Tuesday 30 April 2013

Border Wars 2013 preview

Whoever puts together event graphics for Ring of Honor has had a busy time over the last month. The original picture showed Pro Wrestling NOAH stars Naomichi Marufuji and Taiji Ishimori along with the men who would wrestle for the ROH world championship, champion Kevin Steen and challenger Adam Cole. Steen lost the belt at Supercard of Honor VII, meaning he had to be taken off and replaced by new champ Jay Briscoe. Then Marufuji suffered a knee injury so he had to be taken off the graphic too, replaced by Paul London.

It feels like everyone's had a turn being on this poster

Personally I'm more excited about Davey Richards facing London than I was about him facing Marufuji. I'm more familiar with London's work so I have more of an idea of what to expect. Obviously I know enough about Marufuji to know he wouldn't have had a bad match with the former world champion, it's just that I don't feel any particular connection with him.

London hasn't been in an ROH ring in almost ten years. He's spent his time away ageing, smiling manically at Vince McMahon, and wrestling for other promotions. Notably WWE and PWG. Notably not EVOLVE or Dragon Gate USA. I don't know if much can be read into that but I do find it interesting that 'The Intrepid Traveller' hasn't cropped up as a regular for his old boss Gabe Sapolsky. He's the sort of guy I'd expect Gabe to want to bring in. Then again he raves about John Davis so it's not like he's got conventional tastes.

London's match with Richards will be a first time ever encounter and I'm expecting both men to do everything they can to make it memorable. My initial feeling is that London will get the win because he's a returning star. I'm hopeful ROH will want to use him again. If they do then there are few betters ways of reintroducing him than with a win over arguably the company's best wrestler. I'm interested to see what sort of a reaction London gets from fans beyond the obligatory "Welcome back" and "You still got it" chants.

Richards' tag partner Eddie Edwards will face Taiji Ishimori in the only top three match on the card that has remained unsullied since being announced. Ishimori is the current GHC junior heavyweight champion but the title won't be on the line. It could be turned into an impromptu title match at the last minute but I strongly doubt it. Why would ROH forego the chance to advertise a title match just to book a fairly generic surprise.

I was leaning towards 'Die Hard' losing this because when champions lose non-title matches outside of WWE and TNA it tends to mean something. As Edwards works for NOAH I've reconsidered under the logic that him winning here could be used to set up a title match on a future tour of Japan. Whether he'd win that or not I have no idea, but I expect this match to be good enough for NOAH to want to promote it too.

Down on the undercard BJ Whitmer will wrestle his former tag team partner Rhett Titus. Personally I think Titus needs a win more than Whitmer so that's the result I think we'll get. That result will keep SCUM looking strong too, which is a priority for ROH at the moment.

Speaking of SCUM, two members of the stable will face Jay Lethal and Michael 'The Power Mullet' Elgin in a heavily stipulated tag match. If the ROH guys win Steve Corino must leave the company. 'The King of Old School' has stated if SCUM lose he'll leave wrestling altogether. I don't think that's the official stip though, nor do I think it will be true should SCUM lose.

Not that that matters because it seems pretty likely SCUM are going to win. Corino is important as a spokesman for his group. Getting rid of him just doesn't seem possible if the SCUM plot is going to continue, which I think it is. Assuming that's the case then SCUM will earn Matt Hardy an ROH world title shot and Corino won't just stay, he'll join Kevin Kelly at the announce table as a colour commentator. Both things seem like the direction ROH is going in. SCUM needs to become a powerful threat so that when ROH eventually wins the feud they've accomplished something impressive.

The two wrestlers representing SCUM haven't been announced at time of writing. It could really be any of them but I'd quite like to see a team of Jimmy Rave and Cliff Compton. Anyone not involved in this match is probably going to be at ringside or interfering in Titus v BJ so it's not like there's any great need for one SCUM member to be in this match over another.

In another doubles match ACH and Tadarius Thomas will face Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander. This seems like a safe bet for show opening honours. It should be good. It's a pairing I've wanted to see since ACH and Thomas were put together. Either team could win (my most frequently expressed opinion in Ring of Honor previews, I know) but I'll pick ACH and Thomas because I think they're building towards a tag title challenge.

Mark Briscoe versus TV champion Matt Taven (for the title) sticks out as a possible comedy outing. Mark's redneck Kung Fu is the sort of thing you can imagine Truth Martini over-selling while Scarlet is the sort of thing you can imagine Mark over-selling. Hopefully we'll get a few minutes of comedy before the two settle down for a proper match. Taven deserves the chance to have an outing that lasts a decent amount of time. His previous two iPPV outings have both been stuffed with interference and had a generally rushed feel to them. He's been left overshadowed and looking like a bystander. This should he his show to get a decisive victory.

A peculiar addition to the show is the three-way match pitting Roderick Strong v Mike Bennett v Mike Mondo. The reasons for this happening are tenuous. Basically Mondo involved himself in a singles match Strong and Bennett had on the post-Supercard TV show. It's an excuse to get the three guys featured on the card. I don't see a problem with that: Strong and Bennett are good, it's always nice to see Maria Kanellis, and Mike Mondo... well... he's got nice hair and a great beard.

Strong to win. He's lost on the last two iPPVs. He's not the sort of guy that should be losing too often.

Finally there's the main event: Jay Briscoe defending the ROH world championship against Adam Cole. A Cole heel turn has been teased over the last month. He interrupted Jay's inaugural promo as champ to say he was going to beat him and then swaggered backstage, a big fat chip perched on his shoulder. On last week's show he teamed with Jay to take on SCUM members Matt Hardy and Rhino (yeah, the old babyface pay-per-view opponents teaming against a common enemy on TV trick, it's a classic). During that he tagged himself in just as Jay was setting things up for a win, accidentally superkicked the champ and then fell to a Gore from 'The Manbeast'. That the kick was an innocent mistake doesn't matter: it was Cole's selfish glory-seeking that caused his team to lose.

If Cole is going to turn heel this is a good way of building up to it. I said a month ago that it's possible we'll see SCUM interfere in this match, beating down Briscoe and presenting Cole with the chance to go for a pin and win the title in a dishonourable fashion. I still want to see that. It would be a good way of demonstrating his new character and his desperation to be the champion.

Beyond the potential to further the ROH v SCUM story I'm not especially fussed about this match. I like both guys but I'm still not sure of how Jay Briscoe is going to hold up as a featured singles performer. Hopefully this match will convince me that he's a good pick for the role.

I'm expecting Briscoe to retain here and go on to face Matt Hardy at Best in the World in June. Should 'The Icon' win the title there, as I suspect he will, he'll be able to launch straight into a programme with Michael Elgin, who has a guaranteed title shot of his own. If Matt Hardy isn't the obvious pick to beat Briscoe I don't know who is.

The only unanswered question for Border Wars is whether or not Kevin Steen will appear. He's not been seen since he got beaten down by SCUM at the TV tapings in New York (which aired on April 20th). I'd normally expect him to be off television for longer but as Border Wars is taking place in Canada, and 'Mr Wrestling' is Canadian, it seems fair to assume he'll put in an appearance. The likeliest thing I can think of for him to do is hit the ring to fend off SCUM.

I'd recommend watching this show. ROH have been on a roll with their iPPVs lately. I don't see this one being the trend-breaker.

Predictions summary:
Jay Briscoe to defeat Adam Cole
Paul London to defeat Davey Richards
Eddie Edwards to defeat Taiji Ishimori
Matt Taven to defeat Mark Briscoe
SCUM to defeat Michael Elgin and Jay Lethal
Rhett Titus to defeat BJ Whitmer
Roderick Strong to outlast Mike Bennett and Mike Mondo
ACH and Tadarius Thomas to defeat Caprice Coleman and Cedric Alexander

Monday 29 April 2013

History of the WWE championship

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the WWE championship. It was first awarded to ‘Nature Boy’ Buddy Rogers on April 29th 1963. An announcement was made that he had won a tournament held in Rio de Janiro, though that wasn’t true. With no internet or international news channels around at the time nobody could question this claim. Not that it mattered: by all accounts everyone believed it anyway.

For the record I find it peculiar that no eyebrows were raised when it was announced that a promotion based in the north-eastern United States chose to crown a world champion so far away from its regular haunts. Madison Square Garden would surely have been the logical spot. I suppose it speaks to the nature of the wrestling business at the time that everyone believed the WWWF (as it was then) would hold a tourney in Rio.

This is not intended to be a complete historical account of the WWE championship. There are plenty of those available already. Instead these are my memories of WWE’s top title from the last fourteen years.

I first started watching the WWF in late 1998. This was during a period when the championship was vacant, a situation which had come about when Kane and Undertaker had both pinned reigning champion 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin during a triple threat match. Being a new viewer I was unaware of what the lack of a world champion meant, but I was able to gather that it was serious stuff from commentator Jim Ross.

A new champion was crowned at Survivor Series. Anyone who's sat through that pay-per-view will know what a shambolic affair it was. The decision to air a fourteen man tournament on PPV was bizarre, and necessitated some pretty hasty match times. There were a variety of poor outings in the preliminary rounds and nothing that could be held up as good. The big name matches that happened later in the sho amounted to nothing because of their truncated run times.

Of course I was blissfully unaware of this at the time. I thought it was an epic and exciting show and that all big events had a similarly stacked card.

The main event got treated to a respectable seventeen minutes and acted as the starting point for the feud between The Rock and Mankind. It also featured one of the Attitude Era's most well-known and effective swerve turns. Vince McMahon had openly favoured Mick 'Mankind' Foley going into the tournament but the main event saw the boss assist 'The Great One' in gaining the win. It formed heel stable The Corporation, turned The Rock from the popular 'People's Champion' into the cocky 'Corporate Champion', switched Mankind into a face, and turned the previous year's iffy Survivor Series main event into a storyline point (an inspired move).

It wasn't terribly new viewer friendly. I didn't comprehend everything that had happened but in hindsight it was an eventful show.

More importantly, at least for the purposes of this post, it was an important night for the WWF title. The rivalry between Mankind and The Rock would continue until February of the next year and feature no less than four further title switches. They churned out some belting matches on various episode of RAW as well as at Rock Bottom, the Royal Rumble and St Valentine's Day Massacre. Anyone watching the WWF at this time will likely remember this feud well. I thought the two men had great matches and I’m pleased it was the first title feud I watched.


The epitome of a transitional champion

As good as the Mankind and Rock stuff had been the next title programme was better. It saw Foley replaced by Austin. He'd won the right to challenge for the title by defeating Vinnie Mac in a cage match at St Valentine's Day Massacre. Austin versus Rock headlined WrestleMania and had what was, by their standards, a mildly disappointing match. That’s not intended as a knock, the two were still better than everyone else on the roster and their charisma ensured they had a good exchange. But they did have better matches at other events. Again, I wasn't fully aware of how meaningful this match was at the time, I just knew two guys I liked were wrestling on a big show.

That feud carried on until late April. At that point 'The Brahma Bull' had to be split from the Corporation and turned into a babyface because of how popular he was. That left Austin to work with the Undertaker for a while before beginning a programme with the next star chosen to get a main event push: Triple H.

'The Rattlesnake' didn't want to work with ‘The Game’, which introduced me to the shenanigans that backstage politics can cause. Before this the only things I'd read were about wrestler X disliking wrestler Y. Here Austin's refusal to lose to Tripper necessitated a bizarre storyline that saw the SummerSlam main event constantly changing. Various singles match combos involving Austin, Mankind, Triple H and Chyna were announced for the show, until finally a triple threat that included the three guys and no Chyna was finalised via a double pin finish (a Russo favourite).

Mankind left as champ and held the title for a day, losing it to 'The Cerebral Assassin' on the following night's RAW. It was another memorable sequence of title changes. Sadly it was followed by something a slump.

Vince McMahon beat Triple H for the title twenty-two days into his inaugural reign. Obviously this did little damage to Hunter’s star power long term but it struck me as a stupid move at the time. Nobody wanted to see Vince as world champion, and yet there he was with the belt. And as a face no less.

By the middle of the next year Triple H had racked up four title reigns but none of them, or any of the reigns of other men, had meant anything much. The next title win that meant something to me as a fan would come on April 1st 2001 when Austin defeated The Rock at WrestleMania X7 in his home state of Texas. That was Austin’s first title reign in a year and a half. It was great to see him return to the top.

That match was supposed to see Austin go heel but it didn’t really stick. The turn was tried again in July. It worked better then as it was linked to the WCW and ECW invasion angle. Austin jumped ship to the Alliance, with the WWF title, because he felt unappreciated by Vince McMahon. The entire invasion was bungled and it would take too long to go into why here. Suffice to say that Austin’s turn shouldn’t really have stood out as a highlight of the months long storyline, but it did.

By December Austin had lost the belt to Kurt Angle and then regained it for what would be his sixth and final reign. The WWF championship was announced to be unified with the WCW championship at Vengeance. What could have been an epic eight man tournament was instead turned into a series of three matches: Rock versus Jericho for the WCW strap, Angle versus Austin for the WWF gold, and then Jericho versus Austin in a final match. Surprisingly ‘Y2J’ won both his matches, becoming the only man to ever beat Austin and Rock on the same night and gaining a bragging point for the rest of his career.

His reign wasn’t a success. In fact there wouldn’t be another great reign for quite a while. The first half of 2002 did yield a memorable sequence of title exchanges though.

Triple H conquered Jericho at WrestleMania X8. That was to be expected. He’d returned from an injury as a monster face and won the Royal Rumble at the start of the year. It was inevitable that he’d be the man to dethrone ‘The Highlight of the Night’. What was less expected was his loss of the title just five weeks later to Hulk Hogan. Yeah… Hulk Hogan.
 
Triple H's fifth WWF title win

‘The Hulkster’s’ sixth and final run as WWF champion come thanks to a wave of nostalgia. He’d returned to the company as a heel in February. Having been cheered in his match with The Rock at WrestleMania Vince McMahon had decided that a title win for Hogan would be good for business.

The result got a good reaction but didn’t cause the ratings surge that had been hoped for so Hogan lost the belt a month later to the Undertaker. It was during this reign that company name changed from the WWF to WWE, making ‘The Dead Man’ the first ever WWE champion. He only held the belt for two months before losing it to The Rock.

It’s always struck me as a memorable sequence of title changes because Triple H, Hogan, Undertaker and Rock are four of the biggest names in company history. For each of them to get some time with the belt in such quick succession was pretty special. It culminated in the first title win of Brock Lesnar. That’s pretty big too.

‘The Pain’ dominated the title scene until 2004. It was hoped that he could become the face of the company. Ultimately that didn’t happen because he got bored and decided he wanted to play football. We all know how that turned out for him.

The man who ended Lesnar’s third (and most recent) WWE title run was Eddie Guerrero. Their match together was masterful, quite possibly the best wrestling match of Lesnar’s entire career. So many things came together to make it special.

The show being held in a large Hispanic market meant there was huge support for Guerrero, who had become incredibly popular anyway. Lesnar had finally hit his stride as a bullying monster and begun to understand how to get over in the world of pro wrestling. Both men meshed well as opponents: they told a captivating story of the overmatched underdog facing nigh insurmountable odds. Even Tazz contributed something to the match, making one of the best calls of his announcing career when he said he didn’t even think Guerrero, the smaller man, had the speed and agility advantage over Lesnar. That helped to hammer home just how long the odds were for Eddie.

Eddie’s reign as champion was hard on him. WWE’s business had been in a steady decline for years following the end of the Attitude Era boom period. The promotion continued to do badly with Eddie as champion. Being an old school kind of guy ‘Latino Heat’ blamed himself. By that point it was the WWE brand name, rather than the champion, that drew audiences so he was pretty hard on himself: there was nothing he could have done to impact the company’s business. Guerrero was happy to be relieved of the pressure when he lost the title to JBL in June.

Bradshaw’s winning of the WWE championship was a contributing factor to me paying less attention to WWE and more to other wrestling promotions. He struck me as a glorified mid-carder and I had no interest in seeing him as a featured singled competitor. He held the title for a ridiculous 280 days before dropping it to John Cena (you may have heard of him) at WrestleMania 21 which, in a sense, brings us into the modern era of the WWE championship. That title change happened nine years ago and Cena has been a central part of the title scenery ever since.
 
Whoever thought a "vanilla midget" would become the WWE champion?
 
Cena’s title reign ended in two firsts: the first Money in the Bank cash-in and the first WWE title victory for Edge. This was another reign that meant a lot to me as a fan. Edge was a guy I’d been a fan of for a long time and it was great to see him finally get the recognition he deserved by winning the promotion’s top championship. Sadly it didn’t last long: he dropped the belt back to SuperCena three weeks later at the Royal Rumble.

He’d win the title a further three times during his career but he’d never hold it for more than a month and a half. All of his reigns but that one lasted twenty-one days. He’d have more luck with the company’s other world title.

WWE had introduced the World Heavyweight championship in September 2002 as part of their separate rosters initiative. For the first few years of the WHC’s existence the prestige and meaning of the WWE championship was diluted slightly. WWE did a good job of booking both titles as though they meant something and ensuring only the most appropriate wrestlers challenged for and held both prizes. That helped the World Heavyweight title but decreased the importance of the older belt. Eventually the company de-pushed the World Heavyweight strap and the WWE championship became the clear number one again.

Going back to the memories… John Cena’s second title reign came to an end at ECW One Night Stand in June of 2006. He lost to second Money in the Bank holder Rob Van Dam, who held the title for just twenty-two days before unceremoniously dumping it to Edge thanks to a Wellness Policy violation. Rumours at the time were that RVD had been due to have a lengthy run. His stupidity cost him what probably would have been a career highlight run.

Nothing particularly noteworthy happened again until the end of 2008. The second half of the decade saw WWE hit a bit of a slump and so they played things safe by keeping the title on established headliners like Triple H. Randy Orton got his first and second reigns with the belt at No Mercy 2007, but he’d already held the World Heavyweight title by then and was established at the top. It wasn’t a big deal.

December 2008 saw Jeff Hardy capture his first WWE championship in a triple threat match with Triple H and Edge. This was a noteworthy moment in much the same way ‘The Rated R Superstar’s’ first title win had been. I’d never been the biggest fan of the Hardys (I preferred Edge and Christian, obviously) but it was nice to see another guy who’d started in the company during the Attitude Era getting a reign with the big belt.

Orton, Triple H and Cena spent the next year swapping the title amongst themselves before newcomer Sheamus was randomly given a premature try as a headliner on December 13th. He was presented as a fluke champion unworthy of the position. Which, y’know, didn’t do a huge amount of good for the title’s image or ‘The Celtic Warrior’s’ long term perception.

The next big moment featuring the title was CM Punk’s victory at Money in the Bank 2011. A lot has been written about that, on this blog and elsewhere. It was an important moment because it was acknowledgement from WWE that the group of indy stars who had risen to prominence over the preceding decade were not just able to get jobs in “the big leagues” but could rise to the top. It was a significant moment for the championship as well as WWE’s views on what made a wrestler suitable to hold it.

Punk’s win led to the farcical double champions storyline. That was resolved just weeks after it started when Punk and Cena clashed in a unification bout at SummerSlam. It wasn’t an especially memorable moment. It could have been had the story continued for longer, but that wasn’t on the cards. WWE were more interested in having Kevin Nash return to launch into a feud with their hottest star. The belt was slapped on to Alberto Del Rio and Cena before Punk became a two time champion at Survivor Series and embarked on his 434 day reign.

We all know the story from there.

The WWE championship may not always be held by the best wrestler in the world or even the best wrestler in the company but that doesn’t stop it being an important prize. Despite WWE’s continual shift away from sports and towards entertainment they still have the sense to protect the WWE championship and present it as the top championship in the industry. Other companies may have their own world titles but there are none with the history and legacy of the WWE world heavyweight championship. It is wrestling’s most prestigious prize.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Victim of Circumstance

I watched the opening two matches of WrestleMania XX a week or two ago (I was bored while waiting for My Big Fat Gypsy Fortune to start). The second match is an instantly forgettable four team tag match. The opening bout is far more noteworthy, seeing John Cena take on the Big Show for the US championship. There are two firsts there: Cena's in-ring 'Mania debut (he had cut a promo at WrestleMania XIX) and his first title win.

The match is also noteworthy for the incredibly positive reaction Cena receives. He'd been on TV for around eighteen months by this point. He’d spent majority of that time doing his 'Doctor of Thuganomics' gimmick, a heavily modified version of which he still plays today.

It was peculiar viewing. Cena did the routine he still performs today and the audience lapped it up. He powered up Big Show for an FU (or the AA as it’s called now) and the crowd roared with a mixture of astonishment and approval. Moments later that same audience was stunned when 'The World's Largest Athlete' kicked out of the move, the first man to ever do so. Perhaps most interestingly the event was held in Madison Square Garden, a state away from but catering to the same market as 'Mania XXIX.

Cena got a very different reception back in 2004. I'd rhetorically ask what's changed but we all know the answer: nothing has.

In 2003 WWE was mostly directionless, flailing in the wake of The Rock's move to Hollywood and 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin's retirement. Brock Lesnar had become a decent draw but not as big as expected or needed. By the time 'Mania XX rolled around it didn't matter anyway, the show would be 'The Pain's' final WWE appearance for eight years.


Happier times for John Cena

In 2003 Cena was fresh and hungry to make it to the top. Fans appreciated his character because it was different to everything else being presented. That he clearly wanted to succeed and had a knack for effective mic work helped too. New top acts were needed and fans selected Cena to be one of them. He was a limited wrestler but he wasn’t a bad wrestler. Besides, there were guys like Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle on the roster. One sub-par headliner wasn’t going to hurt.

Over the years Cena’s inability or unwillingness to change or progress has caused fans to turn on him. He trots out the same routine that helped him rise to the top nine years ago.

The key to staying on the right side of wrestling fans (as told to CM Punk by Raven) is knowing how to tweak your character every so often. Introducing a new move or altered looked are good ways of doing that. Cena has done nothing new in years. The latest move he added to his regular repertoire was the STFU in 2005. New merch every four months and the occasional switch from jorts to camouflage gear isn’t enough.

That he's not changed while fans' tastes have isn't Cena's only problem. Since 2005 he has been the undisputed star of the company. He has outlasted the two other most financially successful headliners WWE has ever had: Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin. 'The Hulkster' did around six years before going part time and eventually leaving the WWF altogether. 'The Rattlesnake' had a surprisingly short four years as the company's top act.

Hogan wasn't hearing jeers by the time he left, but he wasn't as big a deal as he had been when Hulkamania kicked off. The same is true of Austin. Both men got out, for various reasons, before fans got bored and turned on them.

Cena has been at the top for so long that it goes beyond disliking his moves or his promo style or his merch or the fact that he's marketed at kids. People are just bored of the status quo. When fans express a desire for WWE to change or progress or try something new the obvious first suggestion to make is to de-push or get rid of Cena. He's faced everyone and won everything. His continued status as top dog ensures that not only do guys not get a fair crack at making it to the top but that they look worse whenever they interact with the company’s biggest star.

Guys can get away with having foibles when headlining WWE. Hogan was just as limited as Cena. Austin wasn't far off by the time he became a star because of various injuries he'd suffered. Fans will tolerate shortcomings, just not for this long.
 
Cena could be said to be a victim of his own success. Fans wanted him to make it to the top because WWE was stale. But he’s now been on top for so long that the product has become stale again and it’s largely seen as his fault.

There's no obvious answer for me to point to here. WWE won't make Cena part time until 'The Franchise' himself requests it. Why would they? Working a full schedule means he’s on house shows, TV, pay-per-views, and international tours. WWE can make more money if Cena's full time.

Sending him home for a while to allow others some spotlight would be a good idea as it would create fresh opponents for Cena (and other people) and allow him to rest and recuperate. But that would mean risking a dip in ticket sales, PPV buys, and TV ratings. It's a less radical solution to a part time schedule but carrying the same problems.

Turning Cena heel isn't going to solve things. That would alienate his existing fanbase but encourage people who boo him to cheer him, because it would be the change that the character hass been needing for several years.

WWE's best option is the one they're taking. That is trying to create new megastars while Cena's still working full time. I think they've more or less accomplished it over the last two years with CM Punk. Ryback was doing pretty well before his heel turn, which demonstrates that fans will react to alternative babyfaces. If he can make it to the top and prove a success in headline situations where he isn't supported by Cena that will be a good sign.

But, to borrow a sentiment from 'Big Hungry', they'll need more. By WWE's own criteria John Cena is a success. Whoever takes over from him is going to have some big shoes to fill.

Friday 26 April 2013

Revenge of the Psycho

ROH's Boiling Point pay-per-view on August 11th last year was notable for a few reasons. For one thing it was headlined by non-regular Eddie Kingston challenging for Kevin Steen's ROH world championship in a tedious match. For another it was never intended to be a PPV: ROH bumped it up from a DVD recording because they wanted to try and recoup some of the money they'd lost refunding people for streaming problems with June's Best in the World.

It was also the event at which Tommaso Ciampa got injured.

Until that show ‘The Dominant Male’ had been a heel aligned with Prince Nana's Embassy faction. For months his target had been the ROH television title and Boiling Point saw him lose to Jay Lethal (the man he’d been feuding over the title with) in a two-out-of-three falls match. It was a feud-ending bout. In a way Ciampa's injury couldn't have come at a better time because it didn't leave a storyline unfinished.


He never did beat Lethal for the TV belt

It's tough to say what 'The Sicilian Psychopath' would have moved on to had he remained healthy. There was nothing obvious set up, although it's likely the breakup of The Embassy would have continued. He'd probably just have been involved in that.

As it is he announced his injury would put him out of action for up to a year in September and promptly disappeared from the company. Barring a run-in at Final Battle, in which he tried to attack RD Evans, Ciampa's been absent since.

ROH have recently begun teasing Ciampa's return to the promotion. Videos that show him working out, intercut with match footage, have been posted online. The man himself is credited with authoring a blog on the company's website. I’m dubious of that claim: anything that furthers storylines tends to be written by booking staff or someone else in "the office". But it's credited to the former Embassy member and that's what counts.

In the blog "Ciampa" discussed seeing Michael Elgin have his breakout match against Davey Richards at Showdown in the Sun. This apparently inspired Ciampa to promise himself he'd be in a similar position the following year, which he wasn't because of his injury. It was basically a piece about him being hungry for a top spot in Ring of Honor.

So is that what he's going to return to? As was the case after Boiling Point last year, it's not obvious. He could come back and launch into a feud with Evans and his client QT Marshall. That would make sense, what with 'The Barrister' having transitioned into being an active wrestler. It could even be used as a way of splitting him from Marshall. Ciampa could attack or wrestle both men and 'God's Gift' could walk out on his manager-slash-tag partner after realising Ciampa's problem is Evans, not him.

An Evans feud will be likelier if Ciampa returns alongside Prince Nana, another man wronged at 'The Barrister's' hands. Nana as a face would be something new for ROH in general and being affiliated with him should set Ciampa apart. The only trouble is that fans like booing the former Embassy frontman so much that turning him into a good guy may be tough.

Alternatively Ciampa could come back and target the ROH world championship. The heel-face line in ROH is satisfyingly blurred, fans picking their own favourites in big matches. That would allow 'The Dominant Male', who's been portrayed as a face since getting injured, to challenge crowd pleaser Jay Briscoe for the gold.

Putting a damper on Ciampa's chances of winning the world title is the SCUM plot. It looks as though the gold is going to continue being involved in that. Switching the belt from one ROH loyalist to another would be a peculiar move, so I don't think Ciampa will be the man to beat Jay Briscoe. His chances of becoming champion won’t be particularly good until a member of SCUM has the title. Or until the storyline's over, of course.

Even if he does come back targeting a title run it’s safe to say Ciampa will need something else going on to keep him busy. The Evans feud seems the likeliest thing there although I'd personally enjoy seeing Ciampa get involved in something with Adam Cole or Matt Taven. Those feuds could give us some pretty good matches.

However he's reintroduced to the roster I'm confident Ciampa won't be wasted. Delirious has proven a very good booker over the past six months. There's nothing to indicate his skills will desert him when 'The Sicilian Psychopath' returns.
 

Thursday 25 April 2013

Total Divas

With the recent announcement that America's E! TV channel will be airing a show about WWE's Divas the future of the WWE Network is once again looking dubious. The company have been trying to get their own channel underway for a few years now. In 2011 they aired an ad on RAW which seemed to indicate the channel would be ready for viewing by WrestleMania XXVIII. They probably regret that now.

Several rumours have swirled regarding how the Network will function. At first we were told WWE were simply going to set up a brand new channel. When they realised how much that would cost and they started looking around for an existing channel to buy and convert. We've also been told it could be a "premium subscription channel" or, hilariously, a YouTube channel. I'm all for YouTube trying to get into the TV market by offering serialised content made with a decent budget but as WWE already has multiple TV shows airing in dozens of countries it would be a bizarre and unnecessary move for them to make.

The decision to flog the Divas' show to an existing channel does not bode well for the WWE Network. Since the project was announced a Diva-centric show was said to be planned and it was assumed it would be one of the channel’s focal points. That WWE has sold the show likely means they've decided to make some money from it now rather than sitting on it until their own channel is ready to roll.

Basically it's a sign than the WWE Network is delayed yet again or that it simply isn't going to happen.

It's not all bad news for WWE though. While their (probably ultimately doomed anyway) TV station project has suffered yet another setback at least the Divas are going to be getting some increased exposure. It won’t be lumbered with the stigma of being on a wrestling channel either, which means there’s a chance non-fans may watch and become new additions to “the WWE Universe". Best of all it's a chance for them to reboot their currently rudderless Divas division.


Will that belt ever mean anything again?

WWE's ladies' league has been meaningless for quite some time. That talents like Gail Kim, Mickie James and Victoria (now Tara) left the company is part of the problem. That caused the quality of in-ring performances to sink. To a lesser extent the same can be said of Eve Torres and Michelle McCool. WWE has been unable or unwilling to retain the services of women who want to put on good wrestling matches.

They’ve not helped themselves though. The booking of what women have stuck with them has been less than inspirational. The women have clearly become an afterthought, if that, for WWE’s overworked writing team.

The preferred approach when John Laurinaitis was talent boss seemed to be to hire models who looked the part. Knowledge of or even a passing interest in wrestling were not a requirement for the job.

That's changed under Triple H. He seems far keener keen on bringing in women with wrestling backgrounds. Paige from Britain and Emma from Australia spring to mind. Signing Ric Flair's daughters wasn't a horrible idea either, because second and third generation stars can work out (see The Rock, Mr Perfect and Eddie Guerrero, just off the top of my head). H3 even gave Amazing Kong a shot. That her run with the company didn't work out is nobody's fault, it’s just the result of sad and unfortunate circumstances.

Two new women have been hired to be a part of Total Divas. Natalia Eva Marie, a model (showing ‘The Game’ isn’t against hiring non-wrestlers to be trained from scratch) will drop her first name and be known as Eva Marie. Joseann Alexie Offerman, a singer and dancer, will become Jo Jo Offerman. This indicates WWE are keen to restock the Divas division, as does the rumour that Paige will soon be called up to the main roster.

Whether or not this show can save the Divas division from the pit of oblivion it's currently in remains to be seen. If it’s used as a tool to flesh out the cast with interesting and varied characters it will stand a chance. My instinct is to say that it will need a match on each show in order to be a success. Surely a programme about female wrestlers and their hardships needs to show matches in order to show what the women actually do?

That may not be the case though. The show could be used to give people a reason to care about the women and function as a launching point for TV and pay-per-view feuds. Sort of like a Divas-only RAW but with a reality TV twist.

Whatever the setup of the show it will determine the fate of the company's female wrestlers. If it flops then the division will be even more damaged and pointless than it is now and probably require a rest for a while. It's all or nothing for the girls. They collectively need to use the show as a way of making themselves and their title an important part of WWE programming.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Anyone for Tennis?

Jim Cornette left Ring of Honor under a cloud last year, the result of a blowup backstage that came about because Corny disagreed with the direction of the company. Yes this is the same Jim Cornette as had been guiding the promotion for around a year and a half. He had been relieved of his duties but was sticking around as a consultant. The aforementioned blowup likely occurred because Jim's opinions weren't carrying the weight he was used to them carrying.

This disagreement means it's unlikely Cornette is to do business with ROH any time soon. This is great news from a booking standpoint, Delirious has turned the company around in the space of months. ROH is now a federation worth watching again.

It does mean we will probably miss out on what could be an enjoyable return story though. Not an essential return story, but an enjoyable one.

Cornette's public split from ROH is the perfect excuse to have him come back as an on-screen heel. His past as a manager is well known. He could return to manage a disenfranchised member of the locker room or invade alongside one of his old pals. For some reason I can't get the image of Cornette managing Vader in ROH out of my mind. I'm sure something better than that could be concocted, but it's a decent example of the sort of guy I mean. A veteran who wouldn’t seem out of place in the territories of yesteryear.

"Close the door, dammit! We're having a private moment!"

Obviously there's a strong similarity to the SCUM plot, which puts the kibosh on the entire thing (as does sanity). A Cornette return while that faction is still doing the rounds wouldn't work. It would create two heel forces set on the destruction of ROH. Nobody needs to see that (ain't nobody got time for that).

Something else that would make a Corny return unlikely while they're still around is that a large part of the reason SCUM exists is because of the group’s dislike of Corny. Corino's gang and Cornette feuding with ROH at the same time would possibly make the world collapse in on itself due to lack of logic.

The idea could be used for a DVD taping. A one off appearance of Cornette would lend itself nicely to a one night only setting. It could be announced that he's signed a client to help him get his revenge on the company. As it wouldn't be an ongoing story pretty much anyone who fits the bill of a "Cornette guy" could be used. That includes Vader. Yes, he does still wrestle. I checked.

If not used for a DVD taping it could be held off until the latter half of next year. Waiting much longer than that would make it a dead and pointless story. Doing it sooner would coincide with SCUM which would be a bad idea, as I've mentioned.

It’s not going to happen anyway, of course. Cornette was fired and, in a typical move, has slated the company for the decision. Never mind that it's what fans had called for or that it was the right thing for Ring of Honor’s continued growth. Cornette's reaction to being let go, and indeed ROH's decision to get rid of him in the first place, means that it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll never see this scenario play out.

It doesn’t matter. SCUM's a better idea anyway.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Worst. Turn. Ever.

When The Ryback attacked John Cena on the April 8th RAW I said a feud between the two could work but that Ryback shouldn't become a bad guy for it. My feeling was that the best approach would be to book the two men as faces who dislike one another as opposed to taking to tried and tested face versus heel route, allowing the fans to choose who to root for. Needless to say that’s not what’s happened. Two weeks later and he he's turned heel.

Since going bad 'Big Hungry' has been given a ludicrous amount of promo time. Newly turned acts getting time to talk isn't a problem if they can cut an effective promo that covers their points. Unfortunately Ryback can't. His pre-recorded effort on the April 15th RAW was very good but he's not managed to keep up the good work when he's been in the ring. He’s also not a wrestler who benefits from talking much. Hulking silence is more his bag.

Adding a manager to speak for him would help. There aren't any obvious options for the role though, and it would seem peculiar for 'The Human Wrecking Ball' to take on a spokesman out of nowhere. He's never been the chattiest cat in town but he's never shied away from microphones, why would he start now?  

The biggest problem with the turn is that it's poorly timed. People still want to cheer The Ryback. He was getting over as a good guy, something WWE is in desperate need of, and was turned simply to create a convenient challenger to Cena's WWE championship. It’s a short sighted move made simply because WWE have done such a woeful job of elevating talent who can credibly oppose their top star.
Cena means business

This is particularly annoying when you consider that Cena’s title win was planned months in advance. Rock was always going to defeat Punk and drop the gold to ‘The Franchise’. Knowing that WWE should have made it a priority to spend WrestleMania Season prepping some new challengers.

Of course another problem is that Ryback has turned heel on the most unpopular lead babyface ever to grace a wrestling ring. WWE fans are so split on Cena as a performer, because he's been on top for so long, that it's going to take someone special to encourage them to rally behind the champ. That Ryback is so different from Cena aids his appeal. No matter how many times he calls fans stupid there will always be some who cheer him because he represents an alternative.

As I mentioned above a face versus face programme would have worked better. Ryback could have attacked Cena to make himself stand out and launch himself into title contention (that’s how things have worked for a long time in WWE). He could have grunted a short explanation giving those reasons on the April 15th RAW, face-to-face with 'The Champ'. Cena could have said he respected the move (because Ryback didn't exactly sneak up on Cena in a heelish fashion) and agreed to a championship match at Extreme Rules.

Alternatively Ryback could have won a number one contenders bout on the April 22nd RAW. That could have been good as it would have seen him earning his shot like a babyface. Plus he could've done with a win over a credible opponent or two. I can understand not doing this though, what with WWE not having access to the full roster on RAW (half the crew were at a SmackDown house show).

The feud should have seen Ryback gaining wins over upper mid-card talent, the story being that he's refocused after his numerous high profile losses. Cena could have spent his time cutting promos and talking The Ryback up as a serious contender.

The heel turn has benefited nobody. Cena is in a feud just like all his others while Ryback is left playing a coward. It’s making the former powerhouse look weak too. Could Cena have scooped up a headline babyface for the AA as easily he did Ryback on RAW. Probs not.

It's a waste. The Ryback could have been huge. Extreme Rules could have been huge too, if WWE had simply left both men as they were and booked a face versus face bout. It would likely have created an air of uncertainty and provided a great atmosphere at the pay-per-view. Surely a match with a split audience who are uncertain as to who will in is preferable to an apathetic audience who are bored by yet another promising wrestler being sacrificed to the mighty Super Cena.

Monday 22 April 2013

Believe in The Shield

The question going in to tonight's RAW is not whether the London crowd will hum Fandango's theme tune. We all know they'll not just do it but do it well. No, the question for tonight's show is what will happen with the announced Undertaker and Team Hell No v The Shield match.

I don't just mean who will win and who will lose, I mean whether or not the match will actually take place to begin with. This bout feels like it should be on a pay-per-view. That's mainly because of the Undertaker. With his career likely to wrap up within a few years and WWE's general lack of stars any outing 'The Dead Man' has at this point warrants a pay-per-view slot. He's not wrestled at an event not named WrestleMania since Bragging Rights 2010 (discounting house shows of course). Even appearances on RAW have been a rarity for him so it feels peculiar for him to be having a television match after so long.

It's possible the six man tag won't actually take place. Antics could occur before the bell to instigate a brawl in place of the official match. That would keep the programme going without short-changing viewers. This feels as though it's going to be a programme that takes in a PPV so my assumption is something will happen to keep the disagreement alive.

The other obvious option would be for 'The Hounds of Justice' to get a clean win. That would keep them looking strong, something WWE have done very well since introducing the trio to the roster. If they were to get a fall on Bryan or Kane that would give them the perfect argument for a tag title match. Not that much of an argument is needed for a title shot in WWE but you see my point.

That said I wouldn't have a problem with any of the three getting a pin over the Undertaker. He's not a Jericho-like guy who can start putting people over left, right and centre but he can afford to do it occasionally. The Shield would benefit greatly from being able to say they handed 'The Phenom' his first loss in two and a half years. It would make believing in them easier too.


These three should be teaming on pay-per-views

It's likely that Team Hell No will face The Shield at Extreme Rules. Undie could be a part of that rematch or he could simply be playing his part tonight before leaving the regulars to it. Should he leave then Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns could challenge THN to a handicap match. If he sticks around the rematch could have a stipulation added to it. Either approach would fit the Extreme Rules moniker.

Handicap matches aren't extreme? Well, no. But neither was last year's two-out-of-three falls match.

I think the Shield have been booked well enough that they could sustain a loss. It just makes more sense for them to continue winning for the time being. The first loss the gang suffers should be on a pay-per-view, preferably to big name stars. There are few names bigger than 'Taker, which is why I'm expecting tonight's six man tag to either not take place or result in a Shield win to set up a rematch at Extreme Rules. There's money in this match. Why give it away for free?


Sunday 21 April 2013

WWE: The Attitude Era (DVD Review)


You'd have thought that a DVD focusing on WWE's Attitude Era would pretty much put itself together. The company has access to a large number of the biggest stars of the time, as well as those employed by WCW, the chief opposition during the boom period. There are more than enough great moments to choose from to highlight the strengths of the time, not to mention plenty of feuds, performers, angles and events to focus on.

Despite this WWE's Attitude Era DVD (released to eyebrow-raisingly little fanfare last year) doesn't do a particularly good job. For starters the main feature is only an hour long. This is a perfectly reasonable run time and allows WWE to cover the majority (but not all) of the most important stuff to a satisfying degree. Unfortunately it's not long enough to cover everything that should have been covered in sufficient detail. Some things you'd expect to be covered heavily are glossed over or omitted altogether. Bizarrely some things you'd think wouldn't get much of a mention are granted a hefty portion of the run time.

Chris Jericho's debut is a good example. While the his first appearance on RAW is included in full as an extra it's not really tackled on the main documentary. The same goes for Kurt Angle. Both men were important signings during the era and could be considered stars by the time it ended. They remain stars today, which makes them relevant to the documentary. That their involvement is downplayed feels odd.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it. After all neither Austin nor Rock, undeniably the Attitude Era's biggest hitters, get much of a profile either. The only act to get what would anyone would consider a lengthy amount of time dedicated to it is D-Generation X. The approach is at least consistent but for the most part it could leave someone unfamiliar with the product confused as to who placed where on the pecking order.

The selection of talking heads feels limited compared to other WWE releases. Some of the contributors are strange choices. I can't imagine anyone was desperate to hear so much from Rikishi, who crops up time and again to give his opinon on practically every subject covered. His involvement should've ended after he took credit for inventing the Too Cool gimmick (a lie by the way: Taylor and Christopher were repackaged as a hip hop act months before they were united with Rikishi and their deliberately bad dancing was a part of the fun and games from the off). Ron Simmons gets a surprising amount of face time.

Better value are Road Dogg and, amazingly, Mark Henry. Roadie offers a great deal of insight, his sense of humour helping him to come across well. Henry is self-depreciating, useful when the Attitude Era provided fans with so many amusing moments at his expense. He seems genuinely touched when talking about a fan who told him they'd appreciated his work during an angle that saw him dating a transvestite. ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ comes across well.

The feature starts focusing on DX before moving on to Austin (hilariously described by the gruff and intimidating narrator as "a monsoon of good fortune") and the importance of long term stories to the era's success. Anyone who watched WWF programming at the time will be able to tell you the McMahon's appeared a lot as part of those long term stories. According to Pat Patterson that was something everyone wanted to see. Lies like that are what keep Pat employed.

They cover the Brawl for All and wisely don't try to disguise what a failure it was. JBL admits it was a stupid idea. He also reveals that it came about from an idea he submitted to management that was, it turns out, more in line with what the hardcore division became. This wasn't something JBL just decided to do, the entire roster was encouraged to submit ideas regarding what they'd like to be doing on TV. WWE should consider doing something similar with their current batch of stars.

Talk of the hardcore division naturally leads to clips of all the famous bumps and dives of Mick “I’m a hardcore legend” Foley. He's acknowledged as a great hardcore wrestler but it feels half-hearted, as though the people saying it haven't stopped to think about what the term hardcore in relation to wrestling means anymore. There's something off about Foley's spot on the DVD in general. It's as though he's being mentioned grudgingly. Perhaps he is.

Speaking of Foley he crops up as a talking head, usually contributing something either instantly forgettable or giving an example of WWF programming he didn't care for. Most of the things he finds distasteful involved the portrayal of women, although stuff involving DX and 'Sexual Chocolate' upset him too.

Road Dogg and Mark Henry happily reminisce about the more provocative clothing WWE's female talents wore back then. They also mention girls taking their tops off in the audience. I mention this mainly because Henry is hilarious on the subject. Other amusing comments are Big Show describing everyone before Sunny as looking rough and Stephanie McMahon popping up to say the girls of the Attitude Era were "sexy, fun and manipulative". It makes you wonder what sort of values she’s instilling in her daughters.

We're told that when SmackDown debuted the WWF deliberately sought a more comedic tone. It's not made clear why. In fact it wasn't clear that it was actually happening when I was watching SmackDown during the period in question.

Still, it does at least provide an excuse to play the footage of Mae Young giving birth to a hand which leads to Mark Henry announcing he wasn't completely sold on the reveal. When he asked Vince McMahon why a hand had been chosen the reply was "It's a hand!" That story is worth the price of the DVD by itself.

The documentary wraps up by blasting through some clips of 'Y2J' and Angle, devoting a surprising amount of time to Patterson, Brisco and the Mean Street Posse, and the 24/7 era of the hardcore division. I hated that gimmick at the time. I'm still not wild about it now.

Over on the extras disc things are pretty good. You get a hefty selection of matches and angles to browse through. Some merit inclusion more than others. I can't imagine anyone was desperate to see Bart Gunn legitimately KO 'Doctor Death' Steve Williams and the highlight of the Sable v Marc Mero encounter is the commentary of Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross.

Better is a four team tag title match featuring Austin, Rock, Undertaker, Mankind, Kane, and the New Age Outlaws (along with odd man out D'Lo Brown). It's not a bad effort but it's most interesting for involving so many of the major players of the time in one outing. Rock versus Mankind from Survivor Series '98, the infamous beer bath segment, and Chris Jericho v Eddie Guerrero from April 3rd 2000 are all worth looking at again too. All the extras, good and bad, are pretty solid representations of what made the Attitude Era what it was.

Despite the assorted failures with the main feature they do manage to give viewers a taste of nostalgia for a fondly remembered wrestling era. It's also pleasing to hear acknowledgement that Attitude didn't come about purely by design: it was able to happen because the WWF was smart enough to capitalise on viewing trends with American audiences. Various contributors also admit that the Attitude Era saw numerous guys all hit their stride at the same time. It's true and it was the biggest contributing factor to the WWF's success.

The Attitude Era is far from the worst wrestling DVD out there but it does feel like something of a missed opportunity. The period from late '97 to early '01 is critically acclaimed and loved for a reason. It's also the reason WWE is still in business today. It deserved more than an hour but makes good use of what it’s given.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Gabe Sapolsky Versus Ring of Honor

Usually a hot feud is a good thing for a wrestling company. But they usually take place in the ring as part of the scripted show. When feuds take place in the back, behind closed doors, they’re usually detrimental to the product. Take, for example, the Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart rivalry from the nineties. They had some good matches opposite one another, but imagine how great things could have been had they gotten along and been willing to do things properly, instead of having an unprofessional and childish point scoring, tit-for-tat feud.

A more recent example (and the one that forms the basis of this post) is the ongoing rivalry between Gabe Sapolsky and his former employer Ring of Honor. Gabe was released from booking duties by ROH in late October 2008 and has gone out of his way to take digs and swipes at the promotion, on and off, ever since. ROH staff have always refrained from commenting on Gabe’s career and comments made since the firing.

Gabe’s most famed outburst came after ROH was bought by SBG and they suffered a number of iPPV broadcast problems. Gabe’s point was that Ring of Honor, being owned by a television production company, was well placed to avoid broadcasting issues. He was absolutely right. But when making the point he couldn’t help but come across as a bitter ex-employee, approaching the subject with a tenacity that a neutral bystander would have had no need for. It didn’t help that he never explicitly stated he was talking about ROH. That only served to make him come across as passive aggressive.

It’s unknown whether anyone in ROH still harbours ill will towards the Gabester because, as already mentioned, nobody from the promotion ever comments on him. Which is the professional way of doing things. Personally I think ROH made the wrong call firing Gabe in 2008. They should have told him to take a year off to refresh himself. But that doesn’t mean they were wrong. People get sacked, and Gabe seems unable to come to terms with Ring of Honor letting him go.
 
Gabe wearing some subtle merch
 
If the hatchet were to be buried both Ring of Honor and Gabe’s Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE promotions would benefit. This would require work on both sides. Gabe may be the more outspoken of the two parties and have a clearer reason to carry the nonsense on but there must be a reason the animosity is still so raw. It takes two to keep something like this running for so long.

At the moment guys wanting to work for either ROH or Dragon Gate and EVOLVE must make a choice and sign with one or the other. If they do appear for the rival organisation clauses in their contract prevent them from working broadcast matches. This means that an ROH guy can appear for Dragon Gate, but ROH has to okay it and the match must be a dark match. Which is great for fans attending the events in question but an irritation for anyone watching at home or buying the DVDs because they miss the appearance of a big star. It’s an annoyance for the companies too, as it limits their selling and marketing options.

An end to the Sapolsky v Ring of Honor hostilities could bring a much needed freshness to the US wrestling scene. With guys not being forced to pick where they have to work a plethora of fresh matches would be opened up.

The Young Bucks are the obvious names to mention here. They got released by ROH as a cost-cutting measure during the summer of 2012, along with TJ Perkins. They’ve since appeared for Dragon Gate and EVOLVE and doubtless helped to improve the product. They probably hold somewhat of a grudge against Ring of Honor themselves, and I don’t blame them if they do, but I’m sure they’d give a return a try for the right amount of cash. The Bucks against reDRagon, the Wolves, C&C, and ACH and Tadarius Thomas would all be solid matches that could help ROH to flog DVDs and iPPVs.

The likes of Johnny Gragano, Chuck Taylor, Sami Callihan, Ricochet, and Samuray Del Sol could all make a similarly exciting impact on the Honor roster. Going the other way I’m sure Gabe would love to work with the Briscoes, Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards, Michael Elgin, and Roderick Strong. He may even be willing to admit that Kevin Steen is a guy worthy of wrestling regular main events now, what with Steen having carved out a headline niche for himself in ROH and all. Considering the history Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish have with Dragon Gate and EVOLVE I think reDRagon would be an interesting combo to give Gabe access to as well.
 
One of the many guys I'd like to see cross over
 
It doesn’t even have to be an overt feud or storyline or anything. It could simply be a working arrangement that lets the wrestlers appear for the other company when they’re not booked with their home promotion. A simple announcement on the relevant websites would be enough to get things rolling.

This isn’t to say that a Ring of Honor versus Dragon Gate programme wouldn’t be nice to see. Booked right I think that could improve iPPV business and live attendance for both groups. The DG USA roster would also benefit from the exposure of ROH’s TV output.

It’s a pipe dream of course. Part of the reason ROH are currently running a SCUM invasion storyline is that it’s a way of presenting an inter-company angle without needing to cooperate with another company. SCUM’s roster contains just enough guys to make it come across as a separate roster. They don’t need Dragon Gate for this story right now. That’s not to say they couldn’t arrange something for a year or two in the future. Getting a working relationship up and running would actually increase the chances of that by establishing a status quo and allowing the feud to develop naturally.

The indy scene simply doesn’t have a deep enough talent roster to sustain this sort of divide indefinitely. Sooner or later something is going to have to change. That’s either going to be the working relationship (which would be best for everyone, especially paying customers), one of the leagues ceasing to exist, or one gradually signing a larger portion of the top talent, leaving the other to struggle on with mid-card level guys in top slots.

While they’re at it ROH should try sorting out their problems with Low Ki. Nah… one thing at a time.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Swagtourage

I've always felt Jack Swagger would benefit from a comedy entourage. He's a big, serious wrestler with the right look but instead of presenting him as a serious dominating force WWE don't seem to be able to stop themselves from turning him into a figure of fun. He was presented as something of a clown upon his initial call-up to ECW and, barring a brief run as Serious Swagger, he's had a twinge of comedy to him ever since. Look no further than the Swagger Soaring Eagle and his "dad" joining him on TV to see what I mean.

There's also this promo, split in two here and here. A perfect example of Swagger being presented as a joke. 
    

I'm not complaining. I like Swagger being presented this way. It could be a tool for success rather than a hindrance if it were fully embraced by the writing team. It’s not at the moment, sadly. All it is is yet another example of WWE being unwilling to experiment and follow through on their ideas.

Swagger's 'Real American' act would stand a greater chance of being accepted (and would be far more palatable) if he and Colter were easier to laugh at. Increasing the number of seconds and hangers-on he has would be a good direction for him. Give him an old fashioned entourage!

Colter's already in place as a windbag, narrow-minded racist of a manager. A guy could be installed to proudly wave a flag as Swagger walks to the ring during his matches. He wouldn't need to say anything, just waving the flag would be enough. Swagger could return to doing a couple of press ups in the aisle before the match and a coach could be installed to shout encouragement or clap as Swagger does what most able bodied people are capable of.



Look at this and tell me he's not a comedy performer

Maybe the Soaring Eagle could be brought back by Colter. A symbol of a once great and powerful nation that he and Swagger are going to return to glory (by winning wrestling matches, dammit!). Maybe a cheerleader could be placed at ringside. Is there any greater symbol of America than the humble cheerleader? No. Of course not.

In the case of the flag waver and the cheerleader it would be a good way to utilise NXT wrestlers who aren't going to make it to the main roster otherwise. Mike Dalton immediately springs to mind. He doesn’t strike me as someone who’s ever going to get beyond Main Event and Saturday Morning Slam level on his own merit.

Meanwhile Summer Rae would make a pretty good cheerleader. I’m going on looks there, because that’s what would be most important to a gimmick cheerleader. Whether she can do any cheers or nor not isn’t important. If Dolph Ziggler and Mike Mondo can learn how then she can too.


It could even provide a new use for established acts. David Otunga could be used as Swagger's legal adviser (a role I like for Otunga as it allows him to interfere in matches and take bumps without hassling us with watching him wrestle). Guys like Derrick Bateman and Michael McGillicutty could be added to form a Team USA type stable. Colter would make as good a mouthpiece for them as he does for Swagger and they'd make excellent bump fodder.

Basically Swagger's gimmick should be that he's a serious competitor who continually surrounds himself with foolishness. The beauty of putting the focus on Swagger is that it would make him just as much a part of the comedy as everyone else involved: the joke being that he chooses to spend more time hiring seconds than on prepping for matches. The entourage being a regular thing would also allow for periodic changes. That would help keep the concept, and 'The All American American' fresh.
 

Let’s face it: this idea is no worse than making him a racist, is it?

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Bad Guy Cole

Is Adam Cole headed for a heel turn? If he is will he be able to become the most successful heel ever with the surname Cole, or will he be forever overshadowed by panto villain commentator Michael? These are the sort of questions Ring of Honor fans are currently being faced with.

Take a look back at Cole's reaction to his loss of the TV title at the 11th Anniversary Show. His performance was overshadowed by the overplayed hysteria of Matt Hardy and the celebration of new champ Matt Taven (the latter of which is mostly forgivable) but there's a subtle hint of annoyance there. It would be present, to a far greater degree, after Taven pinned him again at Supercard of Honor VII in New York. This is not the reaction of a man who puts sportsmanship first.

On the April 13th TV show Cole assured Jay Briscoe that he would defeat him for the ROH world championship at Border Wars. The two went nose-to-nose before Cole left the ring and walked backstage. It was the performance if a man with a burgeoning heel attitude.


Is this man turning to the dark side?

What Cole does at Border Wars on 4th May will tell us where his character is heading. It's possible we'll see him resort to bending the rules himself. That would be out of character and a clear indication of a bad guy turn. More likely is that SCUM will interfere behind the referee's back and Cole will do the dishonourable thing and try to win the belt as Briscoe's trying to recover.

I don't think ‘The Panama City Playboy’ is going to beat Jay for the title. Partly because it will be the Briscoe brother's first defence and nobody's ever lost the ROH title on their first defence. A bigger reason is that a loss to Briscoe, after being so sure he'd win, would be the ideal method of tipping Cole over the edge and making him a bad guy.

A heel turn would be a good thing for Adam Cole. While I don't think he's stale as a fan favourite I do think the change of character would provide him with a timely refresh and open up a new direction for him. Just as importantly it would create a range of new matches. It would also allow him to wrestle a more aggressive ring style. That could benefit him long term: traditionally ROH headliners are hard-hitting more than high-flying.

If Cole goes bad I won't be complaining.


Tuesday 16 April 2013

The Calamity Rating

Not two months ago TNA were putting out a fairly enjoyable product. It wasn’t enough for them to rival WWE’s dominance and it wasn’t going to encroach on ROH’s business but it was good wrestling television. That’s something TNA has not always been capable of putting together.

They had a plethora of hot acts at their disposal. Bully Ray had, against all the odds, made it to the top of the wrestling world as a featured singles babyface, supported by the ever popular Jeff Hardy. Beneath them were Christopher Daniels, having one of the most riotous runs of his career, Bobby Roode, and Austin Aries. Magnus seemed poised to crack the main event while Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and James Storm all seemed to be gearing up for comebacks of one form or another.

Somehow TNA have managed to destroy what they’d worked hard to cultivate in the space of about a month and a half. We now have a product that’s not really worth following. Again. You only need to glance at the ratings for the April 11th Impact to see I’m not alone in thinking this: the show did a 0.93 rating, the lowest it’s done all year.
 
This feud? Not a draw
 
TNA had presented a stacked card. Taryn Terrell took on Gail Kim (which doesn’t sound especially interesting but it had been built up for a significant amount of time) and Aries and Roode defended their tag team titles against Chavo Guerrero and Hernandez in what was essentially billed as a feud-ending collision. There was to be further advancement in the story of AJ Styles’ allegiance. In the main event Bully Ray defended his TNA world championship against Jeff Hardy in a Full Metal Mayhem match (basically a TLC match, the name changed to appease the mighty WWE and its lawyers).

It was a big card (notably described on air as pay-per-view quality) that TNA had put a lot of work into preparing, that guaranteed big names in matches and developments worth paying attention to. That it did such a poor rating indicates that viewers simply don’t care about the direction TNA’s going in.

I think TNA’s main problem is that its roster feels stale. The company just doesn’t seem to know how to introduce new talent. Gut Check has not proven the answer to the problems. Neither has the signing of Chavo. The best thing the company could do right now is cut a large portion of the roster (at least a third of it) and introduce some fresh blood. No matter how popular and talented the likes of Hardy, Daniels, Aries and Roode are they’re going to continue to be wasted if they face the same guys all the time and waste their time stalling through uninteresting storylines.

Do something different with the talent. Bully Ray may be effective as a heel but he was more effective a couple of months ago as a good guy. Fans were enjoying rallying behind him. Turning him just to swerve the audience (and it wasn’t really a swerve, everyone saw it coming) is incredibly counterproductive. On a similar note AJ Styles is not going to be well served by playing Sting to the Aces and Eights’ nWo and TNA’s WCW.

While they’re at it the format could do with a change. Opening with a promo every week is such a dated approach to wrestling broadcasts. More than that it’s exactly what WWE does. If TNA wants to be an alternative to the sports entertainment brand they need to be genuinely different. Put the focus on wrestling.

Most importantly the entire Aces and Eights plot needs to be dropped. It’s not going to happen because TNA has recorded One Night Only pay-per-views until the end of the year and the gang is prominent in the majority of them. I don’t think TNA can begin presenting the product it should until it gets rid of this boring, 90s style stable.

I said all of this and more last month. But that was before TNA did a terrible rating presenting what was essentially a PPV Lite card. The promotion has all the tools it needs to construct a great wrestling product. It just doesn’t want to let itself.