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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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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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Royal Rumble Megapost

January 24th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

Over the years, I’ve written much about my love for WWE’s annual Royal Rumble PPV/match. Back in 2009, I did a countdown of all the matches from worst to best. Then last year, I spent 20 days or so talking about various battle royals. This year, I decided to revisit it as an excuse to write up a bunch of stuff for Den of Geek US.

That meant having to watch all the previous Rumble matches. That’s nearly 30 matches by this point and they’re mostly about an hour. A couple months ago, I decided to use that to my advantage. I’d transfer the matches onto my tablet and make it so that the only time I was allowed to watch them was at the gym. That got me motivated to go to the gym about five times a week, just so I could spend an hour running and watching.

So here’s what I’ve ended up writing.

The 15 Best (and 5 Worst) WWE Royal Rumble One-Timers: I became kind of intrigued by seeing the wrestlers who only made one Rumble appearance. Sometimes they were really obscure and sometimes they were a big deal, but only for a limited time. I wrote a list about those who did really well during their one shot and those who lasted mere seconds.

The 20 Worst Royal Rumble Moments: A lot of stuff that irked me in my massive rewatch. A lot of it was bad booking and storytelling, but the top spots go to stuff that I found legitimately hard to watch.

WWE Royal Rumble 2014 Predictions: Me and some of the other Den of Geek guys discuss who we think will win the various matches at the PPV. Pretty straightforward.

The Top 100 Royal Rumble Moments: This one took a lot of work and effort and is one of the reasons why I’ve been so lax on this site and why This Week in Panels has been regularly delayed. Recently, I’ve been getting overtime at work, so my free time to write has been sparse. Mike, my editor, seemed genuinely concerned about me getting this done in terms of my health, but like many of my gigantic writing projects, I did it out of passion and I saw it through. It ended up being the longest single article I’ve ever written, coming in at 31 pages on MS Word. Not to mention gathering the images took an entire night to do. I’ll admit, I didn’t get as much sleep this week as I would have liked, but I got it done.

I’m proud of how it turned out and that it actually got done. That said, I think I’ve said all that there is to say about the Royal Rumble.

Actually, no! While I have you here, I should probably mention one of the more fun things about the match that I’ve recently become involved in. My friend Bob tends to throw get-togethers for WWE PPVs, especially the big ones like Rumble and Wrestlemania. For the Royal Rumble, he’s created an incredibly fun party game. If you find yourself watching the show with a handful of people, I suggest giving it a try. Here are the rules:

- Everyone picks numbers 1-30 out of a hat. Hopefully your party is made up of enough people to make it even, like how we tend to have ten people, meaning three picks each. You are represented by whoever comes out at those numbers.

- Someone has to keep a tally. The actions in the ring gain points. When a wrestler hits a signature move, it’s one point. When a wrestler hits a finisher, it’s two points. When a wrestler eliminates someone, it’s three points. Reaching third place is three points, second place is four points and winning is five.

- Once the match is over, all the points are added up to see who wins.

There are certain people you want to get in these situations, even though you know they won’t win. For instance, Randy Orton is like hitting the jackpot because he tends to do spots in each Rumble where he hits a series of RKOs. Khali is the same way, as all of his movies count as either signatures or finishers, especially his brain chop.

The first year I was involved with this, it was 2011 when they did the 40-man Rumble. There were 13 of us, meaning we all got three picks and a Macho Man action figure was given #21 (which ended up being Booker T). Before the show, we bought a crappy championship belt from the toy aisle at a store and decided that it would be the prize. One guy brought his girlfriend to watch with us and she didn’t know wrestling. She ended up getting #1, which was CM Punk.

Thanks to the New Nexus helping him out, CM Punk got a ton of eliminations and won this girl a lot of points. Then it was time for her next pick, #22. We joked that with her luck, she’d probably get John Cena. Cena’s music started playing, Bob got up, walked across the room, brought back the title belt, handed it to her and then sat back down.

One year I got zero points because I ended up with Primo, Epico and Hunico. Even if they actually did anything, none of us could figure out what their signatures or finishers were.

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Thoughts on the Current State of Mainstream Wrestling

August 29th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

A year ago around this time, I was talking up how I had stopped watching WWE and started finding TNA to be pretty fucking good. It was shocking, but just as shocking is how a year has passed and my feelings couldn’t be more opposite. As it is right now, WWE is probably at its most solid since 2001 while TNA has gotten so laughably bad that I really wouldn’t mind too much if it died.

Hey, it’s not like most of the guys are getting paid well anyway.

So what happened?

With the WWE side, it appears to be two major things. First off, Triple H has been taking over more behind the scenes and while he failed pretty badly in bringing in Sin Cara, he’s smarter than Vince in a lot of storytelling aspects and is finally able to get his vision off the ground. One of his big problems has been how he makes for a terrible face character and puts himself over way too obnoxiously (having a semi-retired guy as one of the top faces does nothing for anyone other than short-lived ratings peaks), but now that he’s a heel, it works.

The other big change came from something that’s been hurting the company for years and that’s the Who Moved My Cheese? factor. For way too long, WWE’s been in need of an era shift. They’ve been stuck in the Cena/Batista/Orton era for so long while being too afraid to move forward. Batista quit a few years ago and Orton’s been deemed too much of a risk to be top face, so they’ve been stuck making Cena super important while doing a bad job of building up anyone to be on his level.

CM Punk came really close, but they chose to instead turn him heel and ruin that momentum. Sheamus has come close, but just hasn’t been able to come off as more than Player 2 Cena. Then there’s Ryback, who got pushed to the moon, only for the bookers to realize that he’s nowhere near ready to be champion, leading to him losing a bunch of matches, turning heel and falling down from the grace of the main event.

At this point, they’ve reached the point where they have to move on or simply flail around like they have for the past few years. While they’d love to ride out Cena forever, he’s finally reached the point of having to take a vacation to recover from injuries. They’ve handled this the best way possible by pushing Punk and Bryan as top faces while NOT having them succeed at the bat, while at the same time having Bryan get the first 100% clean win on Cena in forever. Meanwhile, Orton’s turned heel, which is the best place for him.

It’s weird to look back at three of the biggest things to piss me off with WWE in the past three years.

1) That time Christian won the World Heavyweight Championship and they immediately jobbed him out to Orton.

2) Daniel Bryan losing his title in mere seconds on a huge PPV stage.

3) CM Punk beating Cena at Summerslam, only to have a Clique member attack him and the Money in the Bank holder to come out and pick the bones.

The crazy thing is, all of these basically happened at the end of Summerslam! Daniel Bryan won his big title match, Triple H laid him out and he lost the belt in mere seconds to Orton. And it worked!

WWE’s really been on a roll lately, firing on all cylinders. Watching three hours of Raw used to be a chore, but now it flies by because nearly every segment is a good time. It’s been a long, long time since they’ve had that kind of quality.

Not only that, but there’s some great talent coming down the pipeline. Sami Zayn (El Generico), Adrian Neville (Pac), Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero), Solomon Crowe (Sami Callihan) and many others are on the NXT roster, waiting to be called up. The reason they aren’t being called up? Because Triple H wants to make sure that they have actual plans for any new member of the roster. This is a smart thing.

As for TNA? A year ago, they were really damn good. Even their cheeseball Claire Lynch storyline, which had some of the worst acting we’ll ever see, was entertaining as hell. The matches were great for the most part and the Bound for Glory Series round robin tournament was super interesting to watch. After losing wrestling’s cancer Vince Russo, the writing took a huge upswing.

So what happened? The main thing that killed their momentum was their desperation to hold onto Jeff Hardy. His contract was coming up, so in order to entice Hardy into staying, they pushed him to the top. The final four in the Bound for Glory tournament were Hardy, James Storm, Samoa Joe and Bully Ray. Storm, Joe and Ray all had their build-up reasons as to why they could or should win the tournament and move on to challenge Austin Aries at the Bound for Glory PPV. Instead, Hardy won with no build. It really ruined everything. Aries had to turn heel despite his run as a mega-face being short-lived and they had to put the “Bully Ray is behind Aces & 8s” reveal on hold.

That was the worst. Aces & 8s went on FOREVER. What made it really bad was that for the first few months, they didn’t even give anyone in the gang identities. They all wore masks, so they had no personalities and no reason for us to care. They were just a bunch of generic bikers. There was nobody it could be to make it worthwhile and much of the revealed roster proved it (ie. Bischoff’s son and Mike Knox). At least when they finally showed Bully Ray was behind it, the explanations made sense. It’s just that it wasn’t very exciting while it happened.

But therein lies one of the other major problems with TNA. See, Vince Russo’s main problem was that he could come up with a good beginning to an angle, but would then just swerve it into oblivion or forget about it. Post-Russo TNA would come up with a good beginning and maybe a good middle… but then they’d stay there. For instance, last year they introduced Abyss’ “brother” Joseph Park, who went from searching for his missing brother to becoming a wrestler to having episodes where being cut open would cause him to black out and become like Abyss for a minute. The first instance of him having one of those episodes was a year ago and only now are they giving it any attention! It’s not even follow-up! They’re simply calling it out as something that happens and are letting it ride.

The company’s also been falling apart outside of the ring. They’ve been in a perpetual storm of bad publicity where they’ve treated their talent like shit and have had problems even paying them on time. One of their wrestlers Jesse Sorensen got a major neck injury and they tried to give him an office job, only to fire him from that. Not for doing a bad job, but because they needed to save the money. Meanwhile, wrestler Zema Ion contracted some kind of stomach cancer and put up a failed Kickstarter to pay for the surgery. Surgery that TNA wouldn’t foot the bill for. Vince McMahon’s no saint, but he’s smart enough to know that you take care of this kind of thing for the sake of publicity.

Now you might figure that between the fucking over of the ailed roster and the firing of many others, it would be because the company is simply in dire straits and can’t afford it. Well, maybe that’s true, but it’s also so they can afford to bring in Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz and put them on the roster. I can’t imagine how much Ortiz cost them, but considering his debut was met with complete and utter silence and confusion from the crowd, I figure they paid him too much.

And what about the Bound for Glory Series? They’re doing it for the third time this year and it worked out so well last time. Up until they panicked and made Hardy win, it was strongly booked. At the very least it should have given them focus, right? Not so much. As of right now, the tournament needs to wrap up in about two weeks and they haven’t even done HALF of the matches they need to do! Yeah, check out that time mismanagement. They most certainly had the chance to get it right, but now they don’t have enough TV and house shows to fulfill the concept and will likely have to sweep it under the rug.

Amazing.

Also funny is how TNA lets their wrestlers compete at indy shows and one indy show in particular recently featured much of the Aces & 8s roster. They all jobbed.

As it is right now, TNA appears to be beyond saving and watching them cut corners makes it look like they’re in their death throes like WCW was in their final few months. The thing is, I’m not as down on it like I was when WCW went under. Other than the showcase of some strong – if meandering – talent, it’s lost its purpose. They’ll never be good enough to make WWE sweat even a bead and will be lucky if they can ever make it a good show in general. It’s run by incompetent and rather callous people. There’s a lot of good talent in there, but it’s not like these guys are getting the most out of it. Hell, some of the younger guys like Magnus could probably find a place in WWE.

WWE is the Gallant to TNA’s Goofus. I look forward to every WWE show now to witness this new era shift that was ultimately set in motion by CM Punk’s “pipe bomb” promo, all while the most entertainment I’m getting out of TNA is watching them gasp for air. Just like WCW in 2000.

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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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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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20 Days of Battle Royals: Day 17

January 23rd, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Date: October 30, 2007
Company: WWE
Show: ECW
Rules: Normal
Stipulation: None
Roster: Big Daddy V, the Great Khali, Mark Henry and Kane

I will defend WWE’s ECW reprise to my grave. While there were some tremendous missteps, the show was my favorite part of WWE every week. Once it found its groove, it was a place where new wrestlers could debut and make a name for themselves, old wrestlers could get a new lease on life, guys could have awesome matches with simple-yet-effective booking and once somebody got popular, they’d be drafted away to a wrestling show that people actually watched. So really, it was a lot like the old ECW.

Today’s topic is something that I really can’t defend as part of that. In attempts to get ratings early on, WWE would put high-profile wrestlers in the main events. The main example was Big Show’s ECW title reign where he’d take on the likes of Ric Flair and Batista because of his fighting champion status. Today’s match takes place the night before Halloween from a show that features both Nunzio trick-or-treating with some kids while dressed as Dracula and Tommy Dreamer wrestling while costumed as Paul Heyman.

Because of the Halloween theme, the powers that be decided on a Monster Mash battle royal. The idea is that it would feature four “monster” wrestlers going at it: Kane, Mark Henry, Great Khali and Big Daddy V. There were a lot of other guys they could have included at the time, like Snitsky, Umaga and the Boogeyman, but I guess they figured not to go overboard on it.

I should note that Kane is the only face in this match and while all four men were on the ECW roster at some point before or after this, Big Daddy V is the only ECW guy at the time of the match. He’s also gross as hell due to his various manboobs flopping around.

There is one thing about this match that I absolutely love and redeems everything about it. Throughout the night, they’d hype up the match with a series of vignettes for each competitor (barring Kane, who got to cut his own promo). Each one was overly dramatic and narrated by a Boris Karloff impersonator who proceeded to make each guy sound pants-shittingly scary.

“A leviathan creature driven by malice, the Great Khali yearns to crush all who stand in his path.”

Holy shit. Why couldn’t they do more promos like this? They should have Fake Boris hyping up Ryback matches.

As the match begins, it really isn’t all that terrible. Sure, they’re moving in slow motion, but it starts out strong enough. The three heels try to corner Kane and he evades them, then fights back. Henry and Big Daddy V blame each other for this and go at it with a series of strength-testing running shoulders. Then they both bounce the ropes and collide like two trains.

SWEET!

So, hey, this isn’t so bad. Henry briefly holds up Kane in an almost Angle Slam-type position and almost gets him out. Kane goes back to fighting everyone and the match finally jumps the shark when Henry shoves Kane into Big Daddy V for a Black Hole Slam. Maybe it worked on paper, but…

Wait, wait! He can do that better! Give Viscera a mulligan!

Eh, never mind.

Henry and Khali grapple in the corner, allowing Big Daddy V to crush them both with an Avalanche. He tries the same on Kane but misses, allowing Kane to clothesline him into the ropes and lift him right out of there. Hey, it at least looks impressive.

Khali puts Kane in the Vice Grip, then turns his attentions to doing the same to Henry. Kane and Henry team up and send Khali out of there with a double clothesline. A very slow double clothesline, but an effective one nonetheless. Now we’re down to Kane vs. Mark Henry. On one hand, they’re the two best workers in the match. On the other hand, that’s really not saying a lot.

The two go back and forth for a bit and Kane seems to have things in the bag. He climbs to the top to do his leaping clothesline. Of course, the #1 rule when fighting Mark Henry is that you NEVER. EVER. JUMP AT HIM.

Henry seems pretty into his victory and being crowned King of the Monsters. Not that this match really means anything in the long run. It’s never mentioned ever again and isn’t used to springboard Henry into anything. Granted, his return to ECW down the line would lay the seeds for his build to relevance, but the Monster Mash battle royal is independent of that.

Still, the match was only four and a half minutes, so at least it was short. Speaking of short, check back in tomorrow for the next battle royal.

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