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Never Go Back – Ricky Hatton’s Comeback

Ricky Hatton’s much anticipated comeback ended in heartbreak on Saturday night as he was brutally stopped in the ninth by former WBA Welterweight Champion Vyacheslav Senchenko. The anguish on Ricky’s face as he tried and failed to beat the count was more than physical and it is difficult to convey to anybody that did not watch this event just how emotional that moment, and indeed the whole night, actually was. The ultimate irony, of course, was that the punch that ended Hatton’s dreams was a crushing left hook to the body, the very same punch that Ricky had so often stopped his opponents with back in his glory days.

Nevertheless, in its way, this was a glorious day too. Hatton’s comeback had caught the imagination of British boxing fans in a way that few fights can today. Twenty thousand were there to see him at the MEN Arena, singing their hearts out and I would not be at all surprised to find that broadcaster Primetime did their best buy-rate ever for this one. Hatton is, of course, a promoter and trainer these days and the night started positively for him, with wins for Hatton Promotions fighters, Sergey Rabchenko and Scott Quigg. Quigg’s victory was particularly important, securing as it did the WBA Interim Super-Bantamweight title. Another British fighter, Martin Murray, also gained a WBA Interim title, this time at Middleweight when he easily stopped Venezuelan Jorge Navarro. How Navarro had managed to get this fight is beyond me as he was clearly way below Murray in quality.

After Murray it was time for the main event and the crowd just got louder and louder. Even superstar ring announcer Michael Buffer could barely make himself heard or get their attention. Once the fight was on Hatton came out quickly, looking to keep Senchenko on the back foot via continuous pressure, just as he used to. Nonetheless, it was immediately apparent that the fight was dangerous. Hatton had promised that he had worked on his defence but it seemed that his work had not paid off. Hatton was caught far too often as he came forward and his own punches were worryingly inaccurate. In the early rounds this didn’t matter too much; the sheer workrate of the Mancunian was giving him the edge. As time went by, however, Hatton began to tire. The misses began to get wilder and more frequent and Senchenko landed with ever more shots.

As for Senchenko himself, he looked comfortable. One feels that he was ready to ride the storm early on and see what unfolded from there. Commentators had dwelt on the fact that virtually all of his fights had taken place in the Ukraine and speculated that the atmosphere might overwhelm him; it did not. Senchenko was utterly unfazed by the whole experience and, I suspect, even enjoyed being the villain of the piece. Certainly, turning up in a Manchester United shirt was both cheeky and audacious. As many had pointed out, Ricky deserved some credit for taking on such an opponent in his comeback bout, a man that had only lost once and was a former world champion himself. A win would very probably have propelled Ricky straight to a shot at WBA Champion Paulie Malignaggi, one of Ricky’s prior victims.

The second half of the fight became very worrying for Hatton’s fans. His footwork was gone, his head movement had never been apparent. He was marked up in the face and taking shot after shot. He was still coming forward all the time but it was frankly not doing him any favours to persist in that style. At one point he swung and missed so wildly he actually fell over. He looked frustrated and the crowd had gone quiet. Every so often they rallied and tried to lift him but one could see that all Ricky had left was effort – and that might not be sufficient. Even so, most pundits felt that Ricky was winning the fight, if only just. My worry was that Ricky would nick the decision and carry on. People were talking about ring rust, which was fair enough but the fact is that rustiness should be shaken off during the fight. One would expect his timing to slowly improve with each round he got under his belt, even if it never approached what it had been; instead, Hatton’s timing was deteriorating alarmingly. With that said, I feel that the stoppage was almost a mercy. It leaves no room for equivocation and doubt. It forced Ricky to admit the truth to himself – he simply doesn’t have it any more.

I’m glad of that not because I want to see Ricky beaten or upset but because I remain a keen fan of Ricky Hatton. The worst scenario, for me would have been to see him in the ring with Amir Khan (a fight that was mooted), Marcos Maidana or, worse yet, Danny Garcia. Someone like that would have absolutely taken Ricky’s head off on Saturday’s showing and we could easily be facing a much worse situation. I understand that Ricky had demons to face but I hope that he has indeed put them behind him now and can get on with the rest of his, hopefully long and happy, life. His fighting days are over.

Indeed, I suspect that Hatton has been haunted now for the last few years by the worry that he retired too soon and the thought that he might have been winning titles for all this time. Now he knows for certain that this is not true I hope and believe he will rest a bit easier. I said in my look back at my favourite British boxers of the last twenty-five years that Hatton had somehow come to be defined more by his defeats, to Mayweather and especially Pacquiao, than by his many achievements. If Ricky were to read this the one thing that I hope he would take from it is the message that his triumphs are every bit as much who he is as his defeats – and they are far more numerous.

Most boxers lose at some point – not everybody can be a Rocky Marciano or a Joe Calzaghe. Most boxers also go out on their back. It’s the nature of the sport. In the painful moments immediately following the bout on Saturday, Ricky said something along the lines of “it shouldn’t end this way for a champion like me”. I disagree. Much as I’d have loved to see him come back and win another world title, what is wrong with going out trying your best? Perfect career endings are hard to find. Look at Danny Williams. He wanted to go out with a victory but sport doesn’t work that way. One day, I hope that Ricky will look back at his legacy and realize that it is one of triumph and success. He said on Saturday, fighting back tears, “I’m not a failure”. We know that Ricky. We always have. I hope you know it too.

The Ignoble Art of Promoting

            Today I’m going to talk about the controversial situation involving Dereck Chisora and David Haye but before we get to that, news broke earlier today that the fight between Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson, a re-match for the WBA and IBF Light-Welterweight Championships, is now off and will not go ahead on May 19th. The reason being that Peterson failed a drugs test and, although his camp intended to appeal the result, the board could not meet to evaluate the appeal until May 15th at the very earliest, meaning that the fight has inevitably had to be cancelled. Khan is now looking to fight on June 30th. With no possibility of an appeal before the fight, Peterson has now admitted that he took synthetic testosterone pellets before and during the first fight between the two and has lost his boxing license. It now seems a matter of time before the WBA and IBF strip him of his titles.

 

            So, where does this leave Khan? Firstly, of course, this is a big disappointment for boxing fans. I was looking forward to this fight; I’m sure many others were as well. The disappointment is no less for Khan himself, though. Many people thought he lost the first fight unfairly. It was a close fight but Khan controversially had two points deducted for pushing by an overly pedantic referee and many felt that this was a case of hometown refereeing and judging. The result will probably be stricken from the record now but Khan would much prefer to have settled the matter by decisively beating Peterson and regaining his titles; that chance is now denied him. Whether or not the titles will be handed back to him seems uncertain. It is probable that the titles will be declared vacant and Khan will be offered the chance to box for them.

 

            However, Khan has for some time been looking to step up to Welterweight and although he originally hoped to unify all of the major titles at his current weight first it seems that he had decided to step up after the Peterson rematch. It is now entirely possible that Khan will simply step up to Welterweight immediately now and abandon the attempt to regain his titles. The possibility of a mega fight with pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather has been mooted and Khan would have to step up to make that fight happen. As a point of principle I believe that it is only fair that the belts be returned to Khan without a fight. If the result of the first fight with Peterson is annulled then that effectively means that Khan never really lost his titles, so I see no good reason to declare them vacant unless and until he decides to vacate them by leaving the weight division.

 

            Moving on, the British boxing world is buzzing with the announcement by Frank Warren that David Haye and Dereck Chisora will meet in July at Upton Park. After their disgraceful and childish exhibition at the press conference following Chisora’s unsuccessful attempt to beat Vitali Klitschko, the British Boxing Board of Control stripped Chisora of his boxing license indefinitely. The BBBofC were unable to apply a similar sanction to Haye, who had already relinquished his license when he announced his retirement last year. However, at the time they made it clear that, should he apply for a new license, Haye was unlikely to be granted one any time soon. Consequently, promoter Frank Warren has applied to the Luxembourg Boxing Federation, who have agreed to sanction the bout. The BBBofC have responded by saying that any of their license holders involved in the fight will be stripped of their licenses. The British boxing world is now firmly divided on the question of whether or not this fight should go ahead.

 

            For those unaware of the details of what happened, Chisora was courting controversy even before the fight with Klitschko major, taking the opportunity to spit in the face of Wladimir Klitschko, younger brother of Vitali. This was unnecessary, unprovoked and in my opinion an act offensive to the sport of boxing. After the fight, in which Chisora had put up a creditable showing, Haye basically hi-jacked the press conference to call out Vitali himself. Appearing as a pundit for BoxNation, Haye claimed he had accepted an offer to fight Vitali himself in December of 2011. As Haye and Vitali’s promoter went back and forth about who backed out of what, Chisora began challenging Haye. Haye responded by telling Chisora that he was a loser and Chisora actually left the stage to approach Haye, leading to a brawl in which Haye’s trainer Adam Booth was left bleeding from the head. Chisora claimed that Haye had glassed him and began threatening to shoot Haye. Afterwards, Haye quietly left Germany while Chisora was arrested. The BBBofC handed down their punishment soon after, following an announcement by the WBC that they were banning Chisora from future fights for their titles.

 

            Both Haye and Chisora made statements after the brawl. Haye’s statement, which you can read here seemed to me to be a shabby and disingenuous piece of nonsense in which he took no personal responsibility for his actions but simply blamed everything on Chisora. Chisora at least offered a full apology. Chisora’s promoter, Frank Warren, was outraged when the BBBofC handed Chisora their indefinite suspension of his license. He stated at the time and, to be fair, I agreed with him that an indefinite suspension was unwarranted and probably a cop-out. Instead, he believed that a time limit should have been attached. I think that this would have been fairer but I suspect that the board were worried that, if for example they simply suspended Chisora’s license for three months then, at the end of that time, the fight between Chisora and Haye would be made, allowing both men to profit from their appalling behaviour. Of course, that is now what will happen anyway.

 

            Personally, I do not think that the two men should be allowed to fight. Warren has said that the ring is the most appropriate place for the two to “settle their differences” but I do not agree. The boxing ring is a place for boxing, which to me carries a certain amount of respect and dignity that elevates it above a common street brawl. Moreover, the two men, far from being punished for their actions will now make a big pile of cash with the winner likely to get a shot at the WBA title held by Alexander Povetkin, assuming that he comes through his fight with Hasim Rahman on the same bill. The problem with this sort of thing is that it is short-term thinking. Sure, the bout gets lots of publicity and the fighters make a lot of money. At the same time, however, a certain amount of fans get turned off from the sport and the amount of money available in the long-term decreases.

 

            It should be stressed that there is nothing illegal about what is happening here. It should, however, also be pointed out that, were it not for their brawl nobody would ever have been calling for this fight to happen. Two fighters, both coming off losses, one retired and the other having never achieved anything beyond domestic level boxing – where’s the interest? There are only two legitimate world level heavyweights in boxing today – the Klitschkos. If Haye or Chisora use this fight to beat Povetkin and then start referring to themselves as being the “world champion” then that will only further emphasise the lack of legitimacy in the heavyweight division. Povetkin should fight one of the Klitschkos after Rahman, assuming he wins. That is the only top-level bout worth making. Meanwhile, Britain has David Price and Tyson Fury, among others. Fury beat Chisora – where is his world title shot? I believe that Chisora should prove himself at domestic and European level again before getting put back into the world title scene. As for Haye, frankly he should stay retired or at least man up and take responsibility for his own awful behaviour.

 

Medieval England

A slightly different post today. Just for once, no wrestling or boxing. This week I published my first book, “The Virgin and the Conqueror – the Kings and Queens of England 1066-1603″. It’s available by clicking the link to the right which will take you to my bookstore. The book is available in hardback, paperback and ebook forms and you can pay by credit or debit card or even using Paypal. The book is based upon my studies at the University of London and is aimed at anybody that would like to know more about England in the medieval and early modern periods but particularly those with little to no knowledge of the period. If you are planning to take an A-level, AS-level or even a degree in history and are new to this period then you should find it an invaluable aid to getting the basics down. Similarly, if you have ever wondered just what the Hundred Years War was all about, how the Black Death affected England or who won the Wars of the Roses then this is the book for you. It contains biographies of all of England’s kings and queens from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth I and many more important people, such as Francis Drake, Thomas More and William Marshal, as well as a fairly thorough list of all the major battles that helped shape English history. Enjoy!

Who Will Face The Undertaker At Wrestle Mania XXIX?

With Wrestle Mania once more come and gone, it seems people’s thoughts turn inevitably to next year and more particularly, to what the future holds for The Undertaker. Having once again successfully maintained his incredible Wrestle Mania Streak, this time in perhaps his best match yet, people wonder whether we have seen the last of this tremendous athlete and if not, who he will face next time. So, with all that said, it’s time once more to get the old crystal ball out and see if we can work out what the future holds. Given his age and many injuries it’s entirely plausible that this may have been Undertaker’s last outing but at present it seems that the general consensus is that he is not done yet. Assuming that that is the case, who will be the next person to attempt to break The Streak?

 

It seems that every year Undertaker and his opponents set the bar a little higher, so that by now we truly have reached a position where living up to expectations is going to be a very tall order. Whoever has to follow this year’s Hell In A Cell spectacular will have a very daunting task indeed and that alone means that the choice of opponent is going to be absolutely critical. Indeed, I can only really see one viable name out there but before I get to him it’s worth looking at a few others to see if we can eliminate anyone from our inquiry, as it were. Finding some one who has the physical capability to have not just a good but great match with The Undertaker, and who has the necessary aura to put The Streak in doubt will not be easy for WWE. The Streak has become one of the greatest draws for Wrestle Mania that WWE have, so a decent match is no longer enough. Something absolutely special is required these days, as it should be when we speak about the biggest show of all.

 

Firstly, let’s look at Triple H. This story is surely done now. After two consecutive classics there is surely nowhere left for these two warriors to go with each other. Any third match (fourth if we count their clash at Wrestle Mania X-7) would surely fall short of the mark they have now established and, in any case, would add nothing to the overall story – unless Hunter were to win at the third time of asking. I personally don’t see anybody ever breaking The Streak, so I think that we can safely discount that possibility. I suppose, if Shawn Michaels wanted to come out of retirement, that he could come back to try and avenge his friend’s loss but I don’t really see that either, for three reasons. Firstly, unlike so many wrestlers, I am still convinced that Shawn’s retirement is genuine and irrevocable. Secondly, there is no reason for him to feel aggrieved here. Disappointed for Hunter, yes, of course he would be but Undertaker did nothing to warrant a revenge mission, he was simply the better man on the night. Finally, after his own outstanding matches with The Undertaker ended the way they did, I think it would need considerable effort for anybody to really buy Michaels as a threat to The Streak again. The Shawn Michaels-Triple H-Undertaker story has now reached its climax. Revisiting it would only cheapen one of the great stories in WWE history.

 

Stone Cold is a name that seemed popular last year, not least with commentators on this blog. He certainly carries all of the aura necessary to make a clash between the two a big event, and he has a ton of history with The Undertaker that could help to set up a bout between the two. Moreover, although it is now a long time since he wrestled – it will be ten years since his last bout at next year’s Mania – Austin has several times suggested that he could physically go again in the ring for the right match. Would this be the right match? I don’t think so. No doubt Austin would have no issues trusting his old adversary to work with him safely, the fact remains that a number of The Undertaker’s big moves, such as the Chokeslam and especially the Tombstone Piledriver, would be exceptionally risky for a man with Austin’s neck issues to take, yet these moves are now necessary parts of any Wrestle Mania match for The Phenom. Even when they last feuded, back in 2001 and very briefly in 2002, when Austin was obviously a lot younger than he is now, ‘Taker used the Chokeslam sparingly and the Tombstone not at all. That would not be an option at Wrestle Mania. Rumour has it that Austin may wrestle CM Punk next year, if indeed he ever wrestles again at all, and that seems much more sensible to me. Punk has the kind of style whereby he could give Austin a great match without Austin needing to take many bumps at all and the younger man would benefit greatly from the rub that such a match would give him. Beating Austin at Mania would not benefit The Undertaker especially greatly at this stage of affairs.

 

Looking elsewhere on the card, Sheamus might be a possibility if he has a very dominating year. CM Punk, as noted above may be otherwise engaged but is undoubtedly a top guy these days. However, given the size difference between Punk and ‘Taker, I think Punk would need to be a heel with some backup to make this work. Chris Jericho has the necessary skills and is the only veteran left on the roster that hasn’t already taken The Streak on. However, as I’ve maintained for the last couple of years, I feel that Jericho just doesn’t quite have the aura necessary for people to really believe that he just might be able to do what so many have failed to and end The Streak. The Miz has now taken his own Wrestle Mania record to 3 and 0, so it might be amusing to see him challenge the Deadman to a Streak versus Streak match but, again, nobody would believe that he could actually win such a match.

 

Kane is, of course, a perennial candidate. Many people seem to think it would be fitting for Undertaker to finish his career against his “brother” and, as both me get older, that possibility looms ever larger. Kane has the size and power and he has a ton of history with ‘Taker, obviously. Indeed, that may just be the problem – he has too much history with his brother! At some point I intend to post an entry in my Great Feuds series chronicling the battles of these two giants. It will be the longest post I have ever put up here, beyond any doubt. Kane has already lost to Undertaker at two Wrestle Manias. He has faced his brother in practically every kind of match already – Inferno, Hell In A Cell and so on. Moreover, The Undertaker has convincingly triumphed in almost all of their clashes. The only possible doubt comes because Kane was pretty much victorious in their last feud and also that he is now back under the mask, meaning that there would be a kind of full circle feel to such a bout. Unless Undertaker has made up his mind to retire, I don’t see this happening.

 

I have explored the possibility of the Brothers of Destruction teaming together in a tag match before and, with the right opponents I could see this working. Kane could cast massive doubt on the outcome of such a match by threatening to betray his brother and cost him The Streak, which would give people reason to wonder again. Moreover, Undertaker has never worked a tag team match at Wrestle Mania, so it would be something genuinely new. For the same reason, a Triple Threat match would be an intriguing possibility. However, I believe that WWE are happy with Undertaker working one on one matches at Wrestle Mania, so I don’t really believe either of these possibilities either.

 

Looking outside the company, people always bring up Sting. I don’t see this ever happening. Rumour has it this almost happened two years ago. If it didn’t happen then, I think that was the last chance for the match. Besides, as good as Sting still is _ I saw him on the recent TNA tour of the UK and he can still go, believe me – I don’t see this being a great match, certainly not the kind of match such an occasion would deserve. I suggested Kurt Angle last year as an outside bet that would definitely work and I still like the idea. However, I think Angle is happy in TNA and I don’t really see him moving again. There is frequent speculation that Batista might come back to WWE but it seems unlikely from comments he has made regarding the PG era of WWE programming. Moreover, that match has been done. It was a great match; let’s leave it there. I don’t see anybody else outside the company who is at all feasible.

 

John Cena is another name that always comes up and it could be argued that this is a match that really ought to happen. A victory over Cena would really set the seal on ‘Taker’s modern day dominance of the event, while John certainly carries a legacy that would make him a credible threat to The Streak. However, now that Cena clearly has unfinished business with The Rock I would not be at all surprised to see the two lock horns again at next year’s Wrestle Mania, with the Chaingang Soldier picking up the victory this time. Further, Cena’s “Superman” aura has been dented just a little by his loss to The Rock this year, and his recent travails with Brock Lesnar. There is plenty of time to build him back up again before next year, of course, but a little rebuilding work might be necessary if WWE were to go this way. Plus, while I have no doubt a Wrestle Mania clash between Cena and The Undertaker would be a very enjoyable match, I can’t see that it could really follow what we witnessed this year.

 

All of which brings us to my favourite candidate, Brock Lesnar. Brock is back and he’s kicking ass. He has a great history with The Undertaker that WWE would be able to play off of, which includes a notable Hell In A Cell victory at No Mercy 2002 and some alleged real-life personal animosity for good measure. For those that don’t know, rumour has it that one of the reasons Brock left WWE back in 2004 was because WWE wanted him to work a program in which he would put Undertaker over, returning the favour from their 2002 feud. Later, of course, came there infamous staredown when ‘Taker showed up at one of Lesnar’s UFC fights. All of this would play in the favour of a bout between the two. Obviously, Lesnar currently has business with John Cena and probably with The Rock down the line and he is apparently contracted for one year. What better way to close out a year in which he will surely be pretty dominant than by clashing with The Undertaker on the grandest stage of all? If anyone could be a believable threat to the streak it would be Brock, who is, let’s face it, a believable threat to anything this side of a Tyrannosaurus Rex! We know that the two have had great matches together in the past. We suspect that the two may even have a real-life antipathy that could help sell the match. At this point in time, I cannot see a better option for The Undertaker than this.

 

Wrestle Mania 28 – Looking Back and Forward

I’m somewhat late with my Wrestle Mania review this year, thanks to a holiday and the demands of work. On the plus side, that gives me the chance to consider the aftermath of the show on TV and to have a look at the direction if WWE programming for the coming year, as well as looking back at the biggest show of the year. All things considered, this was quite a show, as good a pay per view as the company has staged for a long time and I certainly found it most enjoyable. With that said, let’s have a look at it match by match.

 

The show began with the World Heavyweight Championship bout that saw Sheamus challenge champion Daniel Bryan. This has been received by many as the big disappointment of the night, being a blink-and-you-missed-it eighteen-second affair. That Sheamus won came as no surprise to most, including myself, though the manner of the victory took everybody by surprise. After their match last year was bumped from the card altogether most of us were hoping that this year would see these two strong performers given a chance to grab some of the limelight. Instead, we saw one Brogue Kick from Sheamus, a cover and an instant pinfall, which many are taking as a great insult to both men but to Daniel Bryan in particular. Nevertheless, it opened the way for Bryan to blame his defeat on girlfriend AJ, which gives him some room to further develop his character and gain some more heat and that is exactly what we saw happen on Raw the next night. It was a disappointment, then, but one that came with possibilities for the future. No real point giving this any marks out of ten, since it was so short.

 

Next up were Kane and Randy Orton in a match that had largely failed to grasp the imagination of most fans in the build to the show. Nevertheless, this was a competent and enjoyable bout with an ending that I certainly did not see coming and I imagine few others did either. The fact that this feud seemed somewhat thrown together meant that pretty well everybody expected it to end perfunctorily with a victory for Orton but instead WWE opted to give Kane the victory. Since then the feud has intensified, with Orton winning a Street Fight rematch on Smackdown last week, only for both Orton and his father, Cowboy Bob Orton, to fall victim to Kane this week. I’m happy with this outcome. The feud is fun, in my eyes and keeps Randy Orton out of the title picture for the moment, which is no bad thing as that can safely be left to less established stars, such as Sheamus, Daniel Bryan and, of course, the returning Alberto Del Rio. I give this a seven out of ten; both for a good match in its own right and for the subsequent developments.

 

The next match was the clash between The Big Show and Cody Rhodes and another surprise for me. I certainly expected Show to get some sort of revenge on Rhodes after the way the youngster had consistently embarrassed the big man in the build-up but I never expected Show to score a clean victory. After all, Big Show hardly needs to be Intercontinental Champion at this stage of his career. However, Show certainly sold his victory well, which made it something of a Wrestle Mania “moment” for him, rather than the somewhat irrelevant victory it might easily have been. The match itself was perhaps a little short but then, long matches do not really suit Show’s style and I don’t think this really hurt Cody in the long run. Since then we have seen Show taunting Cody in the same way that Cody taunted him in the weeks prior to Mania, which makes sense and suggests to me that Cody may eventually regain the belt from Show and emerge from this feud stronger than he went into it. Six out of ten, and heading towards seven.

After that it was the Divas tag match, pitting Beth Phoenix and Eve against Kelly Kelly and Dancing With The Stars contestant Maria Menounos. Not too much to say here, really. The good girls won, the bad girls got their come-uppance, and the crowd were into it, at least as much as one can hope for from a Divas match these days and there were some nice spots in the match. It was a little surprising to see Beth Phoenix taking the pinfall – I had rather expected Eve to do that job, since Beth is the current champion. Shouldn’t that entitle Menounos to a shot at the title? Realistically, the only way this goes on at all from here is Kelly feuding with Beth until, presumably, Kharma returns to the show full-time and finally faces off with Phoenix in what could be something quite interesting. Five out of ten (but then, I expected nothing more).

 

At this point the show had been relatively unremarkable but that seems to be the pattern these days for Wrestle Mania. The first hour is usually a case of easing into things, taking care of the lesser matches before we move into the star attractions and this year was no exception. Going into the show there were three matches that were, for various reasons, expected to be especially good and it was now time for the first of them. This was the End of an Era match, Triple H versus The Undertaker in a rematch from last year, with the added spice of Shawn Michaels as guest referee and the ominous inclusion of the Hell In A Cell stipulation guaranteeing that this would not simply be a repeat of what was, undoubtedly, a great match. After the obligatory but excellent recap of this feud it was time once again for The Undertaker to defend The Streak, his awesome run of Wrestle Mania matches. Last year, Triple H had won the fight but not the match. Undertaker had nineteen victories in nineteen matches at Wrestle Mania but Triple H had won more Hell In A Cell matches than anyone else in history and, moreover, had never lost a match that his old DX buddy HBK had refereed. It was beautifully poised.

 

The match did not disappoint. All three of the men inside that cage are consummate performers and all three brought their A-game and then some to the night. The great thing about Triple H and The Undertaker (and Shawn Michaels) is that they do not simply have great matches in isolation. They pay attention to their history, so that this felt every bit like the final chapter of an epic story, rather than merely one great match. The presence of Jim Ross at the announcer’s desk only added to the epic feel. The match itself was brutal and uncompromising, going beyond even last year’s relentless physicality. Last year, Triple H and The Undertaker achieved an impressive feat by topping their legendary Wrestle Mania X-7 clash. This year, they achieved near perfection in going beyond even that. Michaels played his part perfectly, as he begged first one man then the other to simply end the match. The crowd were given every reason to suppose that the winner would have to absolutely destroy the loser in order to win this match.

 

Great spots abounded throughout. The moment when Undertaker caught Hunter in the Hell’s Gate submission hold on the steel ring steps, making everybody wonder if Hunter would be beaten the same way twice running, only for the Cerebral Assassin to stand up, dead lifting the Deadman before slamming his way out of the hold in an awesome (literally) display of strength and perseverance will surely live long in the memory. Similarly, the way The Undertaker shockingly locked the hold onto Michaels when all seemed lost, merely to stop him from ringing the bell and ending the fight, proving that he would do anything to keep The Streak intact was superb. Perhaps the most shocking moment came when Michaels, understandably irate after being choked out by The Undertaker, caught the Deadman with Sweet Chin Music, turning him into the path of Triple H who followed up with The Pedigree, only for The Undertaker to kick out of the DX finishing combination which had stopped so many in the past.

 

When the end came, it did full justice to a magnificent match. Echoing the way Ric Flair’s WWE career had ended at the hands of Shawn Michaels, and the Michaels himself had fallen to The Undertaker two years later, Triple H was finally left with nothing but his unconquerable spirit intact. One last desperate attack was foiled, one last defiant gesture was rewarded with a Tombstone Piledriver that Hunter knew he could neither avoid nor survive but which his pride demanded that The Undertaker deliver anyway. Last year, Triple H had walked away while The Undertaker had to be carried away from the ring but this year, it was Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker himself who had to carry the beaten but unbowed Game up the ramp. All the way from the ring to the back, all three men were still emoting and still telling the story. If this were to be the last match in Undertaker or Triple H’s career it would be a fitting swansong (although I’ll have some thoughts about that in another post). I said above that it was near perfect, because I consider that perfection is something always to be striven for but never achieved. Nevertheless, I’ll say now I do not see a single thing that these three men could have done better than they did on the night. Ten out of ten, obviously.

 

The crowd needed a breather after that and so did the viewers at home, not to mention the announcers. A good time, then, to look at those honoured by induction into the Hall of Fame this year. A worthy posthumous induction for Yokozuna, as well as the slightly controversial induction of the greatest incarnation of The Four Horsemen, Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and Barry Windham (controversial because Flair now works for TNA and because some felt that other members of the group’s many incarnations should also have been honoured). Along with them were Ron Simmons, once known as Faarooq, Mil Mascaras and, of course, Edge. All well deserving of the honour, although some may have thought that Edge’s induction came a little early. I think WWE did this to help cement in the eyes of any doubting fans the idea that Edge is genuinely retired. His neck injuries make wrestling an untenable proposition but, given the nature of wrestling retirements, some still wondered if he might not make a return at some point.

 

After that it was Team Teddy against Team Johnny, with control of both Raw and Smackdown on the line and I was not best pleased to see Team Johnny take the laurels here. I had picked Team Teddy to win, more out of hope than expectation but as soon as I saw Eve accompany Zack Ryder to the ring for this one it was obvious to me that she would cost the good guys the win here. So it proved, with The Miz nailing Santino Marella with the Skull Crushing Finale for the win (and, incidentally, extending his own Wrestle Mania streak to three and o), giving John Laurinaitis control of both Raw and Smackdown. The match itself was what one would expect from a twelve man tag, being rather messy and disjointed and the prospect of Laurinaitis doing the tired old “evil boss” bit from here on is hardly enticing. Five out of ten.

 

After that it was back to the serious business, as CM Punk defended the WWE Championship against Chris Jericho, in what promised to be an outstanding match. Most had tipped Jericho for the win here but I joined Lance Storm in predicting a win for Punk. He needed it more, it made sense and, despite what some have said, offered just as much room for future storyline development as a Jericho win would have done. The stakes were upped a little as John Laurinaitis began throwing his weight around straight after his victory in the previous match, telling Punk that he would lose his title should he get disqualified in this match. This allowed for some extra drama as Jericho attempted to make Punk lose his temper and thus his title in the early part of the match. The bout itself was compelling and dramatic but in the end it was Punk who stood victorious, finally forcing Jericho to submit in the Anaconda Vice. Since then, Jericho has continued to harass Punk and I expect the two to progress to an extremely violent rematch at Extreme Rules. Eight out of ten.

 

Finally, it was time for The Rock to COME BACK to Wrestle Mania! John Cena versus The Rock had been a year in the making on TV, longer still in real life if one considers all the shots Cena has taken at Rocky in interviews over the years. We had to wait for this one, as there were various musical interludes by luminaries such as Flo Rida but we had waited a year; we could afford to wait a few minutes longer. The match itself was everything I expected and hoped for. The crowd were whipped up into virtual frenzy. The two wrestlers, although not performing with the same technical ability as Jericho and Punk, brought intensity and drama to the match. I had tipped a Cena win here (much as I didn’t want it) as that was what made the most sense for the company…unless, of course, The Rock intended to stick around after this show.

 

In the end, the latter proved to be the case. The Rock nailed the win with a Rock Bottom after John Cena got a bit carried away and decided to try a People’s Elbow on Rocky. The two men had done a good job of establishing an ebb and flow in this match as first one man, then the other dominated and they therefore gave the distinct impression that this could have gone either way, with the announcers wisely playing that element up. A rematch now seems inevitable and no bad thing. I was amused on Raw the following night when Cena said that some people would probably make this out to be the most important night of his career; had I been there, I would have responded that Cena did that himself in every promo he had cut for the preceding twelve months! However, the waters were shockingly muddied at the end of that night’s Raw when Brock Lesnar returned after eight years away from WWE and nailed Cena with the F5. This week’s Raw saw an excellent confrontation between the two men who will now face off at Extreme Rules in a match I am greatly looking forward to. Future showdowns between Cena and The Rock, and The Rock and Lesnar now seem inevitable and should provide a great deal of excitement. Nine out of ten seems a fair score both for the match and what has already followed.

 

Wrestle Mania XXVIII Predictions

This coming Sunday brings us the greatest showpiece in professional wrestling, Wrestle Mania. This twenty-eight instalment of the biggest night in the WWE calendar is loaded with a card that, despite indifferent television ratings in recent weeks, should attract a big buy-rate and a great deal of speculation. Most of the attention, of course, is on The Rock and John Cena, whose clash is probably the biggest match the company has staged since Rock-Hogan ten years ago. Nevertheless there are many other big matches that promise drama and excitement, so it’s time once again for me to weigh in with my predictions. I’ll work up the card in order of importance (as I see it) in looking at each of the announced matches.

 

Eve and Beth Phoenix (WWE Divas Champion) versus Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos.

 

This match is relatively straightforward to call but has been thrown into some doubt by the fact that celebrity guest Menounos has injured her ribs. Last I heard, the plan is for her to work the match anyway, which shouldn’t present a major problem as it is a tag match and one would think Kelly can do the bulk of the work for her team (who would have thought I’d be writing that five years ago). This is a fairly basic “bad girls jealous of the attention shown to others” angle, none the worse for that, and I think it fairly obvious that Kelly and Maria will get the win here. I can’t see WWE bringing in a celebrity just to job them out in what is, after all, a relatively unimportant match in the long-term scheme of things.

 

Randy Orton versus Kane

 

It’s hard to believe that a match between two such big stars can come off as looking like an after-thought but that is the situation we find ourselves in. Had Wade Barrett not got hurt it seems pretty certain that Orton would have been wrestling the Mancunian but since that is not possible, Kane is a decent substitute. Given its hurried nature, the build to this has been as good as one could hope for and the angle makes reasonable sense. Ultimately, though, this match is taking place only because the two men had nothing else to do and need to be on the card somewhere. As such, we should expect no surprises here and I imagine Orton will get a clean victory without too much fuss.

 

Cody Rhodes (Intercontinental Champion) versus The Big Show

 

A bit of a surprise to see Show wrestling for the Intercontinental belt at Wrestle Mania but this is a feud I have enjoyed over recent weeks. Cody has taunted Show mercilessly over his less than stellar record at Wrestle Mania and has cost the big man matches and even delivered a memorable pummelling with boxing gloves, having handcuffed Big Show to the ropes. I really think that Cody should get the win here but wonder if he has had this feud too much his own way in the build-up thus far. It may be that Show actually needs to get a little heat back now, after being the butt of so many jokes. However, I can’t see the value in putting the Intercontinental belt on Big Show, so my prediction is that Cody manages to sneak the victory but gets well and truly laid out by Big Show in the process.

 

Team Johnny (David Otunga, Mark Henry, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger and Drew McIntyre) versus Team Teddy (Santino Marella, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, Zack Ryder, The Great Khali and Booker T)

 

This match is pure good versus evil, as the outcome will hand total control of both Raw and Smackdown to either the evil John Laurinaitis or good old Teddy Long. Obviously, the twelve-man tag format was chosen purely to get as many people on the card as possible but it should be fun and is actually, I think, the hardest match of the night to call. Conventional wisdom seems to be that Team Johnny will pick up the win because that gives more storyline options going forward but I don’t really buy it myself. If someone needs to turn face or heel then this match would give an excellent opportunity for that but I can’t really see the logic in doing so. I’ll go with hope here and pick Team Teddy to win. As an aside, I bet Drew McIntyre can hardly believe his luck to be in this match. I hope this is a fresh start for the talented Scot.

 

Sheamus versus Daniel Bryan (World Heavyweight Champion)

 

It’s wonderful to see these guys in such a prominent spot when just last year their match was actually bumped off the card at Wrestle Mania 27 so the Rock could talk for a bit longer. Since then, the roles have reversed for these two men. Sheamus is now a popular baby face, who I could see rivalling John Cena as the most popular wrestler in the company if things continue to go well for him, while Bryan has become and extremely entertaining villain. I see a crowd-pleasing victory for the big Irishman here. Royal Rumble winners haven’t fared too well at Wrestle Mania in recent years and it’s probably time to reverse that trend. Bryan has had a good first run as champion and I think the change is now due.

 

Chris Jericho versus CM Punk (WWE Champion)

 

If ever a match was made to steal a show, this was it. Principally arguing over which of them has most right to call himself “the best in the world”, we have here two of the best wrestlers in the business today. From a pure wrestling standpoint, this should be the match of the night. The angle took a little while to really build up but now we have real heat on Chris Jericho, whose shots at Punk’s family have given both the champion and the fans ample reason to want to see Jericho humbled. I see Punk winning this one and keeping his belt, as well as proving a point. Punk’s matches against Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio at previous Manias were perfectly fine matches with good angles leading into them but if there is one thing missing on Punk’s resume it is a solid Wrestle Mania victory over a genuine star. This match is tailor-made for the purpose and Jericho does not really need the win.

 

Triple H versus The Undertaker (Hell In a Cell) with Shawn Michaels as guest referee

 

This should be an absolute corker. Last year’s match between the two was outstanding and the outcome was close enough that fans have reason to doubt the Streak once again. The Cell ensures that the match should be a different enough to last year’s and the presence of Michaels is intriguing in that it makes the match even more unpredictable. Nevertheless, I never bet against the Streak and will not do so here. Some way or other, The Undertaker will emerge victorious and the famous Streak will move to 20 and 0. I could see this match being the final match of both men’s careers but should Shawn Michaels have decided that he would like one more match himself then he could easily set one up by screwing either man out of the victory.

 

The Rock versus John Cena

 

A year in the making, this is clearly the biggest match on the card but I must confess that the build has not been all that I could have wished for. Rocky has been entertaining enough but his material has not quite been up to the level it once was, although that may be down to changes in the company more than anything he himself has done. Cena has been his usual frustrating self, outstanding when he brings intensity but too often seeming not to take things seriously, his goofball grin plastered all over his face as his opponent offers insults that should result in fury. Nevertheless, I expect the match will be good and that the crowd will be super into it, which should lift it to another level, worthy of the main event. Realistically, Cena should win this. He is the face of the company and the guy that will have to deal with the results long after The Rock has left. However, with speculation that The Rock may actually stretch this out and do more work with Cena, that prediction becomes less reliable. I will stick with a Cena win but if WWE are looking at a best of three, culminating in next year’s Wrestle Mania then it makes sense for Rock to win this one. Whatever happens, I will be pulling for The Rock all the way.

 

A Great Welsh Sporting Triumph

This past Saturday was a great day for Welsh sport. However, with all the euphoria over the Welsh Grand Slam, not to mention a good win for Swansea, one would be easily forgiven for missing what was quite possibly the most remarkable Welsh triumph of all that day. Kerry Hope is, most likely, not a name that will be instantly familiar to most sports fans. The 30-year-old Merthyr Tydfil native was a talented amateur boxer, who seemed to be a great professional prospect when he joined up with now-legendary trainer Enzo Calzaghe. Hope got his professional career off to a great start, winning his first eleven fights but after that his career stalled somewhat. Defeat to Matthew Hall was followed by a disappointing no-contest and Hope changed trainers and moved to the USA in a bid to get his career on back on track. While he started with a win there, his career again faltered when he dropped a wide points decision to Minnesota hopeful Caleb Truax. Hope considered that he had been the victim of hometown scoring and contemplated retirement.

Hope had been particularly unlucky in that, of his three defeats, two had come in title fights. The first, for the Welsh Area title had come after he was badly cut in the second round after an accidental clash of heads. The second was the fight against Truax, which had been for the WBF International Title (admittedly, hardly the most prestigious of belts). Nevertheless, Hope returned to Britain and got his career moving again. Three straight wins got him a fight with Tony Hill, an eliminator for the British title. Hope continued his good run of form here, knocking his man down in the final round to guarantee himself a shot at the British Middleweight Championship. Once again, however, Hope’s bad luck with title fights returned to haunt him. The supposedly guaranteed title fight never materialised and it looked as if Hope would have to be contented with another crack at the far less valuable Welsh title. Then, finally, the Tydfil man’s luck changed.

European Middleweight Champion Grzegorz Proksa found himself without a challenger and his management picked on Hope to step in as a late replacement. With only just over a month’s notice to take the fight, Hope faced a fearsome challenge. The British-based Pole was one of the fastest rising stars in the world middleweight scene. Although only making his first defence of the title, Proksa was unbeaten in twenty-six fights. He had knocked out his last ten opponents, nine of them inside six rounds. Altogether, he had nineteen knockouts from his twenty-six wins and all four of the major sanctioning bodies, the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO ranked him in the top seven middleweights in the world. Hope, by contrast, had sixteen wins and three defeats on his record, with only one victory coming by knockout. It’s plain to see that Proksa’s management assumed that he would be a respectable but straightforward proposition for their rising star.

For the first couple of rounds it seemed to be going the champion’s way. Proksa looked strong and in control but right at the end of the second round, a horrendous clash of heads badly cut the champion. His corner cried foul, claiming that Hope had deliberately butted their man but the referee, I think rightly, ruled the clash accidental. Indeed, Sky analyst and former IBF Cruiserweight Champion Glenn McCrory suggested that Proksa had actually put himself in harm’s way by throwing a wild punch at Hope. Following through on the inaccurate shot, his head was left in a very dangerous position where a clash was likely, if not inevitable. It might almost have been poetic justice. Three years earlier, an accidental head clash in the second round had cost Hope his chance of winning the Welsh title. Now, it seemed, lady luck was smiling on him.

Proksa came out in the third round looking for vengeance but Hope, perhaps heartened by the blood on the side of his opponent’s face, was ready for him. As the Pole advanced with a weak guard and the obvious intention of landing the big knockout punch, Hope was able to land plenty of punches of his own. Moreover, it seemed that the champion and his corner had perhaps underestimated Hope’s power. While he did not have enough power to knock the Pole out, he at least had enough to get his attention. Proksa seemed to have only one strategy, to walk through Hope’s punches in order to land that one big shot of his own. Every time he did land, however, Hope was able to take the shot and Proksa was unable to follow up because he was taking too many punches himself.

None of which is to say that this was one-sided. The fight was exciting and very close. On many occasions Hope was forced to stand and trade with his fearsome adversary but each time he managed to extricate himself without every really looking in trouble while on several occasions he managed to land satisfyingly hard punches of his own. When the final bell came, no one knew how the judges would rule it. I felt that Hope had done enough to nick the fight. In the event, so it proved. One judge scored the bout a draw, with both of the others giving it Kerry Hope, the winner and new European Middleweight Champion!

Who knows where this leaves the Welshman? Proksa’s career has been thrown into chaos, while Hope now sees opportunities lining up that he may well have thought were going to pass him by. The middleweight division is a very exciting one in world boxing at the moment and there are fights galore to be had for the European champion, with maybe even world title shots to come. Proksa will probably want a rematch and maybe if he gets one he will quickly end this fairytale story. In the meantime, Kerry Hope can quite rightly bask in the glory of being the man who made his own luck and finally got his day in the sun.

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