WOW crowns new champions in a solid finale

Each half of WOW‘s two-part second season finale ended with a cracking title match and a coronation. WOW has had some of its best matches this season when the stakes were non-existent, like Reyna Reyes vs Serpentine back in episode seven. Conversely, it was the main event storyline matches that disappointed most often. But this week, the main events finally delivered. One had the obvious advantage of being a tag title match instead of the endless vague nonsense of the world title storyline, but the other had the benefit of putting the endless vague nonsense to an end. The undercard matches were a bit thin by comparison.

The first of two hours kicked off with a video package for the tag title tournament. We did it, folks, we made it all the way to the finale without any explanation of the structure of the tournament. I predicted a triple threat final match based on the number of teams involved, but we got a triple threat semi-final last week instead: an elimination match, which saw the Monsters of Madness put away Siren the Voodoo Doll and Holidead while their rivals Fire and Adrenaline weren’t even in the ring. It was an odd choice, but one that really paid off here. Fire and Adrenaline were always going to be underdogs in this fight. Havok alone is billed at nearly their combined weight with a foot height advantage. But, without leaning too hard on it, the semi-final deepened their sense of danger going into this final clash. They weren’t even involved in the finish of the last match. How can they overcome a pair as dominant as the Monsters of Madness?

(I will not summarize any more video packages unless they’re particularly interesting. WOW has had a lot of overlong, repetitive video packages and it’s not worth anyone’s time for me to continue saying so. I’ll let you know if it stops.)

Two matches preceded the first main event: the Psycho Sisters vs Sassy Massy, Chantilly Chella and Keta Rush, and Reyna Reyes vs The Disciplinarian (with Samantha Smart).

The Psycho Sisters issued an open challenge, apparently, and it was answered by the established tag team of Massy and Chella, plus Keta Rush from the Bully Busters for some reason. This was the long-awaited debut, hyped up all season, of Mezmeriah and I’m sad to say it did not live up to the hype. It was a perfectly competent match for the most part, but Mezmeriah was sloppy during her rare few interventions. I hate to say it, but I don’t think she’s ring-ready based on that performance. I hope she had time to improve over the summer, because they filmed season three in September. The match didn’t leave a huge impression, but Razor cut another solid post-match promo, announcing their win over their cobbled-together opposition was a warning to whoever would win the title in the main event. The Psycho Sisters don’t care about anything, including the rules. The tag titles are all that matters. It’s good stuff and, by finale’s end, Razor is still the second-best talker on the roster. But someone is coming for her crown.

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Reyna Reyes vs The Disciplinarian was another strong outing from Reyes (known on the independent circuit as Gisele Shaw), who has established herself as one of WOW‘s most impressive in-ring performers. She remains over as hell and had the crowd eating out of her hand all night. I popped when she pulled out the inverted facelock into a split-legged leg drop across the neck (please tell me this has a shorter name) from her match of the year contender with Serpentine. The Disciplinarian and Samantha Smart remain decent heels on the level of cartoon henchmen and I admire their commitment to gimmick in the second half of the finale.

Our main event match, for the vacant WOW World Tag Team Championships, was the best match of the entire tag tournament and one of the best matches I’ve seen on WOW. Like Reyes vs Serpentine, it did a very simple structure very well, and sometimes, taking a basic formula and doing it just right is how you achieve greatness. Here’s how it went:

Havok and Hazard spent the first half of the match just pummeling and slamming Fire all over the place, while intermittently knocking Adrenaline off the apron. Havok had Fire in a pretty cruel-looking bear hug at one point and then tagged in Hazard when she released. Fire recovered just long enough to dropkick Hazard and tag in Adrenaline.

Adrenaline rushed in and seemed to seize the advantage at first, rattling Hazard with a wheelbarrow stunner, but the bigger fighters managed to reclaim their momentum. They pummeled and slammed her all over the place, with Adrenaline selling like crazy, especially on Hazard’s suplexes and Havok’s buckle bombs. I love extremely theatrical overselling as much as the next guy – give me a Flair Flop any day of the week – but Adrenaline’s is just brutally convincing. She looked like a rag doll and she should have looked like a rag doll. She and Fire are both tiny and while Hazard isn’t exactly a giant, she looks it compared to her opponents this weekend. Adrenaline sold the second half of the match like the massacre it was, right until she turned the tide long enough on Hazard to knock her down with an enzuigiri. Both wrestlers crawled desperately to their corners for the hot tag.

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Fire and Havok came in hard, but Fire hit harder. She kicked, she dropkicked, she kicked again, she dropkicked some more. It’s the best she’s looked on WOW yet and she almost put Havok away, but a momentary hesitation due to the ref checking on Adrenaline gave Havok time to kick out. She laid Fire out and tagged in Hazard while screaming “KILL HER”, which ruled. Hazard hit her into the corner with a forearm, whipped her across the ring into the opposite corner and charged. Fire leaped over her, turned it into a sunset flip and pinned Hazard to win the titles for her team. It was a shocking, abrupt finish, but it worked brilliantly. Looking back on the match, it was obvious that Hazard would cost her team the title. She was the one who gave Fire and Adrenaline the chance to tag in on both occasions. Set up and payoff. Just fine, straightforward storytelling in the ring.

The Monsters were furious and had to be held off Fire and Adrenaline by officials, but they seemed to eventually accept their defeat and leave. Fire and Adrenaline lifted the belts above their heads and holy crap a real-life queer couple are the tag team champions on a national wrestling show. Each of them mounted a corner to raise a fist, streamers shot from somewhere, it was a pretty feel-good ending.

Then it turned into the best ending of any episode of WOW.

Three new wrestlers, led by the thirty-year veteran Malia Hosaka, ran in and beat down the new champs. Hosaka cut the best promo the show has ever seen, announcing her and her trainees, Exile. She said she’d been exiled from WOW by a vindictive up-and-comer back when the promotion first started, and that she’d been exiled from the industry at large because she didn’t have enough “T ‘n’ A” (tits and ass) and because she was too old. She challenged anyone in the company to step up to her and then called out Tessa Blanchard:

“We’re not second- or third-generation, living off our daddy’s and our grandfather’s reputations. I’m not a born legend, I am a living legend, and I crawled my way up to where I am through the ranks of the most elite women wrestlers this industry has ever had step in this ring.”

Exile’s entrance music, with pounding drums, set the perfect tone for the promo and I am already hyped to see them in action next season. WOW has ended too many episodes with a run-in and a no contest. Finally, we got a proper post-match run-in to set up an exciting new heel stable. It was a fantastic end for the first hour.

The second hour kicked off with a recap of the previous episode’s finish and a video package for this episode’s main event, Tessa Blanchard vs The Beast for the WOW World Championship. We also made it this far without an explanation for how exactly Sophia Lopez’s lawyer powers helped delay this match, but whatever, it’s finally here. The only weird note in the video package was McLane saying Santana Garrett left wrestling indefinitely after her title match defeat to Tessa last season. Garrett wrestled several matches for SHINE between the tapings of season one and two, and has since signed with and debuted for NXT, so it was a weird thing to say.

Two more matches preceded the second main event: Princess Aussie vs Holidead, and Stephy Slays vs Abilene Maverick.

Princess Aussie’s storyline with Holidead and Siren the Voodoo Doll remains vague and confusing. Aussie apparently wrestled Holidead for Siren’s approval, whatever that means. The match was decent, elevated by Aussie’s character work. She took the lead early on, but a series of quick pin attempts betrayed a lack of confidence. Holidead was able to take control and all but decapitated her with a leg drop on the apron. Back in the ring, she smashed Aussie’s spine once across each leg before slamming her in the middle of the ring. The back-and-forth was great, including a sleeper hold from Aussie reversed into a snapmare by Holidead, but what should have been Aussie’s pinfall victory was interrupted by the Psycho Sisters. The Sisters were presumably still sore over Aussie costing them their spot in the tag title semi-final and this feud will presumably see Aussie team up with her antagonists to take them on next season. But it’s hard to get excited about it because of the weak storytelling we’ve had with this feud. I have no idea what’s going on with Aussie or what she thinks or feels about any of this. She’s a bystander in her own character arc and it’s just bizarre.

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Before the second match, we had a presentation in the ring, a video package about an injured wrestler and Teal Piper’s on-screen (but not in-ring) debut in a backstage interview.

Tessa presented WOW‘s owner Jeanie Buss (also owner of the Los Angeles Lakers) with a title belt of her own as a show of respect for her support of women’s wrestling. It was weird to see Tessa break character, especially right before a big title match. I know kayfabe is dead, but the tone shift was jarring nonetheless. The ring was flanked by opposing sets of faces and heels to Tessa’s left and right. Faces were represented by Sassy Massy, Chantilly Chella, Fire and Adrenaline, the Bully Busters, Reyna Reyes and the Dixie Darlings. (Are the Dixie Darlings faces though? Or do they just bully two people who happen to be heels?) Heels were represented by the Lionness, Lana Star, Samantha Smart, The Disciplinarian, Abilene Maverick and Sophia Lopez. Honestly, it was a fine promo from Tessa and good for Jeanie Buss, sure, but the gold here was the reactions of the other wrestlers. Sophia Lopez waved like a maniac at multiple cameras. Lana Star cried. The Disciplinarian and Samantha Smart did not break character for a second and just stood there looking vaguely menacing, even when everyone else on both sides began to pound the apron and a “Thank you, Jeanie” chant broke out. Too busy living the gimmick. I respect the hustle.

The video package focused on Eye Candy (aka Willow Nightingale), who broke her neck at a Beyond show earlier this year, was another odd one. It didn’t really say anything about her character. It was just “I’m injured, it sucks, thank you for your support”, which is fine, as far as it goes. Some of the videos in the package that she recorded during her recovery were very affecting. But it was strange that WOW waited until the finale to air it, especially when Willow Nightingale has recovered from her injury and returned to the ring. She and Solo Darling triumphed in a ten-team tag gauntlet at CHIKARA King of Trios last month and just won the Compeonatos de Parejas Championship like two weeks ago! It’s just weird that WOW didn’t run it earlier in the season, before she’d come back, or scrap it once she’d returned. I don’t know what to tell you.

Teal Piper made her long-awaited debut with her backstage interview show, Teal Talks! with Teal Piper. Her first guest was Stephy Slays, in advance of her grudge match with Abilene Maverick. I wasn’t super convinced of this storyline anyway – Stephy Slays just doesn’t seem like a big enough threat that Abilene would be scared of her – but Teal drove it home by hilariously ragging on Stephy during the interview. I’m not sure WOW has thought through the thematic implications of having an anti-bullying character get picked on by someone who’s very funny, but I find kayfabe anti-bullying storylines kinda lame anyway, so I didn’t mind. Teal asked Stephy whether she thought Abilene bullied her for being such an insufferable goody two-shoes, made fun of her for doing charity work and said she only defeated The Disciplinarian (her sole victory in WOW to date) because The Disciplinarian was sick that day. Stephy lost her composure and started rambling about medical school, so Teal tried to rub her head to calm her down. Stephy asked for another question and Teal asked her who she thinks she could beat if they weren’t sick. Stephy walked out. It was great! I don’t know how sustainable this gag is, but sometimes it’s the least sustainable gags that paradoxically last longest, precisely because it can be hilarious to just stick with a stupid joke (see: the List of Jericho). I’m looking forward to Teal’s contributions to the show going forward.

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Stephy vs Abilene was fine, but a bit of a letdown after a season and a half of build-up. Abilene landed a cheap shot before the bell, but Stephy got rolling immediately and reclaimed dominance for the first part of the match, driving her opponent from the ring. Abilene managed to get back on top of things for some good submissions, working the arm, but the middle section was kind of paint-by-numbers and my mind drifted back to the theme of the match. Something that’s been bugging me about this storyline is that Abilene doesn’t bully Stephy for anything. There’s nothing about her that she mocks. I know most bullies’ “reasons” for bullying people are just a paper-thin excuse for sheer enjoyment of cruelty, but they still tend to give an excuse. Nothing about Stephy is even implied to be the target of Abilene’s malice. The live crowd loves her to pieces, but I’d be curious about how over Stephy is with home viewers. I wonder if the lack of specificity to her feud with Abilene makes it more relatable to more people, or if it’s too abstract to really feel anything. I find it almost alienatingly empty of content, but I could be an outlier. Abilene tried to put Stephy away with a powerbomb, but Stephy reversed it into a hurricanrana, landed on Abilene’s chest and won by pinfall. It came off kinda flukey, but a win is a win.

Heading into the main event, another thought struck me: I don’t see why Tessa shouldn’t hold the belt for several seasons yet. She has been a fantastic champion. Her matches with Serpentine and Reyna Reyes were highlights of the season. The Beast and Jungle Grrrl, despite how the world title storyline was booked, have never seemed convincing as successors to me, or not yet, at least. Jungle Grrrl’s loss to Tessa two weeks ago was a good call. I hoped Tessa would retain against the Beast and I’d get to see her face off with Jessie Jones, Sassy Massy or Holidead. I mean, just run her matches with Serpentine and Reyna Reyes again for eternity. Give Havok another shot! I don’t know, just let me keep watching Tessa Blanchard duke it out with the best of the WOW roster. Especially now that Malia Hosaka is here and out for blood.

Her match with the Beast was the best the challenger has ever looked and both wrestlers pulled some nice tricks from their bag. The Beast started out just tossing Tessa around like a sack of potatoes. When Tessa fled the ring, the Beast lifted her from ringside to the apron and then suplexed her over the ropes to take charge. It was awesome. Tessa didn’t take long to regain the upper hand, but when she risked a hurricanrana at ringside from the apron, Beast caught her, lifted her into powerbomb position and mangled her spine against the ringpost. No one could stay on top for long. Tessa drove the Beast from the ring for a suicide dive, but couldn’t take her down. When she went for another, the Beast ran into the ring and nearly speared her in half. The Beast landed a Death Valley driver and went for the sit-out powerbomb, but Tessa reversed it into another hurricanrana and splattered the Beast’s face across the bottom turnbuckle. Tessa landed a tornado DDT off the ropes, followed up with a flying senton, pin attempt, kick out. I knew how it’d end then. Not long after, the Beast threw Tessa against the rope, caught her with a pop-up powerbomb on the rebound and pinned her to become the new WOW World Champion.

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It was a damn good match, elevated as WOW so often is with great camerawork and editing, by which I mean there were dramatic in-camera zooms. They work every time! I’m not heartbroken to see the Beast win the title, despite my reservations, but I’ll be heartbroken if it’s the last we’ve seen of Tessa. I need to see her and Malia Hosaka tear each other to shred’s in the ring immediately, if not sooner. It’s what you want out of a wrestling show, to be left hungry for more. I’m starving after this finale and I can’t wait to tune in next season.

You may have noticed I didn’t mention commentary in this review. I’m sick of writing about it, to be honest. McLane is rubbish and I can’t tell if Dickey is good because he has to spend so much time managing McLane. I hope McLane has the humility to step back and let any of the worthy female commentators out there take his place in the booth. He doesn’t even need to turn to his head to find an ideal candidate. Shaul Guerrero has been a quietly brilliant presence on WOW this season and she can definitely string a sentence together with more grace than her boss. She may well be my favourite ring announcer in wrestling at the moment, with how she visibly relishes the work. I’ve never heard her on commentary before, but she has a fantastic voice and must be better than McLane. I’m sure Veda Scott would cash that check too. Leaving aside any assumptions about his role in creative, as a presence in the show, McLane is WOW‘s greatest weakness by significant distance. He needs to back off and let his wrestlers shine.

Tune back in for more news and reviews when WOW returns for its upcoming third season.

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