Wednesday 30 November 2011

Beast in the World

It was recently revealed (through the magic of Twitter) that Eddie Edwards is being trained by Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn for his Final Battle world title match with Davey Richards. Naturally this is part of a storyline but it’s an interesting direction for the rivalry to head in.

Training regimes have played an increasingly important role in ROH title matches over the last year or so. Part of the reason for this is the ascension of Davey Richards to the top of the card. ‘The American Wolf’ (it feels appropriate, given that moniker, that Edwards has aligned himself with a man that looks like a lumberjack) has always been presented as a serious competitor who places great emphasis on incorporating different fighting styles and training regimens for big matches, shunning the over-the-top gimmicks usually associated with wrestling. His entourage, Team Richards, is intended to aid in his portrayal as a serious athlete who is focused on excelling in the ring (it also has the unfortunate side effect of making Richards appear a nutcase who has no interests outside of training).

It has been subtly implied that part of the reason Edwards lost the title to Richards at June’s Best in the World is because of Richards’ approach to preparation. This hasn’t been stated outright but the company’s depiction of the current champion has made it clear that his win was in part due to the time he spent training and studying different fighting techniques.

This being Ring of Honor there’s a fair chance that Edwards will legitimately spend some time with Severn before the match takes place. I expect we’ll see him employ Severn’s signature belly to belly suplex and Beast Choker submission hold on December 23rd. Both moves should form key parts of the bout.

Can ‘Die Hard’ become a two time Ring of Honor world champion? In the past the promotion has seemed reluctant to give people more than one reign at the top, with only one man regaining the title for a second reign in its nine year history. My initial feeling is that Edwards won’t capture the gold, but the current booking team seems less interested in epic title reigns than their predecessors have been and more inclined to surprise audiences so it’s not impossible that Edwards will leave as champion.

Right now I’m expecting Richards to win. That could change in the next few weeks as the event gets closer and we learn more about Severn’s role in Edwards’ preparation. One thing I am confident of is that both men will strive to better their excellent encounter from Best in the World. It should be a fitting final match of 2011 for the company that prides itself on giving fans tremendous action.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Very European

WWE currently has Claudio Castagnoli signed to a developmental contract. That means he competes in Florida Championship Wrestling and is “learning how to work” the WWE style. I’d say that anyone who can get reactions like the ones in the following videos is more than ready to compete live on RAW, SmackDown and various pay-per-views. But that’s just me.

Monday 28 November 2011

Room For Improvement

When Mark Henry confronted Daniel Bryan a few weeks ago on SmackDown, because he thought he’d been “looked at funny”, it felt like the setup for a typical throwaway main event. But it wasn't. It was the first step in adding SmackDown's resident 'Mr Money in the Bank' into the tiresome Big Show v Mark Henry feud.
It was a move welcomed by fans. Matches between the two behemoths had been an unattractive prospect to begin with, and once they'd had their first battle there was little interest in a repeat performance. Simply put, big man versus big man matches are not as popular as they were two decades ago.

Daniel Bryan, meanwhile, had done nothing of note since winning Money in the Bank in July, vowing to take his guaranteed championship match at WrestleMania XXVIII. Involving him in the World Heavyweight title scene is a good decision for several reasons. Most obviously it ups the match quality of SmackDown's lead feud. It also makes you wonder about Show's motives: does he want to help 'D-Bryan' simply to deprive Henry of the gold or does ‘The World’s Largest Athelete’ want the smaller man to be champ because he thinks it’ll be an easier victory for him?
Of course the biggest reason the move works is a certain blue briefcase. Bryan having access to a title shot whenever he likes allows for some interesting twists to the feud. The SmackDown writing team (who typically produce a more balanced, logical show than their RAW counterparts) have predictably used this fact to good effect. The reaction Bryan's cash-in-that-wasn't received on last week's show was incredible. The decision to reverse the result may have been a frustrating one but it did at least happen for a reason that made sense within the context of the storyline. They couldn't do that every week (or with every MITB winner for that matter) but once in a while it works. 

Will Daniel Bryan be the man to end Mark Henry's reign as World Heavyweight champion?

That "failed" cash-in is part of what has made the story so enjoyable. Nothing about the three man program has conformed to the regular WWE approach to booking. It's refreshing and unpredictable and all the more enjoying for it.
Tomorrow night’s live SmackDown will be headlined by a World Heavyweight championship defence by Mark Henry against Daniel Bryan in a steel cage. Can ‘D-Bryan’ get the job done, toppling 'The World's Strongest Man' for the big gold belt? It could go either way, but I think he may just do it.It’s all too easy to imagine Henry winning only to be clobbered by Big Show immediately afterwards, allowing Bryan to successfully cash-in on the weakened champ.
If we don’t see a new champion crowned it won't be catastrophic. The company can still hold off on a Daniel Bryan title challenge until WrestleMania or add him to the inevitable Show v Henry clash at TLC. But a title switch tomorrow would be a great way to create a new main event star.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Thursday Night Delight

After seven years with WWE John Morrison is apparently TNA bound.

Considering the way WWE have used him for the past several years it’s not really a surprise. The company has seemed on the cusp of elevating him to the top of the card for years now but have always stopped at the last minute, unceremoniously dropping him back down to the mid-card.

Think back to 2006 when WWE made a deal with then-relevant Kevin Federline to appear on episodes of RAW and feud with John Cena. Morrison enjoyed an on-screen association with the outsider from the start and it seemed as though the company was preparing to use the association as a means of pushing him to the top of the card.

 The angle that ought to have elevated Morrison to the main event

That didn’t happen. The original plan was apparently to have the feud culminate in a singles match between Morrison and Cena, with Federline and Melina in Morrison’s corner. Instead Federline took on Cena in a singles bout with Morrison credited his Federline’s personal trainer. It was a blown opportunity and, with hindsight, signalled the beginning of WWE’s penchant of mainstream acceptance at the expense of their own talent.

At the time it was considered a poor move but people assumed Morrison would receive another push at a later date. He had tons of natural ability and the all-important “WWE Look”. His unpolished verbal skills were expected to improve over time. They did, and his already solid wrestling skills became more reliable too. He did get more pushes over the years but they were always halted before they’d run their course. As a result the soon-to-be ‘Thursday Night Delight’ never made it to the top.

Vince McMahon is said to dislike the idea of Morrison headlining WWE shows as champion because he doesn’t believe ‘The Guru of Greatness’ looks like someone who could “kick somebody’s ass.” Such things are important to Vince. Morrison’s relationship with Melina, a woman often rumoured to be involved in problem incidents backstage, likely didn’t help his case either.

The company’s view of Morrison was never more apparent than earlier this year. The former WWECW champion raced back from a neck injury he’d suffered in spring so that he would be healthy and on the roster for SummerSlam, held in his hometown of Los Angeles. WWE repaid this dedication by booking him in an enjoyable but forgettable six man tag opener at the show. Morrison risked his health for nothing.

A singles match between Morrison and R-Truth, the man credited with injuring Morrison months before, at SummerSlam would have been a better use of both men. Morrison would have been rewarded for his commitment, R-Truth’s still-on-the-rise heel character would have been well served with a meaningful singles match between someone he’d wronged, and viewers would have been treated to an enjoyable bout which the live audience would have come alive for (check the reaction to Morrison at SummerSlam – it was very healthy).

Morrison was lumbered with the dreaded losing streak gimmick shortly afterwards, something which makes every wrestler saddled with it look weak and out of their depth. Lasting several months it was a senseless waste of one of the few genuinely popular men under contract.

‘The Shaman of Sexy’s’ contract expired at the end of October but he signed a one month extension in order to appear at events WWE had advertised him for. I believe that says Morrison still has a passion for the business and for appearing in front of fans, but is tired of his treatment in McMahonland. It also shows that WWE doesn’t pay much attention to little details such as contracts when advertising talent for upcoming shows (but that’s another point for another time).

If rumours are to be believed Morrison will join TNA sometime in the next few months. Exactly when he will debut will occur is difficult to predict: WWE stars typically have a three-month no compete clause written into their contracts which prohibits them from appearing for another wrestling within ninety days of leaving WWE. With Morrison having signed a contract extension that countdown could begin either at the end of the extension or the date on which his original contract expired. It should really have begun in October but you can never be sure with WWE.

Whatever the case Morrison is unlikely to appear for TNA until late January at the earliest. He will supposedly be used in the X Division upon his debut. That’s a smart move by TNA. Morrison will add some much needed name value to the dilapidated division and ought to have great matches with current champion Austin Aries, with or without the title on the line.

Will X Division champ Austin Aries be Morrison's inaugural TNA feud?

If TNA are clever they can use Morrison’s signing to rejuvenate the X Division before moving him up the card to bigger and better feuds with the company’s headline stars. Matches with the likes of AJ Styles, Bobby Roode, James Storm and Jeff Hardy ought to be highly entertaining, as could a reunion with Melina. Whether or not that’s the path his career will take we’ll have to wait and see, but it’s how I’d use him.

I’d love to see Morrison in Ring of Honor, but that doesn’t appear likely. From the sounds of it the TNA move is pretty much a done deal. It may not be as rewarding an environment as ROH but TNA is a better financial choice for Morrison and should at least ensure he’s on television every week rather than once a month. If TNA use him correctly John Morrison could really help them expand as a group and entice some new viewers. Let’s hope they don’t mess up.

Friday 25 November 2011

Truth and Consequences

“In accordance with the Talent Wellness Program, WWE has suspended Ron Killings (R-Truth) for 30 days effective immediately for his first violation of the company’s policy.” – Announcement on the WWE website, 22nd November 2011

Ron 'R-Truth' Killings has received the biggest push of his career over the last six months. He's headlined pay-per-views against WWE's top stars, wrestled for the WWE championship and become one of the most over stars on the company's flagship show. His unhinged schizophrenic gimmick has been one of the highlights of wrestling in 2011. After years of toiling away in the mid-card (not to mention the wasteland that is TNA) Truth had finally made it to the top.
So why did he throw away thirty days of his career by violating the Wellness Policy?
From what's being reported Truth tested positive for a banned substance some time ago. His suspension was delayed until after Survivor Series so that the planned main event could take place and he could be written out of storylines in a convincing way. That's an approach I thought WWE had stopped a few years ago but I'm pleased that's not the case. It allows storylines to reach their planned conclusion, or a version of it, without short-changing fans.

Apparently the practice has irked several other performers on the roster, their reasoning being that WWE is showing preferential treatment because Truth is a heavily pushed star. I can understand the frustration but disagree with it: Truth is receiving the thirty day suspension any talent caught violating the policy would receive. It makes sense to do it at a time convenient to WWE’s television plans. As I said, it’s the best thing for fans and that’s what counts.
Truth apparently violated the Policy at the same time as Evan Bourne. The drug in question is said to be a synthetic marijuana named Spice. It's currently unclassified by US drug laws and so has been placed on WWE's list of banned substances until the United States government decides on how to treat the substance.
Hopefully this indiscretion won't adversely affect R-Truth's standing on RAW. As I mentioned above he's been a highlight of RAW for the last six months and it would be a shame for WWE to deny itself and its fans the chance to benefit from his popularity.
I wrote on Tuesday that Awesome Truth had been split too soon. I still think that, though I now understand why that decision was made. Miz will likely be feuding with CM Punk within the next couple of months, so it’s actually worked out well for him. Presumably he’ll work some sort of feud with Truth on his return.

Both of those rivalries will be something new for WWE fans. That can only be a good thing. Ideally ‘The Sun Tan Superman’ will stay on the heel side of the fence once his program with ‘The Awesome One’ concludes as he’s proven he’s very effective and entertaining in the role. A face turn doesn’t seem entirely out of the question though, and his current popularity despite being a heel could indicate that this six month stint as a rule breaker has been what Truth needed to finally click with the masses.
My guess is that Truth will return on the December 26th RAW, four days after his suspension finishes. I wouldn’t be surprised if that show sees a main event of Miz v Punk for the WWE championship (it’s being held in Punk’s hometown of Chicago) and features a post-match beatdown of Miz by his former tag team partner.

Evan Bourne, who is considerably lower in the company's pecking order than R-Truth, was not booked to lose the tag team titles before his suspension, nor was a replacement booked for him. That's a good indication that the writing team, Vince McMahon and Triple H won't hold this suspension against Truth. If someone in Bourne's position can keep hold of their tag team title whilst serving a Wellness suspension Truth should be fine.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Angle Says...

For a while now I’ve wanted to highlight a wrestler interview. Several names sprang to mind. Flair and Hogan always provide some lunacy when interviewed. Mr Anderson has been known to bend the truth in an attempt to protect his employer’s image and phrases things in a beautifully stupid way while doing so. Even John Cena will come out with some nonsense on occasion, if it means he can protect the good ship WWE.

But one man stands above all other when it comes to putting his foot in his mouth. Kurt Angle. There are few men who started out in wrestling with as much mainstream credibility as the ’96 Olympian. Over the years he’s frittered that away with tall tales and absurd claims. Remember when he said he was going to join UFC? Maybe he was going to join an MMA group but UFC boss Dana White said it wouldn’t be his. That showed Angle up as a man detached from reality. If that wasn’t bad enough he then went on to insist (in several different interviews) that White had expressed an interest in bringing him in, but was keeping it a secret.

That’s just an example off the top of my head. There are others and you should be able to find them on Google easily, should you wish to.

I’m not going to look into an entire interview by Angle, just his response to one question. Angle appeared on the PW 24/7 radio show a few weeks back and among the questions the hosts asked him was one regarding WWE’s recent use of ‘Big Sexy’ Kevin Nash. Here’s Kurt’s response:

"I love him to death. I know why he went to WWE. He wanted the carrot. He wanted that carrot they dangled in front of his face. But has the WWE used him the right way since he came back? No. Kevin should come back to TNA where they can use him the way he should be used. WWE thinks he’s old and washed up but TNA doesn’t think that. TNA wants Kevin Nash. He is so gifted, talented, and popular. I want him back in TNA because he’s one of my best friends."

Let’s begin with those carrot comments. What Angle refers to as a carrot is a contract worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. There’s no way of knowing exactly how much Nash has signed for but knowing his track record of negotiating enviable deals and the fact that one of his best friends is in a position of authority in WWE it’s almost certainly in the upper reaches of six figure sums.

If a similar “carrot” was “dangled” in front of Angle he’d return to the company too. In exchange for a large amount of money Nash appears weekly on TV, with large gaps often coming between these appearances during which he gets paid to sit at home or work whatever independent shows he feels like. He works house shows infrequently. That’s a very good deal for a 52-year-old man who has not been an effective draw since 1997 and whose knees are knackered.

Angle opines that Nash should go back to TNA to be used correctly. That simply won’t happen. As I recall the way TNA intended to reintroduce ‘Big Sexy’ to television earlier this year was as part of a reformed Main Event Mafia. How would being part of a group past its best have benefited Nash, or anybody else for that matter?

Were Nash to return now he would be working for a company that is booked in part by Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan and Vince Russo. Those are the three men most often credited with running WCW out of business. That’s the promotion in which Nash lost his lustre as a performer, and on their collective watches. What makes Angle think those three men know how to book Nash now, after more than a decade of getting it wrong?

Fans may not like seeing him in such a prominent position of WWE’s flagship show but considering his limitations he’s being booked very well. I’d much rather see a young guy like Mason Ryan or Brodus Clay in the position Nash is in as it would be giving a young guy the chance to shine and establish themselves as someone the audience can believe in, but that’s another point for another time. At his age and with ability level Nash couldn’t hope to be used better at this point in his career. TNA could not offer Nash anything more.

WWE thinks Nash is old and washed up? By wrestler standards he is old. The only other currently active over-fifties of note are Hogan, Flair and Sting. When the majority of wrestlers are in their twenties and thirties a man of 52 is old.

As for washed up I’ve already said that Nash’s drawing power peaked in 1997. He isn’t washed up, but his best days are clearly behind him. The fact that WWE have gifted him a strong push and are planning a pay-per-view match for him against one of their few remaining headline talents indicates that they don’t think he’s washed up either. If they did they he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in.

“TNA doesn’t think he’s washed up,” says Angle. That’s a company that routinely overlooks its own young prospects in order to push former WWE and WCW guys. Of course they’re not going to think Nash is past it.

Is Nash gifted, talented and popular, as Angle claims? Gifted and talented are pretty much the same thing so let’s just say talented. I’d say that at times in his career Nash has shown he’s very talented. He was one of the three men that made the original nWo storyline so compelling and successful. Before that he worked enjoyable matches in the WWF with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon and Bret Hart. His opponents may generally be regarded as the better workers (and rightfully so) but there are examples of great matches out there in which Nash was not just a passenger.

His biggest talent over the years has been his ability to verbalise. His recent WWE run has indicated that that skill may be on the wane but I’m sure with a tighter focus and more input from the writing team Nash can still deliver on the mic. So Angle’s right on his first “two” counts: Nash is talented.

Popular, though? I don’t think that’s a word that can be applied to ‘Big Sexy’. Many fans hate him for a number of reasons, most notably his perceived laziness and his awful booking of World Championship Wrestling. A lot of wrestlers have stated their dislike of the man too, citing the above reasons as well as his deceitful attitude.

So Angle’s incorrect there.

Angle’s final line undermines everything else he’s said anyway. By stating that he wants Nash back in TNA because they’re close friends Angle has given up all subjectivity. He just wants his mate back so that can pal around backstage. That’s fine, but for Angle to criticise WWE’s use of Nash simply because he wants his pal backstage again is ridiculous.

There we are. That’s Kurt Angle successfully proven wrong several times over. My work here is done.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

That RAW Recap 21.11.11

You’d expect Survivor Series, one of WWE’s Big Four pay-per-views, to be followed up with an energetic, memorable episode of RAW, wouldn’t you? But the WWE writing team, in their infinite wisdom, knows better. The post-Survivor Series RAW was a competent piece of work that addressed everything it needed to but went about its business in a mechanical, workmanlike manner. It was a very average show.

Starting off with new WWE champion CM Punk was a nice touch, but his segment soon deteriorated into his now usual cavalcade of inside references. Stressing the importance of winning a WWE championship at Madison Square Garden and referring to himself as a professional wrestler were nice touches but everything else was the routine he goes through every week.

Punk stated that he wants to see the back of John Laurinaitis as interim RAW General Manager. Punk’s comment could indicate that Laurinaitis is going to be removed from this on-screen position to make way for the recently returned Mick Foley. It’s a good role for Foley, allowing him to appear on the show each week and possibly wrestle the occasional match. Meanwhile Laurinaitis could still knock about as the Executive Vice President of Talent Relations.

Anyway, Punk’s comments naturally brought out the former Johnny Ace. He announced Alberto Del Rio v Zack Ryder and Punk v Dolph Ziggler for later in the evening and then informed Punk that ADR would get his rematch for the title on next week’s show. Three matches made in five minutes? That’s productivity!

Del Rio v Ryder was up first and the former WWE champion made short work of ‘Long Island Iced Z’. Ryder was over in a big way with the Pennsylvania crowd. WWE really need to keep his push going and have him face Dolph Ziggler again at TLC to solidify him as an upper mid-card guy. The goal should be to have him as a dependable member of the mid-card by WrestleMania season.

The second match of the evening was Jack Swagger v Sheamus. Being a short TV match between two big men this one was nothing special. Both men got in their key spots and the fans rallied behind the popular Sheamus but it didn’t interest me. Big man matches aren’t really my cup of tea. The most noteworthy thing about the bout was that Swagger debuted a new pre-match taunt: instead of dropping down to amaze us all with his press-ups he scored a line with his foot at the top of the ramp and then stomped over it, presumably signifying that Swagger is willing to “cross the line”.

That was followed by a Kevin Nash promo. After fumbling his way through the opening sentences ‘Big Daddy Cool’ pulled himself together and told us that he’d watched Survivor Series on a monitor “in the back” (that’s one of his favourite phrases). He mentioned that it’s a special arena for him, as it is for many current and former WWE wrestlers. He referenced beating Bob Backlund (remember that guy?) for the WWF championship and the Curtain Call incident, then said it should have been him and Triple H in the main event facing Cena and The Rock. I actually agree with that and suggested it two months ago (read about that here).

Kev ended his ramble by telling us he was the last man standing from “that group” (the Clique). Triple H should be back in the next few weeks to begin the build-up to his math with ‘Big Sexy’. That’s not going to be an enjoyable experience.

After a standard promo and squash victory over Santino Marella Cody Rhodes officially began his feud with Booker T. Throughout the short bout Cole and Booker had reminded viewers of the former WCW champion’s dislike of Cody’s attitude. Following the match Cody reminded Booker he could hear everything that was said at ringside and asked Booker to repeat his feelings straight to his face. Book said his problem was with Cody’s attitude, not with him as a person. Cody, being the heel, wasn’t satisfied with this and tossed water over the commentator then left laughing.

This is a feud that’s been rumoured for a while and it should be an enjoyable one to watch. Booker T is still very popular with crowds and can still go in the ring. Cody is one of the promotion’s brightest prospects and 2011 has seen him improve a lot. Hopefully Cody will spend a few weeks calling Booker out on SmackDown before Booker finally agrees to a match at TLC. With his current role as a commentator he can’t be seen as too eager to return to the ring, and it makes Cody look stronger if he’s the one guy who can antagonise Booker into a match.

The show peaked with the CM Punk v Dolph Ziggler match. They got around fifteen minutes and made the most of it. This was one of the finest RAW matches of the year. Punk treated Ziggler as his equal and helped him look strong in defeat, meaning Ziggler was not harmed by his loss. ‘The Heel’ deserves to be featured prominently throughout WrestleMania season and wrestle a meaningful match on the Miami card. I’m going to make an early Rumble prediction and say he’ll be one of the first two entrants into the titular match.

Big Show waddled out after that to remind us all that he won his Survivor Series match by disqualification. He said his fist will be waiting for Mark Henry when he returns. Hopefully their rivalry will end at TLC. Henry works best with smaller, more talented men who can carry him to respectable outings.

We got confirmation of a Barrett v Orton singles feud during match five. Wade Barrett v Kofi Kingston was just another match until ‘The Apex Predator’ sauntered to ringside halfway through. Sitting on a chair Orton watched Barrett pick up a victory and then made to leave. Why did ‘The Viper’ feel the need to do this? We’ll never know. It did allow Barrett to taunt him after the match though, which the Mancunian took full advantage of. Orton faked going into the ring which caused Barrett to panic, but then he just walked off. Presumably they’ll come to blows on SmackDown.

The evening’s main event? John Cena talking. He gave us a helpful recap of Survivor Series as the audience chanted “Fruity Pebbles” and “Boots to asses” and then started to tell us what WrestleMania needed to be. Fortunately we were spared Cena’s vision of the future by Awesome Truth.

The general gist of this segment was to split up Miz and R-Truth as a unit. After mocking Cena for the treatment he received from the New York crowd Cena turned the two against one another. As is the case with most things involving Cena it was not convincing.

Cena told Truth that Miz thinks he’s crazy and stupid and told Miz that Truth thinks he’s pompous and arrogant. The two had heated words, Truth having believed Cena’s nonsense and Miz becoming frustrated with him. Eventually ‘The Awesome One’ shoved R-Truth and got a right hand in return. Begging off Miz managed to convince Truth that it was Cena playing mind games and the two set off up the ramp to find him backstage.

But it was a setup all along! At the top of the stage Miz spun Truth round and hit him with the Skull Crushing Finale. The final image of RAW was R-Truth being attended to by medical personnel.

I’m disappointed that Awesome Truth have been split up, but it was clear it was coming. Miz was headlining pay-per-views at the start of the year and Truth has found his niche with the schizophrenic gimmick. Using the two of them as a team is a waste in WWE’s eyes. I had hoped they could stay on as a combo until January and fall out at the Royal Rumble but that’s no longer an option.

The split raises a couple of questions. The first is who will play the face in their upcoming feud? I’d pick Miz there. He’s been a heel for several years and needs the change. His character would be refreshed by a face turn. The second question is who will Cena work with now? I’d assumed that TLC would play host to a rematch of sorts between Awesome Truth and Cena paired with a partner of his choice. That probably won’t happen, so who else is there for Cena to work with? I wouldn’t be averse to a Cena v Ziggler match on pay-per-view, but that seems unlikely.

So that was RAW. A by-the-numbers show that set up new feuds in the most generic way possible. Let’s hope they build on it successes next week in a more memorable fashion. Announcing some matches for TLC wouldn’t be a bad move either.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Ωmega Man

Broomsticks. Every so often these items, designed primarily for cleaning purposes, are mentioned in a wrestling promo by a man who claims to be so good he could wrestle an exciting match against such an item. The most recent example was Triple H’s claim on the October 10th RAW. That was another fine case of WWE not doing rising talent any favours... but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.

What I’m here to talk about today is the broomstick phrase. Ric Flair has mentioned being able to have a good match with a broomstick numerous times throughout his career and various others have followed his lead (such as ‘The Game’) and made the claim too. It’s a tactic predominantly used by heels to belittle their opponents: the man making the claim is not only indirectly comparing all challengers to broomsticks but also saying they will carry challengers during any future matches. As far as I know ‘The Nature Boy’ has never wrestled against a broomstick or any other inanimate object you could name, so his claim cannot be verified.

But there may be one man out there who can pull off such a match. That man is Kenny Omega.

If that’s not impressed you (his opponent is a conscious human after all, not the inanimate object we’ve been discussing) then take a look at this:

There may be hope for broomstick fans yet.  

Friday 18 November 2011

The Accidental Call-Up

WWE had some pretty high hopes when they signed Sin Cara to a contract. He was going to be built up to take over from Rey Mysterio as the promotion’s lead luchaor. That’s no small task. Since debuting in 2002 Mysterio has become one of WWE’s go-to-guys as far as short notice storylines are concerned, which requires an ability to work with talent on any level and a connection with the audience not just in matches but in promos too. He’s also the company’s second biggest merchandise shifter (behind John Cena), mainly thanks to mask sales.

Sin Cara was never going to live up to the hype within his first few months in the company and it was unfair of WWE to expect him to. It took Mysterio several years to rise to the position he’s in now, and he did so at a time when the company’s roster wasn’t as thin on name talent as it is now. That allowed him to gain acceptance from the fans by interacting with a cast of characters that were already established as headliners.

What’s hampered Sin Cara’s rise is his inability to speak English. This stops him from reading the audience as well as he might and prevents him from communicating effectively with his opponents during matches.

Unless they happen to speak Spanish that is.

When Sin Cara was benched for a month because of a violation of the Wellness Policy™ developmental wrestler Hunico was called up to portray ‘The International Sensation’. Rumours at the time suggested that Sin Cara would be released from his contract or sent down to FCW to learn the WWE style and Hunico would inherit the blue mask.

As we all know, that didn’t happen.

Hunico instead stayed on the main roster as a character in his own right, first becoming an imposter Sin Cara, then Sin Cara Black, before finally losing his mask (in a mask versus mask match that happened far too quickly) and reverting to the Hunico name. Why did this happen? Because not only does Hunico speak Spanish and wrestle the lucha libre style Sin Cara is familiar with, making him an ideal opponent for the former Mistico, but he also showed he could work enjoyable matches against the rest of the roster during his time under as “the imposter”.

In recent weeks he has been joined by fellow FCW trainee Epico and RAW star Primo. That’s good for both of those men. Epico was unlikely to get called up to either main roster on his own merit while Primo was simply killing time on the RAW brand. Neither man’s prospects were great and this gives them the chance to rise through the ranks.

I’d have liked to see Hunico debut a new mask after losing his Sin Cara Black gimmick, or see Epico debut with a mask of some sort. Sadly it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. I imagine the reason is that WWE are wary of putting a mask on a heel because it makes them mysterious and indicates to kids that they’re a successor to Rey Mysterio (because children watching WWE are only used to seeing Mysterio, a lifelong babyface, under a mask and would naturally assume any new masked men possess a similar disposition). It’s a shame, but I can understand this decision.

Hunico should have debuted a new masked look following his mask versus mask loss to Sin Cara

To say Hunico has better long term prospects than Sin Cara would be foolish. WWE are clearly still behind Cara and want him to succeed as Mysterio’s replacement. But Hunico isn’t likely to disappear any time soon: he’s gotten over as a heel and can work a WWE style match with anybody on the roster (which is more that can be said for Sin Cara). He may not be a future world champion, but I think he could be on the main roster for several years.

Sin Cara’s inability to work the WWE style and communicate effectively with his colleagues may have halted his progression but it’s given two other men a chance to make a name for themselves on the main WWE roster and a third a revitalised push that would not have come his way otherwise.

Sometimes in wrestling things don’t go to plan. But that’s not always a bad thing.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Survivor Series preview

A few months ago I naively thought the WWE writing crew had pulled their act together and prepared several months of storylines that would culminate at Survivor Series, with the event also acting as a launch pad for the feuds that would carry the company through to the Royal Rumble.
The CM Punk worked shoot promos. Vince being relieved of his duties. The power struggle between Triple H and John Laurinaitis. Kevin Nash's return and his odd actions. The realistic assaults from R-Truth and The Miz. It felt like something was being readied and the pieces were being put into place.
Unfortunately I was wrong. Those threads have fallen off over the course of the last month or two, heading in their own separate directions and failing to provide the bigger picture that seemed so tantalisingly close.
It's frustrating. It really seemed as though the company knew where it was going with all of the elements they were introducing to their TV product and had a payoff to it all in mind. A natural assumption to make was that the company would make use of its ten man elimination tag format, but with the key players of the last six months of storylines all in separate matches it appears that that was never on the cards.
This should serve as a reminder to everyone (including me) never to get your hopes up when considering WWE storylines. You'll only be disappointed.
That said what WWE have put together looks like a solid show. It may not feel like the culmination of several months work but that won't detract from the quality of the matches.
The jewel of the undercard has to be the Survivor Series elimination match. Not just because it's as close as we're going to get to the big payoff match I wanted to see but because there are a lot of talented workers involved.
The bout will see Jack Swagger, Hunico, Cody Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler (substituting for an injured Christian) and their captain Wade Barrett face Sin Cara, Sheamus, Mason Ryan, Kofi Kingston and their captain Randy Orton. Predicting eliminations is practically impossible so I'll simply say that I think the victor or victors will represent Team Barrett, and that the captain will be among them. The man from Manchester has recently been the recipient of an understated but steady push for and it would benefit him to pick up a win here.
On the subject of United States champion Dolph Ziggler he will once again work a double shift at The World's Most Famous Arena. His opponent will be John Morrison. The reason for this match happening is tenuous at best. JoMo ended his months-long losing streak at Ziggler's expense two weeks ago on RAW and tossed 'The Heel' into the ring to face the wrath of Mason Ryan this week. Despite Zack Ryder's clear popularity and lengthier dispute with Ziggler Morrison has been awarded a title match.
On the bright side this indicates WWE is attempting to boost the mid-card division a little. In addition to 'The Monday Night Delight' and 'Long Island Iced Z' the US champ also has Mason Ryan after his belt. Morrison v Ziggler is a bout that could go a long way to restoring some credit to the championship, provided heel shenanigans are kept to a minimum.
Will Ziggler go two pay-per-views in a row retaining his beloved gold? I hope so. I think he's a great heel champion for the division to be built around. He deserves a world title but there are no vacancies at the top of the card right now so this is the best use for him. I'm going to pick him to retain.
Beth Phoenix will defend her Divas' championship against Eve in what will likely be one of the evening’s shorter entries. As I have for the last several shows I'll predict that not only will Beth win but Kelly Kelly or Eve will turn heel. KK costing Eve the championship because she can't bear to see anyone else dethrone Beth could make sense with a little promo time dedicated to it later in the evening or on next Monday’s RAW.
Sooner or later one of them will turn, mark my words!
Mark Henry v Big Show for the World Heavyweight championship will be more of what we got at Vengeance, though the ring has a better chance of staying intact this time. This match interests me less than any other. I don't care who wins but I expect it to be 'The World's Strongest Man'. His push still has mileage in it.
I voiced my concerns over the Alberto Del Rio v CM Punk rivalry during my recap of RAW on Tuesday (read that here). In a nutshell I feel Punk's constant promos have caused his popularity to wane and made him look like someone who doesn't actually believe what he says (why would someone who cares about wrestling so much monopolise airtime to say the same thing every week?). ADR, the WWE champion don’t forget, has been weakened in a variety of ways and does not come across as a serious headliner.
I'm sure the match will be good and draw the fans in nicely. Both men are amongst the best in the company as far as wrestling ability goes. Sadly I'm equally as sure that Del Rio will retain on a disqualification. That way WWE can set up a gimmick match at TLC next month and have Punk take the gold there.
Finally there's the main event. "Never before, never again" says the advertising. Said dramatically enough it can fool you into thinking it means something. The match will pit Awesome Truth against The Rock and John Cena, whom the company's marketing department have decided are "the most charismatic tag team ever." It's comments like this, a by-product of WWE's insistence of getting and keeping Cena over at any cost, that make it difficult for younger talent to get over. They’re constantly in Cena’s shadow.

For example notice how The Miz and R-Truth are not mentioned prominently in the event’s advertising. WWE could have made more of them with a minimum of fuss and added another hook to the match whilst doing so. Had Miz and Truth been billed as "the world's most dangerous tag team", accompanied by footage of their various convincing assaults of the past few months, they would have seemed more of a threat and been in a better position to help attract buys for next month’s pay-per-view when The Rock's nowhere to be seen.

WWE's short-sightedness strikes again.
Clearly this match is not about Awesome Truth. It's about laying more groundwork for the Cena v Rock feud that will heat up once we're into WrestleMania season in late January. The company wants as much footage as possible for their 'Mania hype video and this match will provide it. It's not intended to be classic, it's intended to be a spectacle and a milestone in Rock and Cena’s story. It ought to achieve those goals. WrestleMania's lead feud should have advanced by the time Survivor Series is over.
Can Cena and The Rock coexist? Of course they can’t. One is going to turn on the other, either during or after the match. My guess would be that Cena will turn on Rock and blast him with an Attitude Adjustment because Rock denied him the opportunity of connecting with the move on RAW.

I imagine the overwhelming majority of fans expect the WrestleMania opponents to win, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say Truth and Miz will go over. It will be a surprising result (which does occasionally play a factor in WWE’s booking) and ultimately no harm will be done to the more important Cena v Rock feud if they lose here, and it will give the heels something to brag about on television. It could even set up a match for TLC next month, with Cena choosing another partner for a rematch. Zack Ryder anyone?

The Madison Square Garden fans always make shows feel special and this Sunday should be no exception. With The Rock’s first match in over seven years, singles matches between Ziggler and Morrison and Punk and Del Rio, and a multi-man match featuring a wealth of talented workers Survivor Series should deliver in the ring. Will it set up the next several months of storylines as a Big Four PPV should? Probably not. And it’s that wasted opportunity that I’ll always associate with this show.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

That RAW Recap 14.11.11 - RAW Gets Rocked

What did RAW’s extra hour give us? Not much.

That was to be expected. When was the last time WWE presented a three hour episode of the show that warranted that extra time? It’s not happened for a long time. What they usually do, and what they did last night, is present viewers with the same selection of forgettable matches and backstage skits as usual. It’s greater quantity but never greater quality.

The matches we saw all revolved around matches announced for Survivor Series. Cody Rhodes and Hunico beat Kofi Kingston and Sin Cara in a decent offering.  After it was announced that he would replace the injured Christian on Wade Barrett’s team at Survivor Series Dolph Ziggler lost to the ridiculously large Mason Ryan (surely it’s just a matter of time until he starts a feud with the Wellness Policy?) via disqualification, the result of Vickie Guerrero slapping the Welshman. Sheamus toppled Jack Swagger in the third straight Team Barrett v Team Orton preview contest.

WWE changed it up an hour and a half into the show by giving us a women’s bout in which Kelly Kelly defeated Natalya. A few months ago that would have been called an upset. Not anymore. Natalya and Beth Phoenix have lost so many matches to the less talented members of the roster that their stock has fallen. The aim was clearly to elevate Kelly and Eve but that’s backfired on WWE.

Alberto Del Rio and Mark Henry beat Big Show and CM Punk in a poor offering. The Del Rio v Punk feud, like the Del Rio v Cena feud before it, has not caught on as WWE would have liked. The trouble stems from the amount of talking being done. There are too many promos and not enough wrestling. Part of the blame has to go to Punk there. He cuts promos each week about wanting to make the show exciting and fresh and being the best wrestler in the world but it’s the abundance of promos that are the problem in the first place.

Someone who really believed what Punk says would request matches. If he’s not booked for a match he’d call someone out to face him. The Punk character has been dreadfully mishandled for months and that’s contributed to the damp squib of a feud with ADR.

The booking team aren’t blameless either. ADR’s last two feuds (both of which have involved the WWE championship, which should be portrayed as the biggest prize in the company) have revolved around him attacking people from behind, getting wins by cheating, and his rivals making fun of him. That’s not how to book a man you want to get over as a main event heel. Nor is it how to book a champion.

The final bout of the evening was Barrett v Orton, a rematch from last week’s SmackDown. ‘The Viper’ won after Barrett was disqualified when the four members of his team interfered. It wasn’t bad but their match last Friday was better.

There were three key in-ring segments on the show, only the last of which was enjoyable. The first was the Michael Cole Challenge we’ve heard about for several weeks. It lasted for far too long and despite winning two of the three portions of the Challenge JR was ruled the loser. It didn’t make sense and Lawler (who was doing a terrible job of solo commentary) didn’t question the decision, even though JR is supposed to be his pal. That’s WWE logic.

Punk came out and ripped into Cole, another fine example of his overexposure when it comes to promos. The gist of Punk’s message was that JR had beaten Cole fair and square and Cole needed to leave. Cole didn’t and Punk didn’t try to force him. Instead he trash-talked him a bit more. The segment ended when John Laurinaitis came out and made the tag team match mentioned above. That led to another exchange between Punk and Cole which culminated in an Anaconda Vice being slapped on the commentator.

JR called the first few matches of the show before Cole returned to the booth to relieve him, also mentioning he’d be suing ‘The Voice of the Voiceless’ for assault. Yes, another Michael Cole storyline. WWE clearly didn’t learn anything from Cole’s overuse earlier in the year.

The second segment was a This Is Your Life skit hosted by Mick Foley for John Cena. It was patterned after the famous segment Foley held for Rock back in 1999 but it was nowhere near as entertaining. The reason the ’99 version worked so well is that there was a clear friendship between Rock and Foley that the audience had seen in previous weeks. It felt genuine. There was no such relationship between Foley and Cena, and Cena is nowhere near as popular as The Rock. It was doomed to fail from the start.

Eventually The Rock came out to give Foley a Rock Bottom. He later described the debacle as “hot garbage”. I can’t disagree.

Rock came out an hour or so later to cut a predictably entertaining promo (although I could have done without his shilling for Twitter), which eventually brought out The Miz, R-Truth and Cena. Rock and Cena went back and forth, without ever making eye contact, and then laid down some smack on Awesome Truth. Their teamwork at Survivor Series, or lack thereof, was foreshadowed nicely when Cena lifted Miz up for an AA only for Rock to pull ‘The Awesome One’ down and hit him with a Rock Bottom instead.

You can watch the segment here

The show was always going to be built around the return of The Rock. WWE hyped his appearance heavily and satisfied fans when the show arrived by giving him twenty minutes to close the evening. Where they let their audience down is in their use of the other two hours and forty minutes at their disposal. No fresh matches were announced for Survivor Series. As the show is now less than a week away with only four bouts confirmed that was a foolish move. No attempt was made to provide viewers with an exceptional match either, and there was plenty of time to do so. If WWE is going to run these three hour shows they really need to start planning them better. The Rock’s not always going to be there to bail them out.

Monday 14 November 2011

Glory By Honor X preview

Remember last year’s Glory Honor IX? Broadcast on internet pay-per-view it was headlined by the memorable confrontation between Roderick Strong and departing champion Tyler Black, a match which saw Strong (the heel) roundly cheered for his loyalty to the promotion and Black (the face) get literally booed out of the building thanks to his recently inked WWE contract (and some inflammatory Cena-esque hand gestures). If that weren’t enough it boasted a superb undercard, the highlight of which was most definitely the contest between ROH tag team champions the Kings of Wrestling and the debuting Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas. It was a stacked card and was easily one of the best wrestling shows of the year.

It looks unlikely that Ring of Honor will repeat that success with this year’s Glory By Honor X. There are no big debuts and it seems unlikely that the world title will changes hands. That’s not to say it won’t be good. It just stands less chance of being a classic.

The headline attraction is Davey Richards’ defence of the ROH world championship against El Generico. It’s not the freshest match ROH has to offer but that makes sense: GBHX is going to be a DVD release and fresh or highly anticipated matches need to be saved for pay-per-view or television so that the company can benefit from them financially. The two men will have an excellent bout and provide a fitting end to what is sure to be a solid night of action and that’s what the show will need from them.

Can ‘The Generic Luchador’ score a huge, not to mention surprising, upset and topple ‘The American Wolf’ for the gold? No. Richards winning is as close to a guarantee as you can get with Ring of Honor.

The man who will challenge the winner of Richards v Generico, ‘Die Hard’ Eddie Edwards, will be in action against Kyle O’Reilly. I’m predicting that O’Reilly will win the Survival of the Fittest tournament on Friday and I have a feeling he could score the upset over Edwards too. That will allow ROH to point back to this weekend in a year or two as the time he “broke out from the pack” (and they’ll probably use that phrasing).

The match that most interests me is the All Night Express v Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team for the ROH world tag team titles. ANX have been floating around at the top of ROH’s tag division all year and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until they win the gold. I have a feeling that this match will see the champions resort to underhanded tactics to keep hold of their belts, setting up a rematch sometime in the New Year. ANX winning the gold wouldn’t be a massive surprise and I’d love to see it but I think the beginning of a WGTT heel turn is more likely. ANX will likely get the titles on their next challenge, whenever that turns out to be.

Speaking of tag teams the Young Bucks will wrestle the Briscoe Brothers. There’s heavy potential for a style clash in this match. Hopefully the four men will work around that and put in a solid showing. It will be interesting to see who gets cheered. Ironically the Briscoes were turned heel because of fan apathy during their last face run and they are now far more popular than they have been in years. The Bucks have been working as heels since their return to ROH a few months ago and I suspect fans will side with ‘Dem Boys’ over the former Generation Me. I imagine Mark and Jay will get the win in this match.

The Jimmy Jacobs v Tommaso Ciampa match has one of the most predictable outcomes of the show. As I said in my Survival of the Fittest preview it seems very unlikely that ROH have spent months establishing a winning streak for ‘The Dominant Male’ only to end it at an untelevised show. Jacobs being a mid-card guy right now just makes it clearer. It will be a fun match (matches are always fun with the Embassy at ringside) but instantly forgettable.

Finally there’s the non-title match between TV champion Jay Lethal and the House of Truth’s Roderick Strong. This is being billed as a “proving ground” match. That’s not a term I care for. It’s something ROH are trying with their non-title matches: if the man without a title can last through the time limit or score the victory over the champion they’ll earn themselves a match for the title in the future. The thing is that’s how wrestling has always worked. It’s just that the matches have never been referred to by any special name. This strikes me as ROH being different just for the sake of being different. I also question why Strong, a former world champion, would be considered for a TV title shot at any point. It’s a personal thing, I dislike seeing former world champions in any promotion go back to holding mid-card titles. I feel those belts are better used building up future stars.


Strong v Lethal should be a fine match but I have a feeling it will go to a time limit draw. I’m not sure why but most of Lethal’s matches seem to be going the distance lately. It’s an odd creative direction for Ring of Honor to take with him as it makes Lethal look like he can’t win matches. Not the best thing to do with a champion (or anybody you’re considering as a future star for that matter). I’ll officially predict a time limit draw for this match (what does that say about ROH?) but should that not happen I imagine Strong will pick up the victory.

Glory By Honor X is not going to be the best ROH show of the year but it’s not going to be the worst either. When you get right down to it you can’t say fairer than that, can you?

Sunday 13 November 2011

Survival of the Fittest 2011 preview

ROH have experimented with their Survival of the Fittest format before, but never quite to the extent that we’ll see on Friday 18th November. For those unfamiliar with Survival of the Fittest it used to go something like this: twelve men would wrestle in six one-on-one matches with the winners advancing into the evening’s six-way main event. The winner of that match, fought under elimination rules, would earn themselves a shot at the ROH world championship.

Where this year’s event differs is in the nature of the qualifying contests. Along with three one-on-one matches there’s a tag team match which will see both members of the winning team take spots in the final and a four-way match which will see only one man go through.

On top of all of that there will be the traditional non-tournament match. This year it’s a “champions challenge” tag team match pitting ROH world tag team champions Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas against TV champion Jay Lethal and world champion Davey Richards.

From the list of confirmed matches this is the one that stands out to me as the most likely to become match of the night. All four men are great wrestlers and considering the relatively low number of matches on the card they should get enough time to put on a decent show. As far as winners go I think Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team will go over, seeing as they’re the regular combo.

The Survival matches are an interesting mix. One of the most appealing to me is Kyle O’Reilly v Andy ‘Right Leg’ Ridge. Ridge may not have been featured too heavily in ROH in the past but he’s been talked up as someone who could “break out” over the last year. Both men work a style heavy on stiff kicks and I’m interested to see how competitive Ridge is allowed to look against his more high profile opponent. There’s no doubt in my mind O’Reilly will win (which probably means Ridge will get the surprise victory now) but if Ridge is allowed to enter a ten minute performance in which he gains plenty of near falls he could get enough of a reaction from fans in attendance to convince ROH to give him a similar opportunity to shine soon.

Rhett Titus v Roderick Strong should be a fun match. This time last year Titus was in the process of a face turn while Strong was the ROH champ. That doesn’t have any bearing on this match but I thought it was interesting to point out, to illustrate the paths both have taken in the past twelve months. Titus rarely thrills me in singles matches but I think he’s got a good chance at having a solid outing with an opponent like Strong. I’m predicting Strong will win in a close contest.

Titus’s tag team partner Kenny King will be one of the men vying for the sole spot in the finals during the four-way match. His opponents will be Michael Elgin, Adam Cole and Tommaso Ciampa. Cole and King are both capable of working some very athletic spots into their matches so it’s pretty much guaranteed we’ll see something impressive during this match. I’ll be interested to see how Ciampa and Elgin interact with one another: both have been built up as ruthless, physically imposing heels that batter their opponents. Will they turn their gaze on each other? If they do who will be booked to come off better in the confrontation?

I imagine the two will have a stare off at some point but will be interrupted by King and Cole (that’s Kenny and Adam, not Jerry and Michael) before anything can come of it. The four-way strikes me as a way of booking Elgin and Ciampa in the tournament without having either one take a pinfall loss, thus allowing their dominant pushes to continue. This is particularly important for Ciampa due to his undefeated streak. A win in this qualifier would mean he has to win the Survival match to stay undefeated. I don’t think ROH are going to have ‘The Dominant Male’ take his first loss in an untelevised environment so that means he’ll simply not get passed the opening round.

I think King will walk out the winner. The final will benefit from his athleticism and it keep him looking like a guy who could break out into the singles division some time. I’m sure that when the All Night Express go their separate ways King is going to become a headline talent very quickly.

The tag team qualifier will see the Briscoes take on the Bravados. The Bravados shocked me several months ago by getting a highly unlikely victory over the natives of Sandy Fork, Delaware. Can they do it again? Perhaps. It’s hard to say. Both Bravados in the final would create an interesting dynamic but I think the Briscoes are the likelier candidates. It’s not impossible to imagine a situation in which this match goes to some sort of non-finish or double disqualification and one man from each team is selected for the final. Bear that in mind, but my official prediction is that Mark and Jay will be in the Survival match.

The final two men in the tournament are Mike Bennett and ROH’s first Triple Crown champion Eddie Edwards. Does Edwards really need to go to the main event and win this match? No. He’s already established at the top of the card and doesn’t need to win this in order to earn a title match. A win here will do far more for Bennett than it will for Edwards, and I think ‘The Prodigy’ will gain a tainted victory, probably with the help of ‘Brutal’ Bob, and advance to the finals.

So that leaves us with a predicted final of Mark Briscoe v Jay Briscoe v Kenny King v Mike Bennett v Roderick Strong v Kyle O’Reilly. Of those six there are two men I’d like to see face Davey Richards: Kyle O’Reilly and Kenny King. As I think King is heading towards a run with the tag team titles alongside Rhett Titus I’m going to predict that Kyle O’Reilly will be the 2011 Survival of the Fittest winner. That will allow for a student versus pupil type match sometime early next year.

 Will this be the sight ROH fans see at Survival of the Fittest 2011?

On paper this event looks a little average, but with an ROH title shot on the line there’s still a very good reason to watch the show. It should be a good indicator of where the promotion’s going for Final Battle and the early months of 2012.

Saturday 12 November 2011

A King Versus a Dragon

Did the world really need to see Bryan Danielson take on Mark Henry for a second week in a row? Probably not, but we got it anyway. Danielson’s one of the best wrestlers at WWE’s disposal and one of the few men capable of dragging a bearable showing out of ‘The World’s Strongest Man’, but two weeks in a row is not doing Danielson, or the audience, any favours.

Having watched this week’s Superstars I think Danielson’s bout with William Regal would have been a better addition to SmackDown. Thanks to Danielson’s popularity and the match taking place in Liverpool (close to Regal’s hometown of Blackpool) the contest between the two got a tremendous reaction from the crowd. The relationship between the two men (Danielson has credited Regal as his mentor and a strong influence on his career many times over the years) allowed for a natural story to be told throughout the match, both in the ring and on commentary.

Had the student versus teacher match taken place on SmackDown it would have reached a wider audience and would have possibly improved the blue brand’s ratings. Contrary to the promotion’s beliefs there are still people out there who want to see a solid wrestling match on WWE television, and Regal v Danielson is one of the best examples of such a match WWE is capable of promoting.

Had Regal and Danielson been granted a show-long build that including a backstage interview for each man and an emphasis by the commentary team on the influence Regal’s had on Danielson’s career (perhaps even mentioning the maroon trunks the former ‘American Dragon’ wears as a tribute to his mentor) the match could have made for one of the liveliest and memorable SmackDown main events in a long time.

It certainly would have been more enjoyable than another Mark Henry match, as well as being a more logical use of both Danielson and Regal.

A few months ago I wrote about how Regal deserved to wrestle the World Heavyweight champion on the Liverpool show. I still think that would have been nice, but Regal v Henry would have been nowhere near as good as the Danielson v Regal match that Superstars hosted. Once again WWE has thrown away a great opportunity to do something different, meaningful and memorable.

And they wonder why their ratings are decreasing and they can’t get new talent over.

Friday 11 November 2011

End Game

On the October 24th RAW Triple H was written out of WWE storylines when he was battered with a sledgehammer by Kevin Nash. Viewers were informed that ‘The King of Kings’ had been taken to a local hospital and that he would miss at least six weeks of action. At that point Survivor Series was five weeks away, which made me assume Triple H, the valiant babyface, would make his heroic comeback just in time to exact revenge at the big show.

As I write this Triple H hasn’t returned to television and with next Monday’s RAW being built around The Rock’s first appearance in months it seems unlikely ‘The Game’ will appear. Tuesday’s SmackDown taping is out of the question as the episode won’t air until Friday, which would give WWE only two days to hype the bout. And besides, nothing important ever happens on SmackDown!

It now looks as though the Triple H return may occur at Survivor Series or in the following weeks of TV. The likely reason for this is that Survivor Series doesn’t need Triple H v Nash on the card to do good business. Whether people like it or not this year’s show will succeed or fail primarily on the strength of The Rock’s involvement. Every other match will just be an afterthought as far as casual fans (who are the ones WWE need to attract) are concerned.

WWE seem to have realised this and postponed the Nash v Helmsley match in the hope that it can help attract buys for a show that’s less likely to succeed. That show is December’s TLC pay-per-view. It hasn’t yet been confirmed that the Battle of the Clique will take place on that show but it seems the most likely time to me.

But what will come after that match? Triple H is now 42 and has not worked a full time schedule since the spring of 2010. Since his full-time return to television on July 18th it’s become clear that he is going to wrestle only occasionally and be used as a special attraction. It’s an approach that should work well for both him and WWE. At this stage in his career he’s of more use in his on-screen authority role than wrestling each week.

I imagine the immediate future holds the aforementioned bout with ‘Big Sexy’ and a possible appearance in the Royal Rumble. Beyond that nothing seems certain. Rumours have circulated for months that Triple H will once again challenge the Undertaker’s Streak at next year’s WrestleMania XVIII, and at the moment I’d say he has to be one of the frontrunners for that position.

Should that rematch take place I’d say there’s a decent chance that it could be Triple H’s final match. Shawn Michaels could only get ‘Taker to agree to a second ‘Mania match by putting his career on the line, which ultimately led to the end of his career. It would be apt to recreate that drama with HBK’s best buddy.

WWE need to make use of Triple H’s in-ring skills while they still can. A match with Kevin Nash is not going to do this. ‘The Cerebral Assassin’ ought to be wrestling his occasional matches against young guys who will be elevated by working with a main eventer with his (ahem) pedigree. Men like Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett, Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger could all benefit from feuds with Triple H.

When all’s said and done it doesn’t matter when or where Triple H wrestles his final match, or who his opponent is. His retirement from active duty is on the horizon and a backstage role, to which he seems very well suited, awaits.