WrestleWatch: WWE Crown Jewel 2019
Back to the modern day in WWE for this WrestleWatch review. I've been very critical of WWE recently, and was especially hard on the last PPV, Hell In A Cell. A card that had 3 advertised matches going into the weekend of the show, and a main event finish (or non-finish) inside the Cell that pretty much killed one of WWE's most iconic gimmick matches. WWE have all the ability in the world to put on amazing shows. Their production is the best in pro wrestling, and they have some incredibly talented wrestlers under contract. However, the booking/creative leaves a lot to be desired. I tuned in for Smackdown's move to FOX and the Draft, but outside of The Rock coming back and outshining everyone on the mic by a mile, it really failed to capture my attention. In fact, in 2019, I've watched so few episodes of Raw and SD that I'm almost back to the 2009 dark days where PG and the guest host shilling had me switching allegiances to the UFC.
So then why am I back for this show? Well, funnily enough, UFC had a little to do with it. When Smackdown went to FOX, the big final segment was the WWE debut of Cain Velasquez. Velasquez is a former 2 time UFC Heavyweight Champion, but more importantly, he handed Brock Lesnar his ass in the Octagon. That scar on Lesnar's cheek? Yeah, Cain did that. All the way back in 2010, at UFC 121, Cain dominated Brock en route to a first round TKO. Nine years later, after Brock squashed Kofi Kingston to once again win the WWE Championship, Cain entered the arena, took his old rival down and laid in some ground and pound. Brock, to his credit, sold it like he saw a ghost. So the match was set for Crown Jewel (in Saudi Arabia, but WWE doesn't want to focus on that part of it), Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez, this time for the WWE Championship.
Match 1: Humberto Carrillo won a Battle Royal to challenge for the US Title at Crown Jewel (at 12:25)
Thoughts: Very standard battle royal fare. When the Singh Bros get eliminated, R-Truth pins one of them to win the 24/7 Championship. Final 3 is Humberto, Rowan and Harper. The big men turn on each other, allowing the former 205 Live star to challenge AJ Styles on the main show. The result was incredibly telegraphed, seeing as Styles and Carrillo had a non-title match on Raw this past week. So annoying when they do that (*1/2)
As much as the whole WWE/Saudi thing doesn't feel right, I do enjoy how the ridiculous amounts of money gained from it allows them to go super over the top with the pyro. The opening minute of the show seems to have more fireworks than the last 3 Wrestlemanias combined.
Match 1: WWE Championship- Brock Lesnar def. Cain Velasquez (at 2:10)
Thoughts: We start big with the WWE Championship match (and the main reason I tuned back in for this show). Ain't gonna lie, this was disappointing. Wasn't expecting a 20 minute clinic, given how green Cain is, plus we all know Brock doesn't get paid by the hour, but still... I saw Velasquez's wrestling debut in AAA in Mexico a few months back, and he wowed the crowd with some impressive lucha libre moves. I was hoping to see a bit of that here. We've seen A LOT of faux-MMA in WWE in recent years, both from former fighters like Ronda Rousey, Shayna Baszler and Matt Riddle... and wrestlers who are MMA fans, like Undertaker, Goldberg, Kyle O'Reilly, Bobby Fish... seeing Cain throw Brock off his game with springboard arm drags would have been sweet. Instead, we see Cain throw a few awkward looking kicks- he was never actually much of a kicker in the UFC, more of a boxer/wrestler hybrid. Then Brock catches him outta nowhere with the Kimura. Honestly, a let-down. Probably the most enjoyable thing was the incredible ROAR of the crowd when Brock made his entrance. (*)
Post-match, Brock maintains the Kimura Lock. This is probably a way to write Cain out for the time being so he can go to the Performance Centre and train up. This match wasn't designed to show it, but I do believe Cain has a good amount of potential. Rey Mysterio, who was in Cain's corner, makes the save with a steel chair. One shot catches Brock in the head. Naughy Rey!
Match 2: The OC win a Tag Team Turmoil to become the Best Tag Team In The World (at 32:05)
Thoughts: This was a nice showcase of the great tag teams on both Raw and Smackdown. Interesting that Kofi Kingston was WWE Champion a month ago and now struggles to take on Scott Dawson, and got pinned in short order by Gallows and Anderson. The OC vs. VIking Raiders clash at the end made me want to see them more, so job well done, I guess? Also, the double standards in Saudi Arabia are horrible. They won't let women wrestlers show skin, but I have to see Otis' moobs flopping about?!? But in all seriousness, this was really good. WWE should place importance on its tag divisions more often (***1/2)
Match 3: Mansoor def. Cesaro (at 12:45)
Thoughts: Mansoor is a Saudi-born wrestler, and still relatively new to WWE, but Cesaro made him look like a million bucks. Crisp, athletic action, some innovative moves, a super invested crowd... and they were rewarded when Mansoor got the big upset victory. Cesaro hasn't had a prominent role in quite some time, but he still has name value, and was the perfect veteran to take this role. (***3/4)
Mansoor is interviewed by Greg Hamilton post-match, speaking in both English and Arabic. He is overcome with emotion, but promises this is only the beginning. Really well-spoken and charismatic.
Byron Saxton is standing by backstage to interview Seth Rollins. I was wondering what happened to Saxton! All the changes to commentary teams kinda left him out in the cold. But honestly, Saxton isn't a good commentator. At all. I feel worse for Tom Phillips, who IS an excellent commentator but has been demoted to 205 Live. Ideally, Smackdown would be anchored by Phillips and Graves. They had such great chemistry on NXT. Michael Cole should stick to a backstage role as a producer at this point. Anyway, tangent on Mick's ideal commentary teams aside, Seth promises that tonight will be the end of the rivalry between himself and The Fiend Bray Wyatt.
Commercial for Survivor Series airs. This year, it's Raw vs. Smackdown... vs. NXT. WWE have been pushing that NXT is a "third brand", not "developmental" more than ever since the black and yellow brand moved to the USA Network, and I guess this solidifies it. Looking forward to seeing NXT mainstays like Cole, Gargano, Ciampa and Dream mix it up with some new rivals.
Match 4: Tyson Fury def. Braun Strowman via count out (at 8:04)
Thoughts: So, another large piece of the Crown Jewel puzzle is the inclusion of undefeated boxing champion, "The Gypsy King" Tyson Fury. I don't follow boxing so I had a lot less interest in this crossover. Fury and Strowman having the weakest "pull-apart brawl" I've ever seen didn't help matters. Fury's entrance was really cool and over-the-top- the camera even caught Strowman angrily saying to the ref, "This is bullshit!" As for the match... look. Fury was really game for an active boxer who apparently has a fight coming up sometime soon. But it was not good. Fury has a lanky body type, and has very limited pro wrestling training. It was a really clear example of how important movement and selling is in wrestling. Fury's movements, whether taking a bump or just moving around the ring, were quite awkward and timed badly, which made most of Strowman's offense look pretty shit. The finishing punch from Fury looked good, though, and I respect the effort put in here, so that bumps my rating up a little. (**)
Post-match, Strowman powerslams Fury to get the last laugh. Tyson pops up straight away, which Graves tries to cover for on commentary by saying that it was instinct due to his boxing background.
Samir Singh pins R-Truth backstage to win the 24/7 Championship. Both Singh Bros do their hopping Bollywood dance away from the scene (and hilariously almost smash into a storage case in the hallway).
Match 5: United States Championship- AJ Styles def. Humberto Carrillo (at 12:34)
Thoughts: This was a really well-wrestled match that suffered from a dead crowd. There were some chants for AJ, despite him being a heel, but little reaction in this one from the Saudis, although they started reacting a little more down the stretch. I'd put it down to people not knowing who Carrillo is- in all fairness he's only been on the Raw roster a couple of weeks, and most of the audience doesn't watch 205 Live. Hell, I haven't bothered watching for a while. Ever since they took Buddy Murphy off the show to sit in catering most weeks, the quality took a nosedive. Anyway, Carrillo eventually rallied the crowd behind him, and was able to quicken the pace and wow the crowd with his high flying. Styles eventually regains the upper hand after Carrillo tweaks his knee. AJ attacks the legs for a while, slowing the young cruiserweight down enough to hit a spectacular looking Phenomenal Forearm for the win. (***1/2)
Backstage, Byron interviews Hulk Hogan. Hogan calls him Double B, "Beautiful Byron". This feels a little off considering Hogan's past comments on race, like pandering to say, "look, I'm not racist, I complimented the black interviewer!". Anyway, Team Hogan faces Team Flair later tonight. Team Hogan's been training, saying their prayers, taking their vitamins, whatcha gonna do. Standard Hogan shit. I hate Hulk Hogan. Even putting aside the fact that he's a racist scumbag in real life, as a performer he's cheesy and one-note as all hell. I've often said, if I grew up in the Hulkamania era, I'm not sure I'd be a fan of professional wrestling. I hear people blast wrestling as "fake bullshit, circus crap"... and if Hulk Hogan is their point of reference, I totally get it. Totally get it.
Match 6: Natalya def. Lacey Evans (at 7:21)
Thoughts: This was historic, the first women's wrestling match ever in Saudi Arabia. They had to wrestle in body suits and t-shirts to cover up every bit of their bodies other than their face, while all the male wrestlers are totally fine to be out there in little trunks. But still, progress. The crowd reacted positively to them- save for one jackass that threw a water bottle at Natalya. Both Nattie and Lacey were brimming with emotion, understanding the significance of this happening. The match itself was really interesting. Of note, Lacey pretty much completely ditched her heel persona, and it played out as a respectful technical wrestling match. Lots of smooth grappling, counters and transitions. Constant flowing action. Nattie was clearly leading the dance, but it was the best I've seen Lacey look from a pure wrestling standpoint. Natalya kicks out of the springboard moonsault and shortly after locks in the Sharpshooter. Post-match, both women hug and celebrate as fireworks go off. The emotion, crowd reaction and historical significance really elevated this to something special. (***1/2)
Before the headline matches, Michael Cole plugs Smackdown, live tomorrow night from Buffalo, NY. A bunch of matches are promoted, but I'm not going to list them because most of them won't happen. The WWE crew were meant to fly out of Saudi Arabia right after Crown Jewel to get to New York for Smackdown. However, the flights have been delayed and most of the roster are stuck in Saudi. At the time of writing this, Smackdown starts in an hour. I expect it to be comprised of talent that weren't on Crown Jewel- Daniel Bryan, Sami Zayn, most of the women's roster. They'll probably allow some Raw talent on the show to beef it up too. Weird situation where the reason for the delay hasn't been confirmed- some sources say mechanical troubles, others say WWE encountered some issues with Saudi officials. Either way, not good.
Match 7: Team Hogan (Roman Reigns, Rusev, Ali, Ricochet & Shorty G) def. Team Flair (Randy Orton, Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley, King Corbin & Shinsuke Nakamura) (at 19:55)
Thoughts: This was the Roman Reigns show. Everyone got a little time in there, and they played up the Rusev/Lashley feud throughout (Lana was even there, covered head to toe, of course). But as soon as Reigns got tagged in, he destroyed everyone single-handedly. Talk about making someone look strong! Cole summed it up in a soundbite- "Roman Reigns wins... with a little help from his friends!" Guess the Saudi prince is a Roman mark. Also, Hogan and Flair did exactly nothing in the match. Flair mentioned on WWE's new podcast, After The Bell, that he was cleared for physicality, but nothing of the sort was even teased during the match. So Hogan and Flair are essentially the highest paid cheerleaders in history. (***)
Match 8: Universal Championship- Falls Count Anywhere- The Fiend Bray Wyatt def. Seth Rollins (at 21:21)
Thoughts: This was essentially a make-good for HIAC. The Saudi crowd, who I imagine to be largely a casual audience at best, reacted favourably to The Fiend. Seth received a mixed reaction. They used the stupid red lighting again, and spammed the Stomp too much at the end, but they did have much better action throughout, where the Fiend actually delivered more punishment, rather than just taking Seth's best and not offering a whole lot back. That was one of many, many problems I had with the Cell match. The finish was a cool visual, where Seth sent The Fiend into the production equipment, which exploded into flames. The stipulation coming in was that "the match could not be stopped for any reason". You know WWE done fucked up when they have to explicitly state in the advertising, "there's gonna be a finish this time, we promise!" So, The Fiend rose up from the explosion unharmed, Mandible Claw, Sister Abigail- we have a new Universal Champion. (***)
I mean, Bray is a Smackdown wrestler and now holds Raw's top title, so there's that little matter to deal with. But I'm glad to see him get rewarded here, after putting so much into The Fiend character, he deserved a big win like this. Follow-up is key though. Bray Wyatt has been cursed for much of the last 5 years. Every time he seems on the cusp of main event stardom, he gets knocked back down again. Cena. Undertaker. Orton. Did you remember that Bray is a former WWE Champion? Because if you blinked in early 2017, you missed it. But against all odds, Wyatt has masterfully revived his career as the Fiend, beating one of the Shield boys clean as a whistle for a world championship. If he gets a good run as champion here, he can finally cement himself as an undeniable main event player permanently. Fingers crossed.
This was the best of the shows in the WWE/Saudi Arabia partnership. Funnily enough, it wasn't the heavily promoted stuff that made the show good. It was a really strong undercard from WWE's full time roster. Tyson Fury and Cain Velasquez were crossover stars, meant to be major selling points, but they under-delivered. Cain's was by design, but Tyson Fury showed that this pro wrestling stuff is harder than it looks. Tag Team Turmoil, Mansoor vs. Cesaro and the historic Natalya vs. Lacey Evans match... all worth putting some time aside to watch. Every wrestler in those matches worked like they had something to prove. And the main event helped right some of the atrocious wrongs in last month's Hell In A Cell match. Follow up is key though.
More reviews to come on the Arena soon. I'm in the process of catching up on New Japan, and tomorrow UFC holds its 500th event in Madison Square Garden, UFC 244. Also, I'm planning to do more articles, just to deviate a little from the constant reviews. Expect a write up soon on new NJPW tag team, The Birds Of Prey, and also a look through UFC history as I attempt to rank the Top 10 UFC PPVs!
Until next time, take care,