Thursday 30 June 2011

That RAW Recap 27.06.11 - CM Punk Shoots

The Monday 27th edition of WWE RAW will not be remembered for great wrestling or the appearance of 'the Heartbreak Kid' Shawn Michaels. It will be remembered for the astonishingly good shoot promo from CM Punk during its closing moments. We’ll get to that...

The show opened with a Shawn Michaels promo in which he did his usual comedy routine and promoted a hunting program (for viewers in North America only I believe)and his Twitter account. WWE have been mentioning Twitter a lot over the last few weeks. It's a good decision: Twitter is a popular and useful promotional tool. It lends itself particularly nicely to live sports, which is essentially what WWE is (though they’d probably deny it). Tweeting during live sporting events can help to create a feeling of being part of things while not actually being in attendance, and it’s something that WWE fans have embraced. Audience participation: it used to be what WWE claimed it was built on (this was a painful lie but at least they were acknowledging the passion of their fans).
Considering how often WWE related trends crop up on Twitter it's surprising how long it’s taken them for them to begin tapping into the site's potential.
'HBK' was interrupted by CM Punk pretty quickly, and they had a great exchange on the microphones. Punk said he's the best wrestler in the company, just as Michaels was before he was forced into retirement. For me the highlight of this segment was Michaels listing the similarities between him and Punk. He said he doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and doesn't do drugs, prompting an immediate "any more" from Punk. Lines like that are the reason for his popularity.
The segment ended with 'HBK' laying out McGillicutty and Otunga with superkicks (yes the WWE tag team champions were disposed of with ease by a 45-year-old retiree) and an announcement that Punk would be facing Kane in the evening's opening match.
The rest of the show was the usual assortment of bad and decent. Sin Cara v Evan Bourne was a highlight in the ring (Cara got the predictable pinfall victory) and the appearance of Diamond Dallas Page was enjoyable for what it was, but the show itself was fairly generic. Kelly Kelly v Nikki Bella, Mysterio and Riley v Miz and Swagger, and Del Rio v Big Show (in a cage, no less) were all variations on matches we've been seeing a lot lately. ADR v Show in particular stood out as poor. A feud with Big Show is, as I've been saying for several weeks now, wasting Del Rio’s considerable talent. I still can't understand why SmackDown has been shortchanged on star power to provide RAW viewers with a Del Rio v Big Show feud sparked by Big Show waddling in front of a car. I imagine nobody on either of WWE's creative teams would be able to explain (or defend, depending on your viewpoint) the decision either.
The show's main event was John Cena v R-Truth. I'd like to note that the starting point of the Cena v Truth conflict was the fact that Truth had never had a title shot, yet he has been wrestling the champion on a weekly basis for well over a month now. That means Truth has had more opportunities than others on the roster, making him something of a hypocrite if we follow his own (heel) logic.
The match was a tables match and was utterly unmemorable. With Punk promoted to a championship feud R-Truth is no longer being protected as he was before Capitol Punishment. It's a disappointing but understandable side effect of WWE's challenger-of-the-month approach (though Truth making way for Punk so quickly is acceptable because of the special circumstances of the new program).
The match ended after Punk distracted Cena and allowed Truth to spear him through a table. Two weeks ago that finish would've been designed to make Truth look strong by obtaining victory over Cena. Now it's designed to make Punk look strong by outsmarting the champ.
Truth made a quick exit as Cena lolled about on the remains of the table. If you want an example of Cena's inability to sell then look no further than this. He was required to lie still for several minutes but his natural "superhuman comeback" instincts kicked in and he was clearly conscious the whole time he lay there. The smart approach would've been to feign unconsciousness until Punk was in full flow before gradually showing signs of coming to. That or simply get up, sell lightly, and listen to Punk’s promo. But that's Cena: he's been getting the basics wrong for years.
While Cena was showing he can't even be relied on to lay still CM Punk (now wearing a ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin T-shirt) had taken a microphone and sauntered to the top of the ramp, sitting down to cut what is one of the greatest promos in the history of WWE. He spoke passionately about his misuse at the hands of the company. He mentioned that he was a “Paul Heyman guy”, shorthand for someone who was has potential but won’t be allowed to use it because of company management’s bizarre vendetta against Heyman (who was employed by the company at the time in question). He cited his absence from merchandise, the opening signature, WrestleMania posters, the company’s (mostly lamentable) films, talk shows and next year’s WrestleMania main event as examples of how little the company does with him. He noted that he is barely promoted, overlooked in preference of John Cena.

His remarks on Cena were enlightening. Punk admitted that he doesn’t dislike Cena himself, more the idea that Cena is the best. Punk (rightfully) stated he’s the best, in the ring, on the microphone, and even on commentary. He branded Cena an “ass-kisser” following in the footsteps of Hulk Hogan and The Rock (whom Punk only referred to as “Dwayne”), the implication being that they reached the top of the company at least partly by becoming friendly with Vince McMahon.

After saying that he would win the WWE championship on July 17th Punk said he may defend the belt in New Japan or return to Ring of Honor, then turned to the camera and said hello to Colt Cabana.  Just hearing Cabana and those companies mentioned on RAW was enough to let people know this was no run-of-the-mill promo (if they hadn’t already figured it out).

Reaching the crux of his problem Punk revealed that the reason he’s (apparently) leaving is the way the company is run. He called Vince McMahon “a millionaire who should be a billionaire”, stating that the reason he isn’t is because of the people he surrounds himself with. John Laurinaitis was branded a “glad-handing, nonsensical, douchebag yes-man” who tells his superiors whatever he thinks they want to hear. Perhaps, Punk opined, the company will improve after Vince dies (yes, he was allowed to say that but the word “douchebag” was edited out), but then said it was unlikely because Vince’s “idiotic daughter” and “doofus son-in-law” (Stephanie and Triple H, obviously) will be taking up the reins.

Moments later the promo ended. Punk had just said he wanted to tell a story about Vince and referred to the anti-bullying campaign the company is currently running when his mic went dead. According to various websites that happened because WWE didn’t want to run the risk of the campaign being seen as part of a storyline as that could hurt its credibility. Fair enough, but if you watch the footage you’ll notice that the microphone was cut before Punk had finished saying “campaign”. That’s a remarkably quick reaction don’t you think? It’s strikes me that the mic was cut either because Vince (or someone else in the back) had an inkling Punk was about to tell a story they didn’t care to have revealed on air or that cutting the mic was always the planned finish for the promo and that Punk had sent a signal to the back (through a hand gesture or a phrase) indicating he was done.

This was easily the most entertaining, fresh and believable interview aired on any of WWE’s programs in years. The twist of realism is precisely what the wrestling business needs at the moment. The uncertainty surrounding the Cena v Punk match at Money in the Bank shows how effective the last two weeks of RAW have been. Right now nobody can be sure who will leave Chicago with the belt. That’s how all pay-per-view main events should be but it’s been a long time since it’s been the case in WWE.

The promo itself was incredible. Without actually spelling it out Punk revealed that the way most get to the top in WWE is by ingratiating themselves to Vince McMahon. Hogan, Rock and Cena were all directly accused of doing just that. The mentions of Paul Heyman, Cabana and rival wrestling companies were clearly anachronistic for WWE programming and aren’t references that everyone would have understood, but that’s part of the magic of interviews like this: fans feel thrilled at gaining an insight into the backstage machinations of the McMahon empire while casual viewers are aware that it’s something out of the ordinary and can’t quite work out how much is real so tune in the next week to get some answers.

There are a lot of people who think that everything CM Punk said was entirely legitimate. I’m not one of them, but I imagine there was an element of truth to the vast majority of it. But was this a man hijacking the closing moments of a television show? No, of course not. The fact that the Cena v Truth match ended with enough time for Punk to rant should be enough to tell you this was a scheduled part of the program. If Punk had really been speaking out against Vince McMahon and WWE then his mic would have been cut immediately, he certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to talk for five uninterrupted minutes.

My guess would be that Punk was told to go out there and say whatever he felt he had to to get the angle over and convince people that he really is leaving. Essentially Punk was out there to boost buy rates for Money in the Bank, and I imagine he did exactly that.

So where will it go next? Well, after RAW went off the air it was announced on WWE’s website that CM Punk has been stripped of his title shot at Money in the Bank. A quote from Vince McMahon himself was posted noting that with only a few weeks left to run on Punk’s contract it was best for all involved to simply let it expire. Anyone even remotely familiar with how WWE usually operates in situations involving suspensions and firings would be able to tell you this is suspicious: why would the company go from keeping such things as low key as possible to having the chairman commenting on a suspension? It doesn’t look normal and that’s because it isn’t, it’s the latest development in the angle.

I believe the decision was made because next week’s RAW was taped immediately after this week’s live episode. Had Punk appeared to further the storyline then spoilers would have ruined the hottest angle the promotion’s had in years. Not only that but shoot promos traditionally work better on live TV, especially when they’re being presented as someone going into business for themselves. It’s also good to give the Punk character a rest for a week: by the time he’s back on TV in two weeks (he is reinstated at the end of next week’s taped episode and given back his title match) people will be desperate for the next part of the story.

So when that next part of the story comes what will happen? I would imagine an in-ring segment between CM Punk and John Cena is very likely. They have largely been kept apart since Punk earned his title match, and a main event segment in which they both break the fourth wall (as Punk put it) would be tremendous television. Cena is much more entertaining when he’s not doing his kid-friendly act. If WWE announce a CM Punk and John Cena face-to-face confrontation before the July 11th RAW airs they could earn a very good rating. Longer term I’m still not sure who will win at Money in the Bank, but I still think there’s a chance the Money in the Bank winner could be involved. It could be part of a larger storyline to write out the WWE title in favour of the World Heavyweight championship, or it could be designed to get Punk over as one of the biggest heels in history by allowing him to leave with the belt and “disrespect” it by taking it elsewhere.

Even longer term this could be the start of a Cena heel turn. I don’t believe it is, but if WWE wanted to do it there’s still time: in a shoot environment Punk is more capable of coming across as sympathetic than Cena is due to the clear misuse he has suffered at the hands of the promotion.

This storyline is easily the most enjoyable thing WWE have come up with for years, possibly since the Attitude Era a decade ago. Hopefully they keep going the way they have been and get the live July 11th RAW and Money in the Bank right. Punk and WWE deserve success with this.

Monday 27 June 2011

Test Centre

When it was revealed that Alberto Del Rio was being moved from SmackDown to RAW on Monday April 25th it concerned me. He had been introduced and used exceptionally well on SmackDown and quickly risen up the card to become one of the show’s most dependable headline talents and a guaranteed future World Heavyweight champion. The blue brand had been heavily reliant on him when it came to storylines and ratings and there was plenty left for him to do. The move seemed rushed and unneeded.

Looking at the way Del Rio’s been during his first two months on RAW it seems as though I was right to have those fears. A relaunch of the Del Rio v Mysterio feud was teased but quickly dropped when Mysterio was required to replace John Morrison as an opponent for R-Truth, leaving ADR without a match at Over the Limit.

Since becoming a member of the RAW roster Del Rio has wrestled only a handful of televised matches. On May 9th he was the third man in the number one contendership match won by Miz with a pin on Mysterio. The next week he lost to Rey via disqualification. Last week he was pinned by CM Punk in a triple threat match also involving Mysterio. This is a far cry from how he would have been treated on SmackDown: had he stayed there he would have been used in meaningful matches or segments (or both) every week.

Sadly, Del Rio is not the first man this has happened to. Dolph Ziggler had been enjoying a feud with World champion Edge throughout January and February of this year, but was senselessly moved to RAW after it was revealed he had attacked Teddy Long backstage and the GM fired him. Ziggler had worked his way up from being a forgettable mid-card guy that took a year to win the Intercontinental title to someone who could work against Edge and be perceived as a threat. That’s not easy, and it was a credit to the writers and Nick ‘Dolph Ziggler’ Nemeth that it was accomplished.

You can go back years into WWE’s past and find more examples of people who were moved to Mondays with no real plan in place. Montel Vontavious Porter, Mr Kennedy and Carlito all stand out as fine examples of men that the SmackDown writing team had helped to build up and relied on for their show being moved to RAW only to be misused. There are many others.

It’s a worrying trend, and the fact that it has developed over years and become the norm makes me think it will never change. SmackDown seems to be the show that creates the new stars and RAW is the show said stars are moved to be tested as draws for the company. There would be nothing wrong with that system if SmackDown was compensated with some of RAW’s bigger stars in return, but it rarely is.

As an example of the superiority of the SmackDown writing team of their RAW counterparts let’s look at Sheamus. He was moved onto RAW very quickly after his television debut on ECW, and was rushed into a run as WWE champion. Sheamus is ready to carry a world championship now, both in terms of in-ring skills and character acceptance. 2009 was far too early for him to be champion. It was a damaging decision made by the RAW team. He had two reigns as champion and then sunk down into the mid-card, where he was eventually saddled with the dreaded “losing streak” gimmick.

Since he was drafted to SmackDown Sheamus may not have become the hottest star in the company, but he has been used logically and given time to develop and establish his character. Sheamus is being built up as one of the show’s top stars. Meanwhile, Del Rio is being used as a way of writing Big Show off television.

RAW raiding SmackDown for talent needs to stop. Or at least not continue to the same extent. Both shows should be striving to create their own stars that can be relied on to fill the promotion’s TV shows with memorable characters, provide worthy matches and help sell pay-per-views. SmackDown cannot, and should not have to, continue building new stars for RAW to steal every few months, only for them to never be used in their new home.

Saturday 25 June 2011

We Want Steen

When Kevin Steen turned heel on El Generico at Final Battle 2009 it didn’t just signal the end of one of Ring of Honor’s most popular teams and begin one of 2010’s top feuds anywhere in wrestling, it also revitalised Steen’s career. Reinvented as a psychotic, uncontrollable heel Steen became the company’s most effective heel. The turn was a big success in terms of creating a memorable storyline and elevating all the wrestlers involved.

The man credited for convincing Steen to ditch Generico as a partner was Steve Corino. According to him the association needed to finish in order for Steen to realise his full potential as a singles wrestler and become the RoH world champion.

At Final Battle 2010, after a year of feuding, Steen lost a street fight to Generico. The stipulation agreed before the match was that if Generico lost he would remove his mask while if Steen lost he would leave Ring of Honor. Losing that match meant Steen wasn’t going to capture the RoH championship any time soon. It also meant the promotion had lost one of its most over acts: Steen had become incredibly popular despite his great effectiveness as a heel.

With his charge gone Corino segued into a storyline in which he regretted his action of 2010. He vowed to become a changed man and sought redemption from the locker room. Six months later he hasn’t yet received that redemption from his peers but he has from RoH crowds. Corino’s quest to prove he is a changed man has struck a chord with audiences, his plight being one of the most intriguing aspects of the 2011 Ring of Honor product, partly because it’s so different to the typical wrestling storyline.

At Supercard of Honor VI Corino revealed the man sponsoring him on his road to change was (and is) Jimmy Jacobs. Jacobs left the company in 2009 after a very effective run as a heel, so being reintroduced as Corino’s backer made sense: in storyline terms he understands what ‘The King of Old School’ is going through.

The reveal of Jacobs surprised some people, not because it was a huge shock to see back in Ring of Honor but because Corino had deliberately hinted that his sponsor would be Kevin Steen. There was a reason for the misdirection though: Steen’s return was being held off until a later date. While it hasn’t officially been confirmed it very much looks like that date will be this Sunday, at the Best in the World internet pay-per-view.

Recent video wires (videos that further the company’s various storylines through backstage promos, released every week or so on their website) have revealed that Steen is affiliated with the changed Corino, and that Corino has purchased tickets for him to fly to New York and appear at the iPPV. In a typically realistic touch Ring of Honor has released a statement saying that Steen is not welcome at the show and Jim Cornette (RoH’s on-screen Executive Producer) has been on Twitter to say that Steen is a loose cannon. The company’s storyline standpoint on the issue is very clear.

Not to be outdone Steen has launched the #wewantSteen hashtag on Twitter, encouraging people to show their support for him and attempting to convince Cornette and RoH to reverse their decision on his banning.

Whether he appears this Sunday or not it’s clear Steen is on his way back to Ring of Honor. I personally believe that he will appear at Best in the World. It’s the biggest stage Ring of Honor have had all year so it’s a natural choice to host the comeback of a big name wrestler. And with their new TV show due to begin in September it’s expected that the company will be expanding its roster (which is part of the reason Jacobs has returned). Steen is one of the names that has risen to the top of the company in the post-Bryan Danielson/Nigel McGuinness era, and so would be a perfect fit for a top spot on the new TV show. Taking into account his popularity, verbal skills and in-ring ability he could very well be a future RoH world champion.

The possible return of Steen is one of the things I am most excited about for Best in the World. He’s a charismatic man and a talented worker whose contributions to the company have been missed by a lot of people. Seeing how his reintroduction to the company plays out will be one of the highlights of the next few events and will help to keep the enjoyable Corino storyline moving.

In short: I want Steen.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Best in the World preview

This weekend will be the third in a row that has seen a wrestling pay-per-view available from a North American promotion. Two weeks ago we had TNA’s (predictably) disappointing Slammiversary IX and last week we had WWE’s Capitol Punishment. This weekend it’s the turn of Ring of Honor as they present their latest internet pay-per-view, Best in the World.

This being an RoH show we can expect a heavier emphasis on in-ring competition. The current crop of storylines have been given a slower, more methodical build, which is preferable to the rushed approach of WWE or TNA. The biggest match of the show, Davey Richards v Eddie Edwards, has several years of history to fall back on, and the match itself has been building since March. It’s a refreshing and enjoyable approach and something RoH does particularly well.

Davey Richards challenged for the Ring of Honor title twice last year, once again Tyler Black and once against Roderick Strong. He lost both title challenges but beat both men in various non-title situations. As far as fans were concerned he was the uncrowned RoH champion as 2010 ended. But losing to Strong caused Richards to have a change of heart: he no longer wished to be known as the ‘Best in the World’ (a chant a select few RoH wrestlers hear upon gaining the respect of the fans) because he didn’t have the title to prove it. He said he would work on perfecting his craft before requesting another title match.

And that’s what Davey has been doing this year: facing the best wrestlers RoH has in order to hone his game in preparation for his next title challenge. It’s a simple plot that can be followed with the minimum of attention.

But while Davey was honing and perfecting Eddie Edwards shockingly captured the title from Strong in his first ever shot. As soon as it happened everybody knew Richards and Edwards would end up facing one another, it was just a question of when. The two men addressed the situation in the ring at Honor Takes Center Stage, where Davey stated he didn’t want to face Eddie for the world championship as he didn’t want to be the one to end his reign. This unintentionally arrogant remark naturally led to tension between the two men, which contributed to their loss to the World’s Greatest Tag Team in a match later that evening. The same thing happened at Revolution: USA. Only after that match did Davey finally relent and agree to face Edwards for the championship.

The importance both men place on the world title and their years of working as a tag team should ensure that Sunday’s main event has a big fight feel. They’re two of the hardest working men in the company and their styles should complement one another well. In their one previous encounter (in the finals of the RoH Television championship tournament) they put together a good match, and I’m sure they’ll do the same here. As long as the crowd’s vocal (and I’m sure they will be) this should be a match of the year contender.

As far as picking a winner goes I think Eddie will retain in a time limit draw. For the last year Davey has been built up as the guy who can’t “win the big one” and it would be uncharacteristic of Ring of Honor to book such a short world title reign (if Eddie were to lose he would have held the title for just over three months), so I can’t see Richards winning. Plus the fact that this is one of the promotions most lucrative pairings so they’ll want to leave the door open for a rematch. By doing a draw neither man can say they are a conclusive winner and a rematch will be the next natural step in the rivalry. I expect things will start with a handshake but won’t end so well: Davey could be headed for a sore loser-based heel turn.

Best in the World is far from a one match show. The centrepiece of the undercard is the four team tag team championship match which sees Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin defending against the Kings of Wrestling, Jay and Mark Briscoe and the All Night Express. The past six months have seen these four teams established as the focus of the company’s tag division. They’ve all faced each other in standard doubles bouts, there have been various singles combinations, and there was an excellent eight man tag match which saw the Kings of Wrestling and the All Night Express take on the Briscoes and the WGTT towards the end of the run on HDNet. This four way match is the natural climax to the reemphasis on the RoH tag division. It could get busy but I’m sure it will be a massively enjoyable match. I’d love to see the Kings walk out as three time tag champions but I suspect Haas and Benjamin will retain.

The Colt Cabana v Tommaso Ciampa and Homicide v Rhino (yes, the former ECW wrestler) matches should both be enjoyable but neither is likely to steal the show. The Cabana match will see the usual comedy routine before Ciampa gets the victory to keep his winning streak alive, though there may be some interference from the Embassy to stop Cabana from looking too weak.

Homicide hasn’t really been given much to do since returning to RoH last year: his feud with Strong for the world title was flat and his more recent disagreement with the Embassy has done little to excite fans. On the plus side this show is being held in New York, the one place guaranteed to react favourably to Homicide. I predict a victory for the ‘Notorious 187’ and a solid performance from Rhino. I hope this earns him a regular spot on the roster: he strikes me as a good fit for an enforcer for Prince Nana.

On the subject of former TNA stars: Jay Lethal makes his return to Ring of Honor at Best in the World to face Mike Bennett. I’ve always appreciated Lethal’s ring work but his lack of charisma has always prevented me from fully warming to him. His impersonations of Randy Savage and Ric Flair are very good but they’re not a substitute for a personality of his own.  Bennett works what could be described as a “sports entertainment” style which I don’t think will mesh well with Lethal’s. I’d like to be proven wrong, but I don’t have much hope of this match being anything special. I’ll pick Bennett to win because they’ve spent a while building him up now and I don’t think he’ll be sacrificed to Lethal.

Steve Corino v Michael Elgin is a rare instance of an RoH match that’s more interesting because of a storyline than for the match itself. Last month at Supercard of Honor Corino revealed Jimmy Jacobs as his sponsor on his quest to becoming “a good person”. Basically Corino wants to move away from being a heel and has asked Jacobs to help him. It’s been an enjoyable story so far mainly because it’s so different to what we’re used to seeing from wrestling stories.

In recent video updates it has been revealed that Kevin Steen has also supposedly changed for the better and Corino wants him brought back to the company for support. Steen’s recent Twitter name change (from @KillSteenKill to @SteenIsChange), Jim Cornette’s commenting that Steen would not be welcome at the show, and Corino saying he’s already bought Steen a ticket has all had the desired effect of creating intrigue concerning a Steen return. I’d like to see him back in the company and I think this show would be the perfect platform for the return.

The winner of the match will likely be Elgin, but as I say the continuation of Corino’s road to sobriety storyline and possible appearances from Jacobs and Steen are far more interesting.

Finally, there’s TV champion Christopher Daniels’ title defence against El Generico. I predicted a few months ago that ‘The Generic Luchadore’ could be headed towards a TV title victory so I’ll pick him as the winner. Not only would that take the title off of a TNA performer (which has to be an issue for RoH decision makers) but it would further raise the profile of Generico, provide a title change for the show (which I suspect the company would like) and advance the House of Truth v Cabana and Generico feud. If they get fifteen minutes or more this match could be exceptional.

I’d like to point out that if you’re in the UK (as I am) then the 4pm bell time for US viewers means a 9pm start time here. I’m not sure if that was a conscious decision from RoH (I suspect it wasn’t) but it works out well for us and it’s something I’d like to see the company continue to do semi-occasionally as it will help to encourage UK fans to purchase shows.

Will it be the biggest show in Ring of Honor history as has been claimed? It’s not impossible, but it’s not overly likely either. The announced card is a good mix of big matches, storyline progression and enjoyable filler, which is what all wrestling shows should be. With three matches guaranteed to be good (the title matches, appropriately) I’d say it’s well worth buying. I know I will be.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Expect the Unexpected

Is he really leaving?

The June 20th edition of RAW opened with CM Punk announcing that his contract expires on July 17th, the same day as WWE’s next pay-per-view Money in the Bank. Also announced was that Punk would receieve a WWE championship match against John Cena at the show. Punk challenging for a world title on his last night with a company? Haven’t we been here before?

One June 18th 2005 CM Punk challenged Austin Aries for the Ring of Honor world title. Everybody knew he was heading to Ohio Valley Wrestling on a WWE developmental contract. It was his last night: he was going to put over the company’s champion and leave “the right way”. Only he didn’t. Punk beat Aries, signed his WWE developmental contract on top of his newly won championship belt and then left through the crowd.

It was a shocking angle that worked so well because it was using real life events and was just realistic enough in its execution to allow fans to suspend disbelief. It was exciting! Could WWE be planning to do exactly the same angle with exactly the same wrestler at Money in the Bank? It’s certainly possible. And if they do then fine: wrestling is always borrowing from its past, and the majority of WWE’s audience will have absolutely no idea Punk left another company in exactly the same way six years ago.

I don’t think that’s going to happen though. At least not in exactly the same way. There are a number of routes the match could take. Firstly, Cena could retain. That’s something that’s likely to be overlooked in the next few weeks as anticipation for the match builds and theories become increasingly elaborate. Cena is WWE’s most protected star, a man known for being booked to win almost all the time. If anyone is going to be allowed to beat Punk on his last night, in his home town, then it’s Cena.

That’s not to say I think Cena is going to win (at least I don’t think that yet, a few weeks of booking may persuade me otherwise). I think it’s far more likely that we’ll see Punk win the title, which could then be followed by the Money in the Bank winner cashing in their briefcase (remember, with two guaranteed shots being awarded at the event WWE will want to get one out of the way fairly quickly so the remaining ‘Mr Money in the Bank’ gets more of the spotlight) and defeating Punk for the title.

Or perhaps Punk has signed a new contract and WWE are using the rumours of his departure to fuel their storylines. The reports that Punk will leave when his contract expires have been going for some months now, and it seems very convenient that WWE are promoting a pay-per-view event in his home town on his last day. It could be a coincidence, but if it is then it’s a very big one.

I think it’s great if the promotion is using the rumour mill to its advantage and Punk’s not going anywhere. The WWE product has been crying out for some realism and fresh angles for a long time now, and this storyline is the perfect answer. If he has signed a new contract? The original RoH storyline saw Punk telling fans that he was going to take the belt to WWE. Vince McMahon won’t okay such a storyline, and with no credible competition it would be nigh impossible to write even if he did. But maybe we’ll see him win and a storyline develop in which he’s a champion holding the company to ransom, with Vince or the RAW General Manager (or both) granting anybody they think can win a title opportunity. That would work best if Punk were a fully fledged face but that’s fine, fans have been wanting to cheer Punk for around a year now.

At this point I’ll remind you that I’ve thought of all of this based on one episode of RAW, so I retain the right to change my mind as the match approaches. I’m sure new ideas will occur to me as the weeks pass.

I’m hoping for the “secretly renewed contract” path but there is the chance that Punk really is on his way out and Money in the Bank will be his last match. If that’s the case I don’t think it will be permanent. At 32 years-old he’s too young to retire, and he is still clearly passionate about the business and being a wrestler. If he leaves it will likely just be a break, much like those Chris Jericho has taken over the last several years.

What he’d get up to during the break is anyone’s guess, but I imagine recuperating and relaxing would feature somewhere in his schedule. A move to TNA wouldn’t be impossible, but it seems pretty unlikely. If anything I think select dates for Ring of Honor or Dragon Gate USA are more likely. Punk has a history in RoH (he is arguably the most successful wrestler ever to work there) and has worked with Dragon Gate booker Gabe Sapolsky before. If he wants to get away from the hectic WWE schedule without leaving the business all together this would be an effective way of doing so.

Punk’s departure would leave a big gap in the company’s roster. While he may not have been used as a main event talent since 2009 he’s always been there in reserve if someone went down with an injury or had to be suspended for a Wellness Policy violation. No matter where he’s been placed on the card he has always been someone WWE can rely on to work a great match or feud or cut an effective promo. It’s probably only just dawning on WWE’s creative department just how much they’ve relied on Punk for the last several years, whether they’ve known they were doing so or not.

More rumours concerning this match are bound to circulate as Money in the Bank gets closer, but we’re not going to know exactly how the situation will resolve itself until the show itself. But that’s the point: it’s gotten us excited and talking about the show. As is the case with all the best angles we’re eager to find out the answers. Well done, WWE.

Now don’t blow it.

Monday 20 June 2011

Moving On Up

The Money in the Bank match has become a good indicator of what WWE’s plans for the future are. In fact the only bigger indicator is the Royal Rumble match, which traditionally reveals who will be in one of the company’s two world title matches at WrestleMania. While the Rumble tells you who will be involved in a big WrestleMania match Money in the Bank is far more sporadic in its revelations: you don’t know when or where the winner (or winners, since the gimmick bout received its own event last year) will take their championship opportunity.

For those who don’t know the idea is a simple one: a multi-man ladder match is held with a briefcase hanging above the ring. The winner is the man who climbs a ladder and retrieves the briefcase, with their prize being a match for any WWE championship within the following calendar year, at the time and place of their choosing.

Since they first came up with the idea in 2005 (the match was first held at WrestleMania 21 and featured six combatants) it has been used to launch main event careers (Edge, CM Punk, The Miz) and create surprising moments on pay-per-views and television shows. Edge cashing in the very first Money in the Bank briefcase against John Cena after an Elimination Chamber bout set the tone for future cash-ins: it created a big surprise and was the realistic thing to do. Every subsequent cash-in with the exception of Rob Van Dam’s defeat of John Cena at One Night Stand 2006 has broadly followed the pattern established then.

At last year’s inaugural Money in the Bank pay-per-view it was decided that two of the titular matches would be promoted. It could easily have been overkill (as it has been with events hosting two Elimination Chamber or Hell in a Cell matches in the past) but both contests were laid out differently enough to make the event enjoyable rather than repetitive. I expect they’ll try to do the same this year.

Where they’ll find it difficult to emulate last year’s success is in the fallout of the event. Two men walking around with guaranteed title shots devalues the prestige of the victory. The writing team realised that last year, which is why Kane won the SmackDown ladder-fest and cashed in his title shot later on in the evening. This allowed for a shock on the MITB show itself and also meant the Miz’s victory in the RAW brand ladder match wasn’t overshadowed.

That was an effective way of skipping around having two ‘Mr Money in the Bank’s, but will WWE do the same again this year? It’s possible but I don’t think it’s too likely. I would say the likelier chain of events will be that one MITB winner will announce on the July 18th RAW or the July 19th SmackDown taping that they intend to take their shot at SummerSlam. That way WWE immediately sets up a SummerSlam main event and leaves just one briefcase holder to push as a future champion.

Will the trend of every person cashing in the briefcase winning their match continue? It’s too early to say, not knowing who’s doing the cashing in, but I think there’s a good chance this year that one of the winners will lose their match. Last year there was talk of Miz cashing in and losing against Randy Orton, then putting the title on him in a rematch. Luckily that didn’t happen: I don’t think Miz as a performer was perceived strongly enough by fans to be able to survive such a booking decision. But the fact that it was discussed shows that the writing team are considering fresh ways of using Money in the Bank winners.

This is all assuming that two bouts are promoted again. WWE could easily decide they don’t have enough people to promote two credible ladder bouts (because they don’t). They will want to crown two victors though: doing so makes the job of the writing team easier in terms of creating surprising moments and building future stars. I imagine they’ll end up doing two matches to get the two winners they want, but that they will at least consider decreasing the number of participants in each match.

The announcement regarding the number of ladder matches will probably come this evening on RAW so we won’t be left wondering for long.

Assuming they do have two ladder matches, who is likely to win? That’s the big question. With four weeks of TV between now and the Money in the Bank pay-per-view they could very easily select someone who currently looks like they don’t have a chance and build them up into a legitimate contender. Ted Dibiase for example. I don’t think many people would think much of his chances if the show was this weekend, but with four weeks of build he could be a potential winner (please note I don’t actually expect Dibiase to win, with or without a four week push).

From RAW I’d say the biggest contenders are Alberto Del Rio, Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler. They are the men who’d benefit most from the win. A Del Rio victory would fit nicely into the proposed idea of announcing a SummerSlam match on the July 18th RAW, whereas both Kofi and Dolph are competent workers who could and should be promoted to the thinning main event ranks to help the company prepare for the future. Of the three I’d say ADR is the most likely victor, based on the rumours of him facing Cena at SummerSlam and the strong push he’s had since debuting for the company last year (although that push has slowed considerably since he was senselessly moved to RAW). Kofi strikes me as a strong possibility too: his loss of the US title could be seen as a way of freeing him up for a top level run in a few months time.

Men like John Morrison and R-truth are possibilities for being in the match itself but I can’t see them winning. Truth has just been involved in a WWE title feud while Morrison has been the recipient of so many stop-start pushes that I think he’d only be booked to win if he was going to become the first ever person to cash-in the briefcase and lose. 

The Christian v Orton feud has been so well received that I expect WWE will want to keep it going for at least another month, possibly longer. There are multiple ways they could do that but one that I like is Orton facing somebody other than Christian at the MITB pay-per-view as Christian competes in, and wins, the SmackDown ladder match. Christian could then come out and challenge Orton either at the Money in the Bank show (yes, like Kane, but I’m not entirely convinced WWE won’t repeat that booking decision) or at the SmackDown taping a few days later. Or he could announce a SummerSlam match. Or tease it out for a while to keep the feud alive. A Christian win provides a lot of possibilities.

The rest of the SmackDown roster is fairly thin for potential winners. The only other realistic choice at the moment is Sheamus. If anyone else were to win they would have to build them up throughout the rest of this year and first part of next year to turn them into a credible opponent for the champion. If that’s the case then I think the likeliest winners are Daniel Bryan, Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett and Ezekiel Jackson. Bryan and Rhodes are talented enough but would need a strong push to establish them as top guys. Barrett and Jackson may not be the best workers but they’re both big, and that’s what Vince McMahon likes (plus Barrett has above average promo skills to help him). 

It should all become clearer in the next few weeks, as matches and Money in the Bank participants are announced. There’s potential for a lot of twists and changes with this event, and hopefully WWE will use that to their advantage and fill the ladder matches (or match) with people who could genuinely win, rather than two candidates and a bunch of nobodies. Right now I’m hoping for Christian and Del Rio wins (or just a Christian win if there’s just one ladder match). Both men should be featuring heavily in the company’s future plans and MITB victories would create short and long term storylines.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Capitol Punishment preview

I’d like to start this preview by talking about the job WWE have done of hyping Sunday’s Capitol Punishment show. Several years ago the company was known for doing a solid job when it came to promoting its pay-per-view events on television but in the last few months they have become noticeably lacklustre. Extreme Rules and Over the Limit were given just token mentions on both RAW and SmackDown each week, which has apparently resulted in one of the lowest buy rates in company history (for Over the Limit).

Instead of talking about the announced matches and trying to create some interest in the show the tactic for Capitol Punishment has been to air weekly videos featuring stock footage of Barrack Obama answering questions intercut with actors pretending to be journalists asking about WWE’s pay-per-view. The goal is for them to be funny. They aren’t, and they certainly wouldn’t make me want to pay forty dollars to watch the show.

At a time when the wrestling business in general is struggling with television ratings and live attendance WWE really needs to put a far greater focus on creating must-see cards and hyping them sufficiently. I hope the low figures for Over the Limit serve as a warning to the group and they make the necessary changes.

All that said the Capitol Punishment card looks pretty good. Part of the reason for that is that there are no gimmick matches announced. I have said several times before that gimmick matches should be used sparingly otherwise they run the risk of becoming devalued. I think the lack of such bouts on the announced card is a smart move and one that should be employed more often.

The match that probably has the most potential to entertain viewers is CM Punk v Rey Mysterio. They’ve had two very good matches on RAW in the last three weeks, and are two of the company’s best workers. It will take a very sharp match to beat these two to the match of the night spot. As far as a winner goes, I’ll pick Punk because of the non-title victory he got over Cena on RAW. That and the interaction with Austin make me think there are long term plans in mind for him (and the rumours about his general unhappiness at the way the company has used him lately make a win seem likely too).

The biggest threat to the match of the night crown Punk and Mysterio have is the Christian v Randy Orton match. This feud has been very well paced and is a good example of how the SmackDown writing team generally come up with a more enjoyable, consistent show than their colleagues on RAW. I did originally think Christian should be kept face as Orton works better as a bad guy, and while I stand by that I do think Orton has improved in his current role since moving to the blue brand. Christian’s a better natural face but he does his best work as a heel. I think we’ve got a very good situation with this feud.

The result could go either way, but I suspect Orton will win. Christian should win the title by cheating though. That would keep the feud alive until Money in the Bank in July and allow both men to look strong: Christian would be able to brag about being champion while Orton would be seen as the rightful champion as Christian cheated. I like this feud and want it to continue. That could happen if Orton retains again, but it would be tougher to maintain the current momentum.

A match I don’t expect to be quite as enjoyable is Alberto Del Rio v Big Show. This has been a ludicrous waste of a man who was such an essential part of SmackDown just two months ago. If this is the best he is going to get on RAW he should be moved straight back to Friday nights. The quicker this match is the better. Hopefully it will turn out to have just been a diversion for Del Rio until Cena becomes free for a title feud.

I have a lot more time for the Intercontinental championship match between Wade Barrett and Ezekiel Jackson than I do Big Show v Del Rio. Neither man has ever shown the potential that ADR has and so it’s less frustrating to see them lower down the card. It’s also been a more enjoyable feud than I expected, thanks partly to the pleasantly surprising reactions to Big ’Zeke since he left the Corre. It won’t blow anyone away, but it should keep the crowd pretty responsive. Jackson to win.

Miz v Alex Riley is another match that has featured pleasantly surprising crowd reactions. Two months ago I wouldn’t have considered A-Ry as a prospective babyface. He seemed too bland and generic, but he’s been accepted by the fans very quickly. The key to it is that he’s not been overexposed and audiences are pleased to see someone trying to shut The Miz up. I have a feeling it’s been a case of “right place, right time” for Riley’s success, but he and WWE deserve credit for capitalising on it.

Their recent brawls on RAW have been popular and had solid crowd responses so I expect the Capitol Punishment match to start in a similar fashion and not go too long. Miz winning wouldn’t be hugely surprising (I’m used to WWE messing up when it comes to the building of new stars) but I’ll assume they’re going to keep getting this right and predict Riley as the winner.

Ziggler v Kingston has, unfortunately, been announced for the event with very little reason and is clearly there as filler. If the two men (and Vickie Guerrero) had been granted a little more time over the last three weeks this match (and the United States title) could mean something. But that’s not the world we live in. I think the match will be very enjoyable as the two men work very well with one another, but it won’t be especially memorable. As far as a winner goes... Kofi? Ziggler won a non-title match a few weeks ago, which (according to WWE’s Big Book of Predictable Writing) makes it Kofi’s turn on Sunday.

The main event of R-Truth challenging John Cena for the WWE championship is something that intrigues me. Will Cena blow through Truth with his regular routine and pin him within ten minutes or will Truth be permitted to look competitive and be perceived as a genuine threat to the title? I’m hoping that they go with the latter considering the time and energy spent establishing him as such a great heel.

I’d have no problems with Truth winning the WWE championship: he may not be the company’s best wrestler but he’s certainly better than Cena and it would be a sign that WWE is trying something new. I’m expecting Cena to retain though: he’s a safe pair of hands and there’s a planned feud with Alberto Del Rio waiting for him.

Capitol Punishment appeals to me far more than Extreme Rules or Over the Limit did. I hope the available time is allocated wisely and the right people win. As long as Cena v Truth doesn’t get twenty-five minutes and a load of needless gimmicks don’t get added to half the matches I think there’s a very good chance that this could be a really good show. As ever with WWE PPVs, it’s now just a case of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.

That RAW Recap 13.06.11

I thought this week’s episode of RAW was good. The use of guest General Manager ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and R-Truth, the continued build of the Miz/Riley feud, and the Punk v Cena main event all stand out as particular highlights. There were some bad points too, but I’ll get to them. On the whole I consider this a Good Episode, and I feel it’s important to start off by saying that (it being a positive statement and everything).

The opening segment was one of the best WWE has produced this year. Miz came out in one of his lovely suits, covered in fake tan, and did a good job of getting the audience to boo him. He played up to the crowds “What?” chants very nicely (“That was cool in 2001”), called Alex Riley a fraud, and then focused his attention on the stars of the Attitude Era, claiming that Austin and The Rock are jealous of him and keep returning to steal his spotlight. As far as heel logic goes it was fine.

Miz “called out” Austin, who entered to the most thunderous pop of the night. As heartening as Austin’s reaction was it underlines what I said last week: there are no current WWE stars that can provoke that sort of reaction on a weekly basis. Cena (on a good week, with the right crowd, the right opponent, and the right alignment of stars) and Orton get solid reactions, but they do not come close to rivalling Austin’s popularity. This is a problem because WWE cannot keep relying on stars of yesteryear for ratings boosts: sooner or later a new batch of stars is going to have to be built if the company is to keep running on its current scale.

Austin’s interaction with The Miz was great. He did most of the talking and showed that he still has “it”. When announcing a Piper’s Pit segment for later on the show Austin did a great job of putting over Alex Riley, saying that he could give and take an “ass-whoopin’” and cut a good promo. Perhaps WWE are starting to do what I suggested in the paragraph above after all.

Miz ended up leaving having been threatened (indirectly) with a Stunner. At this point I was expecting the first ad break but instead we got Alberto Del Rio driving out. He began talking about his destiny but ‘The Rattlesnake’ cut him off and said his destiny would be to take a beating if he didn’t shut up. It was great to see Del Rio sharing screen time with Austin but he didn’t get to look as strong as The Miz. With his treatment in recent weeks this came as no surprise.

Kane was announced as ADR’s opponent and the two men had a painfully average match. You can’t really expect much more from Kane in 2011. The match lasted a few minutes before Del Rio locked in his arm breaker submission and Big Show ran in for the save. He ended up punching Ricardo in the face over and over again as Del Rio ran off. This lead to some faintly homoerotic bellowing from Kane and some heaving panting from Show. The thing I remember most about all of this is that Big Show was wearing a yellow glove on his right hand that was not acknowledged by the announce team and didn’t seem to have any reason to be there. That glove carried the entire post-match beating segment.

The second match on offer was Wade Barrett (still Intercontinental champion, for anyone still interested in such things), Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase losing to Ezekiel Jackson, Bryan ‘Daniel Bryan’ Danielson and Sin Cara. It was a decent affair but was never going to be anything more because it simply didn’t get the time. The decision to pair Sin Cara with Daniel Bryan is a smart one: Bryan can work the majority of their matches with his fellow English-speakers, tagging Cara in for his trademark high spots. It’s good for Bryan too: Sin Cara’s push will ensure he keeps getting television time.

As far as the lighting effect for Sin Cara’s matches goes: I understand they’re doing it to help him stand out, but it really should be toned down. It seemed far too murky this week. On the plus side I enjoyed Cole noting during the opening moments of the match that ‘King’ really likes Sin Cara. Perhaps it’s because Cara would have been such a natural fit in Memphis...

An ad break was followed by R-Truth kicking Hornswoggle in the face. WWE clearly hoped this would make Truth an even bigger heel, but it just made me like him even more. I find Hornswoggle an irritating, unsympathetic and unnecessary character so I’m naturally going to enjoy him getting mercilessly beaten by a heel. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Truth’s facial expressions during this segment were very good and managed to keep things on the right side of comedic.

After another break we saw four (yes four) referees carrying Hornswoggle to the back. One could have managed it easily. A Santino v Sheamus match then played to a mixture of apathy and loud “We want Ryder” chants. Sheamus took the massively predictable win with a Texas Cloverleaf.

This seems as good a point as any to address the non-appearance of Zack Ryder. It was a huge mistake not to utilise him. He is one of the most over people on the entire WWE roster: by refusing to use him WWE is doing itself, its fans, and a hard working, talented guy a great disservice. The chants from his hometown (or is that home island?) crowd throughout the evening prove that Ryder would have been given a warm reception. Had he been used intelligently, maybe gaining a surprise upset victory over someone like Sheamus, then it could have started a push that could have lead to a reliable new act that people are willing to pay to see.

The trouble Zack Ryder has is that WWE sees him as enhancement talent. They didn’t hire him to be one of their featured guys and so it’s incredibly unlikely that they will ever reward him with the push he deserves. Ten years ago Ryder’s hard work would have been given at least a token push, while now it looks as though Vince McMahon and his writers see Ryder as stepping out of line. Yes, it’s a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face, but Vince would rather do that than push someone who hasn’t been hand-picked for a push by him.

Back to RAW: a Christian and Orton segment was well received by the fans and shows WWE made the right call in turning Christian heel. He does his best work as an antagonist, and while I originally thought it would be best to have Randy turn I’m happy to see that the feud is working out as well as it is.

Because Randy was suffering from a traumatic storyline concussion (the very worst kind of concussion) the RAW GM emailed in to say that Orton would be stripped of the title if he got into a physical confrontation with Christian. I don’t think we’re meant to ask the obvious questions of “How would the RAW GM strip a SmackDown wrestler of a SmackDown championship?” and “Isn’t Austin in charge?” ‘The Rattlesnake’ appeared and announced Mysterio v Christian. Despite having an extra hour to play with the match was kept short and so wasn’t as good as it could have been.

After the match CM Punk came out with the Nexus and Mason Ryan smashed Rey into a ring post. Christian then hit the Killswitch (which I miss calling the Unprettier) on Rey and made the traditional “belt around the waist” motion that all challengers are contractually obligated to make before they challenge for a world title.

Next was the evening’s worst segment involving Austin. Dolph Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero went to his office to ask for a US title match at Capitol Punishment. Austin said he’d make the match if Dolph fired Vickie as his manager. Dolph agreed only for Austin to reveal he’d been joking and walk off, leaving Dolph to deal with a furious Vickie. This segment could have been funny, but it was poorly directed, so it wasn’t.

R-Truth came out for a match with John Morrison, who had returned in a backstage video with Austin earlier in the evening. Morrison’s music played and he didn’t come out. This happened several times as Truth took a microphone and said that earlier Morrison had acted like Billy Bad, and that Morrison was right to be scared because Truth is scared of himself. It was yet another example of Truth being the best new heel in WWE this year.

With Morrison still not in the ring Truth went backstage to find him. It was quickly made apparent that Morrison was lying unconscious on the ground, having been attacked by Truth earlier. In what was probably an unintentional nod to the hardcore matches of the early 2000s Truth slammed a steel box on wheels into Morrison. I’ve never been a fan of daft backstage injury angles, but I’ve seen worse than this, and Truth’s facial expressions helped to soften the blow and make it all enjoyable.

A tag match pitting Evan Bourne and Kofi Kingston against Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler failed to excite the crowd. It was just there to fill time, which raises the question of why WWE felt it necessary to make this a three hour broadcast if they didn’t have three hours worth of material. It also reminds you that all four of these men should be in much more prominent positions and receiving better responses from the crowd.

The Piper’s Pit segment with Miz and Riley was next. That’s at least one feud that’s getting booked correctly: Miz has done everything possible to make Riley look like his equal. It’s paid off because Riley has heard cheers every week since he turned on Miz and if he keeps getting treated this way he should be a credible name performer within a few months. I hope WWE realise this and continue to build this program with the care and attention it has received up until now.

The Pit segment quickly deteriorated into a boasting contest before Miz and Piper agreed to have a match (at Riley’s suggestion, once again giving him the opportunity to get the pop). Austin made it official and added Riley as the official. The bout that followed saw Miz lose to Piper (while wearing his lovely suit) having been punched into a schoolboy by A-Ry. All three men did a good job.

Following a truly atrocious fourteen women tag match that never stood a chance of being taken seriously we saw this, the best segment on RAW:

What’s not to enjoy about this? Punk v Austin is one of the most natural feuds ever. I’m pleased WWE did something with the two of them together, because it means they are at least considering this match for a future event. Personally I think the ideal place for a Punk v Austin match would be SummerSlam in August, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see whether WWE agrees. Whether it happens or not, this was still a show stealing segment.

Austin came out to the ring to announce that next week’s RAW will be another three hour show (remember what I said above about having enough material for a three hour show?), but not just any three hour show: a fans’ choice three hour show! The common assumption is that it will be like the Cyber Sunday pay-per-views that saw fans vote on who would get title shots, the stipulations of certain matches and various other things. If some thought goes into the show it could be a good one, but it strikes me as a desperate attempt to get a few extra ratings points with a minimum of effort.

Finally it was main event time. After weeks of enjoying solid babyface reactions the world returned to normal and Cena got some serious hatred from the fans. CM Punk got a solid pop. There were duelling chants throughout what turned out to be a surprisingly watchable contest. Punk did some pretty big moves to the outside which should have got him booed but were all met with cheers by the vocal adult male portion of the audience. Cena’s used to it all by now, I’m sure.

Towards the end of the bout Truth appeared in the audience and stole a child’s hat. It’s hardly a more heinous act that kicking a midget in the face is it? Nevertheless Cena feigned concern from the ring (he wasn’t bothered enough to actually leave and go to help the child – though in fairness the kid’s parents didn’t do anything either) which allowed Punk to sneak in from behind and connect with the Go To Sleep. I love that finisher, but Cena always manages to take it poorly. This bout was no exception. Punk still got the win, despite Cena’s inability to fall convincingly (every week I am astonished by the basics of wrestling Cena still hasn’t mastered – watch him lock up at the start of his next match).

Punk left the ring to celebrate as Truth came in and smacked the champion with a water bottle. Predictably Cena oversold that. Truth hit his jumping STO finisher and posed with the title over Cena before leaving the ring, still with the belt, as the show went off the air to chants of “Little Jimmy”.

There may not have been much in the way of hype for Capitol Punishment and Alberto Del Rio is still not being used for anything meaningful, but the inclusion of Austin and several enjoyable (if short) matches helped to counterbalance that. I do think the hyping of pay-per-views needs to be addressed though: when a show six days away is barely mentioned throughout a three hour broadcast something, somewhere, isn’t right. I’ll be discussing that more in my preview of Capitol Punishment. For now, treat yourself to another watch of the Austin and Punk backstage meeting again. You’ve earned it.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Warrior v Hogan III

If you’re reading this then I’d say there’s a good chance that you’re already aware of the Ultimate Warrior and his late-‘80s slash early-‘90s heyday, back when he was the WWF’s number two babyface behind Hulk Hogan. Until recently he was probably best remembered for his nonsensical promos and limited matches. But that was before he released a series of bizarre YouTube videos verbally attacking on Hulk Hogan.

If you haven’t already seen them (or you have and just want to refresh your memory and or have a laugh) here are the videos:

Warrior has apparently taken issue with Terry ‘Hulk Hogan’ Bollea failing to be a good enough role model to children, young adults and wrestling fans in general, claiming he’s a manipulative scoundrel that abuses drugs, pimps his wife to fellow wrestlers and lies, amongst other things. It seems to stem from an interview Hogan gave shortly after the death of ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage (snippets of which appear in the third “trailer” video above). Knowing Hogan’s propensity to stretch the truth and use media interviews as a means to inflate his own ego, there’s probably something to Warrior’s claim that not everything said during that interview was true.

The trouble is that Warrior is one of the few people with a reputation as bad as Hogan’s, just for different reasons. Hogan is known for playing politics and rampantly exaggerating even the most meaningless of facts. Warrior is known for being (genuinely) mentally unstable. Watch any of his promos from his original WWF run: even by wrestling standards they are not the product of a healthy mind. Both men have been linked to steroid abuse rumours for years now. Hogan has admitted that he used them routinely throughout the ‘80s to maintain his superhuman physique while Warrior, as far as I’m aware, has never admitted to anything.

At first glance it appears to be a case of “six of one, half a dozen of the other” (is that expression even in common parlance anymore?). Basically, they’re both as bad as each other.

At least that’s what you think at first at any rate. Warrior is accusing Hogan of not being a good role model, because he lies, breaks laws, and excludes people from Twitter parties (this last reason is fairly baffling, but it’s all there in the videos). Some or all of his accusations against ‘The Hulkster’ may be true. What is definitely true is that Hogan worked extensively with the Make a Wish Foundation for many years, giving terminally ill children the chance to meet their hero. Whether he’d just come from an cocaine-fuelled orgy at which he and Vince agreed to kill the career of a promising young talent just to satisfy Hogan’s ego (after ‘roiding themselves senseless) is neither here nor there: he went out of his way to do it, unpaid, and gave those children a happy memory.

Warrior has never been known to do any such work and if Bret Hart’s autobiography is to be believed actually avoided meeting a sick child and their family on at least one occasion. Is Warrior really in a position to knock Hogan? Neither is a saint, but Hogan has done something positive with his celebrity status. As far as I’m concerned that makes Hogan the better man in this argument.

I think the most ludicrous part of the above videos is Warrior’s accusation that Hogan doesn’t know where Terry Bollea ends and Hulk Hogan begins. Frankly I think that’s understandable: Bollea has been known professionally as Hogan for thirty years and the first ten of those were spent fronting the biggest expansion in the history of the wrestling business. He is one of the most recognisable men on the planet. I’m not saying his attitude towards the Hogan character is healthy, but I’d say he’s in a better position than Warrior as their respective wrestling personalities are concerned. Don’t forget, Warrior legally changed his name from James Hellwig to Warrior. Yes, Warrior is his actual name. Does that sound like a man who knows how to disassociate from his character? And I've not even mentioned the fact that these videos have all the hallmarks of a modern wrestling promo.

This Friday will see the release of a one-hour video that Warrior promises will “reveal the truth” about Terry ‘Hulk Hogan’ Bollea. I suspect it would be more accurate to say that it will reveal elements of truth as Warrior views them. Whether factually accurate or not the video should be very entertaining.

Monday 13 June 2011

In Your House

British wrestling should be bigger than it is.

Over the years the British indy scene has produced dozens of wrestlers that have found great success overseas. The likes of Doug Williams, Nigel McGuinness, William Regal, Davey Boy Smith, Brutus Magnus, Sheamus, Prince Devitt, and Winter all started out plying their trade in the various wrestling promotions of Britain but left for better pay and brighter prospects. It’s understandable: there’s nothing for wrestlers based in Britain but low-paying (sometimes even no-paying) dates in small venues.

But what if that wasn’t the case? With the ratings WWE (and even TNA) receive it’s surprising a prominent broadcaster hasn’t tried to replicate the success on a far smaller scale. An enterprising broadcaster like Five, Channel 4 or one of the countless channels that have sprung up on the Freeview service in the last few years could easily produce a wrestling show on a low budget and get decent ratings for it.

Why haven’t they? It’s probably a combination of having no one in place to organise such a venture and a concern over whether such a show would get enough viewers to be worthwhile. The first problem isn’t really something I know enough about to comment on at great length, but I’m sure there are British promoters that would readily accept a job attempting to create a watchable British wrestling product. Most channels have experience broadcasting some form of sport: couldn’t someone with experience of producing, say, a boxing broadcast be offered the job of producing a wrestling show? As far as television production is concerned the two sports are fairly similar.

The second problem is the one that I imagine really presents an issue. Would anybody watch a British wrestling show? I think yes. That so many small promotions are able to continue operatings proves that there are loyal fans out there willing to support the business in Britain. Of course they’d watch the television product. There are probably even more people who watch WWE and TNA that have never even considered attending a British indy show, but would gladly watch it on TV because they enjoy the sport.

If a British product was produced well enough, with compelling characters and storylines, then it would flourish. Why? Because there’s very little wrestling on television in Britain. WWE, the market leader, is embarrassed to admit that it’s a wrestling promotion, and even if it weren’t their output has been patchy for years. TNA has all the tools needed to make itself a very successful company (primarily a television deal and a very talented roster) but they don’t have a clue how to operate effectively.  

If a British wrestling show was given a regular spot on television schedules (something like 11 o’clock on a mid-week evening on E4, More 4, 5 Star, or one of the plethora of secondary ITV channels) and afforded a decent amount of promotion I think they’d get a get a good regular viewership. All the channels I’ve suggested are part of networks that could run adverts throughout the week to advertise such a show. A launch marketing campaign focusing on lads’ mags, billboards and bus stop ads wouldn’t break the bank, surely?

There are more than enough wrestlers working in the country for someone who knows what they’re doing to be able to construct a talented and media-friendly roster. With popular wrestling venues in cities and towns all across the country there would be no shortage of locations to promote shows either.

I know how unlikely it is that such a TV show will ever come to pass. Hopefully I’ve made some of you reading this more open to the idea though. Surely being able to turn on a TV at ten or eleven at night to see an hour of wrestling sounds more appealing than yet another insipid game show fronted by an autocue-reading clown pandering to a gaggle of “celebrities” you’ve never heard of? It does to me.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Foley Is Good

Back in 2008 Mick Foley left WWE, the company he had worked for on and off for over a decade. Disgruntled by the way he was treated by Vince McMahon during his short but enjoyable run as SmackDown’s colour commentator, Mick’s plan was to join TNA and help to establish them as an alternative to WWE.

Sadly, that didn’t happen.

As is always the case with TNA there was no long term plan in place when Foley was hired. Instead of using him, as the established star, to give their home grown stars a boost, it was decided the best use for him was to feud with Kane clone Abyss (who will never gain mainstream credibility, be the company’s top star or its top worker). This was followed a few months later by a program with Ric Flair (a man who benefitted even less from working with Foley) and a stint as an on-screen authority figure, neither of which achieved anything of note.

TNA just didn’t know how to use Foley or his skills effectively. It’s not a unique case though. The truth is that nobody, no matter their background or how good they may be in the ring, gets used properly by the promotion. Foley was just the latest in a long line of squandered opportunities.

WWE, for all its faults, does still sometimes gets things right. That bodes well for his inevitable return. It’s clearly coming: ever since Michael Cole plugged Countdown to Lockdown (Foley’s latest, non-WWE book) on RAW last year it’s been all too apparent in interviews and on his Twitter profile that he’s itching to return to McMahonland. That he requested an early release from his contact (originally set to expire in September this year) came as no surprise. The sporadic use of him during the Hogan and Bischoff era meant it was equally unsurprising when the request was granted.

What is there for Foley to do in WWE in 2011? While his old commentary spot has been satisfactorily filled by Booker T he could still be used as a manager or an on-screen authority figure. In fact there’s a certain authority position on RAW that is becoming stale due to the tedious anonymity gimmick, perhaps Foley could be of use there?

While there hasn’t been talk about revealing the RAW General Manager’s identity for a while it’s a subject that has arisen numerous times in the past year. Foley has the necessary on-screen presence and charisma, verbal skills and name value to be revealed as the GM without it being an anti-climax, and would do a sterling job of interacting with the current crop of WWE stars. His time as WWF commissioner a decade ago provided some great moments and allowed Foley to contribute to the product without risking his health: all we need is more of that.

Whether he turns out to be the GM or not I imagine he will be wrestling on a part time basis. At this point that can only be a good thing for WWE: they’re desperate for star power and new talent. Foley is not the star he was several years ago but he can still help improve the company’s flagging ratings. Perhaps more importantly, he’s been known throughout his career as a man happy to put others over and do everything he can to build new acts. Feuds with the likes of Alberto Del Rio, The Miz and R-Truth would be welcome, but the program I have my heart set on is Foley versus CM Punk. The matches would be good, but the promos would be amazing.

With this week’s RAW coming from Long Island (Foley’s place of birth) and it being promoted as an “All Star” episode there would be no better time for ‘The Hardcore Legend’ to return to WWE television. Joining WWE so soon after his release from TNA may not be possible, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed: WWE and its television product desperately need someone of Mick Foley’s calibre right now.