Thursday 31 March 2011

Honor Takes Center Stage predictions

Over the last few years the top independent wrestling companies of North America have used WrestleMania weekend as a way to reach a new audience. By promoting shows in the town hosting the sports entertainment extravaganza the companies make themselves available to crowds hungry for wrestling action before WrestleMania airs on the Sunday evening. The weekend is now something more than just a chance to see WWE’s premier show, it’s the chance to sample what’s going on elsewhere in the business too.

This is not only great for the fans who get to attend these events and the companies putting them on, it’s good for the business in general too. The right crowd on the right night could help give someone the break they’ve been searching for or create a career high performance.

Atlanta will get this treatment this weekend, as Ring of Honor presents two internet pay-per-views on Friday and Saturday. As has been the case for a year or so now, there will be a distinct emphasis on tag team wrestling. RoH have realised that neither WWE or TNA are particularly interested in giving their audiences a strong tag division and are doing a fine job of filling a gap in the market. The league’s strong tag team landscape will be evidenced on Saturday evening as the American Wolves reunite to take on Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team in what is bound to be a fitting main event to the two iPPVs. The night before that Eddie Edwards will make his first defence of the Roh world title against a man he has yet to beat: Christopher Daniels.

Honor Takes Center Stage – Chapter One:

Homicide v Tommaso Ciampa with the Embassy v Colt Cabana v Caleb Konley with Truth Martini

Ciampa and Konley are essentially working in the same role (newcomers to established factions), so the decision to put them in a four man match together is unusual, but not necessarily bad. More different, I suppose. Being in the ring with Homicide and Cabana, two of the company’s most over performers, will help them gain acceptance as men on the rise in the company, and will ensure the quality of the match is high.

This would work as a fun opener or pre-intermission match, with Homicide the most likely to get the win to keep him as a strong contender to the RoH title.

Prediction: Homicide

Sara Del Rey and Serena Deeb v Hiroyo Matsumoto and Ayumi Kurihara

I’ll be honest and say I’d never heard of Matsumoto or Kurihara until they were announced for these events, because I don’t follow Japanese wrestling. I would imagine they’re solid workers because RoH wouldn’t go to the trouble of bringing them in and giving them a lucrative pay-per-view spot if they weren’t. I think ‘Death Rey’ is one of the best female workers in the world today, and Serena Deeb deserved better treatment from WWE, but I think they may end up losing a quality match to make Matsumoto and Kurihara look stronger going into their tag title shot on Saturday night. I also think there may be some “CM Punk” chants when Deeb comes out.

Prediction: Hiroyo Matsumoto and Ayumi Kurihara

El Generico v Michael Elgin

Generico is always popular with Ring of Honor crowds and Elgin is getting over fairly quickly as a monster heel. He reminds me a little bit of Rhino when he first appeared for ECW: short, stocky, and bristling with power moves. I’ve like the two or three matches I’ve seen him in and think that Generico’s a good opponent for him as he’ll be able to sell a beating well.

With the House of Truth banned from ringside this would be the perfect time to give Elgin a clean win over Generico to establish him as a real force in the singles ranks. I have a feeling the win will go to Generico though, as he’s being used as a title contender a lot right now.

Prediction: El Generico

Jay and Mark Briscoe v Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly

I think this match is going to be a test for Cole and O’Reilly. If they can take a stiff beating from the Briscoes they’ll have proved they belong in the company, to the locker room as well as the audience. I like them as a team more than I like the Briscoes, and I want to see them progress, but the trouble right now is that there’s such a gap between RoH’s top teams (the Briscoes, the Kings of Wrestling, the All Night Express and Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team) that it’s impossible to imagine a twosome like Cole and O’Reilly or the Bravados getting a clean victory over any of them.

I think this will be a match that gets a good amount of time and tells the story of the youngsters fighting on no matter what, with the ANX coming out towards the end and costing the Briscoes the match. That would further the Briscoes v ANX feud and also set up a Cole and O’Reilly v ANX match because of the unwanted interference.

I’m pleased the Briscoes finally got turned heel at Manhattan Mayhem IV, that’s been a turn I’ve wanted to see for a long time. As that event wasn’t broadcast we may be “treated” to a promo from the southerners, to establish that they no longer want fan approval.

Prediction: Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly

Roderick Strong with Truth Martini v Davey Richards

A rematch from last year’s Final Battle. In that match Davey fainted whilst trapped in Strong’s Stronghold, meaning Strong shocked the world and retained his world championship. As they had a lot of time to use during that previous encounter the pace started out fairly slow and got much quicker around the halfway point. This time they’re lower down the card with no title on the line and with Davey being booked to get decisive wins as he’s built up for his eventual challenge for the world title, so I think the match will be shorter and will be quick from the start. I cannot see Roderick winning here, which will not only keep Davey strong but further the storyline of Roderick gradually becoming disillusioned with the House of Truth.

Prediction: Davey Richards

RoH world tag team title match – The Kings of Wrestling (c) with Shane Hagadorn v Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team

This is the match I’m most looking forward to on the Friday show card. The two teams have met twice before, both in non-title affairs, and hold one victory each. I think Benjamin and Haas are a tremendous unit capable of having a good tag match with any two wrestlers around, and I think the Kings are the best team in the world today and the greatest act RoH has. This stands a very good chance of being the match of the night, with only the main event and Richards v Strong standing a real chance of bettering it.

I’m torn over who to predict. I think WGTT have been built up to be the team that dethrones (ahem) the Kings, but I also want the Kings’ reign as champions to continue for months to come, allowing them to have the definitive run with the tag belts that Samoa Joe had with the RoH world title. I wouldn’t be surprised if Haas and Benjamin won the belts, but I’m picking the Kings for being such an entertaining act (and because Benjamin worked that dark match for WWE a few weeks ago – it makes me think he may be headed back there).

Prediction: The Kings of Wrestling

RoH World title match – Eddie Edwards (c) v Christopher Daniels

This is a fine example of the sports-based storyline Ring of Honor tells so well. Edwards lost the TV championship to Daniels last December. Their rematch was fought under two-out-of-three falls rules, and ended in a draw at one fall each. The only thing left for Edwards to do is gain that decisive victory over ‘The Fallen Angel’ to end this feud. It’s simple, clever booking, and wrestling needs far more of it.

I think Edwards is due to take that elusive victory over Daniels. The feud has been built to give Edwards a strong and memorable first challenger to his World title run. They’ll deliver in the ring and provide a solid end to the first night of action.

Prediction: Eddie Edwards

Honor Takes Center Stage – Chapter Two:

Homicide v Tommaso Ciampa with the Embassy

I have a feeling this match has been put together to start up a feud between the ‘Notorious 187’ and the Embassy. It could see Homicide win, but I’m going to go with Ciampa winning as I already picked Homicide to win at Chapter One and I there will be enough distractions at ringside to do an interference finish without making Homicide look weak. It would also allow Ciampa to arrive in the company with an impact.

On a side note, I’d love to see one of these shows feature the return of Low Ki to Ring of Honor. Having Low Ki make the save as Embassy is attacks Homicide after the match would be a nice moment. I’m not sure we’ll get to see it though.

Prediction: Tommaso Ciampa

Christopher Daniels v Michael Elgin with Truth Martini

This is a non-title match, and I think it would be a nice way to set up a fresh challenger to Daniels’ TV title. Truth’s been effective getting wins for his team before and I think this could be another example of that.

Prediction: Christopher Daniels

SHIMMER tag team title match – Daizee Haze and Tomoka Nakagawa (c) v Hiroyo Matsumoto and Ayumi Kurihara

With Haze and Nakagawa having won the belts just last Sunday I don’t think they’ll be dropping them this weekend. Matsumoto and Kurihara have been brought in as a special attraction for the weekend and as high profile challengers to pit against the new champions in their first defence. I expect this will be a solid match that will receive a ton of appreciation from the crowd.

Prediction: Daizee Haze and Tomoka Nakagawa

Colt Cabana v Dave Taylor with the Embassy

Dave Taylor is 53. There must be a reason he’s been brought in for this event, but I don’t know what it is. Being a veteran of the British indy scene of decades ago he naturally uses the old school British style. That’s a style Cabana uses with a bit of Americanised posturing and comedy thrown in for good measure, so I expect the match will be a good technical encounter.

I don’t want to say it will be a comedy match, but with Cabana in the ring and Nana at ringside it’s going to come closer than anything else on the card. Cabana always does. He’s a great talent, and his personality is what keeps him popular, but sometimes it wouldn’t hurt to tone down the antics a bit (not in this match, but when facing more serious opponents). I think Dave Taylor’s range of facial expressions are often overlooked too. They’re going to add to the comedy.

It could either be really ugly or really good. I’ll hope for the latter.

Prediction: Colt Cabana

The All Night Express v Jay and Mark Briscoe

I’ve never been much of a fan of the Briscoes, and I love the ANX, so it shouldn’t take long to work out who I want to win here. It could go either way really, but I’m hoping it goes to King and Titus. They need to be kept strong and keep getting more serious as an act. They’re a great team and should be tag champs at some point in the future. It doesn’t really matter who wins here, because I think this is a feud that’s just picking up steam and is going to progress to some entertaining gimmick bouts before it ends.

Prediction: The All Night Express

Roderick Strong with Truth Martini v El Generico

The second rematch for Roddy in as many nights, this one from SoCal Showdown II back in January. Having predicted a loss for Strong on the Friday night I’m going to predict a win for Saturday. I can’t see him losing too many matches until he’s had his rematch with Edwards. Generico v Strong should be a nice match, probably relatively short and fairly lively, and hopefully without much interference.

Prediction: Roderick Strong

The Kings of Wrestling with Shane Hagadorn v Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly

I’m predicting that the Kings will be coming into this match still champions and Cole and O’Reilly off their biggest win to date against the Briscoes. Because of that I think the Kings will be successful here, but it will be another match in which the younger team pushes their more experienced opponents to the limit.

I think Cole and O’Reilly really need a big win this weekend to show they have the potential to work their way through the tag ranks and be a pairing fans can believe in. So if they happen to lose to the Briscoes I’ll be expecting them to pull off the even bigger upset against Castagnoli and Hero.

Prediction: The Kings of Wrestling

The American Wolves v Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team

This should be a phenomenal match. It’s the one I’m most looking forward to, and the one that’s making me consider ordering the show. With Edwards and Richards having been concentrating on singles accolades for the last few months I would imagine the story of the match will be that Haas and Benjamin have the edge as they’ve been working together regularly.

Predicting a winner is tough because future storylines hinge on the outcome to such a large degree. If Haas and Benjamin come into this as the champions but end up losing then Richards and Edwards become top contenders for a tag title shot. If either Benjamin or Haas manage to take a win over Edwards then they’ll be set up as contenders for the RoH world title, whereas if they pin Davey Richards a big singles match will be set up as Davey is on his quest to prove to himself that he’s worthy of the moniker ‘Best in the World’.

The result really could go either way, depending on where the booking team want to take the product. I like both teams, but I’ll pick Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team because of the tag team ring rust on the Wolves that I mentioned above, and for the fact that I’ve got both men winning on Friday with Haas and Benjamin losing. It balances everything out.

Prediction: Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team

I tried to keep things brief, but it’s hard when looking at two cards! I think these iPPVs will do well and produce some top notch matches. Hopefully they’ll have been promoted well enough to attract a few newcomers to buy tickets and watch at home. That’s part of the point of presenting them the nights before WrestleMania.

The cards themselves have a lot of possibilities with regards to setting up future feuds, storylines and matches, which is exactly how a wrestling event should be. More companies should put in this level of detail and forethought to their writing all year round. When shows this good are put together regularly fans a more likely and more willing to buy into the product.

Everyone involved with RoH seems to work hard and want to put a quality product out there for people to see, and for that reason I think these shows will attain the success they deserve.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

And I Quote...

In the past twelve months nobody in World Wrestling Entertainment has received more character development than Michael Cole. For viewers this has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand it demonstrates that the company is still capable of building a main event level performer (and like it or not, that’s what Cole has become) and sticking with a push for an extended period. On the other hand it has been saddening to see such a push given to someone who doesn’t really need it and isn’t going to make the promotion money in the long term. The time and effort should have been spent on a newcomer or underutilised mid-carder instead.

It all began on NXT. During the first few weeks of the show Cole was instructed, by Chairman Vince McMahon, to tear Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson apart on commentary. The reason for this treatment is simple, McMahon despises anyone who’s become a worldwide success in the wrestling business without the help of his company. It was nothing new, McMahon’s feelings on the subject have been well documented for years.

What did come as a surprise was the gusto with which Cole carried out his task. It quickly became clear that regular announcing on NXT was not going to be a priority. The emphasis was to be firmly on inside jokes and opinions on the rookies.

As time passed Cole’s heelish traits began to seep into his work on RAW and SmackDown. It was particularly noticeable on RAW, where he acted as the official spokesperson for the anonymous general manager (and that’s a gimmick that needs to be retired soon). He also became The Miz’s number one fan. This had started during the first two seasons of NXT, which had seen ‘The Awesome One’ positioned as the pro to one Daniel Bryan. It was during Miz’s first title defence against RAW commentator Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler in November that Cole finally became an official heel, interfering on behalf of The Miz and costing ‘King’ the championship... on Lawler’s birthday no less!

Up until then Cole had been supporting heels, with the exception of top babyfaces Randy Orton and John Cena. Once he’d crossed the line and involved himself in a match even those two men lost Cole’s backing. Now the only face characters on WWE TV that are not the subject of Cole’s biased play-by-play work are Triple H and the Undertaker, because they are being kept separate from the rest of the goings-on in the promotion in an effort to increase the seriousness of their WrestleMania encounter.

In the last several months Cole has been a highlight of both RAW and SmackDown, revelling in the chance to be openly obnoxious and antagonistic. He’s good at it and fans hate him, to the point where he can now be considered the company’s most successful heel.  While that’s a spot that should really be occupied by a wrestler, there’s no denying Cole’s persona is perfect for it.

As entertaining as he’s been I hope he gets toned down after WrestleMania. Lawler will have given him the beating everyone wants to see him get, providing the perfect end to the heel run and allowing Cole to go out on a high. WWE (and Cole) will have had its payday from the push so, after a suitable amount of time off TV, Cole can return to calling matches. Keeping him heel’s not a problem, but it’s important he doesn’t become a focal point again. The real talent is in the ring, not behind the announce desk.

Monday 28 March 2011


I think Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin is one of the greatest acts to enter WWE’s main event club for years. His ring work, while it may not be the best in the company, is solid, and he’s a clearly defined character that stands out from the rest of the promotion’s antagonists. The biggest plus point he has is his phenomenal promo ability, being far and away one of the best talkers in the business today.

Unfortunately, a large number of fans remain convinced that Miz doesn’t deserve his spot. If you’re one of those people then think back to The Rock’s on-screen debut as Rocky Maivia. People detested his bland babyface persona and shoddy ring work. The situation continued for months, with McMahon and company foolishly thinking that if they continued to shove Rocky down people’s throats he would eventually be accepted. Eventually they accepted that wasn’t going to happen and turned him heel. Instead of just sitting back and playing the same character, Rocky continued trying to improve, both his wrestling skills and promo style. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did eventually. Even when he won his first WWF championship in November ’98 The Rock was still evolving as a performer. It wasn’t until towards the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000 that he finally began to settle down into the character we know now. Before that the essence was there, but it was still being refined.

Compare all that to The Miz. He first appeared for WWE as a Tough Enough contestant, in large part due to his previous appearance on US reality show The Real World. While he didn’t win he did make it to the finals, and did enough to secure himself a developmental contract (meaning he was sent to a feeder promotion to learn his craft in finer detail until he was considered ready enough to work on one of the promotions two main rosters).

Miz was eventually brought up to be the host of SmackDown, a bizarre role which mixed aspects of backstage interviewer, ring announcer, and compère for events such bikini contests. Unsurprisingly, fans hated the role and, by extension, Miz. Things only got worse when Miz left hosting behind and became an active wrestler. The perception amongst the fans and the locker room alike was that Miz had got the job based on his time on a reality TV show. Just as he had done with the Rock a decade earlier, Vince McMahon turned Miz heel.

Behind the scenes Miz worked hard to improve on his weak points. It took a couple of years but his wrestling abilities got better and he became someone fans hated because he was a heel rather than because of his past TV work. The big indicator that Miz was truly dedicated came when he switched his in-ring gear from diamante cargo shorts to traditional wrestling trunks. That showed Miz was not only willing to improve but had the initiative to know what he needed to improve.

Like The Rock, the strongest part of Miz’s act is his verbal ability. Unlike The Rock, he has not yet reached the point where he’s outshining his babyface opponents in interview segments, which is what originally caused Rock to be switched face just months after becoming a heel. However, I expect that’s just a matter of time: Miz is naturally funny and has an ever growing array of catchphrases audiences want to join in with.

Having been partnered with the über-talented John Morrison for around two years (a decision originally made to help Miz improve that ended up as a regular combo because they worked so well together) Miz was deemed ready for a renewed push as a singles wrestler. His profile rose steadily each week, as he continued to evolve into a more complete package. Whether it was telling Morrison that he would be Marty Jannetty to Miz’s Shawn Michaels or announcing he would be the next man to create an Undertaker-esque WrestleMania winning streak the night after winning his debut match at the event (watch that here), Miz was a highlight of every show he appeared on.

Things took another turn in the right direction at the inaugural Money in the Bank pay-per-view in July of last year. By booking Miz to win the RAW brand’s ladder match, and choosing him over Kane as the winner who would carry the all-important case for a while, WWE showed that it not only had faith in Miz to deliver in an important PPV match but also that he had been earmarked for a run at the top of the card.

After four months of build Miz finally beat top babyface Randy Orton to win his first WWE championship the night after Survivor Series. It was the traditional Money in the Bank cash-in match: short and sweet, relying on the element of surprise to satisfy the crowd rather than quality ring work. As the weeks passed things continued, sadly, in a similar vein, with Miz being booked to win via interference and luck rather than through ability.

The poor booking didn’t dampen Miz’s spirits as he began to fashion himself into ‘the most must-see WWE champion in history’ by carrying himself like a champion and entering the best performances he could. Slowly but surely the writers begun to acknowledge this. Despite going through the entire Orton program without a clean televised win ‘The Awesome One’ ultimately won the feud and went on to be booked to physically dominate the company’s resident superhero John Cena four weeks in a row.

Miz deserves his spot. He’s worked hard to get to where he is, shown himself to be dedicated and willing to take on a daunting media schedule for the good of the company. Hopefully it’s a few months away, but with the receptions he’s been receiving during his feud with Cena it’s possible Miz could mirror The Rock one final time by turning face because people are so keen to cheer him.

Don’t like him? Tough luck, he’s here to stay. Because he’s the Miz, and he’s... AWESOME!

Sunday 27 March 2011

Tomorrow's World

The reason Vince McMahon currently finds himself with such a small cadre of big name stars is because he’s spent almost a decade neglecting the development of new ones. At the start of the millennium WWE had ties to Les Thatcher’s Heartland Wrestling Association, the short-lived Memphis Championship Wrestling, and Jim Cornette’s Ohio Valley Wrestling. Both the HWA and MCW were dropped as developmental territories in the early years of the decade, leaving OVW with the sole responsibility of training the WWE superstars of tomorrow.

WWE attempted to establish a satellite league they had more control over (OVW was privately owned, it was not part of the WWE corporation). Deep South Wrestling was launched in September 2005 and was shut down in April 2007. Yes, the WWE-owned developmental system lasted less than two years, mainly because nobody in charge of DSW was willing to take a stand against the counterproductive way WWE management wanted the company run.

Shortly before DSW was shut down Florida Championship Wrestling was launched, ostensibly as a DSW replacement. Putting a different crew in charge and attempting to keep more of a distance, the hope was that FCW would become the developmental league DSW had failed to be.

The WWE-OVW relationship, meanwhile, lasted until early 2008. It finally collapsed because Vince McMahon and John Laurinatis couldn’t stand working with wrestling promoters that weren’t their subordinates.

Which leaves FCW as WWE’s last remaining satellite league.

The goal of FCW (and any other company WWE sets up for this purpose, for that matter) should be to help teach prospective “Superstars” the basics, and polish the more experienced individuals by helping them understand the aspects of the business they’ve yet to master. Helping all members of the roster to create a compelling, realistic character that will appeal to WWE’s fans should very much be a priority too.

Sadly, what FCW seems to do is nothing of the sort. All people signed by WWE, male or female, experienced wrestlers, foreign stars, and college wrestling standouts that have never watched a professional wrestling match, are sent to the Florida promotion to be taught to wrestle and talk like everyone else.

This is harmful to WWE’s long term business. Why is anyone going to care of Wrestler A feuds with Wrestler B when their match, and the build up to it, is exactly like everything else on the show? They’re not going to. If wrestlers are allowed to create unique characters, interact naturally, and work different styles then RAW and SmackDown will become more varied and have a broader appeal to the fickle television audience. WWE, with its current system, is limiting itself.

In an ideal world the company would return to having three or four satellite leagues, each run by a mixture of experienced wrestlers and bookers, such as Dusty Rhodes and Jim Cornette, and young, apprentice bookers, who can learn their craft on the smaller stage alongside the wrestlers. With the different booking teams and training regimens that would be utilised each organisation would gradually take on its own unique atmosphere and style, both with the writing and the wrestling.

Surely it’s better to have three or four companies to send rookies to than just one? Even if they only learn one new thing in each company, that’s two or three more things than they’re going to learn with the current system.

I don’t know for certain, but I would guess that the main reason none of this has happened is because the running costs would be high. But WWE is a mutli-million dollar company, so the few million needed to establish and maintain two or three minor leagues would be a drop in the ocean to them. If the developmental system is going to give us tomorrow’s Austins, Rocks, Hogans and Cenas, then isn’t it worth any price?

Of course it is.

Saturday 26 March 2011


What does Rey Mysterio have left to accomplish in World Wrestling Entertainment? He’s worked with every notable opponent. He’s been a regular on both RAW and SmackDown. He’s won world championships. He’s wrestled at WrestleMania. Everything of note, he’s done.

With the exception of being a heel.

That’s what I think needs to be done to freshen him up. A heel turn would add a new dynamic to his matches, give a much needed alteration to the character he’s been playing for years, and allow the about-to-debut Sin Cara to take the spotlight for a while.

In fact, the debut of Sin Cara is the perfect way to switch Rey to the dark side. The two men could believably be booked as friends and peers upon Sin Cara’s debut. Once Sin Cara has a few singles wins under his belt, over enhancement talent who don’t really matter, the two could start as an occasional tag team, which could lead to a friendly rivalry of one-upmanship, before Rey is consumed by jealousy and attacks Sin Cara after one fancy move too many from the new boy.

Mysterio’s promo style is already whiney, it would take only a few minor tweaks and a shift in focus for him to be hated by the predominant, and vocal, portion of WWE’s live events: adult males. Change his brightly coloured outfits to black and white affairs, maybe with skull and bone motifs, and get him to start blowing mist as a finisher or as a setup for the 619, and he’d become a very effective heel.

I’m not proposing this be a long term switch, just six months or so would be enough. After that length of time Rey could return to the forces of good sufficiently revitalised and with fans willing to embrace him again.

Yes, with his size and wrestling style the man is a natural babyface, and yes, he’s second only to John Cena when it comes to merchandise sales, but a short term heel run would be for the greater good. The turn wouldn’t just benefit Mysterio, it would benefit WWE and Sin Cara too: as a heel, Rey could work a slower, less high risk style, giving his permanently injured body a break. If he were booked only against smaller opponents or larger men who know how to work with a smaller heel, such as Edge or Daniel Bryan, his stature wouldn’t be an issue. Meanwhile, Sin Cara’s merchandise sales, while they may not immediately be as strong as Rey’s, would sell in greater volume if they weren’t competing against the more established man’s sales. That’s going to help Sin Cara be accepted more quickly and so, in the long run, provide WWE with another strong source of merchandise sales.

Giving up six months of merchandise sales in return for a reinvigorated act in Rey Mysterio, a bigger spotlight for hot prospect Sin Cara (who’s going to need all the help he can get when it comes to gaining acceptance from an audience conditioned to accept Rey as the best masked wrestler around), and the chance to give one of their few main event talents a lighter schedule without losing him from TV, pay-per-view or house shows seems like a bargain to me. Will it ever happen? Probably not. But it would be best for all involved if it did.

Friday 25 March 2011

Rhodes to WrestleMania

Up until January this year, the career of Cody Rhodes had been largely unremarkable. Despite a high profile feud with DX, teaming with Randy Orton, and subsequently feuding with him, Cody had done nothing to get himself over with fans. At the start of January he was just another guy that would come out and cut the same heel promo as everyone else. He just had a catchier theme song to do it to.

Despite this he was handpicked by Rey Mysterio to be his opponent at WrestleMania. Rey, who was permitted to pick his next opponent because the creative team had no idea what to do with him once his feud with Alberto Del Rio concluded in December, apparently saw something in Cody Rhodes that most fans couldn’t.

It turns out Rey was right.

In the past three months Cody has had more character progression than at any other time since his television debut in July 2007, and shown more personality and natural ability for talking too. Since January he’s given the most clear, intelligible promos of his career, neatly explaining his problems whilst getting the desired reaction from the audience at the same time. Nobody would have predicted that six months ago.

His ring work has always been solid enough, and Mysterio rarely enters a duff performance, so things look promising for their eventual match at WrestleMania. Hopefully they’ll get enough time to have an enjoyable match, with a finish that keeps Cody looking competitive regardless of whether he wins or loses. The biggest concern is that the creative team won’t have anything in place to keep Cody progressing once WrestleMania’s been and gone. If he ends up sliding back into the quagmire of obscurity he was wallowing in at the end of last year then the entire feud with Mysterio will have ultimately been for nothing. That would be a real shame, as it’s highlighted just how good Rhodes can be when he has something worthwhile to do.

Ideally, Cody should move on to a singles feud with another established star whom he can have solid matches and promo segments with. The two top candidates for this are Edge and Christian. Both men are generous when it comes to selling and putting over opponents, and are in a position on the roster to provide Cody with a feud people care about. After that, again in an ideal world, I’d like to see him have a program with a guy like Kofi Kingston, not only so that he can have a reign as Intercontinental champion but also so that management can see if he’s capable of working in a feud with someone less over than himself. I believe that in a few months time he will be, as long as he keeps getting used as he has been recently.

The Rey and Cody feud shows that two wrestlers (or “Superstars”) can have an entertaining, engaging rivalry if things are allowed to progress naturally. I would imagine that both Mysterio and Rhodes have had a significant amount of input into this program, mainly because it’s come about as a result of the supposed creative team having nothing for Rey to do. If I’m right then let’s hope more wrestlers are allowed similar opportunities in the future. We’ve seen that it can not only help younger talents to understand how to get themselves over, but also produce some entertaining television too.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Gold Standard

I was delighted last year when Ring of Honor announced that Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas would be facing the league’s premier tag team, the Kings of Wrestling. These were two men who had been an impressive and integral part of WWE’s then-bearable tag team division from 2002 to 2004, first as Team Angle and then as The World’s Greatest Tag Team. They had competed against less able opponents in good matches, and capable opponents in great ones.

But, as with everything in Vince McMahon’s company that doesn’t immediately get over and make a profit, it wasn’t to last.

Under two years into their run as a team, with plenty left for them to do in the duos ranks, the decision was made to move Shelton from SmackDown to RAW and make him a singles star. That didn’t happen. Shelton’s poor mike work, combined with an inaugural feud against Triple H (then at the height of his “bury anyone a threat to my spot” phase), failed to create a buzz and he quickly found himself shoved into the mid-card for years on end.

There were occasional flashes of the man’s potential: his matches with Chris Jericho (at Taboo Tuesday ‘04), Rob Van Dam (at Backlash ’06), and Shawn Michaels (on the 2nd March 2005 edition of RAW), along with yearly appearances in the Money in the Bank stunt match, all showed exactly what Shelton could do. But mostly he was used as someone to make others looks good and enhance WrestleMania highlight packages.

When it was announced Shelton had been released from his contract, along with five others, on 22nd April 2010, not many were surprised. As talented as he was (and is) the creative team had made it clear they had no idea how to use him effectively and didn’t see him as someone that could become a star. From an angle which saw his “mother” become his ringside manager, to the enjoyable-but-ultimately-a-step-backwards reunion with Charlie Haas, nothing was done to try and make Shelton Benjamin someone fans would want to pay to see.

My first thought when I read of Benjamin’s release was “I hope he joins Ring of Honor.” I didn’t expect that to actually happen, as anyone who’s received any sort of push in Vince McMahon’s company tends to wind up in TNA. But, happily, that didn’t happen, and Benjamin and Haas debuted for RoH in the aforementioned match against the Kings of Wrestling. Just as happily, that match stole the show, which was not an easy task as it was one of the company’s biggest and best of the year. Not only that, but the two men were rewarded with a standing ovation and a chant of “please come back” from New York City crowd.

Since that first match the WGTT have become regulars with the company. Free of the restrictions of the WWE style (basically, don’t outshine anyone higher up the pecking order), working in front of appreciative crowds, and facing fresh, equally talented opponents, Benjamin and Haas are a relevant, entertaining tag team once again.

Which brings me to my main point. Before the 8th March SmackDown taping, Shelton Benjamin made a surprise appearance and beat job guy Curt Hawkins in a dark match. There’s been speculation that this may single the former ‘Gold Standard’ is headed back to World Wrestling Entertainment. Hopefully, this isn’t the case.

Shelton still has a lot to accomplish in RoH, both with and without Charlie Haas. For him to leave now would be a real shame. Still in his mid-30s, Shelton has enough time left in his career to stay with RoH for a year or two longer, building up a catalogue of matches he can be proud of before his ultimate return to WWE to finish his career earning better money and working a less demanding style.

That’s my wish this time, let’s see if I get it.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Blog of Honor

I originally considered making my first blog entry about Jeff Hardy. You know, Jeff Hardy, the man who went from exciting stunt matches to being North America’s premier babyface to someone who gets drunk or high or whatever just before he’s due to wrestle in a pay-per-view main event that a lot of people have paid to see and that his bosses are relying on to be good? Yes, that unprofessional pothead who’s let himself, his fans and the company he works for down by thinking it’s okay to live his gimmick.

But then I realised I could summarise my feelings in one paragraph and opted to do that instead, allowing me to concentrate on something positive for my first post.

So, in place of a blog detailing my feelings on Jeff Hardy (that can wait, for now just reread the first paragraph if I didn’t make myself clear) I’m going to write about my favourite part of modern professional wrestling: a company called Ring of Honor.

RoH has been a company I’ve enjoyed since it first debuted in 2002, gifting wrestling fans with a hard hitting, realistic in-ring product and booking which focuses more on the athletic abilities of the wrestlers than their ability to talk or perform in silly skits. It’s a company I’ve been lucky enough to (sort of) see live, when they co-produced an event in London in May 2003 alongside the Frontier Wrestling Alliance. I’d attended wrestling shows before and have attended some since, but that remains the best event I’ve seen live.

RoH gives its fans a more entertaining wrestling style than the quick-cut nonsense of TNA or the punch-kick-suplex-finisher style of WWE, and features wrestlers who are still young and keen enough to want to impress and better themselves. It’s the promotion to look to for the most gifted stars of today doing what will almost certainly turn out to be the best work of their careers.

I’m also a big fan of the care they take of their top championship, and the high regard in which it is held. Since the first champion was crowned on July 27th 2002 there have only been fifteen championship reigns. In that same amount of time there have been thirty-five different reigns with the WWE championship, the top prize of the top wrestling company in the world. Ring of Honor only puts its title on the very best wrestlers once they’ve gained acceptance from the fans and proven they can work consistently and to a high standard in the ring. It is used to signify the company’s faith in a performer, which is exactly how a top championship should be treated in every wrestling company.

This care extends to the infrequency of title matches. By only presenting championship bouts an average of once a month they seem more important when they occur. By contrast, World Wrestling Entertainment presents WWE title matches several times a week... and has a second world championship too. Can both these champions really be the best in the company? Of course not. Having more than one title designated as a world belt in one promotion damages the credibility of both, as does giving fans the same match four nights a week. It damages the aura of these championships, and while the title is on the line as an attempt to improve attendance figures the truth is that in the age of the internet, when results are available so easily online, the majority of even the most casual of fans know that titles won’t switch hands unless the TV cameras are rolling.

Meanwhile, the RoH method means that only the company’s top stars wrestle for its most prestigious belt, and only do so once every few months at the most, rather than four times per week.

I’m not trying to argue that RoH is superior to WWE. I know Vince’s empire is more profitable, and as the goal of any wrestling promotion is to make money that means it’s the best. But while Ring of Honor doesn’t make as much money, it does provide better in-ring action than the vast majority of Vince McMahon backed shows. Just because it works on a smaller scale doesn’t mean it’s an inferior product.

Case in point: last night’s Manhattan Mayhem IV event. Before the event I was absolutely certain that Roderick Strong’s reign with the RoH world championship would continue until this year’s Final Battle event in December, at which point he would lose it in a rematch from last year’s event to Davey Richards. Despite my certainty, Eddie Edwards beat Strong for the title and Davey Richards won the TV championship, a belt previously held by Edwards. In one night, Ring of Honor had shaken up its roster, whilst surprising the fans (in a positive way, I should add) and setting up an intriguing situation that will be allowed to unravel slowly over the next few months: how will Richards and Edwards (previously tag team partners and two of the promotion’s biggest stars) deal with the other holding a belt they had considered to be their own? It’s a level of subtlety and foresight you just wouldn’t get in TNA or WWE.

And that’s why I love Ring of Honor. It provides great action, entertainment and surprises, just as wrestling should. Long may it continue.