Wednesday 29 February 2012

ROH 10th Anniversary preview

Jim Cornette and Hunter Johnston have clearly been watching a lot of WWE lately. Their Tenth Anniversary internet pay-per-view is being held in New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom this Sunday and only six matches have been announced. It’s impossible to imagine Ring of Honor, a company that prides itself on giving value for money (among other things), celebrating its tenth birthday with such a sparse card, but right now there’s no indication of what other matches will be on offer.

Thankfully quality usually wins out over quantity in ROH, particularly at high profile events like this one, so we can be confident that when the final bell of the evening sounds the company will have celebrated double digits with a fulfilling and eventful show.

It’s interesting to note that there will be no ROH world title match on offer. For a company that puts so much stock in the importance of its top prize to not have it defended at such a landmark event strikes me as peculiar. Ultimately it’s not a big deal but it does seem an odd decision. The main event we’ll see instead should be every bit as thrilling though: ROH champ Davey Richards and Kyle O’Reilly will team up to face their respective former tag partners in ‘Die Hard’ Eddie Edwards and Adam Cole.

This storyline has roots going back years. Davey Richards undertook a lengthy quest to capture the ROH world championship, having failed in challenges against the likes of Tyler Black and Roderick Strong. Edwards was granted his first ever shot at the title last March and shockingly defeated Strong to become the new champion. For a couple of month Richards said he didn’t want to challenge Edwards for the title as he didn’t want to be the one to end his dream-come-true reign. ‘Die Hard’ understandably took exception to that and threatened to leave the company unless his American Wolves teammate agreed to face him. Richards reluctantly agreed and the two clashed at Best in the World for only the second time in company history.

Richards beat Edwards. A new champion was crowned.

Since then the two have gradually grown apart, their healthy rivalry developing into a bitter grudge. This is mainly due to Edwards’ inability to accept his losses to Richards at BITW and last December’s Final Battle. The respect between the two seemingly remains for now, but their friendship is gone.

The decision to split Future Shock and pair them up with the two former Wolves is something I wrote about in detail several weeks ago (read that post here). In short I feel that the chance to make them a premiere unit in ROH has been thrown away in favour of short term advances to a world title feud. I still think both men will succeed in Ring of Honor, O’Reilly in particular, but I’d have liked to see them remain as Future Shock for a while longer.

While this match may not be for the company’s top prize the fact that it features the world champion, his main rival, and two future headliners should ensure that this match is a worthy main event. All four will do everything they can to make it memorable and enjoyable and I’ll be surprised if it’s not one of the company’s top matches of 2012.

As far as winners go I think Team Richards will get the nod. That could tip Eddie over the edge, allowing the show to close on a truly memorable angle in which he beats down Richards. Even if that doesn’t happen it will keep the story of Cole and Edwards being envious of their former partners running.

On the subject of post-match angles I’m expecting something memorable from Kevin Steen. Perhaps he, not Edwards, will attack Richards at the end of the show to get a new feud properly underway. I’m expecting Steen to be the man to take the gold from ‘The American Wolf’, very probably at Final Battle this December, so the program really needs to get started. What better place to start a highly anticipated feud than at the company’s Tenth Anniversary?

It’s possible ‘Mr Wrestling’s’ anarchic antics will be restricted to his scheduled bout against Jimmy Jacobs. Steen’s my pick to win that match and I expect he’ll do something after getting the victory, such as beat down Jacobs and brawl with Steve Corino, or cut one of his always entertaining pseudo-shoot promos. If he gets a lot of time for an angle with the reformed heels then take it as a sign that he’s not going to be involved with Richards later on in the show.

Steen is one of the most entertaining things ROH has to offer and is also one of their most over acts. If he doesn’t capture the ROH title at some point in the next twelve months I’ll be surprised.

Speaking of entertaining acts, Steen’s pals the Briscoes will defend their world tag team championships against the Young Bucks. Considering how long ‘Dem Boys’ have been around and how quickly the Bucks have established themselves as a top act it’s surprising these units have clashed more often. The characters the four men play should make for an interesting dynamic: high flying heels versus rough and ready babyfaces isn’t something you get to see every day. That should help the match stick in the memory. I’m picking Mark and Jay as the winners here. They’ve finally found their niche again and hopefully ROH are going to keep the belts on them for a few months longer to capitalise on that.

I can’t say I feel the same about the ROH TV title bout. I expect Tommaso Ciampa’s undefeated streak to continue with him defeating Jay Lethal to become the new champ. Not only would this help Ciampa move into a more prominent spot in the organisation but it would also mean that the company has a heel singles champ and a face singles champ. The slightly more old school, paced approach Ring of Honor generally takes is better suited to that approach.

This is how all wrestling posters should look

‘The Prodigy’ Mike Bennett will tangle with ‘The Notorious 187’ Homicide. Homicide will get a solid reaction form the NYC crowd, but this won’t be an especially memorable clash. I suspect it’s mainly there to fill the numbers and up the numbers of “guys form ROH’s past” on the card. Bennett is not my pick to win this one.

The sixth and final match confirmed for the show is a tag match between unit of ‘Unbreakable’ Michael Elgin and former world champion Roderick Strong (who will be accompanied by one of the few notable managers in wrestling today, Truth Martini) on the one side and the unit of TJ Perkins and the returning Amazing Red on the other. Expect a loud “welcome back” chant for Red, followed by a match in which the smaller men bump like maniacs to make Elgin look like a beast.

It should be a fun match with spots that allow everyone to shine. While I’ve not seen them team yet I have a feeling TJP and Red will gel nicely and already want them to become a regular team in the company’s shrinking doubles scene. I don’t expect them to win though. This match needs to be a place for Elgin and Strong, as a rising star and a veteran who’s helped carry the company over the years respectively, to go over and take the spotlight.

Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, collectively known as Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, are confirmed for the show and with no other regular combos announced it’s likely they’ll face some random jobbers. I’d like to see them against either ANX or the C&C Wrestle Factory because both of those teams deserve to be on a big show such as this. I’m not sure of the status of Titus’s injured neck though, and C&C don’t seem high on ROH’s list of acts to push right now, so I’m not going to get my hopes up.

The matches that are announced make the Tenth Anniversary Show look a very attractive event on paper. I expect ROH will deliver on the night by putting on a show worthy of their ten year history and the reputation they’ve built in that time. If you’re at a loose end on Sunday there are far worse ways of appending your time. It’s likely to be one of the best wrestling events of the year.

Predictions summary:
Team Richards to defeat Eddie Edwards and Adam Cole
The Briscoe Brothers to defeat the Young Bucks
Kevin Steen to defeat Jimmy Jacobs
Tommaso Ciampa to defeat Jay Lethal for the ROH Television championship
Roderick Strong and Michael Elgin to defeat The Amazing Red and TJ Perkins
Homicide to defeat Mike Bennett

Tuesday 28 February 2012

That RAW Recap 27.02.12

You would be forgiven for thinking that an appearance by The Rock would automatically make any episode of RAW memorable. Sadly that’s not the case. While ‘The Great One’s’ latest return was highly anticipated and delivered the catchphrases, laughs and animosity we’d all wanted and expected it’s not going to go down in the history books as one of his best ever promos. It’s not that it lacked anything, it’s more that nothing was said that we haven’t heard before.

Since last year The Rock and his WrestleMania XXVIII opponent John Cena have been trading barbs with one another. As time’s gone on those barbs have become increasingly vicious. But a pattern has emerged. Cena will talk about how he appears on RAW and at live events every week, The Rock will reveal his latest absurd jibe and then arrogantly proclaim it’s “trending” worldwide, then Cena will smirk and Rock will give an icy stare and the process will be repeated a few weeks later.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach. It clearly works well for both men and WWE as an organisation. It will deliver the pay-per-view buys the company wants when WrestleMania rolls around. It’s just that aside from a few funny lines (from both men) nothing about this feud has been especially memorable so far.

That said it did seem that the former ‘Doctor of Thuganomics’ struck a nerve when he mentioned Rock having promo notes on his arm. That could have been arranged to make it seem that the rivalry is finally heating up or it could have been a genuine moment of Cena saying something Rock didn’t know was coming and the movie star being unable to fully hide his annoyance. It doesn’t matter which it is really. It was an enjoyable moment and we need to see more like it over the next few weeks if the two men are going to keep their story moving forward.

Work or worked-shoot?

Below the main event promo we got a standard hit-and-miss RAW. Highlights were provided by a solid CM Punk v Daniel Bryan opener and a triple threat tag team championship match. The tag title bout got a surprising amount of time and was very enjoyable. Refreshingly, Cole and Lawler mostly concentrated on the action throughout the match. Naturally Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston were the stars but champions Epico and Primo got to shine too. It just goes to show that with a little work WWE could have a very enjoyable tag team division again.

Sadly that good work was undone after the match when Kane strolled to the ring and obliterated not only R-Truth and ‘The Heel’ but the champions too. That felt like somewhat of a waste considering how hard everyone had just worked to put on a good match. Did Kane really need that treatment?

The champion versus champion match was of predictably high quality and it’s a testament to both former ROH stars that they were able to put on such a good match in spite of the ruckus at ringside. Yes, WWE decided to shift the focus from the great match that took place in the ring onto John Laurinaitis, Teddy Long, Santino, David Otunga and AJ, who had all crowded ringside to advance their storylines. AJ was there to be used as a shield by her cowardly boyfriend while the other four were there to advance the unified General Manager arc. It was a lot to cram into one segment but WWE pulled it off well and gave us a tremendous match too.

We were once again denied a decisive finish. I’m beginning to think that the plan is to start a champion versus champion feud over the coming months, with the solitary GM (almost certainly Johnny Ace) eventually booking a title versus title match to unify the belts. I’m not against that. There’s not enough roster depth for two world champions and there hasn’t been for some time.

This week’s excuse for not giving us a winner was a repeat from last Tuesday’s clash on SuperSmackDown: Bryan went to leave the arena with his belt only to be tossed back into the ring by his WrestleMania opponent Sheamus. Laurinaitis disqualified Punk for this (technically it was outside interference against Bryan, you see) and then got into another shouting contest with Teddy Long. That’s always quite the sight: ‘Mr Excitement’ has to be a good foot taller than his SmackDown counterpart.

Despite having lost Punk decided to celebrate and pose at the top of the ramp. That’s never a good move for babyface wrestlers and this was no exception. Chris Jericho attacked the WWE champion from behind, knocking him to the ground before smashing his head repeatedly into the top of the metal ramp and locking him into the Walls of Jericho. Despite it being a clichéd routine the fans got impressively worked up and Jericho left to a good amount of heat.

That wasn’t the first time we’d seen Jericho: he’d opened the show by interrupting Daniel Bryan’s entrance. He and Punk had a passionate exchange about their respective histories in the business. They opted for a realistic approach that suited their feud well. When accused of stealing Jericho’s lines Punk asked Jericho if he’d given Bret Hart his “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be” line when he was two, following that up by facetiously asking if ‘Y2J’ had invented Canada. ‘The Second City Saint’ had a point: wrestlers are continually influenced by past generations and neither of them are an exception, but Punk hasn’t (at least to my knowledge) outright stolen anything from anyone else.

Jericho retaliated by saying he was a different breed to Punk and other modern wrestlers. ‘The Ayatollah of Rock and Roll-ah’ said he was from a generation of grapplers who didn’t care what spot they were supposed to fill, where they were placed on the card or what management told them to do, they just wanted to have the best match of the night. That’s an admirable quality and something that Jericho has intimated before in interviews when asked about TNA’s X Division. That meant both men had valid arguments.

This was a focused, believable promo that set the scene nicely for their continued rivalry and eventual clash at WrestleMania on April 1st. In a way I’d say it was better than The Rock’s promo. At least we got plenty of fresh material.

The rest of the show was forgettable. John Cena made Miz tap out to his credibility-killing STF submission hold and Kelly Kelly scored a nippy victory over Nikki Bella. Big Show teamed with Sheamus (he won the Royal Rumble remember, when is WWE going to start doing something with him?) to get a victory over Cody Rhodes and Mark Henry in an incredibly short contest which was preceded by Cody poking fun at Show’s loss to Floyd Mayweather at WrestleMania 24. A Show v Cody clash at this year’s event is looking more and more likely. That’s a real pity.

So where were Randy Orton and Brodus Clay? Both were confirmed for the show and neither appeared. It’s difficult to believe they were omitted due to time constraints when you consider that Eve was booked to wander to the ring and cut a promo about how men should be blamed for being easy to manipulate. Surely WWE would have cut that, or some of the dross I mentioned in the previous paragraph, in favour of an appearance from Orton.

Right now WWE is plodding towards WrestleMania. I’m confident that Rock v Cena, Triple H v Undertaker and Jericho v Punk are all going to ensure it’s a creative and commercial success, but if things carry on the way they have been it will be in spite of WWE’s writing team, not because of them. Things need to start happening on RAW and SmackDown if the casual viewers who tend to watch a little more often at this time of year and going to be convinced to keep watching form April 2nd.

In short: do something truly memorable next week!

Sunday 26 February 2012

SmackTalk 24.02.12

The two big stories on this week’s episode of SmackDown (dubbed SuperSmackDown because it was aired live on Tuesday night instead of its regular taped Friday night spot) were a confrontation between Daniel Bryan and his WrestleMania opponent Sheamus and a clash between WWE’s two GMs.

World champion Bryan kicked off the show with a heel promo that was interrupted by Miz. He suggested that the two form a tag team sometime in the future, before Sheamus interrupted him. Nothing in the segment was particularly memorable and it seemed very understated considering it’s building up to a World Heavyweight title match at the biggest show of the year.

Nobody entered a bad performance, it’s simply that nothing was said or done that we haven’t seen during the majority of title feuds over the last few years. The answer is simple: WWE needs to allow its stars (particularly top talent) more creative freedom in promos and character development. This has been a particular concern with Sheamus over the last month: his Royal Rumble win has been followed up with a fairly indifferent storyline and weekly promos in which he basically says “I’ll say who I’m facing at WrestleMania soon.” Perhaps the trend will change and there are plans to make him look like the massive star he should be over the next five weeks, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

The Long v Laurinaitis storyline is centred on the latter’s newfound desire to run both of WWE’s big shows. Teddy Long, instead of lying down and taking Laurinaitis’s aggressive corporate attitude, has stated that he’d be willing to run both shows too. This has resulted in a game of one-upmanship between the two which is likely to come to a head at WrestleMania XXVIII in a winner-take-all match of some kind.

I’ll be very surprised if this story doesn’t end with Laurinaitis running both shows. He’s younger and more over than Long, and is newer in the role too. That means he can do more without it seeming as tired and clichéd as when Teddy does it. I’m also of the opinion that RAW’s GM is the better TV character. He may be tedious and deliver his promos in a flat monotone, but that’s his gimmick. It’s funny and it works.

A six, eight or ten man tag match between Team Laurinaitis and Team Long at WrestleMania would be a good way of getting the likes of Drew McIntyre, David Otunga, the Great Khali, Heath Slater, Santino and other TV regulars unlikely to get a meaningful match onto the card. As you’ll see in the tweets below I wouldn’t be surprised if the match provides Aksana with a reason to exist on WWE TV. Having her turn heel on Long in favour of Laurinaitis wouldn’t be the most interesting or exciting heel turn ever but it would be just shocking enough to be worth doing.

With access to both RAW’s stars as well as the SmackDown crew WWE was able to put on a far more star heavy show than usual, which was a mixed blessing. On the one hand it meant we got to see CM Punk, Miz, Dolph Ziggler and other Monday night personalities receiving extra airtime. On the other it meant Friday night regulars such as Hunico, Ted Dibiase and (far more importantly) Cody Rhodes found themselves in reduced roles.

Missing a week of the interminable Dibiase v Hunico affair is fine if we get to see bigger names make a rare appearance, but it shouldn’t be eating into the time of rising stars like Cody Rhodes. Next time a live Tuesday night SmackDown airs WWE should consider cutting Khali and McIntyre from the broadcast and giving someone with a far better chance at cracking the main event scene do more on the show.

A side note on Cody before I post my tweets from Friday night: it looks like he’s on course for a confrontation with Big Show at WrestleMania. The rumours of Big Show facing Shaquille O’Neal at the event are looking more untrue every day, and the current booking of ‘The Dashing One’ indicates that he’s been picked as the replacement. Cody deserves far better than that and I hope WWE reconsiders the bout (if it’s been discussed) before it’s officially announced.

Opening segment, featuring Daniel Bryan, Miz, and Sheamus

Tweet 1: Edge is still on the strobe lighting warning. And it shows Punk with long hair.
Tweet 2: Brodus Clay is on the intro. Hmmm... click here
Tweet 3: Mark Henry v Big Show is happening AGAIN. Why are they subjecting us that? On the plus side Daniel Bryan's opening the show.
Tweet 4: Yes! Yes!! YES!!
Tweet 5: I believed you, Bryan.
Tweet 6: “Yes!” is the new wooooooooo.
Tweet 7: This time last year I rated Miz. He's nowhere near as good now.
Tweet 8: Miz and Bryan to form a tag team. That'd be a waste of Bryan. He needs to avoid dropping back to the middle of the card.
Tweet 9: Does Sheamus dye his hair?
Tweet 10: You know you're in trouble when Daniel Bryan has the most natural-looking tan in the ring.
Tweet 11: Decent enough opening segment. Didn't establish much though, beyond getting some light work started on Sheamus v Bryan.

Sheamus v Miz

Tweet 12: Sheamus v Miz. Teddy randomly started it during the break apparently. I hope he danced.
Tweet 13: "Sheamus is feelin' it, dawg!" #Bookerisms
Tweet 14: Sheamus weighs 275 pounds, does he? Whatever...
Tweet 15: Booker's commentary is somehow even more ludicrous than usual.

Teddy Long, Aksana, John Laurinatis, and David Otunga backstage
 
Tweet 16: Aksana is a waste of airtime.
Tweet 17: I bet she ends up turning on Teddy in favour of John Laurinaitis.
Tweet 18: This is meant to be funny. It isn't. It's boring. The best thing about it is John Laurinaitis. That's never a good sign.

Kofi Kingston and R-Truth v Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler

Tweet 19: Kofi appears to be having a fit. Maybe someone should help him.
Tweet 20: #LittleJimmy
Tweet 21: All American Perfection v Air Boom Take Two. This should be solid.
Tweet 22: Just tag Ziggler in!
Tweet 23: The sit-up is a nice addition to the Ziggler package. #nohomo
Tweet 24: I think Kofi's trying to out-bump Ziggler.
Tweet 25: All American Perfection win. There was never any doubt that they would. #heelsdoitbetter
Tweet 26: Stick the belts on Swagger and Ziggler and put them against Air Boom Take Two at WrestleMania. Eight minutes and they'll have a great match.

Hall of Fame video package and Santino backstage

Tweet 27: Is this a Ron Simmons video? It is!
Tweet 28: I REALLY want his HOF speech to be one word. We all know the word I mean...
Tweet 29: Heath Slater knocked cups off a table? WHAT A HEEL!
Tweet 30: Santino is a grown man. That's worth keeping in mind. At all times.

From the Vault

Tweet 31: From the Vault continues its Chris Jericho season. Versus Kane. I'd like to skip this but I can't bring myself to.
Tweet 32: Comedic barrier bump from Kane there.
Tweet 33: I am always amazed by how awful Striker's commentary is.
Tweet 34: Drop the board game analogy, Grisham.
Tweet 35: This is a very sloppy match.
Tweet 36: Jericho doesn't have good matches against everyone. This match proves it. In fairness lots of people fail to have great matches with Kane.
Tweet 37: Random match followed by Daniel Bryan sitting on a bench having a chat with a camera. Why not?

Drew McIntyre v The Great Khali and Big Show v Mark Henry
 
Tweet 38: Ah, Drew McIntyre. This is a nice chance to plug my latest blog: click here
Tweet 39: Drew lost? WHAT A SHOCK!!
Tweet 40: Big Show dyes his beard. #fact
Tweet 41: Mark Henry's character has become a guilty pleasure of mine. Convincing badass. Great entrance music.
Tweet 42: "Go big or get lost" says Show's entrance video. Good way to promote equality.
Tweet 43: Booker claims Teddy Long makes matches nobody has ever seen. No. All he does is make tag matches.
Tweet 44: I hate Big Show’s spear. It’s rubbish.
Tweet 45: Cody Rhodes v Big Show at WrestleMania. Is that really going to happen?! I hope not. Cody deserves better.
Tweet 46: Henry with a humorous attempt to look agile there.
Tweet 47: Henry wins via counout. Does anyone pin anyone else anymore?

Ezekiel Jackson, with Teddy Long v David Otunga, with John Laurinaitis

Tweet 48: Some tremendous dancing from Teddy there. He never disappoints.
Tweet 49: I am a fan of Laurinaitis dancing.
Tweet 50: I am only tolerating this match because I find Otunga entertaining.
Tweet 51: Post match pose from Otunga? A LOLfest!

Various comments

Tweet 52: Another RAW recap. Really? REALLY?
Tweet 53: I'd say Booker was just smiling wryly buy that man does NOTHING wryly.
Tweet 54: Copyright infringement line. Funny stuff.

Daniel Bryan v CM Punk

Tweet 55: YES! YES! YES!
Tweet 56: You should be able to guess who's making his entrance...
Tweet 57: These two deserve a proper feud.
Tweet 58: This is the matchup that should be main eventing WrestleMania: click here
Tweet 59: Bryan’s kicks > Punk’s kicks
Tweet 60: John Laurinaitis! #MrExcitement
Tweet 61: "Awhhh, HELL no!" - Booker T
Tweet 62: Laurinaitis is at ringside. Put him on commentary! That would be TV gold.
Tweet 63: The multiple restart gimmick is being employed. Is Dusty working on SmackDown now?
Tweet 64: I've lost count of the number of times Booker has said "dawg" tonight.
Tweet 65: Laurinaitis's chair is far more plush than Teddy's. Is this some sort of rib?
Tweet 66: Nobody knows who won! Oh the hilarity!
Tweet 67: Laurinaitis should've nailed Teddy with an Ace Crusher to end the show. That'd get people tuning in next week.

So close to seeing an Ace Crusher...

NXT Level

WWE really need to try harder with NXT. The show should be a place for new talent to earn a spot on RAW or SmackDown by engaging with fans and getting themselves over so that management have no choice but to use them more. Instead it’s a regimented affair where everyone is scripted to sound like everyone else, no unique personalities are present and the wrestlers are treated like idiots by the commentators, host Matt Striker, and each other. How is anyone supposed to stand out in such an environment? It says a lot about how WWE currently sees the show when two of the original pros have been fired since it began and one of the original hosts has left the company without being replaced.

With a little work it could be so much more than this.

Part of the problem is that the program currently bears no resemblance to its original format. WWE either need to officially reformat it or make an attempt to go back to what they originally intended by reinstating the pro-rookie dynamic and having stars from RAW and SmackDown that people actually care about appear as regulars. Having the likes of Chris Jericho and CM Punk on every episode helped the first season, why not repeat the process now?

The simplest and most effective way of making NXT a worthwhile affair would be to (finally) draw the current fifth season to a close and begin a new season. Everyone currently working on the show has been there long enough to earn a shot at getting over on RAW or SmackDown. Promote them all to the central shows and give them three months to prove they deserve to be there. If they don’t manage it then it’ll be time to release them: they will have had more than enough opportunities.

There are more than enough talented guys in FCW to make a sixth season of NXT very watchable. The obvious inclusions would be Kassius Ohno, Antonio Cesaro, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, formerly Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Tyler Black and Jon Moxley respectively. The first three have been big stars in Ring of Honor while Ambrose was a standout in companies like CHIKARA, DGUSA and EVOLVE. They would all put on some truly excellent matches and provide some very enjoyable promos. A show built primarily around these four would be the best thing WWE could do with NXT.

After a year and a half in development the former Tyler Black (now Seth Rollins) deserves a shot at the big time

Then there’s Richie Steamboat. He’s a guy that has never been with a national promotion but deserves the chance to connect with fans. Meanwhile guys like Mike Dalton and Big E Langston have the look to warrant a shot at making an impact in a low pressure environment like NXT. If they don’t connect they can always be dropped back to FCW upon elimination to work on their shortcomings. The aim with guys like that should be to give them some exposure and let them attempt to get themselves over. They shouldn’t be rammed down the audience’s throat.

Guys like Abraham Washington, Eli Cottonwood and Husky Harris (a personal favourite of mine) could be considered for spots on a sixth season too. All are guys who weren’t given a fair chance at success in their previous runs on TV.

With the properly chosen cast and an emphasis on characters and good wrestling a sixth season of NXT could create some new stars. The show currently gets fairly poor viewership so what’s the harm in shaking it up a bit? The tasks that plagued early seasons should be quietly dropped and the airtime should instead be dedicated to matches, promo segments and video packages on the rookies. Videos showing the rookies and pros training together or spending time on the road would be a nice touch, and give the show a more realistic feel than the majority of WWE programming currently has. The company has enough money to be able to furnish each pro-rookie unit with a video camera to take on the road and record things. Obviously not everything would be appropriate for a TV audience but it would be a fresh approach to an established format.

NXT is also a good way of giving current stars something to do. Remember how the Miz grew as a character during the first and second seasons of NXT? Perhaps a Dolph Ziggler or a Cody Rhodes could use NXT to make the same progress. Curt Hawkins and Tyler Reks have somehow become regulars on the C-show, so why not use them as pros on a sixth season. The fact that they’re a team could make for an interesting storyline or rivalry involving their rookies.

Ted Dibiase, Jack Swagger, Jinder Mahal, Drew McIntyre and Santino would all be good additions to NXT. They could even find a use for Khali by pairing him up with a rookie who excels at promos and playing on the fact that Khali doesn’t speak good English. A healthy mixture of main event performers and underused Superstars regulars should be what WWE aims for when drawing up their new pro list.

This man's career would benefit from a return to the original NXT format

For NXT to function as it should changes need to be made. It should be a proving ground for young stars and a way for them to prove to management that they deserve to be on the main roster. It doesn’t work that way at the moment. But it wouldn’t take much to turn it into a worthwhile show for fans and competitors alike. Ultimately it’s going to help WWE build a future for itself, so they’re stupid not to spend time and money on it now. If they do then the next generation of wrestlers can finally start making waves.

Friday 24 February 2012

Chosen for Mediocrity

Remember a couple of years ago when Drew McIntyre was singled out by Vince McMahon as a future world champion and given the lofty moniker of 'The Chosen One'? What happened to that guy?

Drew McIntyre in 2012 is not as high on the card as he ought to be. He originally debuted in 2007 but failed to make an impact, so he was bundled off to OVW to train. He returned in August 2009 and received a very healthy push. Unfortunately for the Scot history repeated itself and he gradually slipped down the card as other characters were introduced and the writing team lost interest in him. McIntyre himself is also partially responsible for his current position as he's never fully clicked as a top heel in the organisation, despite having the spotlight and backing to do so.

'The Chosen One.' What he's been chosen for isn't clear...

He spent much of 2011 languishing on Superstars, officially a member of the RAW brand. He officially returned to the blue brand on December 30th and has since been saddled with the losing streak gimmick.

If booked correctly a wrestler can get over with continual losses. It helps if there's a plan in place to end the trend before the storyline is launched, and also if the audience are sympathetic to the loser. Neither is the case here. McIntyre is a heel, so fans don't care if he never wins, and as is usually the case in WWE these days it doesn't appear that the idea was fully thought through when it was first considereed. They've come up with the idea of Drew losing all the time but don't know where to go with it. Basically they've consciously decided to make him a jobber with a featured spot.

This direction caused McIntyre to be omitted from the Royal Rumble match (he lost a squash bout to Brodus Clay at the event). He didn't appear at Elimination Chamber at all. He could have had a role in the Rumble and appeared at EC without the loser gimmick being compromised, which would have helped him and the storyline gain acceptance.

Had Drew entered the Rumble and been eliminated immediately the match would have had one more comedy moment that also added to a minor on-going storyline. Mid-card stars receiving any sort of push should always be included in the Royal Rumble unless their exclusion is part of a wider story (as was the case with Cody Rhodes last year for example).

There was enough room on the Elimination Chamber broadcast for him to be featured in a squash match. Even if there hadn’t been such a match could have replaced the utterly pointless Jack Swagger v Justin Gabriel nonsense that clogged up the show. McIntyre being placed into a match while the show was taking place would have made him look like an afterthought: surely a desirable attribute for someone being presented as a loser.

I've no idea where WWE's creative team intend to take McIntyre but a plan needs to be sorted out. There are rumours that WrestleMania will include a Team Long v Team Laurinaitis match, with the winning team's patron becoming GM of both RAW and SmackDown. How about including him in that and having him be the lone (or one of two) survivor(s) on a victorious heel team? He could then be rewarded by Laurinaitis with a shot against a newly-crowned babyface US champ (Zack Ryder would be ideal) and cheat to win the strap. That would provide a satisfying conclusion to the loser story and set up a new McIntyre v Ryder feud that could run for a month or two.

Alternatively McIntyre could be reunited with former tag team partner Cody Rhodes, with the long term plan being to do a gradual split. If that were teased long enough then McIntyre could successfully be turned face and capture the Intercontinental title from 'The Dashing One.' Cody could then move on to the main event, leaving McIntyre free to enjoy a spot in the upper mid-card.

I'd also recommend changing the guy's look. A succession of new trunks aside he has looked the same for years. It's time he changed things up. It would help him stand out, both with the fans and the writing team. Neither is a bad thing.

Drew McIntyre is someone WWE should be looking at as an upper mid-card act to be relied upon for years to come. He has the potential to be a main event star, but in order for him to make it to the top he has to be given a chance. In this case a chance starts with a plan.

Monday 20 February 2012

Filler Eliminated

As was the case with January's Royal Rumble February's Elimination Chamber could have been so much more special than it was. A lack of proper planning and a dubious running order meant that the show ended up being just another filler event.
 
I'll begin my recap in the middle of the card with the SmackDown Elimination Chamber. That's the one that should have opened the show, because it had fewer big names and a lump like the Great Khali to incorporate. A spot involving Big Show breaking into Daniel Bryan's pod and smashing him through the allegedly bulletproof Plexiglas meant that the blue brand's cage clash had to go on after its RAW counterpart. Had it gone on first the RAW crew would have had a broken pod to contend with. Clearly that wasn’t an option.
 
This match had some big limitations to work around. Firstly Randy Orton was injured, and he clearly would have been booked as the star babyface and clashed with defending champion Daniel Bryan in the closing moments. His replacement, Santino Marella, may be over but he’s also a comedy figure and so was never going to convince anyone that he had a chance of winning. The other two good guys were limited in what they could do (severely limited in the case of 'The Punjabi Playboy'), and the three best workers in the match were all heels.
 
That's a lot to overcome, but all six men and the writing team pulled off a very enjoyable match. Big Show was booked as a monster and put over rising star Cody Rhodes on his way out. Both were good moves. Khali's involvement was kept brief so he didn't get the chance to ruin things. Barrett was booked to look dominant in the second half of the bout, battering both Bryan and Santino. The match's greatest strength lay in letting Daniel Bryan do what he does best in the closing moments: making a wrestler (in this case 'The Milan Miracle') far below him on the card look like his equal and genuine contender.
 
The World Heavyweight championship match was a triumph. Congratulations to everyone involved.
 
Sadly the same can’t be said of the RAW brand's Chamber extravaganza. It's not that the match was bad, it just didn't make the most of what it had. Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston both deserved to be elevated with strong performances. Neither was. Kofi was one of the first two men in and lasted a fairly long time, but he was in there to make others look good and set up an angle between Jericho and Punk (I’ll get to that). He deserves a chance at cracking the main event scene. That didn't happen here and it's unlikely to happen any time in the foreseeable future.
 
'The Heel' was dealt an even worse hand than 'The Dreadlocked Dynamo’, lasting a shorter amount of time and being eliminated far too easily with a single Codebreaker. Miz got a better deal: he was one of the final two men in the match alongside defending champion CM Punk. That surprised me: he was rumoured to be in management's bad books after failing to catch R-Truth on RAW a few weeks ago so the last thing I expected was for him to be in the closing moments of the match alongside the WWE champion.
 
I dislike saying it but Miz shouldn't have made it that far. He had a fair chance to establish himself as a headliner last year and didn't manage it. That he's sunk back to the middle of the card in the last nine months is nobody's fault but his own. Ziggler would have been a better choice for that spot as he’s a man on the rise.
 
The other reason this match didn't go on higher on the card (besides Big Show wrecking the cage) was that the finish would have been and immensely disappointing way to end a pay-per-view. For those who are unaware Chris Jericho tossed Kofi Kingston through the open doorway after eliminating him then turned around into a kick from Punk that sent him sprawling to the aisle. He then lolled about on the concrete as though he'd suffered a concussion or some other injury that would prevent him from continuing (he hadn’t). That led to the climactic moments between Miz and the champ. Jericho didn't return to the cage and failed to be eliminated. I imagine this will be referenced on RAW this evening and lead to 'Y2J' demanding a one-on-one title match at WrestleMania. He will receive it.


In a strange in-ring segment we witnessed the return of both Alberto Del Rio and Christian. They both came out to advocate John Laurinaitis taking over the role of SmackDown GM from Teddy Long. I don’t think that would be a bad idea: Long has been in that role, on and off, for eight years now and has done everything he can in it. Laurinaitis appearing on both shows would allow the brand extension idea to be officially dissolved, which is in WWE’s best interests right now considering the shallow depth of the roster.

It was irritating that Christian returned here in an in-ring segment and not a month ago at the Royal Rumble or on Friday’s SmackDown to be included in the Chamber scrap. As he’s clearly being kept as a heel the decision makes sense, but I still think turning him emergency babyface and letting him perform what became Santino’s role would have been a better decision for business.

The view from Otunga's phone during the returning-heel heavy in-ring segment.
 
The filler matches were what you'd expect. Beth Phoenix and Tamina Snuka put on an enjoyable show that the crowd didn't care about. Surprisingly, nothing was set up for the Divas' division going into WrestleMania. Would it really have been that much effort to have Natalya get into an argument with her fellow Sister of Destruction or for Kharma to make her second appearance of 2012 for a stare-off with the champ?

The other filler match was Jack Swagger defending his worthless United States title against Justin Gabriel. The match was set up in a backstage skit that also involved Vickie Guerrero and Hornswoggle. It was as good as it sounds. Swagger won a limp showing that was oddly placed between the SmackDown Chamber match and the evening’s main event.

Which brings us nicely to the John Cena versus Kane Ambulance match. The two had an entertaining brawl that took in the seating area and some technical tables, before Cena got the inevitable win by AAing ‘The Big Red Monster’ off the top of the ambulance onto a waiting (and hidden from view) crash mat. This match accomplished its two main goals of ending the feud and making Cena look strong for his upcoming exchanges with The Rock. It did nothing else. That it went on last annoys me but ultimately it makes little difference because the card was such a washout. For the record, that decision was made so that the show ended with a face victory (Cena) instead of a heel victory (Bryan). At least we know WWE still thinks of things like that from time to time. That’s an encouraging sign.

Overall Elimination Chamber was another blown opportunity and it looks as though tonight’s RAW is going to be a better show, just as the post-Rumble RAW was superior to the Rumble. The Undertaker is confirmed to appear, Cena is going to start targeting Rock (which will be far more interesting than what he’s been doing with Kane) and there are said to be several big angles planned that will kick off WrestleMania feuds. WWE needs to get itself out of the habit of giving away appearances by big names on free television and start making audiences pay for them. This is not the way wrestling is supposed to work!

Sunday 19 February 2012

Funkasaurus Extinction

After just over a month Brodus Clay's Funkasaurus character has been pulled from WWE programming. To paraphrase Brodus, "I didn't see that coming."

Since the character first appeared on the January 9th edition of RAW it has been an incredible success, with audiences clearly getting behind Clay in his various squash match victories. Fans online have been very positive about the character too. Everyone seemed generally buoyed by WWE’s attempt to do something fresh. So why pull him?

The rumour is that WWE management are dissatisfied with Clay’s wrestling ability. This is puzzling on a couple of levels. First and foremost, WWE tolerates John Cena’s abysmal wrestling week after week and has done since before he was the merchandise shifter he is now. That’s one example of a guy being permitted a slot on TV without being an especially refined wrestler. There are many others: Ezekiel Jackson, the Great Khali and Mark Henry are but a few of them.

Secondly, for what he’s been required to do so far Clay’s skills are more than adequate. He’s wrestling short squash matches. He doesn’t need to be the world’s greatest worker for that. He needs charisma and the ability to look dominant. He has both. That’s how he’ll get over with this gimmick, not wrestling lengthy, competitive matches.

‘The Funkasaurus’ is good enough to keep winning squashes for a month or two more before graduating to a more meaningful feud with a mid-card heel like Cody Rhodes who could bump around and make him look good while also being credible enough to not go down immediately to the What The Funk “See Wha” Splash.

Put this guy back on TV and let him get over!

It’s likely WWE doesn’t understand why people like the gimmick so much. Perhaps that’s part of the reason Clay’s had his push decommissioned. It wouldn’t be the first time the company’s cut off its nose to spite its face. That doesn’t make it right though. WWE should be pleased that a new babyface act is getting over with every demographic of its audience and do everything it can to keep the trend going for as long as possible.

When the character debuted I praised WWE for trying something different and having a clear plan to get a new star over. I still believe Clay and the Funkasaurus character are a good fit for WWE television and that the man's ring skills and charisma (particularly the latter) will help him achieve success if he's given the opportunity. The start-stop approach to new characters needs to stop. Nothing good can come from it.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Russo Out, Lagana In

There's a reason I don't talk about TNA that often on this blog. It's because I don't feel I keep up with their product enough. I'll follow their title changes, read taping and PPV results and take note of face and heel turns, but ultimately that's part of the problem. I know just from reading about the promotion that there's too much going on for the amount of airtime available.
 
I gave up even attempting to watch iMPACT (or whatever name it was going under at the time) last summer. My feeling at the time was that if TNA wasn’t capable of using their talent properly it wasn’t worth spending my time watching.
 
Things may be about to change though. It was reported last weekend that Vince Russo was not backstage at the Against All Odds pay-per-view in Orlando's IMPACT Zone, sparking rumours that he had split from the company. This was confirmed on Tuesday in a tweet from company president Dixie Carter, who wrote the following:
 
TNA and Vince Russo have mutually parted ways as of this week. The separation is amicable and professional. We are glad for the opportunity to have worked together and wish each other nothing but good luck and success in the future.
 
Adding to the good news is that Dave Lagana, former SmackDown, WWECW and Ring of Honor writer and current head if TNA’s Ring Ka King project in India, has replaced Russo on the creative team. Following years of Russo’s anarchic, often counterproductive approach Lagana’s logical, well-paced booking should be a refreshing change to the TNA product in 2012.


Vince Russo: gone but not forgotten!

With the confirmation that Russo is no longer involved in TNA creative on any level fans who were driven away by his idiocy may be encouraged to give IMPACT a try again. The best way TNA can encourage people to tune in is to tighten up their focus and book with long term goals in mind.
 
The Bobby Roode heel turn on James Storm is a perfect example of how long term booking went disastrously wrong under Russo. Had that story been teased out over months it could have been the promotion's lead storyline before progressing into the lead feud. Booked correctly it could have made genuine stars of both Storm and Roode, something that should be a top priority for the company that has been known for using former WWE stars for so long. Had ‘The Cowboy’ been permitted a lengthier title run before dropping the championship to Roode he would have stood a far better chance of establishing himself at the top of the card. Instead the turn and the title switch all took place within a month and nothing made the impact (no pun intended) it should have.


Wasteful is the word you’re looking for.
 
This is the perfect chance to change the writing process the company currently has in place. At the moment a script is drawn up by the writing team and handed to Bruce Prichard, who notes whatever changes he feels are necessary before handing it on to Eric Bischoff, who does the same.
 
One or both of the note makers need to be taken out of the process, in order to speed things up and allow the writing team to get on with planning a compelling television product. Y’know, like they’re supposed to? Ideally Bischoff would get the boot. After two and a half years with the company it's clear he's incapable of doing anything in the wrestling business without pots of someone else's money to utilise.

Bringing Lagana into TNA proper is a promising sign. I hope TNA allows him and the rest of the team the chance to sort the creative process out. It's been slapdash for far too long. The company's wrestlers and fans deserve better.

Friday 17 February 2012

Eliminating a Problem

There’s a very obvious problem with Sunday’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view (which I’ve previewed in full here). That problem is Santino Marella.

‘The Milan Miracle’ is not a credible edition to a pay-per-view main event, especially the Elimination Chamber, which is generally presented as being among the most gruelling bouts in WWE. His inclusion not only runs the risk of tarnishing that reputation but also the reputations of the main event and mid-card performers who are also in the match.

If Santino is permitted to look competitive against the likes of Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett and Daniel Bryan they will end up looking weak for being unable to easily take care of a comedy wrestler. The plan is likely for Santino to work the majority of the match because he’s the only good guy involved who can wrestle for more than four minutes without getting blown up.

That he’s replacing Randy Orton, one of the company’s biggest stars, doesn’t do ‘The Viper’ any favours either.
This man should not be main eventing pay-per-views
But where there’s a problem there’s a solution. How about this for an idea…

As Santino is making his way to ringside he is attacked by über-heel Mark Henry. Henry’s more-knackered-than-normal knees may require Santino to kill time playing to fans in the aisle so that ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ doesn’t have to run too fast to catch him but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Once Henry has smacked Santino about, knocking him into the aisle barriers and the cage itself as tradition dictates, he would take a microphone and demand that SmackDown General Manager Teddy Long instate him in the match in Marella’s place. Long would come out and inform Henry that he is not being put into the match because the perfect replacement just happened to be backstage. That may sound convenient but this is WWE we’re talking about, and in fairness the company is in a tight corner with regards to sorting this mess out.

The convenient replacement could be revealed as Christian, acting and wrestling like a babyface. Ideally he would be one of the first two men into the match against Bryan, Rhodes or Barrett as that would allow his new role as a good guy to be made clear early on and encourage fans to get behind him.

Turning ‘Captain Charisma’ may seem like a rash move but with Orton and Sheamus the only other two decent babyface workers at the top of the SmackDown card it makes sense. ‘The Instant Classic’ is more than capable of working against rising heels and could put a great series together with World champion Daniel Bryan. It would also give the SmackDown Chamber bout a wrestler for fans to rally behind that can work the entire match without being booked to take lengthy rest periods (and isn’t a comedy performer).

Hopefully this sequence, or something similar to it, takes place on Sunday. The alternative is going back in time and giving the spot to Gillberg, and that’s just not a realistic option.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Elimination Chamber preview

You have to wonder about WWE’s booking sometimes. The night after last month’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view the Undertaker made his first appearance in nine months. On Monday’s RAW Shawn Michaels made his first appearance since last summer. In the next several weeks The Rock is due to return to RAW in order to begin the final push towards WrestleMania XXVIII, hyping his feud with John Cena.

That’s three huge names that will spike ratings all returning (one unadvertised) on free television. Would it have been too much to ask to save one of them for Sunday’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view? If any of the three were advertised to appear it would help increase interest in the show. The Rock could confront John Cena. ‘HBK’ and ‘The Game’ could have had exactly the same exchange they had on RAW at Elimination Chamber.  Things could have been rejigged so that Undertaker made an advertised appearance at the PPV. WWE had options, all of which would have encouraged people to buy this Sunday’s show.
Elimination Chamber feels like a wasted opportunity. Because it is. At this time of year WWE should be taking advantage of the increased interest fans have in their product by putting things people want to see on pay-per-view. That’s how the system is supposed to work! Instead they’re giving away big name returns on free TV.

Rant done with I can now say that I am looking forward to this year’s Elimination Chamber more than any from previous years. I’m a fan of the Chamber match concept but tend to dislike its placing in the annual supershow line-up. Basically I always feel that the February event shouldn’t be a gimmicked one as that would allow WWE more creative freedom to promote the matches and angles they need to, rather than having to work around the cage matches. I’m also of the opinion that it dilutes the importance of the Royal Rumble. They’ve never done a bad job with the show, but it would be nice if it were left until later in the year when it could be used to greater effect and not be a potential burden on WrestleMania plans.
What I’m most excited about with this year’s show are the men entering the Chambers matches. For the first time in years the Chamber bouts are not laden with veterans. The inclusion of big names tends to mean that they become the focus of the booking and any young stars involved are there solely to fill spaces and make the veterans look good. This year there are far fewer veterans involved in the Chamber bouts, and the ones that are there fit in with the younger line-ups well, for the most part.

Big Show’s inclusion would be more irritating in different circumstances. As it is he has been in the main event picture for months so it makes sense for him to be wrestling for the World Heavyweight title here. The only true dead weight is the Great Khali, replacing an injured Mark Henry. Again, as he’s a last minute replacement the blow is softened. I imagine both giants will be booked carefully and not be involved in the match for too long (Khali especially).
Of the two I’m far more looking forward to the RAW Chamber more. CM Punk defending against surprise inclusion Kofi Kingston, Miz, R-Truth, Dolph Ziggler, and expected WrestleMania opponent Chris Jericho has the potential to be a Match of the Year candidate. There’s nobody in there who’s a poor worker, and nobody in there who hasn’t earned a chance to shine in the last year.

There aren’t really that many options for a winner but that’s always the case. This one is going to go to Jericho or Punk, and my money’s on Punk. I’m also expecting the booking and talent level to make this the match of the night.
The SmackDown Chamber, thanks to Show and Khali, won’t be quite as impressive. Orton being pulled from the line-up is also a blow. His replacement is a worse one: at Tuesday’s SmackDown taping Santino Marella won a battle royal to earn the vacant spot in the World Heavyweight championship bout.

I understand that the SmackDown roster is desperately thin on babyface stars but the addition of Santino is absurd. Christian is surely capable of returning from the ankle injury he suffered in November by now, and could have been turned emergency face. The same goes, at a push, for Jack Swagger. He’s currently killing time playing backup to Dolph Ziggler on RAW, he could have been given a chance to succeed as a mid-card face on SmackDown. Had WWE not squandered Zack Ryder’s popularity in the recent Kane v Cena feud he could have been given a shot in the Chamber too. Including Santino only makes a bad situation worse.
On the positive side if Barrett, Rhodes and Bryan are allowed to do their stuff it could still be excellent. As I mentioned above I can imagine Khali and Show’s involvement being limited. Santino will probably get a fair amount of ring time simply because he’s in better condition than those too. He’s over so that will at least ensure the crowd get into the match. Show will probably eliminate Rhodes or Barrett (or both) before being eliminated by Bryan or Khali (in the absence of Orton, who was my original choice to eliminate ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’).

Assuming he recovers I’m currently expecting a Randy Orton v Sheamus v Daniel Bryan match at WrestleMania XXVIII. As he’s the only one of the three in the cage on Sunday Bryan is the man I’m expecting to see walk out with the gold.
I also think there was something a little off about Sheamus mentioning how every year at least one world title changes hands on this show. That made me think that WWE were drawing attention to the statistic so that they could play on it and make people expect a title change when there isn’t one planned at all. Perhaps I’m overthinking that (in fact I definitely am) but it’s what struck me when it was said.

Then there’s the rest of the card. While the titular bouts make me actively look forward to this show both of the other announced matches just make me feel apathetic. The worst offender is the John Cena v Kane ambulance match. Those two have been rucking for two months now and yet all they’ve really accomplished is some storyline rubbish involving fireballs and Zack Ryder failing to change a car tyre.
With Cena about to head into his feud with The Rock I imagine he’ll win this to look strong for WrestleMania. As tedious as the feud’s been at least it’s given us Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber matches without Cena involved. That’s a big bonus as it’s allowed other people the chance to take a turn in the spotlight without WWE needing to promote pay-per-views without their top star.

Beth Phoenix defending the Divas’ title against Tamina Snuka, as she is now being billed, should be a good WWE women’s match and due to the slight number of matches announced for the show there’s a good chance they’ll get an above average amount of time. I’d like to see the discord between the Sisters of Destruction that was hinted at a few weeks ago revisited and built on here. Natalya v Beth Phoneix is the way to go for this year’s WrestleMania.
That’s it for the currently announced matches at Elimination Chamber 2012. That WWE is only advertising four bouts for a show in their peak viewing period of the year is worrying. Plans need to be made farther in advance if this is the attitude being taken towards B level PPVs. Sheamus, the Royal Rumble winner and challenger to a world title at WrestleMania, is not advertised to do anything on the show. Give him a match or announce that he’s going to decide who he’ll face at ‘Mania. Do something with him. Right now he looks like an afterthought (not even that, technically) rather than the top babyface star he should be.

He's on the poster but he has no match. What will Sheamus end up doing when he makes his inevitable appearance on Sunday?

With so many top names involved in Chamber matches WWE could be using this show to try and put a little more emphasis on the Divas and tag team divisions. That’s clearly not happening though, because WWE doesn’t see them as being important or a way of making money. That’s a shame. Female wrestlers, if given enough time, can be just as entertaining as their male counterparts. Tag teams meanwhile, are great places for young guys to start out their WWE careers before progressing on to become integral mid-card solo acts. It worked for Shawn Michaels. I have written these things before.

While I’m sure Elimination Chamber will be saved by the world title bouts it’s a shame that we have nothing more to look forward to on such a pivotal show. Especially when the company is said to be preparing several big angles for Monday’s RAW.

Predictions summary:
CM Punk to retain the WWE championship
Daniel Bryan to retain the World Heavyweight championship
John Cena to defeat Kane
Beth Phoenix to defeat Tamina Snuka

Monday 13 February 2012

Hero's Welcome

After months of anticipation WWE has finally signed Chris Hero to a developmental contract.

For those you who are unfamiliar with his work Chris Hero is a guy who’s been working on the US independent wrestling scene for around a decade, and has also completed multiple tours for Japan’s Pro Wrestling NOAH. He cuts a great promo, has a well-defined persona, and puts a lot of strikes into his matches, most notably the rolling elbow. Want some examples of his matches? I can oblige. Click here for Chris Hero v Delirious; here for the Kings of Wrestling v the Super Smash Brothers; and here and here for Hero v KENTA.
It was originally thought he would sign last Autumn alongside his Kings of Wrestling partner Claudio Castagnoli. The delay is apparently due to Hero’s unnaturally high testosterone levels. They caused him to fail various WWE medicals and held up the signing process. Yep, he’s possibly too manly for WWE but they’ve signed him anyway.
Castagnoli signed in mid-September and was immediately posted to developmental league Florida Championship Wrestling where his ring name became Antonio Cesaro. This is the treatment almost everybody signed to the company can expect and Hero isn’t likely to be any different. FCW is meant to polish wrestlers and help them prepare for the WWE style of working, as well as ensuring the wrestlers on the main roster see the newcomers as having “paid their dues.”

The name change protocol exists in order to give WWE legal rights to its performers names. Were Hero to make a name for himself in WWE using the Chris Hero ring name he could theoretically leave and use the exposure to help further his career on the independent circuit or in rival promotion TNA. By forcing a name change WWE ensures they have the legal rights to whatever name Hero (real name Chris Spradlin) becomes famous under. In short it’s all about WWE making sure they’re the only ones who can make money.
The question now is will Hero and Castagnoli be reunited as a unit in FCW? If WWE were serious about rebuilding their battered doubles scene putting Hero and Castagnoli together would be a great first step. That is, of course, if the creative team (and Vince McMahon) could swallow their pride and let the two replicate their Kings of Wrestling act in a WWE setting. A new team name would, obviously, be a necessity but their characters and teamwork would enable them to be a fine centrepiece for the tag scene.

Are the Kings of Wrestling future WWE tag team champions?

WWE’s only other tag team of note, Air Boom, would be great underdog babyface opponents for the rechristened Kings. In an ideal world each team would be built up for a few months with the goal being to have them clash in an upper mid-card position on a pay-per-view in May or June. If they’re treated as stars as the tag team titles are shown to mean something to all four men then fans could be persuaded to care again.
Sadly we don’t live in a perfect world and the chances of WWE calling Hero and Castagnoli up to the main roster as a package and using them correctly are slim. It’s more likely that they will be called up separately as singles guys and find themselves niches in the middle of the card for the next year or so. In today’s WWE nothing moves quickly, especially if you have a reputation as a favourite of independent wrestling fans. Both men will have to earn themselves new spots.

The good news is that both men have done it before. They can play either good guy or bad guy convincingly and have the size and look that WWE tend to like in their superstars.
I expect Hero will be in FCW until the summer at the earliest but make it to RAW or SmackDown by the end of the year. Hopefully he’ll be given a fair shot at making it and not used senselessly, as was the case with Johnny Curtis last year. If he’s allowed to play a character he’s comfortable with, ideally ‘The Young Knockout Kid’ ROH fans are used to seeing him as, or a variant on it at least, then Hero could be a top guy in WWE in a couple of years’ time.

Hero v Punk at WrestleMania XXX? Don’t rule it out yet.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Days of Future Past

In the last few months the Ring of Honor careers of Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly have taken an odd twist. Having worked as a tag team for a little over a year the team was dissolved and both men have found new partners, each a former member of another ROH tag team: the American Wolves.

Cole and O’Reilly were signed to contracts in the latter half of 2010 and put together as a unit by ROH management. Throughout 2011 they had many impressive matches and were lauded by many (myself included) as future tag champions. They were expected, in time, to become top singles stars within the organisation.
The trouble is that they were never really used well. They worked well in the doubles division but they never got to make an impact. They didn’t pick out a team name for around a year. In a company like ROH, which has set itself up as the saviour of tag team wrestling, that’s pretty poor. The booking team didn’t help matters either, as they rarely won matches. They were the guys in the lower or middle part of the card that would provide a solid match but only win if they were facing a team at a similar level to themselves. They never got that big victory over a team like the American Wolves, the Kings of Wrestling, the Briscoes or Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team that would have allowed them to start establishing themselves as big winners in the eyes of the fans.

The unit had a lot of potential. With the Kings of Wrestling gone and the Briscoes popularity fluctuating wildly from town to town there is a spot at the top of the card for a reliable, popular team. Future Shock could have filled that spot nicely. Instead they’ve been split up to play a part in the burgeoning Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards rivalry.
The move, while disappointing, does at least make sense. O’Reilly has been presented as Richards’ protégé throughout his time in ROH and has accompanied him to ringside for several big matches in the last year. The two forming a tag team is a natural progression of the relationship and plays nicely into the angle that both men are “spurning” their former teammates.

Meanwhile Edwards and Cole are relatively similar in style. While the newly formed Team Richards is all about bringing a real sports feel to their matches, thanks to their stiffer ring style and emphasis on training regimens and submissions, Cole and Edwards are more prone to flying and mat wrestling.
The two teams will clash in the main event of the ROH Tenth Anniversary Show at the end of the month in what is going to be a great match. It will not only deliver in the ring but on the storyboards too: I imagine what happens at the Tenth Anniversary Show will set the scene for the next several months of storylines between the four men. The rivalry is likely to progress to outright hostility at some point.

While this program should be entertaining for ROH fans, and likely form the basis of a Richards v O’Reilly feud at some point in the distant future, I can’t help but feel it could and should have been held off in favour of establishing Future Shock as a standout unit in the tag division. Not only would this current feud have had more impact but the two younger men would have received a more impactful start to their ROH careers. It’s all about timing though, and in this case timing just wasn’t on Future Shock’s side.