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WrestleMania XXX: The Feel-Good Story That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen

April 12th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

Last Sunday, WWE brought us their 30th WrestleMania, which as you can guess, is kind of a big deal. It turned out to be a blast, unlike much of the last five years. WrestleMania 24 is my favorite, but the only one since that hasn’t been below average was WrestleMania 26, which wasn’t exactly spectacular. This year’s actually felt like something to be excited about going in. The writers did a great job of building up nearly all the matches, from John Cena fighting Bray Wyatt to a battle royal where the winner won a giant Andre the Giant trophy. Hell, that match had better build than this year’s Royal Rumble!

But the real story here was the undercard match of Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H where the winner got to be in the main event triple threat for the title against Randy Orton and Batista, ending in Bryan’s climactic double victory. On the surface of fiction, it’s a well-written storyline that’s been building since August. Hell, it’s one of the best main event builds we’ve seen for WrestleMania in a long time. The thing is, the real story of how this came to be is far more intriguing than what’s going on in front of the camera. This has been something built up for years between the wrestlers involved, the fans and some guys who wouldn’t be competing at WrestleMania 30.

Let’s break it up and look at some of the important players:

THE WRITERS WHO CAN’T BUILD NEW STARS

One of the major problems with WWE in the past few years is their inability to make new names. Writing isn’t long-term enough and Vince McMahon – having final say on everything – changes his mind every other minute. Wrestlers who seem like they’re catching steam all of the sudden get sidelined due to either bad storytelling or the need to feed them to John Cena. Cena is a wonderful performer and all-around good guy, but seeing him stapled to the top of the program at the expense of guys who could use a major win or two is what turns a lot of people off.

The best example is Ryback, who was getting pushed right up the card as an unstoppable and super popular face monster. They put him into the main event scene and had him compete for the title against CM Punk a few times, but they got cold feet. Sure, Ryback probably wasn’t ready to be champ, but WWE put themselves in a bad position by bringing him up so high so fast. So they had him lose. A lot. It kind of hurt his credibility, but he still had some juice. Then they turned him against John Cena, which got a great reaction from the crowd. They couldn’t have that, so they made him go out of his way to be an evil coward all of the sudden. Even though his character had a ton of legit reasoning for why he hated Cena, it was swept under the rug by Cena yelling a lot and by the end of the feud, Cena won decisively and removed what was left of Ryback’s momentum.

Last Sunday, Ryback was performing in a tag team during the PPV’s pre-show.

Other notable names to suffer from the start-stop booking style include Dolph Ziggler, Zack Ryder, Alberto Del Rio, the Miz, R-Truth, Wade Barrett, Cody Rhodes, Jack Swagger, Damien Sandow, John Morrison and Drew McIntyre.

RANDY ORTON

For a while, Randy Orton was the secondary, more intense John Cena. He wasn’t quite as popular, but he was still a major deal. Since at the time, WWE had split Raw and Smackdown into two sort of exclusive shows with their own top belts, that meant that they basically had their own “Cena” for each show. Edge was the top name on Smackdown, but he had to retire due to injury. At the following PPV, they had his best friend Christian face Edge’s previous challenger Alberto Del Rio for the vacated title. Christian won, which was well-deserved and seen by many hardcore wrestling fans as a long time coming.

They taped the next Smackdown two days later. In it, Orton, who had just joined the Smackdown roster, was granted an immediate title match against Christian and beat him. Yes, not only did Christian’s feel-good title reign last two whole days (five in terms of kayfabe, since the show aired on Friday instead of Tuesday), but we weren’t supposed to feel bad about it because Randy Orton! Yay! In turn, they eventually made Christian turn heel over this and get his ass handed to him for his troubles.

While Orton lacked the charisma of Cena, he at least was more likely to put people over, which made him more likeable at times. Then his star started to slowly fizzle over time and he was no longer really on Cena’s level. He was still fairly popular, but just kind of there. He won the big Money in the Bank PPV match that earned him a title shot whenever he wanted, which led to the events of Summerslam…

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Wrestling History (From My Recollection): Conclusion

May 16th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Yesterday went from the early-mid 00′s to the beginning of this decade, meaning we’re just about done.

As WWE hit the 2010′s, it became pretty hard to endure for two reasons. One, it became more and more apparent that their storylines were written on an hour-to-hour basis instead of being agreed on in advance. This is mainly due to McMahon being a mentally questionable dude. The sloppy storytelling had led to such promising and exciting storylines as the Nexus – the contestants from the first NXT season, who had become united against the Raw roster – petering out into a mess of bad ideas. Or Sheamus, a badass and dominant heel who became champ in record time and then went on to become a coward at the drop of a hat, ruining much of his appeal.

The other reason, which was arguably worse, was the idea of turning commentator Michael Cole heel. It started with the first season of NXT, which involved the debut of Daniel Bryan, who as I mentioned before was a big name in the indies. Cole would constantly rag on him for being worthless in every way possible. It’s hard to say if this was punishment for being semi-famous elsewhere, a way to set up Bryan giving Cole his comeuppance or a mix of both. Either way, it didn’t matter because comeuppance means very little when it’s a wrestler attacking a non-wrestler unless it’s an authority figure of some kind. Especially when this non-wrestler has an hour a week to rail on you verbally. Cole went from just hating Bryan to hating everyone on the roster other than a select few. This was entirely problematic. He rarely ever got his much-needed retribution and it didn’t stop him from going off on everyone on the roster for 4-7 hours a week. They seriously had a guy making fun of everyone to the point that WWE’s forcing you to hear about how they’re a company of worthless jokes. He was the antithesis of hype and outright made watching WWE a chore.

Eventually, they realized their folly and gradually brought him back to being a kind of okay commentator. Bryan himself endured several losing streaks, Cole’s constant barrage of insults, a temporary situation where he was fired for a really stupid reason and the issue of being a small man in a big man’s business. He won one of the two major championships, turned heel and slowly began to show how much personality he really had. He’s reached the point where McMahon seems to respect him for tolerating his mistreatment without a single complaint and the crowd has embraced him as a huge heel who’s fun to hate and even more fun to like.

As for Punk, he never got to be much more than a punching bag for whatever major face they were trying to push. He spent about a year or so losing nearly every major match and Punk himself was getting pretty tired of it. His contract was coming up and he wasn’t intent on keeping on. Since the general rule of thumb is for the guy leaving to go out defeated, WWE set up Cena (champion) vs. CM Punk at the PPV Money in the Bank 2011, which was in Punk’s hometown of Chicago. Punk publicly brought up that he was on his way out and threatened to leave the company with the championship, thereby making it a callback to his exit of ROH, only this time he was threatening to leave WWE for ROH. He even MENTIONED ROH on WWE TV during a planned segment where he got to get a lot of genuine opinions on the company and its fans off his chest. The story became huge and behind-the-scenes, agreements were made that Punk wouldn’t be leaving after all, despite appearing to in the storyline. He ended up winning the title and skipped town, leaving the company without a champion.

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Wrestling History (From My Recollection): Part 4

May 15th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Last time, I went from the dying days of WCW to the beginning of John Cena’s seemingly endless run as WWE’s top guy.

A big name I haven’t talked about in a while is Triple H. While Austin, Mick Foley/Mankind and Rock left the company in the early 2000′s, Triple H continued to rise to the top. A storyline marriage to Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie led to the two getting together and becoming married for real. Triple H spent most of these years as a heel and became rather unbearable as a top name. He was champion for most of the time, would drone on for about 20 minutes at the opening of every show and when tasked with feuding against rising faces who really needed the big win to make them superstars, Triple H instead used his backstage pull to stay on top and win the matches. The most notable is his match against Booker T at Wrestlemania 19, where the lead-up featured Triple H heavily insinuating that black people don’t get to become champion. Logic would dictate that Booker would HAVE to win in the end, but Triple H beat him rather decisively and Booker’s career never really recovered. Other people who have feuded with Triple H and had their careers hurt in one way or another include Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, Chris Benoit, Kane, Randy Orton and Sheamus. When confronted about this in interviews, Triple H would reflect on how much he was buried due to his Ultimate Warrior match and the year following the MSG Incident and still became a top guy despite not having to beat anyone major… willfully ignoring everything Mick Foley did for him. Triple H was sneaky like Hogan, but smart enough not to ever let it bite him on the ass, while also a far better performer. Hogan burned too many bridges while Triple H is set to run the WWE when McMahon steps down for good.

Speaking of Hogan burning bridges, I have to hit a tangent and mention one of his funnier moments. Hogan made the occasional appearance for a special feud now and again as he and McMahon were still under good terms from the post-WCW run. Shawn Michaels had returned from a lengthy back injury after four years and a story was set up where he begged Hogan to come out of retirement for one last match. They teamed up a couple times and Michaels attacked Hogan out of nowhere so set up Hogan vs. Michaels. The idea was that they’d have two matches as faces with Michaels winning one and Hogan winning the other. Once it was in motion, Hogan nixed the plans and used his political power to make it so that Michaels was the heel so that Hogan didn’t have to worry about a crowd that would either be split or even booing him. Then he finagled it so that there would only be one match, taking place at Summerslam 05, and he’d win before leaving for another year. The thing about Michaels during all that time he was injured is that he had found God and became a better man, working to undo the asshole he was during the 90′s. He’d eventually even make peace with Bret Hart over their mutual hatred and the Montreal Incident. That said, based on what a turdburglar Hogan was being, Michaels went back to his old ways when the match happened and in this case, two wrongs made a right. Sometimes a wrestler would mess with an opponent he outright hated by going off-script and acting unaffected by the offensive attacks. Michaels went the other direction, acting as if everything Hogan did to him was equal to being hit by a speeding truck. He flew all around the ring and flopped across the mat like a fish at every punch and kick, making Hogan look like a complete fool.

The John Cena backlash increased the more his endless title reign became unbearable, coming to a head when conniving heel Edge won the belt off of him through an unfair-yet-amusing way. The ratings suddenly spiked in reaction to this momentous shift, but it was quickly smacked back down. The company was insistent on setting up John Cena vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 22, so they almost immediately had Cena win back the belt. Amusingly, Triple H was very critical of Kurt Angle, who feuded with Cena months earlier and couldn’t get the fans to boo him over Cena, even when he referred to himself as a Jesus-hating racist. Despite Triple H’s criticisms, he too ended up getting cheered like crazy at the show despite being the heel. With Edge no longer in the title picture, the ratings dropped back down to normal.

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Annotating CM Punk

June 29th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

WWE has been in a major rut lately. They have all the talent in the world and yet they’ve spent the last several months mismanaging themselves. So much time and effort has been spent on shoving Cena and Orton in our faces as overly dominant heroes that everyone else looks like shit. This is even worse when they bring in older top guys like Triple H to tell everyone that he and the Undertaker have to have a big, high-profile match because everyone in the back smells and none of them are on their level. Most attempts to build up new talent screeches to a halt because they’d rather see how said wrestler would react on a professional level if they started looking like a joke day in and day out.

I can only hope they hit rock bottom (no pun intended) over the past few months because the company should know better than to be this lousy on a regular basis. Luckily, they’ve started to get enough forward momentum in the last couple months. R-Truth has taken his character to another level. Christian and Orton are having good matches. Good wrestlers are still having good matches when nobody’s watching.

A major happening came from this week’s Raw. The next PPV, Money in the Bank, which is in Chicago, will have John Cena defending the WWE Championship against CM Punk in what is billed to be Punk’s farewell performance. The writing was on the wall with this one if you follow the backstage hijinx of the company online, but Raw’s ending added a new level of interest in it.

In a tables match between Cena and R-Truth, Punk interfered to help Truth win. With a weakened Cena selling something for the first time in maybe a year, Punk sat upon the entrance ramp and had this to say.

Was it legit? Of course not! Like they’d have him talk that long and choose only then to cut him off. But it was cool! It was really, really cool and does a good job of building up the PPV as a situation where something intriguing could happen. It was shocking and buzzworthy.

Some of the more hardcore fans (or “smarks”) out there have said that the promo alienates the casual fans because they don’t know what he’s talking about. Too many inside references. That’s bullshit, of course. Anyone can pick up what he’s talking about and figure out what they don’t get. Still, the smarks get some extra flavor from Punk’s remarks as it speaks for the most of them. The response reminds me of a lot of Grant Morrison’s recent DC Comics work, only even more straightforward. Just because you haven’t read decades of Jack Kirby work doesn’t mean you can’t read through Final Crisis.

That got me thinking. David Uzumeri has been annotating Grant Morrison’s comics for the past few years. Maybe I could annotate CM Punk’s speech and give the casual fans something to go with an already fantastic rant. Let’s give it a shot.

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WWE Heroes and the Emotional Spectrum

December 6th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

I’ve been asked to comment on the recent announcement about the new WWE Heroes comic on its way. For those who haven’t heard, 20 issues will be released by Titan Publishing, depicting the WWE wrestlers as fighting zombies and leopard men and stuff. I don’t know.

The press release mentions the inclusion of these wrestlers and personalities: Triple H, Undertaker, Randy Orton, Batista, Shawn Michaels, Big Show, John Cena, CM Punk, Kane, Edge, Chris Jericho, Matt Hardy, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Carlito, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler and Kelly Kelly. Wait, Roddy Piper?! What? Why?

Another thing that bothers me is that why are they going to go through the trouble of doing a WWE comic book and NOT include the Hurricane, who is a wrestling superhero? He was born for this role! What is up with that?

I’ve followed the history of licensed wrestling comics. First we had WWF Battlemania in 1991, which I covered in two parts. It was doofy and kiddy, but not overly offensive in the grand scheme of things. A year later, Marvel released World Championship Wrestling, which I reviewed in three different parts. That one was both poorly written and showed the reasons for why doing a month-by-month story based on wrestling that’s written and drawn long in advance is a recipe for failure. At the end of the decade, we were given WWF comics by Chaos. This included comics based on Steve Austin, Mankind, the Rock, Chyna and the Undertaker. I recently reviewed Undertaker in two parts.

So I think I have enough authority to say that this is going to be bad on an epic scale. I can’t wait. I just feel sorry for writer Keith Champagne, who already took a hit for being assigned the job of writing Countdown: Arena. God, what a mess that was.

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Grappling Under a Different Tune

June 27th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

I’m sure some of you may have seen the site Tube Dubber. It takes two YouTube videos and merges them, showing one vid’s visuals and the other’s audio. As it turns out, there are a mountain of wrestling entrance videos, otherwise known as Titantrons, on YouTube. These being the looped highlight reel videos that play on the big screen whenever someone walks to the ring. Not only are seemingly all of them on YouTube, but some fans decided to make these videos for those wrestlers from earlier eras.

At the Something Awful wrestling sub-forum Wrestlehut, a bunch of us started playing around with Tube Dubber and seeing what we could do to improve on these wrestling Titantrons. Here are some of my better ones.

The Hurricane
Doink the Clown
Vladimir Kozlov
The Ultimate Warrior
Jeff Hardy (my favorite one)
CM Punk
Adam Bomb
Brutus Beefcake
John Morrison (listen, the guy slows down time. I had to do this one)
JBL… if he was a face.
Rated RKO
The Miz
Mike Knox
The New World Order

Later on, I decided to take some CHIKARA and indy highlight videos and tack on a new soundtrack.

The Osirian Portal
The Super Smash Brothers
Chuck Taylor
Mike Quackenbush

This is way too fun. Try it!

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