Tuesday 30 October 2012

NXT Call-Ups

On the August 8th episode of NXT Jim Ross told viewers that he considers both Bo Dallas and Jinder Mahal to be future WWE champions. While that statement is clearly untrue and verges on insanity it’s true that future WWE champions do currently compete on the show. The company’s hiring system means that the vast majority of people who make it to RAW pass through the developmental league. World champions who haven’t had a stint in NXT will be a rarity in years to come.

That doesn’t mean Bo Dallas and Jinder Mahal are going to win world titles though.

The man who has to be considered the favourite to make an impact on the main roster is Seth Rollins. Look back at his work in Ring of Honor as Tyler Black and you’ll see that even early on in his career he was an energetic and charismatic worker. His promos may not be particularly great, but that’s a skill he can pick up in time. He has the look and the athleticism to be a smaller headline star in the mould of Shawn Michaels, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan.

Rollins has been presented as one of the major stars of the rebooted NXT and the fact that he was chosen to be the programme’s inaugural champion indicates that the booking team think very highly of him. His ability to connect with audiences as a babyface shouldn’t be underestimated either. It’s a useful skill for a WWE newcomer to have.

The next guy I’d pick is Big E Langston. There are guys I like more but none of them have his mixture of muscular torso and impressive strength. These are not qualities I look for when watching a wrestling match but they are qualities Vince McMahon likes. As he’s the man in charge I’m pretty sure that sooner or later Langston will be given a chance to make his mark with a push on RAW.

I’ve not seen him wrestle much. It’s too early to say whether he has what it takes to succeed. But he’ll get the chance. If he plays his cards right he could make it big.
Vince McMahon is a fan of muscles...
I am a huge fan of Kassius Ohno. He has a great look, wrestles a realistic style and knows his way around a microphone. He’s not really changed anything about his act since his time in Ring of Honor (as Chris Hero), but then he didn’t need to. It’s a well-rounded gimmick perfect for WWE television.

I expect Ohno will get a cursory callup sooner or later. The writing team likely won’t put much into it but Ohno will be able to get himself over. Dolph Ziggler managed it and I think ‘The Young Knockout Kid’ will too. It may take a little longer for him to get somewhere than the other two men I’ve mentioned above but I think that once he gets a fair chance Ohno will find a spot for himself.

Reforming the Kings of Wrestling alongside Antonio Cesaro, probably under a different name, would be great to see. Don’t hold your breath for that though.

One man who I think could surprise a lot of people is Bray Wyatt. He was on our screens a couple of years ago as Husky Harris of the Nexus. He eventually got demoted back to FCW (WWE’s then-developmental territory) because he was deemed too green for the main roster. His weight was also an issue.

There’s something about the guy that makes him stand out. Perhaps it’s that elusive “it factor”. Since going back down to developmental he has created a new gimmick for himself. It’s essentially a southern preacher persona but mixed with the former Husky’s rough and ready ring style and surprisingly slick verbal skills it’s a hit.

Also worth noting is that Paul Heyman has stated on Twitter and in interviews that he sees something in the son of IRS. Heyman appears to be gaining influence on the creative direction of the company and has a noted eye for talent. A blessing from Heyman is a good thing for Wyatt.

Finally there’s Richie Steamboat. The son of Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat has managed to garner cheers during his appearances on the show so far, including pops for using the arm drags favoured by his father. If he’s introduced to WWE television in an underdog babyface role, and given a sustained push and some credible wins, I think Steamboat junior could become a huge star.

Monday 29 October 2012

Who's Next?

Ryback's failure to defeat CM Punk for wrestling's top prize was predictable. What wasn't predictable was the way in which he lost.
As 'Big Hungry' hoisted Punk onto his shoulders (avoiding a botch, thankfully) for the Shell Shock the referee delivered a textbook Attitude Era low blow. This allowed 'The Second City Saint' to roll the big man up, grabbing a handful of trunks along the way, and get a fast three count for the tainted victory.
Yep. WWE went for a screw job finish. Interference by Brock Lesnar would have set up a match between he and Ryback. Having a mid-carder cost him the match would have done the same, plus given someone lower down the pecking order a boost by associating them with Punk and setting them up for a clash with the promotion's hottest star.
Going with a corrupt referee was a good choice though. It plays into the quickly forgotten angle that occurred after Night of Champions, when CM Punk complained about sub-par officiating. That the same official was chosen to aid Punk makes it clear that the whole thing was, as Jim Ross would say, a setup all along.

The man who would be champ
It was the right finish. Ryback lost but not convincingly. It was a great way to protect him. Meanwhile Punk looks like the conniving, unscrupulous and unfair heel he's meant to be. He cheated to win because he knew he couldn't defeat the babyface fairly.
The finish could indicate that Paul Heyman has a degree of influence on WWE's booking. He's written dodgy referees in the past (most notably Bill Alfonso). It feels like the sort of suggestion he'd make. If the former ECW chief is involved in the writing process then that's good news for fans.
But what's next for Ryback? More precisely, who's next? A rematch with CM Punk seems unlikely. The two men clashed either as an experiment to see how over Ryback is or because John Cena is injured. Ryback will likely confront 'The Voice of the Voiceless' on RAW but a return performance seems unlikely at this time. A resumption of hostilities with John Cena is the next probable step for the champ.
Having proved himself in a big match environment Ryback could head into a rivalry with Big Show, the new holder of the World Heavyweight championship. A short reign for 'The World's Largest Athlete' seems likely and beating him would reinforce 'back's standing as a powerful beast. That would then test Ryback out as a world champion in a low pressure fashion.
Perhaps he could scale back his title ambitions and concentrate on Antonio Cesaro's United States gold. 'The Swiss Superman' could work a decent-length non-title match with Ryback and then lose a rematch. Cesaro has helped make the US strap mean something since winning it. Ryback could enhance it further.
The trouble there is that targeting a mid-card belt could make Ryback seem weak or indecisive. It may look as though he's decided to go for second (or fourth) best because he can't succeed at the highest level. If he's going to go after a champion other than Punk then Big Show seems a much better choice.
Alternatively Ryback could target one of the many men currently treading water. Wade Barrett, The Miz, or Alberto Del Rio would all be fresh challenges for the man from Sin City. Any of them could work an entertaining month-long programme. Ryback could even tangle with a tag team. The Prime Time Players or the Rhodes Scholars could mock him for losing to Punk, inciting a rivalry.
The inevitable first loss has arrived far earlier than most people expected and it has taken away one of the Ryback's most significant selling points. WWE will need to be very careful what they do with him next. He may have been protected in defeat, but if it happens once too often fans are going to lose interest.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Surefire Loser?

When I previewed Hell in a Cell on Wednesday I predicted that CM Punk would beat Ryback in the show's main event.My reasons for feeling this way can be covered in a handful points. Firstly I think putting the championship on Ryback so soon could see fans turn on him. He's been in the WWE system for years but has only been on television for around six months (under his current persona at any rate). Such a hurried rise could cause resentment.
The second reason I've given is that it would set up a Rock v Ryback match at the 2013 Royal Rumble, or necessitate having the title back on Punk by January. A clash between 'back and 'The Great One' doesn't seem like a match WWE are interested in, and taking the belt off of Punk just to put it back on him within three months seems short-sighted.
But what if I'm wrong? It's not as though promoting Ryback to the top of the card is without merit.
As I've noted before Ryback would be a welcome addition to a barren main event scene. A victory over Punk would undoubtedly be the best way of establishing him as a headliner. Plenty of fresh bouts would be created by the move. Alberto Del Rio, a heel Randy Orton, Big Show, and Dolph Ziggler could all solidify Ryback's standing as the new top man. A face versus face encounter with Sheamus could be interesting, and rematches with Punk would help too.

Look how excitable Ryback is. Imagine if he became champ!
A promotion of Ryback would really pay off come WrestleMania season. All of the big players whose 'Mania outings are currently being discussed would be fresh opponents for Ryback. If 'The Human Wrecking Ball' were still undefeated, and champion to boot, then he could realistically be paired up with any of them for a money-drawing first time encounter.
The Rock, Undertaker, Triple H, Brock Lesnar and John Cena are the men in question. They, along with CM Punk, are expected to form the basis of WrestleMania XXIX's top matches. While the exact matches haven't been revealed knowing the men who will be in them makes the event a little predictable. Adding Ryback's name to the list would create some uncertainty along with some buzz for the new boy.
If 'The Human Wrecking Ball' were to head into the Rumble as champion he would be facing The Rock. Having him beat 'The Brahma Bull' would further enhance his standing and be an unexpected result, because most people are expecting Rock v Cena II for the championship at WrestleMania.
An argument against that happening is that a match between current champion CM Punk and The Rock has already been hinted at. Said hints cannot be taken back but that's not a bad thing. It would just make a Ryback v Rock match that more surprising when announced.
Were 'Big Hungry' to beat Hollywood's finest at the Rumble it would open up plenty of options for WrestleMania. He could take on the boss and be written into a feud with (a heel) Triple H. He could give 'The Great One' a rematch. He could battle with a Rumble-winning CM Punk. He could face WWE's prize box office acquisition Brock Lesnar. He could challenge the Undertaker's Streak, allowing for marketing to focus on an "undefeated" star challenging 'The Dead Man'.
Ryback could even be booked against the company's current top guy, John Cena. A face versus face clash between the two wouldn't be pretty and would see 'The CeNation Leader' get heavily booed (which will happen no matter who he faces on the snow) but it would also present Ryback as heir apparent to the top babyface spot.
Do I think any of the above will happen? No. I'm sticking to my prediction that Punk will leave HIAC still WWE champion and be the man to lose the title to The Rock at Royal Rumble. There are ways of protecting Ryback without putting the belt on him. Matches between The Rock and both CM Punk and John Cena have already been hinted at. I don't think WWE is going to change course now.

Friday 26 October 2012

Aristocratic Exposure

When Alberto Del Rio first appeared on WWE television in 2010 he was a breath of fresh air. A mixture of JBL and Ted DiBiase by way of Mexico Del Rio was given the rich braggart heel gimmick that always works so well and had been absent from WWE since Layfield departed in April 2009.
Since debuting ADR has racked up an impressive number of accolades. He won the 2011 Royal Rumble (the first ever to consist of 40 participants), challenged for the World Heavyweight championship at WrestleMania, wrestled Edge in what turned out to be 'The Rated R Superstar's' retirement match, won Money in the Bank, and became a two time WWE champion.
During his first year and a half with the company 'The Essence of Excellence' was involved in feuds with Rey Mysterio, Edge, Christian, Big Show, Sheamus, CM Punk, and John Cena. He's worked matches with pretty much every member of the roster he hasn't feuded with. In fact his recent programme with Randy Orton was one of the few fresh pairings left for him.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem both he and WWE are now presented with. 'The Mexican Aristocrat' has achieved so much so quickly and blasted through the roster that he now feels stale as an act. With the exception of Ryback Del Rio has worked with every babyface of note and has competed in all of WWE's favourite match types.
Something needs to be done to revitalise the character.
Usually in these sorts of situations the solution is to turn the wrestler in question. This opens up new matches and booking scenarios for those scripting the show. Unfortunately I don't think this is an option here. Del Rio's WWE persona is a natural bad guy. There's nothing there that could be tweaked to make him an even moderately successful crowd pleaser. He is of most use to WWE left as a heel.

This guy's name is Alberto Del Rio. But you already knew that
The writing team aren't completely without options. Once his programme with 'The Viper' wraps up Del Rio could be given a few months off, allowing him to come back to television refreshed in the New Year. The Royal Rumble would be the perfect time for that. That scenario is not a great option though as it's rarely a good idea to have someone healthy and fit paid to sit at home. An alternative would be to station him in the developmental system for a while. That would allow him to do something productive, help to train the guys and gals we see on NXT, while also giving his character a rest.
If he stays on TV then Del Rio has an ongoing programme with Randy Orton that could comfortably stretch to Survivor Series. After that the potential feud with Ryback could be launched. Written well that should easily see both men through to TLC, which gives WWE plenty of time to build up one or two existing names as opponents for ADR. Kofi Kingston and Zack Ryder both spring immediately to mind as guys WWE could and should be doing more with.
The best thing WWE could do with the former CMLL champion would be to put him into a tag team. It would keep him on TV but allow him to develop his character by interacting with others. Mark Henry's currently sitting on the injured list. Why not bring him back to team with ADR? I think they'd be a great addition to the recently revived tag team division.
Thinking a little bigger Del Rio could be made the leader of a group. He already has Ricardo Rodriguez as his personal ring announcer and bump fodder for big matches. David Otunga could be brought back as his legal adviser (and more bump fodder) and 'The World's Strongest Man' could come on board in a bodyguard slash enforcer role, explaining that he enjoys hurting people and ADR will pay him a lot of money to do that. The Prime Time Players could bulk up the numbers, giving ADR henchmen and partners for six man tag matches. Put together in time this unit could be used to battle a face troupe lead by 'The Apex Predator' at Survivor Series.
Alberto Del Rio is not bad at anything his job requires of him. He is a victim of circumstance, hurt by WWE's thin roster and rapid approach to feuds. He can still be a great benefit, just not in his current role as a singles competitor. Let him help some other guys shine for a while.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Hell in a Cell preview

No, your eyes don’t need checking. Hell in a Cell is a WWE pay-per-view that won’t feature a John Cena match. This is a rarity, one supposedly brought on by Cena’s slower than expected recovery from routine elbow surgery. I say supposedly because I’m not convinced that Cena is unable to wrestle.

Look at it like this: WWE has created a popular new star in Ryback and want to solidify him as a top card player. The best way of doing this is having him wrestle the company’s most highly regarded in-ring performer, WWE champion CM Punk. There is no better way of portraying him as the company’s number two babyface than to have him fill-in for its number one babyface.

Perhaps ‘The CeNation Leader’ is genuinely healing slowly. The rigours of being on the road for years, rehabbing various injuries every few months may have started taking a toll on his body. I’m not convinced though. Cena’s slow recovery seems a little too convenient for the rise of Ryback.

This match will be a big test for both men. For Phil ‘CM Punk’ Brooks it’s a chance to prove he truly is ‘The Best in the World’ and carry a notably limited opponent to a passable encounter. Meanwhile the Punk character needs to leave HIAC with the title in order to continue his quest for respect and progress to the match with The Rock that was set up at RAW 1000.

For ‘Big Hungry’ it’s a chance to launch himself from the doldrums of WWE’s bleak middle card zone to the pinnacle of the company. Ending CM Punk’s eleven month championship reign would solidify him as a bona fide star in one night and create a number of much-needed fresh booking options for WWE.

Taking everything into consideration I cannot see ‘The Human Wrecking Ball’ capturing the WWE championship on this particular occasion. As noted above Ryback would make an interesting (and welcome) addition to the existing main event crew but his win would set him on a collision course with ‘The Great One’. That’s not a match I can imagine WWE promoting.
A controversial new look for CM Punk
‘The Voice of the Voiceless’ has to be the favourite to head into the Rumble as the champion. While it’s possible he could lose the strap and regain it before then it would make his lengthy run a little pointless and make his battle with ‘The Brahma Bull’ feel a little less special. It would also mean giving Ryback a short championship reign, which would harm him long term.

If Ryback were to lose clean it would ruin him at this point. With the two men meeting inside the Cell booking a finish that keeps the title on Punk but also protects Ryback will be tricky to book, but not impossible. Punk could use a chair or other weapon to gain a tainted win. Presumably Heyman will be at ringside and Cena is likely to make an appearance, so they could be utilised too.

A scenario that could protect both men would be to have Ryback power Punk through the cage. That would establish the challenger’s incredible strength and create a way out (quite literally) for Punk. The match could end with the champ heading backstage and refusing to compete. Poor finish to a PPV main event yes, but it would obtain the desired result and protect the rising star.

Perhaps a better option would be for Punk’s fellow “Paul Heyman guy” Brock Lesnar to show up, break into the Cell and cost ‘Big Hungry’ the gold. That would not only be a convincing way of having Ryback lose but it would also set up a future clash between Ryback and ‘The Pain’. Handled correctly that could be a big draw for Survivor Series, Royal Rumble or WrestleMania XXIX.

However they do it I’m sure Punk will leave as champion. The quality of the match and how the finish goes down is where I’m less clear.

The company’s other world title will also be defended at Hell in a Cell, but not inside the cage. Yes, it’s the first official confrontation between Sheamus and Big Show. That ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ has been placed into this match despite having failed to capture the WWE championship over the summer illustrates how shallow the main event bracket is.

It also illustrates that management are not as serious as they should be about elevating new stars. Wade Barrett would have been an ideal PPV opponent for ‘The Celtic Warrior’, as their recent outings on RAW and SmackDown prove.

Sheamus v Big Show could be entertaining but I’m not going to get my hopes up. Both men are okay as characters, but Sheamus works far better when facing smaller grapplers or brawlers of his own size. Big Show is a lump who would be of more use to the company as a babyface.

I don’t think Show will be leaving as champ. ‘Great White’ will overcome the “overwhelming” (listen out for that word during the broadcast) odds which have been established (Show having a more powerful finisher, for example) and topple the giant. As Sheamus has had the belt for over six months now and I’m beginning to think that a change is coming, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Dolph Ziggler cashed in his briefcase and left as the new World Heavyweight champ.

If Show struggles to his feet and immediately starts battering Sheamus after doing the job you’ll know to expect ‘The Show Off’. Making a cash-in slightly more likely is the fact that Ziggler is not booked to appear on the show. As one of the few stars WWE seems to be dedicated to helping I’m fairly sure he’ll be appearing.

The once meaningful Intercontinental championship will be defended on the show too. The title is most commonly used these days for provoking cheap pops on landmark episodes of WWE programming. See Kofi Kingston's victory over The Miz on Main Event, and 'The Awesome One's' defeat of Christian on RAW 1000.
Kofi only began his fourth reign a couple of weeks ago so I don't expect him to lose it so soon, especially to the man he took it from. If this bout is allocated enough time I think it could be the best technical outing on the card. Hopefully time will be on their side.
Kofi has headed up WWE’s tag team division for over a year. With his partnership with R-Truth now consigned to the history books now feels like a good time to award him a serious singles push again. Kingston is an ideal candidate to build the mid-card division around. Getting the title onto him is a good first step. Calling up some fresh talent would be a good second.
Speaking of the tag team titles: the surprisingly entertaining, not to mention over, Team Hell No will defend the WWE tag team championship against the Rhodes Scholars. Sandow and Rhodes are clearly the best choice of team to oppose Bryan and Kane. They are established antagonists and great wrestlers. Expect to see them isolate Bryan, allowing 'Goatface' to work the majority of the match for his team.
Will that lead to a hot tag and a Kane-gained victory or will the Scholars successfully wear Bryan down and become the new champions? Tough call. On the one hand Team Hell No are such a popular act that WWE would be foolish to make any big changes to them just yet. On the other the dysfunctional duo, being (sort of) goodies, may work better if chasing a heel tandem for the gold.
As they've only had the straps for a month I'm going to predict a victory for Team Hell No. Perhaps the Rhodes Scholars will get a rematch at Survivor Series. Or perhaps the Prime Time Players will get back into the title hunt.
The PTPs looked like the favourites to dethrone Kingston and Truth before Bryan and Kane proved a hit. That WWE spent so long building them up as a team to be reckoned with means they'll probably get their turn at some point. HIAC was originally to have seen the Players facing Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara, presumably after costing them the tournament finals on RAW. It seems as though Mysterio's undisclosed stomach problems (maybe he's got what Matt Hardy had around the time he was in TNA) have put a stop to that.

This week’s SmackDown taping saw a Divas title match added to the show. Eve will defend against Layla and Kaitlyn. The story that’s been running since Night of Champions hasn’t been in vain after all! Missed it? Basically Kaitlyn was scheduled to challenge for the pink belt at NOC but was attacked by a mystery assailant. Eve took her place, became the new champion, and has been accused of being the mystery assailant ever since.

The drama!

A title change strikes me as unlikely. I think a swerve turn from Kaitlyn is a greater possibility. The programme has been trundling towards this inevitable three-way for six weeks Something unexpected needs to happen to keep it fresh. Maybe Kaitlyn and Eve have been in cahoots all along, cooking up this deplorable scheme because they dislike Layla. I wouldn’t blame them if that were the case.

On a side note, what does it say about the pay scale in the Divas division when the champion has to work a second job as a PA?
The final match announced for the pay-per-view is Alberto Del Rio v Randy Orton. I have been calling for a fresh opponent for 'The Essence of Excellence' for months now and I'm pleased he finally has one. That said I'm still not especially interested in the match.
The feud doesn't seem to be about anything. There is no reason for ADR and 'The Viper' to clash beyond the fact that neither has anything better to do. Del Rio constantly referring to Orton as a "little snake" hasn’t helped matters. It has only served to make a boring rivalry silly too.
I'm hopeful that once they lock up my attitude will change. Both men are very good in the ring and if they tell an interesting enough story (which again relies on time as much as anything else) then the lack of a compelling issue between them won't really be an factor.
With an Orton heel turn happening at any moment I suspect he'll win to be kept strong for his renewed push as a bad guy. Should the two tangle in another singles match at Survivor Series ADR can be given his win back then. Should the office think he needs it that is.
There are plenty of options for last minute additions to the show. As noted above Dolph Ziggler doesn't have a match. Neither do popular acts such as Santino, Zack Ryder and Brodus Clay. Wade Barrett would benefit from an appearance too, considering his recent well received outings against World champ Sheamus. A United States title defence by Antonio Cesaro could by good too, especially if it were preceded by one of his anti-US vignettes.
The Hell in a Cell pay-per-view doesn't look bad on paper but, as with last year's event, it does highlight the fact that the structure is best used only when needed rather than having it on a show because marketing dictates it must be so. Ryback v Punk doesn't need the Cell in order to draw money or appeal to fans. If anything the cage will prove a hindrance. Here's hoping that the show name is retired next year and the Cell goes back to being a rare treat used to finish off only the bitterest feuds.

Predictions summary:
CM Punk to defeat Ryback
Sheamus to defeat Big Show
Team Hell No to defeat the Rhodes Scholars
Kofi Kingston to defeat The Miz
Randy Orton to defeat Alberto Del Rio
Eve to defeat Layla and Kaitlyn

Monday 22 October 2012

Hidden Talent

Do a Google or YouTube search for Jon Moxley and you'll find footage of an athletic, charismatic guy with a gift for cutting intense promos. Up until a year or so ago he was one of the brightest stars on the North American independent scene, with his work in Dragon Gate USA being particularly noteworthy.
This same man is now signed to WWE under the name of Dean Ambrose. He currently competes in their developmental league and on house shows. If you're an NXT viewer you may be wondering why you've never seen him on the show. The answer is simple: Ambrose is a favourite of WWE management and a top contender to be the next man promoted to the main roster and so has been held off of NXT.
As with Seth Rollins (formerly Ring of Honor's Tyler Black) you have to wonder why WWE have waited so long to introduce Ambrose to television. He wrestles well, has the WWE Look, and gives intense, relatable promos. He is the sort of man WWE's barren mid-card desperately needs.
Part of the problem could be that the main roster is already heavy on heels. The Miz, Wade Barrett, Antonio Cesaro, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow have all suffered barren periods this year for that very reason. The last thing WWE's writing staff will want to do is introduce another man to the roster when they don't have enough material for the performers they have.
That could be their reasoning but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The misuse of Miz and company has been the result of the writing team being overworked, not a lack of minutes on TV. RAW and SmackDown alone tally five hours a week. Throw in Superstars and Main Event and you reach seven. WWE needs all the characters they can get working on television to fill this time.

One of the many men currently being overlooked in WWE's developmental system
Furthering the case for Ambrose getting a spot on RAW or SmackDown (or both) is the fact that the company planned to call him up earlier in the year. An online feud between the former Dragon Gate star and Mick Foley was put together (which you can read about here), with the plan being to introduce Ambrose to TV via conventional means and gradually begin acknowledging his existing gripe with 'The Hardcore Legend'.
No stranger to hardcore matches himself Ambrose would have proven an ideal opponent for Foley. The two exchanged some barbs online via Twitter and Foley's blog. The general gist was that Ambrose blamed Foley for dozens of young wrestlers ("a generation" according to him) destroying their bodies while imitating his stunt-filled 90s outings.
The whole thing came to an abrupt end when Ambrose tweeted something mentioning Foley's kids. The former WWF champion's immediate response was to state that the programme was off as he had told Ambrose that the one topic off-limits was his children.
It's still not clear whether this was a genuine gripe raised by Foley or a quick and easy way of calling off an angle thast was being scrapped for other reasons. Whatever the case, Ambrose's talents deserve to be showcased. If not on RAW it SmackDown then on NXT until a more prominent position opens up. What's the point in having someone that good under contract if you're not going to make any use of them?

Sunday 21 October 2012

The Past is Another Company

I'm a fan of Ring of Honor. I like the company's realistic presentation of pro wrestling. I like their believable and logical approach to storylines. I like the company's young, athletic roster.
Well, I used to like these things.
While I remain a fan of ROH I am not happy with its current predicament. Reading comments on the ROH World (the premier ROH fan site) chat room shows I'm not alone in my opinion.
Ring of Honor made a name for itself as a company that portrayed wrestling as an athletic, competitive sport. Its priority of pushing talent was clear from the start: the best workers would rise to the top based on their performances and fan support. Politics, we were told, would not be a factor in Ring of Honor.
Over the years this was proven to be true as the likes of Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Nigel McGuinness, Austin Aries, AJ Styles, Davey Richards, Kevin Steen, El Generico and others rose to the top based on their ability to wrestle a compelling match rather than play politics. Some of these men have more on to more political promotions (WWE and TNA, mainly) and met with success there.

But others haven't and never will. This isn’t to say that those who have moved on have had to learn how to play politics, more that some people are blessed with a marketable look than others. It's hard to imagine El Generico headlining RAW, for example.
The current state of Ring of Honor is something I've discussed before. I still want it to succeed and provide a genuine alternative to both WWE and TNA but it isn't going to do that in its current slump. Under the direction of Jim Cornette (and, allegedly, Hunter 'Delirious' Johnston) ROH has had a critically disastrous two years. Things have been bad commercially as well but it's not fair to blame that on Corny.
Cornette has stated that the rise up the card of Michael Elgin, Kyle O'Reilly and Adam Cole is proof that ROH is dedicated to finding, pushing, and rewarding the finest young talent. While I won't argue that all three men are excellent choices to carry the promotion forward and becomes its next crop of headliners I wouldn't go as far as to say that they have been used flawlessly. Nor would I say that having only three examples of well-pushed youngsters is a good position to be in. Especially for a promotion that was originally supposed to cater to the needs of unknown, talented grapplers.

O'Reilly and Cole should have had a far longer run together as Future Shock and O'Reilly's heel switch should have been held off until next year at the earliest. Meanwhile Michael Elgin's glacially paced rise through the ranks has seen him enter some cracking, white hot performances but now runs the risk of seeing him go off the boil because management have held off that final shove for too long.

Pacing things properly and sticking to a plan is all well and good but if waiting too long often does more harm than good. There are only so many times he can challenge for the ROH world title and fail before fans will stop seeing him as the next big thing.
Cornette has also said that ROH fans who dislike his approach to booking the company are simply pining for the past. It seems he thinks this because fans talk fondly of the era of Danielson, Punk and Joe. The trouble here is that ROH was better when those men were around.
This guy's had his day
ROH wasn’t better solely because those men were present but they certainly helped. The company's philosophy of showcasing talent based on ability rather than name value has evaporated over time. The hiring of Wrestling's Greatest Tag Team was a good move: Haas and Benjamin have star power but are also capable of wrestling the style that made ROH famous. Rhino, though? Mike Mondo? Matt Hardy? These are men hired more because they're former WWE employees (and-or Cornette favourites) than because they can continue the legacy of Jamie Noble, Chris Daniels, and Low Ki.
Cornette himself is the biggest difference between Ring of Honor then and now. Understandably he cannot see this. He sees his booking ideals as necessary changes for the continued expansion of the promotion rather than a dated style that Ring of Honor had evolved beyond from its very first show. Corny is very good at booking the style he enjoyed when he was young but he seems incapable of helping the sport to evolve. Perhaps that's why he had such a problem with ECW back in the 90s: it was wrestling changing before his eyes and he couldn’t understand why fans responded so enthusiastically to it.
As I said, Cornette himself is the chief difference between what is considered ROH's golden age and its current output. He made appearances for the group during its early years but he had no backstage influence (or none of note anyway). What made ROH a success initially was the vision of Gabe Sapolsky.

Gabe’s approach to finding and showcasing young and-or unknown talent gave a new generation of wrestlers a place to expose themselves. It’s noticeable that his current booking interests (Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE) have made very little use of former WWE, TNA, WCW and ECW talent. Even men he previously worked with in Ring of Honor have been somewhat of a rarity.

My point (yes, I do have one) is that it was Gabe Sapolsky as much as the guys in the ring who helped to make ROH a success when it launched. It was his booking, his talent selection and his vision for the future of professional wrestling that helped the company stand out.

Ring of Honor can’t have it all. It can either be company that mixes veterans and youngsters with a traditional approach to feuds and pushes or it can be the home of young wrestlers. The latter is what it used to be but it involves those in charge taking a risk and giving up any and all name talent they have not created themselves. Personally I think it’s a risk worth taking, but in order for it to truly work they need a booker who hasn’t been around for decades who wants to bring change to wrestling. That ain’t Corny.

One final thought on Jim Cornette: there’s a reason nobody has ever referred to themselves as “a Jim Cornette guy.”

Saturday 20 October 2012

NXTweet 17.10.12

One of the things I like about NXT is that it gives us the chance to see WWE’s developmental crew wrestle. Because of this I tend to be disappointed with instalments that rely heavily on members of the main roster. Unfortunately this week presented us with one of those episodes.

The opening contest saw improbably over Alex Riley lose to Three Man Band founding member Jinder Mahal. Sighting of the Perspex box aside it was a disappointing way to start off a show that is supposed to showcase wrestlers trying to get themselves onto the main roster. Mahal v Riley would have been more appropriate booked on an episode of Superstars.

The Jake Carter versus Trent Barreta match was an improvement from a showcasing point of view but it wasn’t exactly an electrifying contest. Barreta has been featured on SmackDown and Superstars before now and Carter appears to be little more than a jobber-in-the-making. Both men would have benefitted from different opponents.

The appearance of ‘The Intellectual Saviour of the Masses’ Damien Sandow improved things considerably. Sandow received a big cheer when his music hit but by the time he reached the ring he’d managed to convince the fans to boo him with an effective promo.

You need only watch his performance here to see why he’ll be a regular on WWE television for years to come: he understands the character he’s portraying and how to make people dislike him. Touches like refusing to perform a victory cartwheel (because the fans were chanting for one) and pulling a smug pose while getting the winning pinfall are the sort of thing that too many WWE guys overlook.
That thick, lustrous beard and winning smile will be on WWE television for a long time to come
The six man tag team main event was the show’s saving grace. The inclusion of the Usos may have stopped it from being the all-developmental match it should have been but seeing Richie Steamboat, Kassius Ohno and The Ascension more than made up for that. The six men put on a lengthy and entertaining match with a very nice finish: Steamboat hit the ropes to build up steam for a dive to the outside and got caught with Ohno’s One Behind the Ear elbow smash finisher.

NXT needs to stick to matches like the main event if it is to retain its appeal. Too many main roster stars will cause the show to lose its uniqueness.

Opening recap video

Tweet 1: NXTweet.
Tweet 2: Briley Pierce looks familiar... #Dolphsbrother
Tweet 3: The CM Punk recap was nice and all but where's it going to lead?

Alex Riley v Jiner Mahal

Tweet 4: They're starting off with an Alex Riley match. Not a good sign.
Tweet 6: I think this is the first time I've wanted to skip a match on NXT.
Tweet 7: You can tell this was filmed before the 3MB idea. Jinder's still wearing his purple and turquoise trunks.
Tweet 8: This referee looks like Sheldon Cooper.
Tweet 9: Riley wins a generic match with a generic rollup. I feel cheap having watched this.
Tweet 10: Post-match camel clutch there. The babyfaces of the locker room either fear Mahal or hate Riley because nobody made the save.
Tweet 11: I like to think they all hate A-Ry.

Jake Carter v Trent Barreta

Tweet 12: It’s Carter time!
Tweet 13: Regal is telling a story about Vader refusing to take Jake to the park unless he did 1000 push-ups. Nonsense yes, but funny nonsense.
Tweet 14: Don't try and get Barreta over as a striker. You're doomed to fail.
Tweet 15: Nice belly to belly suplex.
Tweet 16: Carter has two watches on his trunks. One says "It's" and the other says "Time". Oh dear.
Tweet 17: Surprised Carter lost that to be honest.

Brandon Traven v Damien Sandow

Tweet 18: The NXT Arena pops for Sandow. They love an intellectual savior.
Tweet 19: "Don't boo me, I'm simply asking questions" - Damien Sandow
Tweet 20: Brandon Traven was trained by Harley Race. According to Saxton that's all that needs to be said.
Tweet 21: It doesn't matter who trained him, Traven isn't going to beat Sandow.
Tweet 22: Those rumours of a confrontation between Race and Vader at a wrestling convention should be used as the basis for a Traven v Carter feud.
Tweet 23: I won't lie, I'm a bit creeped out by Regal talking about Sandow's hip action.
Tweet 24: Since when do audiences react to a drop kick so loudly?!
Tweet 25: No cartwheel for that audience. Solid bit of heat there.

The Ascension and Kassius Ohno v The Usos and Richie Steamboat

Tweet 26: Remember when Conor O'Brian was a babyface who likened himself to a rat? I do.
Tweet 27: It's Kassius... OHNO!
Tweet 28: The Usos need to work on their choreography.
Tweet 29: From a distance Richie Steamboat looks a little like Paul London.
Tweet 30: I miss the Kings of Wrestling.
Tweet 31: #kravat
Tweet 32: JR couldn't tell the Hardys apart, what chance does he have with actual twins?
Tweet 33: OBE from the outside was a nice finish.

Friday 19 October 2012

SmackTalk 19.10.12

Considering the disappointingly mediocre direction SmackDown has been heading in lately I’m pleased to say that I thought this week’s episode reversed the trend. I’d call it a return to form if the poor trend had been going for longer.

What I thought this week’s show did particularly well was create interest in already established feuds. Alberto Del Rio’s tedious dispute with Randy Orton has been gracing our screens for less than a month but it feels like it’s been trundling on for around six months. Not having the two interact physically on this week’s show was a good move as it heightened anticipation for their eventual tussle and allowed them to play to their individual strengths.

For ‘The Viper’ this meant working an enjoyable bout with The Miz, allowing his opponent to look competitive before defeating him. For ADR it meant cutting a promo on Orton, proclaiming himself to be incredibly tough while avoiding a physical confrontation.

Team Hell No’s programme with the Rhodes Scholars was advanced too. The heels attacked the bickering champions after their victory over Big Show and Dolph Ziggler, indicating that they will defeat Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara on Monday’s RAW (if the match even happens at all, what with Mysterio having the flu and all). Having heels attack faces only for the faces to seek retribution later in the show is a standard trick, but that’s not to say it’s bad.
There's no such thing as too many pictures of Daniel Bryan
The show even managed to make the Big Show and Sheamus programme seem momentarily interesting. Show stood at ringside during ‘The Celtic Warrior’s’ enjoyable match with Wade Barrett. That he didn’t interfere made it clear that he doesn’t feel the need to sneak attack the champ as he’s confident in his own abilities to beat him when his chance rolls around at Hell in a Cell.

On a side note I think it’s good that WWE are booking Barrett and Sheamus against one another regularly. It may not be the World Heavyweight title feud that the former Nexus leader should have returned to but it’s better than weekly squashes of jobbers. Barrett is natural opponent for ‘Great White’ and I hope the two men get to clash on pay-per-view at some point. Barrett has earned that spot.

After the match Dolph Ziggler made another attempt to cash-in his Money in the Bank contract. It met with failure after he was KOed by ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’. This developed the Show and Sheamus feud in an interesting fashion as it allows Show to claim that he saved the world title for ‘Great White’. Unfortunately this was overlooked by Show immediately taking a microphone and saying he’d definitely take the world title at HIAC.

I remain unconvinced of that.

Miz TV, featuring Kane, Daniel Bryan, Big Show and Dolph Ziggler

Tweet 1: Soooooo... let's watch SmackDown.
Tweet 2: Nine nights from Hell in a Cell. I've never liked PPV countdowns. Dunno why.
Tweet 3: Miz TV is overplayed already.
Tweet 4: Kofi v Miz should be a Hell in a Cell match. For the laughs.
Tweet 5: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
Tweet 6: Miz is a fan of combined tag team entrances. Didn't he and JoMo used to enter separately? Am I making that up? Maybe...
Tweet 7: 'World's Toughest Vegan'. He's not actually a vegan anymore but who cares.
Tweet 8: Nice use of the Van Dam thumbs by Bryan there.
Tweet 9: Even with this ridiculous size difference Bryan could have a great match with Show. #mosttalentedmanontheroster
Tweet 10: Speaking of talented members of the roster... it's Dolph Ziggler!
Tweet 11: Here's Booker T, rocking a sweet sweater vest. He almost forgot his lines within seconds. That's some classic Book right there.
Tweet 12: Randy Orton will be jobbing out 'The Awesome One' tonight.
Tweet 13: WWE should be pleased that fans chanted "Feed me more" when waiting to find out who would face Miz. That shows Ryback's popularity.

Randy Orton v The Miz

Tweet 14: "Our first main event is next" - Josh Mathews, not understanding that the main event, whether it's big or not, is the show's final segment
Tweet 15: ADR getting the sky box gimmick there. It's a classic.
Tweet 16: Where did the Miz TV set go? Where did the four other people in the ring go? WWE needs to work on their continuity.
Tweet 17: I want to see stagehands walking up the ramp carrying couches. Is that too much to ask?
Tweet 18: Striker's attempt at selling his ribs was comical. Perhaps almost as comical as Josh ask for JBL's response to ADR's comments.
Tweet 19: Josh Mathews would fit in well on Newsround.
Tweet 20:  "Randy Orton going to the place where he hears voices in his head" - Josh Mathews, taking entrance music lyrics a little too far
Tweet 21: Wouldn't it be funny if Miz kicked out of the RKO? Yes. But it would never happen.
Tweet 22: Felt like Orton was celebrating for about five minutes there.

Teddy Long and Sheamus chat backstage

Tweet 23: Teddy Long just made a match. Someone needs to tell him he's not GM anymore.
Tweet 24: There's Eve standing in the background, looking seductively sinister... or sinisterly seductive.

Rhodes Scholars v Justin Gabriel and Tyson Kidd

Tweet 25: Rhodes Scholars v Gabriel and Kidd. This is a fine example of a wasted babyface tag team.
Tweet 26: I'm pleased JBL mentioned Cody's various tag team title reigns. Cole never bothered. Neither did Josh.

Booker T, Eve and Teddy Long backstage

Tweet 27: "If I didn't know any better I'd say Teddy was trying to take credit for my idea" - Eve Torres, delivering an unsubtle line unsubtly
Tweet 28: If Booker actually bothered to watch the show he's supposedly in charge of back to himself every week he'd know Eve's lying.
Tweet 29: Booker has a meeting. In the middle of SmackDown. The show he runs. Brilliant.

Big Show and Dolph Ziggler v Team Hell No

Tweet 30: Anyway... In the ring Dolph Ziggler is showboating and telling Big Show that's "his deal".
Tweet 31: Big Show is the world's largest athlete. You can see him from space.
Tweet 32: #nokicks
Tweet 33: Big Show and Dolph Ziggler should form a tag team called... wait for it... The Big Show Offs.
Tweet 34: Josh just said that Big Show is the offiicial challenger to the World Heavyweight championship. Is there an unofficial challenger?
Tweet 35: You don't see many back body drops these days.
Tweet 36: Ziggler loses again. Whaddashock! Good match though. Any time Bryan and Ziggler wrestle each other it's a good thing.
Tweet 37: The Rhodes Scholars jump Team Hell No. Guess we know who's winning the number one contenders final on Monday.
Tweet 38: Little recap of what happened between Show, Sheamus and Barrett on RAW, there. Needs more Tensai.

Antonio Cesaro v Ted DiBiase

Tweet 39: Antonio Cesaro... Heeeey!!
Tweet 40: Cesaro experiencing "Americana" is gold, Jerry! Gold!
Tweet 41: Ted Dibiase is still a babyface. Even worse he's a lazy babyface who relies on shouting "USA!" to gain support.
Tweet 42: "I know where I am" - Nigel McGuinness in response to "USA" chants

Heath Slater v Brodus Clay

Tweet 43: The Slater Freebirds getting themselves matching gear is the best career move they could have made.
Tweet 44: Drew McIntyre looks like Sean Waltman. But without a perm.
Tweet 45: Brodus Clay still gets a reaction. Astonishing.
Tweet 46: Somebody better call Heath Slater's momma...
Tweet 47: Apparently we've slipped into a parallel reality where Heath Slater can beat Brodus Clay.
Tweet 48: That's the Funkasaurus push over then.

Matt Striker interviews Wade Barrett

Tweet 50: Barrett should be wrestling Sheamus at Hell in a Cell. They have good matches and he's got more to offer WWE than Big Show.

Layla v Natalya

Tweet 51: Josh Mathews seems to know a lot about the Divas' locker room.
Tweet 52: Natalya or Layla? Who will win? It really doesn't matter...
Tweet 53: This just in: Teddy Long's middle name is Rufus!
Tweet 54: Layla wins. Natalya, one of the best female wrestlers on the roster, is not going anywhere fast.

Teddy Long accosts Kaitlyn backstage

Tweet 55: "Kailtyn, I've got something you need to see" - Teddy Long
Tweet 56: Teddy is showing Kaitlyn Eve's iPad and it's being shown on the Titantron. Wasn't Eve at ringside as that vignette started? She'd have seen.

Sheamus v Wade Barrett

Tweet 57: Lumberjack match = jobberfest
Tweet 58: BARRETT KLAXON (again)!!
Tweet 60: It feels like the Attitude Era had a lot less facial hair than current WWE.
Tweet 61: Humorous name alert: Wade's dad was called Larry Barrett.
Tweet 62: I've just noticed that Sin Cara is a lumberjack. He doesn't have a clue what's going on.
Tweet 63: Chaotic little finishing sequence there. Good stuff. Better than the standard non-finish or babyface win.
Tweet 64: Show just saved the title for Sheamus. I doubt we'll get an explanation. Doesn't matter, it adds an interesting angle to Show v Sheamus.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Backing it Up

Three months and still no cash-in from Money in the Bank winner Dolph Ziggler. While it took John Cena all of eight days to trade in his briefcase for a chance to take the WWE championship from CM Punk 'The Show Off' is being made to wait for his moment in the spotlight.
Not rushing Ziggler's cash-in is a smart move. It allows speculation and anticipation to build up for the moment, and allows the booking team to seed 'The Heel' into main event storylines so that he doesn't look out of place when he captures the WHC.
A lack of preparation is something that has harmed a number of MITB victors upon cashing in. The Miz has slipped back down the card since his five month championship reign ended last May. A lack of credible opponents resulted in him having a less-than-memorable run. Jack Swagger had an even worse experience in 2010 and has an even worse position in the company now than does 'The Awesome One' (he's currently off TV while the booking team come up with something worthwhile for him to do).
CM Punk, now WWE's most over performer, was also short-changed by the writing team during his first Money in the Bank-induced World Heavyweight title reign in 2008. He was presented as a fluke champion and given no status enhancing victories over any existing headline talent. At the time (and in hindsight for that matter) it felt like a token attempt to create a new headline star, but one the company weren't willing to commit to seriously because they didn't think Punk would catch on.
Daniel Bryan very nearly had a disastrous first World Heavyweight title reign too. He was added to the feud between cumbersome lumps Mark Henry and Big Show after he won the title at TLC last December. Such a pronounced size difference would have ruined a lesser performer's prospects but 'D-Bryan' pulled through thanks to his ability to work convincing bouts with larger foes and the emergence of his "Yes!" catchphrase.
Ziggler's recent pay-per-view losses to Randy Orton and Chris Jericho may have felt like setbacks at the time but in the long run they're good moves. When (not if) 'The Heel' takes the World championship he will have two established and talented opponents to return the favour and put him over.
This of course raises the question of when Ziggler will cash in his case. The likelihood is that Ziggler will beat Sheamus for the title. Switching the belt to a heel only to have another heel beat them would seem counterproductive as it would instigate a heel versus heel programme, not something WWE is likely to want.

Is that a teal...?
Ziggler seems the safest bet to beat Sheamus for the title and it also seems reasonable to assume he'll do it soon. Sheamus has held on to the gold for well over six months and he has been booked so strongly it's impossible to imagine him losing the title clean. If Ziggler were to defeat Sheamus after he's been through a gruelling match with 'The World's Largest Athlete' it would create heat for the incoming champion and keep the Irishman strong.
Unfortunately the former Spirit Squad member's immediate prospects as champion don't look particularly rosy. Assuming (again) that he gets the WHC relatively soon there aren't that many challengers ready for him. Rematches with 'The Viper' and 'Y2J' would, as noted above, be a boon to a man enjoying his first proper world title reign but it's possible neither will come to pass: Jericho is not expected back in WWE until sometime next year and Orton will apparently be turning heel before the end of 2012.
Ziggler is guaranteed a memorable moment thanks to the Money in the Bank briefcase. I'm confident it will lead to a title victory. Good work has been done preparing him for the top of the card and the man himself has proven that he's ready for the promotion. I hope the writing team will be able to say the same when they have to write for a heel champion that isn't CM Punk.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Feeding Time

At Hell in a Cell WWE champion CM Punk will defend his title against Ryback. When this confrontation was first teased a couple of weeks ago I was confident WWE were playing a long game, hinting at a confrontation between the wily heel and the rising babyface months before it would happen. I was wrong, but I remain adamant that holding off would have been the right move.
'Big Hungry' is still in a very precarious position. He may have won fans over with his squash victories against various disposable lower-card acts but he has yet to be tried out against a popular act like Punk. Although 'The Second City Saint' is the company's lead heel he still receives cheers from many fans, which could result in the audience turning on Ryback.
The fans only need to boo WWE’s lord of the jungle on one televised show for it to become the normal state of affairs. While 'The Human Wrecking Ball' could always be turned into a bad guy it would rob WWE of their next feature babyface. Ryback has done well to become so popular, it's a shame to risk that by pulling the trigger too early on his first headline feud.
Having Cena endorse Ryback seems like a stupid idea too. Ryback's best shot at becoming WWE's number two babyface, and ultimately the chief good guy, is for him to be presented as an alternative to Cena. Cena's backing could turn some people off of 'back, whereas if Cena were to openly oppose or disapprove of him then Ryback would gain the support of Cena's legion of detractors.

CM Punk will need to avoid this situation at Hell in a Cell
Cena could voice concern over someone as reckless as Ryback being used in such a high profile spot (dripping with irony, but never mind). He could have been booked to beg and plead with Vince to put him in a match with Punk even though he's injured, only for Vince to imply it’s the beginning of another man’s time and go with Ryback. Cena being desperate for a title bout wouldn't have been heelish or out of character: the championship has been well established as the most important thing in the world to the Cena character and he should, as the face, be willing to work hurt to get it. Ryback and Cena wouldn't have to come to blows, but not all babyfaces have to get along.
Perhaps I'm being unfair or short-sighted (I don't want to use the word "wrong"). Perhaps 'Big Hungry' will get a booming response at HIAC and work a short, intense bout with the champ that sees him the win the title and continue his ascension to the number two babyface spot. Perhaps he will suffer his first defeat after some shenanigans from Punk, protecting him in the eyes of fans. Perhaps the two men won't clash inside the Cell structure and Punk will go for a cheap DQ loss, which would also protect Ryback and get Punk booed.
I want Ryback to become a success for WWE. He's a different sort of act to the current babyface crop of Cena, Orton, Sheamus and Mysterio. His matches may not be all that exciting but neither are Cena's. Ryback would at least be a new face, creating fresh matches and scenarios. If his outings are kept short and he's not overused as Cena has been over the last seven years then I think Ryback could be the new babyface star the company's been needing for quite some time.

Monday 15 October 2012

Back on Form

Last night's Bound For Glory pay-per-view presented its audience with no less than five championship matches. Four of those saw titles change hands. While some of the switches were good moves (Tara dethroning former tag partner Miss Tessmacher and Guerrero and Hernandez capturing the doubles straps) it was still far too much for one show.
The approach is worryingly similar to the TNA of three or four years ago. Back then matches took place with little rhyme or reason and championships changed hands so frequently that their importance was severely diluted. TNA has done if good job of restoring some lustre to those battered prizes over the last year. Bound For Glory 2012 felt more like a step back than a step forward.
If the company felt the need to have so many prizes change hands then they should have planned things out better and had some changes take place on different dates. Rob Van Dam's X Division title win is a perfect example of a switch which didn't have to take place at BFG. Defending champ Zema Ion could have wrestled RVD to a time limit draw, setting up a rematch on IMPACT or at November's Turning Point show. Even a deliberate DQ to set up a return encounter would have been better than a cluttered card.

The man who replaces Austin Aries at the top of TNA
The multitude of new champs crowned on the undercard diluted the importance of Jeff Hardy's TNA title win in the main event slot. 'The Charismatic Enigma's' victory over Austin Aries would have meant more had it not had to share the night with Tara, Guerrero, Hernandez, and Van Dam's wins.
The show itself was mostly enjoyable. The main event was a fittingly well-crafted encounter and while I wish 'A Double' had remained the world champion for a while longer I can't fault the decision to move the belt on to Jeff Hardy considering the reaction his win got.

The interaction between Hardy and Aries should prove a highlight of Thursday’s IMPACT and I imagine we’ll see them clash for the title over the course of the next few PPVs. I hope their inevitable match at Turning Point is of the same standard. Hopefully the rest of the card will be too, but with a few less title changes. Remember, TNA: less is more.

Sunday 14 October 2012

The Voice of SmackDown

Friday’s SmackDown was the first episode in a long time to not feature Michael Cole on commentary. Replacing ‘The Voice of WWE’ at the announce position was former WWE champion John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield. Not only did he do a fantastic job but the dynamic between he and Josh Mathews worked far better than that that exists between Mathews and Cole.

I’m not going to bash Cole. His heel act has been toned down considerably over the last year and he’s been working as a babyface again since Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler’s heart attack last month. It’s a better way of using him. While it will take time for viewers to forget the nauseating amount of TV time Cole gobbled up during the height of his heel run in the long run I think he can be accepted as a replacement for Jim Ross.

That’s not to say he will ever be as good as Ross. Unfortunately for Cole he assumed the lead announcer duties too late to be able to prove that he can do anything but a mediocre job commentating a wrestling bout. The role he has now involved him pushing storylines, gimmicks and shilling for a variety of products WWE has chosen to associate itself with (such as Twitter and Tout).

When ‘Good Ol’ JR’ was at the desk in his late 90s prime he was pretty much left to his own devices as far as calling the action went. Occasionally he’d have to acknowledge a sponsor’s on-screen graphic but that’s about as far as it went.
Someone get this man a microphone, stat!
Even though Cole has become a lot more tolerable of late removing him from SmackDown was still the right move. It allowed Josh Mathews to do a little more with regards to commentating. He benefited from working alongside a clear heel too. He can come across as bland when working with Cole, whereas JBL brings some passion out in him.

I’d like to see this become a regular thing. Cole would benefit from working only RAW and new show Main Event (although I suspect he’ll get taken off of that when it inevitably turns into a job show): decreasing his profile lessens any lingering resentment viewers may hold towards him. It would be good for Josh Mathews too. WWE needs to get serious about preparing new commentators for their main shows and Mathews would be a perfect understudy for Cole. He needs to be allowed to develop his own style before that can happen though, which is going to be difficult while he’s paired with Cole.

Meanwhile using JBL for every SmackDown would be great for obvious reasons: he knows how to elevate talent while working as a heel commentator and he injects a good deal of knowledge into every broadcast he’s on. Having a former world champion at the announce desk doesn’t hurt credibility either.