Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Hell in a Cell 2014 preview


So here we are. The sixth annual Hell in a Cell pay-per-view. The sixth!  They shouldn’t have gotten to the first. A gimmick match being the focus of an annual event devalues it, as I’ve written many times before (usually during Hell in a Cell previews). The entire point of stipulation matches is that they get wheeled out when a rivalry calls for it, not because the name of a show dictates it.

But hang on a moment. This year we actually have a fitting feud for the Hell in a Cell, WWE’s premier gimmick bout and feud-ender. Former Shield brethren Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins have been waging war on one another since the beginning of June. Clocking over four months and a surprisingly slim number of televised bouts1 they’re the natural pair to close this show inside the cage.

Only they’re probably not going to get to. John Cena and Randy Orton have also been booked to clash in the Hell in a Cell for absolutely no logical storyline reason. They’re meeting again because they need something to do. That’s it.  Ambrose defeated Cena to earn his match against Rollins, a foolish move in itself: Cena being in contention for a Cell match with Rollins detracted from the animosity between Rollins and Ambrose. Losing to Ambrose meant Cena got a Cell match with Orton.

Cena and Orton meeting in a Cell brings with it a barrel load of monotony. The two have collided on WWE television dozens of times over the years and have never produced anything beyond an average match together. They’ve faced off on pay-per-view a few times this year alone, most notably at Royal Rumble where they began their anything goes encounter (brought about by Orty viciously attacking Cena’s father) with a lock up. Had their programme rumbled on since then the Cell would have at least made sense, although we should probably be thankful that it didn’t. Eleven months of Cena v Orton (they’d started off with a staredown at the end of the 2013 Survivor Series) is depressing just to think about.

Also worth noting is that this isn’t even the first time the two have met inside the Hell in a Cell. They went on fifth at the inaugural 2009 HIAC pay-per-view (in what was billed at the time as their final encounter EVER), a show that was opened by CM Punk v Undertaker and closed by D-Generation X v Legacy. Yeah, Punk, ‘Taker, Orton and Cena all worked Cell matches lower down the card than Ted DiBiase Jr yet Rollins and Ambrose likely will not close the 2014 instalment.

Wherever they’re put on the card the former Shield lads will almost certainly produce the better bout. In an ideal world Cena and Orton would open up the card and do everything in their power to make it the best entry in their never-ending rivalry. With the rest of the card in between the two Cell encounters Ambrose and Rollins would be afforded as much cool down as possible and could go out and tear the house down with a Cell clash given a suitably different layout.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. WWE could pull these matches off (just) if they wanted to. But that would involve portraying Ambrose and Rollins as the biggest stars of the night. I just don’t think it will happen. Cena and Orton are the established names and they’re the ones WWE is convinced the majority of people are tuning in to see.

Let’s pick winners. Cena seems likelier than Orton to win. They’re not actually feuding with each other and when that’s said of a Cena PPV match then he’s usually the safer choice. Meanwhile Ambrose probably needs the win in his match more than Rollins. He’s only beaten Seth once on TV (and that’s the only place it counts in WWE) and this is the environment in which ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ has to win if he is to be the anti-hero we can believe in, overcoming everything Sethy B lobs his way. That includes the likely Kane interference.

The rest of the card is very clearly intended to be filler.

Paige and AJ Lee will have their fourth consecutive pay-per-view bout. Only one of the previous three was not a singles match (Night of Champions saw them joined by Nikki Bella for a three-way… get your minds out of the gutter) and they’ve had a few singles matches on TV too. None of them have risen above average. I had high hopes for the programme when AJ returned but it’s become one of the dullest long-running programmes in years.

I’ll pick Paige to win as that would get the title back on her and allow AJ to be put in the chasing babyface role she’s better suited to at this point. Note that I’m expecting their feud to continue. WWE doesn’t have any other women ready to step into a featured feud, even for the meaningless Divas championship. The frustrating thing is that they could have a stellar women’s division if they wanted one.

Sheamus’s United States title defence against The Miz is mostly an excuse to get the popular Damien Mizdow character on to the show. It’s a good call as he’ll get the crowd reacting while the two former WWE world champions put on a good match. I think this could play host to a title change. ‘Great White’ has done nothing with the belt since winning it in May. Putting it on Miz would allow Mizdow to do the replica belt shtick he did with the IC title on the September 22 RAW. Beyond that sight gag it could also lead to a Mizdow face turn and a feud between the star and his stunt double, perhaps restoring some credibility to the championship and making something of Sandow’s popularity.

We all know that Big Show versus Rusev will end in one of two ways. Either Rusev wins clean or Big Show wins via disqualification. I think it will be the former. There’s also a chance that Mark Henry will turn on Show to start a pointless rerun of that feud. They’d be of more interest contributing to the tag division as that’s something new for them but a split seems inevitable.

Goldust and Stardust will defend the tag team titles against the Usos. We’ve seen these teams face off many times. They can be trusted to produce something competent without burning the crowd out.  I’ll predict the champions to retain, because why not? As is the case with the Divas, WWE could have a solid tag division if they wanted one, making these constant repeats obsolete.
Not confirmed at time of writing but expected to happen is Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler. They are two of WWE's best and should put on the best match of the night outside of Rollins v Ambrose. An Intercontinental title reign would be nice for Cesaro at some point as he's the sort of guy who could have a good run with it. But before that happens the belt needs to be given meaning again, and the best way for to achieve that is to keep it on 'The Show Off' for a while and continuing to give him lengthy matches on TV and PPV. Ziggler to retain here, but let Cesaro take it from him in the future.

Finally, there’s the Nikki Bella versus Brie Bella match with one of the most wrestling stipulations WWE has done for quite a while. In a move straight out of the Jerry TV pilot in Seinfeld the loser of the match will have to be the winner’s PA for a month2. It’s the sort of scenario that can only work if a heel is the victor, and it would also provide a natural setup for a rematch. So I think Nikki will win. As for match quality… the match will certainly happen.

Hell in a Cell seems very much like a one match card. I can’t imagine anyone being interested in the Cena v Orton match, even with the desperation (overbooked, call it what you will) stipulation that the winner will get the next shot at Brock Lesnar’s WWE championship3. Ambrose versus Rollins in the top gimmick match the company has is the clear draw. The mid-card has nothing to offer beyond Cesaro v Ziggler and Miz and Sheamus’s match, and the latter’s only of interest because of a man at ringside. Hell in a Cell 2014 will have a tough job of being an interesting show.

Predictions summary:
Dean Ambrose to defeat Seth Rollins
John Cena to defeat Randy Orton
The Miz to defeat Sheamus for the United States championship
Dolph Ziggler to defeat Cesaro
Rusev to defeat Big Show
Nikki Bella to defeat Brie Bella
Goldust and Stardust to defeat the Usos
Paige to defeat AJ Lee for the Divas championship

***

1 They were both involved in the Money in the Bank Ladder match on June 29, won by Rollins; Ambrose lost to Rollins and Kane in a handicap match on the July 29 SmackDown; Rollins won their enjoyable lumberjack encounter at SummerSlam; and Ambrose picked up his sole televised win over Rollins on the August 18 post-SummerSlam RAW.

2 “Is this common in your legal system?”

3 Presumably this will take place at Royal Rumble. That will give WWE two months to promote their number two card of the year. Good move. Thumbs up!

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Part Time Squad

WWE’s reliance on the stars of the past has been well documented over the last several years. The Rock’s return at WrestleMania XXVII and matches at XXVIII and XXIX drew scorn from some. Triple H and Undertaker taking an annual ‘Mania spot has also failed to go down well with everyone. And guys like Chris Jericho, Batista and Hulk Hogan have also returned in one form or another, to a variety of reactions.

There could be said to be broadly two views on this. The first would be that the returning stars help to attract viewers who wouldn’t otherwise be interested and that their participation helps give the events that extra special feeling they’re meant to have. The second would be that the returnees take away spots from the roster members who work a full schedule and deserve to participate at a show of WrestleMania’s significance.

My view lies somewhere in the middle of the two. The returning stars are necessary for shows like WrestleMania to be distinguishable from the rest of the PPV pack. I don’t think WWE could expect to fill more than one stadium for a ‘Mania using only their current roster, and they’d only manage one because tickets are sold so far in advance. But at the same time I don’t think the list of returning names would need to be as long as it generally gets if WWE did a better job of making guys like Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler seem like they’re genuinely big stars. Part of WrestleMania absolutely should be about celebrating the past and integrating older stars, but it should also be about building for the future.

Something that could be done differently is how the returning names are used. Right now they tend to interact exclusively with one another. Jericho v Fandango and Triple H v Daniel Bryan aside all the names listed above have been involved with other stars from past eras at the last few WrestleManias. An argument could be made for CM Punk being raised up with his matches against The Undertaker and The Rock, but Punk was already pretty close to that level anyway. And, y’know, he lost both matches. By the time he left he was definitely on that level.

I’d be far more interested in a Triple H versus Dean Ambrose match than I would in a Triple H versus The Rock match. The former is a match that could easily take place at WM31, WWE having ample time to prepare it. The latter is a match the men themselves talked about on the SmackDown fifteenth anniversary show and while I don’t think it’s especially likely to happen it’s not an impossibility. That it was brought up on company programming indicates that WWE were interested in seeing how people reacted to talk of the bout.

For whatever reason WWE doesn’t seem interested in pitting the veteran performers against the younger batch of stars. Perhaps they feel the youngsters are beneath the vets. That will cause a problem in years to come if true because sooner or later it will bleed through into the televised product and the current roster could be viewed as second rate in terms of star power.

More likely, given the matchups we’ve had over the last few years, they feel the Dream Match™ route is the best one to take. Their idea of what constitutes such a match can at some times be questionable (Cena versus Rock headlining two ‘Manias in a row f’r’instance) but it’s a solid enough approach. With all of this in mind I thought I’d run through the various part-timers WWE does and could make use of and look at the possible opponents, both part- and full-time, they could be pitted against at the next few ‘Manias.

We’ll start with Mr Hulk Hogan. He’s a pretty big star, right? Well, yes and no. He was undoubtedly wrestling’s biggest star in the 1980s and for much of the 90s, but his status has been somewhat diminished by the likes of Rock, Austin and Cena. His stint in TNA didn’t help him either. That gave anyone who saw it the impression that he’s washed up. He obviously was washed up but that TNA really emphasised it. It wore off what mystique he was still clinging to and he’s only started getting it back since he started the sporadic appearances for WWE.

He says he's got one more leg drop left in him, brothers!
‘The Hulkster’ has dropped a number of unsubtle hints about wanting to wrestle a retirement match for WWE. I suspect there are a number of motives for this. One would be the hefty payday. Another would be the chance to get himself into the spotlight one more time, something he has adored throughout his career. Third would be the opportunity to go out on top. I mean, Hogan clearly hasn’t been on top of wrestling since 19-take-your-pick, but having a retirement match on the upper half, possibly even in the main event, of a ‘Mania card would do a lot to sate his legendary ego.

There’s only one man I think Hogan could or should come back to face. That’s John Cena. The reason is pretty obvious. It would be the biggest current star against one of the biggest stars of the past. They would not have an especially good match but it would be a spectacle, and there’s always a room for spectacle at WrestleMania. Cena’s capable (though he wouldn’t necessarily be willing) of bouncing around to make Hogan look good. Hogan could probably take an AA. It’s the only feasible match should a Hogan comeback occur.

Next is the man who Hogan made his initial ‘Mania comeback against back at X8, The Rock. I’ve already mentioned the tease WWE made of a Rock versus Triple H ‘Mania outing. It would be interesting from a historical point of view because they never wrestled in a singles match at the event, despite having a feud that lasted years and took them both from the mid-card to the main event. While doing the match now would allow them to tick off an accomplishment it wouldn’t live up to their past standards. Between 1998 and 2000 the pair had a number of memorable matches on TV and pay-per-view. They’re older now, and ‘The Great One’ is extra cautious of doing anything that could inflict an injury for fear of losing work in Hollywood, and they wouldn’t be able to match their previous high standards. It’s a match best left in the past.

Rock versus Brock Lesnar has a certain appeal to it: the Hollywood A-lister facing the former UFC champion. It’s the sort of thing WrestleMania has always been built around: mainstream, outside-wrestling appeal. But it’s unlikely to happen with Lesnar’s status as champ as it would need to be for the title and I don’t think either would be back before SummerSlam. Rock’s health and safety gimmick would probably make this match a no, too.

Rock versus Rusev is a potential match after their surprise interaction on the October 6 RAW. I think it could be a very good match. Rusev’s selling and psychology are good and constantly improving and he’s got a convincing, and over, set of moves. It would make sense to promote this match and there’s a reason for it happening. But I don’t think WWE will do it. The most I think we can expect is a second meeting on TV which ends with Rusev looking strong. That would help him, but not as much as a WrestleMania victory in an official match would.

Other than ‘The Bulgarian Brute’ no characters from the main roster jump out as a particularly good match for Rock. I think Cesaro would be a particularly nice fit match-wise, but not enough time has been invested in his character to make it seem a realistic possibility. Meanwhile I think there’s a natural story to be told between Rock and Roman Reigns, not least because they’re cousins, but the in-ring action would let them down. Reigns is not yet experienced enough as a singles wrestler to make this bout work. But if Rock’s still around for WrestleMania 33 in 2017 it might be a good idea.

Going back to Brock Lesnar there are a surprising number of options. Roman Reigns is top of the list as beating Lesnar for the WWE championship at ‘Mania 31 would be a nice crowning-of-the-heir-apparent moment. But even though it would make sense it’s not been announced as a thing yet. ‘The Beast’ could just as easily find himself working a rematch with The Undertaker or having his first main roster dalliance with Randy Orton. Had a better job been done of splitting Paul Heyman and Cesaro then there’d be a compelling, natural story to be told for Cesaro versus Lesnar. It could still be done, but the time for making it mean as much as it could has slipped through WWE’s fingers.

Since the loss of his Streak I’ve found myself less interested in the concept of further Undertaker appearances. It’s not because the Lesnar bout was bad (although it was), it’s because the main appeal of ‘The Dead Man’ for me had become seeing him increase The Streak’s length. It added an urgency to his bouts that just can’t be there now. I’d convinced myself that he’d go for another year or two, announce his final match before it took place, and have Cena as his opponent. Cena, more than Lesnar, would have been able to convince people before the match that he was going to end The Streak. Because he’s Cena. My logic was that if WWE were going to end The Streak for anyone it would be Cena.

But that all fell apart when Lesnar pinned ‘Big Evil’ at WrestleMania XXX. ‘The Phenom’ will still be able to have good matches (if his body permits it) but they just won’t be as suspenseful. He could have his rematch with Lesnar and win, but ultimately it wouldn’t matter. The blemish on his record would still be there.

A lot of people seem to want Sting v Undertaker. I’ve said before that I would have no interest in seeing that match. Sting as a performer does nothing for me and any analogies between his role in WCW and ‘Taker’s in WWE are lost on me. One went off the rails because he felt betrayed during an invasion of cool heels, the other’s a zombie biker who digs MMA. The most that can be said in favour of them being a particularly good pairing is that they are both synonymous with their respective promotions. But WCW closed down in 2001. At this point Sting v Undertaker would be as much TNA v WWE as WCW v WWE.

But a lot of people want to see it. There’s obviously something I’m missing. That people seem keen on it makes me think that Undertaker versus ‘The Stinger’ is the most sensible match for both men at ‘Mania 31. Personally I’d be more interested in either man in a singles match against Bray Wyatt. He’s a better fit for the characters of both veterans. But I doubt that will come to pass.

I suspect a lot of people would argue that Sting v Triple H would be a good match. It’s true that both are top tier performers, but something about their respective styles makes me think they wouldn’t gel well together. Neither strikes me as a significant enough name to make the match work. There’s no obvious story to tell between the pair either.

‘The Game’ is best off working against guys getting established. He’s a respected (within WWE TV Land at least) performer, a former multi-time world champion, and the on-screen boss. His status is why guys would want a match with him and his job allows him to be easily written into necessary stories. The Daniel Bryan story worked well. More along those lines would be fine. Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt and Cesaro would be my top choices for matches against Trips. In time there’s a very obvious Seth Rollins match waiting to be presented too.

One guy I’m not especially interested in seeing Tripper wrestle is Batista. Since leaving over the summer he’s mentioned in interviews that he’d be interested in returning for a retirement match against ‘The King of Kings’ at a WrestleMania. Which says a fair bit about how ‘The Animal’ sees his status within WWE history. In fairness Triple H v Batista would make sense as a retirement match, given their history as friends and opponents. It would be a neat ending to Big Dave’s career. It just doesn’t feel like a modern day ‘Mania match, partly because they faced off at a ‘Mania before and partly because I don’t think Batista quite deserves that level of send-off. To me it feels more like a SummerSlam idea.

I think Batista would be of more value facing an Ambrose or a Cesaro at future WrestleManias. But such matches are probably beneath his ego, even if he were to win them. A bout with Lesnar would likely satisfy him, with or without the title on the line, but the trouble there is the same as with The Rock: Batsy has to keep himself as healthy as possible for Hollywood duties and Lesnar is not conducive to that. It would be a fresh pairing though of established headliners though, and that counts for a lot with me.

A man it would be easy to overlook here is Goldberg. No, he’s never been on the best of terms with WWE. No, they don’t seem to regard him as any form of exceptional draw (and in fairness there’s little evidence that they should). But if Sting is going to get mentioned Goldberg should too. At his peak Goldberg was just as big a star for WCW as Sting.

Were The Streak still intact a decent story could have been built around ‘Taker pitting it against Goldberg’s mostly perfect win-loss record. WWE could have ignored ‘berg’s handful of jobs or acknowledged them and emphasised the screwiness of most of them, either approach would have done the job. A year and a half ago Goldberg would have been a good choice of opponent for Ryback. ‘The Big Guy’ was getting compared to Goldberg every week and it would have given him a boost to face and beat the former WCW champ. It may seem a peculiar thing to say now, given Ryback’s lower-card status, but had WWE handled him better during his rushed rivalry with CM Punk and into WrestleMania XXIX they could have made a headliner out of him.

Those are wasted opportunities. There’s no obvious scenario for Goldberg at a WrestleMania now. But he’s a big enough name to attract a few eyes, especially if he was given the Hall of Fame and retirement match package (not that WWE would deem him worthy of that). The Ryback match could still just about work, just not as well as it could have previously. Beyond that matches with Brock Lesnar, Cesaro or a more embedded Roman Reigns could work nicely.

One more year for Angle. But it probably won't be in WWE.
Goldberg is also one of the many names that could work as an opponent for Kurt Angle. WWE’s fledging roster split stopped it happening during Goldberg’s previous run, which was a pity as the pair seem like a natural fit: the powerhouse and the technician. The trouble is that Angle would likely be taken as the face and Goldberg the heel, and both do their best work in the opposite roles. The more significant trouble with doing this match nowadays is that Angle is falling to pieces and Goldberg isn’t exactly known for his safety.

The really obvious Angle match would be opposite Rusev. He’s a foreign heel who talks about his superiority to America whilst wearing a gold medal. It seems tailor made for Angle. The current leading hypothesis is that Rusev is destined for a ‘Mania showdown with Cena. That would work and work well, but the ultra-patriotic Angle would be just as good a fit, if not a better one.

At this point I should probably pause and acknowledge the fact that it doesn’t look like Angle will ever return to WWE for a match. He’s said he’ll wrestle one more year part-time and then retire. WWE are said to be sceptical about Angle’s ability to pass their health and endurance tests, and they’re almost certainly right to be. Angle was originally let go by WWE in 2006 because of health concerns and he’s visibly smaller now than he was then. As much as it would be great to see him return for one final run and matches against Rollins, Ambrose, Cesaro, Ziggler and Rusev (and basically everyone else on the roster) it doesn’t look as though it will happen. I suspect we won’t be seeing Angle back in WWE until he’s called it quits on his in-ring offerings and is ready to accept a (much deserved) spot in the company’s Hall of Fame.

The same isn’t necessarily true for Angle’s fellow TNA alums Bully Ray and Devon. The former Dudley Boyz have apparently cut ties with TNA and agreed to some sort of deal which will see them wrestle at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 9. It seems safe to assume Team 3D were added because the pay-per-view will be broadcast on PPV in the US (via Jeff Jarrett’s increasingly shady Global Force Wrestling “promotion”) and Bully and Devon are considered big enough names to help attract an audience.

While they’re far from being the biggest names in wrestling ever they are a known quantity. They have the Attitude Era rub that could attract lapsed fans and a very long list of accomplishments for longer term fans. I don’t personally feel that they are but I could understand an argument being made for them being the best tag team ever.

All of which could be used to argue in favour of bringing them into WWE on a part-time basis. Or it could if WWE had a healthier doubles division. I’m sure that the Dudleys versus Goldust and Stardust or the Usos would be good, but neither of the current WWE teams has the status of the Dudleys. To make the most of rehiring the Dudleys WWE would need a team (preferably several) with some history and status to pit them against. They’d need that Dream Match™ scenario, allowing the Dudleys to give the rub to a younger team. The only duo WWE has right now that look like they have the potential to become a significant team is The Ascension, and they’re still in developmental.

If WWE wanted to they could hire Bully and Devon as agents and use them as an occasional treat for house shows crowds. If they spent the time between WrestleManias 31 and 32 creating an interesting and worthwhile doubles division with The Ascension as the undisputed stars then a Dudleys match in 2016 could mean something. But we all know this isn’t something WWE will bother with.

Finally we come to the man whom I think would prove the most lucrative name on this list were he to return to the ring: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. He seems fine with his retirement, having publically exhibited no burning desire to have one final match. It’s completely understandable. He went out in an extremely satisfying match in the semi-main event spot of a WrestleMania, losing to one of his greatest rivals, and friends, at a WrestleMania. He faced everyone there was to face during his time and became a massive star doing so. It’s hard to imagine him having any regrets about his career accomplishments or his last match in particular. While he’s always been careful to avoid committing to anything he has said that he’d come back for the right opponent and the right scenario. But I think another match with Austin is unlikely.

But that’s not to say there aren’t options for him. Because there are. There are tonnes. Austin against Ambrose, Rollins, Ziggler, or Cesaro. He has spoken highly of all of them in interviews and on his podcast, which indicates that he’d work a competitive match with them. Austin v Bryan could be a very good match too, although there you’d have the thorny issue of Bryan having to play the heel. Any of the four guys above could be switched to the antagonist role for an outing against Austin, but for several years now a defining attribute of Bryan’s character has been that he’s the chosen one of fans. He’s the man we want to see on top and the man we want to cheer for.

Even less likely than any of those matches is Austin versus CM Punk. It’s a match that WWE teased in a backstage segment on the 27 June 2011 on the episode of RAW that ended with Punk’s celebrated “pipe bomb”. The appeal of the match is obvious: they’re characters that have both a lot in common and some very clear differences. Each elevated their status within the company as outspoken anti-heroes railing against the management system. Each won several WWE championships and became credible headline talents. It’s the specifics where they differ. Austin was the beer-guzzling redneck who would attack anyone over anything. Punk doesn’t touch alcohol and was never booked to be as aggressive a presence as ‘The Rattlesnake’. The promos and interactions the pair could have in the build-up to a WrestleMania match would be sensational. With both men healthy and capable of hitting their signature spots a match would almost certainly be well-received. 

The match that never was.
Then there’s Austin versus Brock Lesnar. The promos there would have a different feel to them because it would be Austin dealing with Paul Heyman. There’s a lot that could be brought up there without even mentioning Lesnar: Heyman managing Austin early on in his career, giving him the opportunity to do a rough cut of the ‘Stone Cold’ character in ECW in 1995, and their time together in the Alliance. Then of course there’d be the history between Lesnar and Austin. The Texan famously walked out on WWE in 2002 after he was told he was to lose to ‘The Next Big Thing’ on an episode of RAW with no build-up. Heyman could spin that as Austin being scared of Lesnar and go on to talk up Lesnar various shoot credentials and WWE accomplishments to add validity to his claim. There are a lot of topics that could be covered to create a very tense, very real atmosphere for the bout.

Would it happen? I don’t think it would. While Austin would probably be more willing to risk injury than Batista and The Rock because he’s not got as many acting commitments or opportunities he does have a more serious medical history than either man (which, were it to happen, could be another topic for Heyman). Austin’s neck and knees would take a pounding in a match with ‘The Beast’ and I don’t think it would be worth the risk to his health.

Austin versus Hogan is another match with a very obvious appeal to it but I don’t think it could ever happen. ‘The Hulkster’ would need an opponent who could carry him, and that wouldn’t necessarily by Austin after twelve-plus years away from the ring. Then, of course, there’d be the question of winning. Can you imagine either man agreeing to lie down for the other? I can’t. And in this day and age anything less than a clear winner would not go down well.

There’s also John Cena. He’s already faced The Rock twice, losing once and winning once. Their matches were not received well and it’s tough to see things being any different in a Cena v Austin match. Rock actually seemed like a better fit for the Cena character as he was always a little more family-friendly than Austin, and Cena’s always about being family friendly. Something about their characters just made the pairing a natural fit, just as Austin and Punk would fit well together.

Were the match to happen Cena would obviously find himself booed. Austin, more than anyone else from the late 90s and early 00s, embodies the spirit of the Attitude Era. He was the man that sparked that movement within the company. It would be tough to see the match outside of the frame of Attitude versus PG and that’s a scenario WWE should want to keep Cena away from at all costs. The match would probably be as good if not better than Cena’s collisions with The Rock but that’s not really saying much.

Were Austin to return for a match there’s one match I’d want to see more than any other. It’s a match that has never happened but was once advertised as a pay-per-view main event: Austin v Triple H v The Rock. A triple threat match between the three biggest stars of the Attitude Era.

The match was originally advertised as the main event of Survivor Series 1999, a lovely bit of deliberate false advertising by the WWF because they knew from the start that it would never take place. Early on in the show Austin was “run over” in a car park to write him out of the match and storylines, allowing him to head off for a neck surgery. He was replaced by Big Show, who left as the new WWF champion.

Even back then I don’t think the match would have been incredible but it would probably have been very good. But it’s a bout that goes beyond concerns over quality. It’s appeal lies in seeing the three biggest stars of a generation together at the same time. And of course in seeing who’d be booked to go over. Had it happened in ’99 with all three men healthy it would have been hard to call. There were reasons for each man to win: Austin had been the company’s leading man for over a year and a half, The Rock was set to step up and become just as big a star, and Triple H was the era’s lead heel who always found a way to escape with the title. If it were to happen now none of that would be a factor. Times have changed and each man has a Hall of Fame career behind him. But it would still be one of the hardest matches to predict a winner for. And I think it would be an incredibly satisfying watch.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

RPW Uprising 2014 review


In October 2013 Revolution Pro Wrestling revived the Uprising name previously associated with the FWA for what was billed as their biggest show ever. In addition to using some of the best British wrestlers available they brought in foreign stars Michael Elgin, Prince Devitt, Ricochet, Davey Richards and Hiroshi Tanahashi. Colt Cabana was also there. It was an approach designed to do two things: demonstrate that the promotion was a big deal and attract fresh eyes. It certainly achieved the latter. Whether it achieved the former depends on your perspective, but I think they did a solid job and put on an excellent show.

This year RPW returned to York Hall for their second Uprising card, once again bringing in foreign stars. This time they took the form of Matt Sydal, Austin Aries, Karl Anderson, the triumvirate that is Too Cool, and Kazuchika Okada. There were actually a greater number of imports on this card than there had been the previous year, but somehow the event didn’t seem as significant leading into it.

Part of the problem here was that RPW had booked a second show the night after (it was originally titled Okada vs Ricochet although I suspect it will end up changed to Okada vs Aries). It’s possible that the company stretched itself a little thin by splitting some of the fly-ins over two cards. Concentrating everyone on this show would have added one or two matches and made better use of the time the show got.

The line-up for Uprising 2013 was incredibly strong. There was almost no way it could be topped. It was Tanahashi, the man who had carried New Japan through a rough patch and come out the other side as their unquestioned top star, wrestling in front of a thousand people in East London. That was very obviously a big deal. Using Nakamura and Okada since has almost made it an expected thing that New Japan talent will appear on the larger RPW cards. Tanahashi benefited from being the first (Liger had appeared a few months before him, at York Hall, but the show did not receive anywhere near the hype Tana’s did), and from being presented as the star attraction.

It also seemed hard to get into the rest of the import line-up to the same degree this year. Elgin and Richards were bona fide ROH main eventers (and personally I was delighted at the opportunity to heckle Richards). Devitt was a New Japan upper mid-carder who everyone was beginning to expect would move to WWE (which he did) or move up to New Japan main events. Ricochet could accurately be described as one of the most exciting wrestlers in the world (and it’s worth noting he went on to become the first non-Japanese grappler to win the Open the Dream Gate championship in March of this year).

By contrast Sydal was benched by WWE for years, Aries is booked pretty poorly by a flailing TNA, Anderson is a tag guy in New Japan, and Too Cool are Too Cool (but not too cool). Only Okada had flawless, unbridled star power. And none of the matches looked as though they’d be able to hold a candle to the 2013 match of the night Ricochet v Prince Devitt.

I know how unfair these complaints sound but it’s what was going through my mind going into the show, even though everyone had something to offer. For all of the poor booking they’ve been subjected to Aries and Sydal are very talented wrestlers. And ‘A Double’ wasn’t initially booked for the show, he was a last minute replacement for Ricochet following a scheduling conflict with Lucha Underground. Anderson is enjoyable enough if taken on his own terms. Okada is world class. Even Too Cool can be enjoyed as a nostalgia act. There was the British roster too, of course. But still there was a nagging sense that Uprising ’14 was not going to live up to its 2013 counterpart.

Sadly, these fears were merited. Uprising 2014 had some significant flaws.

One of the biggest problems was something that occurred before the first match started. It was Rich Swann’s entrance. He danced his way out to Lionel Richie’s All Night Long, a long-time staple of his act. It was very entertaining and the crowd got into it. But it went on. And on. And then it went on some more. It lasted so long, in fact, that the audience was burnt out from it. By the time match two rolled around reactions had died down considerably.

The second problem was the evening’s running order. This biggest misstep in that regard was Okada going on before the intermission. The audience clearly didn’t expect to see him that early in the night. He got a good response, but it was nowhere near what I’d expected. This wasn’t a result of the audience not knowing who he was: Tanahashi and Nakamura had got much louder responses in the same building for their RPW work. Everyone knew who he was, cared about him, and wanted to see him perform. They’d just expected him later.

The second half kicking off with Too Cool wasn’t the worst decision in and of itself, but their shtick would have been a better fit for the slot Okada was placed in, dancing people into intermission. And the final two matches should have been swapped around. The fifth match saw Martin Stone unsuccessfully challenge Marty Scurll for the British heavyweight championship. The sixth saw Matt Sydal defeat Will Ospreay. Each was followed by its own angle. They could have been combined and used to close the show, which would have trimmed the running time. Which was the other major problem the card had: it was far too long. Entrances were lengthy, there was a lot of stalling from pretty much everyone, the post-Stone-Scurll match angle featured a promo that was far too long, and matches were given too much time. Things could have been tightened up considerably without losing anything of value.

This man has a lot to answer for.
There were good points, and before I get to them I’ll run through the card itself. The opener saw Rich Swann and Austin Aries defeat 2 Unlimited in an exciting tussle. Swann, as already noted, milked the crowd, but he was able to do so because he was so over. I’ve knocked him for his lack of psychology in the past (and his willingness to eat up heat when he’s on first proves my point nicely, I think) but he’s fun to watch. Aries was, obviously, very popular too. Which meant the Irish lads were left to play heel, which they did a cracking job with.

The match featured flying spots, dancing, and some solid double team work from the brothers. Swann was worked over for a while before tagging out to ‘The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived’, who came steaming in to clean house. The faces picked up their win after Swann wiped out one of 2 Unlimited (I apologise for still being unable to tell them apart) with a dive to the floor and Aries dropped the other with a brainbuster. All four shook after the match and Aries cut a promo thanking the fans and telling them to keep the energy up (which I now suspect meant he knew Swann’s grandstanding would have a negative effect long term).

Match two pitted IWGP heavyweight tag team champion Karl Anderson against ‘Big Bad’ Dave Mastiff. I adore Mastiff for his Henry VIII look and kids’ TV facial expressions. The crowd favoured him too, although there were still a lot of people inexplicably into Anderson. Their timing was a little off throughout the match but they still pulled off some good power spots, including a ‘Double A’ spinebuster from Anderson, a deadlift German suplex from Mastiff, a German suplex into the turnbuckle on Anderson, the Swivel Gun Stun, and a cannonball reversed into a traditional Gun Stun. The last earned Anderson the win.

After the announcement that AJ Styles had been booked for the February 15 return date (which ring announcer and promoter Andy Quildan plugged incessantly, one of the many timing cuts that could have been made) it was time for the Okada match. As already noted the crowd were not expecting to see him that early on, which meant he received a slightly subdued response and no streamer treatment. The bout also suffered because Okada’s opponent, former NXT Superstar™ Joel Redman, didn’t seem to want to play heel. His build and the fact that he was facing a man who nobody in the building was going to boo meant that he should have switched to the antagonist role for the match.

Okada? He doesn't deserve to go on after an intermission?
The crowd didn’t get into the action until its second half. I suspect this was a combination of the surprise at seeing Okada so early, Swann burning people out, and nobody believing any of the early pin attempts. Things did eventually warm up when Okada went for a Tombstone piledriver and Redman reversed it, resulting in the best false finish of the night. From there we got a suplex from the apron into the ring, a lovely Okada drop kick, and, after a failed attempt earlier the night, a match-winning Rainmaker.

The intermission was another contributing factor to the unnecessarily long running time. It was closer to half an hour than the usual ten or fifteen minutes. The explanation for this was that Austin Aries and Rosita were at the merch stands signing pictures. Because there was money to be made from these pictures the break was extended to fit in as many signings as possible, a classic Quildan move.

The second half kicked off with the Revolutionists striding to the ring. They did their usual crowd-bullying stuff, Terry Frazier wading into the audience to shout at a particularly boisterous group of lads that I assume are regulars at RPW shows. To be fair the trio had a serious amount of heat on them. Too Cool also spent a long time milking their entrance, although as a nostalgia act that seemed to make more sense.

The match was not good but avoided being actively bad. Rikishi struggled to climb on to the ring apron so actual wrestling was obviously going to be tough for him. Meanwhile all Brian Christopher contributed was bad dancing and looking astonishingly like his dad. It was left to Scotty to do the bulk of the work for his team. He got worked over to set up a hot tag to Rikishi, who came in, pulled his trunks down, and gave Sha Samuels a bare Stinkface in the corner. It was not pleasant to watch. I can only imagine what it was like to take. The move got a loud reaction but I think Terry Frazier would have been the right man to take the “move”. He’s by far the most irritating member of the group.

Surprisingly it was Too Cool that won. As the promotion’s top heel stable I’d expected The Revolutionists to win after cheating and then get chased off by the faces. But no, they went down clean to the guys who have wrestled on TV. After the match Brian Christopher told us Rikishi had pulled his calf muscle (perhaps he has a doctorate nobody knows about) and said that celebratory dance may not happen. Rikishi took the mic and said it would happen… and then it did. There’s very little to say about it. An underrated wrestler, Jerry Lawler’s overly tanned 42-year-old son, and the out of shape father of the Usos boogied to WWE music they didn’t have a license to play. That’s it. Everyone else seemed to love it though, so clearly I was missing something.

The British heavyweight title match was preceded by promos played on the video screen. Marty’s was hard to make out but it seemed to be about Martin Stone moving to America and having to come back after he was released by WWE. Stone’s promo was about not getting the opportunities he felt he deserved and the demoralising atmosphere in which he worked while with WWE. He dropped some F-bombs that were bleeped out, but he managed to slip in a C-bomb that went unedited. Good work by Quildan there.

The crowd had heated up by this point and were evenly split between champion and challenger. Before the match Stone spoke to Norwich-based wrestler (and father of WWE’s Paige) Ricky Knight, who had been sat in the front row all evening. Scurll entered carrying an umbrella. This went unexplained. It was probably linked to the new character traits he was exhibiting: he had mostly dropped his bantering with the audience in favour of pulling peculiar facial expressions and generally trying to make out that he was unhinged (which basically meant he’d occasionally tilt his head to a funny angle). I always enjoyed Scurll’s Butlins circuit comedy but this was a welcome change of pace from him. He was also back to being introduced as the star of ITV’s Take Me Out and TNA’s British Boot Camp. The more time passes since his sole appearance on Take Me Out the funnier the gimmick gets.

Marty 'Penguin' Scurll there.
The match was styled on WWE main events. There was a lengthy brawl around the building, including a fireman’s carry on the entrance ramp by Scurll and a variety of guardrail bumps. Back in the ring Stone acted more and more like a Steve Austin knock-off, prompting me to ask Michael (yeah, Michael was with me) if he thought Stone was deliberately trying to evoke ‘The Rattlesnake’. He said “A little bit.” Then Stone did a Thesz Press.

Stone gave Scurll a running RKO, prompting cries of “Out of nowhere!”, taking chant of the night honours. Scurll skinned the cat but got caught with a concrete slam before he could right himself. Stone followed up with a power bomb and then went to the top rope for a superplex. ‘Party’ Marty ended up countering that and muscled Stone up for a crucifix bomb. It was a bit wobbly but he managed the move well enough.

Scurll hauled Stone back to his feet and set up for a Pedigree, screaming “You’re fired!” in a Vince McMahon voice before hitting it. Stone kicked out of that at one (probably designed as a metaphorical middle finger to WWE in general) and smashed the champ with a wild lariat and a top rope draping DDT. He locked in a Crippler crossface (it’s been seven years, jog on with your complaints) and Scurll tapped. The referee didn’t see it as Terry Frazier and Sha Samuels had rocked up at ringside to provide a distraction.

Moments later there was a contrived ref bump. Samuels got into the ring to crack Stone over the head with a steel chair. Scurll made the cover, the ref came to enough to make a slow count, and Stone just got his shoulder up before three, getting a great reaction. Stone tried to fight back but Scurll applied the crossface chickenwing, trapping ‘The Guvnor’ in the centre of the ring. There was no tap out. Instead the referee ruled the match in Scurll’s favour when he realised Stone could take no more.

It was a good finishing sequence. Stone looked strong in defeat and Scurll’s submission finisher got over as a powerful match-ender. I was initially against the use of the chair but because it was only used once it ended up being an effective addition to the match. Considering the finish, the heat, the storyline (which we’ll get to momentarily) and the fact that it was for the promotion’s top title Scurll versus Stone should have gone on last.

After the match Stone took a microphone to cut a textbook babyface promo. He said he’d tried his best and then moved on to the topic of his sojourn to NXT. Apparently he was told he was awful every day, although I find it hard to believe all WWE trainers would be that blunt. He put over Andy Quildan, saying the RPW boss picked up his phone the day Stone was released and offered him his old spot in RPW on the roster.

Then the angle went down. Ricky Knight left his seat and got into the ring. He called Stone a failure and said his boys Roy and Zak would have succeeded in NXT. He also referred to Joel Redman as Noel Edmonds, claimed Quildan wouldn’t pick up the phone for the Knight family, and announced that he’d never heard of Kazuchika Okada (which could very well be true). The holding down of the Knight family that he mentioned has been an aspect of his character for at least twelve years. I remember him calling into the Talksport radio show to claim that host and wrestling promoter Alex Shane was holding down The Zebra Kid (Roy) by not booking him. He’s nothing if not consistent.

Stop holding these lads down, Quildan.
Stone eventually had enough of this and grabbed hold of Ricky. Zak and Zebra left their seats and barged passed security, getting into the ring to attack Stone. Redman came out for the save but he was taken out too. There was an extended beatdown of Stone and Redman, who are the tag champions, and then Zebra and Zak took a turn on the microphone. Zebra responded to a “Who are ya?” chant with the classic playground heel response of “Ask your mum” while Zak said the Knights weren’t worried about bad write-ups from internet fans (they won’t be getting one here).

The Knights then walked out of the building’s (referred to as an arena during Knight’s promo) front door with the tag belts. Amusingly Zak went to walk backstage before remembering he was part of a worked shoot invasion angle. Redman and Stone recovered and gave chase, amusingly asking fans which way the heels went.

I liked the angle a lot. All the wrestlers played their parts well and it was about as believable as it was going to get. The only let-down was Quildan, who should have seemed more flustered as the promoter. He simply said he wouldn’t dignify the invasion with a response and went into announcing the main event like an idiot. That aside it was a sensible, interesting way to introduce a tag team and get a new feud underway. Presumably the angle will carry over to Okada vs Aries and we’ll get a match at the February 15 York Hall show.

Sydal vs Ospreay.
The main event couldn’t compete with the angle or the previous match in my mind. It was a babyface versus babyface cruiserweight encounter, ideal opening match material and out of place headlining a card that had featured a main event style match and Kazuchika Okada. It was a good match, it was just in the wrong spot.

Sydal won with the Shooting Star Press. After the match The Revolutionists returned to attack the faces. Scurll ended up alone in the ring and was confronted by his old British Boot Camp rival Rockstar Spud (hence the reference to that show during Scurll’s intro). Marty was sent packing and another fresh feud was established. Spud said a few words to send everyone home happy.

The planning for the future exhibited with Spud’s return and the introduction of the Knight lads was nice to see. It was one of the show’s greatest strengths, providing plenty of reason to give RPW’s next major show a try. And taken at face value all the matches delivered exactly what was expected. Even the Too Cool match avoided being actively bad. I imagine it would make a solid DVD.

But those positives were outweighed by the mistakes that were made. I can’t understand why Okada, easily the biggest draw on the card, went on third. Having him in the semi-main event spot would have made more sense, allowing the Brits-only title match to go on last. That could have been followed by the angle with the Knights and then a Revolutionists beatdown of Stone and Redman with Spud making the save. It felt as though there was no faith in Okada’s rep with British fans and that everything was built too heavily around the angles. And, for the record, only the match that didn’t involve a foreign talent featured a Brit winning. I’m all for fly-ins getting wins, but for them all to go over on what is apparently RPW’s biggest show of the year doesn’t seem quite right.

But hey, at least Terry Frazier didn’t spit at anyone. That’s something, right?

Results summary:
Austin Aries and Rich Swann defeated 2 Unlimited
Karl Anderson defeated Dave Mastiff
Kazuchika Okada defeated Joel Redman
Too Cool defeated Sha Samuels, Terry Frazier and Josh Bodom
Marty Scurll defeated Martin Stone to retain the British heavyweight championship
Matt Sydal defeated Will Ospreay

Saturday, 18 October 2014

NXTweet 16.10.14

NXTweet collections will now be on Saturdays. For a variety of boring practical reasons to do with writing for a blog. This week I mention Starrcade, Virgil and Chris Benoit. So look forward to all that, yeah?

Baron Corbin v Elias Sampson

Tweet 1: It's T for NX.
Tweet 2: Oh look. It's Baron Corbin. I suppose we should try and be excited...
Tweet 3: Quick match. Nothing to be excited about tbh.
Tweet 4: Renee says nobody's prepared to face him. Whatevs, Renee.

Sami Zayn promo, featuring verbal interference from Tyson Kidd

Tweet 5: Sami Zayn. Sick of losing fair and square.
Tweet 6: Maybe he's about to go Shawn Michaels on us. From now on 'The InZayn Kid' doesn't lie down for an.... y... bod-yyy!
Tweet 7: Oh no. He's not. He's going to be interrupted by 'Mr Charisma' Tyson Kidd.
Tweet 8: "Ooooooh, sick burn, Sami!" - Tyson Kidd, who is now eleven, apparently
Tweet 9: Tyson Kidd suggesting Zayn make a living selling pictures of himself losing to WWE Superstars. That's known as the Virgil approach.
Tweet 10: Tyson's got to put in a phone call and check on his cats before he wrestles. Stealing Teddy’s gimmick there...

Team Thick (Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy) v The Lucha Dragons

Tweet 11: The Lucha Dragons have good music. Kalisto has a good mask. I can take or leave the rest of the act.
Tweet 12: I'm picking Blake and Murphy to win this.
Tweet 13: Murphy and Blake have some lovely Chris Benoit style rip motifs on their ring gear. Lovely because they remind me of Benoit, obviously.
Tweet 14: The name Team Thick will be changed.
Tweet 15: Wesley Blake still looks like a short Undertaker.

Solid move.

Tweet 16: That sunset bomb finish was pretty sweet. #2sweetmebro
Tweet 17: "This is a match where offence can literally, LITERALLY, come out of nowhere" - Alex Riley

Becky Lynch v Charlotte

Tweet 18: Two obvious finisher names for Becky Lynch: the Lynch Pin (a roll-up of some kind) and the Lynch Pinch (a submission). You're welcome.
Tweet 19: I wonder if David Flair were younger whether he'd be doing as well as Charlotte in NXT.
Tweet 20: 'The Delty Diva'? That. Is. Awful.
Tweet 21: I still strongly dislike Becky's ring gear.
Tweet 22: That match turned the crowd off but it was pretty good. Rare instance of the NXT audience being wrong.

Recap of the ongoing crisis between Hideo Itami and The Ascension

Tweet 23: "Hideo's mentor Funaki" - Rich Brennan
Tweet 24: The Ascension with some vaguely racist comments there.

Enzo Amore and Big Cass v The Legionnaires

Tweet 25: Surely being a certified G indicates that you can be taught how to be a G. If not, how do you become certified?
Tweet 26: That Legionnaires music.

Uh-oh, spaghetti-ohs!

Tweet 27: Enzo and Cass doing the Outlaws rock-paper-scissors spot there.
Tweet 28: Marcus turns on Sylvester. The crowd chant "Oui!"

Carmella v Blue Pants, played by Leva Bates

Tweet 29: Cass and Enzo are calling out someone in blue pants? Bluetista?!
Tweet 30: Ah, no. It's a girl to job to Carmella. Cass has introduced her as Blue Pants. Hilarious.
Tweet 31: The commentary trying to rationalise Carmella going from hairdresser to NXT developmental girl. Kind of devalues NXT. A bit. No?

What's this going to be called then? The Carmellock, perhaps?

Tweet 32: Carmella wins in under thirty seconds. I don't want to say they don't have confidence in her ability yet, but...
Tweet 33: Probably for the best. The audience chanted for Blue Pants. They'd probs have turned on Carmella had it gone longer.

Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch in a locker room

Tweet 34: Sasha Banks there, dishing out some home truths to Becky.

Sami Zayn v Tyson Kidd

Tweet 35: Hoodie to the face. What a "diss."
Tweet 36: "There isn't much that Tyson Kidd has to prove here" - Alex Riley, who may not be fully aware of Tyson's career
Tweet 37: If Triple H wants NXT to be the new WCW the specials should start getting WCW pay-per-view names. Call the December one Starrcade.
Tweet 38: It would probably end up better than any real Starrcade.
Tweet 39: Alex Riley talking about Ws in the win column. I hope he talks about the pay window next.

Nice face action from Kidd there.

Tweet 40: Remember when people tapped immediately to the Sharpshooter? That they don't now is basically confirming Tyson's not as good as Bret.
Tweet 41: I mean, he's not, obviously. But they shouldn't be highlighting it on TV.
Tweet 42: Zayn wins! Zayn wins! Zayn wins! Bah god!! Zayn!! Zayn!! ZAAAAAAYN!!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Ryback Rules

I think anyone who appreciates a good wrestling-based chuckle will have become a fan of Ryback over the last year. This is not the unstoppable jobber-demanding musclehead who was hot-shotted to the top of the card in late 2012, the guy who jobbed to Mark Henry at WrestleMania XXIX, turned heel the next night, and then did some more jobs to John Cena before tumbling down the card into obscurity.

Maybe the nip slip could become a regular part of Ryback's repertoire.
No, this guy sends himself up with YouTube videos and childishly mocks “internet wrestling fans”1 during his ring entrances. His videos, often recorded in profile on an iPhone in a move that seems designed to further the perception that Ryback is a clueless, bumbling simpleton, have included him taking part in rib-eating contests, rocking up at drive-thrus with his own entrance music blaring from the stereo of his (rental) car, and laying in a hospital hooked up to an IV and heart monitor even though he’s only there to undergo a hernia operation.

With these videos he has created a deluded persona for himself. One that suits him and that he seems to enjoy playing.

It’s the last video mentioned (also the most recent) that really showed how much potential the character has for being used on television. After acknowledging that he’s been working injured for a while (neatly avoiding revealing the nature of his injury) Ryback says he powered through for the kids, grandparents, fathers and mothers, noting that the mothers are particularly fond of ‘The Big Guy’. He then references a conversation he had with his “good friend” Babe Ruth, who died in 1948, 33 years before Ryback was born, before promising he’ll return “in a big way” and drifting off to sleep saying his own catchphrase. And throughout he continually refers to himself in the third person by his ‘Big Guy’ moniker. It’s wonderfully daft.

WWE should make the most of the character the man’s created. Precede his comeback with a series of delusional videos, aired on RAW and SmackDown, in which Ryback does things like visit children’s homes and open supermarkets, giving speeches and referring to himself as ‘The Big Guy’. When he gets back to arenas have him reference his famous pals in interviews. Anyone from Abraham Lincoln to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The joke is that much more surreal if the alleged friend is dead but they don’t have to be: the base punchline is that Ryback clearly doesn’t know any of these people.

‘The Human Wrecking Ball’s’ chance to crack the top has probably been and gone but he could still play a very convincing mid-card beast. He could have great matches with guys like Cesaro and Ziggler, sending ‘The Show Off’ bouncing around the ring and providing a suitable slab of flesh for ‘The Swiss Superman’ to muscle around. Ziggler and Cesaro should be the two guys WWE builds their mid-card around, and if they are then they’ll need opponents. Ryback’s perfect for the role.

***

1 Because apparently it’s fine to lump us all together with this “label.” Whatever, Ryback. You bigot.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

That RAW Recap 13.10.14

I'm calling this That RAW Recap but it's really not really a recap. It's a series of observations regarding things that happened on RAW. Specifically things involving John Cena and Dean Ambrose. The title’s about as appropriate as anything else I could use.

The opening promo segment started off with Ambrose stating that he’d like nothing more than a Hell in a Cell match with Seth Rollins. That made sense: the pair have been embroiled in a very personal feud (what could at one time have been dubbed a blood feud) since June. There are no two men on the roster better placed for a Hell in a Cell match right now. Ambrose then acknowledged the finisher exchange he and Cena shared last and declared that his plan was simply to beat Cena in their contract on a pole match to earn his match with Rollins.

All of that was fine. Ambrose ran through what was essentially a recap and exposition in entertaining enough fashion and his motivations and “plan” made sense. He wants Rollins because Rollins wronged him and wants to beat Cena for no other reason than because he needs to to get to Rollins.

"I'm the star!"
Things started unravelling once Cena showed up. He patronisingly told Ambrose to relax, reminded him that their pole match (which he referred to as the match of Ambrose’s life) was still two weeks off, and offered up some veteran advice (which was basically “Prepare for the match”). As was the case on the October 10 SmackDown Cena seemed to be going out of his way to undercut and marginalise Ambrose, doing everything he could to remind viewers who was the bigger, more established star.

Ambrose offered up a spirited response. Cena came back with more of the same (although he made the addition of calling Ambrose “son”). The crowd booed Cena heavily. So much so, in fact, that Cena turned his head towards the entranceway, mistakenly thinking that The Authority had made their scheduled arrival early and without music. If even Cena is mistaking his heat for lead heel heat there’s definitely a problem.

When Trips and Stepher did join the segment they segued it into a triple threat match. Ambrose and Cena were paired up to face the Usos and the dust brothers. Naturally as the feuding main eventers who’d never worked as a tag team before Ambrose and Cena won. The Authority then returned to reveal that the pole match was being moved forward to the RAW main event.

And it was in that main event that the real hatchet job took place.

The match started with both Cena and Ambrose making a dash for the corner1. Neither of them managed to grab the contract, obviously, and so they went into a regular match. The handful of times Cena had Ambrose downed he made a play for the contract, and got stopped. By contrast Ambrose was booked to ignore the contract on five distinct and separate occasions, opting to continue beating up Cena rather than grabbing the contract to win (which, remember, would have earned him the Cell match he desperately against Sethy B that he craved). Michael Cole made an attempt at covering for the way in which Ambrose was booked to behave by talking about how he wanted to prove himself against Cena (which in storyline terms was plausible enough). Sadly that was quickly trampled over by JBL, who was far more interested in denouncing ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ as an idiot. Oh, and for good measure Triple H, Randy Orton, Kane and Rollins, all of whom were at ringside for the match, had a good laugh about Ambrose ignoring the contract too.

Lovely font work on the contract.
The right decision was made for the winner at least: Ambrose left victorious. But the way in which he managed it was less than inspiring: after being tossed aside by Kane, Ambrose left the Authority henchmen to target Cena and took the opportunity to climb up the turnbuckle to grab the prize. So he was only permitted to beat Cena because Cena was distracted by heel interference (which he overcame, leaving him to dejectedly stare at Ambrose’s unassailable position). And that’s overlooking the fact that the reason this was a pole match in the first place was to avoid having Cena getting pinned.

The final touch was Cena’s response to losing. He applauded Ambrose’s ingenuity and gave a wry smile. The message he was conveying seemed pretty clearly to be that Ambrose had one because Cena took his eye off the ball, not because Ambrose was a serious competitor who was on Cena’s level.

I’ve defended Cena on this blog before. I’ll probably do so again. But he was wrong here. The booking was not designed to help Ambrose. In places it seemed to be intended to hinder him. That’s not Cena’s fault and ultimately he couldn’t do anything about it. But he could have done more to help Ambrose within his own, unscripted promo material. Not patronising, undercutting and generally belittling his foe would have been a start. And a slightly more heated reaction to the loss wouldn’t have hurt either.

I understand why WWE protects Cena so much. They rely on him a lot, and for far more than just merch sales. But protecting him doesn’t have to come at the expense of establishing new names. Sooner or later the company’s overly protective attitude towards Cena is going to do real harm.

***

1 If you’re new to this, item on a pole matches see a pole attached to a ring post, from which the item in question is hung. Generally speaking you win by being the first to grab the item, although there are variations2.

2 Apologies if this explanation is patronising. I just feel that pole matches can be a particularly bewildering aspect of pro wrestling if you’re not au fait3 with the logic.

3 It’s French. Deal with it4.

4 Yes, that is a deliberate reference to Batista.