Saturday 31 March 2012

Into the Abyss

Finally, after years of stalling, TNA have decided to do something new with the ancient Abyss character. Well, possibly…

Chris ‘Abyss’ Parks has been with TNA since 2003. For the hard of counting among you that’s nine years. It’s very difficult for a character to stay fresh in the wrestling business over such a lengthy period of time. Abyss has fared no better than anyone else. It doesn’t help that the character was conceived as an odd amalgamation of WWE’s Kane and Makind. He started out as a mute as did Kane. He even went through periods of being managed by The Sinister Minister, a nastier version of Paul Bearer.

His first memorable role was as a bodyguard for Kid Kash. That underwhelming part set the tone for the next several years. Mediocre feuds were intermingled with nonsensical face and heels turns, ludicrous storylines inspired by the Kane-Undertaker saga, and gibberish promos that you could, were you feeling particularly unkind, liken to the work of the Ultimate Warrior.

You may have picked up on the fact that I’m not a huge fan of the Abyss gimmick.

I’m not against Chris Parks. I think he’s a talented, hard-working wrestler who’s very nimble and athletic for a man of his size. While I’m not especially fond of modern garbage wrestling (I prefer to rely on old ECW footage for my needs in that department) I won’t deny that Parks has found his strength in such matches. If they’re spaced apart he can make an impression with his hardcore outings.

It’s the nonsense that the Abyss character seems to encourage that I’ve never been a fan of. Thankfully IMPACT has been free of that since the Genesis pay-per-view on January 8th. On that broadcast Bully Ray was shown wiping his hands in a business-like fashion (we were meant to presume he had disposed of Abyss in a nefarious manner). ‘Calf-zilla’ responded cagily to questions regarding Abyss’s whereabouts.

You see? Even when being written off television Abyss gets caught up in tosh.

Two months later Parks returned to TV under the name of Joseph Park. This man is, we are told, Chris ‘Abyss’ Parks’ brother. This new character is a welcome change from the ranting, snarling madman we’re used to Parks portraying. I hope he sticks around and we don’t see the mask return.

The artist formerly known as Abyss

This being wrestling (and not just wrestling but TNA) there are a few ways this could play out.

Probably the most likely option is that we’ll see a storyline develop in which Joseph gradually uncovers the truth as to what happened between Bully Ray and his brother before we’re hit with Russo-esque swerve reveal that Joseph has been Chris all along. That would ultimately achieve nothing beyond, possibly, a costume change for Abyss. We’d be stuck with the tired Bully Ray v Abyss feud again and TNA would have fumbled another potentially worthwhile plot.

Slightly less likely is that Joseph will find out what happened between Bully Ray and his brother and then disappear to make way for the return of Abyss, never to be seen again. It would be the same result, just without the silliness of Joseph and Chris being the same person.

Perhaps TNA will genuinely surprise us and produce a storyline which reveals Joseph Parks was actually responsible for paying Bully Ray to take out his brother for some sinister reason known only to him. Naturally he would feel compelled to share his motives in front of a television audience and would get into a dispute with a valiant babyface taking issue with his decision.

That would require Joseph Park (anyone else notice that Chris and Joseph have similar but different surnames?) to exhibit some wrestling skill but that’s a logic hole that can easily be overlooked. Far worse things have happened in the company’s history. Similar skills could be shown if TNA decided to have Joseph step into the ring with Bully Ray to avenge his brother.

It’s inevitable that if we wait long enough Abyss will return but hopefully the Joseph character will be given a chance to grow naturally and find a place on TNA programming. Abyss has run his course. TNA have tried something new, now all they have to do is stick with it.

Friday 30 March 2012

(Captain) Charisma Vacuum

When Christian was sidelined with an ankle injury last November I wrote that it was a blow to SmackDown and WWE in general (read more on that here). A talented performer who’d been through one of the best years of his career was out of action at a time when the company desperately needed him. I stated that the positive thing was that he would likely be back in time for the Royal Rumble.

That didn’t happen. Christian was not seen on our screens again (besides a brief appearance on the Slammy Awards edition of RAW in December) until Elimination Chamber in mid-February. On that show he came to the ring to endorse John Laurinaitis’s campaign to become General Manager of SmackDown (and, presumably, permanent GM of RAW).

Up until this week’s RAW Christian was scheduled to wrestle on Team Johnny at WrestleMania XXVIII. Storyline-wise that will no longer happen because of a beating he received at the hands of CM Punk. In reality his ankle still has not healed sufficiently for WWE’s medical team to be comfortable with him working a match.

That’s a disappointment and a questionable ruling. Christian was deemed fit enough to take a pasting from the WWE champion so surely he’s capable of walking to the ring in tights and standing on the apron for the majority of a tag bout. With Team Johnny v Team Teddy being a twelve man match it would have been incredibly easy to have ‘The Instant Classic’ tag in just once or twice for key spots, leaving his teammates to carry the bulk of the match.

He may not be in action on Sunday but he is at least likely to remain a part of proceedings at ringside. For a man of Christian’s ability level that should be enough. The guy doesn’t need the spotlight, he works fine as a bit part player. With CM Punk having been credited for putting Christian back on the injured list there’s a good chance they’ll be feuding when the Canadian returns to TV. That’s a big positive too.

Of course, WWE doesn’t have to write him off of TV again after WrestleMania. There are numerous things a guy of Christian’s talents could do without being an active wrestler. How about trying him out as a commentator? I’m not proposing he start calling RAW, but he could be given a month-long run on Superstars to see if it’s something he’s good at and wants to do. Jerry Lawler’s not getting any younger and WWE needs to start hunting for a replacement. Booker T is amusing and as a former World champion brings credibility to the role, but he isn’t lead colour commentator material.

This should be a regular scene until Christian's ankle is better
Were NXT operating under its old rookie-pro dynamic (as I’ve advocated before) Christian could excel on the show. A thirteen week season (as NXT used to be before the current, never-ending, fifth season began) would give him enough time to heal up while still contributing to WWE’s television product.

More realistically a win for Team Johnny could see Christian return to our screens in some sort of on-air authority figure role until he’s ready to begin wrestling again. A pro-heel Christian helping to run SmackDown would give the guy something to do and help to reinvigorate the brand. It would also be a less predictable approach than simply having Laurinaitis rocking up on both shows ruling in favour of the bad guys on a weekly basis.

One final option: make Christian a manager! The manager role is incredibly undervalued in the modern wrestling business in general but nowhere more so than WWE. When used correctly managers help to disguise the weaknesses of their charge by talking for them and drawing some of the crowd’s attention with their antics at ringside. ‘Captain Charisma’ is regarded as one of the best talkers in wrestling and is brilliant at riling up audiences. A lower card heel would benefit greatly from an association with the former World champion. Personally I’d pair him up with The Mid-Card Mafia and start using the unit on SmackDown in addition to NXT, but that’s just me.

A nagging ankle injury has kept Christian from our screens for four months now. WWE should be looking for a way to make use of him in any way they can. He’s too good to be sitting at home waiting.

Going Fourth

If WWE wanted to try a different approach to pushing talent to the top once WrestleMania XXVIII is in the history books they could do a lot worse than resurrecting the Four Horsemen name. The group is being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on March 31st and will be fresh in the minds of WWE fans, which would make the April 2nd RAW a great time to introduce a modern version of the faction.

Imagine what a cliffhanger ending to the traditionally packed post-‘Mania RAW it could be!

I imagine that episode of RAW is going to finish with The Rock and John Cena together in the ring, either with ‘The Great One’ putting Cena over or the two agreeing to a rematch at SummerSlam (or perhaps even WrestleMania XXIX, who knows). Whatever the case those are the two I expect to be in the ring at the end of that week’s RAW and they are undoubtedly the two men involved in the biggest match at this year’s WrestleMania. If four young guys were to enter the ring through the crowd and attack the two megastars they would earn themselves a ton of heat.

If WWE went with that angle they would be setting up numerous singles and tag matches. Cena has not feuded with a proper faction since he faced JBL’s Cabinet in 2004, and that wasn’t the most threatening group ever to grace a wrestling ring. Battling four young, hungry guys on the rise would be something new for the company’s top guy and give a fresh spin to matches we would have undoubtedly seen before (because Cena has faced everybody).

Two of the Horsemen could face Rock and Cena at SummerSlam. Zack Ryder could be brought in as Cena’s TV back-up between now and then (after a brief segment showing that the two have made piece following their tedious fallout last month), which would allow for a babyface to be elevated along with the four heels.

An even more impactful debut would be to have the four guys attack Cena and Rock after their main event match at WrestleMania has concluded. Having four young guys beating down a legend and the promotion’s top star on the biggest show of the year would be massive shock, draw intense heat, and put the signify that the group means business.

Even if WWE didn’t want to use the group against Cena and The Rock it would still be something different for modern programming. There’s not been a proper faction in WWE since Legacy. They disbanded in early 2010, but in truth they were never really made into the dominant faction they could have been. The last time a gang truly ruled the roost in WWE was in 2005 when Evolution were a force to be reckoned with. That was seven years ago, more than long enough to warrant another stab at the time-tested formula.

Without Cena and Rock to feud with the best way to use such a group would be to have them focused on obtaining the company’s top titles. That seemed to be what the original Horsemen were always about: Flair having the world title with the three other men working to get the tag belts and a mid-card strap between them. It not only makes the championships seem more important (because wrestlers are making it clear they want to win them) but also makes the wrestlers themselves look good when they accomplish their goal.

Further down the line this makes a babyface dethroning a member of the group for a title mean more because they’ve overcome the odds and defeated a heavily pushed star who cares about being a champion and has (hopefully) been booked strongly while on top. If the Horsemen are booked right fans should be desperate to see them lose their titles.

There are four ideal candidates for a revived Four Horsemen group: Daniel Bryan, Cody Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger. Bryan would make a fantastic centrepiece to the group and his alliance with three other guys would add some spice and variety to his feud with Sheamus (which I assume will continue until Extreme Rules in late April, possibly longer). Bryan is exactly the sort of wrestler that would have gone into the group years ago, and as the most prominent (and recent) world champion of the foursome he’s a natural fit for the leader spot.

In twenty years wouldn't it be nice to see a similar picture featuring Swagger, Ziggler, Rhodes and Bryan?

Cody Rhodes could begin obtaining shady victories via help from Swagger and Ziggler, ideally against genuinely popular mid-carders like Santino and Zack Ryder (yeah, him again). This approach could also be useful for elevating mid-card wrestlers. Take Justin Gabriel as an example: he could beat Rhodes in a non-title match and earn himself a shot at the gold. If ‘The Dashing One’ had to cheat to obtain a victory over Gabriel it would show that he’s not capable of beating him, thus showing that Gabriel is someone fans can get behind and root for. He could cut very simple promos saying that he’s proven he can beat Rhodes and just needs a match where Rhodes doesn’t rely on outside interference.

That approach could work with anybody, and would elevate two guys (Rhodes and whoever was chosen as his opponent) effectively. That’s exactly what WWE needs to do.

This would leave Ziggler and Swagger to work as a tag team. This is a comedown for Ziggler who has made great strides as a singles performer in the last year, but it wouldn’t need to be a long term thing. Swagger and Ziggler have built up a solid on-screen chemistry and would make a great lead tag team for a revived doubles division. This would be the toughest part of the Four Horsemen idea: making the tag titles mean something so that all members of the group have meaningful belts. I think “All American Perfection” (as the duo have been dubbed online) would be capable of making any two men on the roster look competitive. It would simply be a case of WWE pairing up guys and creating some decent tag ranks.

A Four Horsemen revival would work over a long or short period of time. The aim could either be to have four guys work as a unit for several years or to make it a shorter term deal with the goal being a feud between the lead guy and one of the other three over the world championship. That would be a different way of starting a feud and should lead to the creation of a genuinely popular babyface star when the Horseman v Horseman feud started.

If WWE got behind this idea they could elevate a lot of wrestlers. The Horsemen themselves would obviously become bigger stars and there would be lots of opportunities to elevate mid-card wrestlers and tag acts too. I mentioned Zack Ryder, Santino and Justin Gabriel above but anyone capable of forming a babyface connection with the fans would work in such a spot.

If anyone from WWE happens to be reading this, maybe give it a try. You could be surprised by the results.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Showdown in the Sun preview

As has become tradition Ring of Honor will present shows this weekend in the host town of WrestleMania. I always think it’s a smart thing to do. Thousands of wrestling fans will be in town for ‘Mania and a large number of them will never have seen ROH live before. Many won’t even have heard of the promotion. This weekend’s shows make it easy for established fans and newcomers to check the promotion out. The pay-per-view audience is available for them too: for the two nights before WrestleMania people are going to be hungry for wrestling action and ROH is going to take advantage of that.

I’ve said before that I don’t understand why TNA doesn’t emulate this approach. I think that even more this year with WrestleMania being held just a few hours south of their Orlando base.

I’ll start this preview in the logical place: Night One.

One of the most notable matches of the weekend is Kevin Steen v El Geneirco. This will be the first time the two men have faced each other in Ring of Honor since Final Battle 2010 fifteen months ago. That match saw ‘The Generic Luchadore’ get the win in a wild and bloody mask versus career match. Steen earned his job back at Final Battle 2011. A rematch with Generico has been inevitable ever since.

I don’t expect this match to top the insane display both men put on at Final Battle 2010. I expect there to be blood and brawling but they’re unlikely to be in the main event slot this time around and the match isn’t as highly anticipated as their 2010 clash so there’s no need for the combatants to half kill themselves for fan approval. That’s a good thing because both men would, and it’s not healthy.

I’m going to predict a win for Steen here. Generico won last time around and ‘Wrestling’s Worst Nightmare’ is heading into a feud with ROH champ Davey Richards so he needs the win more.

Of all the people ROH could pit against the tremendous technical wrestler that is Lance Storm they’ve chosen Mike “Sports Entertainment” Bennett. It’s not that I dislike Bennett, I think he’s got a good look, talks well, and has a nicely rounded heel act with ‘Brutal’ Bob and Maria at ringside. It’s just that his matches typically look like they belong more on an episode of Superstars than in ROH. Couldn’t Storm have faced Edwards, Richards, or Strong instead? Storm v Steen would have been a particularly nice match too.

What we have is Storm v Bennett in a match billed as ‘Icon v Prodigy.’ I’d be interested in knowing what Sting thinks of that marketing. I’m predicting a win for Bennett in this one. As the younger star appearing for the company regularly he needs the win more than Storm does. I wouldn’t be surprised if an angle took place to set up a match sometime in the future between Storm and someone else on the roster. Perhaps that’ll be Steen and I’ll get the match I want after all.

Jay Lethal defending the ROH TV championship against Kyle O’Reilly should be a great match. O’Reilly is becoming one of the promotion’s go-to guys for upper mid-card matches, which is a good spot to be in in ROH because guys who reach that level typically crack the main event sooner or later. I think we’ll see a great match but I don’t think we’ll see a new champion. Lethal will hold onto the belt for a while longer and drop it over the summer, that’s my prediction.

The first night of the Dual Duel (the two teams will face off on both Night One and Night Two) between the Young Bucks and the All Night Express could go either way. Either each team will get one victory each, likely prompting a deciding contest at some point in the near future, or the Bucks will cheat on one or both evenings to get two victories. I think the former’s more likely so I’m going to pick a win for the Bucks on Night One and a win for ANX on Night Two.

ROH world tag team champions the Briscoes will be in a non-title match against non-entities Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste. That you’ve almost certainly never heard of Nicholls and Haste (I hadn’t either) should tell you who’s going to win. If the Briscoes lose I’ll be very surprised. This is likely to be a short match designed to allow ‘Dem Boys’ to stiff some youngsters and give the fans a nice, quick babyface victory to enjoy.

Under “Scheduled to appear” for Night One are Michael Elgin, Tommaso Ciampa, Adam Cole, WGTT and the C&C Wrestle Factory. From that list I can see two matches being made: WGTT v C&C and either Ciampa or Elgin facing Cole. Assuming those bouts take place I’ll predict a win for Benjamin and Haas (because they’re a very talented combo who ROH seem to like to keep looking strong) and a loss for Cole no matter which of the other two he faces (I could see him beating a random jabroni but think such a match is unlikely). Elgin and Ciampa are both getting such strong singles pushes that I just can’t see them losing. In the event of a three-way between them I’ll predict Cole getting a cheeky rollup elimination on ‘Unbreakable’ and then being hit immediately afterwards with a Project Ciampa for a ‘Dominant Male’ victory.

The main event of Night One will see Davey Richards defend his ROH World championship against ‘Die Hard’ Eddie Edwards and Roderick Strong. That should be great with lots of stiff kicks and chain wrestling. These three men have been around the top of the card for around a year now and I’m surprised ROH have managed to hold off presenting a three-way for this long. I’m pleased they have though because it means there’s more history between the combatants now, making the match mean more.

I’ve said before that I think Richards is due to have a long reign as champion. He won the title nine months ago (from Edwards) at Best in the World 2011. By the standards of most wrestling companies that would be a long run but it’s about average for Ring of Honor. I expect ‘The American Wolf’ to become one of the longest reigning ROH champions ever and for that to happen he’ll need to keep hold of the belt for another six months at least.

I expect a great match but no title change.

Probably the best pure wrestling shows you'll see over WrestleMania weekend

Night Two is another strong card. The match that stands out as the most intriguing is ‘Technical Lightning’ TJ Perkins v Fire Ant. Fire Ant is a wrestler from Chikara, known for his quick pace. I’ve never seen a complete match of his before but I’m interested to see him face off with the equally speedy TJP. It should be a fun match. Expect the ROH regular to go over.

The battle between former partners Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly should be something special. There’s a YouTube match (that you can watch at this link) from a couple of years ago that gives an idea of how enjoyable their matches against one another can be. Having teamed for a while and progressed as performers I expect their match at Showdown in the Sun to be far more memorable.

It’s difficult to predict a winner because both men are linked to the Richards v Edwards rivalry that’s chugging along nicely at the top of the card. I’m going to pick O’Reilly because I think ROH has bigger plans for him in the future and I’ve predicted a loss for him in his announced match on Night One. I’d be surprised if he lost two advertised bouts in one weekend.

The Briscoes v Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team could go one of two ways. It could either be a solid pure wrestling match with the story being that ‘Dem Boys’ want to prove they can “rassle” or it could be a wild brawl with Hass and Benjamin attempting to beat Mark and Jay at their own game. Whichever way it goes I don’t think we’ll see new champions crowned: the Briscoes have found their niche after a couple of years treading water and I can’t see ROH being unwise enough to throw that away without a reason. I’d like to see the Briscoes either lose the belts to a team that have never won them before (such as ANX or the Bucks) or either Edwards and Cole or Team Richards as part of the main event feud between Edwards and Richards.

One of the final three matches announced for Night Two will be for the ROH World championship. Each match involves one of the participants of Night One’s three-way main event. Whoever enters Night Two with the gold will defend it in their match. I think that’s a neat little twist and a nice way of emphasising the “real sports” approach ROH takes with its booking.

The first potential world championship bout is Eddie Edwards v Kevin Steen. This is a match I find very hard to predict because it could go either way. Both men are important parts of the promotion’s main event picture and could realistically win this. It’s a tough call but I’ll go with Edwards as my prediction because I’ve predicted a loss for him on Night One while I have ‘Mr Wrestling’ winning his match against Generico. That seems the most logical way of approaching this match.

I actually think Steen v Edwards could be the standout match of Night Two. I’m interested to see how the fans react to each man.

TV champion Jay Lethal will not defend his title (should he still have it) against Roderick Strong on March 31st but Strong will defend the ROH world title should he win it on March 30th. I can’t see that happening though. Lethal v Strong is an appealing match that I expect will get a decent amount of time and finish with Strong going over.

The match I’m expecting to see finish up the weekend is Davey Richards v ‘Unbreakable’ Michael Elgin for the ROH World championship. If you want a stiff contest featuring an underdog babyface champion battling against a ferocious monster this is the one for you. Richards may not be the most charismatic wrestling champion the world has ever seen but he’s very good in matches against larger opponents. Elgin, as the monster, will likely dominate a portion of the match before Richards comes back with a flurry of kicks and the ankle lock to finish him off.

Showdown in the Sun looks like a very good weekend of wrestling on paper. Each night has something every for everyone, which is always important when booking a show you want to appeal to newcomers. That’s what these shows are designed for and on that basis I’d say ROH have done a good job so far. I predict I’ll be saying the same thing on Sunday morning: these line-ups don’t look like they can disappoint.

Predictions summary:
Night One:
Davey Richards to defeat Eddie Edwards and Roderick Strong
Mike Bennett to defeat Lance Storm
Jay Lethal to defeat Kyle O’Reilly
Kevin Steen to defeat El Generico
The Young Bucks to defeat The All Night Express
The Briscoes to defeat TMDK
Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team to defeat The C&C Wrestle Factory

Night Two:
Davey Richards to defeat Michael Elgin
Eddie Edwards to defeat Kevin Steen
Roderick Strong to defeat Jay Lethal
The Briscoes to defeat Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team
The All Night Express to defeat The Young Bucks
Kyle O’Reilly to defeat Adam Cole
TJ Perkins to defeat Fire Ant

Monday 26 March 2012

The Broski Bond

What will John Cena do after his match with The Rock goes into the history books at WrestleMania XXVIII? The likelihood is that he’ll head straight into a feud with the latest mid-carder to receive a main event tryout (Dolph Ziggler or Cody Rhodes, perhaps?). There’s also been a rumour that he will feud with John Laurinaitis’s new bodyguard, Matt ‘Lord Tensai’ Bloom. While I don't either scenario would be the worst thing in the world I do think there's another option for Cena, one that could help to elevate a babyface star.
How about instead of feuding with John Laurinaitis's bodyguard (whether that's A-Train, an FCW powerhouse or someone else entirely) or the next guy to get a big push Cena were to form a tag team with Zack Ryder and chase the tag team titles?
This move would have numerous positives. It would help to keep Cena away from the WWE title picture, which would allow others the chance to shine and prove they belong at the top of the card. The tag team gold would receive an image boost if a star of Cena's standing expressed a desire to win it.
Most importantly Zack Ryder would receive a boost from the revived on-screen association with Cena and appearing in feature storyline. If the creative team were willing to think far enough ahead they could even plan one man turning heel on the other. That would most likely be Ryder turning on Cena, but it's still something fresh isn't it? Were that timed to happen in time for SummerSlam or Survivor Series they could present a fresh bout on what are supposed to be marquee events.
Cena and Ryder's title chase would fit nicely into a couple of months of television. The starting point would obviously need to be a segment (preferably in the ring) in which the two men bury the hatchet regarding the recent Eve Torres storyline. It's easy to imagine Cena suggesting they form a regular duo, though it would be better for him to present it as "I admire your dedication and talent, Zack, and I'd like to work with you" as opposed to "I got nothing else going on right now." Sadly the latter is all too real a possibility.

These two would make a great regular combo

From there the broskis could topple a couple of disposable combos (with Ryder being booked as Cena's equal, or something close to it) before facing the champions on TV in a non-title affair. A win there would set up a pay-per-view clash in which new champions were crowned.
Of course the downside is that there is nowhere obvious to go after that. Not now at any rate. But if WWE introduced two or three new teams while preparing Ryder and Cena for their tag title win, and made use of The Mid-Card Mafia and Hunico and Camacho, then a doubles division could be ready by mid-May.
Anything that gives John Cena something new to do after so long at the top can't be all bad, can it?

WrestleMania XXVIII preview

We are one week away from WrestleMania XXVIII. If you believe the hype it will be the biggest sports entertainment event of all time. That claim is made every year. I understand why they say it but the fact that they do so only highlights the fact that it's not true. Personally I don't think they've ever topped WrestleMania X7. Funnily enough one of the key matches of that event was Undertaker v Triple H, back when The Streak was just beginning to become important.
Can this year's instalment better its 2001 counterpart? It's not likely but it could happen. This year's card is far more appealing than last year's.
Let's start at the top with John Cena versus The Rock. No matter how you may feel about either man this match is a genuine big money bout. Those are few and far between in wrestling these days and I think WWE did the smart thing when they announced the match a year in advance. That decision has allowed for the rivalry between the two to intensify naturally and provided Rock with a reason to keep returning beyond his (hollow) promise that he was never going away again. Had WWE waited to announce Rock v Cena they would have had to keep finding reasons for the two to butt heads and set up a challenge from one to the other sometime late in 2011. Simply having them make it clear they dislike each other, running their opponent down whenever the opportunity presents itself, has been a far better approach.

The biggest WrestleMania ever... until next year

This will not be the best match on the card. Wrestling-wise that distinction is almost certainly going to go to Jericho v Punk. It likely won’t be the most spectacular either. That will be Triple H v Undertaker. Nonetheless I fully expect this match will go on last, Cena to be booed very heavily, and Rock to lose. I can't see what the point of this match is if it isn't to put over the company's current lead guy. That's Cena.
Next up is Undertaker v Triple H in a Hell in a Cell match. I feel the End of an Era marketing is wholly unnecessary. The chief selling point of this match is The Streak. It doesn't need to be sold as the official end of the Attitude Era (or whatever the hell they're attempting to present it as). It doesn't even need Shawn Michaels as a referee or the cage environment, although those are more palatable additions. All this match truly needs is the combatants to be as good as they were last year.
I think they will be. I don't care about Shawn Michaels as the referee. He's been added in attempt to throw some doubt onto the outcome and create some false finishes that couldn't be achieved with a normal official. There's a mild possibility one of the three men will bleed. That would be impactful considering the absence of claret in today's WWE but it's not something I'm desperate to see. The other rumour is that we'll see a Top of the Cage Death Bump from someone. If that happens (and I don't think it's likely) it'll be 'HBK' that takes it, writing him out of the bout to allow a regular ref to enter the fray while allowing him to add to his legacy as 'Mr WrestleMania.'
I will be astounded if Triple H wins this match. WWE still has big name 'Mania opponents for 'The Phenom' in John Cena and CM Punk. If The Streak ends this year what will they present next year? Triple H's final challenge to the impressive record will go the same way as his previous two.
The CM Punk v Chris Jericho match should've remained focused on deciding who is the best wrestler. Jericho cutting promos about Punk's dad and sister doesn't get the right sort of heat and isn't the lighthearted entertainment WWE claims to be, so why do it? It's a bad choice that will hopefully be dropped for the final week of television before the show. I won't get my hopes up for that though.
On the night I expect 'The Straight Edge Superstar' and 'The Highlight of the Night' to put on the best wrestling match of the show. Hopefully 'Y2J' can sidestep his usual sloppiness and enter a crisp, clean performance that flatters Punk, the man who means more to the promotion's future. This is a match that I really could see going either way. I’ll pick Punk because that’s who I’d like to see win. I won’t be surprised by a Jericho victory though.

The World Heavyweight championship bout pitting champion Daniel Bryan against Royal Rumble winner Sheamus has been neglected by the booking team in the five weeks since it was announced. I suspect that part of the problem is that Sheamus v Bryan wasn’t the original plan (read more on that here). Going into the Royal Rumble Jericho and Orton were the favourites to win and I suspect WWE altered the original winner from one of those two men to Sheamus in order to (read more on that here).

That wouldn’t have been a problem had they put a plan in place to build Sheamus up for such a high profile spot, but that didn’t happen. Both ‘Great White’ and the World champ have done well with what they’ve been given for this feud, it’s just that they’ve not been given very much. I expect their match will be very stiff (because both men enjoy that style) which I’ll enjoy because it’s rare to see WWE performers get to work that way. It will be something different. I can’t see them getting long but I think they’ll make the most of whatever time they get and give us a memorable outing. Their interaction during the main event tag match on the March 23rd SmackDown was a great display of how a small cowardly heel can look great against a larger babyface opponent.
Can this man make it through WrestleMania with the World title?

As far as a winner goes I think Sheamus will leave as the new champion. The feud will continue for another month or so before both men move on to new things. For Bryan that will probably be something involving AJ, while for Sheamus I think it will be a clash with first Christian and then Wade Barrett. Those are both feuds I’d like to see.

As I said above I believe Randy Orton may have been the original planned opponent for Daniel Bryan. He is now scheduled to face Kane in what I suspect will be one of the most forgettable matches of 2012. ‘The Viper’ and ‘The Big Red Monster’ are both competent wrestlers but they have clashed many times before, which detracts from the interest of seeing them face one another here. It’s also been made very obvious from their previous encounters that they don’t produce the best matches.

I’ll predict a victory for ‘The Apex Predator’. He’s higher on the card and this is just a time filler feud (Kane’s speciality) so the bigger babyface star will go over.

The Intercontinental championship match between Cody Rhodes and Big Show is not a match I’m looking forward to. I believe it’s a waste of a talented rising star in Cody Rhodes. He’d be better served facing someone like Kofi Kingston. Big Show has been very reliable as a main event performer since last year and has earned a spot on the biggest show of the year, but a singles match feels like too much. He would have worked better as a member of Team Teddy, which would have freed up ‘The Dreadlocked Dynamo’ for Cody.

But what we have is what we have. Usually when the babyface’s past is used as part of the build-up to a big bout it means that they’re going to win, with the references to their past being one more obstacle that they’ve overcome. That’s not necessarily the case where WWE are concerned though. Several times in the past they’ve used this approach and had the heel win (most notably with the Booker T v Triple H match at WrestleMania XIX) so it’s not impossible that Cody’s taunting of Show’s ‘Mania losing streak won’t be overcome, leaving ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ to end the match by laying down for the three count.

I’m going to cling to that thought because I want Cody’s lengthy title reign to be ended by a fellow rising star who can be elevated by the win. That is not Big Show and Rhodes is not quite ready to move up the card to the main event. If he loses the gold now he’ll just get lost in the post-WrestleMania shuffle. Cody’s too good for the writing team to risk that happening.

The Divas tag team match exists solely to fill some time. There’s a vague storyline attached to it but not one that I’m interested in. I’d like to see the heels get the victory because Beth Phoenix is one of WWE’s best female performers (so she deserves a victory) and Eve Torres is only just starting out as a heel character (so she needs a victory). However as Kelly Kelly is the closest the promotion’s Divas division has to a lead babyface and Maria Menounos is something of a celebrity I think they’ll end up winning.

The final announced match for the show is Team Teddy versus Team Johnny. Apparently that match will be for control of both RAW and SmackDown. At time of writing the five men announced to represent John Laurinaitis are Christian (who will become number one contender to the World title should his team win this bout), Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler, Mark Henry and team captain David Otunga while Teddy Long has gone with The Great Khali, Zack Ryder, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston and team captain Santino.

Each team has a final member to reveal. That will presumably happen on RAW. I think the likeliest sixth man for Team Johnny is Alberto Del Rio, although a random inclusion like Mason Ryan wouldn't surprise me too much. I did think Booker T was a possibility for Team Teddy but I'm now edging towards 'The Funkasaurus' Brodus Clay instead. Again, a random like Justin Gabriel isn't inconceivable for the position, it would just be a tad anticlimactic.

It's also worth remembering Skip Sheffield when considering final members for either team. He was injured on a house show in August 2010 and hadn't been on TV since. His physique is very McMahon-friendly and he's been working dark matches and live events for a few months now. He's due a comeback and a push, so why not tie it in to a 'Mania bout?
The obvious thing to point out about this storyline is that if the WWE Board of Directors feel the need to eliminate one of the GM positions (and this match confirms that this is the case) then shouldn't Teddy get the job automatically? The former Dynamic Dude already has what ought to be a full time job as Executive Vice President of Talent Relations. Isn't his work there suffering from him running RAW too (I’m speaking in kayfabe terms here of course)? Plus he's only the interim RAW GM. That he’s not been made the permanent GM indicates that the Board still aren’t convinced by his performance.
That would make for a slightly less enjoyable TV product though. It would also mean guys who deserve to work the show wouldn't get to. I can overlook this plot hole for that.
Teddy Long has been on television in various GM roles for eight years. It's gotten to the point where there just isn't anything new for him to do. As far as being a TV character is concerned Laurinaitis is fresher and has far more potential storylines than does Teddy. That's the reason I'm predicting a heel win. It will continue the broad storyline of Johnny Ace becoming increasingly powerful in WWE. I'm expecting the Brand Extension to end this year and Laurinaitis running both shows would be a logical way of bringing that about.
I've mentioned before that I think Aksana will cost Teddy the victory, revealing she was in Laurinaitis's proverbial pocket all along. That would keep her on TV and turn her heel, a role I think she’s far better suited to. For fun I will make a specific prediction for the result of the match: Dolph Ziggler pinning R-Truth following a Zig Zag. I will be flabbergasted if that's what actually happens.
There's a loose end dangling going into the event: The Miz. The last month of television has seen him try several times to make it onto Team Johnny. He's failed every time and at time of writing has no match confirmed for the show. That may change on RAW but I think it's more likely he’ll end up matchless and get involved in someone else's bout. The way he's been booked has made it clear he'll do something at 'Mania, it's just difficult to say what.
This year's show, as I mentioned above, looks far stronger than last year’s. It feels like far more of an event than WrestleMania XXVII did. The two world title matches, Hell in a Cell and Rock v Cena are all great matches on paper and should be excellent additions to the card. I’m still not getting my hopes up for this show bettering ‘Mania X7 though.

Predictions summary:

John Cena to defeat The Rock
The Undertaker to defeat Triple H
CM Punk to defeat Chris Jericho
Sheamus to defeat Daniel Bryan
Cody Rhodes to defeat Big Show
Team Johnny to defeat Team Teddy
Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos to defeat Eve Torres and Beth Phoenix
Randy Orton to defeat Kane

Saturday 24 March 2012

SmackTalk 23.03.12

The thing that stood out most about last night’s SmackDown was how much airtime Daniel Bryan received. He not only opened the show with a promo and closed it with a match, he also accompanied AJ to ringside for her bout with Brie Bella. It’s nice to see the company getting behind and feeling confident enough in him to feature him in so many segments. I suspect he’ll be dropping the title at WrestleMania. That would usually spell the end of a push but the AJ relationship stuff is a promising sign that Bryan will continue to be a prominent part of SmackDown. That’s good. The show desperately needs him.

I’m interested in what’s being done with Miz too. It seems as though a conscious decision has been made to keep him off of the WrestleMania card and turn it into a storyline. That’s a novel approach. I imagine Miz will perform a run-in or cut a promo at the show so that he appears, but the lack of a a match is a nice angle for the character he plays. He’s dropped down the card significantly in the last year and this could help him climb back up.

Part of the problem Miz has had has been the way he’s booked. He was treated like a jobber at Survivor Series and then found his run half of the entertaining Awesome Truth cut short when R-Truth got himself suspended for a month. With hindsight Miz would have benefited from a gradual face turn late last spring. He was getting quite a few cheers and fans were chanting along to his catchphrases. Now he’s just another guy in the middle of the card.

The match quality of this week’s show was very high. I particularly enjoyed the main event. The Bryan v Sheamus exchange given me a reason to care about the World Heavyweight title match we’ll see at WrestleMania. The Ziggler v Khali match was also far more enjoyable than it had any right being thanks to ‘The Heel’s’ bumping and the booking of Khali.

Promo segment featuring Daniel Bryan, Sheamus and AJ

Tweet 1: It’s SmackDown time!
Tweet 2: Jinder Mahal's on the SmackDown opening. That makes the opening less special somehow.
Tweet 3: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
Tweet 4: Bryan making AJ get him a microphone shouldn't be as funny as it is.
Tweet 5: This abusive boyfriend gimmick needs to end with AJ tapping madly to Cattle Mutilation.
Tweet 6: SmackDown opening with a promo about Daniel Bryan's soft lips. I never thought I'd live to see this. This is tremendous.
Tweet 7: "Daniel Bryan is a great lover" – AJ
Tweet 8: Sheamus walks like he's been searching desperately for a toilet for half an hour and is running out of patience.
Tweet 9: Mark Henry v R-Truth?! That'll get people watching...
Tweet 10: Introducing "Danny" as a name Daniel Bryan dislikes was a nice idea. That was a pretty good opening segment. Bryan's a great heel.

Mark Henry v R-Truth

Tweet 11: #LittleJimmy
Tweet 12: I want Mark Henry to adopt eating a child as his signature taunt.
Tweet 13: R-Truth performed a cross body block. Booker claimed it would be spectacular. He was wrong on every possible level.
Tweet 14: "That could be you! You could be next!" - Mark Henry to a burger sitting in the audience

The Yokozuna Hall of Fame video

Tweet 15: "Take a look at the girth" - Vince McMahon on Yokozuna, sounding inadvertently filthy
Tweet 16: Yokozuna's a good choice for the Hall of Fame.
Tweet 17: Last year's Hall of Fame should've had the Horsemen and Ron Simmons. It was Atlanta for crying out loud!

Backstage skit featuring Team Teddy

Tweet 18: Khali sounds retarded.
Tweet 19: Fistbumping Khali is a dangerous thing to do. He's liable to think he's being attacked and start caving in heads.
Tweet 20: So Team Teddy currently consists of Kofi Kingston, Santino, Khali and Zack Ryder. He deserves to lose.

AJ v Brie Bella

Tweet 21: AJ in the ring. We were robbed of a Bryan entrance!
Tweet 22: The Bellas. Remember when they were throwing themselves at Bryan? Reckon that'll be referenced? Doubt it.
Tweet 23: AJ using the LeBell Lock. Bryan seems unimpressed.
Tweet 24: Uh-oh, we may be heading for a Bellas break-up!!
Tweet 25: Phew! The Bellas are still together, they just disagree about who'll win the Team Johnny v Team Teddy match.
Tweet 26: I assume each team will have a Bella at ringside. Just to get everyone on the card.

Jack Swagger v Zack Ryder

Tweet 27: Vickie Guerrero. You know what that means...
Tweet 28: Oh. Apparently it means Jack Swagger. How disappointing.
Tweet 29: I'm beginning to think Booker may join Team Teddy.
Tweet 30: A menopausal woman being accosted by a midget. "Anything can happen in the WWE!"
Tweet 31: A televised win for Ryder. Shame it wasn't clean.

Zack Ryder on his way to a victory over Jack swagger in an enjoyable match

Cody Rhodes backstage interview, supposedly from earlier in the day

Tweet 32: Matt Striker has borrowed Randy Orton's beard.
Tweet 33: Cody Rhodes currently has custody of the lisp he shares with Jack Swagger.
Tweet 34: Rhodes had a plane to catch at one in the afternoon. Why did he go to the arena at all? That line made NO SENSE.
Tweet 35: Cody Rhodes has held onto the Intercontinental title for so long primarily because he never defends the thing.

Big Show v Kane

Tweet 36: Big Show v Kane. Before they got written off TV last year these two were tag champions and friends.
Tweet 37: The dissolution of that friendship has not been addressed on-screen.
Tweet 38: Sloppy double clothesline spot there...
Tweet 39: "We got a fight just broke out here, man" - Booker T on a match that had been in progress for several minutes
Tweet 40: What was the point of Cody not having a shirt on for that run-in?
Tweet 41: I couldn't care less about Orton v Kane as a feud. Brodus Clay appearing to squash a random jobber, on the other hand...

Brodus Clay v Heath Slater

Tweet 42: Funkasaurus time. It actually does not get better than this.
Tweet 43: I love the way Brodus NEVER syncs the pyro with either stamping his foot or throwing his trousers down.
Tweet 44: WHAT? Heath Slater is looking competitive against Brodus Clay? What witchcraft is this?!
Tweet 45: Brodus got the win via a "three seconds of hang time" splash according to Booker T.

From the Vault and others thoughts

Tweet 46: CM Punk v Triple H on From the Vault. It's odd to see this given the storyline the two had last year.
Tweet 47: "Triple H is basically the father of this industry right now" - Matt Striker, talking utter nonsense
Tweet 48: I am astounded Striker didn't instantly reference Arn Anderson when 'The Game' hit that spinebuster.
Tweet 49: Luke Gallows makes a spirited henchman.
Tweet 50: From the Vault goes straight to a break. Weird. Anyway... that was a good match.
Tweet 51: Eve Torres walks like one of the Thunderbirds.
Tweet 52: A video for Lord Tensai. Here's a blog to go with it!

The Great Khali v Dolph Ziggler

Tweet 53: Great Khali is an embarrassment. At least they're not showing his legs on camera so you can't see his comedic walk.
Tweet 54: Ziggler's his opponent. This may be watchable after all.
Tweet 55: This is as good as Khali is going to look. Ziggler's willing to take big bumps for him and all he's being booked to do is chop.
Tweet 56: Christian was good on commentary there too. He;s good at everything though.
Tweet 57: Random restart. #Dustybooking

Sheamus and CM Punk v Miz and Daniel Bryan

Tweet 58: How much longer is Punk going to have Cult of Personality as his entrance music? I'm guessing it'll be gone soon.
Tweet 59: New music at WrestleMania maybe?
Tweet 60: Yes! Yes! Yes! Daniel Bryan! YES!!
Tweet 61: Bryan 'Soft Lips' Danielson.
Tweet 62: Jericho doesn’t like working Tuesdays.
Tweet 63: Miz will do the job in this match, that much is obvious.
Tweet 64: Punk v Bryan. It feels as though they're going to make this a long running feud that's introduced gradually. I like that.
Tweet 65: That brief exchange between Bryan and Sheamus has made me think their 'Mania match will be pretty good even if it's short.
Tweet 66: Oh, Miz did the job. What a surprise.

Friday 23 March 2012

The Connecticut Connection

It was announced earlier in the week that WWE is going to shut down Florida Championship Wrestling, its sole developmental facility. For those unsure of what a developmental facility is (because, let’s be honest, it’s not the most commonly used term in the world) it’s a small scale wrestling promotion to which almost every newly signed wrestler is assigned, either to hone their craft or to begin their training from scratch. It’s all funded by WWE with the idea being that the majority of the promotion’s future stars are going to start their WWE careers there.

Unfortunately for FCW that has not been the case since it started operating as a WWE satellite four years ago. I suspect that’s part of the reason it’s being closed down.

None of these guys made it big...

The most successful training league McMahonland ever had was Ohio Valley Wrestling. Between 2000 and 2008, the years if was affiliated with WWE, OVW turned out John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton. Those three names alone should speak of the organisation’s quality for preparing guys for the main stage. It’s true that all were rough around the edges early on in the WWE careers (and that Cena still as far as wrestling competency is concerned) but they all got taught how to turn what they could do well into a successful wrestling career. They were taught how to become main eventers, and that is ultimately all that WWE needs.

OVW played a part in the careers of literally dozens of wrestlers. From CM Punk to Dolph Ziggler, Carlito to MVP, Shelton Benjamin to John Morrison, they all passed through Ohio Valley. There are too many names to list as far as talented workers that have graduated from that company go. The point is that OVW was a massive success for WWE but because they couldn’t handle not owning the smaller league (it was co-owned by Danny Davis and Jim Cornette, who were able to refuse requests made by WWE) they ended up cutting ties and going with FCW instead.

That wasn’t a good move. The results speak for themselves. Nowhere near the same number of big name stars have graduated from FCW as they did OVW. Jim Cornette has always attributed OVW's success to its emphasis on the basics of wrestling. FCW places a stronger emphasis on learning how to work in front of cameras than anything else. That is likely where the newer group has been going wrong. If the basics are emphasised then everything else will come in time. WWE should bare that in mind when starting up a new satellite federation.

A new league will be on its way, and it’s believed it will be based in New England, possibly in Connecticut so that it’s close to WWE Headquarters. Connecticut may not be known as a wrestling hotbed but I relocating there would be a good move. It would allow WWE’s writing team, who all live in the area, to visit the developmental league on a regular basis. That would allow talent to be evaluated for call-ups more often, pitch ideas for gimmicks, and find out what they can do to make it to RAW and SmackDown.

A mass relocation of wrestlers from Florida to New England will also likely see some contracts being terminated and some fresh blood getting promoted to the main roster. It’s a chance for WWE to reinvigorate their main programs with a large influx of new characters, filtered in over the next three or four months, as well as cutting ties with some of the more hopeless developmental talents. It may seem like a random move, but it should work out well in the long run.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

A Bloomin' Good Time

You know what John Laurinaitis needs? A bodyguard! That, if you believe Internet rumours, is what the WWE booking squad believes at any rate. The man selected for the job? Thirty-nine year-old Matt Bloom, formerly known as A-Train.
It could be argued that one of the many men stationed in the soon-to-be-defunct FCW would be ideal for a bodyguard role but I actually think the former A-Train is a good choice. While a younger, fresher face would be preferable (because they would have a longer career ahead of them) that doesn't make Bloom a bad choice.
Bloom originally worked for WWE between 1999 and 2004. He was never the greatest wrestler, but he improved during his time with the organisation. He had an intriguing look that helped to set him apart from his peers and ultimately ended up becoming one of his chief gimmicks. His back hair was grown into a shaggy mat of fur and Jim Ross constantly reminded viewers that Train had a head that was "eight and three eighths" inches in measurement. This may sound daft and it was, but that was fine for a mid-card heel during the Attitude Era.
In fact I think the most positive thing you could say about A-Train is that he has the ability to make ridiculous characteristics palatable. He was first introduced to viewers under the ring name of Prince Albert, purportedly the personal tattoo artist for Droz. From there he became Albert and formed a unit with Test called T&A which was more about establishing Trish Stratus as an on-screen presence than anything else.
More tag teams were in Bloom's future as he formed X Factor alongside Justin Credible and X Pac in early 2001, which eventually led to Bloom being used in a regular combo with X Pac. Ultimately that went nowhere and, after a few months of nothing, he was paired with Scotty 2 Hotty and given the moniker 'The Hip Hop Hippo.' Why anyone thought that was a good idea we'll never know. It was more absurd than the Prince Albert gimmick.

What Bloom's been doing since leaving WWE

The bright side to Bloom’s history with whacky characters is that it bodes well for his latest persona: Lord Tensai. Judging by the video shown on RAW Bloom is going to be booked as a western character influenced by Japanese tradition. Throw in the bodyguard rumour and it sounds like a bit of a mess. Bloom has made situations more bizarre than this work to his advantage, so we can remain hopeful that Lord Tensai won’t be a complete flop.
Since leaving WWE Bloom has competed extensively in Japan and become known for his tag team work alongside Karl Anderson. The two have won the IWGP and NOAH tag team titles, both of which mean far more than a WWE tag title win. He has continued to improve as a worker to the point that I believe he'd be capable of carrying John Cena to entertaining matches. I keep thinking of Cena's enjoyable tussle with Umaga at Royal Rumble 2007 after 'The Samoan Bulldozer' had improved himself by spending time in the Orient. I think we could have a similar situation here.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Popularity Contest

What should be WWE’s lead feud going into their biggest show of 2012 is actually little more than two grown men in a childish name-calling contest. Yes, I’m talking about John Cena and The Rock.

One Rock Bottom at Survivor Series aside the two men have yet to get physical with one another. That’s not something I was expecting. When the two agreed to face each other last year I assumed that they would engage in some worked shoot promos for a while before eventually getting physical with each other to heighten interest in who would come out on top when the Miami supershow rolls around.

I think a big part of the problem is that The Rock just isn’t The Rock anymore. Watch his current promos and compare them to the stuff he was coming out with during the height of the Attitude Era. When was the last time Rock referred to himself consistently in the third person? That used to be one of his trademarks but it’s now a trait that makes only sporadic, and seemingly random, appearances. That’s also the case with the people’s eyebrow: ‘The Great One’ used to make a huge show of flicking his right brow skyward, yet I can’t remember the last time he did it.

Instead of simply walking to the ring with a microphone and talking about how he’s going to lay the smack down on John Cena’s “roody poo candy ass” the Hollywood star seems more concerned with pretentiously talking about how he’s entertaining people and taking them on a journey. That’s not what people want from The Rock. They want a man who refers to himself in the third person spouting catchphrases that they can sing along to, and who will nail anybody who gets into the ring with him with a Rock Bottom. The current approach just makes Rock come across as an arrogant, braggart heel.

His delivery has deteriorated. He was visibly riled when Cena referenced the notes he had on his wrist on the February 27th RAW and was more than a little wobbly in his “history lesson” promos on the RAW from Boston. It was his karaoke attempt at We Will Rock You that stands out most though. What a horrendous display that was. It demonstrated just how much Rock has become accustomed to working from a script.

In short I think ‘The Great One’ has lost his ability to adlib and think off the cuff. For a headline wrestler that can be considered catastrophic. Doubly so when they have The Rock’s reputation.

It doesn’t help that this program has brought out Cena’s best qualities. The guy’s been booed for years because he has become a kids’ act that most adult males (who comprise the majority of any WWE event) cannot relate to. His work against The Rock has begun to change that. He’s still getting booed and will certainly not hear many cheers at WrestleMania, Miami being Rock’s hometown and all, but he’s done something that this time last year I wouldn’t have thought was possible: he’s got people laughing along with jokes cracked at The Rock’s expense.

Most fans that boo Cena boo him not because they dislike him but because they’re bored of him. Most of his feuds see him say and do the same things and after so many years it’s boring. But when Cena gets serious and cuts scathing promos such as those he’s cut in recent weeks against The Rock it reawakens memories of ‘The Doctor of Thuganomics’, the heel character Cena played that became so popular WWE was forced to turn him face. That’s the guy the people that boo Cena want him to be, not a walking merchandise stand.

This is the John Cena that fans want to see

Cena’s chief argument against The Rock has always been that he’s in Hollywood while ‘The Leader of the Chain Gang’ is at every show doing everything he can to send the fans home happy. Perhaps that’s finally begun to win some people over. The counterargument that Rock travelled the roads and attended every show years ago is absolutely valid and one I personally agree with, but I can see why people would be feeling angry at Rock about now. He returned a year ago to say that he’d never leave again, then made sporadic appearances for the rest of the year, often not appearing for months on end.

Personally I’ve begun to favour Cena because of The Rock’s sloppy, slapdash, and embarrassing approach to his promos. I’m sure he’ll be in great condition when it comes to WrestleMania and that the match itself will be memorable no matter what the two combatants actually get up to from bell to bell. Rock rose to the top based on the strength of his verbal skills and currently makes a living as an actor. That he’s this bad at promos is pathetic. No matter how bad Cena’s wrestling may be, no matter how he may monopolise WWE TV the year round, at least he’s consistent at what he does and hasn’t failed to live up to expectations.

I know who I think deserves to win at WrestleMania.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Girl Power

I’ll usually be among the first to criticise WWE’s approach to the booking of its Divas division but I have to admit that in the last couple of months they have displayed signs of actually booking the women under contract properly.

Last year’s push of Kelly Kelly was a decent start. It may have fallen flat because she has no discernible personality and can’t wrestle but at least the promotion was willing to give a female performer a chance to stand out again. I think they were hoping Double K would leap out of the pack as the next Trish Stratus. That that hasn’t happened doesn’t mean the company should give up their search and in their defence they haven’t.

The biggest positive about the Divas division (and I’m using the term “division” fairly loosely) right now is that Beth Phoenix is the champion. Phoenix can talk when she has to and is a fantastic wrestler. She’s also a good size for a champion in that she can realistically work with anyone. If you’re too big or too small it limits the options of the booking team when it comes to opponents (male examples would be Rey Mysterio and Big Show).

With ‘The Glamazon’ at the helm I feel the Divas have a shot at earning back some of the TV time they’ve lost over the years.

Tamina Snuka’s brief push last month was also a positive. It may not have lasted long but Jimmy’s daughter was permitted to look competitive against a woman who had been positioned as the top star for months. Phoenix made Snuka look like her equal before she beat her, which is exactly the right way to elevate a talent when they have to lose a match. Tamina also deserves credit for improving her wrestling skills so much over the last year or so. She’s gone from a valet who looked incredibly wooden and uncomfortable to someone who can work a long match (by WWE women’s standards) and feels confident enough to do a splash from the top rope.

Two of the best female performers currently in WWE

The recent elevation of Eve Torres may seem like one of the more soap opera aspects of wrestling (because it is) but it’s also WWE making the most of a character development that has seemingly come about as a side effect of a bigger story. That too deserves praise. If Eve is handled right she could be successfully elevated to a feud with Phoenix. That would require ‘The Glamazon’ to turn face or play tweener, but she’s shown she’s capable of doing both.

With Kelly Kelly having announced her dissatisfaction with Eve’s recent heelish ways a feud between those two could be written into storylines with ease. It may not produce the greatest matches in the world but it would provide the division with a mid-card feud while Beth Phoenix continues ploughing through challengers. She could possibly get involved herself for a three-way feud. That would be something different for the Divas.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that if WWE spent enough time planning things out now Eve Torres could be the company’s lead heel Diva in six months’ time.

The rest of the Divas all have something to offer. Alicia Fox has shown that she can wrestle competent short matches when provided with the right opponent. The Bella twins have well defined characters and work well as a tag team (because it hides their weaknesses and allows them to pull the “heels that look alike switching places” trick). Kaitlyn is one of the best options WWE currently has for elevating someone to the top for a run with Beth Phoenix, but for some reason they seem reluctant to make that move. For now she seems to be stuck on NXT. That show has also given us Maxine, a decent talker who wrestles well enough to warrant a raised profile within the company. If built up properly she could work as a heel champion sometime in the not too distant future.

Speaking of the future I believe that if Daniel Bryan loses his World Heavyweight championship at WrestleMania we could see a storyline develop in which he blames on-screen girlfriend AJ for the loss, eventually leading to him slapping the LeBell lock on her. If that happens it will likely lead to her ending up as the on-screen girlfriend of a face like Big Show or Sheamus, but it could be used as an opportunity to boost the Divas division: give AJ a couple of months off to sell the devastation of the hold before making a courageous comeback to the ring to chase the Divas championship. The timing could be worked out so she captures the belt at SummerSlam.

The final women to mention are Natalya, Kharma and Layla. Kharma and Layla are still on compassionate leave and the injured list respectively, but when they return they will be capable of making a big difference to the female roster. If WWE makes use of the talented women they currently have access to then they could have a decent division up and running by the time both ladies are back on television.

Alongside Phoenix, Natty Neidhart is the best female worker WWE has under contract. That she’s been saddled with the tedious gimmick of “breaking wind” in “amusing” backstage segments is a perfect example of WWE getting things wrong. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed though: just stop filming that arrant nonsense and give her matches instead. Simple. If given time to breathe as a performer Natalya can be one of the best female workers in the history of the promotion.

They are getting things right with the women, which is a good sign. Talk of a Divas TV show of some description airing on the WWE Network is also a good sign that the women will get more attention from the writing team. The company just needs to keep pressing on with the good work and continue giving the women things to do.

Saturday 17 March 2012

Regeneration X

During the first few years of TNA’s near decade-long existence the X Division was its crowning achievement. It provided viewers with the fast-paced, high-flying excitement that WWE has never been able to pull off, which had been absent from American TV screens since WCW and ECW went under in early 2001. Over the years the X Division has been the setting for many of TNA’s greatest matches and was the proving ground for many of the most lauded names to have passed through the company, most notably Christopher Daniels, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe.

Sadly over the last two or three years the X Division has fallen on hard times. This is thanks to a combination of inattentive booking and a lack of fresh talent being brought in to keep the Division feeling fresh and exciting. 

Despite this state of affairs last year’s Destination X pay-per-view, which exclusively featured X Division matches and saw multiple performers brought into the company for the weeks prior to the show, was TNA’s single greatest show of 2011. That should have told TNA that the X Division is still something that can succeed and set them apart from their chief rival.

It didn’t.

If anything the X Division has become more stifled and limited since that show. A weight limit of two hundred and twenty pounds has been placed on the Division and there are now only around half a dozen men in the company that could be considered X performers.

The weight limit is particularly frustrating for viewers: TNA itself used to tell its fans that the X Division wasn’t about weight limits, it was about no limits. While that may have been a slightly embarrassing tagline it was true enough: X Division wrestlers worked a fast, exciting style which lent itself to cruiserweight performers but heavyweight wrestlers such as Joe and Kurt Angle could still fit in nicely.

The lack of talent isn’t entirely TNA’s fault. Jesse Sorensen suffered a severe neck injury just a few weeks ago and will be sidelined indefinitely. Chris Sabin (who could play a significant role in the Division without harming the momentum of the Motor City Machine Guns) has been on the injured list since last spring. Brian Kendrick had to be let go because of apparent creative differences. These things happen and they’re nobody’s fault.

However TNA does have to take the blame for the Young Bucks leaving last year and the inadequate booking of talented guys like Alex Shelley and Kid Kash. They also took the decision to move Frankie Kazarian away from the league without finding anybody to fill the gap the left.

The good news is that the X Division can be salvaged relatively easily. It helps that there is already a supremely talented champion in place. In my opinion Austin Aries is the greatest all-round performer currently under contract to TNA and there’s nobody better to lead the X Division out of its current slump. Being great on the mic and in the ring, ‘A Double’ is capable of making limited performers look good and good performers look great.

In order to restore the X Division to its former glory TNA first needs to concoct a plan of action. The performers in the Division need to be granted a minimum set amount of time on IMPACT each week. Ideally it would be around the same time every week so viewers get a rough idea of when they can tune in to see the X Division performers. As good as Aries is on the mic he needs to be limited to backstage interviews and brief post-match victory speeches for a while: the X Division’s time should be for matches rather than talking.

Booking plans need to be drawn up for the next few months. A novel approach would be selecting four performers to be used as primary and secondary heels and faces. That would give TNA several months of storylines, with the primary face feuding with the secondary heel as the primary heel feuds with the secondary face. Things could then be changed around with the secondary names branching off into a feud as the top heel and face clash for the title.

Aries is the obvious choice for the Division’s top heel and Zema Ion would make a fine choice for the secondary bad guy spot. I don’t believe there’s anybody on the current roster who’d work in either of the top two babyface spots. Alex Shelley may be talented enough but he needs to be kept available for his imminent MCMG reunion with Chris Sabin, meaning he can’t afford to get tied up in a months-long booking plan for a singles division.

The top two babyface spots would need to go to outsiders. In a perfect world TNA would splash some cash and bring in Jack Evans and John Morrison. Evans did a fantastic job of getting himself over during his brief time with TNA around last year’s Destination X show (which I wrote at the time). If TNA gave him some backing dancers and invested time in him then Evans could do big things in, and for, the company.

Hire this man!

Morrison is an obvious choice for the top babyface spot because he is incredibly popular thanks to his time in WWE. If TNA showed they could use him correctly he could help give viewing figures and live attendance at house shows a small nudge. Booking him to go over Zema Ion and ‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived’  in his first two feuds would create a new X Division kingpin and restore fans’ faith in the X Division as a whole.

In addition to this it would also benefit the company to hire one or two additional names to use as X Division under-carders. Names like Johnny Gargano, Kenny Omega, Mark Haskins, Pac, Homicide, Petey Williams, Low Ki, Akira Tozawa and Ruckus immediately spring to mind as ideal candidates, though in truth TNA could sign almost anyone from Dragon Gate USA or Ring of Honor. Bulking out the roster with guys of that calibre would ensure that there are plenty of fresh, enjoyable matches for TV and pay-per-view, and people ready and capable of moving up to replace featured stars who’ve become overexposed and need to be moved down the card for a while. They could even take the novel approach of scouting some new talent to introduce to mainstream wrestling.

When push comes to shove, all the X Division really needs is talented workers. Storylines are nice, but ultimately the X Division has always been, and always will be, about high match quality. If TNA can restore that and give us some variety they’ll be doing a fine job.