Sunday 31 July 2011

Are You Joking?

The Dark Knight was released in July 2008. The Dark Knight Rises is due to be released in July of next year. So why has Vince Russo decided that now is the perfect time to get a fifty-something year-old man to impersonate the Joker? It’s a reference that hasn’t been relevant for three years, and won’t be again (at a push) for another year.

Vintage Russo. Vintage TNA.

This character shift is why people chant “Fire Russo” and use the #TNAwful hashtag on Twitter. But they won’t learn, so I won’t go on about it.

Two fifty-somethings, decades past their prime, conduct a meaningless angle that benefits no one

Saturday 30 July 2011

XX and Beyond

At WrestleMania XXVII the Undertaker took his winning streak at the event to 19-0, beating Triple H in the match of the night. The next evening on RAW Triple H went to the ring to tell Undertaker that he’d be open to the idea of a rematch. The implication was that the two men would face each other again at next year’s WrestleMania. While that match still seems like a safe bet it’s not as certain to take place as it was when Triple H cut his promo on April 4th.

Recent storyline developments have seen Triple H become WWE’s on-screen top boss and CM Punk become one of two men WWE are claiming has a right to call themselves champion (the other is John Cena, who won a tournament to crown a new champion even though Punk had not vacated or been stripped of the title). Many people, including myself, believe this could ultimately lead to a Triple H v CM Punk match at WrestleMania XXVIII next year in Miami. With the event still eight months away it’s highly unlikely that anything has been decided on yet, but if that match were to happen you have to wonder who would be picked to face the Undertaker.

As of now I believe there are three men with a combination of in-ring ability, name value, big match experience and aura to make them credible WrestleMania foes for ‘The Dead Man’. They are Triple H, John Cena and CM Punk. The mention of Triple H should surprise no one: you need only watch his performance at this year’s show to see that he understands what is required from a match with ‘The Phenom’ on the company’s grandest stage.

Cena may not be a good worker, but he’s been the company’s top star for years and has been routinely put over everyone. If there is one man on the roster right now that WWE would consider ending the Streak for, it’s him. That’s why he’d make a good opponent: because it’s easy to see him being chosen as the man to finish the Streak. He always provokes a reaction from crowds too, precisely what’s needed at WrestleMania.

Two months ago I wouldn’t have considered Punk ready to challenge the Streak. Not because he’s not good enough in the ring or because he doesn’t possess the verbal skills to hype the event but because he wasn’t at the megastar level that is required of people facing Undertaker at that event. It was no fault of his own, it was WWE’s lax attitude to promoting him. But after the events of the last two months I now think Punk is in a very good position to be An Opponent.

The trouble is that the undefeated streak has developed into something massive. Undertaker’s ‘Mania opponents have to be picked with care. They have to have reached a certain level of credibility with the audience that doesn’t come quickly and be capable of entering a match of the year performance when it matters. Cena is, of course, the obvious exception to that. The appeal of a Cena v Undertaker match isn’t seeing if they can steal the show, it’s finding out whether Cena will be allowed to beat him.

With Cena confirmed for a match with The Rock and Punk and ‘The Game’ possibly set to face each other it looks as though WWE may have a problem finding someone suitable to face Mark Callaway at the twenty-eighth instalment of ‘The Granddaddy of ‘em All’. Luckily there are several members of the roster that have the potential for WWE to pick someone now and spend the rest of the year building them up ready for the task.

At the top of the list is Alberto Del Rio. He’s been destined for the main event ever since he first appeared on television. The reason I don’t think he’s ready yet is a basic one: he has not yet become a world champion. That’s not to say I think anyone facing the Undertaker has to have been a world champion (though it certainly helps). It’s more to do with Del Rio’s image: he has repeatedly told us his destiny is to win a world title, and yet he hasn’t done it despite various high profile attempts. If WWE wanted to prepare him for a match with the Undertaker at next year’s show they would need to put the belt on him within the next month and keep it on him until the end of the year. I think that’s the only way he could gain the credibility required in time.

There are also guys like Randy Orton, Christian and Rey Mysterio to consider. Christian and Mysterio both have the talent to make a good opponent (and in Christian’s case the verbal skills to shoulder the hypefor the event too) but neither is a big enough name. Were WWE to begin building either up specifically to challenge the Undertaker I think they’d be ready in time. Orton’s already got the name value. The only things in his way are the fact that he’s been there before (at WrestleMania 21 in 2005) and that he’s spent the last several months establishing Christian as a main event performer.

Worryingly, the Mark Henry push could indicate that he’s been selected to face ‘The Dead Man’. If that’s the case I’m confident he will do something (such as injuring himself or an opponent) beforehand to convince management o change their minds. He never has been and never will be a credible enough worker to fill that prestigious position.  

The question of how long Undertaker can carry on wrestling has to be asked too. He is clearly done as a full time member of the roster, but he has apparently stated that he could continue making annual appearances at WrestleMania for several more years. This is good news for both fans and WWE, as long as opponents can be built up in plenty of time.

Personally I think ‘Taker has three WrestleManias left. WrestleMania XXX will take place in 2014 and will probably be held in WWE’s “home arena” Madison Square Garden (I say “home arena”, they barely promote shows there anymore because of either exorbitant costs or some ridiculous grudge held by Vince McMahon about something or other – it depends on who you listen to as to which reason you hear). I can imagine ‘Taker wanting to hang on for a few years to help out the promotion and also finish up at a meaningful time, and MSG in 2014 would seem perfect.

If I were WWE’s booker (or lead writer, to use their terms) I would have ‘Taker face Triple H next year, going with a rematch angle. I would use Alberto Del Rio or CM Punk at WrestleMania XXIX in 2013 because I think of everyone on the current roster they are the most likely to become the next huge main event spectacle (Punk’s already there really). For ‘Mania XXX in 2014 I’d pick John Cena. That would allow the hype to really capitalise on Cena’s status as “the man” and cast real doubt on the outcome of the bout.

But that’s me. Judging by the current television product and the way the situation’s been handled for the last several years I expect that whatever happens next year The Streak will be handled with the care and attention it deserves. In many respects it now means more than any world title, and WWE want to keep it that way.

Friday 29 July 2011

Better is Better

With all the attention RAW’s been getting recently thanks to CM Punk, Vince McMahon and Triple H it strikes me that SmackDown isn’t receiving the praise it deserves. For the past several months now the blue brand has been providing viewers with a consistent and enjoyable product. The long term plans and building of new stars shows that WWE is considering the future more than they have for the last half decade. It’s good news and should be treated as such.

I’ll start by drawing attention to Mark Henry. This may be the 437th time he’s been pushed as a monster heel, but unlike previous occasions mostly everything is being done right. He’s been put over equally large and intimidating competitors and been credited for various storyline injuries which makes him seem far more unstoppable than he ever has before. More importantly he’s not been rushed into challenging for the world title. I can remember a similar push in 2006 where he was chosen as the opponent for World Heavyweight champion Kurt Angle completely out of the blue. The two had a decent match at the Royal Rumble, but everyone knew who was going to win because the former ‘Sexual Chocolate’ had come from nowhere to wrestle in the main event.

The slower approach and the way Henry has been built up make him far more credible. I still don’t think WWE would go all the way and give him the championship, but I think he’d be an acceptable challenger to a babyface champion at this point. He has an imposing look and an edge to his voice when cutting promos that makes him credible. Both he and WWE have done fine work since May.

Sheamus is another guy who has been used well lately. He was allowed to look dominant against both Randy Orton and Christian and now seems on course for a face turn. If and when that happens I think he could be incredibly popular. He has a clear sense of humour, a unique appearance and the ability to work an enjoyable match with anyone on the roster. I’ve said before that if he were one of the good guys he could become the new face of SmackDown. That’s still the case.

I originally thought we’d see him included in the Orton versus Christian feud in time for a triple threat match at SummerSlam but it appears that’s no longer the case. The new direction (a feud with Wade Barrett) should be fine as long as it doesn’t last too long and stall the ‘Celtic Warrior’s’ momentum.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he were World Heavyweight champion by the end of the year. Nor would I be surprised if he ended up feuding with Mark Henry at some point.

I have a lot of time for Ezekiel Jackson. He doesn’t wrestle a style I like and doesn’t have any impressive moves, but if his push continues on its current path he could stand a chance of becoming a big star. He’s a limited worker and his mic skills aren’t that good, but he still routinely gets decent reactions from crowds. It would be easy enough for an intelligent writing team to keep him away from microphones and keep feeding him expendable heels and jobbers.

Still disagree? Think of it this way: how enjoyable would it be to see him knock John Cena unconscious? Your answer is probably “very”, which goes to show that if booked right ‘Zeke could progress beyond the 1980s smiley babyface approach and develop a genuine appeal.

A month or so ago we saw Nattie Neidhart mentoring AJ and Kaitlyn in a feud with Alicia Fox and Tamina. That storyline appears to have been dropped (or possibly demoted to Superstars, a show I don’t keep up with that match), which is a shame as it featured two of the most naturally charismatic and genuinely popular divas WWE has at its disposal in AJ and Kaitlyn. These aren’t former models signed to contracts because of their looks like some of the divas, they’re women with a clear passion for wrestling. That translates into their matches and promos andshould be enough to earn them a spot on TV each week. Hopefully they (and Natalya) can return to the blue brand to finish what they started. It had the makings of a nicely paced feud that could have gone in a few different directions.

Money in the Bank saw Bryan ‘Daniel Bryan’ Danielson get a promotion. By booking him to win the ladder match it’s clear the SmackDown writing team has plans for him. For the immediate future those plans may just be meaningless bouts with the likes of charisma vacuum Heath Slater, but being ‘Mr Money in the Bank’ means that Bryan’s guaranteed a “big” moment at some point, whether his cash-in is successful or not.

His announcement on the July 22nd show that he would use the briefcase to guarantee himself a title shot at WrestleMania could be played a few different ways. The first and most obvious is that the former ‘Mr Small Package’ really could end up wrestling the champion at next year’s Miami supershow. Danielson in a world title match at ‘Mania would certainly cater to the hardcore fan market, which WWE seem to be paying more attention to lately, but that by no means guarantees it’ll happen.

Alternatively, we could see Danielson cash-in and win the title at any point before WrestleMania (the Royal Rumble would be the ideal time) and begin a slow heel turn by saying that he deliberately misled the fans and the wrestlers by lying about his plans. He has the verbal skills to pull off such a storyline and by having him take joy from fooling the fans he’d be guaranteed heat.

He could also cash-in early and become a big face by saying that he’d intended to wait until WrestleMania but the champion was so annoying and arrogant that he just had to beat them earlier. This would work especially well right now with Christian as the champion: he’s so disliked that Danielson could very easily be presented as a hero saving us from the egomaniacal ‘Captain Charisma’.

Particular praise should go to the Christian and Randy Orton feud. It’s been going since early May and it’s a credit to both the writing team and the wrestlers that it’s still managing to entertain us. The popularity of Orton, Christian’s effectiveness as a heel, and the (mostly) well timed twists and turns have all played their part to make this a contender for feud of the year. Above all it’s the quality of the matches that have made this feud stand out. Simply put it’s rare to get matches of such length and quality in WWE today.

The feud should be drawing to a close at or shortly after SummerSlam and I hope WWE has plans for both men afterwards. Christian holding on to the belt and segueing into a feud with Danielson or Sheamus would be ideal, freeing Orton up for his inevitable feud with Mark Henry. That second idea may not sound appealing but I think Henry v Orton has the potential to be surprisingly decent.

I’ve not even mentioned the good work that’s been done with the Usos (though sadly the tag team resurgence many predicted hasn’t materialised), Jinder Mahal, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, Sin Cara (before his Wellness violation caused him to be taken off TV), and Kane (finding new things for that character to do after fourteen years on TV isn’t easy). Mahal and Rhodes in particular have the potential to progress to the main event if used correctly. It’s nice to see WWE preparing them properly and giving them time to develop.  

If you happen to have read this without being a regular viewer of SmackDown I’d suggest you give it a try. While it doesn’t have the spectacle and revelations of RAW it does provide better wrestling and a more slow-paced approach to feuds and character building. In other words it provides exactly what WWE needs right now.

Monday 25 July 2011

Return of The Triple H Show

With Vince McMahon being written out of WWE storylines last week and Triple H taking over as the on-screen chairman tonight’s edition of RAW has the potential to be the “launch of a new era” many have been predicting for some weeks now (as far back as CM Punk’s memorable shoot promo on June 26th in fact).

I think there’s a good chance that tonight is the perfect time to introduce a fresh direction for the company. In truth it’s already underway: the terms “wrestling” and “wrestler” have returned to the commentary desk, the company is attempting to elevate new talent such as Bryan Danielson, and CM Punk seems to be embarking on a viral campaign to promote WWE (and as champion no less). Triple H becoming an on-screen authority figure is the perfect time to debut a new approach to RAW itself.

I also think this may not just be a role strictly for television, aspects of it may carry over to behind the scenes too as part of a gradual stepping down process for Vince McMahon. I can’t use the term retirement because I don’t think a man like Vince will ever truly retire. Triple H has been segueing into Vince’s real life role for a couple of years now, and I think the time has finally come where Vince has decided to step away as far as he’s willing too (which I would imagine is far enough away to let Triple H run things whilst still, ultimately, having the final call on anything big).

Triple H’s new on-screen job makes you wonder if we’ll see the anonymous RAW GM dropped. The character has been downplayed for the last few weeks and has been an irritating aspect of RAW for the majority of its lifespan, and is redundant with Triple H playing the boss. I’d like to see it dropped this evening, preferably with John Laurinaitis being revealed as the man behind the emails. He’s in a good position for that as he’s recently made his debut as a member of WWE management (looking very much like Bob ‘Marty Funkhouser’ Einstein (I will mention that every time I mention Laurinaitis)) and is still fresh enough in the role to be disposed of in a comedic fashion. Revealing him as the General Manager just before Triple H fires or suspends him would get rid of the GM position and provide a decent pop.

While I think this would be a sensible approach to fix something that needs to be addressed I still don’t think it will happen. I’d love it though.

Besides Triple H we can also expect to see a new champion crowned. While I’m a fan of The Miz and think he deserves a second WWE title run I think Mysterio is a better choice to have the belt now. He could go on to work with Alberto Del Rio (Miz can’t unless he or ADR turn face very quickly, and that would be a foolish rush) at SummerSlam. The fact that the show is coming from Los Angeles and RAW the following evening from Rey’s hometown of San Diego means he’s almost assured a good reaction and his opponent some solid heat. WWE could even try to replicate the success of Punk in Chicago at Money in the Bank. I don’t think they’d reach quite that level of passion form the west coast crowds, but trying wouldn’t hurt anyone.

On the subject of a Vince McMahon appearance: I would be very surprised if it happened, but it’s not impossible to envisage him turning up with a “letter from his lawyer” (or something equally daft) that prohibits the board of directors from replacing him so quickly. To do that would undo the good work they’ve done with the Vince character in the last month and last Monday in particular so I’m confident he won’t be appearing.

Tonight’s show should be interesting. With SummerSlam only a few weeks away a main event will need to be announced, or at least set up in the closing segment, and without the fallout of the CM Punk angle, a guaranteed Vince McMahon appearance or the possibility of a John Cena firing the ability of the writing team to capitalise on what should be an increased audience without resorting to shocks and thrills should be tested. While we could see an appearance by Punk or another big announcement it looks unlikely: I think for the next week or so the writing team will have to prove they can perform their part of the process as well as everyone else has lately. And rightly so.

Of course the biggest question for this evening’s RAW is whether or not Zack Ryder will be on TV. If he is that will be a true sign that we’re at the beginning of a new era.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Battle of the Merch Kings

I find it peculiar that WWE has never seriously promoted a Rey Mysterio v John Cena match. Those two men have only ever faced each other once that I can remember (and online searches back my memory up) and that was on a 2003 episode of SmackDown. Considering the status of these two men as WWE’s most well established babyfaces I find that surprising.

Mysterio has been on WWE television since his debut on July 25th 2002, and has only ever been one of the good guys. Cena first appeared almost exactly one month earlier on the June 27th SmackDown. That two men who debuted within weeks of each other and were on the same show for three years afterwards have never seriously worked together makes you wonder why. Was the match deliberately held off until both men were considered bigger names? Was WWE reluctant to put one man over the other for fear of hurting the loser’s momentum? Was a clash in styles believed likely? Was it simply that they didn’t think there was any money in a Cena v Mysterio match?

Whatever the case, the match has never happened seriously. Even when Cena was enjoying his celebrated run as a rapping heel with a penchant for baseball shirts (ironically he was more popular with the majority of fans then than he is now) and Rey was being touted as the most exciting star on SmackDown they only crossed paths that one time.

In recent years the reason for WWE being reluctant to promote this match has become more understandable. The problems Cena has with crowd acceptance are well documented. What people often overlook is that Mysterio has been known to experience similar problems. The most recent example came at Money in the Bank: as he ascended the ladder and got his hands on the briefcase Mysterio was showered with vicious boos that made it abundantly clear that fans in Chicago did not want to see the masked man win.

The trouble WWE has is that fans are beginning to view Mysterio as they do Cena: someone who uses the same handful of moves in every match and is marketed primarily at children. Before he started to accumulate injuries the way he was marketed was overlooked, it didn’t make a difference whom WWE was aiming him at when his performances were so enjoyable. But with the injuries piling up Mysterio has begun to use the same moves all the time and it has caused his popularity with the adult portion of crowds to decline. His whiney promo style and Cena-esque comebacks haven’t helped matters either.

That, in a nutshell, is why the match has never been presented in pay-per-view environment. It cannot risk putting its two most popular acts (at least merchandise-wise) in a situation that could damage one or both of them. It’s not a question of match quality and never has been. Firstly, WWE is more concerned with making money than presenting the best matches possible. Secondly, Mysterio is still a good enough worker to be able to get a good match from Cena. No, it’s all to do with protecting both men.

That said Mysterio wrestling for the vacant WWE championship on Monday does increase the chance of a Cena v Mysterio pay-per-view match. Should Mysterio win he could be booked to face Cena at SummerSlam, with Alberto Del Rio cashing in after the match to become the new champion and setting up a feud with one or both men. Another possibility is Mysterio successfully defending against Del Rio at the summer supershow and going on to work a pay-per-view main event with Cena in September or October. Either option is possible, but not particularly likely. The current plan seems to be a Cena v ADR feud with no Mysterio involvement.

It’s a shame, because I think a Cena v Mysterio bout in 2011 could be a fairly enjoyable affair. It wouldn’t be match of the year, but it would be one of the few fresh matches WWE has left featuring two genuine drawing cards. If it were promoted right it could probably deliver the promotion some much needed box office success. With a new man in charge and business still sluggish it wouldn’t be right to rule this match out completely. Not yet.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Wellness Policy Sin

Anyone who watched Money in the Bank will have witnessed the impressively brutal spot that saw Sin Cara power-bombed from the ring apron onto a ladder propped several feet above the floor. At the time I assumed it was done to protect Cara: had he been in the ring at the finish of the match he’d have been “just another guy that lost”, being carted out by medics showed that it took a lot to stop him.

Then WWE released this statement on Monday morning:

Sin Cara suspended
STAMFORD, Conn. – In accordance with its Talent Wellness Program, WWE has suspended Luis Ignascio Urive Alvirde (Sin Cara) for 30 days for his first violation of the company’s policy.

While it’s still possible the impressive bump was arranged to protect Cara (and perhaps leave a potential program with Sheamus open for the future) it’s now obvious that the main reason the spot happened was to write Cara off of TV so he can serve his suspension.

While Cara is a talented wrestler he has not found it easy to adapt to the WWE style. Nor has he found it easy to fit into the locker room or form a bond with the audience. All of these problems stem from his inability to speak English. Being unable to communicate with his peers limits him both in the ring and the locker room, and also means he cannot make himself understood to the majority of WWE’s fans. In an age when managers in WWE are practically nonexistent (especially for babyfaces) Cara would never be able to climb beyond the mid-card because he cannot cut a promo.

It’s possible he may not be brought back to TV at all. All the reasons above would be contributing factors, with the main one being that he simply hasn’t gotten over to the extent the company would like. They’ve certainly done everything they can to help him achieve stardom: he received weeks of hype with the always effective video package approach before he made his debut, he has been protected in tag matches and permitted to look strong against far more established stars, he was moved to a taped show so that his various botches could be edited from his matches, and he’s had a flashy entrance and lighting effect designed for his matches. Not only that but he was allowed to bypass FCW, the training facility most newcomers are sent to in order to learn the WWE style (ensuring they are able to work with everybody else). If anybody ever needed to spend some time in FCW it’s Sin Cara. He could have picked up the basics of the style he needs to know in order to succeed, and also worked on his English while he was at it. WWE hyped his debut for around two months before it actually took place and I don’t understand why he didn’t spend that time in the farm system.

The other big reason I can imagine Cara not returning to TV is that he was the first man signed to a contract by Triple H, as part of ‘The Game’s’ talent scouting initiative. Cara’s failure to connect with the audience coupled with this Wellness Policy blunder has placed Triple H in an embarrassing situation. As we have seen before (with Vladimir Kozlov, Gene Snitsky, and Mike Knox, to name but a few) the McMahons will only tolerate so much before they pull the plug on a push. For now, I think Sin Cara has used all his chances.

Will he really never return to TV? It’s possible. WWE management could just decide to cut their losses and future endeavour him. It would be easy enough to sign a new luchadore to replace him. They could even find a high-flying US indy star and put a mask on them (there’d be no awkward language barrier there and WWE could still push them as a Mysterio replacement). But if I were in their shoes I’d post him to FCW once his suspension is up. Were he to spend six months there learning how to mesh with his colleagues and working with a language coach he could return to the main roster in a position to take advantage of the golden push he has just messed up (he’d be just about ready for a surprise return at the Royal Rumble).

Sin Cara is not an unskilled worker. He’s just been unlucky and foolish since joining WWE. He deserves a chance to learn from his mistakes, and WWE deserves to make a return on its investment and promotional work. Still, a release seems far more likely.

Monday 18 July 2011

Getting Our Money's Worth

A lot of people, myself included, thought that Alberto Del Rio would be leaving Money in the Bank last night as the new WWE champion. Thankfully that didn’t happen. I say thankfully not because Del Rio wouldn’t make a good champion (he would) or because I don’t want to see him as champion (I do) but because what we got instead is so much better: CM Punk defeating John Cena clean with the Go To Sleep to win the title and then leaving through the crowd (having a blown a kiss to Vince McMahon at ringside). Ring of Honor fans had certainly seen him do something very similar before.

Vince McMahon and John Laurinaitis (who looks far more like Bob ‘Marty Funkhouser’ Einstein on camera than he does in still pictures) appeared at ringside in the closing moments of the bout in order to attempt a “Montreal Screwjob” finish, only for Laurinaitis to get punched out and McMahon to be left watching helplessly as Cena got out of the ring to tell him he didn’t want to win that way, only to be pinned by Punk moments later.

Vince’s words over the headsets to send out Alberto to cash in the briefcase was another great move that played on fan expectations and provided a moment that seemed genuinely real: of course Vince, the man in charge, would demand Alberto to come out and cash in. Beautifully, he worded his demand in such a way that it almost acknowledged that the event is scripted, giving the appearance that Vince was booking on the fly. It was superb.

Congratulations are in order for CM Punk. He’d held WWE’s World Heavyweight title before, and made it mean something to fans and wrestlers by carrying it with pride and defending it in great matches. But that’s not the real world title in WWE. The real world title is the one he captured last night, the one held by Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, The Rock, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle, Triple H, Randy Savage and many others greats. That’s the belt that means the most to WWE and its fans. Punk’s name deserves to be on the list of WWE champions and now it is.

So what happens this evening on RAW? Pretty much anything is possible. As last night’s show went off the air I was thinking that Punk would make a surprise appearance this evening, but I’m going off that idea now. I think he’ll be off TV for a few weeks at least, maybe a few months.

 I think it’s safe to assume that we’ll get promos from Vince McMahon and John Cena on this evening’s RAW. My guess would be that Vince will go to fire Cena and that Cena will blame Vince for distracting him and allowing Punk to beat him. Will Cena be “fired”? Possibly. But it won’t last. I still think he’ll be facing Del Rio at SummerSlam.

Longer term what will be happening? I think that Punk will take some time off and then return as the “real” WWE champion. In the meantime tonight could see Alberto Del Rio simply awarded the title by Vince. He could either reason that he’s in charge and he’ll do whatever he likes with regards to awarding the title to someone or say that had Del Rio cashed in last night (he never actually got the chance to do so) he would definitely have won because Money in the Bank winners always win. Or he could do both of those things. Or perhaps Vince will strip Punk of the championship and put it up for grabs in a Cena v Del Rio match at SummerSlam. That would allow Punk to return towards the end of the year, or perhaps next year’s Rumble, to make his real world champion claim and set up something for WrestleMania.

Will we be seeing Punk in New Japan Pro Wrestling or Ring of Honor? It’s unlikely but not impossible. Appearing for rival promotions with the WWE championship belt would certainly help to advance the story and would also help Punk’s claim to be the true champion (should that be the direction the company wants to go in). As I say, it’s not likely: Punk appearing with the title for other wresting companies would necessitate Vince McMahon trusting and relying on people not in his employ, and that’s not something that comes easily to him. As much as I’d love to see Punk turn up on the first ROH TV show wearing the WWE title belt I don’t think we’ll see it happen.

Whatever ends up happening last night WWE took a big step towards proving that they’re not going to mess this angle up. It should have done solid business for them on pay-per-view and I hope they can continue the successful and enjoyable booking tonight. This angle could run and run.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Money in the Bank preview

Money in the Bank is a show built around three matches: the two ladder matches and the CM Punk versus John Cena WWE championship match. Those working on the undercard are going to have a tough night as those three matches simply won’t be overshadowed. Even Christian and Randy Orton, two of the company’s most over stars involved in the promotion’s most consistent feud could find the audience subdued during their match.

But with or without a subdued audience that match is likely to be the most satisfying wrestling match of the show. It’s been an enjoyable feud, there’s no question of that, but this will mark the third pay-per-view to give us a Christian v Orton match. When you consider the various matches they’ve had on RAW and SmackDown during that time this latest contest could begin to verge on overkill.

What should set this encounter apart from their others are the stipulations involved. If Orton gets disqualified or there are any questionable decisions made by the referee then Christian will become champion. The thing with the second part of that is that it’s not really been made clear who decides whether or not the referee’s officiating has been good enough. It’s a bit of a confusing addition to the match that would have benefitted from the announcers, Teddy Long or Christian himself clarifying who would “referee the referee”, so to speak. Perhaps it will be addressed on the show itself (though I’m not going to get my hopes up for that).

We’re on firmer ground with the disqualification stipulation. Christian did all he could to rile Orton on Friday’s edition of SmackDown in order to make him lose his focus for Sunday and get disqualified. It’s not an original idea but it’s easy to follow and it makes sense. Christian will likely pull out some cheap, heelish tricks throughout the match in an attempt to further infuriate Orton. My prediction is that ‘The Viper’ will hold his temper, overcome the odds (whenever the deck is stacked against a babyface to this extent it’s usually a sign that they’re going to win), and then pummel Christian in the post-match when his title’s not at risk.

I’m also predicting that this is the point at which Sheamus, the winner of the SmackDown Money in the Bank match (which I suspect will open the show), will chose to cash in his title shot. That will set up a triple threat match at SummerSlam and give the feud some much-needed fresh angles to play with: Orton can be the stoic babyface who promises he’ll get the title back in a fair fight, Christian can whine about Sheamus getting involved in his business, and Sheamus can gloat about being better than both of them.

I actually think this feud would have been better served by having Sheamus challenging Orton and losing clean, with Christian competing in and winning the SmackDown Money in the Bank match. That would have allowed Orton to defend against someone other than ‘Captain Charisma’ (though WWE don’t seem fussed about giving fans a bit of variety these days), given Sheamus a larger share of the spotlight, and kept alive the idea that Christian cannot beat Orton clean. I would still have allowed for a SummerSlam triple threat match, which seems to be the direction things will be heading after Money in the Bank.

At the other end of the enjoyment spectrum is Mark Henry v Big Show. According to Josh Mathews this match will be “like something out of Transformers”. He said that on Friday’s SmackDown, and got paid to do so. Whether it’s like something out of Transformers or not I don’t expect this match will be anything but atrocious. Why they couldn’t give a match to a combination of Tyson Kidd, Ted DiBiase, Yoshi Tatsu, Zack Ryder, Santino Marella or any of the other talented/over performers not being used is something I don’t understand. I also don’t understand why they bothered moving Show to RAW in the Draft when he has continued to appear on SmackDown.

On the plus side at least Show and Henry aren’t clogging up one of the ladder matches this year and by having Mark Henry on pay-per-view we have the chance to hear his “better is better” catchphrase again. I want that on a T-shirt. I’ll pick ‘Sexual chocolate’ to win because he’s in the midst of yet another unwarranted push.

Kelly Kelly’s defence of the Divas’ championship against Brie Bella is another match that is all too clearly filler. Unlike the battle of the Transformers this match at least has a chance of provoking a reaction from the crowd due to Kelly’s popularity. The match should be kept short and basic and probably will be. I predict Kelly will overcome “twin magic” to retain the title.

As for the ladder matches, I previewed them earlier in the week. You can read my thoughts at this link, but if you just want to know who I’ve picked as winners I’m going with Sheamus for SmackDown and Alberto Del Rio for RAW.

Topping the bill is the most anticipated WWE match since Undertaker v Triple H at WrestleMania XXVII in April: CM Punk versus John Cena for the WWE championship. A month ago this would have been a popular match, but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near the talking point it is now. What’s changed? WWE’s injected some realism into its product, that’s what. And it’s worked wonders.

It started on the June 20th episode of RAW when Punk won a match to earn a WWE championship match at Money in the Bank, then announced that his contract would expire at the event and he’d leave with the title. The following week Punk cut a worked shoot promo in which he verbally trashed Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon-Levesque, Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque, John Laurinaitis, WWE management in general, mentioned Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar, and knocked the federation’s use and promotion of him as a performer. It was a passionate, intelligent speech by one of the best talkers in wrestling and marked this feud out as something and exciting. It was one of the best segments on WWE television in years.

There are only two problems with this angle. The first is that by saying that John Cena will be fired should he lose the championship WWE have taken the focus off of Punk (perhaps intentionally) and made things seem far less realistic. The drawing point of the match was how real it all seemed. We know Cena won’t be fired if he loses because we can all remember his firing at the hands of Wade Barrett last year and because the company would not fire its number one star. This was illustrated by the fact that Vince McMahon negotiated with Punk, a lesser star than Cena, on television in a desperate attempt to get him to stay. If he’s desperate to keep someone of Punk’s status around isn’t it logical that he’s be even more keen to keep Cena around? It’s a frivolous addition to the match that seems designed to show everyone that Cena is still the star of the show.

The second point is that WWE has two world titles. Punk may well intend to take the WWE championship to New Japan or Ring of Honor but it shouldn’t matter to WWE because they still have the World Heavyweight championship. It’s a minor thing and hasn’t detracted from the enjoyment of the build to this event, but it’s worth noting.

So... will he stay or will he go? Personally I think Punk’s on his way out and Money in the Bank or Monday’s edition of RAW will be his last night with the company for a while. I’ve thought ever since this started that he intends to take a sabbatical and then return towards the end of the year. He’s been with WWE since 2005 and on the road with the main roster since 2006. Five years of touring is enough to make anyone want a little time off. At thirty-two I believe Punk’s too young to retire. Financially he’s probably in a very good position, but he’s a man who loves the wrestling business and is still young enough to contribute to it for years to come. TNA is such an embarrassment that I can’t imagine Punk would want to work there or that they could afford his asking price. Ring of Honor may appear to be in a similar position, but I think they’re in a slightly better position with regards to approaching Punk because he has several friends working there and, having made his name there, Punk may be willing to take less money to work there.

But these are moot points because I’ convinced he’ll be returning to WWE.

So how will this match play out? It’s very tough to say, because there’s so much to consider. I would love to see a victory from Punk because it would mark his first reign with the company’s most historic and meaningful title and also allow him to go out on a high. I’m leaning towards thinking that Punk will win the title and either immediately lose it to Alberto Del Rio (cashing in his Money in the Bank shot) or appear on RAW on Monday and lose it there, either to ADR or Cena. I have a feeling that a title change is planned in the next few days.

No matter who wins Cena isn’t going anywhere. He has been the rumoured SummerSlam opponent for Del Rio for months now and with Punk leaving I expect to see that match pushed heavily throughout the rest of July and August. So I predict a Punk win with the belt making its way to Del Rio or Cena within twenty-four hours, followed by a Punk sabbatical and a return towards the end of the year (or maybe at the 2012 Royal Rumble).

Now watch as Cena retains in a five minute squash and WWE undoes all its great work of the last month!

Tuesday 12 July 2011

An Open Letter to Kurt Angle

Dear Mr Angle,

I write to you as someone who has followed your professional career for twelve years. From your first match at Survivor Series ’99 to your amazing WrestleMania bouts with Shawn Michaels and Brock Lesnar to your TNA matches against Samoa Joe, you were truly the best in the world at one point in time. You clearly have a great understanding of what it takes to succeed in pro wrestling, and the skill and passion to rise to the top.

But I am concerned, Kurt. Concerned at the news you intend to throw it all away by trying out for the 2012 Olympics.

I fully appreciate that you won a gold medal at the ’96 Games with a broken (freakin’) neck, but that was fifteen years ago now. By the time the 2012 event rolls around it will be sixteen years. Are you in better shape than you were sixteen years ago? Let me cut your bravado-laden answer short: no, you are not.

Going for a second gold medal would have been perfect for you in 2004. You were in a better condition medically. You were working for a company that had (and has) the media profile to use that decision to its, and your, advantage. Your current employer is not in a position to parlay an success you may attain into anything worthwhile. Even if it was in such a position the management team is so inept that they wouldn’t try if they could.

In 2011 and ’12 your chances of making the US team are slim. Your chances of winning a medal, let alone a gold one, are virtually nonexistent. Should you qualify you will open yourself up to ridicule and humiliation, not to mention further (potentially career ending) injuries.

Please walk away while you still can. Both from the Olympics and from TNA.

Yours sincerely,


Monday 11 July 2011

Next Step

There’s a reason the Royal Rumble tends to be WWE’s second most successful pay-per-view every year. It’s because it sets up several months of storylines in one night: world champions for the WrestleMania season are usually decided upon at the Rumble, and the winner of the titular match goes on to headline (or at least feature in a prominent match at) WrestleMania.

Money in the Bank has the potential to perform the same function for SummerSlam and beyond. Being held in July means it’s the last big stage to set up world champions for the big summer show, and the Money in the Bank matches themselves are natural starting points for main event pushes and fresh storylines.

This year’s Money in the Bank show will once again feature two eight man matches with the winner of each being the first man to grab a briefcase suspended above the ring, entitling them to challenge for their brand’s world championship at any point within the next twelve months. The scope this gives WWE’s writing teams is huge, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Firstly, the fact that everyone who’s cashe din the briefcase has gone on to become champion indicates that WWE sees it as a match guaranteed to make a headliner, which limits the number of potential winners to those WWE thinks would work well in the main event (a small number). This can make narrowing down the winners a little too easy for audiences. Secondly, having two men walking around with guaranteed title matches lessens the gimmick and means that one of them will need to be cashed in within a few weeks of the show.

This year’s two ladder matches look pretty good on paper. RAW’s bout will pit Jack Swagger, Evan Bourne, R-Truth, The Miz, Alex Riley, Alberto Del Rio, Kofi Kingston and Rey Mysterio against one another while SmackDown will offer up Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, Wade Barrett, Kane, Sin Cara, Daniel Bryan, Cody Rhodes and Sheamus in their its ladder spectacular. There’s a pleasing lack of Mark Henry and Big Show in those matches. Both men were involved in ladder bouts last year. Neither should have been.

Let’s look at the SmackDown match first:

I think there are three potential winners in this match. The five likely losers are Kane, Sin Cara, Daniel Bryan, Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel. I wrote Kane off last year and he surprised practically everyone by winning, but how likely is it that that would happen two years in a row? Slater and Gabriel seem to be featuring in an attempt at re-establishing tag team wresting in WWE which makes it unlikely either one of them will suddenly be handed a heavy singles push. Of the two I think Gabriel could make it quite far as a singles wrestler sometime in the future, but Slater has no chance. Daniel Bryan is clearly seen as a mid-carder for the moment, there to make others look good. Sooner or later WWE will find itself so light on talent that they’ll have to elevate him but for now they’re trying out others. As for Sin Cara, he’s being protected by the booking team (because he was handpicked by Triple H as a replacement for the aging Rey Mysterio) but is still far away from being booked as a world champion. Before he reaches that level he’s going to have to stop the sloppy performances and learn some English so he can cut promos.

Cody strikes me as a potential winner because he has been the recipient of a steady push all year. It petered out a little after Extreme Rules (when the Mysterio feud ended) but has been resumed successfully since. With his above average ring skills, a unique gimmick, and strong verbal ability Cody is clearly a man WWE have earmarked for progression into the main event. If his push continues at its current rate I think Cody could be ready for a world title run by the end of the year. Winning Money in the Bank would help to show the company’s serious about his future.

The other most likely contender is Wade Barrett. He’s got a bit of a head start on Cody thanks to his involvement in various high profile feuds pay-per-view mina events last year (against Randy Orton and John Cena no less). He’s got the height, build and verbal skills WWE (and Vince McMahon in particular) are known to prefer and has lost quite a few matches in the last two months (which is often a sign of a big push being planned). Should he win Money in the Bank I think he’d be quickly accepted by fans as a credible top of the card performer.

Sheamus has a chance because of the way he’s been used in the Christian and Orton feud. Bearing in mind one of the briefcases has to be used fairly quickly it would make sense for Sheamus to win the ladder match and then cash in after the Orton versus Christian match. Assuming ‘Captain Charisma’ is booked to win the title, immediately losing it to Sheamus would give him something more to whinge about and help set up a three-way match at SummerSlam, keeping the feud fresh.

Of the three I think Sheamus is the most likely to win, with something along the lines of what I’ve suggested above happening later in the night or possibly at the SmackDown taping two nights later. I had originally thought that Alberto Del Rio would be the man cashing in the briefcase quickly but I no longer think that’s necessarily the case.

The RAW Money in the Bank match:

I originally made two assumptions about this show, both of them pertaining to the RAW ladder match. The first was that Dolph Ziggler would be involved. Surely with all the hard work he’s put in improving himself over the last few years he’s earned a slot in a match such as this? And he’s young enough to be able to take some impressive bumps too. His omission from the match means it won’t fulfil its full potential in my view.

The second assumption was that Alberto Del Rio win and get involved in the aftermath of the WWE title match should Punk win or simply go on to challenge Cena for the title at SummerSlam. Cena v Del Rio has been rumoured as the SummerSlam main event for months. Considering how little has been done with ADR since he arrived on RAW I would imagine a match with Cena is the sole reason SmackDown lost him.

I think that match will happen and happen at SummerSlam. But a proverbial spanner was thrown into the works last week on RAW when Del Rio became number one contender in a triple threat match (during the period Punk had been stripped of his shot in Chicago). WWE hasn’t yet clarified whether Del Rio’s victory still entitles him to a championship match. If he is the number one contender then they could promote the SummerSlam match without needing him to win Money in the Bank. If he isn’t the number one contender then he has to be considered the favourite to win as having him announce on RAW that he will cash in his title shot at “the biggest pay-per-view of the summer” is the simplest way of establishing the match.

But there are so few viable alternatives to ADR though. For that reason I am picking him to win. My assumption is that he’ll win and get a title match at SummerSlam based on his victory on the July 4th RAW. He could lose the match, only to gain the victory in an immediate rematch by cashing in his briefcase. It’s something that’s not really been done before and could work very well.

What other options are there? Mysterio is winding down his career and has become such a liability (he is injury prone and has been known to refuse to put people over in the past) that I can’t imagine WWE would want to book him into a position where they’ll feel compelled to make him champion. For the record I think Mysterio could actually have a pretty enjoyable ten minute match with Cena, but we’re not likely to see it as WWE seem to be against promoting that match.

The other options are Miz and Kofi Kingston. Miz did very well with the will-he-won’t-he gimmick of being a Money in the Bank winner and still seems a favourite with management despite losing the strap to Cena in fairly unceremonious style at Extreme Rules. It would be a nice way of getting him back into the title picture, and could be used to turn him face to feud with Del Rio after SummerSlam (presuming ADR is champion then).

Kofi is a real outside chance. I think he’s a possibility mainly because he dropped the US title a month ago, which could be taken as a sign that he’s headed for a promotion. He certainly has the ability (though his promos could do with a little work) and is over by today’s WWE standards. The promotion could do worse in looking for a new headliner but is this the right way to advance him up the card? People cashing in their Money in the Bank matches tend to appear callous and uncaring. These are desired traits in a heel, but not in a babyface. If they are planning to try Kofi out at the top of the card they’d be better off giving him a title shot against ADR at the September pay-per-view and booking him to lose. That way they can stuff the match with near falls for Kingston and see how the crowd react, then plan a title chase if he’s deemed a success.

As for Riley, Truth, Bourne and Swagger, I don’t think any of them have much of a chance. Sadly, it looks as though R-Truth’s main event stint has been discontinued. He’d done a lot of good work in his two months at the top, but right now I think they’re just killing time with him until John Morrison returns. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens at this event, giving WWE ample time to set up a singles match between the two for SummerSlam. Bourne has been included to perform some impressive bumps and add to future highlight packages. He’d make a good mid-card champion, but his smiley-happy-babyface routine is not the stuff that WWE champions are made of. Swagger seems to be involved just to make up the numbers. Ziggler would have been a better choice for the spot but maybe a title defence will be announced this evening on RAW. As for Riley, I think WWE are pleased with the progress he’s making and want to keep things slow with him. He’s not ready to be rushed to the top and I think WWE (and Miz) deserve credit for protecting him. Riley himself deserves some credit for doing everything asked of him well. I hope his development continues.

I’ll be previewing the rest of the show later in the week. These matches are so big and there’s so much else lined up for the show that I thought it would be best to do two Money in the Bank entries. Just to make things nice and clear my predictions to win the ladder bouts are Alberto Del Rio and Sheamus.

Now stay tuned for victories from Evan Bourne and Kane!

Sunday 10 July 2011

X Marks the Spot

For the last eighteen months TNA’s decision makers have shown no interest at all in the X Division and yet this evening, in a move that is typical of the company, they will present a pay-per-view in which it is the focal point. What’s so frustrating about this situation isn’t that the company are trying to sell a show based around something they’ve been misusing for a year and a half (this sort of baffling stupidity has become the norm in TNA) but that the X Division used to be a genuine highlight of the promotion and still could have been had it been cared for correctly.

For the first several years of TNA’s existence the X performers frequently had the best wrestling matches on the show. Their division wasn’t about whacky storylines or oddball gimmicks, it was about giving the fans fast-paced, energetic wrestling of the kind they were unlikely to see anywhere else. It was akin to WCW’s cruiserweight division during the mid- to late-90s. That’s the same cruiserweight division Eric Bischoff likes to take credit for. And yes, that’s the same Eric Bischoff who has been instrumental in the downplaying of the X Division since late 2009.

The X Division has, at one time or another, featured AJ Styles, Chris Daniels, Samoa Joe, Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, Austin Aries, Brian Kendrick, Paul London, Petey Williams, Doug Williams, Jerry Lynn, Elix Skipper, Kid Kash, Homicide, Low Ki, Jay Lethal, and Kurt Angle as performers. This is by no means a complete list but it should give you an idea of the sort of work rate the X Division has had in the past. Joe, Styles and Daniels in particular were all at their best when used in the X Division.

What made the X Division so useful to TNA was that it was different to what their competitors were doing. Various independent promotions were able to promote a similar style but they were unable to bring so many talented performers together on to one roster. The X Division also allowed TNA to showcase exactly the sort of matches WWE, their main rival (for want of a better term), was and is notorious for never promoting. Wrestling fans who wanted to see fast-paced high-flying action on their TV screens knew to watch iMPACT to get what they wanted.

Sadly the reputation for excellence that the X Division performers had built up over the years has now been frittered away. By failing to give the X Division a proper amount of air time and keeping it stocked with young, athletic performers TNA has thrown away the biggest asset it had. Their new direction and the “wrestling matters” videos are the promotion’s way of saying that they’re going to rebuild the X Division, but it’s too little too late. Listless sit-down promos, a sudden influx of so many new talents that it’s impossible to keep track of who’s who, and Abyss as the X Division champion are emphatically not the way to go about restoring the shattered division.

What would have worked far better would have been for TNA to simply sign some new X Division performers and introduce them gradually over two months. Some could have been introduced in “showcase” matches competing against one another, with the commentators explaining that they’ve been signed to inject some fresh blood into the X Division. Another could have been introduced through backstage or in-ring promos, hyping their impending debut in a heelish fashion (this would have been the perfect way to re-introduce Austin Aries (or indeed Austin Starr) to TNA). Yet another could have been introduced through weekly hype videos which show the newcomer performing their impressive array of manoeuvres, whetting the appetites of those watching for the wrestler’s debut proper.

Zema Ion is a step in the right direction: he’s young and appears capable of contributing to the X Division in a meaningful way. Had TNA brought him in alongside Aries and Low Ki, as well as men they’ve shown no interest in such as Kenny Omega and Kevin Steen, they could have created a natural resurgence of the X Division by nw without resorting to telling us they were doing so (or attempting to at any rate). It makes you wonder why they released Jay Lethal just a few weeks ago.

Hiring guys and sticking them on a pay-per-view with the X Division label attached will achieve nothing. The audience didn’t just care about the in-ring action during the X Division’s peak, they cared about the wrestlers too: they had formed an emotional attachment over weeks, months and years of watching those men compete, that was why they were willing to buy PPVs and tune into iMPACT. It wasn’t because a bunch of matches were simply billed as being part of the X Division.

But stocking up a pay-per-view with numerous non-regulars is what TNA has decided to do. All those not under permanent contracts are very talented, but without weekly exposure why should viewers care if they win or lose? The fans in the IMPACT Zone may make a lot of noise but as I’ve written before they are not reflective of TNA’s television audience as a whole. Someone sitting at home who’s only seen several of this evening’s stars wrestle only once will not be emotionally invested and therefore is less likely to buy the show.

So what can we expect from the announced card? Well, a highlight is likely to be AJ Styles v Chris Daniels. They’ve faced each other numerous times in TNA and always produce compelling bouts. I’m surprised that this match isn’t actually a three-way also featuring Samoa Joe: that exact match has happened several times before and has been match of the night every single time. It would have fit perfectly on a show that’s supposed to look back to the history of the division whilst also showcasing its future. Instead Joe is facing Kazarian in what will probably be a good but not great affair.

The show will also give us two four-way matches (there already being two multi-person matches could possibly be the reason TNA haven’t gone with the Styles v Daniels v Joe three-way, but it’s unlike them to care so much about overloading a card). One will be a regular match with a TNA contract supposedly up for grabs while the other will be an Ultimate X match for a future shot at the X Division championship. The contract match (Austin Aries v Jack Evans v Zema Ion v Low Ki) should be very enjoyable: I rate Aries incredibly highly, enjoy the styles of Evans and Ki, and think Ion (from what little I’ve seen of him) is someone who should have been brought into the company a long time ago.

I’m less enthused about the Ultimate X match (Amazing Red v Shannon Moore v Robbie E v Alex Shelley). I’ve never really been a fan of Ultimate X as it‘s far too gimmicky, like most of the concepts TNA have come up with themselves (King of the Mountain match anyone?). Shelley being involved should help to ensure this match goes well: he’s one of the most underrated wrestlers TNA has when it comes to ring psychology and that’s what this match will need with bump-happy Red and Moore involved.

The Doug Williams open challenge? It’s disappointing but not surprising that TNA couldn’t come up with something more original for such a skilled wrestler. I’ve no idea who the opponent will be, but I’d enjoy seeing Petey Williams or Paul London making a return.

The Rob Van Dam v Jerry Lynn has clearly been added to the show as a way of acknowledging that RVD v Lynn was “X Division before the X Division” (I’ve quotation marked that because I’m expecting Tenay or Borash to say it, word for word, at some point during the pay-per-view). RVD v Lynn matches are some of the best in wrestling. In fact their match from ECW Living Dangerously is still my favourite wrestling match ever. But that match took place over twelve years ago. It hasn’t aged, but the wrestlers have. Van Dam turned 40 last December whilst Lynn is now 48. They are both still great in the ring, but should TNA really be giving up a slot on one of its pay-per-views to try and replicate the success of a match that two men had over a decade ago? I would say no (and also that RVD v Lynn in 2011 will not be a patch on RVD v Lynn from 1999).

Then there’s what I’m assuming will be the main event: Brian Kendrick v Abyss for the latter’s X Division championship. This looks like it will be the worst match of the show, which is appropriate considering TNA’s backwards logic with regards to booking. Abyss’s strength is hardcore matches. He should not be anywhere near the X Division, let alone be its champion. Even if, as I suspect, he’s been given the belt so that Kendrick can beat him in a David versus Goliath style match to give a manufactured feel good moment I’d still rather see Kendrick facing Styles or Joe for the belt. Such a match could have been presented with a subtle (not that TNA understands the concept of subtle) future versus past twist to it. As things are I predict this match will be absolutely rotten.

On the whole I think this card has the potential to be quite an enjoyable one. The downside is that it’s coming at the expense of men and women who are regulars with TNA. Next Thursday when IMPACT comes on they won’t be relying on the contract match wrestlers and Jerry Lynn to pull in ratings, they’ll be relying on Beer Money, the Knockouts, Sting, Kurt Angle and the TNA world champion Mr Anderson. By leaving them off of this show TNA is once again failing to prepare for its future. But then, we should expect nothing else from them by now.

Saturday 9 July 2011

ROH in Charlotte predictions

Over the years North Caroline has been known as “Flair Country” and “Hardy Country”. Tonight it will be known as “ROH Country” as Ring of Honor returns to promote one of its final cards before launching its new TV show. With a cage match main event and another American Wolves match it’s clear Ring of Honor are going all out to demonstrate that their “B shows” are just as worthy of attention as their bigger events.

Last night’s show threw up a few surprises: the Bravados scored a frankly bizarre upset when they beat the Briscoe brothers, Mike Bennett was defeated by both members of the All Night Express in singles matches (‘The Prodigy’s’ push seems to have been halted for some reason), and a promise from Davey Richards to defend the ROH title against either Michael Elgin or Roderick Strong.

But as for this evening...

Colt Cabana v Chris Hero w/Shane Hagadorn

How incensed do you think Hero would have been had Colt Cabana won the tag title last night? My guess: very. Cabana and Hero are two of Ring of Honor’s biggest stars so this match should be well received by the audience. I’m of the opinion that Hero is the company’s best all round star right now: he’s a believable performer, can work an enjoyable match with anyone, and possesses phenomenal verbal skills. I imagine he’ll be able to overcome Cabana’s predictable comedy routine and force the Chiacgo native to produce a compelling match.

The interesting thing about this match is the rumours of both men being headed for WWE. Hero had a tryout before RAW a few weeks ago alongside his Kings of Wrestling partner Claudio Castagnoli and there’s been talk of the team receiving contract offers ever since. Meanwhile Cabana has been linked to the CM Punk contract negotiation rumours: apparently Punk has requested Cabana be signed to a contract and attached to the RAW brand so that they can travel together. So this could be the last time we see Hero v Cabana in ROH. If it is I hope they give us a match worthy of them both (and that Hero wins).

Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team v The Bravado Brothers

I’m still shocked that the Bravado Bandwagon rolled over the Briscoes last night in Richmond. I was convinced they were going to lose to the Briscoes, so the question this evening is can they beat another established team and prove they’ve been right in demanding bigger opportunities? I would say no. They gained their upset for the weekend yesterday. I think they’ll look strong in defeat tonight.

As for why they won last night I’m assuming it’s due to Ring of Honor increasing the number of shows they produce next year: they’ll want to start building up some credible new acts now. The talk of the Kings of Wrestling heading to WWE could be a factor too. I’m pleased the Bravados appear to be on their way to getting more matches. They’re an entertaining duo and deserve an upper mid-card spot.

Mark Briscoe v Kenny King
Rhett Titus and Jay Briscoe will be handcuffed to posts at ringside

This match is so strongly linked with the one below that I’ll give my thoughts there.

Jay Briscoe v Rhett Titus
Kenny King and Mark Briscoe will be handcuffed to posts at ringside

These two matches are on the card to further the feud between the Briscoes and the All Night Express. I imagine the handcuffs will be used during whichever match goes on first but not during the second. Perhaps whichever Briscoe is handcuffed will manage to free themselves and attack the cuffed ANX member. Perhaps the interlude between matches will become so wild that Cornette comes out to make a tag team match instead of trying to contain people at ringside. As far as wins and losses go, assuming there are two matches I’ll go with each team getting one win each.

As much as I like ANX this feud needs a boost. The best way to do that would be to have a gimmick match of some sort between the two teams. A cage or double dog collar match would be a good fit as it would provide scope for a suitably wild encounter and give the men something different to get stuck into. Part of the trouble I have is that I’m just not that interested in the Briscoes in the ring. I’m fine watching Jay rant about Campbell’s Chunky for five minutes but their matches never captivate me. Perhaps these singles bouts and whatever happens next in the program will change all that, but I won’t hold my breath.

Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly v The American Wolves

It’s student versus teacher in the second Wolves match of the weekend as reigning ROH world champion Davey Richards finds himself across the ring from Kyle O’Reilly, a young man he’s been mentoring on-screen for around seven or eight months now. There’s already been talk of O’Reilly being the man to end Richards’ title reign. It’s far too early to be discussing that possibility seriously: O’Reilly has a long way to go before he’s ready to challenge for the company’s top prize, and for the foreseeable future he’ll be doing his climbing alongside Adam Cole.

Both young men have come a long way in the relatively short time they’ve been tagging together, and they’ve put in impressive showings against all the company’s top teams. In many ways this is the final test for the young men: the Wolves are no longer a regular combo in the ROH tag ranks, they’re more of a special attraction with both men concentrating more on singles accolades. At the same time they have an impressive pedigree: they’re former two time tag team champions and both have held (or currently hold) the ROH world championship. They’re an impressive unit, but an impressive unit that Cole and O’Reilly need to beat to prove they belong at the top of the doubles division.

I think it would make storyline sense to have Edwards miffed that Richards has promised to grant a member of the House of Truth a title match before he’s had his rematch and there being friction between the Wolves. But I’m always predicting friction between the Wolves and it never seems to happen. The story of this match will likely be student versus teacher more than the continued fallout of Edwards and Richards. As far as a winner goes I’ll predict O’Reilly and Cole: they have to get that elusive big win soon and this would be the ideal time.

Steel Cage match
Roderick Strong v El Generico

There have been problems between El Generico and the House of Truth ever since ‘The Generic Luchadore’ challenged Roderick Strong for the ROH world title back on January 28th at SoCal Showdown II. On that night Strong gained the tainted victory after hitting Generico with the belt. Generico has faced all three HOT members at various ROH shows since then, most notably defeating Christopher Daniels for the ROH television championship at Best in the World two weeks ago.

It’s led to this match: a steel cage surrounding the ring to ensure that Strong’s various House of Truth cohorts can’t get involved in proceedings. Traditionally ROH cage matches are brutal affairs and I’m sure this match will be no different. I’ll pick Strong to win as he’ll be headed for a world title match fairly soon and should be picking up a few wins beforehand to look like a threat.

Even though this show isn’t one of the more hyped events Ring of Honor has presented this year it still has some potentially excellent matches lined up. The first meeting of Kyle O’Reilly and Davey Richards is notable, as is the cage match main event. Remember that Elgin and Bennett have been announced for the show too. Who will they be facing? And could Steen show up (personally I think he’ll appear at the TV tapings next month, but he could appear in Charlotte).

All this just goes to show that all Ring of Honor shows are worth checking out, unlike the “B shows” of certain other companies I could mention.