Thursday 29 November 2012

Middle of the Road

Over the last couple of months WWE have made a noticeable effort to do something with non-main event performers. Daniel Bryan and Kane have been placed together as Team Hell No and are currently on top of the most interesting WWE tag team division in years. The Divas have enjoyed a competent storyline which, in a roundabout way, has illustrated how much the Divas title means to the performers involved.

This is very much a positive thing. Not only has it given viewers more reasons to tune in but it’s also given performers something constructive to do. When that happens there’s more chance of them getting over.

Unfortunately the mid-card singles scene has remained pretty much untouched. If the promotion is serious about wanting to create new stars then this is an area they are going to have to improve.

Main events should be populated by the most over stars. That’s logical. While a handful of men can get over enough thanks to a strong push, such as Ryback, Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio, others have to take a slower path and earn their way up the card by continually putting in solid performances and building a rapport with fans. Dolph Ziggler is a perfect example of this.

The trouble WWE has at the moment is that their main event bracket is so thin they have gotten into the habit of rushing guys to the top. They plug a gap at the top only for another to appear as one of their established stars leaves, goes part-time, or hits the injured list. That then means another guy is fast-tracked. It’s a vicious circle. The mid-card has become neglected and as such there is nowhere for those not blessed with a sustained push from the office to get themselves over.

Zack Ryder is a man who has been let down by the lack of a proper mid-card. This time last year ‘Long Island Iced Z’ was beginning to look like he could become a meaningful part of the company’s future. He teamed with WWE champion CM Punk and World Heavyweight champion Daniel Bryan in a six man tag match on the December 19th RAW. Not just anybody gets put into that spot.

Things went bad for Ryder when he was chosen to work as cannon fodder for Kane during ‘The Big Red Monster’s’ programme with John Cena. Obliterated on a weekly basis ‘The Internet Champion’ soon found his fan base shrinking.

Had there been a functioning mid-card in place, populated by performers fans had been given a reason to care about, meaningful championships, and matches that received a decent amount of time, then Ryder could have been quickly rehabilitated. His senseless multiple jobs to ‘The Devil’s Favourite Demon’ and harmful presentation as Cena’s li’l buddy could have been erased within a month and Ryder could have gotten back on track.
It’s not inconceivable to think that by now Ryder could have been in a high mid-card spot, featured in a purposeful match on RAW every week, had he been treated better at the start of the year. That hasn’t happened because WWE doesn’t have the tools to help talent of his level out.

On the bright side there are signs that WWE is going to get serious about this area of their programming again. Antonio Cesaro has had some relatively lengthy title defences since winning the United States championship. Let’s not forget that he received a surprisingly rowdy response when he lifted the gold from Santino during the SummerSlam pre-show. That showed that fans will still take an interest in performers outside of the headline zone, if they are presented in the right fashion.

Kofi Kingston’s Intercontinental title victory over The Miz last month was also indicative of a renewed interest in the mid-card. Over the years ‘The Boom Squad General’ has proven to be WWE’s performer of choice when they need a babyface to fill a role outside of the main event.
Is he happy or in pain? I know I can't tell...
During the summer of last year he was placed into a tag team alongside Evan Bourne. The idea was that the two would spearhead a revival of WWE’s tag team scene, working against teams such as Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger (unofficially known as All American Perfection) and Awesome Truth. That was followed by this year’s stint alongside R-Truth, and there are numerous examples of him being tossed the Intercontinental or US title throughout his five years on the main roster.

Kingston as Intercontinental champ is a good move. He can have the mid-card division built around him, and there are plenty of opponents waiting, such as Wade Barrett, Jack Swagger, Tensai, Hunico, and the Three Man Band. If time is invested into giving Kofi matches and storylines that fans can believe in then the mid-card (and the IC belt too, for that matter) could be revived quickly.

Triple H, Edge, and The Rock all earned their way to the top of WWE by making themselves stand out in the mid-card to earn a promotion. Plucking successful guys from the lower ranks and hoisting them up the ranks used to be something the federation excelled at. With a little work that can be the case again.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Dem Boys From Sandy Fork

Mark and Jay Briscoe are one of the few examples of men that have been consistently pushed by Ring of Honor over the last two years. Kevin Steen has been absent from the company for large chunks of time. Eddie Edwards and Roderick Strong have drifted up and down the card. Adam Cole, Kyle O'Reilly and Michael Elgin have not been elevated as aggressively and effectively as they should have been.
All the time this has been going on the Briscoe brothers have enjoyed a featured spot. At one point they were being presented as good guys but were getting heavily booed on any ROH show they appeared on. The decision was made to turn them, but fans then decided that they enjoyed the new characters the brothers exhibited (thanks in part to some captivating promos from Jay). They were switched again, only this time they kept aspects of their heel personas.
This could be taken as a booking team doing a good job: an act was unpopular and steps were taken to rectify the situation. I think it's more a case of a booking team getting something wrong. The fans were sending the company a clear message when they booed the Briscoes. That message was that people were tired of 'Dem Boys' being so heavily featured. It was ignored.

Mark and Jay have been with Ring of Honor since day one (which they are happy to point out). They have faced every notable double act that has passed through the company. That includes everyone on the current (and incredibly thin) roster. They are one of the most heavily pushed and protected acts, routinely beating other tandems that deserve to rise up the ranks and being awarded title matches on TV and iPPV that others deserve.

Since day one...

Final Battle is a perfect example of this. ‘Dem Boys’ will challenge SCUM for the tag team titles along with the C&C Wrestle Factory. There’s nothing wrong with a three-way tag title match but did it really need to involve the Briscoes? Coleman and Alexander should be the only challengers, they shouldn’t be sharing the spotlight.
With the Briscoes incapable of having any fresh matches without new or outside talent being brought in wouldn't it be a good idea to give the pair a break? The money spent on them could be used on another duo, such as BLKOUT or the Young Bucks, who could provide the company and its fans with some fresh content. New matches always need to be a priority for any promotion.
At the very least the Briscoes could be excused from TV and iPPV for a while. That would stop the problem of their overexposure and ROH's reliance on repeated matches but still allow them to be used at house shows. They'd still be drawing fans but wouldn't be clogging up precious minutes of air time.

Monday 26 November 2012

The NXT Three

So what do Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns want? Right now it’s unknown but we’re told that answers will be forthcoming on this evening’s RAW. Yes, former war correspondent and current ‘Voice of WWE’ Michael Cole will be interviewing the NXT wrestlers in the ring.

At the moment the plot could go either way.

I assume that the three will claim they are unaffiliated with CM Punk as Brad Maddox did after Hell in a Cell. Storyline-wise there’s nothing to link them to the WWE champion beyond the fact that their actions helped him to retain his title at Survivor Series. They have not voiced an opinion on Punk and he has not voiced an opinion on them.

The logical progression of the story would see them state they acted alone. Their motivation could be that they saw Ryback making a name for himself, appearing regularly on RAW and headlining pay-per-views for world championships, and they thought they deserved the same. Rollins and Ambrose are certainly better wrestlers than ‘Big Hungry’. It’s entirely possible Reigns (son of Wild Samoan Sika) is too, though from what I’ve seen he’s a little light in the personality department. That could be given as a reason for the men taking this course of action.

WWE could really push the realism of the situation and have the men bring up the fact that they are taught in developmental to create their own opportunities and do everything they can to make a name for themselves. Obviously if NXT talents acted like this for real they’d be future endeavoured before they knew what hit them, but in television land this sort of behaviour is par for the course.
As much as I like him I have to say that Ambrose has the worst hair
An alternative is that the men will hint at a relationship with Punk (or one will be revealed over time). Maybe we could discover that Punk is using NXT as his own personal recruitment agency, plucking the most talented grapplers from the roster and having them interfere in his matches. To a man in Punk’s spot they would be disposable cannon fodder. From an NXT talent’s (kayfabe) POV  they would be getting precisely what they want: a chance to make an impact on the main roster. This could neatly encompass Maddox’s actions too.

On another note: I have mixed feelings on these call-ups. I’ve been waiting for Seth Rollins, formerly Tyler Black in Ring of Honor, to show up on RAW or SmackDown for two years. It’s nice to see him promoted but at the same time I’m concerned he won’t get to make the impact he deserves debuting alongside two other guys.

I have similar feelings about Ambrose (previously Jon Moxley) but I’m not as familiar with him and so they’re not quite so strong. From what I’ve seen of him on NXT Roman Reigns is lucky to be associated with two far more talented men. Kassius Ohno would have been my choice for the third man.

Tonight’s interview segment should prove memorable. As long as Dean Ambrose does the bulk of the talking it should go very well.

Sunday 25 November 2012

The New Faces of Impact Wrestling

Christopher Daniels and Kazarian are the former TNA world tag team champions. They are also the World Tag Team Champions of the World. The first is an accolade and the second is their team name. It’s also an example of the sort touch the two have added to their act since being paired together as a duo.

Earlier this year TNA’s tag team division was like those of WWE and Ring of Honor, undernourished and almost completely bereft of interesting and entertaining acts. Unlike those companies TNA decided to do something about it. Kazarian and Daniels were first placed together in a feud with AJ Styles which centred on an alleged sordidness in Styles’ personal life, first with TNA boss Dixie Carter and second with a woman named Claire Lynch.

To cut a long story short it was not an enjoyable programme. The three guys produced some good matches but the story background to them did more harm than good.

Things improved significantly when Kurt Angle was added to the mix. He formed a tag team with ‘The Phenomenal One’ to oppose the villainous tandem. Dropping the Lynch silliness and shifting the focus to athletic competition between four of the best wrestlers on the roster was the right decision and led to great singles and tag team matches.

Daniels and Kazarian have held the titles together twice since May, debuting matching tights and dubbing themselves The World Tag Team Champions of the World during their second reign. Although they lost the straps to Hernandez and Chavo Guerrero (Junior) at Bound For Glory last month they remain one of TNA’s few regular combos. They are also its most entertaining.
No appletini in sight
Despite no longer having Angle and Styles to oppose the WTTCOTW can still play an incredibly important role in TNA. As mentioned above they are two of the finest wrestlers on the roster and a very polished act. The appletinis, scarves, and smarmy grins set them apart from the standard scowling heels. They understand their role and how to get themselves and others over.

What TNA should do now is stick a few more units together to try and get a decent division going. Joey Ryan and Matt Morgan and current champs Hernandez and Guerrero are a nice start but things are still a little light on the ground. Robbie E and Robbie T would be a natural choice. They’re not used anywhere near enough as a tag team. Sam Shaw and Crimson look surprisingly similar. Given matching outfits they would at least look the part as a combo. It’s a shame that Samoa Joe and Magnus were split as a team. There was a lot more that could have been done with them.

Daniels and Kazarian deserve praise for bringing life to a fairly dreary division and for getting themselves over with hard work, both between the ropes and with their characters. They have the talent to keep the division relevant for a long time and continue to grow as a pairing. Let’s hope that TNA bosses realise that and don’t split them prematurely. They’re worth far more together than separately.

Saturday 24 November 2012

SmackTalk 23.11.12

This is what SmackDown should be every week: an exciting collection of matches and segments (more of the former than the latter) that help to create and advance feuds and acts. It’s rare for the programme to achieve it but it did so this week, and in style. Time was allocated to acts WWE is going to rely upon in the future and there was more than one good match. It was the best episode in a very long time.

Damien Sandow v Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler v Randy Orton, and Sin Cara v Alberto Del Rio were all above average for WWE television. The battle of the former CMLL employees was the masked man’s best outing since joining the sports entertainment group. While he and ADR have clashed in WWE before they have never set such a quick pace. It’s a shame we’ve had to wait a year and a half for a passable outing from Triple H’s star signing.

The appearances from John Cena and Ryback were welcome too. Cena, as the company’s leading man, lent the show some star power. I could have done without the continuation of his dreary relationship saga with AJ and Vickie but at least Ziggler is getting to work with the number one guy. Meanwhile ‘Big Hungry’s’ star will continue to rise thanks to the back to basics approach of having him squash a defenceless mid-carder.

The show’s central strength was the prep work done for various feuds. The Big Show and Sheamus programme rumbled on with the two men taunting each other after the World champ had won a handicap match. It was a strange booking decision. Being the tag team champions Team Hell No should not have been jobbed out to a singles competitor. The fact that they’re babyfaces meant the match had an odd dynamic (heels being disadvantaged never makes sense). It was a good match nonetheless and did at least keep the story of Bryan and Kane being dysfunctional alive.
R-Truth got a non-championship victory over US champ Antonio Cesaro, setting up a title match at some point in the future. Finally, Wade Barrett made it very clear he wants to take the Intercontinental gold from Kofi Kingston.
A great deal was packed into the ninety minutes and the majority of it made sense and entertained viewers. Again, this is what SmackDown should be every week.
Intro video

Tweet 1: "Tonight, on SmackDown... Vickie Guerrero continues her crusade against AJ and John Cena's scandalous relationship." Yeah... STAY TUNED!!
Tweet 2: I watch wrestling for storylines about scandalous affairs. It's what drives me. That and the uppercuts.
Tweet 3: Epic recaps are boring. Take note, WWE.

Miz TV, featuring John Cena, AJ Lee, Vickie Guerrero and Dolph Ziggler

Tweet 4: Miz TV opens ANOTHER SmackDown? Stuck for ideas much? How about opening with Kofi Kingston versus any athletic heel.
Tweet 5: Wow. Cena's on SmackDown. This week's top of the ramp comment is "Miz TV: let's go!" Brilliant. That's why he shifts so much merch...
Tweet 6: I do like the fact that Cena's sitting on the couch. Nobody else does...
Tweet 7: Miz needs to sort his tenses out.
Tweet 8: Beautiful recap of Cena botching walking there.
Tweet 9: Wait... Cena and AJ Styles are having an affair?!
Tweet 10: This is how to get Miz over as a babyface: book him as a tweener. He can use all his catchphrases but isn't a heel. Good call.
Tweet 11: It sounds like AJ's music contains the line "Slut it up" over and over again.
Tweet 12: I wonder what Cena's ex-wife makes of all this.

Cena's expression says a lot about his feelings on this current storyline

Tweet 13: The way this is going AJ's going to be involved in WrestleMania XXIX's main event.
Tweet 14: Vickie Guerrero bragging about kissing Dolph Ziggler there. She won't be removed from her spot as RAW Managing Superviser though.
Tweet 15: Cena shakes Miz's hand, cementing 'The Awesome One's' face turn.

Ryback v Darren Young

Tweet 16: Ryback's on too? All the big names are on this week's show.
Tweet 17: 'Mr No Days Off Except When He's Suspended' is the opponent. I hope Titus is on commentary again.
Tweet 18: Titus Alfonso.
Tweet 19: The new feud: Ryback versus the Prime Time Players.
Tweet 20: That feud didn't last long. Could've stretched for months. WWE blew it by having Titus go down to a single Muscle Buster.

Note the large kneepads on Darren Young

Antonio Cesaro v R-Truth

Tweet 21: Antonio Cesaro... Heeey!!
Tweet 22: I agree with Cesaro's feelings on Thanksgiving.
Tweet 23: I'm surprised that Truth won that but it does follow the trend of Cesaro losing non-title matches.

Medical notes and a backstage meeting between Sheamus and Booker T

Tweet 24: On a side note I think I have a broken toe on my left foot. It's been tender for a while now and doesn't flex well.
Tweet 25: I don't want to go to a doctor about it. My assumption is it well mend itself if it's broken.
Tweet 26: Anyway, Booker and Sheamus are chatting backstage. They are standing very close to one another.
Tweet 27: Chairs match at TLC. Predictable but still a good move. Also, I like the way Booker pronounces pint as "paint".

Sin Cara v Alberto Del Rio

Tweet 28: I like Sin Cara's new blue and red outfit. He should have introduced a wider variety of outfits far earlier.
Tweet 29: Albertooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Dellllllllllllllllllllllllllllll Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiioooooooooo!
Tweet 30: Sin Cara should enter wearing old style scuba diving gear. It would explain the bottom-of-the-ocean lighting his matches are subjected to.
Tweet 31: This is one of the best Sin Cara matches I've seen. Put him against Spanish speakers more often.
Tweet 32: Josh Mathews channeling Vince McMahon there. #whatamaneuver
Tweet 33: Handspring elbow. I honestly think Tajiri did that better than anyone.
Tweet 34: It slowed down a bit in the middle but I think that was the best Cara match I've seen. Very good.

A new outfit and his best WWE match. It was quite the night for Sin Cara

Kane and Daniel Bryan backstage

Tweet 35: Why has WWE started cutting to crowd shots during backstage segments?
Tweet 36: Kane and Bryan spending Christmas together is a vignette waiting to happen. #goldJerrygold
Tweet 37: "Can I beat up Santa Claus?" – Kane

Team Hell No v Big Show

Tweet 38: How many times are they going to cut to Sheamus in the skybox during this match? Double figures shouldn't be a stretch.
Tweet 39: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
Tweet 40: Why is the heel at a disadvantage? Why is this match happening?
Tweet 41: Sheamus and Regal shot one. They're chatting amiably. I reckon they're talking about charcoal.
Tweet 42: "I'm not totally sure why Booker T did this" - JBL on the nonsensical match taking place in the ring
Tweet 43: Kane's getting the night off.
Tweet 44: It is firmly established that Kane can create and control fire. So why doesn't he just set his opponents on fire to win every match?
Tweet 45: Another shot of Sheamus looking simple.
Tweet 46: Bryan goes down to the rarely seen choke slam. Decent match but I still don't know why it happened.
Tweet 47: I'm warming to Big Show as a heel champion. He's grown in the role. In every sense. #gut
Tweet 48: Sheamus cutting a promo without a microphone. Forget fighting, he loves to shout.

Intercontinental championship – Kofi Kingston (c) v Damien Sandow

Tweet 49: Fans of Wade Barrett's ring coat will be disappointed again.
Tweet 50: This match could and should have been the opener. Kofi is popular. Sandow is hated. They'll have a good match. It would have made sense.
Tweet 51: "I'm a real man" - Wade Barrett
Tweet 52: I had a dream last night that Kofi Kingston turned heel.
Tweet 53: There's something a bit David Brent about Barrett on commentary.
Tweet 54: All this talk of eye gouging makes me think they're building towards Wade and Kofi in Eye Poking's Legal match at TLC.
Tweet 55: Kingston wins an enjoyable match. Meanwhile Wade takes off the headset and stands on a desk.
Tweet 56: Booking a feud between two guys who want the Intercontinental title is a good idea. Why has it taken so long to do?

Randy Orton v Dolph Ziggler

Tweet 57: Ziggler v Orton would normally be guaranteed to be the best bout on SmackDown but it has some competition tonight. It's been a good episode.
Tweet 58: Who is Orton feuding with? And why?
Tweet 59: There's a fat guy with an embarrassing beard wearing a Ziggler T-shirt in the front row. His presence is inappropriate.
Tweet 60: An update on my toe: I clicked it and it feels better. For now...
Tweet 61: "He's a viper!" - Josh Mathews (sounding aroused) on Randy Orton
Tweet 62: That was a high superplex. Nicely done.
Tweet 63: Ziggler defeats Orton clean on a roll-up! That was tremendous.
Tweet 64: Less tremendous is a post-match run-in from Ricardo Rodriguez. ADR is now on the apron. The boring rivalry continues.
Tweet 65: Meanwhile Cena has attacked Ziggler from behind and applied the STF. Isn't he meant to be the good guy?

Thursday 22 November 2012

The New Territories

If you've watched or read anything on the subject of the WWF's expansion of the early 1980s you will be aware that the fed is held responsible for putting North America's various regional territories out of business. Vince McMahon, aided and abetted by his top star Hulk Hogan, broke an unwritten rule of the business by promoting shows in states and cities traditionally exclusive to companies like Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling (also known as Jim Crockett Promotions), Big Time Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling and others. You will probably have heard of Vince "raiding" talent too.
In truth Vince is often unjustly vilified when discussing this era. He didn't do anything illegal, he was simply being a shrewd businessman. Had any or all of the other promotions adversely affected by his actions gotten their act together and emulated McMahon's approach it's entirely possible the WWF expansion would have faltered and ultimately failed. A new top dog could have risen to prominence.
One thing I don't think would ever have happened is the status quo remaining. The territories were doomed.
Cable television was one of the main tools the WWF used to help grow its audience. They succeeded in part because Vince was the first wrestling promoter to seize on what cable offered. He struck marketing deals and ventured into areas that his TV show had headed into first. Had another company done this they would have been number one.
To say Vince and the WWF put the territories out of business is incorrect. He put companies out of business, just as he did two decades later when he contributed to the overall failure and closure of World Championship Wrestling. Vince did not completely wipe out non-WWF wrestling. He made it impossible for the larger companies to keep going, through a mixture of encroaching on "their" turf and signing wrestlers who were available.
Other, smaller promotions rose to take the place of the fallen giants. ECW was essentially a regional promotion. It was more akin the to territories' regional model than the WWF's national one. It's just that the Extreme outfit's region was a little bigger, taking in everything from New York City to Florida. A territory would have run shows throughout three or four states at most whereas ECW ventured up and down the East Coast, mainly running shows in Philadelphia and NYC because they were heavily populated cities with a proven track record of having passionate wrestling fans.
ECW was essentially the most prominent territory of the 90s. Jerry Lawler's Memphis league (a survivor of the McMahon expansion), Jim Cornette's Smokey Mountain Wrestling, Heartland Championship Wrestling and LA’s XPW were others. The territories didn't go away, the companies that they consisted of just changed.
They became the indies. Thirty years ago a wrestler starting out would have been taught the ropes and then started working their local territory. After a few years they would generally move on to pastures new. That would happen every few years unless they happened to catch on as a top babyface somewhere, in which case they could stay put. There was such an abundance of wrestling leagues that a wrestler could have a long and prosperous career without exhausting their options.
Modern wrestlers will learn the ropes at a wrestling school, most of which are attached to a promotion. That allows young wrestlers to start getting experience early in their careers. Generally speaking a modern wrestler will work for one or two local outfits, with some being lucky enough to get work with the larger companies like ROH, Dragon Gate USA, CZW, CHIKARA Pro and EVOLVE.

The guys you get in CHIKARA would not necessarily have succeeded in the territories of the 1970s
Finding a wrestler who only has experience with one of these companies is unlikely. Once they're good enough for one they will likely get regular work with them all and wrestle for some or all concurrently.
Will Vince McMahon and WWE put these companies out of business? I think it would be a much tougher challenge. Modern companies have shown they are just as capable as WWE at getting cable TV deals, with YouTube and internet pay-per-view providers being ideal tools to reach a global fan base. Fans have also become more sophisticated in their tastes, not just being happy to watch whatever match, story or character Vince and company happen to be pushing but actively seeking out companies that offer something different, whether that’s the humour of CHIKARA, the young guns of DG USA and EVOLVE, or the stiff style of Ring of Honor.
WWE still signs people from the independent system and it still thrives. CM Punk, Bryan 'Daniel Bryan' Danielson, Antonio Cesaro, Kassius Ohno, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins were all considered standouts of the independent circuit and all now work for WWE. Ryback and John Cena started out there too, before being placed into the sports entertainment farm system. When a star leaves the indies another rises to take their place, just as the indies did with the territories started disappearing. It's what's always happened in wrestling. It always will.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

That RAW Recap 19.11.12

I've not recapped an episode of RAW since the 1,000th episode in July. Since then Daniel Bryan and Kane have formed a tag team, The Miz has gone babyface, Chris Jericho has been banished, Ryback has been promoted to headliner status and former ROH champ Seth Rollins (or, if you prefer, Tyler Black) has made the TV debut some of us have been waiting two years for.
More has stayed the same than changed though. John Cena and CM Punk remain the company’s most heavily promoted acts. Show opening promos are still very much in fashion too. It's a tried and tested approach which WWE aren't likely to change anytime soon. They should though, because a formulaic and predictable three hour TV show is not the best way to keep viewers happy. Perhaps most amazing of all, RAW is still three hours long.
This week's episode started with a Ryback promo. I suppose that could be considered a novelty. 'Big Hungry' has not had much talking time despite his increased standing. This segment highlighted why. Ryback is essentially a modern day Ultimate Warrior, carrying analogies far too far while barking about being hungry and at the top of the food chain and generally making as little sense as possible while still using the English language.

Uh-oh... he's got a microphone
Ryback's point (yes, he had one) was that Punk had stolen the championship for the second pay-per-view in a row at the Survivor Series. He demanded that Punk and the three NXT wrestlers that had attacked him on Sunday (Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose) come to the ring or he'd destroy things. Scary.
Thankfully no destruction occurred. Vickie Guerrero, a capable woman with a microphone and a magnet for heel heat, took to the stage to inform Ryback that she was booking him in a match with Tensai. She acted as though this would be a big challenge for ‘The Human Wrecking Ball’, even though we've seen the two clash twice and the man from Japan lost both encounters. This bout was no different… except Ryback actually managed to hit his finisher this time.
Backstage we got a brief shot of Sheamus shouting at a referee about incompetence. He was angry about having missed out on the World Heavyweight championship at Survivors. He looked like a bully. John Laurinaitis was right to fine him.
Wade Barrett defeated Intercontinental champion Kofi Kingston in a good match that lasted around fifteen minutes. Before it began footage was shown of Barrett stating he wanted the IC strap back. His non-title victory makes it clear that this is the new direction for both men. They should have a good feud judging by RAW and their collisions last spring.
Kaitlyn dropped Aksans in match number three. It was nothing special. I'd only suggest watching it if you're a big fan of one or both women.
The ladies were followed by a non-title match between Antonio Cesaro and 'The Funkasaurus'. Brodus Clay has had a spectacular fall down the card recently. During his first few months as the all-singing, all-dancing funk-lover he was protected and given a very strong push. He seemed set for a permanent upper mid-card position. That push is gone and not a trace of it remains. Cameron and Naomi watched as their man got powered up for 'The Swiss Superman's' Neutralizer finish.
R-Truth was on commentary for this one. He explained he was scouting Cesaro in the hope of capturing the US title in the future. I can't see it happening. He lost at Survivor Series for a reason.
Managing Supervisor of RAW Vickie Guerrero returned to the ring for the next segment. It was a continuation of the nonsense concerning "inappropriate behaviour" between Cena and AJ (it cost AJ the General Manager job, you know). As I find this one of the most disengaging storylines of the year (it's up there with the Claire Lynch stupidity) I shan't recap it all. All you need to know is that Vickie brought two people with her who claimed to have witnessed “inappropriate behaviour” between Cena and AJ. Some of this allegedly took place in a car.
AJ and Cena cane out to deny the allegations then, for no fathomable reason, shared a long, passionate kiss. That was broken up by Dolph Ziggler. Despite 'The Show Off' having had a career highlight night the previous evening he was quickly dispatched by Super Cena. This was Ziggler’s sole appearance in front of the live crowd during the broadcast. It was a less than ideal way to build on his success as the sole survivor in the Team battle.

As the merch machine left the ring to chase his foe he landed awkwardly on his left leg and had to hobble backstage. Luckily for WWE and eight-year-olds everywhere Cena did not suffer a serious injury. He will probably be booked to face 'Mr Money in the Bank' at TLC.
Bout number five saw Alberto Del Rio and Randy Orton clash in a two out of three falls match. This struck me as an odd stipulation to give them. After the wild brawl they had on SmackDown a couple of weeks ago it seemed like a step back. Two out of three fall matches should take place towards the beginning of feuds or in rivalries based around technical expertise. It was decent but nothing more. 'The Viper' won after clinching the first and third falls.

Intensity. Raw intensity
Following a handicap match that saw the Great Khali batter Epico and Primo, and also featured some shenanigans from Hornswoggle and Rosa, David Otunga and The Miz faced off. Fans gradually warmed to 'The Awesome One' throughout the contest. Miz did well playing the babyface again, and the man from Harvard was solid too. I don't think Otunga gets enough credit for generating heat. He may not be the greatest wrestler ever but he knows how to get his character across.
The Sheamus promo that followed was flat. 'The Celtic Warrior' bored the fans so much that they dusted off the dreaded "What?" response to taunt him with. He either needs to be pitted against someone genuinely loathsome or turned heel. Probably the former, seeing as WWE are determined to have him become a genuine star.
The point of Sheamus's promo was to antagonise World Heavyweight champion Big Show. 'Great White' had saved the chair he'd used to batter the champ the night before and shouted (yes, shouted: Sheamus is not a quiet man) about each dent on in representing a bruise on Show's body. Both men talked over each other, which was pretty sloppy.
Damien Sandow stopped the madness when he came out for his match with the Irishman. He proved immediately more entertaining than both WHC rivals as he told the referee that he would not compete while Sheamus was holding the chair. Sandow v Sheamus was one of the highlights of the show. They battled for fifteen minutes before Sheamus hit White Noise and a Brogue kick for three. It was a cut above the average TV match.
Cutting backstage AJ was shown confronting Vickie. Tamina was present to act as a bodyguard. She towered over AJ. That should help portray 'The Diva Next Door' as the underdog babyface during their inevitable collision.
Anyway, Ms Lee told Vickie Cena was hurt (the ankle injury mentioned earlier) and asked to know what was going to be done about it. Vickie said she would do nothing, prompting AJ to say she would take matters into her own hands. Following a break we found her striding down a corridor alongside Layla. The Brit made a wet attempt to convince AJ not to follow through on her plan and was told to go away. With that AJ strode into the men's locker room (Heath Slater could be seen dressed only in a towel). She had a bit of a shout at Dolph Ziggler who retaliated with some brutal putdowns about her being desperate and needy before Cena ran in and lumped him.
They fought and got separated. It was fairly predictable and designed to provide more clips for the Cena v Ziggler video package at TLC.
The evening's final match was a non-title encounter between tag team champions Team Hell No and Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara. Despite featuring Daniel Bryan, one of the promotion's most talented wrestlers, and Mysterio, who shines with the right opponent, the highlight of the segment was Titus O'Neil on commentary. ‘The Big Deal’ was hilarious. His charisma and quick wit were a revelation. He deserves more mic time if he can get results like that.
Darren Young was also at the commentary booth.
The PTPs ran in at the end to cause a disqualification. They ruined what had been an enjoyable match but the decision was understandable: WWE wanted to protect both babyface teams. A clean loss wasn't going to happen.

RAW’s final segment was a celebration of CM Punk’s one year long reign as WWE champion. Throughout the show we had seen clips of Heyman and Punk backstage, preparing for the festivities. The in-ring stuff kicked off with Heyman berating the fans for booing him. It was solid heel microphone work. CM Punk was then introduced to the predictable mix of boos and cheers.
A Paul Heyman guy
The champ stated that holding the championship for a year is just the beginning. Apparently he won’t stop until he is the longest reigning champion ever. Good luck with that. Bruno Sammartino, who was referenced by name by both Punk and Heyman, held the WWWF world title twice, his second reign lasting just under three and a half years and his first lasting nearly eight years.

As good as Punk is and as heavily pushed as he’s been over the last seventeen months I cannot see him lasting that long as champion. The modern wrestling approach simply wouldn’t see it happen. It doesn’t matter though because the comments were made in character. I’m beginning to think there’s a chance he’ll squeak by The Rock at the Royal Rumble but I still think it’s likely he’ll drop the title by or at WrestleMania XXIX.

The party was broken up by Ryback. ‘Big Hungry’ stomped down to the ring, presumably wanting to get his hands on Punk. Unfortunately for him he was jumped by Rollins, Ambrose, and Reigns. They again put WWE’s hungriest man through a table and then got into the ring to pose.

Punk acted as though he was nervous around them, leaving the ring as they entered. He overcame that pretty quickly to pose and shout about being the best in the world. The show went off the air with him making this boast while his foot was planted firmly on Ryback’s chest.

As formulaic as it was I enjoyed RAW. There were three matches of a decent length, Barrett and Kingston were given the chance to create a connection with fans through their ring work and Titus O’Neil surprised us with a personality. Even the Cena and AJ stuff didn’t seem as bad as it has in previous weeks.

Although I complained at the top of this article about Punk being overexposed I enjoyed his main event promo. As his title reign had reached such a significant milestone it made sense for a fuss to be made of him. The use of Ryback was good too. It took three guys to take him out and he still has a score to settle with Punk. Presumably that will happen at TLC.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Three is One Too Many

The October 22nd episode of RAW drew the worst (non-holiday) ratings the show has received in fifteen years. It got a 2.48 ratings, averaging 3.55 million viewers. That may seem like a big number but when you consider the amount of homes RAW is available in and, more importantly, the sort of viewing figures the programme has enjoyed in the past it seems less impressive.

If this news isn’t enough to make WWE seriously reconsider their approach to the content of their flagship show I don’t know what is.

Since being extended to three hours in July RAW’s viewing figures have progressively declined. I’m sure that the biggest reason for this is that three straight hours of wrestling every week is just too much. I’ve been watching for over a decade and write thousands of words on the subject every month and I don’t feel the need for a show of that length on a weekly basis. Casual fans certainly aren’t going to want that much.

Another part of the problem is almost certainly that although the programme is now an hour longer there are no new acts appearing. CM Punk and John Cena still monopolise the show, with other performers each getting their regular allotted appearances. It’s formulaic and predictable. There is no feeling of spontaneity or unpredictability. RAW exists only to maintain its own status quo from week to week.

The answer is simple. Take one of Punk and Cena’s weekly segments away and aggressively push new acts. Give them interesting or intriguing characters to portray. Provide viewers with new favourite wrestlers and reasons to tune in. The recent introduction of Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins is a good start but can’t be deemed a success until it’s made clear the three aren’t going to be wasted.

Longer matches would help too. This is something WWE has already begun to do over the last couple of months, with at least one mid-card match per episode getting around fifteen minutes. It should help to keep the core audience happy and encourage new fans (additions to that core audience) who discover that they – gasp – like professional wrestling as well as sports entertainment soap opera. There’s room for both, especially on a three hour show.
Barrett and Kingston were given a lengthy match on last night's RAW
Announcing big matches a week or two in advance and hyping them isn’t a bad idea either. This would be a lot simpler if WWE didn’t have so many pay-per-views to promote but that’s not going to change any time soon. Hyped TV matches don’t have to feature world titles though.

WWE could announce a Randy Orton v Alberto Del Rio cage match for two weeks’ time. That could attract viewers and advance their ongoing rivalry. Or Kofi Kingston could be attacked by Damien Sandow after successfully defending his title on RAW, prompting a match between the two to be announced for the next week.

Changes need to be made to RAW, and quickly. If not the entire three hour move could prove to be the show’s undoing.

Saturday 17 November 2012

SmackTalk 16.11.12

This week's episode of SmackDown was the best in quite a while. It made a nice change to the inadequate, shoddy and boring show it's morphed into over the last few months.
There were a couple of things that contributed to this being an above average entry. First and foremost was WWE's decision to feature a wider variety of stars. Damien Sandow, Team Hell No and Dolph Ziggler have all been noticeable by their absence on the blue brand recently. They're the guys who need more exposure. They should be on every week.
The show long story was a good move too. It meant there was hype for the Team Foley versus Team Ziggler clash at tomorrow's Survivor Series and also meant there was a logical reason for most of the matches that were taking place. Usually I'm not fussed about matches having a reason to happen, because you'd expect wrestling matches to take place on a wrestling show, but it does help to occasionally have a linking theme.
Damien Sandow and Kofi Kingston put together a tidy opener. Hopefully 'The Intellectual Saviour's' victory will lead to a championship match in the future. Randy Orton and The Miz v Alberto Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler ranged from okay to very good depending on who was in the ring. ADR tended to slow the match down and create crowd disinterest while The Miz's trademark moves got a great reaction from his hometown fans once the bout got going. He'd struggled to gain cheers earlier in the evening but after seeing him wrestle as a babyface I'm confident the turn will work out for the best.
The tag bout ended with 'The Awesome One' tagging himself in and getting the win with a Skull Crushing Finale (a move that needs a status boost if it's to function as a finisher for a featured good guy). This irked 'The Apex Predator' who responded by hitting Miz with an RKO.

Hopefully this is an indicator of how Miz will behave as a face. If he remains a glory-seeking, self-aggrandising braggart he will be different to every other WWE guy in a similar spot but should still get over. Fans already love his catchphrases and the same approach (weekly boasts about being the best) were standard from Rob Van Dam when he became a good guy in ECW in the late 90s.
It would be nice if this was the beginning of a rivalry between Miz and 'The Viper'. 'The Most Must-See WWE Superstar' would benefit from working with a reinvigorated Orton and it would be a fresh programme for fans (they've feuded before but never with this heel-face situation). Hopefully the story will be progressed at Survivor Series. Maybe Miz's glory-hunting will result in Orton getting pinned and he'll retaliate with another RKO, signalling a heel turn and a new feud. 
Finally there was a brief tussle between Kane and Wade Barrett. Barrett's teammates quickly ran out to cause a DQ before Team Foley made the save and a low key brawl gave us our final teaser for the traditional Survivor Series match.
Elsewhere on the show the remaining core roster Divas clashed in a six woman tag. The girls got more time than usual and were far better than I expected. Kaitlyn won with a reverse DDT to keep her looking strong for her title challenge on Sunday. Had she had a couple more matches over the last few weeks and won them all with that move then it could have been established as a potential finisher. Something to bear in mind for the future, that.
Antonio Cesaro defeated Sin Cara with ease in match number five. R-Truth was on commentary and there was a standard exchange between the two after 'The Swiss Superman' got his win. They're having a decent feud considering how little is made of the prize they're fighting over.
Unfortunately the main event was a letdown. The Great Khali returned from weeks of absence to face World champ the Big Show. 'The World's Most Rotund Athlete' won with a WMD. 'The Punjabi Playboy' rolled around after absorbing the blow and was clearly conscious as Josh Mathews and JBL talked about how he was out cold. It was ridiculous.
After the match Show sauntered backstage to be battered by Sheamus. This was the climax to the episode's other story, which had seen 'Great White' challenging Show to a fight in the car park. Booker T had inexplicably stopped this occurring (babyface authority figures aiding heels never makes sense). Sheamus got his own way in the end and looked like a cheap shot artist in doing so. Still, at least it was done to build up the WHC clash at Survivor Series. It wasn't completely pointless.
More of this approach to writing SmackDown please, WWE. Only next time give us more Daniel Bryan.

Intro video

Tweet 1: Forget Children in Need, Friday night is SmackDown night!
Tweet 2: Recaps. It's all about seven minute recaps.
Tweet 3: Big Show holding the belt over his head is definitely going to keep peopel tuning in.

Miz TV, featuring Team Foley and Team Ziggler

Tweet 4: Crowd seems dead for Miz. Not a great sign for that face turn...
Tweet 5: I like the "Miz is awesome" chants. Always have. TNA wishes they had him.
Tweet 6: Foley needs to drop this lack of dress sense gimmick.
Tweet 7: Foley looks like Lou Albano.
Tweet 8: Charles Dickens reference. That'll go down well with wrestling fans.
Tweet 9: Orton's expression is one of utter disdain for this entire storyline.
Tweet 10: This segment is awful. Absolutely awful.

Nice little shot of Team Foley, no?

Tweet 11: I'm pleased Miz is calling Kofi out on his cheap shot last week. What sort of babyface turns down a handshake?
Tweet 12: No Cody Rhodes for Survivor Series. How about giving his spot to Ricardo?
Tweet 13: Alberto Del Rio doesn't like Dolph Siggler.
Tweet 14: "You have a braided neon mute who now claims he has the ability to fly" - Damien Sandow
Tweet 15: So we don't get to see a Daniel Bryan match even though he is the most talented of the nine wrestlers? Brilliant. Thanks, Mick.

Damien Sandow v Kofi Kingston

Tweet 16: Crisp arm drags. Steamboat's beaming from ear to ear in the back.
Tweet 17: I think Kofi and Roderick Strong would have a great match. Dunno what made me think that. Don't think it'll ever happen, sadly.
Tweet 18: Does that mean Sandow will get a title match at some point? He did just pin the champ.

Kaitlyn, Natalya and Layla v Alicia Fox, Aksana and Eve Torres

Tweet 19: This is literally the entire Divas division in one match. They really need to promote some NXT girls sharpish.
Tweet 20: Alicia Fox is back to being a heel again? She turns more often than Kane.
Tweet 21: Did Eve just try to do Rolling Thunder?
Tweet 22: Kaitlyn gets a sloppy pin on Alicia after a wonky reverse DDT. That proves she has a chance at winning the title you know?

Sheamus lurks in a car park

Tweet 23: Sheamus comes across as a bit simple in backstage promos.
Tweet 24: I can honestly say I don't care about Sheamus and Big Show having a fight in a car park.
Tweet 25: I'd prefer them to have a car park fight than a PPV match though. It would mean we don't have to watch them.

Randy Orton and The Miz v Alberto Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler

Tweet 26: Albertoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Delllllllll Riiiiioooooooooo!!
Tweet 27: I predict a face win.
Tweet 28: I want Rosa Mendes to walk to ringside and start cheering on ADR, with the commentators discussing what her motives could be.
Tweet 29: The fans have warmed up to The Miz. His face turn looks better now.
Tweet 30: Ricardo Rodriguez is about the only thing tolerable about Del Rio these days. He even makes pushing a man back into the ring entertaining.
Tweet 31: Miz's face character needs to be booked like this all the time. He should always want to be the centre of attention. Makes him different.
Tweet 32: I hope that RKO leads to a heel turn and feud with Miz for Orton.

Sheamus in-ring promo

Tweet 34: Sheamus doesn't like Show because Show is a bully. Aren't all heels bullies?
Tweet 35: When did Big Show arrive? Why was it not televised?! What's the point of having camera guys in the car park if they're not used?!
Tweet 36: What is Booker's problem? Why is he being such a killjoy?
Tweet 37: Don't boo Booker T, you should be booing yourselves!
Tweet 38: Sheamus should have shouted "I respect you Booker man!"

Booker T and Big Show backstage

Tweet 39: Booker backstage making a tag match there. He should've brought in Teddy for that task.
Tweet 40: Who will Big Show face in the main event? My guess: Susan Boyle.

Kane v Wade Barrett

Tweet 41: No Barrett ring coat this week. I apologise on Barrett's behalf.
Tweet 42: All the heels run in. I am having a flashback to ECW.
Tweet 43: Little fact here: Kofi Kingston has had a pay-per-view match against everyone he's in the ring with right now except Damien Sandow.
Tweet 44: Not a good fact I know.

Antonio Cesaro v Sin Cara

Tweet 45: Antonio Cesaro… Heeeey!
Tweet 46: Sin Cara remains alluring.
Tweet 47: "Right now Cesaro has his hands full" - R-Truth as Cesaro rubbed Sin cara's face into the mat

The kravat, ladies and gentlemen

Tweet 48: Maybe Lenny Henry will be facing Big Show...
Tweet 49: Sin Cara needs to understand that the audience doesn't care about him.
Tweet 50: WWE fans like to see the eyes of the men they're expected to cheer.
Tweet 51: Truth has underrated entrance music.

Big Show v The Great Khali

Tweet 52: Big Show v Bobby Davro? Big Show v Paul Burrell? Big Show v Graham Norton? Endless possibilities.
Tweet 53: Khali can't even WALK convincingly!
Tweet 54: Khali with an inept attempt at a lockup there.
Tweet 55: Why is the main event the worst match of the night?
Tweet 56: Prediction: Khali will win via moonsault.
Tweet 57: Josh claims Khali has been knocked unconcious yet he's rolling around with his eyes open clearly fine. Somebody teach him to sell.
Tweet 58: Where is Sheamus? WHERE? I want him to do a Sting-style rafters entrance.

Matt Striker practicees his Scott Hall impression

Tweet 59: JBL just referenced the Punjabi Prison match. Never a good sign...
Tweet 60: And we finally get to see Sheamus and Show brawl in a car park! Excellent.
Tweet 61: Sheamus just no-selling being thrown through glass there.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Neutral Push

I like the booking pattern that has emerged for Antonio Cesaro since he captured the United States title on the SummerSlam pre-show in August. Instead of easily dominating everyone  he faces as most of WWE's champions do 'The Swiss Superman' routinely loses non-title matches on RAW and SmackDown. He then gains a win, occasionally a tainted one, in a rematch against the challenger.
This has happened most notably with Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel. It allows the challengers to get some TV time and enjoy a short feud. It also shows that Cesaro is fallible. That's nice to see in a champion in WWE.
I'm enjoying the treatment of Cesaro for more than just the approach to his win-loss record. He's being given a chance to get into the ring and wrestle for a relatively long amount of time, which isn't that common. Not only that but he's getting to wrestle a style not dissimilar to the one we saw him use in ROH. That's not what I expected when he signed with WWE. 
The recent vignettes in which he banishes American landmarks from "his" America are even better. They're a nice way of making the United States championship stand out. Which is needed because it is arguably the promotion's most meaningless strap.
The trouble (there's always a trouble) is that this approach has led to any babyface being pitted against Cesaro as being heralded as the next guy to receive a meaningful push. It would be great if the likes of Kidd, Gabriel, and, most recently, R-Truth were given a chance to prove to audiences that they can win as well as perform well. Unfortunately every decision WWE makes indicates that creating a mid-card in which guys can get over is very low on their list of priorities.

Taping his right hand helps him remember all those languages
Both Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel have been rumoured for a strong babyface push at different junctures this year. They were going to be used as a tag team back in the spring. Then Kidd was going to being a player on the heels of his qualification for Money in the Bank (which, in hindsight, happened so that there was someone in the match other than Dolph Ziggler who could perform some stunts). Then the two were going to be a combo again when the doubles scene began receiving attention thanks to Kane and Daniel Bryan. Finally Justin Gabriel scored that non-title win over Antonio Cesaro, which was seen as WWE "getting serious" about making 'The Werewolf of Cape Town' a star.
It has been a parade of false dawns. Nothing more.
The truth is that it is always very obvious when WWE wants to make something of someone. Look at Ryback. Look at Sheamus. Those are the sorts of pushes WWE gives guys it has plans for. For now we’re going to have to satisfy ourselves with Cesaro getting regular pay-per-view outings against underutilised yet talented wrestlers. It’s not all bad.