Friday 31 May 2013

Slammiversary XI preview

When TNA announced they were cutting back on the number of pay-per-views they produce one of the reasons they gave for the decision was creating a schedule that would allow storylines to advance at a more natural pace. In theory that should work. A promotion putting on fewer large shows is not beholden to having two feuding parties wrestling every four weeks. Things can be teased out and foreshadowed because there's less need to fill up so many minutes of PPV.

The move should have led to tightly produced events stacked with must-see matches. It hasn't. Slammiversary, like Lockdown before it, has a handful of reasonably intriguing matches to offer but the card as a whole is underwhelming.

If TNA are incapable of cobbling together four excellent cards a year then I don't see that they can have much of a future. Any company with a roster of talent like theirs and a half decent TV deal promoting four pay-per-views a year should be able to make them great. Making them profitable is a different story of course, but the quality should be there.

Let’s start with the use of the main event crew outside of the world title bout. Kurt Angle and AJ Styles are facing one another in a regular singles match. There are no stipulations and it seems the only reason it's happening is because of AJ's questionable loyalty to the company.

The two will have a great match but is this really the best that could be cooked up for two of TNA's best wrestler with three months to play with? They've faced each other so many times, often on free TV, that something extra needs to be added to their battles at this stage. Either an interesting story (which Aces and Eights emphatically isn't) or a stipulation they've not done before. If you want to use the two as the second biggest match of a pay-per-views fans need to be given something they've not been given before.

I'm expecting 'The Phenomenal One' to win. He's going to challenge for the world title later in the year. He'll need to be kept strong for that.

The treatment of Bobby Roode, James Storm, Austin Aries and Christopher Daniels has been similarly shabby. A year and a half ago 'The Cowboy' and 'The It Factor' were gracing the main event and 'A Double' was winning the TNA championship. It felt as though TNA was finally giving us the storylines and pushes we'd wanted for a long time. The younger guys on the roster were getting the featured spots and carrying the top championship.

In just twelve months that's all been undone. All three have been demoted to the tag ranks after showing so much promise as headline singles performers. The popularity of Christopher Daniels' heel character has frustratingly not been capitalised on. Instead the writers have focused more on the tiresome antics of Hulk Hogan, Brooke Hogan and Bully Ray. Even Taz has had more of a push than Roode and company.

Unlike Styles and Angle I'm not sure these horribly under-utilised wrestlers will manage to turn in a good performance. There will be eight men in one match, one of whom is clumsy oaf Hernandez. My concern is that too many spots and sequences will be stuffed into too short a run time. The elimination rules won't help the pacing either.

Anyone could win this. There's no obvious outcome. I'd like to see Bad Influence win. That would allow, Aries, Roode and Storm to segue back into singles careers and make use of 'The Fallen Angel'. So I'll pick them.

The returning Jeff Hardy will team with Samoa Joe and Magnus to take on Aces and Eights members Wes Brisco, Garrett Bischoff and Mr Anderson. The best thing I can say about this match is that it’s a very good way of elevating Bischoff and Brisco. Teaming with Anderson isn’t really anything special but getting to wrestle opposite Joe and Hardy on a pay-per-view is a big thing for them.

While it’s a good thing for them it’s yet another example of two wrestlers who should be in more prominent spots being booked in a throwaway outing. Both ‘The Samoan Submission Machine’ and ‘The Charismatic Enigma’ should be doing far more in TNA than they currently are. So should Magnus for that matter. TNA should want to use that guy before the inevitable hard-to-resist offer form WWE comes in.

If Joe and Magnus are going to continue being associated with one another, which appears to be the case, then why aren’t they in the tag team title match? If they’re going to be a team then they should be used properly as a team. They’re one of the most long-standing units on the roster, and former champions, but they were omitted from the title match. It doesn’t make sense.

I’ll pick the Aces to win. Hardy is notoriously generous when it comes to putting others over and a win here would make sense for Garrett and Wes. Quality-wise I’m expecting little more than fast-paced filler.

The TNA world championship match has been built up well enough but Sting being involved instead of any of the younger talent mentioned above is what's wrong with the company's direction. No matter what those in charge have convinced themselves Sting is not a draw. Neither is Hulk Hogan. The only way TNA will progress as an organisation is if they accept that and use the veterans in supporting roles while aggressively elevating the Roodes, Aries and Storms of the roster. They're the guys who could be draws within a few years (on a larger and more significant scale than they are now) if only they get treated correctly.

Perhaps the plan is for Sting to lose and take up that supporting role. That would be the smart thing to do. There's no sense that I can see in derailing Bully Ray's push at the moment. He needs to be built up into a dominating champion who's dethroned by someone who can play a part in the company's future for years to come. That ain't 'The Stinger'. It's probably AJ Styles, but it could be any of the guys I've already bemoaned the use of.

'Calfzilla' to win a heated but ultimately only passable main event. For the record I'm expecting run-ins from Aces and Eights in this match, specifically DOC and Knoxx.

Sting versus Bully. Who'll win? Who'll care?

Down on the undercard is where things are really drab. The match that really stands out is the TV title match (yeah, that's still a thing) between Devon and Joseph Park. It will be a comedy affair and possibly feature a run-in from somebody substituting as Abyss. Because a plot that sees Park and his long lost brother Abyss interacting with one another is what TNA fans have been clamouring for.

I'm going to predict a win for Park. There has to be some reason for his continued presence on Impact. Scoring a victory over Aces and Eights is as good a reason as any. In an ideal world he'd win the title, vacate it, and then announce that he and Abyss are jetting off to live on an island together. Then we'd never have to see the tiresome reunion and-or feud play out. I won't get my hopes up for that though.

In the night's final title match Kenny King will defend the X Division gold against Suicide and Chris Sabin. 'Cide, for the record, will likely be played by TJ Perkins. He's the guy who was misused by Ring of Honor last year and left after wrestling a tryout match for TNA.

I don't feel very positive about this match. Suicide gimmick aside I like everyone involved. I was a big fan of ANX and King's proven very capable in his follow-up singles career. TJP is amazing, the sort of wrestler ROH management should have been desperate to hold on to but for some reason weren't. And Sabin is an incredibly talented athlete who's had a run of very bad luck with injuries over the last few years. He could easily be a highlight of a logically booked X Division.

The thing is that the X Division isn't logically booked. Take the decision to have every X Division match be a triple threat match, for example. That's a lazy attempt at making something unique. It's a substitute for compelling booking, as evidenced by the approach of trying to force an air of mystery as to who the third man in any given X match on Impact will be. The X Division deserves to be restocked with half a dozen new wrestlers and prioritised by the booking team. If TNA can't bring themselves to do that they may as well retire the concept. It's of no use or interest to anyone in its current state.

Who'll win? Sabin. It feels time for a title change and he'd get a good reaction winning the belt after returning from an injury.

The seventh match confirmed for Slammiversary is Jay Bradley v Sam Shaw. It's a tournament final, with the winner getting a spot in TNA's third annual Bound For Glory series, the winner of which gets a world title match at, yep, Bound For Glory.

The cynic in me feels that this is a rather elaborate way of including someone in the BFG series who can be used to lose regularly. They may pick up one or two fluke wins but ultimately I think it's pretty safe to assume either Shaw or Bradley will be involved to stop the likes of Robbie E, Kazarian and EY performing endless jobs.

So, really, it doesn't matter who wins at Slammiversary. They're going on to a string of losses. I'll pick Sam Shaw because I like his name better. Yes, that's my reason.

Finally there's Taryn Terrell v Gail Kim. It should be a good match. Terrell has shown promise in what she's been given to do since stepping out if the referree shirt. Her story has been logically booked and she'll be wrestling an established performer in Kim, which should mean people care about and react to the match.

I think the former Mrs Drew McIntyre will win. That would allow for an always popular underdog story and also setup a new babyface challenger to the now-possibly-heel Mickie James.

See what I mean about this being a humdrum offering? The BFG series should help to create some more meaningful rivalries for Bound For Glory in October. I've a feeling the Aces and Eights plot will be nearing completion by then too, which could bring about some pretty meaningful bouts. With four months to get ready that show ought to be something special.

I want TNA to be better than they are. The fact that they've got long term planning is great. They just need to start focusing it on wrestlers who warrant it, not the Stings of the world. My advice to whoever's scripting their shows right now would be to go back and look at what worked last year. At least the right guys were getting pushed then.

Predictions summary:
Bully Ray to defeat Sting
AJ Styles to defeat Kurt Angle
Bad Influence to outlast Chavo Guerrero and Hernandez, James Storm and Gunner, and Bobby Roode and Austin Aries
Chris Sabin to win the X Division championship
Wes Brisco, Garrett Bischoff and Mr Anderson to defeat Jeff Hardy, Samoa Joe and Magnus
Taryn Terrell to defeat Gail Kim
Joseph Park to defeat Devon
Sam Shaw to defeat Jay Bradley

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Wyatt Family Outing

On Monday's RAW a promo aired announcing the impending debut of the Wyatt Family. Anyone who's seen the trio's work in NXT will know that this is a good thing.

The leader of the pack (the term patriarch could, rarely for wrestling, be applied here) is Bray Wyatt. He made his WWE debut in 2010 on the ill-fated second series of NXT. This was back when NXT's format was radically different, of course. It wasn't really designed to get numerous guys over at once which in retrospect it should have been. The result was that he ended up not getting much to do.

Ignore the mask, he's wearing it here because he had a broken face
From NXT season two Wyatt, then going under the name Husky Harris, got a slot in CM Punk's Nexus faction. Yes, just like Curtis Axel (then billed as Michael McGillicutty). Perhaps someone in the WWE writing team has been poring over old footage of NXT and Punk’s New Nexus? That could explain why two guys who debuted in that period have been promoted in as many weeks.

Husky's initial run on RAW didn't last long. He was written off TV before Punk's showdown with Randy Orton at WrestleMania XXVIII. He eventually reappeared on some house shows under the new Bray Wyatt name and then became one of the early highlights of the 2012 reformat of NXT.

Various inspirations have been cited for the Wyatt character. For those who haven't seen him in action he's basically patterned after a stereotypical southern preacher in everything from the way he dresses to his cadences. His wrestling style is enjoyably wild, his big moves looking credible and being broken up with surprising bursts of agility.

An injury early in the summer put Wyatt on the sidelines for a few months. He was absent from TV for a while before making a comeback as a manager. It was an inspired move, granting time to one of the best characters on the show and allowing others to benefit from his excellent promo skills. The men he was given to manage were Luke Harper, formerly Brodie Lee in Dragon Gate USA, and Erick Rowan, who'd wrestled in Japan as Thorus before signing with WWE. The three look like they belong together, with Harper and Rowan being a particularly good fit as a team.

Rowan and Harper were entered into the tournament to crown NXT tag team champions. They made it to the finals but lost to Oliver Grey and Adrian Neville. That started a feud that could have been great but never really got going thanks to an injury to Grey. Said injury led to the Wyatt boys getting the belts at the May 2nd NXT tapings.

Wyatt family gold

While it's clear that Bray is the star of the group thanks to his look and promo skills Harper and Rowan are deserving of promotions too. They could help to create a worthwhile tag team division if given the chance. Having Bray as a manager will help them to stand out.

There should be no need to rush things with the group. Bray is well suited to working as a manager and could gradually morph into a full time wrestler. The success of The Shield makes me think WWE has a plan in place for the group. I hope they do. Bray's too good to mishandle a second time.

Monday 27 May 2013

Indy Raiders

WWE have been recruiting from the independent wrestling scene for a few years now. Well, technically speaking, they’ve been recruiting from the indies since the territories went away and the independent scene sprang up to replace them. It’s more accurate to say that WWE have refined their taste in indy stars over the last several years.

In a sense the company’s stance on indy standouts and veterans changed when they signed CM Punk. Anyone who’s watched the Best in the World DVD will know this. It’s spoken about openly there. Punk was going to be let go at one point because nobody in a position of authority knew what to do with him. He stayed employed because of Paul Heyman being desperate to use him in WWECW.

Why was he signed to begin with? There’s no obvious answer to those of us not in the know but I imagine his look, clear understanding of how to wrestle, and passion stood him in good sted. Once he’d made it to then developmental league OVW his glowing reputation hindered his progress, resulting in the near firing. Anyone who’s achieved a level of notoriety before heading to WWE is essentially a target, the perception of the road agents seeming to be that the guy will believe in their own hype and only know how to work the indy style, as opposed to the much vaunted WWE style.

Basically, nobody in WWE expected Punk to become as big as he has and he was originally signed because certain influential people in the company (most likely Heyman and Jim Ross) appreciated the potential he had. I certainly can’t imagine John Laurinaitis had the wherewithal to approach him.

Punk’s success despite WWE’s booking is probably what made them change their opinion on guys like him. If he could succeed in spite of efforts to hold him down as a mid-carder then logically there would be a chance that the guys he came up with on the indies could possess that same talent. That, I imagine, was the thought process employed by Vince McMahon, Triple H, and their cadre of advisors.

I could be reading too much into things of course. It’s true that sooner or later WWE were going to have to sign some of the top stars from the indies instead of the likes of Gunner Scott, Eric Escobar, Sylvester Terkay, and Orlando Jordan. Perhaps that point was simply reached and they decided to sign good guys, rather than average ones, as opposed to their being some big revelatory moment revolving around CM Punk.
This brings back happy memories for precisely no one
The signing of Bryan ‘Daniel Bryan’ Danielson was the first indication WWE were going to pursue peers of ‘The Second City Saint’. He’d be regarded for years as the best wrestler on the North American indy scene and so he was a natural guy to approach once the “let’s de-push indy stars” mentality was dropped.

Bryan became a star for WWE too. Okay, he’s not reached the heights of Punk and it’s possibly that he never will, but he’s done far more than anyone thought he would. That’s important. He was given a chance to do well and proved that he could. He showed that Punk wasn’t an anomaly, that guys from “the indy generation” (or should that be “the ROH generation”?) could adapt their approach and get over in The Big Leagues.

The last few years have seen WWE snatching up indy talent like they’re going out of style. Claudio Castagnoli, Chris Hero, PAC, El Generico, and Sara Del Rey have all signed up to get a new ring name and take on various roles within WWE. There’s recently been talk that Mike Bennett and Sami Callihan are on the cusp of inking developmental deals, and it was announced on May 26th that Samuray Del Sol has signed a contract.
Please pair this man with Sin Cara. Thanks
It’s pleasing to see that WWE are routinely scouring the independents. It means they’re finally willing to admit that there are very talented wrestlers out there who don’t work for a sports entertainment organisation and that their product will be better with said wrestlers involved. It’s not the best situation for the indies to be in, but it’s been proven time and again over the last couple of decades that a new batch of talent can always be found when there’s a mass exodus for WWE.

This approach is best for everyone involved. WWE gets the best talent to display on the most watched wrestling shows in the world and the younger stars just starting out get to prove their capable of following in the footsteps of their predecessors. It’s almost like the circle of life.


Sunday 26 May 2013

Long Live the King(s)

I'd been watching wrestling for about six months when I was first introduced to the King of the Ring concept. It was a sixteen person tournament (the number of participants varied each year depending on the strength of the roster) that pitted various mid-carders against one another in a series of matches. There was no overriding point to the series beyond signalling a push, which obviously wasn't the on-screen reason given but it amounted to the same thing. It was an unwritten rule by the late nineties that headliners were above King of the Ring.

That year the tournament was won by 'Bad Ass' Billy Gunn. He was not a shining example of what winning King of the Ring could do for a performer. Kurt Angle's win in 2000 was a better use of the gimmick, as were the victories of Edge and Brock Lesnar after that.

While there's not really anything for the wrestlers to win with King of the Ring besides a bragging right it was still a very useful idea and annual event. It would be slightly overdramatizing things to say that winning the tourney launched the careers of 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, Triple H and Bret Hart but it did play an important part in each man's rise up the card. The same is true for Angle, Edge and Lesnar. Winning King of the Ring was a sign that each man was above their mid-card peers and destined for better things.

When WWE retired the tournament both as a pay-per-view and an annual occurrence in 2003 a lot of people thought it was a poor decision. While not everyone selected to make it to the finals and win had become a player for the group (joining 'Mr Ass' on that list are Mabel and Ken Shamrock) there were more successes than failures. It was a useful tool for raising wrestlers' profiles and WWE casually cancelled it, preferring instead to push their solo brand PPVs.
Yeah, this actually happened
The tournament made a low key return in 2006 as a tournament exclusively open to SmackDown wrestlers. It was won by Booker T, who changed his ring name to King Booker and became the brand’s top heel. It would become one of the best runs of his WWE career and was a perfect example of how the tournament could be used to build a new character (even if it did ignore the unwritten rule that only mid-carders got to win King of the Ring).

The gimmick returned on the April 21st 2008 episode of RAW. The finals came down to CM Punk and William Regal. They had a very good outing which ended with a surprising win for Regal. It failed to spark a career renaissance for the Brit. Two years later the gimmick was dusted off again, this time to give Sheamus a boost. That resulted in his bizarre run as King Sheamus that saw him dressing like Loki from The Avengers.
And so did this
The last time we saw a King of the Ring show was then. I think the event is due a proper, regular comeback. It's the ideal tool for launching new careers because it creates so many booking options. Anyone winning would be signalled as someone due for a shove up the ranks but even non-finalists could be elevated by a surprise win in preliminary rounds.

There are plenty of ways to utilise the tournament format. It could provide a solid month’s worth of programming for RAW. That shouldn’t be dismissed as the show is currently pretty aimless. You could have a heel dominate all the ay to the finals, only to be upset by a plucky, young babyface. It’s the sort of thing WWE were going for earlier in the year with Bo Dallas before they lost interest in him.

It could be used to start rivalries too. There would obviously be a favourite in every match, and it would be very simple to book one guy to score a surprise win over another. The problem of there being no actual point to the event could easily be remedied by granting the inner a title shot at SummerSlam. It could even replace Money in the Bank, of WWE were feeling daring.

The tournament would be something fresh for WWE programming and could be used to spark some new stories. That alone makes it worth considering.

Considering the size of the roster there's never been a better time to resurrect King of the Ring. The promotion needs to make new stars as well as flesh out TV with interesting and talented characters who aren't necessarily in the main event. They need something that can highlight multiple wrestlers at once and create some surprises that aren't just booked for the sake of being surprising. The King of the Ring is, as it always has been, the perfect tool for the job.

Saturday 25 May 2013

The Signings That Never Were

Since Ring of Honor was founded the league has made a habit of bringing in outsiders for their bigger shows. Guys like Jushin 'Thunder' Liger, Kenta Kobashi, Jeff Hardy, and Christian (Cage) have all graced the honourable ring. The names that crop up for special shows are selected mainly because of their ability to draw a larger audience over any other attributes. Wrestling well helps, but they’ve mainly been there to attract a larger than average crowd.

I’d love to know if offers were ever extended to Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle.

'Y2J' can be sloppy at times but on the whole he is a smooth wrestler who would fit right in in ROH. There are numerous ROH alumni that he could have worked with, not just current members of the roster. He'd have slotted in well to several of the company’s eras.

Jericho first left WWE to become a rock star (something he's more or less achieved, to my surprise) in August of 2005. Since then he's returned a few times, sometimes for months and sometimes for years. In the last couple of years he’s settled into a rhythm that sees him doing a few months of music and then a few months of wrestling. Between September 2007 and September 2010 he was a full time grappler and was generally considered to be one of WWE’s most reliable wrestlers. But he was a free man in throughout 2006 as well as before he re-signed in late 2011 and returned to TV in January 2012.

Jericho during his "reliable company man" run

A pretty good hint as to why Jericho's never appeared for Ring of Honor is his stock response when asked about joining TNA. He invariably says that WWE is the big leagues and he likes to think of himself as a big enough star to not appear for anything less. That he's not wrestled in Japan, the country that helped him get a break in ECW, which led to his jobs in WCW and WWE, backs this up: many guys in Jericho's spot would have done so because they could make good money (New Japan, All Japan and NOAH  pay significantly more than do Ring of Honor). That Jericho's avoided that shows it's not just about money, he genuinely does consider himself a WWE guy and a WWE guy only.

Angle is a different story. He was released due to health concerns in August 2006. As soon as his no-compete clause (something that’s added as standard to practically all WWE contracts (although I’d bet good money Lesnar has managed to avoid one)) allowed he joined TNA and he’s been there ever since.

Being under contract to TNA is obviously what’s precluded ‘The Olympic Hero’ from appearing for ROH. Had ROH gotten their act together at the time I think they could have scrabbled enough cash together to make Angle an offer to rival TNA’s. Even if it were just for a few months I’d have thought Angle, especially coming off a multi-year main event run in WWE, would have been someone very interesting to ROH.

This could have been an ROH match

As I said above the style of both guys would have been a great fit in ROH and there have been multiple money matches they could have had. Both men, especially Jericho, have some very loyal and passionate fans too. More than enough to cover the cost of booking them.

The likelihood is that both were contacted regarding appearances and simply said no. It's a boring conclusion but there's not really another one to draw. In the mid- to late-"naughties" (I'm not a fan of that term but I can’t think of a better one right now) Jericho and Angle could have made a real difference to ROH both in terms of product quality and brand awareness. The time has been and gone though. Age, musical success, and contracts with other companies mean that we'll always be left wondering what could have been. And I think it could have been something special.


Friday 24 May 2013

An Axe by Any Other Name

Curtis Axel. It's not the most awe inspiring name to ever be uttered in WWE. The man behind it has an impressive pedigree though, and there’s also a story for the moniker. He's the son of the massively talented ‘Mr Perfect’ Curt Hennig and the grandson of Larry 'The Axe' Hennig. Big shoes to fill there.

I like the new name. It's similar in origin to Rocky Maivia in that it combines the name of a father and grandfather. You're rarely going wrong in wrestling if you're following in the footsteps of The Rock. Perhaps just as importantly, Curtis Axel is an improvement on Michael McGillicutty. Young Joe Hennig was never going to get anywhere with that name.

You may remember him from a brief stint in CM Punk's ill-fated Nexus. Or perhaps from his appearances on the various incarnations of NXT. Don't worry if you don't though. While he was technically sound as McGillicutty during those periods he didn't really wow anyone. Sadly he was most notable for failing to display the charisma that had helped to make his father a star. He did get to win the tag team titles alongside David Otunga (yes, the David Otunga) though, so it wasn’t a period completely bereft of highlights.

Axel has apparently been a favourite backstage for a while now. He's received public praise for his work in NXT from William Regal, Triple H and Jim Ross and was hand-picked by The Rock to be his training and sparring partner during 'The Great One's' latest return stint to the company.

And of course he's been selected to become a Paul Heyman guy. I'd be interested to know how the situation came about, whether it was something pitched to Heyman or whether he was asked who he'd like to work with with his existing "clients" Punk and Brock Lesnar currently off TV. It's obviously something we're unlikely to ever find out, but it would give us a great insight into not just this gimmick overhaul but the working of WWE in general.

That said, even if Axel and Heyman have been paired up by the creative department without any input themselves Axel is still going to become a Paul Heyman guy. Working on-screen together will mean the two collaborate on ideas backstage. These on-screen relationships are clearly more to Heyman than a job. It comes across in every interview he gives: he loves the wrestling business and getting to work with and help to guide other passionate people. He’s friends with Punk and Lesnar in reality and that’s come about in part from their time working together in WWE.
He's a Paul Heyman guy
Curtis Axel could not have hoped for a better (re)introduction. Not only does he get to work with and learn from Heyman but his first match under the new name was opposite Triple H. Say what you want about 'The Game' or the quality of the match the two had (in the RAW main event slot no less) but it can't be denied that he's a big name to face. The evening was laid out to make Axel look as good as possible.

Okay so he didn't win but that’s not a big deal. It's more important that he didn't lose (it was a non-finish). And also 'The King of Kings' didn't win. Axel wasn’t buried and he was allowed to look as competitive as he was realistically going to.

Glancing at the WWE roster there's no clear rival for Axel at the moment. If Chris Jericho sticks around I think he'd be a decent choice but I think he’s off to join Fozzy again soon. Sheamus could have been interesting too, but he's apparently heading into a programme with Damien Sandow. That leaves The Miz and Kofi Kingston as the most realistic choices. Neither strikes me as ideal for the role and I can’t imagine either producing anything especially amazing opposite Axel either.

Perhaps Axel will simply be pitted against expendable no-namers for a while, allowing him to build up a name for himself in preparation for his first real programme a couple of months into the future. That approach would be good. It would avoid pushing him too quickly and having fans resent or become bored with him. It would allow the on-screen dynamic between Axel and his representative to grow naturally as well. Another bonus. Such things shouldn't be forced.

Whatever happens Axel has an excellent chance of being a somebody thanks to his pairing with Heyman. It’s possible it could lead to matches alongside and-or opposite CM Punk and Brock Lesnar. For a guy who was in NXT a month ago that’s a wonderful position to be in. If he gets half the success his father did he’ll be doing great.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Pitch Perfect

The longer we wait the less likely the WWE Network seems to become.

They’ve experimented with creating new, not-entirely-wrestling-themed content for their YouTube channel over the last year or so and had a mixture of hits and misses. The Dolph Ziggler fronted Download was routinely excellent for example, while Foreign Exchange and Are You Serious? both had their moments too.

Like I say there were misses too. It’s generally considered that Zack Ryder’s show took hit a quality slump after being forcibly switched to WWE’s channel. You can’t win them all.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking recently that part of the reason for the holdup may be due to a lack of quality content ideas rather than just setup troubles. I’ve compiled a list of ideas below. WWE, you’re free to broadcast whatever you want.

Cooking with Ryback: Ryback bursts into the homes of unsuspecting contestants bellowing "Feed me more!" at the top of his voice and smashing furniture, not leaving until he has been appeased with a banquet served to him by the owners of the house. It should have the general air of a particularly bad segment from Noel's House Party, only stretched out for far longer.

You be the Judge: Friends and family members with long-standing disputes enter a mock courtroom and explain their grievances to Mick Foley (who's kitted out in judge's garb). 'The Hardcore Legend' then makes a ruling which all involved have signed legal documents to adhere to, shouting "That's hardcore, and now it's the law! Bang bang!" immediately after every proclamation. Videos are shown the following week recounting how those involved have found living according to Foley's ruling.

Greenwich Street: A learn-to-read and -count show in the style of Sesame Street, fronted by Triple H. The weekly number and letter are always three and H.

Spot the Difference: A series in which Jim Ross tries to tell the difference between any two people related to one another or who just look vaguely alike, stemming from his inability to tell Matt and Jeff Hardy apart. He never manages it.

T Time: Booker T reviews teas from around the world in his uniquely overblown play-by-play style, exhuming old catchphrases as he goes. Damien Sandow has a recurring role as a Voice of Reason.

Grooming Tips with Cody Rhodes: Cody Rhodes revives his old grooming tips segment, poorly reformatted into a half hour broadcast.

Travels with Cena: John Cena visits various landmarks, cities and countries around the world and bellows "The champ is here!" into the camera. It is nothing but this for an hour.

Being The Chosen One: Documentary series following WWE's resident 'Chosen One' Drew McIntyre. Offering in-depth interviews in which Drew opens up about going from being one of the company's hottest rising stars to arguably the least interesting member of 3MB who has to watch his mediocre ex-wife enjoying a more high profile spot in TNA.

Perspex Appreciation TV: Jinder Mahal hosts a nightly show looking at the different kinds of Perspex and all its various uses. Each episode begins with him reverently placing his turban into his Perspex Box™.

Knee Status Theatre: Drama series about the status of Rey Mysterio's perpetually injured knees. Stars Mysterio. Dr Shelby features in a supporting role as a psychiatrist Mysterio visits because he's glum about his hurty knees. Series finale sees Mysterio finally getting surgery, performed by the doctor that delivered Mae Young's plastic hand baby.
Give this guy his own Spanish language soap opera
Khali Karaoke: Three hours of non-stop singing from The Great Khali. This can include theme shows where he specialises in one artist or genre. I think we all want to hear Khali's rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way.

Stardust: Sitcom in which Dolph Ziggler and Goldust share a flat (or, as they’re American, an apartment) and both believe themselves to be Ziggy Stardust. Big E Langston has a recurring role as Biggy Stardust.

Titan Towers: Soap opera set in and around WWE's headquarters. The McMahon's would naturally feature prominently.

On the Sofa with Brodus: A late night chat show hosted by Brodus Clay. Sweet T, the Funkadactyls, and Brodus’s momma all feature as recurring characters.

Border Force: Jack Swagger revives JBL's old gimmick of patrolling the Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants out of his beloved United States. Hilarity ensues.

Snog, Marry, Avoid: Americanised remake of the questionably popular BBC Three show. Presented by Jerry Lawler. 'The King' gives his verdict on every contestant and never chooses avoid. Following every successful makeover a clip is played of Ron Simmons saying "Damn!"

Can Big Show Punch That?: A series in which viewers write in suggesting things for Big Show to punch. Big Show is then shown punching the objects, people, places or abstract concepts requested.

Otunga Law: Viewers tweet, Tout, email and write in with legal problems for celebrated lawyer, occasional wrestler and bodybuilding aficionado David Otunga. The former Nexus member dispenses advice with a wry smile and an occasional wink. He ends every episode with a prayer.

Tales of Grandpappy: Sheamus travels around North America visiting nurseries and elementary schools to regale children with (almost certainly fictional) stories of his (almost certainly fictional) grandfather. None of the kids enjoy his inane ramblings, causing 'The Celtic Warrior' to end every episode by Brogue kicking one of them.

Monday 20 May 2013

Extreme Rules 2013 review

How do you open a show called Extreme Rules? Why with a match that pits a singer against a ballroom dancer of course!

I’m skipping ahead a little. Extreme Rules actually opened with the typically good video package treatment. The first screenshot of that featured the word “Thou shalt not”, which made me think of the Dudleys. That may have been intentional but I doubt it. The main focus of the video were the WWE championship feud and the story of Triple H v Lesnar. The latter dates back to last year but only seemed to feature footage from the last month. I find that odd.

Anyway, the event kicked off with Fandango facing Chris Jericho in a rematch from WrestleMania XXIX. Lawler told us that he thinks Fandango's underrated as the dancer made his way to the ring. JBL agreed because he had the most impressive debut ever. I couldn’t follow the logic but then I’m not a WWE commentator.

The opener was the standard Jericho affair, which is to say that fans went wild as he botched moves and loudly called spots. In a particularly glaring blunder he bellowed "Over the top!" moments before Fandango sent him sailing over the top rope to set up a missile drop kick. Considering how long 'Y2J's' been at it he should really know better. He has no incentive to improve though because people rave about him despite these flaws.

Fandango was permitted to kick out of the Lionsault towards the end of the match. That helped his credibility. Being felled by a Codebreaker as he leapt from the top rope couldn’t have hurt in that regard either: that ‘Y2J’ had to pull out such a big move to finish him off makes Fandango look a star.

The match was hit and miss but ultimately achieved what it needed to.

Backstage Josh Mathews interviewed Sheamus. When asked how he was going to drag Mark Henry around the ring to win his match, even though that wasn't the requirement of the match (because the strap's pretty long), Sheamus basically said he'd go extreme. He also said "pacifically" instead of "specifically". I wept and wished he’d referenced his time in WWECW instead.

Match number two was for the United States championship. Despite being the champ Kofi Kingston was annoucned first. The announcers plugged Hulu as he was in the ring. I don’t think ‘The Wildcat’s’ standing within the company could be made any clearer.

The crowd chanted “Let’s go Ambrose!” early on, which must have been heartening for the indy standout and an irritation for the talented and professional Kingston. The two had a very spirited match, culminating in a missed Trouble in Paradise by Kofi that allowed Dean to hit a fall forward DDT. The new champ celebrated, alongside his stablemates, like he'd achieved something. That's how to elevate a belt.

The Mark Henry v Sheamus strap match was next. Lights had been added to the corners to make it easier for fans to keep track of who’d touched which corner. It struck me as the sort of innovative change WCW would have come up with: designed to fix a non-existent problem and utterly pointless.

They tried to do interesting stuff but it all failed due to clumsiness. They have to share the blame for that: they were as bad as each other when it came to fumbling their way through simplistic spots. ‘The Celtic Warrior’ won a surprisingly short match by easily tapping three corners, handily felling 'The World's Strongest Man' with a Brogue Kick and then slapping the fourth and final corner.

Conclusive proof that Sheamus is a slapper
Medics were shown checking on Henry, even though he'd only suffered a standard finishing move. The match hadn’t even been that rambunctious so I’m not sure why this was shown. Perhaps something happened to cause genuine concern for Henners’ health.

As Sheamus sashayed his way to the back JBL said he'd been unsure that he could win, which was an odd statement considering he’d picked the Irishman to go over. Someone really needs to have a word with the WWE commentary team. Inconsistencies like that crop up all too often.

The cameras then cut backstage to show as AJ on the phone to World Heavyweight champion Dolph Ziggler (who I really missed on this show). Divas champion Kaitlyn interrupted and made fun of her mental state before pretending to walk off only to return and attack her from behind. Yes, Kaitlyn’s the babyface here, so I don’t know why she’s being portrayed as a coward. The crowd were silent as the pair exchanged bland insults but perked up for their very convincing brawl. The sooner AJ and Kaitlyn start getting to wrestle regularly the better. I think they’ll have very good matches.

Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter cut a promo as the headed to the ring for the number one contenders I Quit match. Well, Colter talked while Swags flexed and stared listlessly. It was almost more interesting than the match that followed. Not because I agree with Colter (although he's a great promo) but because I'm sick and tired of ADR versus Swagger. Colter talked about an IRS scandal that completely passed me by because I don't really pay much attention to non-wrestling news (true story). I understood his cheap heat comments about the St. Louis Cardinals more. I’m not into baseball, I just understand cheap heat.

The match started off quickly. ADR nailed a suicide dive within seconds and then introduced a kendo stick to proceedings. The early going was characterised by Mike Chioda asking if people wanted to quit every twenty to thirty seconds. It got annoying quickly. Swagger and ADR got in on the act themselves when they started doing Jericho impersonations, screaming "Ask him!" every time they scored any offence on their foe.  

The finishing sequence to this match was… odd.

ADR locked in the cross arm breaker. Swags reversed into an ankle lock. Del Rio did a great job of selling the move, which set up Ricardo teasing that he'd throw in the towel to stop his friend’s suffering. ADR told him not to so he didn't.

But Zeb Colter did. He grabbed the towel and chucked it into the ring as Chioda’s back was turned, causing the match to be called in favour of ‘The Real American’. Another referee came running out to inform Chioda what happened, but the senior referee wasn’t satisfied. He went out to ringside to watch a replay on a conveniently placed TV. I don’t think we’re meant to ask why the finish couldn’t be replied on the Titantron.  The upshot of this was that the match was restarted with Del Rio playing a massive underdog.

The entire saga received the loudest reaction of the Swagger-Del Rio segment by far. That should tell WWE something about their programme.

The restart probably lasted for about a minute. Within seconds Swagger was caught in the arm breaker. After less than thirty seconds he quit. While ADR won it seemed as though the finish was designed to protect Swagger in defeat. I was hoping their rivalry was going to end and that they’d head off to do something new. I assume that’s not the case. Perhaps keeping this rivalry alive is WWE’s contingency plan until Ziggler’s cleared from his concussion and can wrestle again.

Josh Mathews interviewed The Ryback. Actually Ryback just diatribed as Josh held a microphone for him. He hined about how he should have been champion six months ago. It was nothing we’ve not heard before.

Team Hell No were out next to defend their tag team championships against Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. Stat Master Michael Cole told us the champs had had the belts for 245 days, which is a very healthy reign by company standards. JBL followed up with a reference to Kane's oft forgotten feud with May 19th. It was nice to hear it mentioned. What? Yeah, he feuded with a day. Google it.

The tornado rules gave Bryan and Kane a chance to do something different to their usual routine of Bryan getting isolated for a while before making a hot tag to 'The Big Red Machine'. It made a nice change and allowed both men the chance to work equal portions of the match. It was a very good outing that was designed to showcase The Shield combo’s teamwork without harming the work that’s been put into Bryan and Kane. I thought it was an excellent display.

The believers have been rewarded
The Shield won with a double stomp-torture rack combo. Ambrose appeared to raise the hands of the tag champions. The trio then posed with their belts. It was another example of belts being treated the right way.

A recap of Cody Rhodes tapping out to The Miz's figure four was shown. There was no reason for it.

Match six saw Big Show and hometown boy Randy Orton clash in a lively Extreme Rules match, noticeable mostly (to my mind at least) for Show being allowed to kick out of an RKO. He lost eventually but it was still a pretty big moment. Not just anyone gets to survive Orton's answer to the Diamond Cutter. It was a punt kick that eventually put 'The World's Largest Athlete' away. That was a banned move for a while so I assume it's now back in use for special occasions... and that for some reason a standard match against Big Show is considered a special occasion.

The Ryback v Cena feud was treated to a lengthy hype video. It was well produced and recapped the feud nicely. You could almost believe their interactions had been exciting.

The Ryback, out first, got a mostly negative reaction but there were cheers to he heard. Some people simply want anyone but Cena on top, which means they'll cheer whoever's pitted against him. Once his music cut off Ryback did get the solid wall of jeers he was after. I'm not sure how. All he was doing was flexing his jaw.

Cena got a mostly positive reaction. St. Louis is obviously a town that enjoys his work. I don't, and Cena provided me with a perfect example of why within seconds of appearing: he sprinted to the ring despite allegedly having a foot injury. It’s this cavalier attitude towards telling a realistic story once the bell rings that causes him to be so unpopular.

'The Franchise' kept his Last Man Standing hot streak alive with another enjoyable tussle. This is definitely the best gimmick for him, he never enters a less than great performance with it. Not even his comedy facial expressions and failure to sell exhaustion could ruin things. On the subject of expressions Ryback proved very capable of working the crowd. I'd noted that he could do it as a face with his shoulder jerking routine but hadn't seen him do it much as a heel. After his performance here I'm now more comfortable with him as a bad guy.

The Ryback entered one of the best performances of his career
The finish saw Ryback slip out of an AA attempt, scoop up the champion and spear him through the set at the top of the ramp. The moment was replayed several times as Charles Robinson scampered backstage to help get the crash mats the wrestlers had landed on out of sight. Cena was peeled off the floor and slapped onto a stretcher as the announce team talked gravely in an attempt to convince us that we were seeing dire stuff unfolding. Ryback stood up and walked away (with help from referees admittedly).

It was a very cool visual but ultimately it was a disappointing finish. I can understand the decision to do it though: it keeps the title on Cena and prolongs the company's top feud for at least another month. Ryback now has a legitimate argument for being the champ because he was quite literally the last man standing. As long as their inevitable rematch at Payback has a better finish there's no problem with the LSM bout ending like that.

Going on last were Brock Lesnar and Triple H. 'The Game' jumped Lesnar before he'd even reached the ring and also lumped Heyman for good measure. Yeah, another alleged babyface attacking their supposedly dishonourable foe form behind.

Once again the two men failed to put on a match that fully engaged me. On paper they did everything right but the pace was just a little too sluggish, with just a little too much stalling, to be as good as it could have been. They were in a tough position. Had they shaved time off the match it would have been more enjoyable but the encounter wouldn’t have felt like the feud-ending meeting it clearly was. Taking the longer run time meant it felt like the epic encounter they wanted but that it ended up being boring.

Lesnar got himself a storyline knee injury a few minutes into the match. He rivalled Del Rio for best selling of the night. That’s not something you normally hear of ‘The Beast’. I think he deserves praise for doing such a stellar job. A chair was introduced within a few minutes and eventually a sledgehammer was revealed, stashed in the upper reaches of the cage. Presumably ‘The King of Kings’ put it there. If not him then maybe it was the same person who raised the briefcase at King of the Ring 99.

The sledgehammer would eventually lead to the finish, but it was a while coming. First the two men ran through a number of finisher exchanges, some Heyman interference and a Sharpshooter. I’d like to think that last was a dig at Bret Hart for his comments that Triple H is a below average wrestler who produces below average matches. Eventually ‘The Pain’ lamped Hunter with the sledge and then followed up with an F5 for the victory.

Lesnar swaggered out of the building as Triple H sold the beating in the ring. Because WWE now runs into a post-show analysis broadcast there was no well-produced final shot available. If they’d had to have one I reckon they’d have gone with Lesnar having his hand raised at the top of the ramp and looking very pleased with himself.

On the whole I thought Extreme Rules was a very good show. The main event, while not brilliant, wasn’t offensive and capped off a long-running feud. The WWE championship match, Team Hell No v The Shield, and Big Show v Randy Orton were all very strong offerings, while Mark Henry v Sheamus and Ambrose v Kingston were as entertaining as they could be given their running times. WWE should be pleased with what they put on. If all their pay-per-views were this good the product would be a lot better.

Sunday 19 May 2013


It’s been around a year and a half since WWE initiated Sheamus’s main event push. In that time he’s won the Royal Rumble, captured the World Heavyweight championship at WrestleMania and gone on to enjoy a six month reign, been given the chance to shine on pay-per-view with everyone from Daniel Bryan to Alberto Del Rio and consistently been presented as one of the company’s top stars. In short he’s been handpicked for a spot as a major star.

On the surface it’s easy to see why he was given the spot. He’s a tall, muscular guy with, by WWE standards at least, a pretty unique look who knows how to cut a promo without stumbling over his words. That he’s Irish doesn’t hurt either. WWE are increasingly keen to have headliners from foreign lands. It helps their quest for world domination.

Despite these obvious qualifications for the role I find myself bored of ‘The Celtic Warrior’ in his current position. A couple of years ago I thought he’d be great when his face turn finally occurred. He was decent for a while but he’s not become the hit I’d expected.  Ultimately he’s turned out to be a crushing disappointment.
Looking back it’s easy to see why this has happened. His promos have become increasingly predictable. He’ll come out, allude to his love of fighting and then crack jokes at the expense of whoever he’s feuding with. Sometimes he’ll throw in a reference to grandfather. The Sheamus we have today would much rather run through this routine than be try to portray an opponent as a serious threat.

His move set is pretty shallow too. There’s his ten punch in the ropes spot, White Noise and the Brogue Kick. Beyond that he kicks and punches his way through matches on autopilot. It’s not the arsenal of a wrestler who thrives on providing variety.

Does this remind you of anyone? Because it reminds me of John Cena.

Shaymo has basically become a taller, whiter and more Irish version of John Cena. He’s a top line act marketed at kids only with less emphasis on T-shirt sales. There’s nothing wrong with that approach in itself because WWE needs guys to keep the kids interested, but it feels like a waste. The big man could fill a larger role if used differently.

I can still remember the cowardice that characterised he’s initial run as a main event heel. That seemed like a poor use of him at the time and the same thing seems to be happening with the him now. If Sheamus is to win over me and other dissenting parties over he’s going to need to be given a more serious persona. He can’t be joking one minute and talking about getting into a brawl the next. It’s jarring and unbelievable, even by wrestling’s standards.

On top of everything else, he’s just boring. Cut down on the promo time for a while. Less is more and all that. Giving overexposed parties less air time helps them to appear fresher without actually changing anything. It gives others more time too.

Pairing him up for a feud with Mark Henry is a good start. ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ character is one of the most effective heels on the roster. There’s nothing (intentionally) comedic about him and so he helps to bring out the best in Sheamus. Yes the Irishman still makes jokes but there’s a visceral realism to the interactions he has with Henry which cast Shaymo in a positive light.

I still think there’s a chance Sheamus could become a successful headline babyface but it’s not going to happen now. He’s become too jovial and affable. A second run as a bad guy is needed before he can become the loveable rogue WWE seems to want to cast him as. Some distance needs to be created between his current character and whatever he ends up as. That distance that can only be attained with a run as a heel. If WWE are smart they’ll turn him later this year and give him eighteen months or so before having him turn back into a more serious good guy.

Of course, I could be wrong. John Cena seems to have turned out pretty well for them.

Saturday 18 May 2013

The NXT Declutter

Yesterday WWE announced the release of seven talents from developmental contracts. These mass releases come as something of a surprise considering recent news that WWE are keen on signing more wrestlers to developmental deals once their new Florida training facility opens over the summer. I’d assumed there would be no releases with an NXT roster expansion planned. Clearly I was wrong.

Those released were, in no particular order, Briley Pierce, Derrick Bateman, Sakamoto, Percy Watson, and Brandon Traven, along with Divas Audrey Marie and Anya. Here are my thoughts on them…

Briley Pierce is the name that immediately jumps off of that list, being the younger brother of World Heavyweight champion Dolph Ziggler. I’ve seen him wrestle only one match and he didn’t blow me away but his work as a backstage interviewer has always been solid. He could have made it to the main roster in that position. Perhaps that offer was made and he turned it down in favour of sticking with the wrestling. If so good for him for sticking to his goal.
Like his brother Pierce has a good look. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him crop up in Japan and on the US indy scene over the next year or two before making a WWE return. Whether that’s as an interviewer or a wrestler is impossible to tell, but I’m sure he’ll be back with the company at some point. He’s too good for them not to utilise.

Sakamoto is another notable name released. He worked on the main roster last year as a manservant to Tensai (now… sigh… Sweet T). He didn’t really get to do very much in the role beyond take the occasional beating from his master. When he got bumped down to developmental it seemed like his release was on its way. Turns out it was but the guy hung on longer than I thought he would.

His path back to WWE doesn’t look especially rosy. The promotion seems less and less interested in Japanese stars. See their lack of an offer to the supremely talented Takeshi Morishima, their disinterest in keeping Yoshihiro Tajiri around, and a complete lack of a working relationship with any Japanese federation for proof of that. If Sakamoto’s going to make a name for himself in wrestling New Japan, All Japan or NOAH seem like his best options.

Audrey Marie seems like a particularly strange release to action considering the dire state of the women’s league. I think it’s fair to say that she hadn’t really done anything to stand out thanks to being scripted almost identically to Summer Rae. She did well with what she was given though. I’d have liked to see her given her own character and a chance to work with the main roster Divas.

I’d seen nothing of Anya but from the look of her she could have improved things too. At this point it’s hard to think of a way the Divas division could become worse.

It sounds callous but Brandon Traven seems like exactly the sort of guy who’d be part of a mass release. Looking like he does I can’t imagine him making it to the main roster. He doesn’t look like a WWE Superstar™. Outside of joining the Wyatt Family I don’t think there was any way for him to graduate from NXT.
... going...

Percy Watson was (and is) another guy who didn’t strike me as having the main roster look. He wrestled very mechanically and didn’t appear to have much of a personality. If he’s to return to WWE he’ll need to work on a lot.
The news of Derrick Bateman’s release is probably the biggest surprise after Briley Pierce. Bateman was one of the cast of NXT’s fourth season in 2010. He was impressive on the show, displaying good timing and facial expressions as well as a firm understanding of ring basics. He always seemed on the cusp of getting a regular gig on the main roster but it never quite panned out for him. He’s one of several guys in NXT that I felt deserved a call-up in the near future.

If those in charge of TNA and ROH are smart both organisations will offer Bateman contracts. I think he’d be a great benefit to both companies. Not only that but a stint in either could provide him with the seasoning he needs to hone his skills and get a second shot with WWE.
... gone.
The likelihood is that this is WWE getting rid of talent who they've deemed aren't quite ready yet as opposed to just  firing people to make savings. It's not the damning move many people seem to take it as. Bryan 'Daniel Bryan' Danielson was released from his developmental deal in 2001 and worked regularly as enhancement talent for years before he got a regular deal. It was travelling to different regions and working new styles that helped him improve to the point where WWE wanted him back.

Even CM Punk, arguably the most successful indy standout to sign with WWE over the last decade or more, was close to getting released in 2006. He was saved by Paul Heyman fighting to be allowed to use him in the revived ECW.
If any of those released pursue a wrestling career away from WWE they'll be doing the right thing. The key is to continue showing passion for the business and search for new places to improve. That could be Japan, Mexico, Europe, TNA, Ring of Honor, SHIMMER, EVOLVE or the dozens of smaller federations that propagate the USA. If they can go to any of these places and grow as performers there's a chance they'll make it back at some point. Let’s be honest, everyone released wants to get back to WWE.

Friday 17 May 2013

Big Improvement

His legs are like steel girders. His hands are like sledgehammers. His head is farm-like. He's seven feet two inches tall and weighs five hundred pounds. He is the Big Show and he is 'The World's Largest Athlete'.

For much of his WWE career Show has been labelled with these stats and had to put up with these ludicrous comparisons. But then for much of his WWE career he hasn't encouraged anyone to give him anything better. He was a lazy slob who was paid nearly a million dollars a year no matter what shape he was in or how well he performed. There was a distinct lack of motivation for him to improve as a performer.

Things changed last summer. There's no obvious reason or a particular performance to point to as a starting point. Show simply developed a wrestling style that was good enough to sit alongside his above average promo skills. Finally he was the main event talent WWE had always hoped he'd be. It only took a mere thirteen years!

It didn't just happen overnight. Years of gradual improvement came together in the latter half of last year. Those promo skills? Show's always had them. He's a naturally likeable and funny guy that shines in mainstream media interviews. Talking has always been something he's good at. Maybe because it doesn't require any time in a gym or the skipping of meals to improve at it.

Show had slowly become a better worker since returning from a year long absence in February 2008. Appearing more confident at the whole wrestling thing Show put more thought into his matches, displaying a greater intensity and understanding of his role as a big man.

Look at that head. Looks like a farm (apparently)

When he returned he debuted the WMD KO punch. It was a significant addition to his repertoire. It's only a punch to the face (hardly impressive by wrestling standards) but Show's size adds a deal of legitimacy smaller performers would lack. That it's a striking move that can be hit in a variety of situations is an added positive. Striking moves have become popular in WWE in recent years thanks to the influence of MMA and indy wrestling.

It doesn't require much in the way of physical exertion either. It's like it was tailor made for the Big Show.

The second half of last year saw Show enter some of the best performances of his career. Along with Sheamus he amazed practically everyone in the world (maybe a slight exaggeration) when he had the best match of the night at Hell in a Cell. He entered solid performances opposite Alberto Del Rio at the January 8th SmackDown taping, Randy Orton on September 25th, and opposite fellow former WWE champions at Money in the Bank. He even managed to make his summer programme with John Cena not seem completely like the uninspired rerun it was.

At the unlikely age of forty-one Show seems to have finally hit his stride. Well done to him. And well done to WWE for having patience with him.