Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday night for its lavishly named Super Showdown. Clearly a big money-spinner for Mr McMahon, the company went all out; booking industry icons, designing a grand stage, and blowing the pyro budget.
Behind all the bells and whistles, the lead up to the event wasn’t without its controversy. Forgetting that most bouts on the card were afforded very little build up or programme development, the elephant in the room came in the absence of WWE’s female roster. The company is in the midst of a ‘Women’s Evolution’ with its female stars never before seeing the push that the current roster is experiencing. Indeed, just a few months ago, a monumental main event saw Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Ronda Rousey become the first women ever to headline Wrestlemania. This flies in the face of Saudi Arabia’s stance on female athletes. Though there is currently a shift in attitude, with women being given more opportunities in sport, a protracted women’s match between Natalya and Alexa Bliss was not sanctioned, though Renee Young was on the commentary team.
That aside, would the PPV live up to its appointed moniker of a Wrestlemania-calibre event?
Kick Off Show: The Usos vs. The Revival
As is often the case with WWE’s kick-off shows, they are in the main a waste of time. Video packages rehash stories the WWE universe have seen before, with the intention of ‘hyping’ the upcoming match-ups. There is also usually ten minutes where a few superstars who missed out on the main card are thrown together to give them something to do.
What the fans who were still tuning in to the pre-show at this point were treated to, though, was a showcase of two of WWEs top tag teams, albeit in a bit of a throwaway match. The Revival are criminally underutilised at the moment and have been since they stepped up to the main roster.
Wilder and Dawson proved why they are one of the most talented and cerebral squads in WWE early on in this match. After being tossed over the ropes by the brothers, The Revival quickly gained control, making quick tags and wearing down Jimmy, displaying classic heel tag team tactics by keeping him away from his twin. A leg-scissor and elbow combo was a particular highlight as the crowd in attendance tried to rally the Usos. A snap-suplex and near-fall from Scott Dawson further cemented the domination. Jimmy, weary, managed to hit Wilder with a kick and made the hot tag to Jey, who exploded into the match to the delight of the WWE Universe. A Samoan drop and flying cross body later, and the Usos had turned the tide. A roll-up was missed as Wilder distracted the referee. The Revival’s efforts to slow the pace were thwarted as The Usos hit Wilder with a double superkick to claim the win.
Michael Cole and co. on commentary alluded to the fact that these two teams will be vying for Zak Ryder and Curt Hawkin’s tag titles. The fact that those two have rarely been seen since winning the belts at Wrestlemania and were competing in the Battle Royal tonight, speaks volumes for how low down on the list of priorities the tag division is for WWE right now. The Usos are all-time greats, future hall of famers, and The Revival have not received the booking that their immense talent warrants since moving up to the main roster. Both teams deserve a more prominent spot in Creative’s thinking going forward, and either could be relied upon to carry the straps in the coming months.
Universal Championship Match: Seth Rollins vs. Baron Corbin
Seth Rollins sold the recent brutal beatdowns he has received at the hands of Corbin and Brock Lesnar lately by appearing with his ribs taped. The Beast Slayer works wonderfully as the resilient underdog babyface, and Corbin, to his credit, has vastly improved as the snarling heel looking to gain any advantage he can. That proved to be the case in the early going, The Lone Wolf targeting the ribs and looking to score what would be a monumental upset, regardless of Rollins’ injuries.
Corbin allegedly derailed a potential push a couple of years ago due to a bad attitude and some backstage heat, but he has worked hard to get himself back into the title picture, and he continued the beatdown on The Architect with an inverted suplex onto the ropes, a few stiff kicks to the ribs and a couple of sharp jabs. Corbin further highlighted his heel psyche by getting in the face of the referee, and then slowing down the pace with some mat-based holds.
Corbin then hit a side-suplex for a two count, and taunted the crowd, who were hungry for a Rollins fightback. This showed signs of materialising when Rollins got in his first offence of the match, slamming Corbin to the mat with a sling blade, then a couple of suicide dives to Corbin outside the ring. But Corbin put paid to the comeback with a Deep-Six for a near-fall. Both men spent, it was Corbin first to his feet, again berating the official for perceived slow counting. Corbin had the man in black and white to thank, though, when he persuaded him to put down a chair he had retrieved from ringside. The Lone Wolf could not keep his emotions in check though and took his eyes off the prize to again roar at the official. The resourceful Rollins pounced and rolled him up for the win.
An irate Corbin refused to leave the ring and hit the champion with an End of Days. On cue, Brock Lesnar’s music hit, and accompanied by his advocate Paul Heyman, marched to the ring for what would seemingly be an easy Money in the Bank cash in for The Beast. Heyman, though, tripped getting into the ring, allowing the opportunistic Rollins to hit Lesnar with a low blow and a series of chair shots. Desperately trying to protect his case, Lesnar was defenceless to a stomp from Rollins, who successfully departed with his Universal championship still in tow.
This, to be fair, was a skilful piece of booking. Lesnar, when sporadically appearing in WWE, usually has it all his own way. With an almost guaranteed title opportunity in his hands, it seemed like only a matter of time before he would cash in. However, this story is developing nicely, with Rollins seemingly one step ahead of The Beast at every turn. A growingly frustrated Lesnar and a wily Rollins outsmarting Mr Money in the Bank, promises to be an interesting cat and mouse narrative going into the summer months.
Intercontinental Championship Match: Finn Balor vs. Andrade
Balor pulled out the rarely used Demon gimmick for this match, in what was overtly a nod to the perceived prestige of the Super Showdown event, but it could also be argued, as recognition of the quality of his opponent. Andrade has earned this title opportunity with some stellar in ring performances over the past months, and with valet and mouthpiece Zelina Vega, is one of the hottest acts in the company right now.
Andrade, minus Vega, took control of the match, hitting The Demon with an elbow and a mightily impressive show of agility from the top rope. He also displayed his sound wrestling skill, with a series of moves designed to keep Balor grounded. The Demon war paint running, Balor managed to counter with a drop-kick to buy himself some time to recuperate from Andrade’s early onslaught. Chants of ‘NXT’ rang out as two of developmental’s most talented alumni traded blows, before Balor was able to clothesline Andrade over the top rope, and follow up with a front flip to the floor. Balor hit a couple of Ric Flair-esque chops and a spike for a near fall, before Andrade countered with a backflip kick and a double running knee. He was then caught after an impressive moonsault, Balor seemingly withstanding all the challenger has to throw at him.
In a back and forth encounter, Finn was next to gain the upper hand, resisting a powerbomb and stomping Andrade from the top rope. Able to pick himself up, Andrade was unsuccessful with his patented Hammerlock DDT, a move potent enough to put away mere mortals, but not The Demon. Balor countered with a DDT of his own from the top rope and followed it with a Coupe de Grace for the hard-fought win.
With the seemingly unbeatable Demon gimmick being showcased for this match, the result wasn’t really ever in question, though Andrade did push the champ and threaten an upset on a couple of occasions. Far from being a completely comprehensive win, this feud looks like it still has legs, which is no bad thing considering how much more the chemistry can potentially improve between these two rivals. Considering Andrade’s rise since his promotion from NXT, it would be unwise to bet against him very soon capturing his first piece of gold on the main roster.
Roman Reigns vs. Shane McMahon
The feud absolutely nobody asked for heralded a result (spoiler alert) absolutely nobody wanted to see. Squaring off against The Big Dog in the country in which he became Best in The World, McMahon again went over a top superstar in the latest chapter of what has been a messy, confusing programme, which has also seen talent such as Drew McIntyre, Elias, The Revival, The Usos and even R-Truth get drawn into the befuddled chaos.
The Big Dog entered to huge fireworks and fanfare, his talents and recent popularity more deserving of a programme with the boss’ son, who was waiting in the ring with McIntyre, the Scottish Psychopath staring down the former Shield member, a precursor of their forthcoming match at Stomping Grounds. McIntyre distracted Reigns long enough for McMahon to rain down blows on the four-time champ.
Reigns exploded back, but missed with a spear in the corner, crashing into the ringpost, to allow McMahon to respond. Shane O’ Mac tossed Reigns outside the ring and distracted the ref to allow the stalking McIntyre to plant a cheap shot. Back in the ring, McMahon kept Reigns grounded with his trademark ‘boxer’ punches and a flying elbow, before slowing the pace with a headlock. Reigns broke free and hit a big kick only to be denied a Superman Punch by a flying McMahon, who then strapped on Triangle Lock. Reigns raw power got him out of trouble as he scooped McMahon up for a powerbomb and near-fall. The Big Dog then negated the threat of McIntyre by slamming into the stairs, but he took his eyes off Shane, who executed a spear for a close two count.
The inevitable big Shane bump didn’t materialise as a Coast to Coast was countered by Reigns, who Super Punched him off the top rope, only for McMahon to inexplicably kick out, where many a superstar would have succumbed to the three count. Following a collision, the referee was then knocked to the canvas, allowing McIntyre the opportunity to smash Reigns with a brutal Claymore kick and set McMahon up for the win.
It’s all well and good McMahon winning by nefarious means if there is a satisfactory end result down the line, if it ultimately puts the babyface (and full time superstar) over. However, with McMahon’s feud with The Miz, this conclusion was not forthcoming, rendering the whole programme of McMahon brutalising him and his dad pointless, with no pay-off for the A-Lister and no comeuppance for the dastardly heel. Reigns moves on to Stomping Grounds to face McIntyre next, with the hope that this mess of a programme is put to bed and the talented McIntyre and Reigns can mover on to better things. One suspects, though, that McMahon is somehow going to get involved, McIntyre will win but not cleanly, and the plot will become a lot more muddled before it finds a resolution.
Handicap Match: Lars Sullivan vs. The Lucha House Party
As expected, The Freak savaged Metalik, Kalisto and Dorado in the early stages, ensuring the atmosphere was nothing akin to a house party, except maybe a house party that was interrupted by a behemoth hellbent on obliterating all the guests.
As Sullivan looked to put the trio out of their misery with his Flying Headbutt, Metalik and Dorado pushed him to the canvas and were subsequently disqualified for triple-teaming Sullivan. This enraged The Freak, who waged a post-match beatdown on the group.
Though this match didn’t fill this writer with much enthusiasm, the rationale behind it could (sort of) be understood. Used to showcase the savagery of Sullivan by feeding him a mid-card tag team, The Freak needed to dispatch of the House Party, pin them clean and then attack them further after the bell, as a comprehensive exclamation point. However, only winning by DQ suggests there are more chapters to this story, which only delays Sullivan moving on to a proper feud, hopefully with Aleister Black.
Randy Orton vs. Triple H
The two former Evolution stablemates have a storied history, and have battled in many angles over the past fifteen years or so. Over championships, in mentor vs. student programmes and together as Authority figures. This latest bout was undoubtedly to add bona fide star power to the card and, one would think, guarantee a top match from a couple of superstars who have proved they can always be relied upon to tell a convincing story and deliver top quality wrestling.
The Game was looking at building on his in his last in-ring performance at Wrestlemania against another ex-Evolution member in Batista, and came face to face with The Viper to the delight of the Jeddah crowd. Both men threatened to kill the contest early, each trying their signature moves, two moves synonymous with the industry, in The Pedigree and the RKO. Orton showed he is every inch the intelligent wrestler Triple H is, by matching his former mentor blow for blow, before sending him crashing for the obligatory announce table spot.
Back inside, Orton kept up the momentum, stomping the Cerebral Assassin and stunning him with a dropkick. The Viper can still execute this move a s gracefully as anybody in the business, though he was blocked in his attempt at a DDT, as Triple H countered with a spinebuster, very nearly scoring the win. The COO then tried to tap out Orton with a cross-face, but the Apex Predator found solace in the ropes.
After further back and forth and the teasing of the two men’s finishers in what was shaping up to be the match of the night so far, Orton seemingly put the match to bed with the RKO, a move that has still not lost its impact to this day. To the surprise of the Saudi Arabia faithful, the commentary team and Orton himself, The Game somehow kicked out to keep the match alive. As the atmosphere reached fever pitch, Trips drove Orton to the mat with the Pedigree only to be frustrated when he couldn’t put his long-term rival away. The subject of many an entertaining internet meme over the past couple of years, Orton’s ‘RKO out of nowhere’ finally put Triple H down for the three count.
Though their names alone add credibility to any card, the level at which these two men performed was what gave the WWE Universe a real treat here. Triple H can still deliver when he laces up his boots and Orton proves that, if he wants to, he can still be a fixture in the main event conversation for at least a couple of years to come. Orton going over was the right move, especially if he is going to be used in high profile bouts, where he may need to put over the emerging stars from the new generation.
Bobby Lashley vs. Braun Strowman
Lashley was tussling with Finn Balor for the Intercontinental Championship a couple of months ago, and this time last year, Strowman was arguably the most over babyface in the whole company, seemingly on the cusp of winning gold. Fast forward to Super Showdown and the two big men are facing each other looking to build momentum and jostle their way out of mid-card mediocrity.
Powerhouse Lashley encountered something he must not experience very often when he finished second best to The Monster Among Men in an early exhibition of strength, twice getting bounced off Strowman’s vast frame. The two men also showed their surprising agility, picking up the pace with forward rolls and leapfrogs. Former IC champ Lashley then scooped up former Wyatt Family member Strowman for a running powerslam and a close two count. Lashley then controlled the match and cut The Monster Among Men down to size with a headlock. Braun countered with a Spinebuster and a running double clothesline. He then executed a Running Powerslam of his own for a two-count, before the action spilled to the outside. Lashley slammed Strowman into the barricade and then sent him crashing onto the unforgiving ramp steel with a beautiful Suplex.
Back inside the squared, this was still not enough to put away Strowman so a desperate Lashley took to the unfamiliar surroundings of the top turnbuckle. Strowman swatted him off the top and compounded Lashley to defeat with a Running Powerslam.
Both men worked well and did themselves no harm putting themselves in contention for when WWE Creative decide who are going to carry the major feuds going into Summerslam season. The athleticism on show was a particular highlight, especially from Lashley, who still looked strong in defeat. Both will be hoping that this solid performance ensures they don’t get lost in the shuffle in the coming months.
WWE Championship: Kofi Kingston vs. Dolph Ziggler
Kofi, riding a wave of momentum at the moment, was the favourite to retain in this match, against an opponent he has battled numerous times over the past decade or so. Ziggler has been an impressive antidote to Kingston’s positivity, making impassioned rants about how he deserves the title and adulation Kingston acquired at Wrestlemania. It would be a surprise if WWE switched and put the belt on The Showoff just as Kofi is settling into his role as Smackdown’s lead babyface. One question that did arise, though, after events earlier in the show, was whether Brock Lesnar, licking his wounds after after not being able to cash in on Seth Rollins, would instead turn his attentions to the New Day member.
Kingston, accompanied by Xavier Woods, started with a flurry, taking the fight to Ziggler with a focused aggression. The Showoff countered with a Drop-Kick and Reverse Neck-Breaker. He attempted a couple of quick covers, looking to end the match as soon as possible. Ziggler displayed his amateur background, keeping the champ grounded with some efficient mat-based offence.
Now completely in control, Dolph hit an elbow for another two count and then pounced on Kingston with a sleeper hold. Kingston whipped his rival face first into the turnbuckle for some respite, but then found himself on the end of a brutal DDT, before getting flung shoulder first into the turnbuckle. With seemingly no answer to Ziggler’s attacks, Kingston dodged a Superplex and then launched himself backwards onto a startled Ziggler.
As the action moved to the arena floor, both men lay motionless, as Woods led the cheerleading. Ziggler got to his feet first and sent Kingston flying into the barricade and the steel steps, before Superkicking the assisting Woods. This fired up Kingston, who missed with a Trouble in Paradise and narrowly kicked out of a roll-up. Woods, irked by Ziggler blasting him ringside, sought revenge and measured The Showoff with a kick to the back of the head, allowing Kingston to execute the Trouble in Paradise and retain the title.
No Beast in the Bank cash-in was forthcoming, and as Kingston celebrated with the WWE Universe, an embittered Ziggler, livid at how he lost the match, informed Byron Saxton backstage that he wanted another shot at the title in steel cage match. Assuming that this match will be set for Stomping Grounds, it would not be the worst way to continue this rivalry. Ziggler is clearly stepping up to challenge Kingston whilst other pretenders to Kofi’s throne atop Smackdown jostle for position. Until the next rival becomes clear, a bitter Showoff and a wounded Beast ensure that Kofi is a marked man in the next couple of weeks. How he battles against this should make for fascinating viewing.
50 Man Battle Royal
The ring looked ready to collapse as superstars from NXT and 205 Live vied to make an impression on the seasoned superstars of the main roster, which was represented by the likes of The Miz, Samoa Joe, Elias and Cesaro.
It was hard to decipher the action owing to the mass of humanity assembled in the ring, but as the wheat was separated from the chaff, some notable rivalries came to the fore; The Usos picked up with The Revival, signalling that their issues are far from resolved, and there was also an intense stand off between the Authors of Pain and The Viking Raiders, who were subsequently dumped by Titus O’Neil.
Joe, surely one of the favourites, further devalued the credibility of the Raw Tag Team champions, by tossing both Hawkins and Ryder out in quick succession. Rowan then asserted his dominance, dispatching of Xavier Woods and Otis of Heavy Machinery. The Miz also looked impressive, hinting at winning the whole match, the A-Lister dumping both Rusev and Robert Roode.
As the field dwindled, Nakamura traded blows with Sin Cara, the latter surprisingly kicking the former Royal Rumble winner from the turnbuckle to the floor. The underused Cesaro then showed his strength before he and Elias were on the receiving end of some Yes Kicks from The Miz, who was then dumped by the Drifter with a Running Knee.
Saudi-born Mansoor Al-Shehail took the fight to Samoa Joe, as Elias grappled Ali and Cesaro squared off with Ricochet. Joe dominated the remaining competitors, the US champ looking to put away both Ali and Ricochet, who teamed up to drag him over the top rope and to the floor. Cesaro, in turn, clotheslined the two high-flyers from the apron before being caught unawares by Mansoor, who eliminated the Swiss Superman. Which left Mansoor and one-time 24/7 champion Elias. As the crowd sensed an upset, Elias beat down the hometown hero, before the NXT star flipped the Drifter over the top rope for a surprise victory.
Though some may argue that the win is merely a feel-good victory for the Saudi-born Mansoor, is that necessarily a bad thing? Hardly a prominent fixture in NXT, there is no guarantee that this will give him anything resembled a sustained push, but so what? Wrestling is built on feel-good moments like this and one can’t deny it was a nice moment to see Mansoor celebrate with the natives. There is the argument that the feel-good moment comes at the expense of giving the rub of the win to somebody more deserving, but history has shown that the winners of these sort of matches don’t then receive the push one would expect. Take Strowman at the Greatest Royal Rumble. In that sense, it was more than acceptable that Mansoor scored the win here.
The Undertaker vs. Goldberg
Right. There is no denying that these two are bona-fide legends, arguably the two most recognisable faces of their respective companies, WWE and WCW. There is no denying that they both own two of the most iconic entrances in the business. There is no denying that the epic staredown between these two men, competing against each other for the very first time, was electrifying, and to be in attendance to witness this would have been a once in a lifetime experience for the discerning wrestling fan. The action even started off red-hot. Straight out the gate, Goldberg hit Undertaker with two spears, only for the Deadman to respond with his legendary sit-up.
From there, unfortunately, it was horrible.
Goldberg threw himself into the post so hard that he cut himself open, and the Phenom laboured around the squared circle, looking every bit his age when going ‘Old School’.
Goldberg then attempted a Jackhammer, botching it so badly it was dangerous almost dropping ‘Taker flat on his head, before The Phenom himself botched his feared chokeslam, the most underwhelming chokeslam in his storied career. Thankfully, Goldberg had no answer to this, as the ref put the viewers out of their misery with the three count.
It is understandable that WWE would have to book big names on big bucks to appease the Saudi Arabia fanbase and sell PPVs to the nostalgic fan. Putting Taker and Goldberg in the main event was relying on two legends who, though still have undeniable star power, are sadly no longer able to perform at the highest level. At best it slightly tarnishes the nostalgia, but at worst it was a painful match to watch, and borderline dangerous at times. Though Super Showdown had some really good moments, this poor main event will, sadly, provide the enduring memory.