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The WWE Network: Two Weeks Later

March 10th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

It’s been two weeks since WWE released the WWE Network. An idea that’s been around for years, WWE’s been wanting to find a way to make money off their extensive video library and the DVD releases just haven’t been cutting it. Originally, the Network was going to be an actual television channel, but cable providers told WWE to go fuck off, turning the entire concept into a running gag amongst the fans. It kept getting delayed over and over to the point that nobody really expected it to ever happen.

Then they changed the concept and made it a Netflix-like streaming channel. After the press conference to announce how it worked, I must have seen a record number of people posting that image macro of Fry yelling, “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” I had the same mindset.

The sell is that the WWE Network is $10 a month (you have to agree to six months at a time) of streaming video that you can access via computers, game consoles, phones, tablets, etc. You get every single WWE/WCW/ECW PPV, lots of old shows, replays of more recent shows, original programming and every live PPV in HD. There would always be something playing on the feed, but you can check out pretty much anything on demand. That’s an insane deal. So how has it stacked up?

It went live two weeks ago and experienced the expected rough beginning. For the first day, it was extremely difficult to sign up for the service. While the live streaming worked out fine, it was nearly impossible to get an entire show when watching the on demand material. That appeared to be a fault in their setup, which they’ve since fixed. After the second day, things have mostly run smoothly.

Mostly.

The Xbox 360 app has famously been a disaster. For a week, nobody was able to log in. Now you can log in, but it’s missing the search function as well as a ton of PPVs. You can’t access any of the WCW or ECW PPVs, as well as any Wrestlemania that isn’t 29. Hopefully they fix this soon, especially considering I like to have this on in the background on my TV.

Although they claimed that all their PPV stuff would be uncensored, that’s mostly a lie. Sure, Booker T still accidentally drops the n-bomb back in that 1996 WCW PPV, but lots of nudity and curse words are taken out. For the most part, it’s understandable. A lot of shows were already prepared due to the now-defunct WWE On-Demand service and they were all cleaned up for that. That’s why WWE is totally allowed to play old footage of people calling the company “WWF” now, but a lot of clips blank it out anyway because they were prepared years back when that embargo was in effect. Also, there’s the music issues, especially with ECW. I’ve heard that most of New Jack’s matches have been removed, mainly because he’d spend the ENTIRE match with “Natural Born Killers” playing.

Then there’s the problem with NXT ArRIVAL, the PPV put together for WWE’s developmental promotion. As an early stress test, they did the show live to see how the servers would handle it. With 20 minutes left, things went to hell and there were serious issues. Considering Wrestlemania is coming up in a few weeks with no major live shows ahead of it, it’s iffy on whether or not that show will actually be watchable via the Network on the first go.

Despite all of that, the Network is AWESOME. It is so goddamn awesome and if you ever enjoyed wrestling, get on it. As mentioned, you get hundreds of PPVs at your fingertips and a lot of random shows from the past. They put more stuff up by the day, but right now it’s mostly old Raws from the first year of its existence, Madison Square Garden house shows from the 70′s-to-early-90′s, WCCW shows, ECW Hardcore TV and that Smackdown where Arnold Schwartzenegger showed up to beat up Triple H. They’ve also been putting up the documentary stuff from the DVDs they’ve been releasing, like a biographical look at Steve Austin or a lengthy interview where Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels clear the air about their old real-life hatred for each other.

They also have Legends Roundtable, a show where a bunch of old wrestling personalities would sit around and discuss whatever topic for an hour or so. One of the ones listed now is about Mean Gene, Michael Hayes, Mick Foley, Dusty Rhodes and Pat Patterson discussing the worst characters in wrestling history. It’s wonderful. For the first time in my life, I’m able to watch the Shockmaster’s tragic debut in great quality and it completes me.

The original programming is fantastic so far. I mean, the Raw and Smackdown pre and post shows I can take or leave. A half hour before and after the shows, you can see a roundtable discussion about what’s going on mixed with backstage interviews. Usually these interviews would only be hidden on WWE’s YouTube page, which is a shame, since a lot of them are really good.

Wrestlemania Rewind is a show where each week they spotlight a different Wrestlemania match. They’d spend about a half hour in documentary style, explaining the lead-up, then they’d show the match itself. So far they’ve only done the main events for Wrestlemania 1 (Hogan and Mr. T vs. Piper and Orndorff) and Wrestlemania 3 (Hogan vs. Andre).

WWE Countdown is basically your average VH1 talking heads show ala I Love the 80′s, only counting down a topic voted on by the fans. So far we’ve had Top 10 Catchphrases and Top 10 Entrances. One of the highlights is Daniel Bryan showing confusion over John Cena’s, “You can’t see me!” catchphrase because, no, he CAN see him. He’s standing right there and wearing bright colors! He is in no way invisible!

One of the shows coming down the pipeline is Legends House, where a bunch of old wrestlers do a Real World deal. It will feature Roddy Piper and Hillbilly Jim LARPing. Lord have mercy.

All the newer footage is in HD, including the live PPVs. They’ve also been using the Network as a way to see NXT, which is something I’ve been meaning to do on a regular basis to begin with. The ArRIVAL show was pretty amazing.

The whole thing is a radical concept and I really hope it works out for WWE. Sure, their insistence of a Batista vs. Orton main event on the biggest show of the year puts a bad taste in my mouth, but at least I can go rewatch this year’s Royal Rumble where the crowd verbally shits all over Batista for ten minutes straight. Their booking has been scattershot, but this strategy should be rewarded.

If you have even the slightest interest in wrestling, join the bandwagon because it’s pretty sweet and the price is a steal. I’m finding a lot of people are using it as an excuse to relive the utterly fascinating and laughably terrible final years of WCW and I really can’t blame them.

Meanwhile, my buddy Bearnt! uploaded a clip from one of the MSG shows. Here’s Roddy Piper delivering the weakest chair shot I have ever seen in my life.

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The Wrestlemania All-Star Challenge

February 23rd, 2014 Posted by Gavok

We’re on the eve of what will be a very important date in wrestling history. The WWE Network is about to go live and a good chunk of the WWE’s future relies on its performance. Making huge risks is a major WWE thing and outside of the first Wrestlemania, people mainly remember the bad decisions that lost a ton of money. The bodybuilding federation, the football league, the political campaigns and so on. Unlike those, the WWE Network is looking like a great idea and I can only cross my fingers and hope it’s something that works out for them as they’re really burning some bridges with it.

I’m picking it up. I know many people who are doing the same. Usually a bunch of us would get together to watch a PPV that only one person ordered, so if we’re all paying $10 for the WWE Network, then maybe they have a chance to pull this off.

In honor of this situation, which will be interesting as hell whether they win or lose, I’m going to try something I saw on a forum years ago. I forgot if it had a name, but I’m just going to call it the Wrestlemania All-Star Challenge. If you have your own blog or whatever and you want to try it, by all means. Use the comments too, if that’s your thing.

Here’s the concept: You have to put together a playlist of the ultimate Wrestlemania. It has to be 29 matches with one match from each Wrestlemania. There are two roadblocks, though. One, no wrestler may get double-duty. You can’t have Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy from Wrestlemania 2 as well as Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy from Wrestlemania 11. Not that you’d want to. Non-participant appearances are fine, so you don’t have to worry about managers or run-ins. Similarly, no title belt may get double-duty either. This is going with the idea that the WWF Championship and WWE Championship are the same thing. You can have Steamboat vs. Savage for the Intercontinental Championship or you can have Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper for the Intercontinental Championship. You just can’t have both.

It’s harder than it looks, coming off as a giant puzzle. It’ll lead to some iffy choices and you’re going to have to drop a match or two that you really like. For instance, I was going to include Hogan vs. Rock, but that caused some problems in other shows where there simply wasn’t a viable match to choose from.

Here’s my list. Noticeably absent are Batista, Chris Benoit, Mick Foley and the Big Show.

WM1: Special Delivery Jones vs. King Kong Bundy. The first Wrestlemania is filled with a lot of nothing matches, but at least this one’s kind of memorable. Bundy squashes Jones in a quick match that they insist is quicker.

WM2: Corporal Kirchner vs. Nikolai Volkoff in a Flag Match. Again, this Wrestlemania has a lot of crap matches and anything passable has somebody I’d rather use for another spot on the list. The Flag Match isn’t that bad. It’s short, but both guys make it watchable enough.

WM3: Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage for the Intercontinental Championship. It’s the match that stole the show and acted as maybe the best singles match in the first ten years of Wrestlemania. How can I not include it?

WM4: “The Rock” Don Muraco vs. Dino Bravo. Wrestlemania 4 is problematic. There’s nothing especially good and the Jake Roberts/Rick Rude tournament match completely kills the show. Luckily, the first round meeting between Muraco and Bravo has a bit of pep in its step for such a short match.

WM5: The Brain Busters vs. Strike Force. A fun tag match that gives us one of the more memorable tag team splits of the 80′s. Now that I think of it, it’s kind of weird that they split up one of their big face tag teams while being overshadowed by the company’s top angle that was also about a big face tag team splitting up. Back then, the concept wasn’t as overdone as it is now.

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Wrestling is Weird: The Life and Times of Archibald Peck

February 16th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

Wrestling company CHIKARA has gone through some interesting stuff in the last nine months. They died and did a rebirth, partially told through a series of YouTube movies that will be shown in its full form in a theater setting in a couple months. So yes, weird.

For Den of Geek US, I’ve been working on a primer for the Death and Return of CHIKARA angle as told via a who’s who of all the players involved. While that should be going up sometime next week or so, there’s one part that I felt such joy in writing about and that’s Archibald Peck. The time-traveling marching band leader’s ridiculous storyline since starting in CHIKARA has been an absolute treasure and even summing up his recent behavior in a couple paragraphs felt wrong. So join me as I go in-depth on the man.

It all started in early 2011. CHIKARA started releasing videos hyping up that the Band was coming. The videos acted like this was a major huge deal and included black and white historical footage and the first two seconds of the New World Order theme. The timing here was key. Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and X-Pac, three major members of the nWo, just left TNA, where they called themselves the Band due to rights issues. CHIKARA was about to build up towards its annual King of Trios tournament, so were they really suggesting that Nash, Hall and Pac were on the way to compete? It was possible. Those guys did do a lot of indy appearances. On the other hand, it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea in the long run due to their personalities and the fact that only one of them was capable of putting on a decent match at the time.

As it came closer to the debut time, it became a little more apparent that it wasn’t going to be the nWo in CHIKARA. Nash just made a big appearance in WWE and Hall was in no condition to compete. Coincidentally, X-Pac would show up at King of Trios a few months later as the 1-2-3 Kid, but the whole “Band is coming!” thing was just a red herring. The band was really Archibald Peck and his majorette Veronica.

It usually takes people months to pick up on how they’re “Archie and Veronica.”

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Wrestling with Reality

July 30th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

The other day, E! started airing Total Divas, a new reality show depicting the lives of the female WWE roster. I mean, considering they’re only allowed three minutes per match on any given show, they might as well get their own showcase somewhere. This show is just the latest in a lengthy relationship between wrestling and reality TV, creating an Inception-style look at what’s real through a show that is just as fake. We’ve already had Tough Enough and Hogan Knows Best while reality shows have introduced us to the likes of the Miz and David Otunga.

Friends of mine Bob and Vinny started discussing all the other future wrestling-based reality shows we might one day see. Soon I got involved, as did other buddies Marc, John and Jesse. As a complete waste of time, here’s our list of 50 Reality Shows to Expand the WWE Universe:

The Amazing Harley Race
America’s Nexus Top Model
Ass Men
Ax and Smash Plus Eight
Big Steiner Brother
The Biggest Jobber
Brother of Love
Celebrity Fit Finlay Club
Chops
CM Punk’d
Dog the Hunter Hearst Helmsley
The Evan Bournes
Extreme Championship Makeover
Fatu Nightmares
Freakzillas
The GI Bro Schmo Show
The Iron Man Matchelor
The Jersey Triad Shore
Johnny B. Badd Girls’ Club
Junkyard Dog Whisperer
Kid Kash Cab
Kitchen Snapmares
Legion of Room Raiders
Mankind vs. Food
Master Chefs of the Powerbomb
Miami Inkface
Mr. America’s Got Talent
Mizbusters
The Mr. Kennedy Experiment
MTV’s Word Life: I’m a Master of Thugganomics
The Next Food Network Starrcade
Project Greenmist
The Real Horsemen of New Jersey
The Real World’s Strongest Man
Ryback Road Rules
Sunny Boo Boo
Super Crazy Nanny
Survivor: The Series
Teen M.O.M.
Todd Grishams in Tiaras
Total Kama Island
The Ultimate Warrior
Undercover Boss Man
Uso Think You Can Dance
White Castle of Fear Factor
Who Wants to be a Superhero in Training?
Who Wants to Marry a Million Dollar Man?
Wife-Edged Swap
The X-Factor

And that’s my limit of puns for the day.

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CHIKARA’s Aniversario: Never Compromise: This Sunday on iPPV

May 31st, 2013 Posted by Gavok

This Sunday at 4:00 (with a free pre-show at 3:30), my favorite indy wrestling promotion CHIKARA is doing their next big internet pay-per-view in the form of Aniversario: Never Compromise, celebrating the 11th anniversary of the company’s existence. While it’s their fourth run at iPPV, it’ll be the first time you’ll see me there, as I’ve got my tickets to the Trocadero in Philadelphia.

You can order the show here, while on the Saturday before it, they’re going to be doing a free hype show called Countdown to Aniversario: Never Compromise.

If you’re even a slight fan of wrestling and don’t know anything about CHIKARA, I’ve written up a much-enjoyed primer a year ago. It can probably use an update, but here’s what you need to know: this is a wrestling show where the last event’s title match ended due to TIME TRAVEL PARADOX. CHIKARA, baby.

Since it’s been a year, who’s who and what’s what? A lot of this, the 12th season, revolves around this man, Wink Vavasseur.

Since the beginning of 2011, Wink has been the Director of Fun of CHIKARA, the guy who makes the matches. He got the job due to his father’s company Worldwide Media Development Corporation. At first, Wink was a welcome sight to the fans, as he replaced corrupt previous Director of Fun Dieter VonSteigerwalt, who was more dictator than director. While Wink came off as an egotistical corporate stooge with little knowledge on how wrestling works, he was harmless enough and stumbled upon a couple good ideas, such as the creation of CHIKARA’s Grand Championship and the season-long tournament to crown it. At worst, he was gullible and susceptible to the swaying of the unpopular members of the roster, leading to some decisions that gave them the upper hand.

One constant is that Wink isn’t too keen on champion Eddie Kingston and wants the title off of him. It started out as kind of a passive aggressive thing, but over time, it’s become more overt. He’s become more blunt in his corporate activities, which has painted him as an enemy to the eyes of the CHIKARA fans. After a couple things got out of his control, his father spoke down to him and warned him, “No more screw-ups.” Since then, Wink’s thirst for respect has driven various wrestlers out of the company via quitting and firing. Time will tell if his power trip will bring him higher or if his house of cards will crumble. Perhaps we’ll find out at Never Compromise.

(click to enlarge)

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Now let’s look at the scheduled matches and the wrestlers involved.

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Wrestling is Weird: The Undertaker vs. Yokozuna Saga

March 15th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Last week, the wrestling industry lost Bill Moody, known best for his portrayal of the spooky mortician manager Paul Bearer. In a scummy business, Moody was considered like the Tom Hanks. Just about everyone referred to him as the nicest guy. The other night on Monday Night Raw, they did a night-long tribute that showed a bunch of his career highlights. His first appearance, his big returns, the first appearance of Kane and so on. One clip that appeared towards the end was a completely bizarre one involving Mr. Fuji and Nicholas Tuturro. Thinking back to that clip, it made me realize how that was the final stage of a feud that when viewed together in one collective chunk is one of the most outright surreal storylines in all of wrestling history.

Let’s reminisce about the utter insanity that is the Undertaker vs. Yokozuna.

In the blue corner, we have the Undertaker. The invincible zombie wrestler has been a huge deal in the WWF ever since debuting at the end of 1990. As a monster heel, he was once pushed to the heavens in one segment where he both manhandled the Ultimate Warrior and shrugged it off when Hulk Hogan slammed a belt into his face. He turned face due to outright popularity and became something of a special attraction for a few years. Despite having a gimmick as silly as being an undead dude in kitchen gloves, he’s been treated as a serious character, even to this day. At the time of this story, he’s coming off a feud with Giant Gonzalez, a wrestler whose gimmick is that he’s really tall and fake-naked.

In the red corner, we have the late Yokozuna. An extremely large Samoan depicting a Japanese sumo wrestler, he also became a huge deal immediately. Managed by Mr. Fuji, Yokozuna rose through the ranks within months, dominating the Royal Rumble and defeating Bret Hart at Wrestlemania. By this point, he’s only suffered two losses and both controversial. Still champion, he’s been feuding with Lex Luger, who foolishly threw away what appeared to be his only chance to win the title.

At the end of November, the stage is set for Survivor Series 1993. In a PPV filled with four-on-four elimination matches, the most high profile is the All-Americans (Lex Luger, Tatanka, Rick Steiner and Scott Steiner) vs. the Foreign Fanatics (Yokozuna, Ludvig Borga, Quebecer Jacques and Quebecer Pierre). During this, Tatanka has been on an undefeated streak that’s been in place since his debut, almost two years earlier. A televised match between Tatanka and Borga ends with Borga being the first to pin Tatanka after some interference by Mr. Fuji and the use of a chair. The Quebecers had set it up so that Steiner Brothers are stuck in their locker room and can’t do anything as the Foreign Fanatics put the boots to Tatanka. Yokozuna crushes Tatanka’s ribs with a couple Banzai Drops as the Quebecers hold Luger back. Luger eventually reaches the ring, but his buddy is in rough shape and definitely won’t be able to compete at Survivor Series.

With only a couple weeks left, Luger and the Steiners do an interview to explain that they have found a replacement. They introduce the Undertaker to a huge ovation. Hey, he’s a great acquisition, but what the hell does a magical walking corpse have to do with America? He explains.

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Wrestling is Fascinating: Doobs Like Swagger

February 21st, 2013 Posted by Gavok

So a thing happened in the wrestling world. Recently, “the All-American American” Jack Swagger came back from hiatus with a new gimmick of being “the Real American” and ranting about immigrants and lazy people and all that. Then he got a manager in the form of old-school wrestling personality Dutch Mantel (now known as Zeb Colter), who acted as a mouthpiece, ranting his Tea Party-like views for the sake of getting the crowd’s ire. Weeks into his return, Swagger won a big multi-man match to gain a title shot for the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania against Alberto Del Rio, a Mexican aristocrat with a love for the downtrodden. It’s a feud that makes sense and sounds like it would give us an entertaining story with a great payoff.

But that’s the thing about the unpredictable world of professional wrestling. It’s so many factors planned out and the best laid plans of mice and men have a tendency to go astray. With WWE, they aren’t even the BEST laid plans to begin with. No, a huge wrench came into this situation in the form of Jack Swagger being arrested for speeding and driving under the influence of marijuana.

This is one of those times where the behind-the-scenes story will trump the scripted stuff in front of the cameras, even if heroic immigrant vs. bad guy who hates immigrants has so much potential. So what’s so interesting about this Kurt Angle/Biff Tannen hybrid getting pulled over?

1) Jack Swagger continues to be the epitome of dropping the ball. Let’s take a quick look at Swagger’s WWE career. The deceptively-tall Swagger showed up on WWE’s ECW in late 2008, immediately shooting to the top with his easily-hateable goofball heel charisma and a power grappler style that made him look like he had a serious future in the company. He enjoyed some time as champ, although the ECW brand was so third tier at this point that he didn’t even get a match in the four-hour Wrestlemania 25. He got called up to the Raw roster and proceeded to do a big pile of nothing.

WWE did nothing of note with Swagger and he quickly faded into the background as just another midcarder. In 2010, he won the multi-man Money in the Bank match at Wrestlemania 26, which was a major surprise, as this development came out of nowhere. After all, he hadn’t really done anything to suggest he’d suddenly get any major push, yet here he was. Days later, he cashed in his automatic title shot on a beaten-down Chris Jericho (also a heel, which was weird) and became World Heavyweight Champion. This is part of one of WWE’s more recent problems of cheapening their titles by sticking them onto random people in hopes that it would make the wrestlers seem like a big deal instead of the other way around.

Swagger would go on to have one of the worst title runs of actual length in the company’s history, up there with Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy. Other than a clean win over Randy Orton at a PPV, he was made to look like a joke who in no way deserved to be considered on the championship level. Just as bad, they removed his full-of-himself jock personality and replaced it with a serious, suit-wearing character that they kept using for all heels around the time based on Chris Jericho’s success using the same gimmick. He ended up losing the title to Rey Mysterio and fell right out of the title picture.

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20 Days of Battle Royals: Day 20

January 26th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Date: August 16, 2011 (aired on August 19, 2011)
Company: WWE
Show: Smackdown
Rules: Normal
Stipulation: #1 contender for World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions
Roster (19): Trent Barreta, Wade Barrett, Johnny Curtis, Ted Dibiase, Justin Gabriel, the Great Khali, Mark Henry, Tyson Kidd, Ezekiel Jackson, Jinder Mahal, William Regal, Cody Rhodes, Zack Ryder, Sheamus, Sin Cara, Heath Slater, Yoshi Tatsu, Jey Uso and Jimmy Uso

As we hit the last battle royal of this one-a-day series, we end on one of my favorites. It’s from the first Smackdown after Summerslam 2011. At that Summerslam, Wade Barrett defeated Money in the Bank holder Daniel Bryan. Sheamus’ sense of honor cost him when Mark Henry slammed him through a barricade and won via count-out. Randy Orton had finally ended his feud with Christian, meaning he needed a new contender for his World Heavyweight Championship.

And so, a battle royal was put together. It was meant to be a 20-man battle royal, but Daniel Bryan chose to challenge Alberto Del Rio earlier that night and got his arm destroyed. Too destroyed to compete again that night. Also, one of the angles of the time had Jinder Mahal more or less owning Great Khali, due to his status as brother-in-law. It’s a complicated Indian thing.

You can tell that they’re trying to make Mark Henry a big deal because when he walks to the ring, resident strong face dude Ezekiel Jackson is all, “Uh… shit.”

The bell rings and Henry stands in the center of the ring. With the exception of Khali guarding Mahal in the corner, everyone pounds on the World’s Strongest Man. He decides that it merely tickles. It tickles and Mark Henry isn’t a man who enjoys laughter.

“ENOUGH!”

He immediately removes Trent Barreta and Yoshi Tatsu. The minutes that follow include your usual filler of guys working each other over with nothing happening. Stuff comes alive when Ezekiel Jackson throws his rival Cody Rhodes over the top and he holds on by skinning the cat and pulling himself back in. Then Big Zeke just sends him back out with a massive clothesline.

Khali is still guarding Mahal in the corner and is commanded to take care of Ezekiel. Ezekiel stuns Khali with a running clothesline, steps back for a second one and runs right into a Brain Chop. Khali flings Ezekiel out of there and Henry decides to step up.

You might recall that Khali/Henry was a showdown that wouldn’t be in that 2007 battle royal I covered a few days ago and while they tangled in the Monster Mash, their interactions were barely of note. Finally, they’re going to go at it and I’m ready for it to be terrible. Khali chops Henry down and prepares for the Vice Grip. Henry powers out and then decides, fuck this, I’m the World’s Strongest Man!

Whoa! That’s kind of awesome! Extra points for most everyone else in the ring hanging back to see how this fight plays out.

Sheamus runs into Henry with an axe-handle and sends him rolling to the outside. He’s still in the match, but just angry. Also, champion Randy Orton is watching the battle royal unwind as he sits near the announce table with Henry angrily roaming around.

Whenever somebody gets eliminated, Henry proceeds to grab them and throw them around like a ragdoll. Just ask the Usos.

His rage not quite satiated, he returns to the ring and helps take the number down to four finalists: Henry, Sheamus, Wade Barrett and Sin Cara. You can tell Sin Cara is the fan favorite because of all the chants they edited in in post-production. Barrett, Sheamus and Sin Cara go at Henry together, but Barrett’s greed gets to the best of him and he turns on Sheamus. The two Europeans end up brawling on the apron after each going over the top rope. Sheamus wins the brawl with a kick to the chest and Barrett falls to the floor.

Sheamus and Sin Cara have a nice little battle that ends with Sheamus preparing to Brogue Kick him out of the ring. Henry gets up from the earlier beating and washes his hands of the big Irishman.

Now we’re down to Sin Cara vs. Henry. Sin Cara does a crossbody off the top and Henry falls over after catching him. It’s hard to tell if it’s a botch or not, but my gut says yes. Sin Cara is unable to move Henry with a couple hurricanrana attempts and goes for a crossbody off the second rope. Henry catches him correctly this time and crushes him with the World’s Strongest Slam. Then he presses Sin Cara’s sin carcass over his head and dumps him out of the ring like he’s nothing.

Mark Henry is the #1 contender and ends the show staring down Orton, taking a second to get a whiff of him.

“YEAH, I SMELL YOU. THAT’S FEAR. THAT’S FEAR I SMELL!”

After a career of being a jobber to the main event, Mark Henry would be rewarded for being suddenly awesome after 15 years by going over Orton cleanly and decisively. Twice! He proceeded to have the best heel title run in forever that sadly got derailed by an injury. Part of me will always lament that we never got the correct ending to the Rocky III Balboa/Clubber angle they were setting up with Daniel Bryan and Henry. But hey, said injury also led to Bryan’s heel turn and the whole, “YES! NO!” thing, so it all evens out.

Enjoy the Royal Rumble, everybody.

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20 Days of Battle Royals: Day 19

January 25th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Date: November 23, 2009
Company: WWE
Show: Monday Night Raw
Rules: Normal
Stipulation: #1 contender for WWE Championship at TLC
Roster (8): Ted Dibiase, Mark Henry, Kofi Kingston, Randy Orton, Montel Vontavious Porter, R-Truth, Cody Rhodes and Sheamus

2009 to 2010 was a dark time for Monday Night Raw thanks to the guest host gimmick. Every week, there’d be a different guest host, originally in the form of a GM with power over the roster. Sometimes it would be a wrestler who wasn’t active at the time like the injured Batista or long-retired Dusty Rhodes. Sometimes it would be a B or C-list celebrity. Any given week, you’d be in store for a crapshoot that usually depended on how into it the guest was. Sometimes you’d get Bob Barker spinning straw into gold with the Price is Raw. Then you’d get Dennis Miller hosting the Slammys, which was just head-shakingly bad. I recall him making a “joke” that was just him going, “Hey, global warming isn’t real, am I right?” And when people didn’t react, that led to some insisting that the wrestling audience wasn’t smart enough to get that comedic genius. Ugh.

One guest host was former Governor and current nutjob Jesse Ventura. He started up a little controversy about John Cena as WWE Champion, pointing out how sick a lot of guys backstage were of him. Ventura decided on a series of qualifying matches between those who haven’t been champion before, meaning we’d get a much needed break from the never-ending Cena/Orton series of matches. The winners would advance to what he called the Breakthrough Battle Royal.

Throughout the night we had Kofi Kingston defeat Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus defeat Finlay, the team of R-Truth, Mark Henry and MVP defeating the team of Jack Swagger, Chavo Guerrero and Chris Masters, Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase defeat Cryme Tyme and a match between Primo and Evan Bourne took a strange turn. Orton was so angry about not being allowed into this match that he attacked Primo and took his place, having little trouble in beating Bourne. Since Ventura loves cheating, he let it slide. Meanwhile, smarks had someone to outright root against for this match because if WWE was stupid enough to let Orton win… Jesus Christ.

A backstage segment had Ventura rant at Vince McMahon in a way that almost seems off-script due to bringing up Vince Sr., something that’s usually a big no-no. Ventura wanted to make a little trip to the past and insisted that the commentary for the Breakthrough Battle Royal be done by he and Vince. Whoa. Now that’s something.

Now for the match. Ventura comes out to nearly zero reaction and Vince not only has his old 80′s theme song “You’re My Obsession” by Human League playing, but he has this swank bowtie picked out by Ventura.

The commentary is very weird. Familiar, but different. It is a trip to hear Vince talk at length in that tone that sounds like he’s thinking to himself aloud, plus Ventura telling him, “Shut up, McMahon!” It’s just that age and development has changed them. Ventura is an asshole face and Vince is a doofy heel when the face/heel alignment should be switched. Plus Vince is just plain grumpy at times, calling this a rotten idea.

There’s some interesting faction stuff going on in the lineup. This is the night after Survivor Series, which included a team that had Kofi, Henry, R-Truth and MVP against a team with Orton, Rhodes and Dibiase. So Sheamus is the odd man out here. At first, it’s the four guys from Team Kofi ganging up on Legacy while Sheamus hangs back and does nothing. Eventually, Orton slinks out of the ring and walks around, surveying the action. Henry and R-Truth start fighting each other to make things fair.

Nothing happens for quite a while, but at least the commentary is entertaining and there’s some nice tension with Sheamus and Orton each staying to themselves. Eventually, Sheamus snaps out of it, grabs R-Truth, clotheslines him down and then flings him easily out of the ring. Shortly later, Sheamus waits for the perfect opportunity to catch MVP off-guard.

Easy pickings, bringing us down to six.

Henry goes for Sheamus and almost has him out of the ring until Rhodes and Dibiase attack. Henry ducks a double clothesline from them and sends them both out over the top with a pair of clotheslines of his own. Sheamus clobbers him from behind and throws him out, giving us Sheamus vs. Orton vs. Kofi. By this point, Orton’s finally returned to the ring.

Sheamus hangs back for the most part, but when he does get involved, Orton makes short work of him. Orton sends Kofi over the top rope, but Kofi hangs on and takes out Orton via skinning the cat.

When Kofi gets back up, Sheamus is ready for him with a running axe-handle, sending Kofi to the outside. Sheamus wins and gets his title shot against John Cena at TLC. Not only are we saved from another Cena/Orton fiasco, but we also got that sweet Orton facial reaction above.

In the following segment, Sheamus and Cena have a contract signing where Sheamus annihilates Cena and puts him through a table. Ventura announces that their PPV match will be a Tables Match. Sheamus would go on to win that match and have a rather interesting feud with Cena. While Sheamus never got to outright defeat Cena decisively, the same can be said about Cena beating Sheamus. All in all, Sheamus looked plenty strong around this time until the Nexus showed up to make him run away in fear, thereby hurting his monster persona.

Kofi and Orton continued their feud. Kofi was looking like he was ready to ascend into the main event at times, but then he fucked up a spot, Orton RKO’d him, had an in-ring tantrum and the feud practically died right after. Since then, Kofi’s been stuck in the position/gimmick of “generic good guy who gets cheers”.

I haven’t heard much from Ventura after he was on Opie and Anthony and Jim Norton verbally destroyed him to the point that Ventura stormed out of the interview. Norton rules.

Tomorrow’s the last day and we’re going to be ending it strong.

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20 Days of Battle Royals: Day 18

January 24th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Date: January 14, 2008
Company: WWE
Show: Monday Night Raw
Rules: Elimination does not have to be over-the-top
Stipulation: None
Roster: Batista, the Great Khali, Hornswoggle, Kane, Mr. Kennedy, Mankind

I talked about how injuries have a tendency to change the course of wrestling history to a dramatic degree, but it isn’t just injuries. In late 2007, a list was released of wrestlers who had been using an online pharmacy for certain items that were against the wellness policy. All of these guys (except Randy Orton) were suspended for 30 to 60 days depending on previous suspension records.

At the time, WWE was in the midst of an exceptionally stupid and never-ending story where Vince McMahon found out that he had fathered an illegitimate child and said child was on the WWE roster. This was meant to set up an angle where Mr. Kennedy was going to be revealed as Vince Jr. and feud with his “brother-in-law” Triple H. That didn’t happen because not only was he on that pharmaceutical list, but he had just done a big interview talking up how competent the WWE’s wellness policy was. So on Raw, Kennedy tried to say that he was Vince’s kid, only to be shut down and suspended. They’d find out the real answer the week that followed.

Backed into a corner, they revealed Vince’s son to be Hornswoggle, the undercard comedy act leprechaun whose only crime so far was becoming the Cruiserweight Champion and destroying the last remnants of that division for the sake of comedy. I’ll say that I wasn’t too opposed to the idea. I suppose the possibility of Hornswoggle becoming a Mini-Me version of Vince and barking orders in the form of vocal nonsense could have worked in some kind of surreal way.

The main story they went with was that Vince was embarrassed by his tiny son and out of either spite or insane parenting wanted him tortured in the ring as “tough love”. This meant putting him in matches that Hornswoggle would somehow come out of unscathed, either due to luck, guile or the help of Finlay, who disagreed with Vince’s behavior. These matches led to one of the most annoying aspects about Hornswoggle’s character, being the weird double standards about him being a competitor that continues to this day. If he gets the best of someone, then good for him! Way to go! If he is in any way attacked, even if it means being shoved over, Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler will act like they just watched a puppy get run over. How can they let this happen?! He’s just a defenseless child (who has a beard and is in his twenties). Of course, if Triple H murders him, that’s different. Haha, that Triple H! He sure taught Hornswoggle a lesson! That’s what you get for messing with DX!

With the Royal Rumble coming up, Vince decided to enter Hornswoggle into the big match. Backstage on Raw, he talked to his mute son and suggested a warm-up to get him ready. A “Mini Royal Rumble” that would feature a handful of guys scheduled for the PPV match. Hornswoggle went off to the ring, ready to prove himself.

Out comes Mr. Kennedy and… wait a minute. When Vince said it was a “Mini Royal Rumble”, he wasn’t kidding.

Yes, we’re about to get a Royal Rumble of vertically-challenged doppelgangers. Should I be offended? Maybe. Probably. Am I entertained? Probably. Definitely.

At the very least, it’s kind of a nice thing to do for Hornswoggle who himself is a trained wrestler who rarely gets the chance to wrestle guys his own size. The other guys are wrestlers who know what they’re getting into and they’re getting a payday for this, so it really isn’t the worst thing.

Mini Kennedy tries to do the intro bit where he announces himself from the middle of the ring, but the suspended microphone doesn’t reach that far down and he proceeds to jump up and down in a failed attempt to grab it. The bell rings and Kennedy gets a cheapshot in. They fight it out until Mini Mankind shows up.

He pulls out Mr. Socko and Hornswoggle saves himself by kicking Mini Mankind in his mini-er Mankind and throwing him through the ropes. Then Hornswoggle presses Kennedy over his head and throws him over the top.

Having cleared the ring, Hornswoggle awaits his next opponent, Mini Batista. Not only does Mini Batista perform the Batista entrance sequence…

…but his timing on the explosion is better than the actual Batista.

Mini Batista Spears Hornswoggle and shakes the ropes. He sets up the Batista Bomb, but Hornswoggle backdrops out of it. Soon after, Mini Kane enters. While he is the smallest man in the match, he certainly goes 100% into the gimmick by pulling off Kane’s uppercuts perfectly. Despite being the fresher one, he still fall prey to the Batista Bomb.

Hornswoggle again goes for a kick downstairs and flings Mini Batista out of there. Mini Kane starts to take him apart and does a jumping clothesline off the second rope. He goes for a chokeslam and we suddenly remember the size difference.

Hornswoggle hits the Celtic Cross and then slides Mini Kane out of the ring. I should note that probably the funniest part of this whole segment is how when Vince was suggesting it, he said that it would include Mr. Kennedy, Batista and maybe a mystery opponent. This is a subtle joke in how Kane has been the go-to mystery opponent for the past 15 years.

Hornswoggle awaits his final opponent and Great Khali’s music begins playing. Unfortunately for the leprechaun, it isn’t Mini Khali. It’s the actual Khali. He steps into the ring, ready to crush the little guy, but then Finlay appears with his shillelagh and goes to town on the giant. Like I said a couple days ago, Finlay beating the shit out of Khali with his shillelagh is a wonderful thing to watch. It’s like watching a lumberjack going to town on a tree with an axe before, during and after it falls. Khali ends up rolling out of the ring to evade the punishment, meaning that Hornswoggle wins the match. Also, Finlay gets a piece of Ranjin Singh, but lets him off easy with a simple clothesline.

The angle came to a head prior to Wrestlemania, where JBL helped Vince beat Hornswoggle to the point of hospitalization while Finlay was handcuffed and could only watch. JBL revealed to Vince that Hornswoggle was never his son after all, but was Finlay’s. JBL ended up going over Finlay at Wrestlemania in a Bellfast Brawl and Hornswoggle proceeded to star in some terrible, terrible storylines in the years that followed.

Way to go, Kennedy.

Tomorrow we return to the past to build for the future.

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