Friday 30 September 2011

Walking a Golden Mile

On 8th September William Regal tweeted the following:

Trying to think if Teddy Long owes me a favour.I need to get a World Championship match on Smackdown on Liverpool.

Maybe the last chance I have of becoming the first English World Champion in front of WWE's loyalist fans.

Regal has been considering hanging up his boots for several years now. His sporadic in-ring appearances, increased agent-style work backstage and move to the announce desk are all direct results of his decision to wind up his career and find a new role in the company.

Being good friends with Triple H (Levesque teamed with Regal, under the hilariously poor ring name Terra Ryzing, as the Blue Bloods during his brief stint in WCW) Regal is always going to have some sort of job in WWE. His track record with helping to train young wrestlers isn’t going to hurt his job prospects either. Bryan Danielson, Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Samoa Joe, and CM Punk all join Triple H in counting Regal amongst their teachers. It should be clear from that list that Regal knows how to pass on good advice.

But job security isn’t enough. Regal wants to retire with a meaningful world championship accomplishment on his CV. And who can blame him? Having wrestled all over the world for nearly thirty years Regal is one of the most talented WWE employees never to win a world championship.

Besides anything else if Mark Henry is getting a world title reign Regal deserves one too.

I’m aware of how unlikely it is to happen but it would be a nice gesture on WWE’s part, not just to Regal but to British wrestling fans. Davey Boy Smith may still be Britain’s most famous wrestler but over the years British fans have gradually gained respect for Regal and a love of his character and ring style. He may not be capable of the feats of strength Smith could pull off but there’s something loveable about a man calling someone a silly pillock on US television and wiping his feet before getting into the ring.

A world title reign for Regal would be an acknowledgement of his hard work and dedication to WWE and wrestling in general.

Is a world title win in Regal’s future? It’s not likely. But a challenging for a world title isn’t out of the question. If WWE properly promoted a Regal title challenge during their autumn tour they could shift a few extra tickets and bump up their Sky ratings. Whether or not they’d bother promoting a match for these relatively minor gains is debatable but it’s not impossible.

By the time WWE returns to Britain it’s possible there will be two different world champions knocking about. Mark Henry looks like he’s in for a lengthy title run but by today’s standards anything over the five month mark in WWE can be considered “lengthy”. He may have dropped the title to Orton, Sheamus, Christian or someone else entirely by the time of Liverpool’s SmackDown taping in November. That means we shouldn’t rule out hope of Regal getting a competitive match for WWE’s younger world title belt.

Of the two current champs Cena would be the preferred opponent for the Brit as his size would allow him to work a more believable and competitive match than ‘The World’s Strongest Man’. Plus you’d also get the patented Cena Mixed Reaction. Regal v Cena in Britain would have a fantastic atmosphere.

In an ideal world CM Punk or Bryan Danielson would be a world champion by the time of the tour and would be involved in a match with Regal. Both men have enough respect for the veteran to treat him as an equal and have a highly competitive and enjoyable match (before beating him).

Whoever holds the gold when RAW and SmackDown roll into Liverpool  hope WWE sees the potential and books a Regal in a world title match. Even if he doesn’t win it would mean a lot to him and his fans. And if Regal’s talk is to be believed there may not be many similar opportunities left.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Hell in a Cell preview

I’ve written about my feelings on WWE’s gimmick themed pay-per-views several times before (most notably here and here) so I’m not going to bang on about the subject again now. For those that haven’t read my previous posts (and can’t be bothered to click the links provided in the lines above) I can summarise by saying that I am broadly against them as they devalue the gimmicks in question.

This year’s Hell in a Cell instalment will feature two of the titular matches: John Cena v Alberto Del Rio v CM Punk and Mark Henry v Randy Orton. With two of the company’s best workers and a man who does better in gimmick matches than he does in regular ones the triple threat bout is likely to be the superior of the two encounters. The match is also likely to advance the recent storylines centring on Triple H, John Laurinaitis and CM Punk. Punk’s role in the story has been lessened in the last few weeks but this match is still linked to those events thanks to Laurinaitis’s recent interest in involving himself in WWE title affairs.

I’m expecting a run-in by Kevin Nash or Miz and R-Truth (all three appearing is possible but not likely). Nash’s appearance at Night of Champions having been future endeavoured indicates that Truth and Miz will appear on camera before being rehired and I imagine it will be in a role similar to the one Nash has occupied since returning at SummerSlam, with the reveal coming later that Laurinaitis has been, to quote JR, directing traffic. With David Otunga and various other talents filing a lawsuit against Triple H I still think the goal is to relieve Triple H of his on-screen position and replace him with Laurinaitis.

As far as a winner goes I’m picking Del Rio. It looks like Punk will remain involved in the Triple H storyline for the foreseeable future and Cena has been confirmed for a traditional Survivor Series match alongside The Rock at Survivor Series in November. Neither will require the WWE championship for those roles which makes Del Rio the likeliest candidate to head into Madison Square Garden with the belt. There’s a chance Cena will keep hold of the title until Vengeance on October 23rd or that he’ll lose it on an episode of RAW but I’m convinced he’ll have dropped it before SS and HIAC is as good a time as any to put it back on Del Rio.

‘The Viper’ versus ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ will be a slow-paced match with one or two key spots included to highlight Henry’s strength and aggressive nature. There will be nothing special or exciting going on. I expect Orton to put Henry over for the second straight pay-per-view simply because WWE didn’t spend six months building Henry up only for him to lose the title two weeks after winning it.

Henry’s not as bad as he’s been in past years but he’s still not credible as a champion. Why not? Two words: Mae Young. Whenever I think of Mark Henry that’s what I’ll see, no matter how much he improves or how hard he’s pushed. He cannot be taken seriously.

In non-caged bouts we have Sheamus v Christian. It’s nice that WWE haven’t rushed into this and have let it build naturally. It will likely get around ten to fifteen minutes and be a very strong match. I think the likelihood is that Sheamus will win to set up him as a challenger to Mark Henry, allowing Christian to move on to a new feud with someone lower down the card (in an ideal world it would be Daniel Bryan).

Sheamus versus Henry needs to be Henry’s next big feud as there are no other babyfaces ready for that spot. Orton v Henry isn’t likely to continue after Hell in a Cell (the gimmick’s traditionally a feud-ender) and ‘The Apex Predator’ seems to be headed for a rivalry with Cody Rhodes. I’d be happy with all three feuds as it would allow three new guys the opportunity to advance and the three more established guys fresh opponents.

Kelly Kelly will defend her Divas’ championship against Beth Phoenix for the third pay-per-view in a row. I’m assuming this will be the match where Beth finally wins because if she doesn’t there will have been no point to pushing her for two months. It’s not beyond WWE to build towards something for an extended period only to not do it, but they seem to have been moving in a fresh direction lately which makes me think they’re going to follow through on Beth winning the title.

Will the match be good? It should be as good as their last two encounters and as enjoyable as any other match involving Double K. I’d still like to see an Eve Torres heel turn. If she were to align with the Divas of Doom Kelly could bring in Kaitlyn and AJ to even up the numbers. This would allow two new women the chance to get over as stars, Eve to refresh her act, and give the women’s division a new direction with plenty of singles and tag match-ups. There’d be a natural six woman match to blow the feud off at a pay-per-view too.

Confirmed at the SmackDown taping was Sin Cara v Sin Cara. While this may sound like a man wrestling himself (which Ric Flair has claimed (many times) he could do in an entertaining fashion) it’s actually going to be the original Sin Cara (Mexican wrestling star Luis Ignascio Urive Alvirde a.k.a. Mistico) facing the “imposter” Sin Cara (developmental wrestler Jorge Arias a.k.a. Hunico).

The somewhat convoluted story is this: the original Sin Cara was put on the injured list at Money in the Bank when he was power bombed through a ladder and while he was off recuperating an imposter infiltrated WWE events pretending to be Sin Cara for an as yet undisclosed reason. This imposter behaved in a less sportsmanlike fashion than the original, refusing handshakes and jumping people after matches. The original eventually returned and has had numerous staredowns and cruiserweight-style exchanges with his taller and more muscular double. Said staredowns have been fairly confusing and elicited silence from audiences because the men have been dressed in the same gear and look similar enough that one cannot be told from the other at a glance.

New black gear (including a mask) was debuted by the imposter at Tuesday’s taping which should make it easier to distinguish the two men from one another and encourage more vocal contributions from crowds. Sunday’s match is likely to be the first of many between the two men: due to the language barrier, size differences and style clashes there are few people that can work matches with Alvirde so Arias is likely going to become a regular opponent for him. I imagine Sin Cara will win this first encounter but Hunico (or whatever name he ends up taking) will attack after the match to get some heat and set up a rematch.

That’s it for the announced card but there are rumours of a tag match pitting Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger against Air Boom. That would be a nice addition to the card and should be entertaining if it’s given ten minutes or more. It’s not clear where the Ziggler, Vickie and Swagger story is going but this should advance it. In an ideal world the challengers would be announced as “Zig-Swag” but that’s probably not going to happen. Shame.

Considering the company only had two weeks to prepare for Hel in a Cell I think they’ve done a pretty good job of arranging a decent card. Vengeance is only three weeks away so I’d expect seeds to be sown for that event (Cody Rhodes jumping Orton to set up a Vengeance encounter would be logical) as well as Survivor Series in November. Ultimately I think that’s what this event will be remembered as: a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Monday 26 September 2011

Honorary Mentions 24.09.11

Saturday night saw the debut of the new Ring of Honor TV show. The promotion hasn’t had a weekly television presence since the final episode of its HDNet run aired on April 4th this year, after ROH had decided to end the partnership. It seemed an odd decision at the time but things became clearer a month and a half later when it was revealed the Sinclair Broadcast Group (essentially a television network) had purchased Ring of Honor.

Since that purchase was announced ROH has kept a low profile. Only a handful of house shows were presented over the summer, accompanied by one internet pay-per-view, presumably to give the new owners and the existing management a chance to structure the company’s future in detail. Several shows have been announced for the next few months and it looks as if ROH will be on the road far more than it has been for the last year or so. That’s very much a good thing.

One of the biggest changes introduced under the new ownership (besides a new TV show) is a revamped website. Visually the site is slick and impressive and adds to the unofficial relaunch Ring of Honor has gone through with the new show starting. I was briefly worried that the list of every title defence ever made by a Ring of Honor champion had been dropped but thankfully that’s not the case (it’s now in the Champions section under Wrestlers). That’s something that that helps set ROH apart from its competitors and I’m pleased it’s been retained. There’s even a nice little countdown to the promotion’s next pay-per-view event, which I think is a nice touch.

Anyway... This first episode itself was somewhat of a mixed bag. The in-ring action was, predictably, tremendous. But there wasn’t enough of it. In an hour-long show (with ads it got around 45 minutes of air time in total) there were only two matches and a ton of video packages. In a way I can understand the decision: the video packages weren’t there for the sake of it, they were aimed at new viewers or people who have only sporadically followed Ring of Honor until now, designed to get them up to speed with the product and the wrestlers. Making the product as accessible as possible when a new weekly show launches is sensible but a third (quick) match could have been squeezed in. Despite the high quality two matches just didn’t seem enough.

The videos introduced viewers to ROH world champion Davey Richards (who droned about wanting to fight the best and ROH having the best and failed to put the promotion over as “prestigious”), the Briscoes (who referred to themselves as ‘Dem Boys’ and told anyone who’d forgotten that they’d been with ROH “since day one!”), and Jay Lethal (who came across as very down to earth and likeable, which is exactly what the company was aiming for). It was also nice to see and hear mentions made of main events for the next two weeks: El Generico will defend the TV title against Lethal next week (Lethal wins) and Davey Richards will defend the ROH world championship against Roderick Strong the week after. Hopefully this will be a regular aspect of the show as it gives viewers a reason to tune back in each week. It’s an approach other wrestling (or sports entertainment) companies could learn from.

The show was great in the ring and that’s where it matters. The first match saw Futureshock drop the Bravados. It was the perfect opening match: four young guys in a fast paced match with plenty of high spots and near falls. It made me think of the Hart Foundation v The Rockers matches from the WWF: four young guys, two of whom are related, being billed as the future of the business. I could certainly see O’Reilly and Cole holding singles belts in the future and wouldn’t be surprised if the Bravados go on to become one of the top teams in ROH.

The main event was the Kings of Wrestling v Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team. Was this ever going to be a bad match? Haas and Benjamin got another clean win over the outgoing Castagnoli and Hero in a pay-per-view calibre match. All four men were on form and showed that they’re two of the best tag teams in wrestling, which makes it all the more irritating that the Kings have left the promotion.

The show’s play-by-play and video package hosting was ably handled by former Superstars, Metal and Jakked regular Kevin Kelly with former ROH world champion Nigel McGuinness taking care of colour commentary duties. Kelly was perfectly acceptable in his roles and Nigel was incredibly impressive. He’s been known as a great promo man for years but that skill doesn’t necessarily translate well to the commentary desk. McGuinness was lively, entertaining and offered a knowledgeable insight into both matches. In short he did his job perfectly. ROH made a good call in bringing him in for the role.

All in all Ring of Honor’s new show is off to a promising start. Once things settle down and they establish a routine for their tapings they can start working in more storylines (as they were doing during their HDNet run) to add meaning to the in-ring action. I encourage anyone who hasn’t already to track the episode down online, and look out for it on Ring of Honor’s website this Thursday. It’s nice for wrestling fans to have a wrestling show to watch again.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Blood Money

If you’ve watched the latest episode of SmackDown you will have seen a Randy Orton versus Cody Rhodes match. What you won’t have seen during that match is a nasty cut on Cody’s forehead with blood gushing from it, courtesy of an overzealous ‘Viper’ and the ring bell. Due to their current policy on graphic imagery (including blood) WWE decided to edit the red stuff off the show (because, as we all know, SmackDown is taped on Tuesday nights, giving the company several days to polish the show before its Friday night broadcast). It was there though, and it could be used to launch a new feud.

In a way this couldn’t have happened to a better person than Cody Rhodes. He’s been the recipient of a steady, if at times underwhelming, push all year, stemming from an errant 619 delivered by Rey Mysterio which allegedly required facial reconstructive surgery. He dropped his ‘Dashing’ moniker and started wearing a hood and a faceguard to the ring. Despite the logic flaws related to the faceguard (if Cody is wearing it so people don’t see his “hideously deformed” face why is it see-through?) it’s helped to establish Cody’s character direction for the last nine months.

With a win over Rey Mysterio at WrestleMania XXVII in April it’s been clear for some time that WWE sees Rhodes as a potential headliner. His recent Intercontinental title win has further demonstrated this while the addition of the “bag men” to his entrance has helped to set him apart from the rest of the roster.

WWE need to capitalise on this accident by putting Orton and Rhodes in a proper feud with one another. Cody can complain, as he did with Mysterio, that Orton was deliberately trying to harm him and attacked him with the sole intent of injuring him. Orton, being Orton, could probably get away with denying this but saying he wouldn’t have minded permanently injuring the former ‘Dashing One’. That could lead to a brawl that sees Cody eat a crowd-pleasing RKO before hiding under the ring at Hell in a Cell and costing Orton his title match with Mark Henry.

It’s nothing special, but that’s a basic outline for a Rhodes v Orton feud. The two have wrestled several times on RAW and SmackDown in the last few weeks and turned out good contests every time so I’d much rather see this feud begin than the Orton v Henry feud continue. And realistically, where can ‘The Viper’s’ feud with Mark Henry go after a Hell in a Cell math? That is traditionally a feud ending gimmick. There’s no way to keep the feud alive without adding more guys, so WWE should cut their losses and start a new feud for each man after the pay-per-view.

Whether it’s this storyline or something else WWE ought to be planning an on-screen rivalry between the two former Legacy members that lasts several months and sees each man take clean pay-per-view victories over the other, ideally with Cody winning their final encounter. An inadvertent cut could be the catalyst for another solid top of the card feud for Rhodes that helps to establish him as a main eventer if WWE lets it. And let’s not forget that’s exactly what they need.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Biff Swagger

I realised something while watching RAW the other day.

Is Jack Swagger the son of 1985 film character Biff Tannen? You decide...


Wednesday 21 September 2011

Seeing Doubles

For years WWE’s tag team division (and I use that word very loosely) has been unflinchingly dreadful. For much of the last few years the doubles gold has been used as a way of giving two singles guys something to do rather than as a way of introducing and elevating younger talent or two singles guys who clearly aren’t going to make the promotion any money by themselves.

In the last two months the tag ranks have received a boost, and it coincides with ‘The Game’s’ new on-screen role. With Triple H a noted advocate of tag team wrestling this is unlikely to be a coincidence. He may not have really replaced Vince McMahon behind the scenes but Triple H is clearly getting some input into what makes it to our screens.

The two men who have benefitted most from this renewed focus are Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne. I was sceptical when they were first put together as a team: it seemed WWE had thrown two guys together as a unit based on their size and smiley babyface personalities solely to take the belts from David Otunga and Michael McGillicutty (whom they were clearly unhappy with). The company’s record with tag teams indicated that Kingston and Bourne would win a non-title match over the champions and then capture the belts in a rematch and go on to have a meaningless reign until another new tandem was booked to defeat them a few months later.

Half of that did happen. Kingston and Bourne beat Otunga and McGillicutty in a non-title match and followed up with a title victory in a rematch a week later. Thankfully the pattern broke after that as the new champs have continued their winning ways... and have actually been defending the titles. Instead of disappearing off our screens Kingston and Bourne have had an increased presence on RAW and become regulars on SmackDown. They even received attention from WWE’s website in the form of a poll allowing fans to decide on their new team name. That the voters went with the disappointing Air Boom as opposed to Flight Club or The Legion of Boom is irrelevant (although those names are both clearly far better), what’s important is that fans were given the opportunity to show support for Bourne and Kingston and took it. Yes, WWE actually listened to the audience for once!

It looks as though the plan is to give guys on the undercard a chance to make an impression on audiences by pairing them up as tag teams. The Usos are still hanging in there on SmackDown while Curt Hawkins and Tyler Reks recently announced they will become a regular combo on RAW (though I imagine they’ll be getting most of their air time on Superstars). While they seem to be heading more towards a feud right now it’s possible that Jinder Mahal and The Great Khali will reunite as a team in the near future and we could even see Swagger and Ziggler being used as a team soon too.

Meanwhile Otunga and McGillicutty, the former tag team champions, are involved in a feud with Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler over their alleged lack of personality. Bringing attention to the fact that neither man is especially charismatic and pitting them against a 61-year-old may not seem like the best way to get the team over, but it’s giving them something to do and ensures they’re on TV every week. Had they lost the tag team championship a few months earlier they probably would have disappeared from television all together. Now they’ve at least been granted a follow-up storyline.

Although Air Boom have benefitted the most from the rejuvenation attempt the stars of the divison over the last few weeks have undoubtedly been R-Truth and The Miz. Since losing the WWE championship to John Cena in May The Miz has been given little to do besides a brief feud with former apprentice Alex Riley. R-Truth’s had even less to work with. He was built up as a challenger for John Cena at Capitol Punishment in June and has done nothing since losing unceremoniously to ‘The Champ’. Both are talented all-rounders capable of wrestling at a main event level for WWE (Miz in particular). It’s great that WWE recognised it had had them treading water for too long and put them together as a unit. The Awesome Truth (as they’re calling themselves) have a unique entrance that sets them apart as an act and guarantees them heel heat too. They’ve been a highlight not just of the tag scene but RAW in general since they announced their partnership so hopefully they will be kept together for a few months when they make their inevitable return to TV.

The company has lots of options for the future of its tag team division. Hawkins and Reks and the Usos may not mean much to anyone now but if they use the air time they’re given either team (or both teams) could work their way into a meaningful spot. There are guys like Tyson Kidd, Trent Barreta, Heath Slater, Mason Ryan, Drew McIntyre, Yoshi Tatsu, Broadus Clay, Santino Marella, and Zack Ryder not doing much on the main roster too, all of whom could make a worthwhile contribution to the tag scene.

It’s a good way of using developmental wrestlers too. Seth Rollins and Richie Steamboat have worked as a team in FCW in the past and new signing Antonio Cesaro, better known as Claudio Castagnoli, would be a natural fit on RAW pr SmackDown alongside long time partner Chris Hero (if he ever signs a contract that is). WWE are said to have their eyes on TNA’s Beer Money Inc. too and if that’s the case then they’re clearly serious about reenergising the doubles division. If it means more on-screen pairings such as Air Boom and The Awesome Truth it’s hard to argue against it.

Highway to Hell (in a Cell)

WWE need to reconsider their approach to pay-per-views. While there was nothing wrong with the amount of time between SummerSlam (held on August 14th) and Night of Champions (held on September 18th) there is something very wrong with the amount of time until WWE’s next PPV extravaganza. Hell in a Cell will be held exactly two weeks after Night of Champions on October 2nd. Two weeks is never going to be sufficient time to construct a worthwhile card. Three weeks is barely enough (and coincidentally that’s the amount of time WWE has allocated to promote Vengeance, the show after HIAC).

The smart thing to do would have been to cancel Hell in a Cell altogether. Shows based around gimmicks place unnecessary hindrances on the promotion’s booking and take away from the natural pacing of feuds. As feud pacing has been a problem for several years now you’d think WWE would want to avoid constricting themselves further. Had Hell in a Cell been dropped there would have been another five week gap between shows, which could have been used to build a meaningful event as opposed to the two shoddy ones we’re likely to see in reality.

That said WWE have been in smart in immediately announcing its two main event matches for the show: John Cena v CM Punk v Alberto Del Rio for the WWE championship and (deep breath) World Heavyweight champion Mark Henry defending the title against Randy Orton. Both will be Hell in a Cell matches.

The Hell in a Cell used to be WWE’s premier gimmick bout. It still is, but it’s fallen on hard times: being a prop wheeled out to fulfil the requirements of an annual show rather than the only way to settle a grudge between two bitter rivals has lessened the Cell’s aura, and it’s tougher to have an impactful bout without the shortcuts of blood and weapon shots.

The Cell used to be built to gradually. At first glance neither match announced for the October 2nd show warrants the gimmick, but that’s not the case. The CM Punk v John Cena feud has technically been going since the June 27th RAW (when Punk cut his infamous promo). They’ve wrestled on pay-per-view twice during the feud, taking a month off to face different guys at Night of Champions. That’s a nice approach to feuds that we don’t get to see enough. Del Rio involved himself in the feud at SummerSlam when he beat Punk the title, meaning he has faced both of his Hell in a Cell opponents on pay-per-view. It’s a natural three-way match, which is rare, and one that’s been constructed over the course of months, not weeks.

The World Heavyweight championship bout may not have as much build behind it but there’s still an appeal there. That Mark Henry beat one of WWE’s two most protected main event talents (the other, of course, being Jonathan Cena) clean on a pay-per-view was shocking. It could be argued that guys like Christian and Sheamus deserve to be World champion for more than Mark Henry (I’d argue that point, for example) but it’s largely irrelevant: ‘The Viper’ lost clean and wants to get revenge. That’s a simple reason for promoting a match and clean losses from Orton are so rare that people will be willing to pay to watch this match almost exclusively to see if Henry is permitted to go over two shows in a row.

I personally think the SmackDown match would be drastically improved by adding ‘Captain Charisma’ and ‘The Celtic Warrior’. While Orton versus Henry at NOC wasn’t appalling it was no match of the year contender either. From an entertainment standpoint a second singles match (no matter what the gimmick) between those two doesn’t appeal. Sheamus and Christian would ensure a higher quality of match.

I’m not convinced we’ll see that though. A Sheamus v Christian match is looking likely, and that should be a very good match. Another option is for a feud between Christian and Daniel Bryan based around Christian’s longing for title opportunities immediately after scheduled defences. Were Christian to challenge Bryan to a match for his Money in the Bank briefcase it would provide a sensible storyline development and produce a top notch match. This may not happen at Hell in a Cell, but bear it in mind for the weeks following the show.

The big question for Hell in a Cell right now is what role The Miz and R-Truth will play. You may well have read their “future endeavours” announcement on Tuesday morning but don’t let that fool you. It’s been done to further the angle that closed Monday Night RAW (Triple H sauntered onto the stage and told the duo they were fired).

That WWE is finally beginning to understand how to utilise things like Twitter and its own established routines (such as the future endeavours message) to its advantage in the building of angles and storylines is a very good sign. It makes suspension of disbelief easier and injects some uncertainty into a product that has become formulaic and predictable.

So what’s next for Truth and Miz? I think they’re going to perform at least one run-in. That or appear on RAW next week as if nothing happened saying they’ve been rehired by John Laurinaitis. Hopefully it will be the interference. It’s possible it will happen on next week’s RAW but I think the HIAC PPV is more likely, and the WWE title triple threat match is the most likely match to see them involved.

I stated in my Night of Champions preview that I believe Johnny Ace is trying to take the COO position and I still think that. He may have denied it on RAW when CM Punk voiced the accusation but look at the facts: Laurinaitis was the one who signed Kevin Nash to a contract; Nash stated that he had Jack-knifed Punk after his SummerSlam victory after receiving a text; Johnny Ace was shown texting during Night of Champions, moments before Nash appeared; Laurinaitis has been shown on various occasions to be fairly pally (or as pally as he’s capable of portraying) with Alberto Del Rio; and he told Triple H on his first full week in charge how Vince would want things run.

It looks as though they’re building to a reveal that Johnny Ace is part of a conspiracy to take control of WWE, using ‘Big Sexy’, Miz and Truth as henchmen. Part of his goal appears to be having the title on Alberto Del Rio (that guy that Vince told to cash-in on CM Punk back at Money in the Bank remember?). How it’s all going to come together on-screen is still a mystery, but it certainly looks as though he’s behind it all.

Although I don’t think he’s the mastermind. There’s only one character WWE would promote as being as devious and crafty as this (even though this isn’t particularly devious or crafty, but bear with me) and that’s... VINCE MCMAHON! Yeah, I’m fully expecting Laurinaitis to reveal at some point in the future that all his texts, hirings, firings and unsubtle attempts to influence WWE’s on-screen balance of power have come from Vince McMahon. It’s not the worst thing that could happen, but it would be fairly unimaginative.

For now though, we have Hell in a Cell to look forward to. Two world titles matches and a fairly good chance that the company’s lead storyline will progress significantly? Not bad with only two weeks to build a show... even if it does mean sitting through a Mark Henry world title reign.

Monday 19 September 2011


“So I know what you’re here for. You wanna hear about September 17th. Who’s Davey Richards gonna defend the title against? Well I’ll be honest with you people, I won’t be there. I will be in Japan. You see I’m the only competitor in this company that works for the prestigious New Japan Pro Wrestling. All the great juniors, Koji Kanemoto, Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, Tiger Mask. [stabs a finger at his chest] I have beaten them all. You see I will go there representing Ring of Honor, I will go there as a representative of this great company, because I wear this belt and it means more than just a piece of metal around my waist. It is a passion, an essence in my heart. These two men in my absence [indicates the men flanking him, Kyle O’Reilly and Tony Kozina] will carry forth that passion and that essence, along with the rest of this roster, whether I like them, dislike them, love them, hate them... We all carry fighter’s spirit in this company. So I’m not needed in New York City, you’ll be just fine without me. But know this: you will all be with me, you will be within this company while I’m in Japan. [points at the camera and whispers] The hunt’s on” – ROH World champion Davey Richards, explaining why he wouldn’t be at ROH’s internet pay-per-view Death Before Dishonor

ROH world champion Davey Richards believes that tedious diatribe (which was even more boring to listen to than it was to read) suffices as an explanation as to why he chose to go on a routine tour of Japan rather than compete on a high profile ROH show. He’s wrong.

As the company’s world champion Davey’s priority should be Ring of Honor. By talking about how “prestigious” New Japan is and choosing to go there instead of defending his title on a pay-per-view being held one week before the launch of ROH’s new TV show he made Ring of Honor look ridiculous. What made it an even more selfish move was that ROH didn’t have access to Colt Cabana, Steve Corino, Chris Hero or Claudio Castagnoli to help attract more viewers. As the champion Davey should have felt responsible for improving this situation. That he was happy to leave the promotion in this hole shows he’s not the company-minded man fans see him as.

I’d also like to point out that New Japan Pro Wrestling, despite what Davey Richards says, is no more or less prestigious than any other Japanese wrestling outfit. Davey chose to describe the company as “prestigious” in the hope that people would believe he’d been headhunted to appear for a truly remarkable organisation, making him appear more successful and a bigger star than is actually the case. Unfortunately for him this wasn’t the case: Japanese companies routinely use foreign wrestlers of all sizes. There’s nothing special about a tour of Japan (for any promotion) in 2011.

It was a less than ideal situation, created by one individual’s selfishness. But, as is usually the case in professional wrestling, things can be turned to the company’s advantage...

 I’d like to see this state of affairs develop into a full heel turn for Davey Richards. The process could begin by having Richards come up with excuses as to why he can’t compete at ROH house shows between now and the end of the year. He should only be booked to appear at TV tapings and whatever internet pay-per-views are held between now and the end of the year.

Davey’s reason for missing the house shows would be tours of Japan (if he can’t be booked on real ones then ROH could just fictionalise some). He would appear on television to make it very clear that he’d love to work more dates for Ring of Honor, but that he sees it as part of the duty of being champion to spread the promotion’s name overseas, and the best way he can do that is by working for prestigious companies such as NJPW. He’d need to use the word “prestigious”. That’s a key part of the plan.

These excuses would go on indefinitely until fans begin to notice a trend. Once they twigged Richards would change his reasons for not appearing at ROH’s smaller shows: he would simply state that they’re not “prestigious” enough for an athlete of his calibre. That would hopefully encourage fan backlash, which could be played up further by Davey saying that he’s a huge international star and that he won’t compete unless the match is to be broadcast on TV or pay-per-view.

It’s a simple story for fans to follow and ROH (and Richards) to execute and would breathe a bit of personality into ‘The American Wolf’. What I like about it is that it’s an extension of his real life personality (something wrestlers always say helps people and angles to get over): he really does love competing in Japan and wouldn’t need to fabricate his feelings. Once he’s turned heel fully he could have an extended run with a top babyface who wants to protect the “prestige” of Ring of Honor by regaining the belt and defending it everywhere, not just on bigger shows. Davey is capable of realistically facing anyone in the company, and the story could progress with ROH granting a wider variety of wrestlers title shots in their desperate quest to take their title back.

Eddie Edwards would be ideal for the top babyface spot: he could credibly say that losing the title to Richards was a blow to his pride but he at least knew the title was with someone who cared about ROH. With that clearly not being the case anymore Eddie would have a motive for feuding with Richards.

The final touch would be Davey Richards being billed as ‘Prestigious’ Davey Richards. It would fit with his character, rile fans and make storyline sense. Effective heat just for the ring announcer saying one extra word? That can’t be a bad deal.

Sadly, I can’t see ROH using this storyline or anything close to it for a long time to come. They spent a year preparing Davey Richards for a run with the ROH world championship and they’re not going to turn him heel just because some people (myself included) feel Eddie Edwards was a better fit as babyface champion, or becayse Davey opted to go on one tour of Japan over appearing on a Ring of Honor pay-per-view. It’s a storyline that would work well, but too much time has been invested into making Richards the leading man of the company.

It’s not a question of ability. He makes a more than credible ROH champion. No, it’s more a question of prestige.

Better Breed of Champion

No it’s not a mass hallucination. Mark Henry really is the World Heavyweight champion...

Sunday 18 September 2011

By the Numbers

After watching last night’s Death Before Dishonor IX event I’m of the opinion that Ring of Honor need to cut back on their running times a little. While the show was mostly enjoyable too many of the matches felt as though they were stalling for time, and the intermission seemed to go on forever.

I’ve never had a problem with ROH sticking an intermission in the middle of their pay-per-views until last night. While the show’s graphic being put on screen during the break was an improvement on the blank grey screen we were treated to at Best in the World it still wasn’t good enough. With ROH looking to expand into new markets and attract new audiences it cannot present another iPPV featuring twenty minutes of a blank screen.

Would it really have been that difficult to knock together some promos to play during the break? Even better would have been an advert for the debut of their new TV show. That nobody in Ring of Honor is thinking of the break as a good place to get across storylines, promote lower card talent or advertise upcoming shows is worrying. They’ve paid for the air time so they should use it.

The wrestling itself was, as always, top notch. The opening match of Rhino and Tommaso Ciampa v Homicide and Jay Lethal was the only match that I felt could have used more time rather than less. Considering it featured the popular Lethal, hometown boy Homicide, and Ciampa (whom ROH clearly has big plans for) a higher spot on the card and an extra three or four minutes could have been applied to the bout. It was solid as it was though.

Shelton Benjamin v Mike Bennett was easily the worst bout of the night. It’s a shame that Benjamin, one of the most athletic men on the ROH roster, was lumbered with the glacially-paced Bennett. Far too much stalling made this a chore to watch after a few minutes. As Benjamin went over a better approach would have been to put on a quick five minute match with an electric pace, thus saving time and giving the audience something more exciting.

The slowest match on the card was followed by the quickest: Future Shock v the Bravado Brothers v the Young Bucks was a massively enjoyable match with the sort of action ROH was associated with a few years ago. You know, before they decreased the attention on quick matches in favour of giving even more time to stiff guys like Davey Richards? The Bravados got an impressive amount of heat before they were eliminated from the contest, which will hopefully convince Ring of Honor to start using them more often (the Bravados have been underrated as a heel act throughout 2011). The second segment, in which the former TNA employees faced off with Ring of Honor’s favourite tag team-on-the- rise, was excellent. With the Young Bucks refusing to shake hands with Future Shock after their win (something they are notorious for if you believe Dave Prazak and Kevin Kelly, though I’d never heard of them doing this before) I would imagine these two teams will face one another again soon. That’s a good thing.

El Generico v Jimmy Jacobs went around ten minutes before the inevitable Kevin Steen run-in. Personally I think that was too long: after that length of time the audience were invested in the match so it was irritating that we didn’t get a clear winner. They should have been allowed to wrestle to a decision or been given less time so the no finish was less frustrating for fans. Presumably we’ll get a rematch on the new TV show or at another pay-per-view within the next few months.

Steen was as bombastic as ever. Grabbing a microphone at ringside he trash talked both Generico and Jacobs before ripping into Steve Corino (who was in Japan, a fact that ROH had cleverly used to advance his “redemption” storyline). The locker room emptied to help security tackle ‘Mr Wrestling’, only for him to break free numerous times. At various points he powerbombed Jacobs onto the ring apron, absorbed a senton dive from Generico (which he hilariously no-sold, laughing as he slid into the ring to the sound of cheers), attempted a package piledrive on ROH founder Cary Silkin, and took a feeble-looking punch from Jim Cornette (which got a monster pop from the crowd). The announcers were silent during this, revealing later that they’d been instructed to not even mention his name. It was wild and frantic and the crowd loved it.

If Glory By Honor X in Chicago is broadcast on pay-per-view I expect Steen will make an appearance there too. Whether that happens or not I’m convinced he’ll be in attendance at Final Battle. It’s a little early to say for sure but I don’t think it’s impossible Steen will wrestle on the card. That would necessitate a storyline in which Cornette is petitioned by fans, Jacobs, Corino and possibly El Generico to lift the ban on ‘Mr Wrestling’ but there’s more than enough time to set them up. A Steen v Corino match at the December show could be huge.

Following the aforementioned intermission Charlie Haas beat Michael Elgin in a fprgettable, overly long bout. I’d much rather have seen Benjamin and Haas defend their titles or go against opponents better suited to their styles. Either one of them would have been a good opponent for Jay Lethal, and that would have freed up a slot as Homicide’s tag partner for Low Ki (though at this point it looks like ROH isn’t interested in bringing back ‘The World Warrior’).

The Ringmaster Challenge between Eddie Edwards and the House of Truth’s Roderick Strong was the best wrestling match on the show. That said it did deflate slightly in places due to the odd rules of the match and the lengthy running time. The first fall (pinfall only) was won by Strong after a backbreaker variant (what else?) while the second fall (submission only) went to ‘Die Hard’ Eddie Edwards (it was the first time I’d heard ROH use this faintly ridiculous nickname for him) and his Achilles Lock.

The third fall was a fifteen minute Iron Man match that saw no falls until the last few minutes. I’d expected a decision-heavy segment but what we got inside was fine. The finish was anything but fine, however: as the clock ticked down each man gained a fall on the other and the match ended in a draw. This brought out Jim Cornette to announce sudden death overtime. That got a cheap pop but it was another example of the running time of the show being overly long. Unless the match was going to end on a draw there was no point doing the draw. Had Strong refused to the overtime it would have made sense as it would have infuriated the fans and allowed Strong to play the cowardly heel. As it was it was just a waste of time.

The overtime segment was highly enjoyable, but there was nothing in there that couldn’t have gone into the fifteen minute Iron Man fall. This was another match that could have been better by having a few minutes trimmed from it.

Then came the Ladder War. Rhett Titus and both Briscoes were bleeding by the end of a match that featured so many chairs and tables it would have been more accurate to bill it as a TLC match. In the latest chapter in the storied relationship between the Briscoes and ‘The Big Apple’ a large portion of the audience decided to root for the natives of Sandy Fork, Delaware. When they’re faces New York doesn’t want to know, when they’re ruthless, aggressive heels shouting about soup they get cheers: typical wrestling fans.

As I predicted, the All Night Express finally gained a victory over the more experienced team when it counted, earning themselves a tag team title match against Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team at Glory By Honor X and ending the pay-per-view on a high. This may not have been the most technical match ANX have ever participated in, but it is one of their most memorable and has prepared them for a tag title run in the near future. Will that reign start at GBH? I’ll make an early prediction and say yes.

Considering the promotion didn’t have Colt Cabana, the Kings of Wrestling, Chris Daniels, Steve Corino or ROH champion Davey Richards to use I think they put on a fine show. But if you don’t take into account their depleted roster it was merely average. I said in my preview of the show that I hope the company starts building some new stars to fill the spots outgoing stars are creating and having seen the show it’s become more apparent that they need to do that sooner rather than later.

Bringing back a few older names could give the promotion a boost too. Jimmy Rave would be a natural fit with the Embassy and would inject some much needed fresh blood into the title picture. TJ Perkins deserves a chance to wrestle for the company again. I mentioned Low Ki above, he and Homicide could spice up the tag scene and also work gripping title matches with Davey Richards. Sonjay Dutt and Kenny Omega could return to bulk out the mid-card too. The promotion has options, it just needs to make a few phone calls.

Death Before Dishonor IX was a pay-per-view by the numbers: two former champions in a singles bout, a gimmick match main event, and a mostly enjoyable but utterly forgettable undercard. WWE can afford this approach to its big shows but ROH can't. Hire some guys and build some new names: that needs to be Ring of Honor’s priority for the rest of the year.

Friday 16 September 2011

The Life and Times of Blyler Tack

On September 11th 2010 Colby ‘Tyler Black’ Lopez made his final appearance for Ring of Honor. Black had announced before that match that he had agreed to a WWE developmental deal and would be leaving the promotion, win or lose, after the September 11th show. He had also declared his intention to retain the title and leave as champion. Naturally this didn’t sit well with the ROH faithful, who pelted the champion with chants of “NXT” and “FCW” as he defended the title against Roderick Strong in one of the best matches of the year.

As the outgoing heel champion Black naturally lost the match, but the biggest losers that night were the ROH fans. Black had proven himself to be a capable and adaptable performer. His promos may have needed a little work, but his wrestling was sound and he was good enough at reading an audience to know that using John Cena’s patented “You can’t see me!” hand gesture and the Five Knuckle Shuffle would get him huge heat during his bout with Strong. No doubt about it, Tyler Black was one of Ring of Honor’s most dependable all-rounders.

So what have WWE done with Black since he signed his developmental contract? What they do with practically all independent wrestlers: changed his ring name (to Seth Rollins), stuck him in Florida Championship Wrestling and left him there for a year. This isn’t anything new. It’s exactly what they did to CM Punk when he signed a developmental deal (after a storyline very similar to Black’s at the end of his ROH run coincidentally) in 2005. It’s what they’ve done to Colt Cabana, Bryan Danielson, Bryan Kendrick and tons of other talented individuals over the years. Why do they do this? All together now...

To teach them how to work!

Yes, it’s WWE’s belief that you cannot succeed in “the big leagues” without having been taught to wrestle (or sports entertain) the ‘WWE style’. In the last five years or so only a handful of men and women have bypassed FCW and debuted straight onto the main roster. Bryan Danielson was told he would be debuting on the ECW replacement (which became NXT) when he re-signed with the promotion in late 2009, but ended up working a few FCW shows of his own volition, saying that he wanted to keep free of ring rust and stay in shape.

Kia ‘Awesome Kong/Kharma’ Stevens and Sin Cara (the original one, Luis Ignascio Urive Alvirde a.k.a. Mistico) are the only other two names that spring to mind as those deemed ready for the bright lights of Monday Night RAW. In the case of Kharma WWE made the right decision: she had been ready for a spot in WWE for years. But they got it completely wrong with the former Mistico. His inability to speak English and unfamiliarity with the US style (Mexican wrestling works to a noticably different pace and logic to wrestling anywhere else in the world (it’s part of its charm)) made him the ideal candidate for FCW. That he was deemed ready despite these severe limitations puzzled most fans and time has proven that it was the wrong decision. In turn that has proven that FCW is a useful tool but not one that can be applied to every wrestler the same way.

On an edition of Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast that was recorded around the time of his exit from Ring of Honor Black joked that he would be called up to NXT and given the ring name ‘Blyler Tack’, in reference to the massively unimaginative ‘Daniel Bryan’ ring name Bryan Danielson had been given, or ‘Gaylord Hanski’, in reference to the idiotic names of NXT’s second season. He was joking but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s longing for a spot on NXT now, silly ring name and all.

Black wasn’t and isn’t the perfect worker. As I noted above his promos could be better and he is (or was when he signed) used to the more frantic pace of indy matches and the stiff style of Ring of Honor. He did need to make some changes before appearing on RAW or SmackDown but a year is overkill. That WWE have had Heath Slater, David Otunga, Mason Ryan, David Hart Smith, Tyler Reks, Trent Baretta and various other no-hopers on TV throughout 2011 without giving Tyler Black a try is both astounding and moronic... especially at a time when WWE desperately needs to create new stars for its paper thin roster. He’s a star-in-waiting, and the sooner WWE realises that the better.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Night of Champions preview

Do you like bright blue posters featuring bearded men holding a championship belt over their heads? If the answer to that question is yes then the WWE Night of Champions 2011 poster is just what you’ve been looking for. If, like me, you’re fairly disinterested in such posters don’t be disheartened, Night of Champions still may have something to offer you!

Yes, it’s time for WWE’s fourth annual Night of Champions pay-per-view. It’s sort of a gimmick pay-per-view, just with a more enjoyable and logical gimmick. Instead of a handful of matches on the show being fought inside the Hell in a Cell (as will happen next month at, erm, Hell in a Cell) the gimmick is simply that all of the company’s titles will be defended. WWE never really promotes the event in the right way which is a shame because I think if they got it right it could be quite meaningful.

Putting aside the show’s promotion and what it could be I think the announced card looks very strong. The most anticipated title match (I’ll get to the non-title match) is probably Alberto Del Rio’s defence of the WWE championship against John Cena. I think ADR is tremendous: he’s a polished act and a great performer. There’s just something about this match that doesn’t excite me. It comes down to how underwhelming the feud has been since starting a few weeks ago. It doesn’t help that Cena being booked as challenger in place of Punk steals a little of ‘The Straight Edge Superstar’s’ thunder.

Del Rio cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Punk at SummerSlam, but it was Cena screaming and shouting about unjust that move was the next night on RAW. It was Cena who stated that Del Rio is not a champion (I assumed he meant that metaphorically because Del Rio clearly is a champion). It’s also Cena involved in a WWE championship match for the third pay-per-view in a row despite the fact that Punk won and retained the belt on the last two supershows by beating ‘The Doctor of Thuganomics’. Cena won a number one contenders match on RAW? So what! What about the “contractually obligated” rematch all champions are supposed to receive? Punk has not been involved in a WWE championship match since losing the title to Del Rio at SummerSlam. That not only degrades the title (what does it say about a championship when a former champion isn’t fussed about his rematch?), it makes Punk look inferior to Cena.

I would have much preferred a three-way WWE title match including Punk. The Triple H match could have waited until Hell in a Cell or Survivor Series and Punk would have been portrayed as the serious competitor he’s supposed to be.

But we’ve got Cena challenging ADR alone. I don’t think it will be a bad match, but I have a feeling the two will have slightly awkward chemistry. As I said above I’m surprised at how lacklustre their feud has been so far: this feud is the reason Del Rio was moved from SmackDown to RAW in April, so it would have been fair to assume that a plan was in place for this program months ago. If it was I’ve seen no evidence of it in the past few weeks, the segments involving the two men have been the usual Cena routine. They’ve certainly not seemed like the segments of two men fighting over the top belt in the business. Maybe things will pick up between NOC and HIAC. If they don’t I suspect both men will have fresh opponents when Survivor Series rolls around.

Who’ll leave Buffalo as champion this Sunday? Despite the fact that Cena has lost clean on the last two shows I think Del Rio will retain the gold. Interference from Ricardo Rodriguez will allow Del Rio to keep hold of the gold and his heat whilst continuing the program for another month. I cannot see Cena losing clean, no matter how much it would benefit Del Rio. If that’s going to happen it will be at one of the two WWE pay-per-views in October, or Survivor Series if the two men suddenly click.

The second world title match this Sunday will see Randy Orton put his World Heavyweight championship on the line against ‘Better is Better’ Mark Henry (that’s not what WWE bills him as, it’s a reference to a line he used a few times earlier in the year – a line that should have caught on and become a regular part of his routine). Despite Henry’s claims in recent weeks that he’s been overlooked throughout his entire WWE career this is not the first time that he’s challenged for a world title. It’s not even the first time he’s challenged for a world title on pay-per-view. But it is the first time that he’s come across as a genuine threat to win the title. That either says a lot for WWE’s writing team and Henry himself or the state of the current roster, I can’t tell which.

Looks can be deceiving. No matter how well Henry’s been booked I think the plan has always been for ‘The Apex Predator’ to retain. Henry’s been established as an unstoppable monster that shows no remorse, and that seems to have made a lot of people think he’s going to beat Orton. No, he’s been built up as unstoppable to make the babyface that does stop him look stronger.

I think the match could be surprisingly good (Henry’s been on as good a form as he’s capable of for a few months now) but there’s no way anyone can convince me Henry has a chance of winning the title. Orton to win.

On the undercard there’s an enjoyable looking four-way match for the United States championship: Dolph Ziggler defends against Alex Riley, John Morrison and Jack Swagger. Ziggler and Morrison are two of my favourite WWE performers and should enjoy some entertaining exchanges in this match. Swagger has a lot of potential (and is a former World Heavyweight champion don’t forget) but seems to be in the unfortunate position of being someone the writing team don’t know how to use properly. He’s a good wrestler and should help to make this match work well.

The potential weak link of the bout is A-Ry. WWE seem to have pulled back on his push since his feud with the Miz ended and so crowds aren’t reacting to him as well as they were. On the plus side he’s been given televised wins over Ziggler to make him look like a contender going into this match and he’ll be with three very talented workers so he’s almost guaranteed a good pay-per-view match to his name.

One of the goals in this match will be to progress the Ziggler and Swagger storyline (neither of them like sharing Vickie Guerrero’s managerial services). At the moment there are two ways I can see the story going. The first is to have one of the men turn face for a full feud, with Vickie staying with whoever the heel is. The second is for the two men to become a reluctant tag team to are successful despite the fact that they don’t get along. It could be something else entirely but those strike me as the likeliest options. For the record I’d prefer the tag team option. It’s a well worn storyline but when done right it can get everyone involved over and be enjoyable to watch.

I’m pretty sure Ziggler is going to lose the belt because I can’t imagine WWE promoting so many title matches without a couple of switches. I’ve no idea who’ll walk out as the champ though. Morrison’s push has been halted (again) because of his relationship with Melina (which is over, but that won’t mean anything to WWE management) so I can’t see him winning. Riley could win but there’s nobody obvious for him to feud with, so I’ll pick Swagger to win as that seems like a logical progression.

At time of writing Intercontinental champion Cody Rhodes doesn’t have an opponent announced. I’m confident he’ll defend his title though. Against who? Ted DiBiase is the most obvious candidate seeing as Cody turned on him recently. Whoever he faces I think Cody will win as it seems as though the promotion is finally grooming him for a main event spot with his “restoration of the Intercontinental title” storyline. Losing the belt so soon after winning it would accomplish nothing.

Beth Phoenix will challenge Kelly Kelly for the Divas championship for the second month in a row. There’s no way of knowing for sure but I suspect the reason Beth didn’t win the title at SummerSlam is because WWE wanted to save the win for her home town. It would make sense as the crowd is going to be behind Phoenix during the match and having her announced as the new champion should make the pop slightly bigger when she wins. Yes, I’m picking Beth Phoenix to win: Double K’s had the belt since June and it’s time for a change. I also think Kelly will work better as a babyface chasing a heel champion.

The final title match sees WWE tag team champions Air Boom defend against R-Truth and The Miz. First of all I want to say that I think Miz and Truth are a tremendous pairing. The two characters gel nicely and both men riff off one another perfectly. Although they’ve barely worked together they are my favourite WWE tag team (until the Kings of Wrestling debut at least).

But being my favourite doubles act doesn’t automatically mean I think they’ll win. I’d like them to win, but I have a feeling part of the reason they’ve been put together is to give Kingston and Bourne an impressive win to establish them as a top team that the tag division can be constructed around. Miz and Truth are both main event level talents and beating them should establish that Air Boom are a tight unit. I could be wrong and we could see new champions but I suspect we’re going to see the champs reign at the top of the rejuvenated doubles ranks for a while yet.

And then there’s the lone non-title match of the show. Triple H versus CM Punk. No disqualification. If Triple H loses he must vacate his position as Chief Operating Officer. With just one stipulation WWE have practically ruined this match. It’s not that it gives the result away (there’s no way of knowing who will walk out of this match with the win), it just takes some of the focus off the personal issues between the two men and places them on Triple H’s on-screen authority role. That should just be a backdrop to ‘The Game’s’ character, not the focus of a pay-per-view main event.

The build to this match has been confusing. There’s not been any physical interaction between the two men save for Punk lamping Triple H over the head with a microphone at the end of Monday’s RAW. That should ensure the video package for the match looks more at the various promos the two have cut on each other rather than the more traditional approach of showing two adversaries punching and kicking one another and then hitting their finishing moves.

The match itself should be good. Both Punk and ‘The King of Kings’ are experienced workers who know how to pace a match and work in memorable spots and believable false finishes. It’s a fairly safe bet that the Spanish announce team’s table will be saved for this match too. WWE (and Triple H) will want this to be a memorable encounter.

Match quality isn’t what worries me. It’s the needless COO stipulation that does. Let’s review the facts. John Laurinaitis has gotten himself involved in match making a few times over the past month or two. That same John Laurinaitis tried to tell Triple H how Vince would want the company run when ‘The Game’ became storyline COO. He was also the man who signed Kevin Nash to his contract, and the man who was seen walking around backstage with ‘Big Sexy’. If Triple H isn’t COO who takes over? In storyline terms there’s only one option: Mr John Laurinaitis.

I suspect Nash will appear at Night of Champions. The way he was written off TV was far too ordinary considering he’d been part of the promotion’s lead storyline for a month, and he now has an interest in seeing Punk and Triple H fail. He can assault both men (it’s no DQ remember), drape one man’s arm over the other, and then leave or resume the beating, whichever he fancies.

Who will he help to win? Punk of course. That way his buddy John Laurinaitis can take over as COO and re-sign him to a new big money contract and give him the match with CM Punk that he wants.

This strikes me as frighteningly plausible and I’m fairly sure we’re going to see the Triple H v Punk match play out along these lines. I don’t think WWE can afford to have Punk lose on pay-per-view if they want to turn him into a huge star. Perhaps they don’t want him to become a big star and this is their way of sabotaging him. It’s not too hard to imagine that being true. I’m not sure it’s the case though. I think it’s more about Triple H, Vince, the writing team and Punk himself not knowing where to take the character next.

Of course there is the possibility that a Triple H heel turn will happen. That would allow him to lose and retain his COO position by saying he never put the losing his job stipulation into the match contract or something like that. It’s a bit cheap, but logical and simple enough. I don’t think it’ll happen though. If a Triple H heel turn happens it will likely be in a few months time.

On paper this looks like the third strong WWE show in a row. I don’t think it will quite manage to better Money in the Bank (the best WWE event of 2011 in my opinion) but it does stand a chance of topping SummerSlam. As long as match quality is high and there are one or two surprises Night of Champions should be one to remember. Any time there’s the chance of a Johnny Ace promo you know you’re on to a winner!

Hardy Constitution

Writing about Matt and Jeff Hardy is far more difficult than you might think. I’ve been postponing a blog on them for months, and have started this opening paragraph several times. I find it difficult to put into words my feelings for them without it sounding as though I hate everything about them. I don’t. I appreciate that both men have impressive bodies of work to their name, and that they played relatively large parts in the latter years of the WWF’s Attitude Era. Neither is without talent, it’s what they do, or don’t do, with their abilities that frustrates me.

The first time I remember being actively negative towards a Hardy brother was after Jeff’s arrest on September 11th 2009. He was charged with possession of 262 Vicodin prescription pills, 180 soma prescription pills, 555 milliliters of anabolic steroids, and drug paraphernalia, as well as trafficking controlled substances (he plead guilty to these charges on Thursday 8th September 2011, as well as the charge of intent to distribute controlled substances). The arrest came just weeks after Jeff’s latest run with WWE had finished (Jeff had opted not to renew his contract with the promotion). ‘The Charismatic Enigma’ had spent several months in a feud with CM Punk focusing on the opposing lifestyles the two men lead outside the ring. The entire situation was dripping with irony.

My initial thought was that Vince McMahon and his cohorts must have been extremely glad that Hardy’s arrest took place after he left the promotion. Then I thought that it served Jeff right, and I stand by that. It’s one thing for a wrestler to smoke weed after a match, but it’s quite another for them to be in possession of such large quantities of substances that can damage lives to a massive degree. Jeff was clearly not intending it all for personal use, and that is what I disliked about the situation: Hardy had just had just experienced the most financially rewarding period of his career and was living in a trailer. He was clearly fine for money but still felt the need to sell illegal substances. What was he going to get from that situation?

Days after Hardy’s arrest CM Punk cut a promo regarding the arrest on SmackDown. Jeff apparently still holds a grudge against Punk now. I can understand why, but what I can’t understand is why he has only lashed out at Punk over the matter. The promo took place long before Punk’s latest push, and everything he said was okayed by Vince McMahon. Shouldn’t Jeff lump at least some of the blame on Vince for asking Punk to cut the promo in the first place?

In case you’ve never see it before, here’s the infamous Matt and Jeff video in which they present their views on CM Punk (warning: it may put you off chips for life):

Yes, Jeff attempts to verbally trash ‘The Second City Saint’ for discussing his rampant drug problems while cearly “in no condition to perform”. I’ll get to Matt Hardy below, but his closing lines regarding Punk and Lita (it was rumored at the time that Punk was in a relationship with Lita, Matt
 Hardy’s ex-girlfriend) clearly stem from jealousy and whatever credibility they may have held are lost the moment the viewer notices the chip dangling from between Matt’s pudgy fingers.

That video provides a great insight into the life of a ‘Charismatic Enigma’. Based on what we see Jeff’s welcome to it.

When Jeff returned to TNA in January of last year I was surprised, but I wasn’t unhappy. He had proven during the preceding years in WWE that he could perform at the highest level and be a tremendous asset to a roster. That’s not happened in TNA, but Jeff can’t be held responsible for that (nobody could make Vince Russo write an intelligible wrestling show).

What he can be held responsible for is his behavior at Victory Road on March 13th. It was clear Jeff was “in no condition to perform” before, during or after this match. He and nobody else has to shoulder the responsibility of that debacle. He knew when he got up that morning he was wrestling in a pay-per-view main event. He knew his co-workers were relying on him to produce a match good enough to encourage repeat business for both the live audience and those watching at home. He knew that a lot of people had attended the show or tuned in at home on the strength of his announced match with Sting. He decided to drink or smoke or eat whatever it was that impaired his performance prior to the match, knowing full well he’d be letting people down. It was a show of complete contempt on Hardy’s part.

TNA did the right thing by sending Jeff home and asking him to seek help for his problems. Jeff didn’t do this until recently, knowing his court appearance was coming up. Nobody could make Jeff attend any sort of course or clinic, and he was already working as light a schedule as was feasible. TNA had done all they could to support Hardy. It boiled down to him not wanting to be helped.

Jeff returned to TNA at the August 25th IMPACT taping (aired on September 8th) and cut an unfocused, faux-humble promo in front of a crowd so disinterested they had to be coaxed into various pro-Hardy chants. He apologized, admitted he’d let everyone down and asked for one more chance. I’d like to believe Jeff feels genuine remorse for his treatment of the paying audience but I don’t. I believe he was playing the humble babyface role.

I hope the $100,000 fine, the (incredibly light) ten day prison sentence, and 30 months of probation suffice as a signal to the younger Hardy brother that he needs to change his ways before he ends up dead.

The feelings I have to Jeff are best described as disappointment more than anything else. He’s a talented performer who has worked hard to reach the position he’s at today. I’m not just talking about the crazy bumps he’s taken in stunt matches, but the work he put in during the latter half of the last decade with regards to his verbal ability and character: Jeff became a well rounded performer through hard work and he deserves to succeed, make a good living and retire with his health intact. Whether he can does it in TNA, WWE or elsewhere is irrelevant.

 My feelings towards the elder Hardy are probably best described as contempt.

For as long as I’ve been a wrestling fan Matt Hardy has come across in interviews (I’m speaking here of printed interviews (printerviews?) online and in magazines as opposed to segments on WWE television) as someone who thinks far too highly of himself. Any viewer would be able to tell you that Matt Hardy has only ever been a mid-card wrestler, but he routinely speaks of himself as though he’s a headline talent of the highest level.

The expansion of social networking sites has only made this more apparent. You need only look at Matt Hardy’s early entries to his YouTube channel or his Twitter account for multiple examples of what I’m talking about. A particular favorite example is the following tweet:

Hulkster & Jeff brought me in & the ratings keep growin-Coincidence?I think not! FACT! .. Dixie, u can thank ME & Jeff 4 the ratings jump-just saying

Posted in February this year this tweet was in reference to IMPACT’s rating going from its usual position in the 1.1 range to an almighty 1.3.The TNA locker room was understandably irked by this attitude and fans were puzzled. Hulk Hogan, Rob Van Dam and Matt’s own brother Jeff, all far bigger names than Matt Hardy, had all been with the company for a year at that point: for Matt to suggest he was a bigger draw than any of them was ludicrous. The weird thing is that he probably believes it.

 His most recent online escapades stand a good chance of becoming what ‘The Sensei of Mattitude’ is most remembered for in years to come. It started late last year when Matt began posting some really odd videos to his YouTube account in an attempt to gain his release from WWE. He wanted to go to TNA, be presented as a big star and hang out with his brother, so he posted a bizarre series of videos and exhibited odd behavior during the promotion’s UK tour. The insanity peaked when he was sent home to the States (due to the aforementioned odd behavior) and then posted videos claiming he was still on tour with the promotion in Britain.

Eventually Matt was released and joined TNA three months later. He worked there for under six months before being sent home, reportedly for his lax attitude towards timekeeping. When you’re a former prominent WWE star and even TNA doesn’t want you on TV you know things are bad.

On August 20th, two months after TNA had sent him home, Matt crashed his car into a tree and was arrested on a DWI (driving while intoxicated) charge. TNA released him. Instead of doing the sensible thing and withdrawing from the public eye and sorting himself out Matt embarked on his most absurd attention seeking pranks ever.

Days after the August 20th crash a fan commented on YouTube that the crash should act as a wakeup call to Matt. His response? The following:

When the side windows glass smashed into my face, arms, & neck, some of the blood that did felt almost angelic. I went from being afraid to? die to feeling like I was almost being reborn with some sort of an ABSOLUTE PURE LIFE-FORCE. It was the most amazing thing I’ve every experience, I felt like I’d just received the blood of an angel flowing inside me-I know this sounds crazy! Due to these, I only have urges to help people. And miraculously, all my vices are gone.

Amen Friends,


Perhaps what Matt calls the blood of an angel is what the police call an impairing substance? Whatever the case Matt wasn’t finished. He followed up with a video which started with Hardy claiming he had just saved a bus full of school children before revealing that an “entity” had entered his house and trashed his stuff. We were then shown that various household objects had been strewn across the floor. The implication was that ‘Version 1.0’ had been possessed by this “entity” and been forced into wrecking his own house. Could that be the case? Erm… I’ll let you judge that for yourselves…

Matt’s next trick was a video consisting solely of the following text scrolling down the screen:

Goodbye world... My time here is almost complete... I only have a few hours and minutes... I loved you all... Regardless of how you felt about me... I'll miss you all... September 23, 1974-August 31,2011

Unfortunately some people did exactly what the attention seeking clown wanted and phone the police to report what they believed was a suicide attempt. They quickly located him and announced he was “fine”. The accuracy of that statement really depends on your use of the word “fine”. Personally I would say that a man who talks about angel’s blood flowing through his veins and posts stupid messages online knowing it will worry the handful of fans he has left cannot be considered “fine”. The police may disagree with me, but Matt’s sister-in-law doesn’t. Her evening was disturbed because of Matt’s stupidity, prompting her to write the following on Twitter:

When the cops show up to our house at 11 pm, for a "suicide call" the f--king joke is over @MATTHARDYBRAND. Stop trying to work the Internet.

I guess you got what you wanted @MATTHARDYBRAND. Everyone is talking about you, again. But it's not in a good way.

I’ve not even mentioned the YouTube video in which Matt and Jeff use a tazer on Matt’s wrestler girlfriend Reby Sky, or the new DWI arrest Matt suffered yesterday. By now you should be getting the idea that this stuff is par for the course lately. Jeff may have addiction problems, but Matt seemingly has some far more serious mental health issues.

I’ll wrap this up by saying that I don’t dislike Jeff. As I said above the guy’s worked hard to get to where he is. He’s just developed some bad habits along the way and made some questionable choices regarding the extent to which he pursues his extracurricular activities. I may not believe he was genuine when he asked the IMPACT audience for a second chance, but I believe he deserves one (well, another chance – you can’t really call it a second one).

Matt doesn’t deserve a second chance. Anyone who so lightly uses the subject of suicide to get themselves a few hits on a website and become a talking point again deserves nothing but derision.