Thursday 31 January 2013

434

Several wrestlers are associated with numbers. Rey Mysterio wrestles with 619 written on his gear and performs a move of the same name. Ric Flair was famously a sixteen time world champion. 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin is synonymous with the number 3:16.
 
As of Sunday 27th January CM Punk can join that list, his claim to numerical fame being his 434 day reign as WWE champion. The length of individual reigns are not usually noted by wrestlers or fans. Sometimes a longer time elapses between title switches than others, but it's never really noteworthy. Most of the time a title run is remembered as long, short or average.
 
Punk's second WWE title run is a different story for two reasons. Firstly the ongoing counter became a defining attribute of Punk’s character. There were updates every Monday night on RAW telling us how long the historic reign had lasted. The final tally will always be an essential part of this period of Punk’s career.


The second reason this number will be linked to Punk is slightly more abstract. He is now the sixth longest reigning WWE champion ever.  Whenever anyone looks back in the history books of professional wrestling and WWE (by which I mean Wikipedia) they will see the name CM Punk.
 
The former champ
 
Putting the numbers aside (because that sort of theme will only get a blog entry so far) Punk deserves an enormous amount of credit for his impressive reign. Yes, wrestling is a predetermined sport and as such he never went into a defence without knowing he would leave as champion so it wasn’t an accomplishment in a sporting sense. His feat was not accomplished with defences in the ring, it was made by navigating the multiple perils and pitfalls of WWE backstage politics.

Surviving more than a few months as WWE champion is not an easy task. WWE is a company with a proven track record for preferring title reigns that last, on average, no more than a few months. Lasting from Survivor Series through WrestleMania Season is an accomplishment in itself, as is avoiding dropping the belt to the ever-present threat that is John Cena. That Punk won his second title with no plan in place to drop it got him off to a good start, but somewhere along the way he must have played the game to some extent. And he won. Good on him.

Punk kept himself relevant and interesting in the champion role for well over a year, rarely entered duff performances, and made the company’s number one prize meaningful again. Years of inconsequential reigns, arbitrary title switches, and champions who didn’t act like they had won anything special devalued the WWE title. Punk’s lengthy time at the top and the clear importance of the championship to him rejuvenated the belt and cemented ‘The Second City Saint’ as a top line act in WWE.

Nobody will beat CM Punk’s 434 day reign for quite some time, nor should they. He lived the WWE Dream™. He was given the fabled opportunity and fashioned it into a memorable run at the top that raised his already considerably high profile. As we’ve seen over the last decade, men who can do that are few and far between.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

That RAW Recap 28.01.13

This is blog post 434. Considering the title reign that ended on Sunday night I feel that warrants a mention.

The January 28th RAW was never going to hit the heady heights of the Royal Rumble. The previous evening’s pay-per-view was WWE’s greatest show in months, failing to deliver a single duff match and setting several of the company’s key figures off on the Road to WrestleMania in spectacular fashion. RAW could be great, but it couldn’t be better.

Thankfully WWE didn’t let its audience down. It delivered a hot show for the second night in a row, aided and abetted by a loud and receptive crowd in Las Vegas.

The evening kicked off with former WWE champion CM Punk storming down to the ring with Paul Heyman in tow. Taking a microphone Punk announced that it was day 435 of his title reign because he had beaten The Rock at the Rumble. Which was true, if you overlook the fact that the match was restarted (which Punk stated was “illegal”). Punk then stated that because of his victory he was the new, and reigning, People’s champion.

Moments later Punk indirectly acknowledged that he was not the WWE champion anymore, which made his previous statements odd. It was another case on a growing list of Punk being given a little too much free rein on the microphone. Contradictory promos like this do neither him nor the company any favours.

Vince McMahon interrupted Punk’s vague ranting to inform him, Heyman and the crowd that he would be giving Heyman a performance review later on in the evening. Yes, Paul Heyman, who had returned to the company as an independently hired legal advisor to Brock Lesnar before entering into an independent managerial relationship with Punk, was going to be subjected to an employee performance review. That’s WWE logic for you.

Hour two of the show kicked off with John Cena handing Cody Rhodes a quick loss. ‘The Magnificence of Moustachioed Excellence’ had had a very productive evening in the Royal Rumble match the night before so of course that good work had to be undone by Cena. If it hadn’t been then maybe Rhodes could have been seen as a rising star. Cena can’t be having that.

Following the tussle ‘The Franchise’ grabbed a microphone and cut a promo that was almost, but not quite, as bizarre as the one he cut last week to hype the Rumble match. Cena went to painstaking lengths to make it clear that if he wrestles either The Rock or CM Punk for the WWE championship the odds will be against him. He lost his one and only match against ‘The Great One’ and has fallen to Punk the last six times they’ve clashed.

I’ve no idea why Cena was scripted to come out with this rubbish. Firstly his mention of facing Punk was irrelevant. The Rock is the current champ so he’s the one Cena would be facing. Punk could regain the title by WrestleMania but Cena didn’t phrase things that way. The way he was talking it was as though Punk v Rock was still yet to happen.

Cena’s words also did no favours to Alberto Del Rio. ‘The CeNation Leader’ didn’t mention the World Heavyweight champion by name but he did say that he had a better statistical chance of winning that title. In other words ADR is not in the same league as The Rock or CM Punk. That’s true, he’s not. But Cena shouldn’t be saying it.

The Rumble winner milked his decision for a few seconds before announcing that he would challenge for the WWE championship at WrestleMania XXIX. Yes, Cena will go against the odds and try to become an eleven time WWE champ!

The Shield ran in to attack Cena. He fought them off for a moment, because he’s John Cena. Eventually he went down and Sheamus and Ryback came out to make the save. They got flattened too. A Shield v Cena and two partners match at Elimination Chamber seems a strong possibility. ‘Big Hungry’ would be a likely second man for the face team. Sheamus could be a third but he’s just as likely to go into the SmackDown WHC bout. Then again we could just see a three-on-two handicap match.

The Rock came out to make a well received victory speech. He put over being an eight time champion as the most prestigious accolade of his career. That was exactly the right approach. Making it clear that title means something to him makes it mean more in the eyes of fans. If that’s the case then people are more likely to care when a title change occurs. As WWE expects people to pay money to watch title defences that’s a good thing.
Something tells me this guy won't be having a 434 day title reign
Punk crashed the party to call Rock a thief. He said he would grant The Rock a rematch at Elimination Chamber, another comment that was probably supposed to make a deep and meaningful sense but didn’t. Rock agreed. Perhaps Cena’s promo was originally due to go on after this exchange. That would explain why he was uncertain who he’d face despite there being no announced return bout when he opened his gob.

A singles match at Elimination Chamber is absolutely the right thing for the show. Putting Punk and Rock into a Chamber bout together would dilute the importance of their rivalry. It would also result in numerous performers being treated like jobbers in order to clear the way for Rock and Punk to clash as the final two men in the cage. Considering the thin spread of headliners on the current roster it’d be a struggle to lash together two Chamber bouts anyway. Better to concentrate the star power in an Elimination Chamber for the World Heavyweight belt.

The evening ended with Vince McMahon’s performance review of Paul Heyman. The former ECW boss admitted that he lies every day because he is a promoter. That is, apparently, the sole defining trait of people in this line of work. Well, that and promoting.

Vince asked Heyman if he was involved with either Brad Maddox or The Shield. Heyman said he was not. The chairman then introduced backstage footage that revealed that Heyman was lying. It saw Heyman in a dimly lit area of an arena (in LA according to Vince) telling Maddox that his services are no longer required.

Maddox had apparently been manoeuvred into position as a referee by Punk and Heyman with the intention of having him aid ‘The Voice of the Voiceless’ in title defences, including at Hell in a Cell (which he did). But instead of being happy to aid the champ as and when required Maddox had constantly badgered him for cash.

Heyman then introduced The Shield, who were happy to be paid as and when they were offered “work”. The trio then battered Maddox and his cameraman as Heyman wandered off.

I liked this reveal. I like the concept of Punk using NXT as his own personal recruitment service. I liked Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns being depicted as hired mercenaries. At this point it’s the best way to go with their characters. It allows them to move away from having mysterious motives and getting on with having more conventional feuds (such as their developing problems with Sheamus and Ryback) while still allowing them to interfere in larger matches. It also created a reason for The Brad Maddox Experience to happen in the first place.
Vince doesn't like selling. We're lucky he didn't do a kip up
Vince went to fire Heyman only to be interrupted by the entrance music of Brock Lesnar. ‘The Pain’ sauntered to the ring and stood nose-to-nose with Vince. Heyman tried to talk his charge out of whatever his plans were (it was played as though he had no knowledge of what Lesnar was doing, although considering what had just happened that’s probably not the case). Naturally the 67-year-old Vince didn’t back down to the former UFC champion. That’s not his style. Because of this lack of humility, and sense, Vince was hoisted up to take an F5.

Lesnar then stood back up and did his trademark Irish jig before exiting the ring. RAW went off the air with a pensioner lying motionless in the ring.

The build to Triple H v Brock Lesnar II has begun, as has the Road to WrestleMania.

Monday 28 January 2013

Royal Rumble 2013 review

WWE are going to find it tough to top the Royal Rumble on pay-per-view this year. Every match on the show met expectations and two, in my opinion, surpassed them. The company’s going to need something special up its sleeve if WrestleMania XXIX is to achieve that.

The evening opened with the World Heavyweight championship match between Alberto Del Rio and Big Show. ADR had dethroned ‘The Giant’ in a Last Man standing bout at the January 8th SmackDown taping, which made them clashing under Last man Standing rules again here a little puzzling. What was even odder was that WWE had neither emphasised the gimmick reuse nor tried to hide it. It was as though it was simply an oversight that the two were facing off in the same sort of match again so soon.

The match was an improvement on their SmackDown battle. As that was a good match bettering it was quite an achievement. The two started out with a heated, pacey exchange in the ring, notable for Del Rio doing more top rope manoeuvres than we’re used to from him (designed to solidify his babyface position), before Show grabbed a chair.

That started phase two of the match. The champ got the chair off the challenger following a swift kick and then battered him with numerous shots. Soon after the two were out at ringside for a spot of brawling. Show went all CZW and cracked ‘The Latin Hero’ with a light tube in the entrance area, proving it was a real light by smashing it to pieces after he’d belted Del Rio. Moments later the two were on top of a piece of entrance scaffolding for ADR to take a choke slam through a table.

Both were impressive spots which combined to create a convincing false finish, not something easily done in a Last Man Standing match. This was even more impressive when you consider how certain everyone was that Del Rio was going to win.
 
This match featured a lot of chair shots
 
Back at ringside Ricardo took an impressive bump into the barricade before ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ ploughed through one himself. ‘The Essence of Excellence’ went back to his trusty chair shots to wear Show out before rolling him back into the ring and applying the cross armbreaker. With that locked in Ricardo taped Show’s feet to the bottom rope with duct tape. The champ then released the hold and stood up to get the victory.

It was a slightly iffy finish that didn’t really do much to help get ADR over as a valiant babyface but the rest of the bout was great. Del Rio and Rodriguez have moved into their new roles far better than I thought they would while Big Show is proving that he’s not only a late bloomer but also a worthy addition to the main event under the right circumstances.

Backstage Matt Striker was scared off from interviewing Dolph Ziggler by Big E Langston. ‘The Show Off’ revealed he’d enter the Rumble at number one. He then announced his plan to win the Rumble, cash-in his Money in the Bank case, win the World title, and unify the two world titles at WrestleMania. The segment was also memorable for Big E doing a comedy reporter voice that showed why he’s so rarely given mic time.

Match two was the WWE tag team title match. Team Hell No defended their belts against the Rhodes Scholars. I’d said before the event that the best result for this one would be a title change. That would have provided a reason for the teams to keep their feud going and given the doubles scene a boost it’s needed for a month or two.

The match itself was enjoyable. It was slightly better than what you’d get from these teams on TV. I’m not entirely sure what’s next for them all now. Team Hell No have between the Scholars so many times that continuing the programme seems pointless. It’s possible the Scholars will be split, considering what happened to Cody in the Rumble (which will be discussed below). WWE seem intent on milking the Kane and Bryan comedy for all its worth even though their partnership became largely unamusing months ago.

Match three was the Royal Rumble match itself. Pleasingly, it was a far better effort than last year’s. It had a more predictable winner, yes, but the pacing was better and there were a larger number of meaningful names involved.

‘The Heel’ kicked things off with a brief promo about how he was going to win and didn’t want to wait a minute and a half for entrant number two. He demanded the second man be sent out straight away.

It was Chris Jericho.

‘Y2J’ received one of the biggest pops of the night and was incredibly over throughout his lengthy stay in the multi-man battle. Ziggler sold Jericho’s appearance perfectly. They were joined by Cody Rhodes, Kofi Kingston and Santino. ‘The Milan Miracle’ got the dubious honour of being the first man eliminated from the bout, with ‘The Dashing One’ picking up the accolade of first man to make an elimination.

Drew McIntyre and Titus O’Neil bulked up the numbers before the surprise return of Goldust at number eight. He and Rhodes, half-brothers, immediately targeted one another (Rhodes would eventually eliminate ‘The Golden One’). The crowd were far more into this than I would have thought. Both men lobbied to face off at WrestleMania XXVIII last year. After the reaction their battle in the Rumble received perhaps they’ll get their wish this year.

David Otunga and Heath Slater were in next, followed by Sheamus at number eleven. ‘Great White’ got a loud and positive reaction, which surely had to be at least in part because he was the first potential winner and genuine main eventer to appear since Ziggler and Jericho. He made quick work of O’Neil and Otunga, eliminating them via his ten punch in the ropes spot. That was as nauseating as it sounds.

Tensai and Brodus Clay followed ‘The Celtic Warrior’ in. The former IWGP and GHC tag team champion was eliminated fairly quickly by Kofi Kingston, proving that he will never again be a featured performer in WWE. ‘The Funkasaurus’ was eliminated via team effort. Why he was given even that much protection is beyond me. WWE gave up on him months ago.

As “Fat Albert” lollygagged at ringside Kofi was booted off of the apron by Ziggler. He avoided exiting the match by landing on Tensai’s back. From there he got onto the Spanish announce table. It looked as though he was going to try leaping from there to the apron. In the end that didn’t happen. He shuffled back to the ring on JBL’s chair.

The sequence was decidedly less spectacular than the handstand one Kofi was a part of last year.

Rey Mysterio and Darren Young were numbers fourteen and fifteen. The masked man may as well not have bothered. He did nothing memorable and clearly wasn’t in the shape as he usually is. The spot would have been better used on someone who could have gotten a return pop (such as Christian, Mark Henry or Jack Swagger) or benefited from the exposure (such as R-Truth or Yoshi Tatsu).

Bo Dallas was next. Never heard of him? Most people haven’t. He’s an NXT guy who won a tournament to earn a spot in the Rumble. He ended up eliminating Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett, which probably indicates he’ll be sticking around on the main roster to feud with the man from Preston. That could be good. It could certainly help establish Dallas as a meaningful member of the roster.

Speaking of Barrett he entered at eighteen, one after The Godfather. Yes, The Godfather. Being a surprise entrant he was always going to get a huge response but I wouldn’t have guessed it’d be this big. He lasted around three seconds once he finally got into the ring. His music didn’t even cut off, meaning he got to exit to it as well. Yeah, Godfather went a little New Jack on us.

John Cena went in at nineteen and predictably blasted through everyone. He quickly eliminated Cody Rhodes, who had been having a decent night until this point, and Heath Slater. It could have been worse. While Cena flattened everyone at least his number of immediate eliminations were kept mercifully low.

‘The Franchise’ was followed by Damien Sandow, Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro, The Great Khali, Kane, and Zack Ryder. It was a quiet patch as far as big names were concerned, broken by the entrance of Randy Orton at twenty six. The match was rounded out by Jinder Mahal, The Miz, Sin Cara and Ryback.

‘Big Hungry’ aside it was a fairly anti-climactic final few.

The clean-up process started. Ryback made quick work of Sin Cara, Damien Sandow and ‘The Awesome One’ and would eventually eliminate ‘The Viper’ during the Final Four Sequence™. Ziggler superkicked ‘The Highlight of the Night’ out of the bout. ‘The Apex Predator’ went out to a meathook clothesline after a failed RKO attempt on Ryback. The last four men in were Ziggler, Cena, Ryback and Sheamus. The ironically nicknamed ‘Sole Survivor’ was tossed out by Sheamus, who was thrown out a few minutes later by Ryback.

That left ‘The Human Wrecking Ball’ alone with Cena.

It had been fairly obvious going in that Cena would win the Rumble to begin the setup for his rematch with The Rock. With that in mind it made sense to have him throw Ryback out last. As one of the most heavily pushed men of the past several months it just seemed possible that WWE could swerve its audience and have Ryback win. The possibility of him challenging for the WHC helped there: it would have allowed someone other than Cena to win without Rock v Cena II being affected.
 
As usual ring psychology deserted Mr Cena
 
That’s not what happened though. WWE went with the predictable Cena victory. On the surface that’s not something to be thrilled about. Cena won yet another match that could have been used to elevate someone else on the roster. Yes, it’s an annoyance, but it’s not that bad a move. Everyone suspected WWE would start building towards the Rock and Cena rematch. Doing so has allowed them to keep the direction of the World title feud a secret for a while longer. Had anybody but Cena won we would have kknown months ahead of the event who would be in both world title matches, rather than just one.

Considering how little attention was paid to the Rumble match itself in the build-up to the event I think WWE turned out an astonishingly good instalment. There weren’t as many surprise entrants as I’d expected but the ones that did participate all made sense and weren’t just frivolous inclusions. They all contributed something, whether it was the simple pop of The Godfather or the lengthy spell of Chris Jericho (done in part to ensure there was a veteran present to lead proceedings).

The Rock cut a pre-match promo in the style of a televangelist which saw him declare he’d become the new WWE champion. He also mentioned his doomed football career and that his mother was present and suffering from cancer. So that was something.

CM Punk was given another reason to complain about being disrespected when he was sent out to the ring first. Traditionally the champion goes out last. I can only assume tradition goes out of the window when a Hollywood movie star is the challenger.
 
This guy brings it. Whatever "it" is...
 
The match was far better than ‘The Great One’s’ outing against John Cena at ‘Mania last year. It started off with the two dashing into the centre of the ring and peppering one another with shots. The crowd were split but it was immediately clear that more spectators favoured The Rock over Punk.

A good portion of Attitude Era shortcuts were employed. There was a healthy amount of ringside brawling, outside interference from Paul Heyman, and a very relaxed approach to count outs from Mike Chioda. All that was missing was a ref bump.

The way in which The Rock sold Punk’s kicks was noteworthy. He made it look like they, y’know, actually hurt. It was a far cry from John Cena’s reaction to them. For that matter it was a far cry from ‘The Brahma Bull’s’ lacklustre selling of Miz and R-Truth’s offence at Survivor Series 2011.

Predictably the fast pace couldn’t be held indefinitely. Rock went down to a rest hold within the first five minutes. ‘The Second City Saint’ remained in control for the next several minutes by concentrating on Rock’s mid-section. A storyline tweak of Punk’s “surgically repaired” knee created an opening for the challenger. Rock went after the knee with stomps. Punk retaliated with a suicide dive to the outside, handily obliterating the illusion of the knee being injured.

Punk went for a GTS. Rock countered with a Sharpshooter attempt. That was rolled into the Anaconda Vice, giving us one of the match’s slickest wrestling moments. Rock went for another Rock Bottom, only to have Punk reverse into a crucifix. Rock rolled through that pin attempt and finally locked in the Sharpshooter. Punk escaped sold for a bit before escaping.

They made their way outside and onto the Spanish announce table. Punk signalled for a GTS but ‘The Great One’ snatched him in for a Rock Bottom. That didn’t end up happening: the table collapsed. Kofi Kingston was probably to blame. They did the move again on the mats to set up a Rock near fall back in the ring.

Moments later Rock nailed the spinebuster and went for a People’s Elbow. The crowd naturally roared their approval. Seconds before he connected the lights went out. Was it the Undertaker? Sabu? Brad Maddox?

No, it was The Shield. Or so we were told by Michael Cole. We couldn’t be sure ourselves because the lights didn’t come back on. Cole, now a babyface (and, apparently, a man with the ability to see in the dark), had no reason to lie though, and whoever the three men were they power bombed The Rock through the remaining announce table. Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose certainly seemed likely suspects.

The lights came back up and we saw Punk lying in the ring laughing. Cole continued screeching at ringside as Punk retrieved his challenger and pinned him in the ring to retain the WWE championship.

Punk and Heyman celebrated in the ring until Vinnie Mac power walked his way out and reminded everyone that he had ruled Punk would be stripped of the title should The Shield interfere. He begun making the announcement but was interrupted by The Rock. ‘The Great One’ demanded the match be restarted so that he, not Vince, could take the belt from Punk. If there’s one thing Vince loves it’s a celebrity so he restarted the match.

Punk launched himself at the ring, stomping and choking him before hitting his corner knee and the Macho Elbow. Rock, naturally, kicked out. Punk signalled for a Go to Sleep but Rock slipped out and hit a spinebuster followed by a People’s Elbow for the three. Punk’s 434 day title reign ended in a fittingly big fight atmosphere and a fittingly big event.

As much as I would have liked to see CM Punk retain the WWE championship I can’t deny this was the right finish. The crowd went wild for The Rock’s win, and having the number one title in the company on a legitimate movie star during WWE’s peak period is going to help the WrestleMania buy rate. Punk had to drop the belt sooner or later, at least this way it was in a big match to a big name opponent that should have earned WWE a large amount of money.

Although the post-Rumble RAW hasn’t aired yet it seems reasonable to assume that the Rock v Cena rematch is going to be setup for WrestleMania. That leaves Punk free to head into a clash with the Undertaker, after failing to regain the title at Elimination Chamber of course.

These two matches are predictable, yes, but that doesn’t make them bad. Cena and Rock could improve on their match from last year by modelling their rematch on the Rumble main event. Setting a quick pace for the first several minutes before going to rest holds and ringside brawling is a model that allows for shortcuts. Rock’s a very charismatic man, but he’s not the wrestler he once was. Shortcuts are of great benefit to him. Meanwhile Cena is Cena. He always needs shortcuts.

The rematch isn’t my idea of a great match, but then I’m not WWE’s only customer. The chances are that if you’re reading this blog you probably don’t want to see Rock v Cena II either. But we’re in the minority. Most of WWE’s fanbase are kids and casual viewers, most of whom want to see Cena get his win back on The Rock, or at least interested in the potential of a return outing, and will pay to see him do it.

Punk and Undertaker should be a great match if it happens. The now former champion has been elevated so much over the past year that I think with the right build a decent number of people could be convinced that he’ll end ‘The Dead Man’s’ Streak.

As I noted above the rest of the card is a blissful blank. Yes we have two long rumoured bouts looking more certain than ever, but that’s not a bad thing when the rest of the card’s a complete mystery. WWE have all but confirmed the two matches that are most going to sell WrestleMania XXIX and left themselves free to reveal the rest of the show at their own pace. It’s a smart move that should make television shows interesting for the next month or so.

Royal Rumble was a success in the ring and out. It was a good first step on the Road to WrestleMania. That’s everything we could have hoped for.

Sunday 27 January 2013

The Mid-Card Old Guard

Over the last several months we’ve seen more time devoted to the middle of the card in WWE. This used to be one of the promotion’s most reliable areas but as the number of established headliners has dwindled so has the group’s willingness to dedicate time to anyone not a member of the elite. Which has, of course, only made the situation worse: main event stars aren’t made overnight, a thriving mid-card is key to making the stars of tomorrow.

I’m not sure what it is that’s convinced WWE to change their tack. A strong possibility is Triple H’s ascension to Official Number Two. With ‘The Game’ having gained more clout backstage it’s possible this refocus is down to him. His successful reshuffle of the developmental system certainly hints at his involvement.

It could be that WWE are happy with how CM Punk has progressed over the last year and a half. In June 2011 he was a reliable upper mid-card talent. In January 2013 he is the promotion’s number two (regular) star behind John Cena. That’s a decent leap in an impressive amount of time. It happened because of Punk’s hard work and WWE’s decision to give him the chance to prove he could succeed. Perhaps his rise has made them think about other wrestlers making a similar move up the card.

It could simply be that a breaking point was reached and head honcho Vince McMahon realised he needed to create some new stars before a bad situation becomes worse and that paying attention to the lower reaches of the card was the best way of doing that. Cena and Punk are still on TV every Monday night, and The Rock’s with the company on a part time basis. Best to start building up new stars now while people are still watching rather than waiting until Cena and Punk go part time and ‘The Great One’ leaves for good, further denting the viewing numbers.

Whatever has caused WWE to re-evaluate the way they book their mid-card acts I’m pleased they have. It’s been needed for a long time and is crucial to the future success of the promotion and the business in general.

Current beneficiaries of this reshuffle are Wade Barrett, Antonio Cesaro, Damien Sandow, Cody Rhodes, and, of course, Ryback. Each man has, to a greater or lesser extent, has found themselves receiving an increased number of high profile matches and opportunities to impress over the last six months.

Until recently Kofi Kingston was on that list too. For whatever reason I don’t think he can be considered a prominent member of the rising star club anymore. Since dropping the Intercontinental championship clean to Barrett at the Boxing Day RAW recording he has failed to gain any meaningful screen time. Based on the last couple of weeks I think ‘The Wildcat’, who had seemed like he was being treated as something special last autumn, is going to be playing a supporting part for the foreseeable future.

He won’t be the only one. WWE are apparently keen on bringing back several career mid-carders from the past to help the current batch of climbers improve and hone their skills. The rehirees apparently won’t be getting strong pushes of their own, they’ll be there to enhance and guide.

As ideas go it’s not a bad one. Rumoured names such as Shelton Benjamin, Carlito, and MVP would all be perfect for the stated role. All of them have strengths that could be transferred to the likes of Ryback. They’d be like a more active, more televisually prominent crew of road agents. With Shelton and Carlito having been spotted in Phoenix over the last few days there’s a strong chance they’ll make their returns as “surprise” entrants in this evening’s Royal Rumble.
 
Judging by his hair Carlito's been sleeping rough since leaving WWE
 
In addition to those three guys it would be nice to see names like John Morrison, Colt Cabana, Brian Kendrick and Paul London considered too. All could help brighten up the middle of the card. If treated right, and if WWE were willing, these men could stumble into pushes of their own too. It’s hard to see how them getting over and making WWE some money would be bad.

Although, of course, it would be. WWE is very particular about who is awarded pushes these days. This initiative seems to be a way of creating a new level of enhancement talent. The planned rehires likely wouldn’t be getting jobbed out every week but equally it doesn’t sound as though they’d be getting serious pushes. Anyone getting over could be seen as not performing the job they were hired to do: namely to help others gets over.

It’s a double edged sword for anyone heading back to WWE to be a part of this plan. They most likely got into wrestling to make it to WWE and become a significant part of the company. Should they quash their own dreams to get a decent paycheque and help other guys who are perhaps more limited surpass them? That sounds like a bitter pill to swallow.

Hopefully the likes of Shelton Benjamin, who currently seems like the frontrunner to head back to WWE having negotiated his way out of his ROH contract, know what they’re in for and are willing to temper their own abilities in order to aid others. If WWE gives the returning men a little leeway to earn higher spots on the roster this could be just what’s needed to reinvigorate the mid-card and create some new stars, whether they’re chosen ones or not.

Friday 25 January 2013

Next Gen Champ

At the most recent ROH TV tapings Nigel McGuinness told Jay Lethal that the only way he’d be awarded a match for the ROH world title was if reigning champion Kevin Steen agreed. Lethal had been banned from competing for the ROH title while Steen has the belt due to an excessive display of aggression at last year’s Lethal Instinct show. Later on at the tapings Lethal convinced ‘Wrestling’s Worst Nightmare’ to overturn the decision and grant him a match.

As things stand right now Steen versus Lethal for the ROH world championship will take place “sometime in the near future”. Which probably means at the 11th Anniversary Show on March 2nd.

It’s too early to tell whether or not Lethal will come through on the night and, in his mind, restore honour to ROH. This is a good opportunity to create some new headline stars and mix up the top of the card a little, something that many fans have been calling for for a long time now.

Have Lethal beat Steen at the Anniversary Show. It doesn’t have to be a clean victory. In fact it would be better if it were a tainted win for Lethal. That would make him look more desperate as well as revealing his claims to be an honourable man for the lies they are.

It would also allow ‘Mr Wrestling’ to be written off of ROH TV for a couple of months. His character is still incredibly popular but I’m beginning to think a sabbatical would do him some good, dissuading fans from turning on him as they have with other heavily pushed acts in the promotion’s history. It wouldn’t need a storyline explanation, plenty of men have taken a leave of absence after dropping the belt (usually to participate in a lengthy foreign tour that was a contributing factor to them losing their prize in the first place).

From there ROH should immediately begin preparing a new champion. Lethal doesn’t strike me as a long term option for the role and with the last two champions having enjoyed lengthy reigns it’s time for at least one relatively short one.

This approach would allow the company to promote all the big name opponents for Lethal as champion immediately, rather than trying to hold them off so that he has something to do later in his reign. Lethal could tangle with Richards, Edwards, Strong, and Homicide in rapid succession across TV and house shows, taking in his obligatory rematch with Steen along the way.
 
Put your hands in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care 
 
You may have noticed Michael Elgin’s name is conspicuous by its absence from that list. The long-winded answer for this is available here. The short reason is that I think if Elgin loses another world title match in ROH then it will be practically impossible to establish him as the dominant headline force he deserved to be last year.

Lethal’s short reign could (and should) be ended by someone unexpected. The perfect choice is Kyle O’Reilly. He’s more than a good enough wrestler to carry the belt and it would add something to his programme with Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards. Have the title switch occur on a house show and it could be presented as an even bigger shock. It’s a move that would fit snugly into the gap between Supercard of Honor VII and Best in the World in June.

O’Reilly as champion would allow for Davey Richards to have a memorable final match in August should he remain serious about leaving the group (which I think he will). He could tangle with the same names suggested above for Lethal but spaced out a little more so as to help his reign last longer. Numerous undercard performers could realistically challenge O’Reilly too. His status as a “shock champion” would make it uncertain as to where ROH were going with his reign, bringing a desirable air of unpredictability to the group.

There would be two other men on the roster who would benefit from an O’Reilly title victory. Adam Cole and Michael Elgin. Cole and O’Reilly are former tag team partners with a well-established rivalry with one another. Both men having singles would add an interesting layer to this, and also create a “whose title is better?” scenario where both men try to make their title mean more by outdoing each other on shows.

‘Unbreakable’ would benefit because he has been shown to have O’Reilly’s number on a couple of occasions. He could be built up throughout the second half of the year as the natural successor to O’Reilly, the man the champion doesn’t really want to face. Keep them apart until Final Battle 2013 and have Elgin walk out as champion, heading into 2014 as the most unstoppable force in the company, with Cole and O’Reilly in supporting roles to help bring up the next batch of talent.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Royal Rumble 2013 preview

Finally... The Rock will wrestle a WWE championship match. See what I did there? I could be wrong but I'm fairly sure the last time 'The Great One' was involved in a match for the WWE title was at SummerSlam 2002 when he lost it to Brock Lesnar. Coincidentally Paul Heyman was at ringside for that bout as he will be when Rock challenges CM Punk at the Royal Rumble on Sunday.
 
Rock versus Punk is very clearly the biggest match of Sunday's card, overshadowing even the Royal Rumble itself. Personally I think it should go on last because there's no way the Rumble, no matter how many high spots are included, unexpected surprise entrants there are, or who ends up winning, will top this clash.
  
Punk's title reign has famously lasted well over a year but there have been very few occasions when it's felt like he could lose the belt. Being booked strongly has meant that more often than not he’s been the favourite going into defences. There has been a very real lack of credible opposition. Only two men have come close to looking like they could take the gold from him: John Cena and Ryback.
 
Cena could have beaten 'The Second City Saint' to setup his rematch with The Rock earlier than expected. Ryback could have beaten Punk to continue his ascension through the ranks. Both men seemed plausible replacements as champion, unlike previous challengers such as Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and Chris Jericho.
 
Rock is only the third man in over a year to pose a credible challenge to the WWE championship. On the surface he would appear to be the favourite. Putting the championship on the company's number one draw during the build-up to the biggest wrestling show of the year would be perfectly sensible. It would encourage plenty of mainstream news coverage, something that WWE (and any other wrestling promotion worth its salt) is always keen to have.
 
On top of that The Rock has guaranteed victory. That's not something to be taken lightly.


WWE has a habit of scripting their top babyfaces to only promise a win when they're actually going to pull it off (a positive for working in a predetermined industry). It's something I first noticed over a decade ago when 'The Brahma Bull' was still a regular on the roster. He would only "guaran-damn-tee" a win if he was going over at the next PPV. If he wasn't set to win he'd run through the regular babyface spiel but omit a guarantee.
 
Perhaps I'm reading too far into things. But it is a fact that The Rock only ever used that word when he was set to win. It's also a fact that he used it on the January 14th RAW.
 
That said a win for The Rock is not a foregone conclusion. The WWE writing team have done a very good job of setting up various strands that could become factors in this match.
 
First of all there's Paul Heyman at ringside. He could be used as a distraction throughout the bout. It's not impossible to imagine him sacrificing himself into a Rock Bottom to allow Punk to sneak in a match winning GTS. There's The Shield. Vince McMahon may have ruled that if they interfere Punk will be stripped of the belt but that doesn’t mean we definitely won’t see them. They could attack Rock before the bell rings, for example. There's Brad Maddox. He could either be used as a rogue referee or just as general bump fodder, running in to save Punk from getting pinned.
 
There's even Vickie Guerrero. The writing team went out of their way to establish friction between her and The Rock on the January 14th RAW and continue the theme on the January 21st show. That could certainly indicate Vickie will play a factor at the Rumble. She could add a no DQ stipulation, which would favour Punk, or appoint Maddox as the referee.
 
Plenty of options for wackily booked outside interference doesn't indicate a win for one guy or the other. Punk's shenanigans could gain him a(nother) tainted victory or Rock could be the valiant babyface and overcome everything to capture the gold. Based on the current booking alone it could go either way.

The man who would be champ
  
Realistically there's only one way to predict a winner here. It's to ask who's more likely to head into WrestleMania as WWE champion. Punk is rumoured to be the Undertaker's opponent this year. If that's the case then he's going to lose the title before WrestleMania. 'The Dead Man', being a part timer, won't win the title again. That means Punk can't enter that match as champion. If that’s the case then he will need to drop the strap before WrestleMania. That could happen at Elimination Chamber, but having him survive The Rock only to lose the belt three weeks later would seem anti-climactic.


‘The Brahma Bull’ is rumoured to be facing John Cena or Brock Lesnar in New Jersey. The likelihood is we’re going to see Rock v Cena II. Making the rematch a bigger deal than the first encounter would obviously be desirable. The best way of doing that is to include the WWE championship.

All of which means The Rock has to be considered the favourite at the Rumble. If he wins he’ll essentially be a transitional champion to get the belt back onto Cena. Not that that matters. It will be good for business. That’s what matters.
 
This prediction doesn’t reflect my personal wishes. I would love to see Punk's second WWE title run continue. I enjoy lengthy reigns and I think Punk has been consistently good enough in the role to warrant his time at the top continuing. Sadly WWE don’t consult me on booking decisions.
 
Moving onto the rest of the card there are four other matches announced: a tag match, two other singles matches, and the Royal Rumble match. All bar the Rumble are for titles. The Rumble match is, of course, for a shot at either of WWE's two world belts at WrestleMania XXIX.
 
The other world championship will be defended by your favourite Latin Hero and mine, Alberto Del Rio. His opponent will be the former World Heavyweight champion, Big Show. Yes, for the second year in a row 'The Giant' will wrestle for the WHC at the Royal Rumble. If that doesn't illustrate the lack of depth of the WWE headline roster I don't know what does.
 
As was the case with their encounter on the January 11th SmackDown this will be fought under Last Man Standing rules. That SmackDown match was surprisingly enjoyable and I've been amazed at how well Del Rio has transferred to the good guy role so there's every chance this will be a heated encounter.
 
The smart thing to do would be to open the show with this match and not have them out there for too long. 'The World's Largest Athlete' is not served well by long bouts. Opening with this would kick off the evening with something big and keeping the bout short would not only ensure Show doesn't blow up but would also mean the two don't have to worry about holding any big spots off for the latter portion. It would serve as an action packed opener.
 
I'll be surprised if Big Show regains the championship here. Why would Del Rio win it only to drop it back to the same guy three weeks later?
 
The rivalry between Team Hell No and The Rhodes Scholars could have been excellent. All four can produce great matches when given the time and all have firm enough handles on their characters to contribute amusing segments to TV. It's surprising then just how little the two units have interacted since their programme started three months ago. They've spent most of their time teaming up with random singles wrestlers for six mans. Considering how popular Kane and Bryan were when they were first put together this has to be considered a missed opportunity.
 
The time seems right for the doubles belts to change hands. Not only would it give the teams a reason to continue clashing (does anyone remember what started their dispute?) and possibly liven up their feud but it would also freshen up the tag scene. Both would be nice to see.

The US title match, being on the pre-show, probably won’t feature a title change. It should be an entertaining affair served well by the first match pop. If The Miz is going to beat Cesaro for the belt it’ll probably happen at Elimination Chamber.
 
Finally there's the Royal Rumble match. As I noted in my preview of last year's event (read it here) i
t's practically impossible to pick a winner for the Rumble. Not only is WWE's long term planning fairly lacklustre but the group has displayed a willingness to alter what plans it does have if too many fans correctly guess an outcome. Yes, that is a stupid reason for changing plans. Welcome to the mind of Vince McMahon.
 
There are three realistic candidates in my eyes. Top of the list is John Cena. If he doesn't get a rematch with The Rock at this year's WrestleMania what's he going to do instead? There's time for something else to be set up for both him and Rock but everything we've seen and heard over the last several months indicates a Cena v Rock rematch. The only event that befits that bout is WrestleMania. The simplest way of setting it up is to have 'The Franchise' win the annual battle royal and have Rock beat Punk.
 
The second likeliest guy to win, and he's a distant second, is Randy Orton. A Rumble victory could put 'The Viper' on course to tackle Alberto Del Rio for the World title at WrestleMania. An Orton versus Rock clash is possible too, but not particularly likely. If WWE were planning that they'd have hinted at it by now.
 
What goes against the idea of 'The Apex Predator' winning is his rumoured heel turn. Having him lose this match would add to the list of reasons the character has for going bad. It adds to his frustrations with the WWE system. The best thing for the Orton character is to come close to winning before getting eliminated by whoever he's facing at 'Mania (probably Sheamus).
 
The third and final man I think should be considered is Ryback. As the man WWE are most keen to elevate the possibility of 'The Human Wrecking Ball' winning here can't be ignored. Granted it's tough to imagine him facing any of the company's biggest names at 'Mania but that doesn't mean it won't happen. The Royal Rumble is traditionally used as a starting point for title feuds at WrestleMania after all. What seems unlikely now could seem obvious with hindsight next Monday morning.
 
As we don’t know everyone who’ll be entering the match it would be easier to say who won't win. But that would take too long.
 
Speaking of who’ll be in the match it’s probably best not to take any lists of entrants you may come across to heart. The likes of Cena, Orton, Sheamus, Ziggler and the rest of the main event crew are going to appear. Beyond that nothing can be certain. Even comedy favourites 3MB, who were among the earliest to declare their entry into the bout, won't necessarily compete. WWE has a nasty track record of breaking their promises with this sort of thing, particularly with regards to the Rumble.
 
We can be hopeful of some surprises though. I wrote a completely separate entry on that subject last month so for extended thoughts give that a read here
. The short version is that Chris Jericho and-or Batista could both make one off appearances and that this would be an ideal time to reintroduce John Morrison, Shelton Benjamin and MVP, all of whom are rumoured to be on the rehire list, to the roster.
 
The man I'm going to pick to win is John Cena. We've had a couple of years of relatively surprising winners. WWE can afford to go with something thoroughly predictable this year. We should be more concerned with how well the match is booked than who's going to win anyway. After a humdrum match last year
and only a so-so effort the year before something special needs to be done here in order to maintain the perception that Royal Rumble is a special event.
 
At the moment this looks like a show with lots of potential for excitement. Obviously the matches everyone cares about are the multi-man tussle and the WWE championship match. The other two bouts could be decent but ultimately their quality is irrelevant. This show's status as a hit or a miss depends on the success, or lack thereof, of the two big matches.
 
Everyone involved knows what's at stake. With this being the launching pad for WrestleMania XXIX's line-up I'm confident WWE won’t disappoint.
 
Predictions summary:
The Rock to beat CM Punk
John Cena to win the Royal Rumble
Alberto Del Rio to beat Big Show
The Rhodes Scholars to beat Team Hell No
Antonio Cesaro to beat The Miz

Monday 21 January 2013

Bad Guys Done Good

Last year WWE found themselves light on headline talent. Wanting a quick fix before slower building investments like Ryback and Antonio Cesaro pay off the decision was made to turn longtime heels Alberto Del Rio and The Miz into good guys.
 
In the case of 'The Awesome One' I thought the switch was long overdue. Miz had been eliciting cheers from a small but vocal group of fans since winning Money in the Bank in 2010. That support for him had peaked during his WWE title reign didn't matter, I was sure he'd succeed as a good guy in late 2012.
 
I was less convinced it was a good direction for ADR. His gimmick (an aristocratic braggart) is naturally heelish. I didn't believe WWE was willing to put in the work that would be required altering the character to allow him to work well as a good guy. I was of the opinion that the best way to give Del Rio the refresh he needed was to cast him as the leader of his own stable.
 
I was wrong. WWE have shown that they're willing to do everything possible to establish Del Rio as a good guy. Most obviously they have recast him as a Latino hero. As the idea is for him to replace Rey Mysterio as the promotion's leading Latin star it's a shift that makes sense, and one ADR has proven well suited to.
 
A more subtle change has seen the friendship between ADR and his ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez receive more emphasis, with Ricardo being used to show a vulnerable side of Del Rio for audiences to relate to. Both men have dropped the smirking from their repertoires too. This makes Del Rio more likeable and makes sense for Ricardo when you consider he's now introducing a hero.
 
Perhaps the smartest thing WWE have done regarding the Del Rio face turn is to keep his ring style aggressive. More often than not crisp, stiff shots will attract more supporters than haters. As ADR was already doing that it made sense to let him continue. He's added the moonsault to his arsenal too. High risk manoeuvres are another way of enticing cheers for him.
 
Going all the way with his push and having him defeat Big Show for the World Heavyweight title is another smart move. It's important to show fans that a top line babyface is going to win. It encourages support. The timing has worked out nicely too, as ADR is going to spend at least part of WWE's peak period in a prime spot.
 
As I said above I was confident The Miz would transition into the good guy role well. An important part of being a good guy in WWE is being able to connect with an audience through a promo. Miz's verbal skills have always been one of the most polished parts of his act so it was natural to assume he'd handle the tweaks needed to here cheers over jeers with relative ease. He did.


He's listening to the cheers
 
'The Most Must See WWE Superstar' has done an excellent job of interacting with crowds since his turn officially kicked in. He's encouraged "Miz is awesome!" chants, added a little chat with the crowd to his pre-match apron slide, and begun pointing to areas of the audience to encourage a burst of cheers. All are well judged moves. Crowds are reacting very well to him.
 
Miz has done so well in his new role that the recent decision to associate him with Ric Flair is largely unnecessary. In fact the segment on last week's RAW in which Miz was required to impersonate 'The Nature Boy' was pretty poor, and risked doing more harm than good. The guy's fine alone.
 
Apparently the Miz and Flair on-screen relationship is going to continue for a while. I'm doubtful that it can provide any significant help. Unless the intention is to have the story culminate with Flair seconding Miz for a singles match at WrestleMania it may as well be dropped. They're too different for Miz to be a believable heir to 'The Nature Boy' mantel.
 
Del Rio and Miz have done a good job of turning babyface. WWE have done well assisting them. If the company could remember how to introduce new talent with this level of proficiency then the future would be looking a lot brighter.

Sunday 20 January 2013

SmackTalk 18.01.13

How many times can WWE present the same bunch of situations in more or less the same way? That seems to be what the promotion's writing team are trying to discover with SmackDown. It's becoming a thoroughly predictable show.
 
Case in point: this week's episode featured a six man tag team match putting tag team champions Team Hell No and Randy "I've got a beard and I'm not afraid to use it" Orton against Wade Barrett and The Rhodes Scholars. We've seen variations on this bout for well over a month now, with the Scholars, Kane and Bryan providing the regular backbone of the bouts. Wade Barrett’s joined them at least once before. It makes for dull programming.


The reason WWE’s booking these six man tags is sound enough. It’s to keep the feud between Team Hell No and the Rhodes Scholars bubbling away. It’s not a bad way of keeping things going it’s not a particularly good way either.

More variety with the singles guys could help but what would be even better would be for the two tag teams to be booked in in-ring promo segments. All four are perfectly good enough to make such a segment work. With RAW still chugging away with its bloated three hour run time it’s not as though there’s no place to fit something like that into the schedule.

The same problem is occurring with hints at Randy Orton’s heel turn. This week’s SmackDown got two little additions to that upcoming event. The first was the group hug he endured after his six man tag win. The second was a verbal disagreement backstage with Sheamus.

A slow approach to someone turning heel is a good thing. I’m not complaining about WWE foreshadowing the turn and presenting compelling and logical reasons for ‘The Viper’ to go bad. What I am against, however, is every TV show they promote adding to the story. It feels forced.

It wasn’t all negative though. Alberto Del Rio did a great job working a more fan friendly style and encouraging fans to back him. The interaction between he and Dolph Ziggler in the tag team main event were particularly enjoyable too.

Intro video

Tweet 1: I'm going to watch SmackDown. Join me!
Tweet 2: Tonight on SmackDown.... The Rock. Again.
Tweet 3: And... Alberto Del Rio holding a belt. Can you bear the excitement? Can you?!

Fiesta Del Rio

Tweet 4: Fiesta Del Rio. Is that a car?
Tweet 5: SmackDown should start like this every week.
Tweet 6: Albertoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Delllllllllllllllllll Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiooooooooooooooooooo!!
Tweet 7: Something I've noticed about ADR: his hair never gets any longer or shorter. He's been on TV for two years and he's never had a haircut.
Tweet 8: Will Del Rio's Latin hero gimmick make him a heel in Canada? I hope so.

Ricardo is rocking that bow tie!

Tweet 9: Ziggler needs to take better care of that briefcase.
Tweet 10: Big Show's not wearing a hoodie. He's got a tent stapled to his head.
Tweet 11: Sheamus isn't walk in a straight line. I'm taking that as a sign that he's drunk.
Tweet 12: Del Rio's a face now so Sheamus has forgiven him for attempting to crush his skull with a car bonnet. #WWEbabyfacearmy
Tweet 13: I'm beginning to think Booker's have a match with Big Show sometime fairly soon. I can't imagine it will be pleasant.
Tweet 14: A tag team match being made by the SmackDown GM? #revolutionary
Tweet 15: That segment was excruciatingly bad.

Antonio Cesaro v Kofi Kingston

Tweet 16: Antonio Cesaro. Heeeey!!
Tweet 17: #flagheat
Tweet 18: Nice spot to get into the Neutralizer there. What's happened to Kofi's push?
Tweet 19: The most he can hope for right now is to be booked to do a handstand in the Rumble. Oh wait... that happened last year.

The Great Khali v Tensai

Tweet 20: Khali can't even walk convincingly!!
Tweet 21: What point did Big E prove, Josh? He proved he could beat a midget. He's a powerful man!
Tweet 22: How is Tensai v Khali like watching two Transformers fight?

Randy Orton and Team Hell No backstage

Tweet 23: Randy Orton is interested in pain. Lots of pain.
Tweet 24: Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton hugging? I don't think SmackDown can get much better than that.
Tweet 25: Daniel Bryan has the best entrance of the current WWE roster.

No?

Tweet 26: Josh has just claimed that the winner of the Royal Rumble match will "headline WrestleMania." That's not happened for years.
Tweet 27: That was a pretty quick six man. They could easily have done another five minutes. I suppose they need to make space for a Ryback squash.
Tweet 28: The group hug. Another step on the road to Randy Orton's heel turn.
Tweet 29: So when they said Rock would be on the show they actually meant they'd repeat his appearance from Monday's RAW? #cheap

The Miz v Primo (or Epico…)

Tweet 30: Forget what I said about Daniel Bryan's entrance. I think Rosa's is better.
Tweet 31: So who is Miz facing? Primo? I think Josh just said Primo.
Tweet 32: If they're going to push Miz as the new Flair he needs to be given championships. That's what will make the shtick stick.
Tweet 33: I think Primo just had a longer match than Orton, Bryan, Kane, Barrett and the Rhodes Scholars.
Tweet 34: And since when do people tap out to the figure four? Is this 1976?

Kaitlyn v Aksana

Tweet 35: Eve's left the company so there's no pay off to the months of storyline time devoted to her feud with Teddy Long.
Tweet 36: How do you get your new Divas champion over? Put her in the ring with a limited worker who wrestles once a month.
Tweet 37: And there we go. Kaitlyn wins. How thoroughly predictable. I'm looking forward to Layla's inevitable heel turn.
Tweet 38: Nice Hall of Fame video for Mick Foley.

The Shield video promo

Tweet 39: Remember when Dean Ambrose was going to get called up for a singles feud with Mick Foley? That idea’s been recycled into The Shield push.
Tweet 40: Why did The Shield leave their camera lying on the ground? It'll get stolen.

Big Show and Dolph Ziggler v Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio

Tweet 41: No televised entrance for Dolph. We know who the stars are...
Tweet 42: FELLAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!
Tweet 43: Albertooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Dellllllllllllll Riiiiiiioooooo!!
Tweet 44: El champ is really embracing this Latin hero gimmick. I like the red, white and green gear. Nice touch.
Tweet 45: How do you know Del Rio is definitely a babyface? He's wearing white boots. #goodguyswearwhite
Tweet 46: I think ADR just did the most unconfident moonsault I've ever seen. I liked the backward roll recover though. Nicely done.
Tweet 47: Big Show is a stupid ring name. He should change it to Papa Rhino.

Papa Rhino

Tweet 48: Well... his boots are mostly white.
Tweet 49: Well... they have white on them.
Tweet 50: When is Papa Rhino going to buy new ring gear? He's had that camo singlet for years now. Change to something neon...
Tweet 51: To say Sheamus loves "being in the heat of battle" may be taking things a little far.
Tweet 52: Big Show jumping off the second rope reminds me of a Thwomp. Y'know, from the Mario games.
Tweet 53: ADR throws water over Big Show. WHY? And why did Ricardo have a bucket oover water at ringside?
Tweet 54: Papa Rhino walks out in disgust after having water thrown on him.
Tweet 55: The babyfaces win via count out. It is perhaps the stupidest match finish of all time.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Friday Night Special

It's not often that TNA beats WWE to the punch. Since its launch the company has more often than not operated in the wake of WWE's success. They've hired WWE cast-offs, run shoddy rehashes of WWE stories, and presented a distinctly sports entertainment flavour of in-ring product. It has always been very clear who the trendsetter is.
 
TNA's decision to move away from the monthly pay-per-view format was announced last year and seemed like a definite step in the right direction. We were told that TNA would present ten monthly pay-per-views in 2013, with the stated plan to drop the tally again in 2014.
 
An announcement was made last week that completely altered the TNA PPV landscape. The group will present only four live Sunday night pay-per-views this year. The eight months that do not feature such a show will instead get a pre-recorded, themed Friday night themed show instead.
 
This move can be read in several ways but it has, however you view it, to be acknowledged as a positive thing. Concentrating on four major events a year will allow TNA to pace and direct their storylines far better. I suggested last year that the time of the twelve PPV a year format is drawing to a close and it's nice to see TNA making changes accordingly. Jumping before they’re pushed you might say.


Is the green lighting intended to put us in mind of a halo, do you think?
 
The Friday night events will apparently be offered at a far cheaper price than the group's regular events, which should help to encourage buys. It's possible the themes will prove similarly enticing. A show comprised of X Division talent, for example, should be a fairly successful show. A hardcore show could be too, if enough thought is put into the planning of the card and it's subtly (and I do mean subtly) marketed as having an ECW tinge to it.
 
The only reservation I had when I initially heard of the plan was the decision to air the shows on a delay. Live broadcasts are the norm for wrestling and sports in general these days. It's one thing to tape a TV show and air that a few days later. That's free to view and is (theoretically) a way of promoting the product and encouraging people to spend money on the product in other ways.


Charging for taped broadcasts has never worked in wrestling. Ring of Honor discovered that when they first started airing big events. The WWF found it out when it first started testing the waters with big shows not named WrestleMania.
 
TNA itself used the taped PPV model when it first launched. It helped them achieve their goal (a television contract) but that was its point. It was a means to an end, something to be discarded as soon as they'd got something better.
 
That said I don't think the taped nature of the events is a complete mistake. It will keep costs lower than a live broadcast, which is surely part of the point. While I stand by my belief that a taped event is a tougher sell (because of the nature of spoilers) I don't think it's an impossible one. If pushed more as a chance to watch some quality matches rather than the chance to see a title change hands or the final entry into a lengthy feud I think these Friday specials will have an appeal. Basically they need to be aimed more at the regular viewers, the people who appreciate a good wrestling match as much as or more than a good storyline.
 
Don't expect WWE to follow suit anytime soon. They're in a much better financial position than TNA and will stick with the monthly format until it proves a money loser. Considering the international juggernaut Vince McMahon's company is I don't think that's going to happen for quite a while.
 
But let's end on a positive note. TNA have not only taken the initiative and done something before their chief rival, they've also done something that should help them creatively and economically. It's a move I've wanted to see WWE make for a long time. I'm glad TNA got there first.