Sunday 31 March 2013

Supercard of Honor VII preview

It may not make as much money but the likelihood is that ROH's seventh Supercard of Honor will provide a more satisfying viewing experience for fans than WrestleMania will two days later. Ring of Honor's recent return to form has seen them produce two stellar iPPVs in Final Battle and the 11th Anniversary Show. Supercard of Honor looks like it will be a hat trick for the group.

I'm also looking forward to seeing how the SCUM storyline is progressed. The addition of more members seems unlikely, the group's already got a nice bulky roster, but we could see further hints of a split between Kevin Steen and the rest of the group. There are plenty of things that could be done with the faction and the unpredictability of it all makes for compulsive viewing.

Speaking of which, SCUM founding member and ROH world champion Kevin Steen will headline SOH VII against Jay Briscoe. Jay is a former eight time tag team champion and one of the most tenured men on the roster. While this is his first time headlining a pay-per-view in a singles match it's not his first shot at the ROH world title. Will he beat Steen? No. Briscoe is a respected and valued member of the roster but he's a tag team guy. There’s a very slim chance he could become the champ in years to come (ROH losing a swathe of key players to WWE could trigger that) but he's not the guy who will beat Steen.

I'm not the biggest fan of 'Dem Boys' but I think the style they work will match up well with 'Mr Wrestling'. It should be an enjoyable brawl. Going back to the SCUM plot I mentioned above I wouldn't be surprised to see Steen saving his opponent from a beating at the hands of his cohorts, most likely after the bout. Anything could happen though. Which is obviously a good thing.


Title matches being presented as the biggest thing on a wrestling show? What a novel concept

One match SCUM will definitely be involved in is the ten man tag team match. ROH representatives Mike Mondo, Mark Briscoe, BJ Whitmer, Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander will face SCUM boys Jimmy Jacobs, Cliff Compton, Rhino, Rhett Titus and Jimmy Rave. With so many men involved it's unlikely to be an orderly affair. I imagine everyone will be given a spot or two but it's mainly going to exist to deteriorate into anarchy and keep the SCUM v ROH programme running. SCUM to win to ensure they're viewed as a threat for future shows.

Jay Lethal and Michael Elgin will wrestle one another to determine which of the two gets a future shot at the ROH championship. One of the many areas the company's improved recently is the schedule for title defences. We already know that Adam Cole and BJ Whitmer have title matches coming up. Adding Elgin or Lethal to the list will take us to three. I can't remember the last time the ROH champion had three challengers announced. It must have been years. It adds a “real sports” vibe to the promotion.

Elgin v Lethal could go either way. Lethal had a title match on last month's anniversary card which may make 'Unbreakable' slightly more likely to win here. Personally I'd like to see that happen, I think Elgin has been poorly handled over the last year and he needs a substantial storyline and series of matches to rebuild him. A credible outing against 'Mr Wrestling' would accomplish that. Their match at Glory By Honor XI was very good. A rematch at Best in the World wouldn’t be a bad thing.

ROH's second tier title will be on the line too. New champion Matt Taven will defend against Matt Hardy and Adam Cole in a three-way. This is a rarity in that it's a three-way feud that actually makes sense. Matt Hardy had a TV title match scheduled against Adam Cole but Cole lost the title to Matt Taven before he could wrestle Hardy.

I like Taven and Cole and enjoy Truth Martini at ringside. That should be enough to combat Matt Hardy being in the match too. I'm not a fan of him being anywhere near an ROH contract. I'd expect this match to go on somewhere in the middle of the show and be at least decent. A title change seems unlikely as Taven only won the belt a few weeks ago. I'm picking the House of Truth boy to win.

At the 11th Anniversary Show ROH brought in The Forever Hooligans for a match with The American Wolves. It was a return to an old booking approach: bringing in outsiders to pit against full time members of the roster. The same will be done at Border Wars with Naomichi Marafuji and Taiji Ishimori while Supercard of Honor VII will see an appearance from Karl Anderson.

'Machine Gun' Karl Anderson is the former tag team partner of Giant Bernard, better known as WWE's Tensai. Together they won the NOAH and IWGP tag team titles, setting the record for the longest reign (which still stands now) with the former. Don't judge him by the Tensai association, by all accounts he's pretty good and Tensai was presented far as more of a force in Japan than he is in WWE.

Anderson will face Roderick Strong.  It will be his first match for the company in over five years. If I thought he was going to become a regular I'd say he was going to win. That doesn't appear to be the case. This seems to be a one-off deal, so I expect 'The Messiah of the Backbreaker' to go over.

In what is likely to be the opening match ACH and Tadarius Thomas will wrestle QT Marshall and a mystery opponent. QT and his buddy will be managed by RD Evans unless Evans turns out to be the partner, which is unlikely but not impossible (Evans is a trained wrestler but only works as a manager for ROH). I think there's a chance ACH and Thomas could be managed by Prince Nana. He's still listed on ROH's roster page but hasn't appeared in a while. The storyline is that Evans stole all of Nana's money, which means that if Nana returns anytime soon it's likely to be as a babyface. That would be something new for the tried and tested Nana character. I think it could work.

I've no idea who QT's partner will be. Mike Bennett seems like a possibility. He's about the only noteworthy person not booked for the show with no clear way onto it.

An alternative is that Thomas will turn on the popular ACH and join Evans' stable. That could then set up the return of Tommaso Ciampa to turn babyface and team with ACH against the man that cost him the TV championship last year. What would be good about this scenario is that Nana could return alongside Ciampa and form a face incarnation of The Embassy, something we've not seen before.

There are a lot of maybes in there but none of it’s impossible. You heard it here first! I'm going to pick the heel team to win as ACH got a win on the last iPPV.

Former Wrestling's Greatest Tag Team partners and ROH tag team champions Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas will wrestle one another. This match came about because Haas turned on Benjamin. That's the storyline reason anyway. The backstage reason is that Benjamin is expected to leave ROH to return to a mid-card spot in WWE. With that in mind I think a win for 'The Outlaw' seems likely.

Speaking of former ROH tag team champions The American Wolves will try to become two time gold-holders when they challenge reDRagon. This match happened, without the belts involved, at Final Battle. It was one of the best matches on an excellent show. That bodes well for Supercard of Honor.

At Final Battle Richards and Edwards went over. That alone makes me thinks it's the turn of Fish and O'Reilly to win in New York. Also in reDRagon's favour is the fact that they've only had the belts a few weeks. It's far from impossible that they could lose the titles so quickly but it would seem a little strange. They appear to be due for a reign of at least a few months.

I wouldn't be surprised to see the champions pull out some shady tactics to retain their titles. That would set up future matches and add to the already rich story between O'Reilly, Edwards and Richards. It could be the Wolves' night though. Look how many predictions I got wrong for the last show.


Ring of Honor always tries to put on a good show over WrestleMania weekend. It’s a good move as it allows them to piggyback some success off of the marketing juggernaut that is WWE. The weekend has become a celebration of wrestling in general, not just WWE. It’s something for wrestling fandom as a whole, not just the viewers of one company. Expect an eventful card and a rambunctious crowd at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

As a complete show I'm looking forward to this more than WrestleMania XXIX.

Predictions summary:
Kevin Steen to defeat Jay Briscoe
reDRagon to defeat The American Wolves
Matt Taven to defeat Matt Hardy and Adam Cole
Michael Elgin to defeat Jay Lethal
SCUM to defeat Team ROH
Roderick Strong to defeat Karl Anderson
Charlie Haas to defeat Shelton Benjamin
QT Marshall and his mystery partner to defeat ACH and Tadarius Thomas

Saturday 30 March 2013

SmackTalk 29.03.13

This week’s SmackDown was better than this week’s RAW. Not that you’d know that from listening to the crowd. They were one of the most unresponsive bunches to attend a WWE show since… well… since Monday’s RAW actually. The lack of enthusiasm from Monday’s audience was to be expected though: Philadelphia is known for having a hard-to-please population of fans. Hershey should’ve been (slightly) rowdier.

Considering SmackDown’s status as the clear number two show WWE went to a lot of trouble to make this week’s broadcast enjoyable. For starters The Rock appeared. Opening the show with the biggest star currently affiliated with the company should have ignited the crowd for the rest of the evening. Instead ‘The Great One’ received a warm reaction that fizzled out once his music cut off, leaving him to play to crickets and the occasional bout of laughter.

The WWE champion was interrupted by John Laurinaitis. That was a strange move. The two have never interacted before and ‘Big Johnny’ hasn’t been seen on TV since last summer. Fans reacted to his entrance and the People’s Elbow he took but otherwise they seemed indifferent to the most random return of 2013.

Why WWE thought this was a good thing to put on TV I have no idea. Surely it would have made more sense to send a mid-card act out there instead. It didn’t do the Rhodes Scholars any harm back in January. 3MB, the Prime Time Players or Antonio Cesaro all would have been more interesting choices.

Bizarrely the crowd were fairly raucous by the time the main event rolled around. Who would have thought that Randy Orton, Big Show and Sheamus facing ‘The Swiss Superman’ and the Rhodes Scholars would get a more consistent reaction than The Rock?
 
Cody's about to go for a moustache ride
 
Elsewhere on the show Ryback and Mark Henry competed in a weightlifting contest. Both men broke what was apparently a legitimate world record, although the specifics of this were not provided by the commentary team. This is peculiar considering how much JBL loves reeling off stats he’s copied off of Wikipedia.

That segment came to a screeching halt when Mark Henry choked ‘Big Hungry’ with a steel bar. It felt like too much. The ‘back versus Henry feud would have been fine if it had simply consisted of each man squashing jobbers and glaring at each other for several weeks. Presumably they’ll have a brawl next week.

It’s also worth noting that this segment featured Booker T and Teddy Long bickering with one another. It will lead to a heel turn for one of them, probably Booker. Unless the writing staff lose interest, that is.

Chris Jericho had a nice match with Wade Barrett. Miz was on commentary to cause a distraction and allow ‘Y2J’ to score the win with the Codebreaker. Following that Fandango rocked up and danced about before posing. He did not enter the ring. A minor surprise was that he managed to provoke a reaction from the fans.

Kaitlyn and Daniel Bryan defeated Dolph Ziggler and AJ in a decent match. Had they had three or four more minutes it could have been a very good outing. Sadly matches of this type only exist to advance feuds. In this case it was the already announced WrestleMania tag title match and the expected Divas title match between AJ and Kaitlyn. The latter is another example of a match that would benefit from a decent amount of time but probably won’t get it.

Finally, Jack Swagger and The Great Khali went to a double count out when ‘The Real American’ locked in the Patriot Act at ringside. Afterwards Hornswoggle got duffed up. I would have been happy for him to get written off TV here. He contributes nothing of value to anything he’s involved in.

After the destruction of the leprechaun Ricardo Rodriguez came out to distract Swagger and Colter. Alberto Del Rio snuck in through the crowd and tussled with Swagger for a bit. A month and a half ago I was excited by the prospect of a feud between Swagger and ADR. It seemed like it would be something inventive and provocative, a programme that broke the stale monotony of WWE’s booking formula. Sadly it’s turned out to be the endless stream of run-ins and brawls we see all the time. Here at least the Herhsey audience’s apathy was completely understandable.

Intro video

Tweet 1: Tonight… ON SMACKDOWN!!
Tweet 2: The Rock, The Rock talking, The Rock, plus The Rock! Also Jack Swagger, The Shield and clips of Big Show playing babyface.

The Rock promo, featuring John Laurinatis and an absence of logical booking

Tweet 3: Rock's jerking the curtain. I wonder if he'll wrestle on this show...
Tweet 4: Three man announce team. Cole's overexposure continues.
Tweet 5: Rock's telling yet another story about his childhood. How was it so eventful? Answer: he's probably lying.
Tweet 6: Considering it's The Rock in the ring this crowd seems pretty subdued.
Tweet 7: Middle-aged women in the audience there, screaming with excitement for Rock's catchphrase. It's Michaels' Kliq groupies all over again.
Tweet 8: I kind of miss Rock's strange goatee from last year.
Tweet 9: John Laurinaitis is back! Why put someone who could benefit from a segment with The Rock in the ring? Give it to 'Big Johnny'.

It's the return we've all be longing for: 'Big Johnny' is back!

Tweet 10: This should end with an impromptu WWE championship match in which Laurinaitis beats Rock, giving us Cena v Laurinaitis at WrestleMania.
Tweet 11: Hilarious non-selling of the People's Elbow there. Laurinaitis is like late 90s ECW Taz.
Tweet 12: Laurinaitis should be a colour commentator on NXT.

Wade Barrett v Chris Jericho

Tweet 13: I'm not that into the Jericho v Faaaaaan... daaaaaan... goooooo feud but I like Fandango as a wrestler.
Tweet 14: BARRETT RING COAT ALERT!!
Tweet 15: That black eye makes 'Y2J' look like he sleeps rough. Maybe he does.
Tweet 16: Miz had title matches at Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber. He lost both. Why is he being awarded another at WrestleMania?
Tweet 17: Beating Barrett non-title isn't enough of a reason. This entire feud is stupid.
Tweet 18: Jericho now has a non-title win over Barrett too. When will HIS title match be? WHEN?!
Tweet 19: I wonder if Johnny Curtis took dancing lessons to play Fandango. He could just be making it up as he goes along.
Tweet 20: Ken Shamrock reference from JBL there. #surprising
Tweet 21: How long until Fandango's unnamed female associate wins the Divas championship?

Josh Mathews interview Paul Heyman

Tweet 22: Is the bruise around Heyman's eye real? Looks like a bad makeup job.
Tweet 23: Predictably excellent work from Paul Heyman. Imagine who bad that video would've been if it had been Lesnar doing it himself.

Ryback and Mark Henry weightlifting challenge, hosted by Booker T and Teddy Long

Tweet 24: Booker and Teddy are on the stage, playas. #holla
Tweet 25: Booker needs to be careful of how he says "contest"...
Tweet 26: This should be booked as a comedy segment. It won't be. But it should be.
Tweet 27: They're teasing a rift between Teddy and Booker. I want Teddy to go heel and manage Henry again.
Tweet 28: SmackDown should feature weightlifting contests every week. This is amazing TV.
Tweet 29: "THAT'S WHAT I DO!" - Mark Henry after lifting some weights
Tweet 30: Ryback gets his throat crushed by Henry. It doesn't contradict Booker T's no-touching clause because Henry touched the bar. #wrestlinglogic

Powerful stuff

Daniel Bryan and Kaitlyn v Dolph Ziggler and AJ

Tweet 31: Bryan, Ziggler, Kaitlyn and AJ all in one match? This'll be the highlight of the show.
Tweet 32: "He absolutely explodes when he goes into somebody" - JBL with an inadvertently filthy comment on Big E Langston
Tweet 33: #nokicks
Tweet 34: Big E's scaring me. I'm constantly worried he's going to pop out.
Tweet 35: Kaitlyn spear > All other wrestling spears

Shield promo

Tweet 36: Here's a lovely little Shield ramble. Rollins and Reigns should shut up and let Ambrose do all the talking.
Tweet 37: They've got him beaten in the hair department though.

The Great Khali v Jack Swagger

Tweet 38: The Great Khali can't even walk convincingly.
Tweet 39: And apparently Garcia can't say Hornswoggle convincingly. She said "Sportswoggle".
Tweet 40: Instead of being 'The Punjabi Playboy' Khali should be referred to as 'The Punjabi Pimp'.
Tweet 41: It would create a fresh new direction for Natalia.'s character.
Tweet 42: "He targets the leg" - Michael Cole as Jack Swagger headbutted Khali in the groin
Tweet 43: Hornswoggle should've had his ankle broken.
Tweet 44: ADR in through the crowd after a distraction from Ricardo. #itwasasetupallalong
Tweet 45: I do not approve of the jazzy remix of Del Rio's music. It's too jovial.

Renee Young interviews Sheamus, Randy Orton and Big Show

Tweet 46: Renee Young is an improvement on Matt Striker.
Tweet 47: Babyface superteams are the worst, Jerry. The worst.

Sheamus, Randy Orton and Big Show v Antonio Cesaro and The Rhodes Scholars

Tweet 48: They should get a team name and entrance music so they can all skip to the ring together at WrestleMania.
Tweet 49: Sandow and Cesaro would make an even better team than Sandow and Magnum TA junior. Their gimmicks are similar.
Tweet 50: Oh no! Randy was isolated by the heels during the break! I think his team may lose... #kayfabe
Tweet 51: It's possible Orton won't turn on Sheamus at WrestleMania. They could form a team and win the tag titles instead.
Tweet 52: Amazingly the audience has woken up for the main event after being quiet for the entire show.
Tweet 53: Show, Sheamus and Orty won. Who saw that coming, eh?
Tweet 54: Post-match Shield beating hijinks.
Tweet 55: The show goes off the air with three knackered looking men posing in the crowd. Maybe WWE should let up on the live event schedule.

Friday 29 March 2013

The Longest Short Reign

When Daniel Bryan and Kane won the WWE tag team titles at last September's Night of Champions I didn't think I'd still be discussing their reign seven months later. As high profile wrestlers doing the feuding partners routine it seemed safe to assume that the pair would drop the gold to a more conventional combo after a short run together, going on either to resume their feud or being given something new to do. The latter of those is what I was hoping for.

Instead Bryan and Kane have continued to win as a team and keep hold of the straps long after their appeal has waned. The smart thing to do would have been introducing one or two fresh teams to the division while people were still interested in Team Hell No as a unit, leaving guys to inherit a hot and interesting division after the champs lost and split. The Rhodes Scholars were introduced but their push has been fumbled even more badly than Kane and Bryan's. They should have been the guys to replace 'The Big Red Machine' and 'The World's Toughest Vegan'.


Heyman describes Lesnar and Punk as 'The Beast' and 'The Best', epithets that are applicable here too

The Rhodes Scholars have been harmed by their ridiculous split and reunion between Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber. The Prime Time Players, a team that has seemed on the cusp of winning the tag belts for a year now, have been moved away from the champions. They're wrestling just as much as they ever have but they're no longer being presented as any sort of threat to the tag titles.

Epico and Primo seem unlikely to get a win over genuine stars any time in the foreseeable future. Brodus Clay and Tensai (or Sweet T) have the size to be taken seriously, and a slightly more advantageous spot on the card than E&P, but even they seem unlikely to be the next champions.

The likeliest successors to Kane and Bryan right now appear to be Dolph Ziggler and Big E Langston. Not only are they good enough wrestlers to be the champions but Ziggler's star profile gives them a very strong chance. It's status on the roster, more than anything else, that determines title reigns in WWE.

What makes a Dolph and Big E win at WrestleMania slightly least likely is the Money in the Bank briefcase. 'The Show Off' is expected to cash in at 'Mania and leave as World Heavyweight champion. Making DZ a double champion would be a great way to make him look a star and could even lead to a return of his late 2011 gimmick of working twice on each pay-per-views. Unfortunately making someone a double champion would go against WWE's current approach to championship. Having Ziggler as a tag champ could also dilute the importance of his WHC win, and the prestige of that title is getting pretty flimsy as it is.

But if it's not Langston and Ziggler that beat Team Hell No then who will?

Thursday 28 March 2013

That RAW Recap 25.03.13

Two weeks from WrestleMania and WWE is still producing RAW episodes with a lot of filler. The company and the people who run it have all been around long enough for this not to be concerning. It's WWE's system and they know what they're doing. It doesn't mean WrestleMania is going to suffer. Unfortunately it doesn't make for interesting viewing though either. Regardless of what pay-per-view's next on the calendar WWE should be aiming to give us a solid show every week.

From the irrelevant filler file: Ryback trounced SmackDown main eventers 3MB; Mark Henry beat fearsome combo Jimmy and Jey Uso; Antonio Cesaro defeated World Heavyweight champion Alberto Del Rio via count out in a four minute disappointment; and The Shield were built up for WrestleMania by being put over Justin Gabriel, Zack Ryder and The (Not So) Great Khali. All of this was done for a reason, but it was boring. All involved could have been given something more interesting to do and the same effect (preparing for 'Mania) could have been achieved.

Slightly better were the match between The Miz and Wade Barrett and the continuation of Chris Jericho's feud with Fan... Dan... Go (you've got to let the vowels breathe). 'The Awesome One' beat Barrett in order to set up their long rumoured Intercontinental title bout at WM29. The match was pretty decent. That bodes well for the big show, although they're going to get a shorter run time there.


Looks like Fandango's been raiding John Morrison's ring gear closet

Despite my aversion to 'Y2J' and the ballroom dancer's dispute before it began I'm pleased that the programme has been well constructed so far. Those rumours that Vince McMahon was personally working on the Fandango character days after hip surgery must have been true. Right now they've got the third most logical 'Mania rivalry behind Lesnar v Triple H and Del Rio v Swagger. Who'd have guessed that a month ago?

Speaking of which, both of those feuds saw advancement on Monday. Swagger distracted ADR. It was perfunctory advancement. Meanwhile 'The Game' cut a short and forgettable promo about how you should always expect to wrestle your last match against a guy like 'The Pain'. He also said he was going to WrestleMania to fight, not to wrestle. Maybe they should get some FightMania graphics prepped for that match.

Not every WrestleMania match is being treated so well. Undertaker v CM Punk is a prime example. The feud that should have been about Punk's continued demands for respect and proving to "the WWE Universe" that he's the best has instead revolved around a prop urn purportedly containing the ashes of 'The Phenom's' former manager Paul Bearer.


That Bearer would have approved of this and that his family have signed off on his involvement in the storyline isn't the point. If it'd truly what Bill 'Paul Bearer' Moody would have wanted that's fine. It's a missed opportunity. The match itself will still be great, I'm sure. The approach to it has been dull. Promos from Punk about how ending The Streak will force everyone to respect him would have been so much better.

RAW opened with Punk cutting what was by his standards a snore of a promo. He said he'd gotten under 'The Dead Man's' skin. He said The Streak could have gone on forever if Undertaker hadn't come up against Punk. 'Taker showed up and pummelled him until Punk escaped the ring and ran away. It was as dreary as it sounds.

It's difficult to care about any of this. We all know Punk's losing at WrestleMania. The draw of the feud was seeing the respect-obsessed 'Best in the World' of the last eight months come up against the man who has earned more respect than anyone in company history over his twenty-three year stay. It was that build as much as the match itself that appealed about Punk challenging The Streak. Acknowledging the death of Paul Bearer was absolutely the right thing to do, and the tribute they aired was touching. But his involvement should have ended there.


Nobody needs to see more of this

Closing the show was a debate between WrestleMania opponents (twice in a lifetime, folks!) John Cena and The Rock. They were given questions by Dusty Rhodes, Booker T, Mick Foley and Bret Hart with Jerry Lawler on compare duty (which sounds like a poor American version of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue). Ric Flair was originally meant to be a part of this segment too. My assumption is that Booker replaced him. In case you've not heard a blood clot in 'The Nature Boy's' leg concerned WWE's medical staff. They sent him to a hospital, who sent him home. It's unlikely he'd have contributed a great deal. Best to put health first, 'Naitch'.

Mick Foley opened by asking John Cena if he was prepared to deal with the regret another loss to The Rock would bring him. Cena didn't give a direct answer. He was never going to. This was an excuse to have Cena and Rock cut promos on each other in a moderately fresh environment. Instead he flanneled about how beating 'The Brahma Bull' is "the big one" for him. If he can't do it fans will greet him with derision in every arena in the country (and presumably the world). He admitted he's statistically good but basically his point was beating The Rock is his greatest challenge.

All of which cheerfully ignored the fact that fans already greet Cena with derision on a regular basis.

Rock responded with a story about growing up near Philadelphia (which is where RAW was being held). If we're to believe all of Rock's stories then he must have had about fourteen different childhoods.

Bret Hart's question was more of a statement. He said watching Rock and Cena verbally swipe at each other last year reminded him of himself and Shawn Michaels. ‘The Hitman’ was disappointed by the bad blood. Rock said he respected Cena because he beat him at WrestleMania XXVIII fair and square and 'The Franchise' didn't complain. He took his loss like a man, said Rocky. Which is true. Cena said Rock has proven his dedication to wrestling by winning the WWE championship. A weird leap of logic, but that's Cena.

Booker T's wanted to know why Cena says he has to beat The Rock at WrestleMania. In fairness Cena had addressed this point when answering the night's first question. His said simply that he'll beat The Rock because he has to.

Rock wasn't satisfied with that answer even though, when you get right down to it, within the parameters of kayfabe every wrestler has to win every match because they have to. Nevertheless Cena was pushed for further comment and gave it. He stated that Rock was the only man who'd ever gotten into his head, which caused him to make a mistake during their previous match. That mistake was going for a Rock Bottom on The Rock and it cost him the match. In Cena's mind if he hadn't done that he'd have won and proven he's better than Rock, because he is (apparently) better than The Rock. Which would make a nice tag line for this year's show, WrestleMania XXIX: Better Than The Rock.

Naturally Rock didn't take kindly to Cena's statement. He argued that if Cena had had him beaten he'd have beaten him. He lost, so he didn't have The Rock beaten. He dredged up Flair's old "to be the man... wooooooo... you gotta beat the man" line and told Cena he'll never win because he's not the man.

'The Dream' piped up. Cena said he wanted to provide The Rock with a loss that will haunt him. Rock retorted that he's not built that way. He'll still be 'The People's Champion' on Monday 8 while Cena will be asking himself why he lost again (and eating Fruity Pebbles apparently).

There was a staredown. Cena went for an AA but Rock slipped out and dished out a Rock Bottom instead. Rock left the ring. Cena busted out his patented kicked puppy look to show that he's really up against it at WrestleMania and is beginning to doubt he can beat 'The Great One'. It would have been the ideal way to end the pre-'Mania RAW. 
 
Great reactions from the guys at the table: Foley seems to be getting up, Hart's just staring into space and Dusty's doing  dance

The point of the segment seemed to be to show that Cena hadn't taken the loss as well as originally believed. That's why they had Rock acknowledge Cena's acceptance of losing early on, before Cena unravelled on the question of why he must win. It wasn't quite pulled off, but it was a good attempt and makes for a logical story. That's important with any match, particularly a WrestleMania main event.

The main event Q&A was a success because it worked. It got done what it needed to. Very little else on the show can make that boast.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Diva Search

You may have noticed Brie and Nikki Bella are back in WWE. They've returned to the company that made them famous for two reasons. The first is that established female performers are needed to save its flimsy Divas league. The second is that whatever projects they were banking on for their post-WWE life didn't work out as planned.

If rumours are to be believed the Bellas aren't the only women WWE have contacted for a return. They are the first to agree to terms on new contracts. Other women who have apparently been contacted are Maryse, Kelly Kelly, Beth Phoenix and Kharma. That Brie and Nikki are back shows that WWE are aware of the problem they have and indicates that they want to do something about it.

The thing is that the company should have tried harder to re-sign them in the first place. The company books the Divas as an afterthought but it clearly cares enough about them to want to have something resembling a worthwhile division around. If they felt otherwise they'd simply retire the concept of female wrestlers and have all the women under contract work as valets or in other on-air roles.


Don't let Cena and Bryan see this, guys

Kharma left the company under difficult circumstances without ever wrestling a televised match. Beth Phoenix decided to retire. Maryse and Kelly Kelly both wanted to pursue careers outside of wrestling. I'm unsure how K2's getting on with that but I know Maryse has launched her own jewellery line.


With a bit of leniency when it came to negotiating WWE probably could have retained the services of Maryse and Kelly. Both women wanted to able to do non-WWE stuff in their spare time without getting authorisation from management. WWE dislike this because they feel they should profit from anything contracted talent do. Seems unfair to me, considering WWE is a multi-million dollar company.

A more reasonable second reason for making talent get authorisation is to ensure they're not doing anything to wreck the WWE brand name. That I can understand. It doesn't mean the company's entitled to a share of the profits though.

The cases of Phoenix and Kharma are different. I think both needed to be away from wrestling for a bit. 'The Glamazon' has been wrestling for a long time and says she wants to do other things with her life. I believe she means that but I think if WWE had offered her substantially more money they could have convinced her to stay for a year or two more.

The only lady I don't think WWE could have kept around (nor do I think they should have tried) is the former Awesome Kong. She needed to go away for a bit.

It's still unknown whether any other ladies will follow the Bellas back to WWE. As Phoenix has had a taste of being off the road I think she'll be a difficult acquisition. Kharma may be easier. She's had some time away and is still capable of leaving her mark on the WWE Divas scene. I'm sure that's something she'd like to do. It's why she signed in the first place.

Kelly Kelly and Maryse returns are entirely dependent on WWE's negotiating skills. As I mentioned above I think the promotion would be well advised to be a little flexible with regards to outside projects and name ownership. They'll still be making money from the merch sales the ladies attract.

The situation WWE currently find themselves in is entirely of their own making. They should either be more willing to grant a little freedom to employees or they should have called up some new Divas a year ago while they still had the established names available.

The promotion is doing the smartest thing it can in these circumstances. Trying to bring back former stars is a good move. It could give the division a boost and give champion Kaitlyn some credible challengers. It will only be deemed a success if the returning starlets help to establish a new batch of women. The likes of Paige, Sunmer Rae and Sasha Banks should all be called up to share screen time with the more famous women. Scripting meaningful feuds and giving the newcomers wins is the best way to ensure this situation doesn't arise again.

Monday 25 March 2013

The Debutants' Ball

At the moment most WWE viewers are scrutinising the headline matches, and distinct lack of mid-card matches, of WrestleMania XXIX. That's understandable. It will be the biggest and most financially successful wrestling event of 2013. That doesn’t mean it will be a creative success, but you can’t have everything.

The attention being paid to the April 7th card is the main reason nobody's really thinking about what WWE will be doing on April 8th. It's likely that all the part timers who have matches at WrestleMania (that's The Rock, Undertaker, Triple H, and Brock Lesnar) will be on the April 8th RAW. That show will be about long term story plans involving those guys, timed to catch the viewers who generally only tune in around 'Mania time.


While The Rock will apparently be appearing at Extreme Rules it seems unlikely that Lesnar will join him and even more unlikely that 'The Game' and 'The Dead Man' will. From the April 15th RAW onwards it's likely to be business as usual for WWE. Which may pose a problem, because they have a distinct lack of full time stars that can be given something fresh to do.

It's likely WWE are going to promote a few NXT guys to the main roster, giving themselves a year to create some big new stars for next year's WrestleMania XXX (the most adult of all the WrestleManias). Last year I posted a list of five guys (read it here
) that I thought stood a chance of graduating from NXT and being the next batch of WWE Superstars™. Two of those five, Seth Rollins and Big E Langston, have made the leap.

The remaining three, Kassius Ohno, Richie Steamboat and Bray Wyatt, remain stationed in developmental. Ohno and Wyatt still both seem likely to follow in the footsteps of NXT’s first two champions. Sadly Steamboat has dropped off the radar and hasn’t had a televised appearance on NXT in quite a while. I still think he’d be a good addition to the roster but his lack of exposure indicates that that’s not likely anytime soon.

Going on current form both Ohno and Wyatt would perform similar functions: mid-card antagonists who would tangle with the likes of Kofi Kingston and R-Truth. WWE isn’t in desperate need of guys to do that though, they have enough interchangeable heels as it is. What could be done is to change the roles they play.
 
This man deserves a chance to make it in WWE. I'm talking about Bray Wyatt, not Yoshi Tatsu
 
I’ve never seen Bray Wyatt work as a babyface so I don’t know how good he is in the role. I do know how good he is at playing the disturbed southern preacher though. It’s a persona that deserves the chance to succeed on the big stage of WWE. Whether he gets called up alongside Erick Rowan and Luke Harper or not (and for the record I think they should all go up together) Wyatt would be best served playing his current character, perhaps recruiting one or two current members of the roster to swell the ranks of the Family.

Ohno could work as a babyface. WWE seems short on bankable good guys right now. Alberto Del Rio’s worked out nicely but The Miz is considered a flop and Sheamus has been a disaster as a top line performer. Ohno’s been around long enough to be able to start out as a good guy.

The trouble there is that it’s tricky to introduce good guys as anything other than underdogs. That works when the wrestler in question is the size of Kofi Kingston or Bo Dallas but it’s a trickier proposition with someone of Ohno’s build. He looks like he can take care of himself as is roughly the same size as most of the other guys under contract. If he’s going to start out as a good guy the underdog approach wouldn’t be available.

They’re not the only guys who could find themselves on the main roster come late April. Adrian Neville and Oliver Grey, the current NXT tag champs, would make an excellent addition to the tag team division. That would depend on WWE wanting to make their doubles scene watchable once WrestleMania’s out of the way, of course.

Conor O’Brian’s puzzling Ascension gimmick is not the sort of thing that would be a natural fit for WWE right now. It could work (for a while anyway) if he continued to play the character as he has in NXT while the commentary team, backstage interviewers and other wrestlers acknowledged how strange the character is. A joke that everyone except the performer is in on, if you like.

Gimmick aside O’Brian’s as ready as he’s going to get. He could find a role with a more straight-laced character but doing is current act for laughs would help him stand out.
 
The potential for comedy is staggering
 
Corey Graves is another guy who would be a nice fit for RAW and SmackDown. He looks and wrestles the part, though he has the same problem as Ohno in that he’d be another heel on the books. He may be headed towards a babyface turn in NXT thanks to his recent dispute with The Shield, so that could work to his advantage.

What may go against Graves more than anything else are his visual similarities to CM Punk. Anything that could be perceived as harmful to Punk (and sadly that includes Graves also having a torso full of tattoos) is going to be treated carefully by WWE’s writing and marketing teams. What may help to nullify this is Punk taking time off after WrestleMania. That seems likely because of various injuries he’s been working through and his busy schedule for the last couple of years. If Punk’s off TV by the end of April then Graves could be called up and established as his own man long before ‘The Second City Saint’ returns.

I mentioned Leo Kruger in my NXT recap on Saturday (available here). He’s ready to play a larger role in my view, but I think he’d need a character tweak. The South African walkabout nut doesn’t seem like something WWE would get behind.

There’s a strong chance some of the NXT Divas will get a call-up too. The Divas division is paper thin and requires some fresh blood. Bringing back old names is all well and good but new names are just as important. Paige, Sasha Banks, and Audrey Marie would be my top picks. Summer Rae’s still a little too wooden and generic when cutting promos.

WWE could surprise us with some promotions for guys who’ve yet to play an important role on NXT’s TV show. That’s what they did with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. Xavier Woods has a fun 90s-centric character that many of WWE’s younger viewers could relate to. Sammy Sane (the former El Generico) would be an interesting choice too.

It’s going to be interesting to see who gets the nod to move up. We’ll know who the chosen ones are, if there are any, by early May. Hopefully there are more than one or two. The greater the number of people given an opportunity the greater chance there is of a new star being made.

Sunday 24 March 2013

It Ain't Panto

Here in Britain we have something called a panto. It’s a traditional story, such as a fairy or folk tale, of a hero turned into a deliberately camp stage play aimed at children. There are numerous other tropes involved, cross-dressing and risqué comments are the big two, but the general thrust of any panto performance, no matter the story it’s based on, is the hero’s quest to overcome the schemes of a villain.

In this regard panto is much like wrestling.

As is the case with wrestling the audience plays a key part in the performance. They’re encouraged to cheer the hero and boo the villain. This is achieved through the script the actors play to. People know who’s good and who’s bad by what they say.

In wrestling the same thing is achieved through promos. Both mediums also get across a character’s intent through body language and clothing choices but it’s what’s said that’s most effective.

The difference lies in how the audience is treated (and, y’know, in the basic nature of the performance). With a panto the audience is in on the joke, an essential part of the act that’s encouraged to boo and cheer and hiss along as part of the act. In wrestling the audience is there to be entertained and outraged in equal measure. They need to be entertained enough to make their experience an enjoyable one but outraged enough to want to come back and see the bad guy get beaten.

Wrestling fans are still an important part of the act, but their role is downplayed. In part this is because of the long-established nature of the business: fans will always be outsiders and marks.

The role of the hero is pretty much the same in both mediums. They’re there to be cheered. They’ll be downtrodden for a bit but ultimately they’ll emerge triumphant (well usually… it doesn’t always happen in the grap biz).

Villains and heels are a different kettle of fish. A panto villain elicits boos by directing nasty remarks at the hero of the story. The audience empathises with this hero and so dislikes the villain. A wrestling heel can do this too but over the years it has become far more common to see them targeting the fans in the crowd. It’s a more personal approach and so it’s easier to obtain the desired reaction.

To an extent this is a perfectly reasonable way of drawing heat. Insulting a local sports team or celebrity is a logical way to turn a crowd against you. Sweeping generalisations about a town’s populace can work too but even there caution is required.

All too often wrestling bad guys go too far with this approach. Two weeks TNA world champion Bully Ray did just that. As he exited through the crowd (a standard part of the Aces and Eights act) Bully targeted a fan in the stands, berating him with homophobic slurs and telling him he was getting punked in front of his daughter. I would imagine this was not an enjoyable experience for the fan or his family.

Late 90s ECW saw Ray do this sort of thing all the time. While I’m not justifying it I do think it was a more understandable approach to employ then. That promotion was known for being a more adult product and it was established that the wrestlers would interact with fans in that fashion. The Dudleys were a particularly gifted act when it came to riling fans. It’s part of what made them successful in the company and helped them to sign with the WWF and become so well known.
 
Back when cheap heat was the in thing these guys were the masters. Old habits die hard
 
Things are different now. The climate at wrestling events has changed and this sort of behaviour is incredibly behind the times. It’s cheap and nasty. In 2013 when a fan buys a ticket to a wrestling show they’re entitled to a certain level of respect from the wrestlers. Even if these things weren’t true TNA and ECW are very different companies. TNA markets itself as family friendly. ECW did not.

Wrestlers, particularly those who have been around for as long as Bully Ray, should be able to turn fans against them without resorting to these sort of shortcuts. You wouldn’t find John Barrowman cutting promos like that while starring in Aladdin.

Saturday 23 March 2013

NXTweet 20.03.13

A recurring theme in my NXT recaps is comparing NXT to Ring of Honor and Extreme Championship Wrestling. Part of this, at least in the case of ROH, is that a number of the same names crop up on both shows. Meanwhile some of the guys who have never worked for either league feel like they’d have worked there (such as Bray Wyatt, who I’ve compared to Raven).

The general feel of a one hour weekly show is another factor on the comparisons. The shorter running time makes a certain format necessary. RAW can afford to have filler matches and pointless skits because it lasts for three hours. At one hour long ROH and NXT’s TV shows (and ECW’s over a decade ago) have to make sure that everything broadcast has a point. Whether that’s to get over or introduce a new star or advance a storyline doesn’t matter, there’ no time for filler.

NXT is also more inclined towards gimmicks than the rest of WWE’s programmes. This of course puts it into the same league as ECW. Leo Kruger’s African walkabout gimmick could have cropped up in late 90s ECW. It seems likely that a character change will take place before Kruger makes it to the main roster.

As it stands now I can’t see the guy on RAW each week. Then again Fandango, one of the most gimmicky creations of the last ten years, is gracing our screens each week so I could be wrong.

I don’t know for certain but I imagine this sort of approach to a wrestling TV show, one that makes cutting anything not important a necessity, is ideal for talent hoping to get a call up. It forces them to make the most of everything they’re given to do and raises the overall quality of the show.

Unrelated to these thoughts: I enjoyed the confrontation between Ohno and Regal this week. I was surprised that Ohno didn’t display more aggression. Presumably the change will come about over the coming weeks, likely as he takes the decision to goad Regal into a singles match. As I wrote last week that could be great.

Intro video

Tweet 1: NXTweet.
Tweet 2: A recap of Oliver Grey being duffed up because he's too injured to compete. Great cover story.
Tweet 3: Also, words from Adrian Neville that nobody understands. It's like listening to Michael from I'm Alan Partridge.

Justin Gabriel v Leo Kruger

Tweet 4: Why does Gabriel's vest have a zip on the back?
Tweet 5: I wonder if Byron Saxton feels depressed because he's not allowed to wrestle on TV anymore. He probably does.
Tweet 6: 'The Elaborate Secret' Leo Kruger.
Tweet 7: Hair pulling from Kruger there. What a heel!
Tweet 8: Look at Gabriel's hair. Can you imagine him working in Costa with that hair? Because I can.
Tweet 9: That'd make an interesting gimmick actually. Gabriel could do a mist blowing spot as his finish and claim it's coffee.
Tweet 10: He could drink coffee immediately prior to a match to hype himself up. Like Popeye with spinach.
Tweet 11: Also, sponsorship of wrestlers is something that's yet to take off. Gabriel could be a trailblazer. Costa written on his trunks? #win
Tweet 12: He could turn heel by debuting trunks with a Starbucks colour scheme. People would go nuts at the betrayal of 'The Barista Hero'.
Tweet 13: That's barista. Not Batista.

Kruger is showing that barista who's boss!

Tweet 14: Gabriel's kicking a kneeling Kruger. Bryan does it better.
Tweet 15: "Look at that move!" - Tony Dawson, play-by-play commentator
Tweet 16: Kruger's got a nice set of moves for working on the arm. Good stuff.
Tweet 17: 'Captain Secret' Leo Kruger wins with the London Dungeon. That really needs to be given a more relevant name for when he uses it.

Rene Young interviews Audrey Marie

Tweet 18: Oh good. An Audrey Marie interview. these are always GREAT. And her feud with Sasha Banks? Scintillating.

William Regal and Kassius Ohno confrontation

Tweet 19: Ohno's new music is a bit disappointing.
Tweet 20: Regal apologises. The crowd seems to dislike this for some reason.
Tweet 21: Ohno seems disappointed too. That's more understandable though.

Feud brewing

Tweet 22: Nice of Ohno to put over the European tournaments and indy scene.
Tweet 23: "Don't boo me!" - Kassius Ohno to the fans (who should be booing themselves)
Tweet 24: That was a really cool segment. I'm looking forward to their match.

Paige v Bayley

Tweet 25: Bayley, another female wrestler with an absence of surname.
Tweet 26: Bayley's gold and jade colour scheme is interesting. It'd work well on a mask. Which makes me wonder if there are female luchadors.
Tweet 27: Probably are. I'm just unaware of them.
Tweet 28: Why doesn't Mike Chioda work on NXT? Too much of a big shot I s'pose.
Tweet 29: Summer Rae was never going to pull off that run-in successfully. The rule is that wrestling gear must be worn for a run-in.

Adrian Neville v Luke Harper

Tweet 30: According to Regal Neville is the pride of Britain. No. Just no.
Tweet 31: Rochester, New York is a distinctly un-Southern hometown for a member of the Wyatt Family.
Tweet 32: When Bray Wyatt was on the main roster as Husky Harris he seemed like just another guy. The preacher gimmick has been a great move.
Tweet 33: I liked him as Husky. It was a good name and he looked like someone who could succeed in ROH. I prefer the Wyatt character though.

Note the rag in the back pocket

Tweet 34: He's not in this match though. Adrian Neville is, and I like him too. Particularly the Union flag on his trunks. Nice touch.
Tweet 35: Harper wins off a top rope fall and a clothesline. To say that's anti-climactic is an understatement.
Tweet 36: If Oliver Grey was there why didn't he go to ringside at the start of the match? Stupid babyface.
Tweet 37: Bo Dallas is getting involved too. His feud with Bray Wyatt, a heel with his own (small) entourage, makes him the Tommy Dreamer of NXT.

Friday 22 March 2013

golDRagon

Two weeks ago at ROH's 11th Anniversary iPPV Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish won the promotion’s world tag team championship. I said at the time that this was a surprising and positive title switch. What I didn't say is that I think reDRagon are the ideal team to head up the tag team division, both short and long term.

I've been calling for Ring of Honor to do something with O'Reilly since last year. When he renounced Davey Richards as his mentor at Best in the World (moments before ‘The Lone Wolf’ had a world title rematch with Kevin Steen) I thought something major was going to follow. I was wrong. O'Reilly spent the majority of the remainder of 2012 wrestling in meaningless matches which were rarely long enough to give him a chance to stand out. This instead of building him up to be one of the company’s leading stars.

As the year came to a close O'Reilly was paired up with Bobby Fish for a tag match opposite the reunited American Wolves at Final Battle. It became clear at the start of 2013 that that hadn't
been a throwaway addition to the final ROH show of the year. They would be a regular combo.

There are a few reasons reDRagon are the ideal team to be on top right now. First and foremost they're both very good wrestlers. That's obviously a good attribute to have in any wrestling promotion. It’s particularly useful in Ring of Honor, where work rate is what fans looks for above everything else.

They're a fresh pairing too. The majority of the other teams on the roster have yet to face them in a regular encounter. The return to bringing in non-regulars for select shows will mean even more fresh matches involving reDRagon. The Forever Hooligans, BLKOUT, the Young Bucks and the Super Smash Bros would be my top choices from outside ROH to come in and face the champs. If the recently announced working agreement with Pro Wrestling NOAH is going to be an ongoing thing then that could mean even more great matches for the pair.


A tip for Mr O'Reilly: work on your sneer

There's also the established rivalry with the American Wolves. It took a while but the Kyle and Davey dispute finally paid off. The Wolves versus reDRagon was a hot, well received encounter. The Wolves won, which should guarantee them a future match for the tag belts. More matches of that calibre wouldn’t be a bad thing. There's a lot that could be done in a prolonged reDRagon v Wolves programme. The history between Davey, Eddie and Kyle could generate months of material.

What else is nice about this scenario is that there's not one team who will clearly be the next champions. The American Wolves are certainly favourites but they haven't been set up as the men who will definitely dethrone Fish and O'Reilly. It could just as easily be one of the teams mentioned above, given a shot out of the blue. The Briscoes could add yet another reign to their tally. Or the men I've been saying should be the ROH tag champs for over six months, the C&C Wrestle Factory, could finally reach the top. Even if they don't win I expect Coleman and Alexander to get a title match sometime soon, and to have a noteworthy outing when they do.

The tag team division is just one area of ROH that Delirious has improved since taking control of the booking. It's an area that was particularly drab under Cornette so its improvement stands out more. I hope it keeps getting better.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Creative Control

WWE has been using a team of writers to script their TV shows for over ten years now. Before that they used bookers. The difference is significant. A booker is someone who has been around the wrestling business for a substantial amount of time and understands how to apply its unique psychology to the structuring of plots designed to keep fans paying to see to guys fight. A writer is someone who understands how to structure a television show, using the medium's episodic format to keep people tuning back in every week by using characters, skits, and wrestling matches in equal measure.

The previous system comprised a collection of backstage personnel. Jims Cornette and Ross were involved in booking for a while, as were then-full time performers Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Gerry Brisco, Pat Patterson and others were involved over the years too.

The era of the writer began when WWF Magazine editor Vince Russo was inducted into the federation's creative process. Vinnie Ru has always insisted that he's a writer, not a booker, taking a great deal of pride in the title. Russo, you see, writes TV shows. He doesn't book wrestling.

Vince McMahon has been the man in charge throughout. He retained the final say when there was a booking team and he does so now with his cadre of writers. The WWF is his company. Nothing happens without his authorisation. Basically if Vince doesn't like it, it doesn't happen.

That's important to remember when advocating either approach. Whatever examples you may pluck from WWE's (or indeed the WWF's) past they have ultimately been okayed by the same man. It is all, in a sense, one man's creative vision. Both approaches have brought the company success.

The label of writer is often tossed around derisively by wrestling fans. It's important to note that the success of the company's most critically acclaimed period (yep, the Attitude Era) is usually attributed to Vinces Russo and McMahon. JR left the process (because of his full time job announcing RAW and running the talent relations department), Cornette left the company, and Patterson and Brisco became agents, focusing on matches. While he wasn't the only guy involved Russo was one of the driving forces. I feel this needs pointing out simply to illustrate that not everyone who calls themselves a writer is bad for the product.

Nevertheless the current approach of hiring guys with little or no experience, knowledge or passion for wrestling to be writers is seen as the biggest problem the current WWE product has. It's not a sentiment I'm inclined to argue with. WWE has spent too long concentrating on wooing guys with film, network TV, and Hollywood experience. They know how to bring a fresh perspective to WWE, which is valuable. But it’s happening, and has happened, at the expense of a basic knowledge of what wrestling fans want. It may be marketed as sports entertainment, but WWE will always be wrestling.

Broadly speaking the trouble is that all the writers have the same set of experiences to draw on. Their backgrounds are too similar to provide any meaningful variety in the world of wrestling. Yes they have their place, but it's alongside people who understand what makes draws paying customers to wrestling. Those who know what's been successful, and why, should be working alongside those with a broader experience of television production.


Maybe CM stands for Creativity Manager

This isn't to belittle the efforts of the writing team. By all accounts they have a pretty tough travel schedule and work very long hours. On top of that their role is a constant balancing act between suggesting things that will better the product and not being so radical as to alienate them from the mercurial Mr McMahon. It can't be an easy gig.

But working under tough conditions doesn't change the fact that the current scripting system isn't working. A change is needed in this department, and the most effective option available is to get rid of some of the writers. That would allow for a more streamlined process. The guys that should go should be a mixture of newcomers who aren't grasping what makes wrestling (or sports entertainment) work and veterans who've been around long enough to have contributed all their best ideas. This doesn't have to mean sacking them. WWE's a big corporation, find somewhere else for them to slot in where their experience will be just as, if not more, valuable.

The writers should be replaced with those who know the industry. Agents, managers, commentators, GMs... whatever roles these guys currently play on TV they've all been around wrestling for long enough to have an idea of what a 2013 audience may react to. If someone doesn't work out that's fine, just remove them and give someone else a shot. It's not like WWE doesn't have enough staff for this to work.

I think it would be worthwhile allowing a select few main event guys the chance to contribute more in this area too. CM Punk, John Cena and The Rock are all said to have a degree of influence over what they do and say on TV. Why not put then in the writing team in an official capacity and see if their ideas can benefit the roster as a whole? Cena may not be a great wrestler but maybe he could turn out to be wrestling’s answer to Proust.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

X Additions

TNA needs to do something with its X Division. This is something I've written before (as recently as last week, in fact) but it's worth writing again.

This Thursday's Impact will apparently see new rules announced for the X boys. I'm not aware of what these rules will be but I can't imagine any that could bring about enough change to restore the league to its once lofty heights. Fans don't care too much about the rules governing wrestling. We're even less inclined to care about the rules of a division that's not currently entertaining on any meaningful level.

There's only one thing that I think could improve the X Division. It’s not a new rulebook. It’s new talent.

The X Division, much like the Knockouts division, is an area of the TNA roster that is ridiculously under stocked. The Knockouts at least have a variety of characters in their midst. Nobody's going to confuse a Gail Kim promo with an ODB promo. The same can't be said for the X Division. The heels and the faces all sound the same. Even Zema Ion, once someone who stood out from the pack, has regressed. He's now little more than spray and Dragon Ball Z hair.


Kame hame ha!

What's so frustrating is that when treated properly the X Division is TNA's greatest tool against WWE. Vince McMahon is notoriously reluctant to promote anything resembling the X Division in his company. Look at his half-hearted treatment of the cruiserweight and light heavyweight titles. He's not against promoting smaller guys, but when he does they wrestle a slower, more deliberate style than that seen in the average X bout.

The argument that TNA also has the Knockouts to set them apart from the competition is flimsy. While the KOs used to be great their matches and programmes have slipped in quality like the X Division. More to the point WWE has shown that they are willing to push female performers in the past. Just because they're not right now (mainly because they have about two female performers of note) doesn't mean they're incapable of doing so. The Knockouts are a less unique attribute to TNA than the X Division.

Matches involving Kenny King, Christian York, and Zema Ion can only be cycled through for so long. The reappearance of Sonjay Dutt was nice to see, not to mention welcome, and Rockstar Spud won’t hurt. But they alone can't save the X scene. If the league is to return to the spectacle associated with its heyday two or three other guys need to be brought in to provide fresh bouts.

Right now I can't foresee these new X Division rules being anything but a flimsy substitute for much needed new talent.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Ring of Van Dam

Rob Van Dam has been with TNA since 2010. Since debuting with the company he’s won the world heavyweight championship and the X Division championship, and worked numerous matches with “dream” opponents such as AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels. He’s done everything he can in the company. Except, to use the favoured term, take the company to the next level.

RVD was never going to be the man to do that. He was ECW’s most popular act in the late 90s and enjoyed a high profile spot on WWF television when he joined the company for the invasion angle in 2001. He never managed to elevate ECW as a promotion and he failed to become a major star in the WWF.

Why people thought he’d be able to perform the feat in the schizophrenic TNA I have no idea. The atmosphere in TNA and the approach taken to television is not geared towards allowing anyone, even someone with ‘Mr Monday Night’s’ prior status as a WWE star, to become a leading man. The spotlight has to remain firmly on Hulk Hogan.

Van Dam’s contract expired a week or two ago. I think it’s the ideal time for him to leave TNA and do something different. He could make more money in WWE. He could probably return to a pretty decent upper mid-card spot too. Since he last worked there guys like CM Punk, Sheamus and Daniel Bryan have risen to prominence. Van Dam could enjoy a pay-per-view programme with Bryan and Punk (less so ‘Great White’) and also help the progression of guys like Wade Barrett, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow.

WWE is not Van Dam’s only option. If he wanted to take a gamble he could join Ring of Honor. The ROH roster is packed with guys who would be able to keep up with RVD’s speedy ring style, not to mention help him wrestle in between his beloved high spots. Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, Michael Elgin, Adam Cole, ACH, and Tommaso Ciampa would all be interesting, and fresh, opposition for RVD. They could even bring in Sabu for a couple of house shows for matches alongside Van Dam against the American Wolves, the Briscoes, and redDRagon.
 
Looks like someone's about to get a hug
 
‘The Whole F’n Show’ would be an ideal man to create interest in an internet pay-per-view. There’s no reason he couldn’t debut as a challenger to Kevin Steen’s ROH championship at Best in the World. The promotion never used to shy away from giving outsiders title shots on larger shows. A good thing to note here is that ROH seems to be bringing in more outside talent for bigger shows. This approach helps to keep things fresh and interesting. Steen v Van Dam could be a classic.

The likelihood is that if RVD leaves TNA he will end up back in WWE. He’s in his forties and that’s where the money is. One of the main arguments for him going to ROH would be helping the group attract new viewers, which I’ve said above he is not well equipped to do. A surprise return to WWE to create an interesting mid-card wouldn’t be bad, but I’d love him to make a stop-off in Ring of Honor first.

Monday 18 March 2013

'Mania Moment

We're three weeks away from WrestleMania XXIX and a man many thought would be featured in a key, or at least purposeful, match currently has nothing to do. I'm talking, of course, about Chris Jericho.

When he returned at the Royal Rumble Jericho got one of the loudest roars of the night. Fans went wild for the guy. The opening two minutes saw Jericho clash with Dolph Ziggler in one of hottest portions of the match and the show. Once a few more names were added it became clear that 'The Highlight of the Night' had in part been installed to hold the match together. He did so and did so well. He entered a charismatic, commanding performance. A meaningful programme for the following months seemed inevitable.

The following evening on RAW 'Y2J' briefly flirted with resuming his programme with Ziggler full time. It wasn't to be. By the time Elimination Chamber rolled around three weeks later Jericho had been entered into the titular cage bout while 'The Show Off' had been left off the announced card altogether (he ended up having a random match with Kofi Kingston). We're going to have to carry on waiting for the resumption of that rivalry.

Since the Chamber PPV Jericho has done nothing that gives a clear hint of what he'll be doing at WrestleMania, which makes me think nothing's been finalised for him yet (which seems to be the case for a lot of guys). A three-way feud between Jericho, Miz and Intercontinental champ Wade Barrett was teased but for reasons known only to WWE that match has been announced for this evening's edition of RAW.

It's possible the RAW match will end in a DQ or no contest in order to set up a rematch at WrestleMania. If so it's a strange way of booking things: having the match advertised for RAW and then transplanted to the pay-per-view makes it clear that it's a RAW level outing. It's also traditional for three-way feuds to feature various singles and tag team matches before a triple threat is booked.


Nobody needs to see this guy with the IC belt again

Personally is rather see Jericho do something else and have Barrett and 'The Awesome One' continue in a singles feud. The three-way alternative would feature an outnumbered heel (never a good thing) and potentially awkward styles clashes with each of the three trying to provide slick triple threat exchanges. Should Jericho have one of his famed calamitous off nights it could be a disaster.

A few weeks ago I went so far as to write an article listing all the things Jericho could be used for between January and April (read it here). It seems what was an obvious wealth of possibilities for me was a generic signing to WWE's writing team. I'm surprised by this. You'd think WWE would plan something worthwhile for a guy of Jericho's talent.


It's not that his televised matches since he returned haven't been worthwhile, it's that with no clear purpose 'Y2J' is just another guy treading water. I'm not advocating a world title match or Streak challenge for him, but I do think he should be doing something with some merit or a plan behind it. The rumours of a Jericho versus Fandango match are emphatically not what I have in mind.