I knew Shane Douglas’ Extreme Reunion project was dead in the water the very moment I saw him take off a silver wrestling mask and shirt to reveal his bleach-blonde locks, the t-shirt bearing his name and copyright-skirting logo. I knew it was dead for two reasons:
Douglas, despite sitting opposite the hard camera, didn’t have the foresight or the money necessary to purchase front row tickets, or wait until something more significant than a Kane/Big Show match was going on.
Douglas’ dramatic reveal—which, considering the fan who wound up getting his flop-sweat covered overshirt in his face—wound up being one of the great non-events in wrestling. Nobody popped, nobody gasped, and only a few people chanted “E-C-DUB” as the dejected former Franchise ambled his way slowly up the stairs of the Wells-Fargo arena, whereupon he tried to make it look as though he were forcibly ejected from Vince McMahon’s family friendly show not because he was a dickbag making an unnecessary, unwelcome commotion for those in his immediate era, but because he would soon be firing a warning shot against so-called corporate wrestling. Read more
TJ Perkins vs. Mike Mondo: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that being in the Spirit Squad wasn’t the best showcase for Kenny, Johnny, Nicky, Mitch, or Mikey, as only one of them got on TV right after the dissolution of the group (Kenny), and only one of them is on TV right now (Nicky, AKA Dolph Ziggler AKA “The Heel”). Having not seen Mike Mondo outside the constraints of that gimmick (five on two handicap matches are a horrible showcase, by the way), I had to wonder what the hell they saw in the dude, but he’s a fine enough worker with a Crash Hardy style gimmick that’d probably work better if the dudes he encountered in ROH were absolute giants. TJ Perkins has been wrestling since he was 14 and, at 27-years-old, is a very well-rounded wrestler with some nifty moves. The one I liked the most was the figure-four deathlock, a cross between the figure four (obviously) and the Texas Cloverleaf. Good match to start out the second round of ROH TV tapings, and both men were signed to contracts as a result.
The Briscoes Man Up: After being informed by Jim Cornette that they’d need to beat the All-Night Express again in order to get a shot at Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team, the boys from Sandy Forks, DE started beating up on each other. Cornette, as usual, was fabulous in his understatement here, at once afraid of the Briscoes and trying to make sure his word was kept law.
Kevin Steen Signs: ROH is doing with Kevin Steen what WWE should have been content to do with CM Punk–let his name be a rumor, a wave building momentum before it crashes onto the shore. When Steen does make his return for ROH, it’ll be awesome. That was less true of Punk’s return.
Jay Lethal vs. Mike Bennett: The more I see him, the more I like Mike Bennett. His gimmick, a wrestler who is using wrestling to break into Hollywood, is exactly the sort of thing that would work in a dirty, grungy fed like Ring of Honor, and I especially like that he has some chumpy ex-Jobber with a Burgess Merrideth gimmick and the name of a horrible restaurant. What puts him over more is simply the fact that he’s a good wrestler, one who’ll probably go far in the business, and here, for the ROH TV Championship, he faces the also good Jay Lethal, who has made the most of his recent departure from TNA. Watching Jay Lethal’s ROH output directly before or after an episode of TNA’s IMPACT Wrestling is a stark reminder of the sort of star the company could have had were they actually interested in having stars, and he continues to prove that. I think that, five shows in, Ring of Honor knows that it doesn’t have to give as much away for free as it did with the last set of tapings, so this here’s a draw, and, unlike Lethal’s win over El Generico, it doesn’t go to overtime. Good match, good show. This is a good formula, regardless of how slow ROH’s build is.
Questionable Decision of the Week: Having the second TV Title match on TV go to a draw. I get that the time limit is part of the deal, and I know that, with one TV show and the constraints of a four-shows-at-a-time taping schedule, fitting more than one TV Title match in a month is a hard proposition. Regardless, the anti-climax isn’t really a good finish for a good-guy champion. Hell, the anti-climax is rarely a good finish for the bad guy, unless you’re Lord Steven Regal, who practically owned WCW’s television title division for much of the 90s, escaping from bouts via time limit draw and sneaky victories. Lethal and Bennet ended the match clubbering each other as the bell rang, but if I wanted to see that kind of thing, I’d probably watch MMA. If the face is going to pull out a draw via time limit, I’m under the impression that he should either be saved by the bell, or the heel should do the same. It’s a slight blemish on what was otherwise one of the best matches of the week, but there you go.
TNA IMPACT Wrestling (10/27/11)
Samoa Joe Remembers Samoa Joe: I’m a big sucker for sentimental speeches by first time title holders, and James Storm’s was certainly that, talking about how he and his dad watched Hogan vs. Andre and how he always wanted to be a champion, even if his dad wouldn’t live to see it. But I was more excited by the prospect of Samoa Joe getting back into the main event picture. As a company, TNA should be doing everything in their power to show that they’re the exact opposite of the WWE. Putting Samoa Joe back in the title picture is a step in the right direction, even if I get the feeling that he’s going to be used as the really good wrestler who makes other decent wrestlers look really good themselves.
Christopher Daniels Calls Rob Van Dam “Bob Van Dam:” Why this hasn’t happened before is a mystery.
Christopher Daniels Gets Disqualified For Hitting RVD With a Toolbox: It was plastic. Because TNA is hardcore.
Ric Flair Give Parenting Advice: “Tough love. I’m an expert at it.” According to that Grantland article, he really is.
Bully Ray Continues to Rule: “Jeff, I’ve never respected you, because rehab is for quitters.”
Samoa Joe vs. Bobby Roode: Given seven minutes, Bobby Roode continues to prove that TNA probably should have given him the title at Bound For Glory, and Samoa Joe continues to prove that he should be a bigger part of the company. I imagine, given an extra ten or so minutes, the two would have had a match in the running for TNA’s match of the year. But hey, Bischoff and Son needed to have another segment devoted to posturing and light McMahon Family Drama.
Questionable Decision of the Week I: Bringing in a cast member from the Jersey Shore. TNA’s already done this once, and it didn’t work. WWE brought in Snookie for WrestleMania, and her participation has all but been swept under the rug. The worst part was that they kept talking about it. Jeff Hardy’s return match? “Watch for Ronnie next week!” Number one contentership match? “RONNIE’S GONNA BE HERE!” Ric Flair mugging Eric Bischoff’s kid in the night’s most important (to TNA management, at least) segment? THEY TALKED ABOUT RONNIE AS FLAIR STOMPED THE KID’S FACE. There is no discernible benefit to bringing in any castmates from the Jersey Shore, so I think I speak for everybody who watches wrestling when I post the following image macro:
Questionable Decision of the Week II: Not letting Roode vs. Joe be the actual main event of the evening. Instead, the non-drama between Eric Bischoff and his son, a lesser Vince McMahon vs. Shane McMahon for those interested in the dusty corners of WCW trivia (the irony of Flair sticking up for Bischoff in a family matter is rich in irony for all of four people) got to chew up not one, not two, but three whole segments. The first one was amusing for the “Let’s Go Garrett” chants, further proof that TNA fans will chant anything. The second one was OK for an incoherent Ric Flair telling Garrett that his name wasn’t Ric Flair, but God. The third one, beyond being overkill, saw the invention and abortion of the Ric Flair Kiss My Ass Club, and a father punching his own son in the balls. Flair, as he gets older, looks nastier and nastier as he lays in chops and stomps and punches, but Hogan and Sting no longer appear to be part of this storyline, and it looks like we’re headed to a situation where Flair will be taking on Eric Bischoff’s son in a wrestling match. Jay Lethal? Sting? Fine. Do what you gotta do, Slick Ric. Garrett Bischoff? I hope he’s the wrestling equivalent of Rembrandt, otherwise this smacks not only of nepotism, but of a guy clearly out of touch with the realities of his age and abilities. Flair, as he’s shown a few times since “retiring” at WrestleMania 24, can still go, given either an incredibly game opponent (Lethal) or one who knows him in and out (Sting), but the dude’s got to realize that the term “special attraction” only applies if you’re not wrestling everybody, if you’re not the focus of the big angle. Two weeks ago it looked like the company was set to turn a new page, ready to focus on new people. If I’d known one of those new people was going to be Flair, as much as the guy’s an icon, I probably wouldn’t have started covering TNA on a week-to-week basis.
One of my favorite wrestlers, Claudio Castagnoli, was recently signed by the WWE. He’s since made his début for their Florida developmental territory, FCW, under the decidedly European (but not quite Swiss) name Antonio Cesaro. This, for the uninitiated, is what he looks like:
His signing didn’t get the same fanfare as the early-January signing of Mistico (now Sin Cara), who got a press conference and an almost immediate début, but this is big stuff for the WWE, regardless. After signing and releasing Castagnoli in 2006, they’ve brought him back with five more years of experience, during a period of transition that has seen the WWE pick up guys who aren’t just ex-football players or ex-bodybuilders or models-turned-”wrestlers,” but men and women of real wrestling ability. One look at Cesaro above tells you that he’s everything the WWE typically wants in a wrestler (height, build, continence), but watching his matches, it’s hard to ignore that the WWE have picked up an incredibly polished professional ready to make an immediate impact.
I couldn’t be happier for the former Double C, as most pro-wrestlers have dreams of making it in the WWE. Selfishly, I’m going to miss seeing him three or four times a year in 20-minute plus matches (I saw him wrestle in person four times this year, in four of the better matches I’ve seen since my fiendish appetite for wrestling returned in 2010), but I can’t wait for casual wrestling fans to be wowed by Cesaro’s very European uppercuts, his power and his charisma. Understandably, however, there are plenty of indie wrestling fans who, while they may be happy for Castagnoli on a personal level, can’t help but be sad to see him go. We’ve come a long way from ECW fans burying wrestlers departing for the six-figure paychecks of WCW and WWF with “You Sold Out!” chants and near-riotous responses as they exited the ECW Arena for the last time, but there’s still a very vocal contingent who don’t understand why somebody making a living as a wrestler would want to do it in front of a large audience. Not that they’re a group of uncaring jerks; they’re just in mourning. Here’s what to expect from your favorite indie wrestling fan as they suffer the period between Castagnoli’s signing and Cesaro’s eventual Raw or SmackDown! début.
Stage One: Denial
Here, the independent wrestling fan will try to convince himself (or herself, I suppose) that the news isn’t true, despite the fact that his every message board post on the wrestler in question has been along the lines of “Well, it’s obvious that he’s lost because he’s going to the WWE!” The fan will frantically refresh the newly-signed wrestler’s official website, hoping to see a new booking at a county fairgrounds in upstate New York, and will grow even more despondent when the webpage disappears entirely, redirecting him to the wrestler’s brand new Florida Championship Wrestling biography page.
“Oh no!” the fan may scream. “I was going to use his gnocchi recipe this weekend!”
Stage Two: Anger
Denial is temporary, however, as the FCW bio page will reveal the indie wrestling fan’s favorite wrestler’s new name. Now, to an outsider, the leap from “Claudio Castagnoli” to “Antonio Caesaro” may not look like much, but to the independent wrestling fan, it means everything. This was not just a wrestler’s name–it was a mark, a badge of pride. This is a lot like hipsters debating the merits of their musical taste by dropping obscure band names on one another until somebody screams for mercy. The indie wrestling fan, when talking to a casual wrestling fan, loves to drop a name that the casual guy has never heard, as “My favorite wrestler right now is PAC” will lead the casual fan to admit the indie fan’s superiority before he can even think of naming Zack Ryder. In the future, “I’m a big fan of Claudio Castagnoli” will lead to responses of “Oh, Antonio Caesaro? He’s alright, I guess, but he’s no Chris Masters.”
The independent wrestling fan may also be driven to forums at this point in time, believing that it is his right to decry the departing independent wrestler for following his dreams of WWE Superstardom.
“I didn’t buy his t-shirt at the last show that I saw him at,” the post will begin. “I just told him how awesome I thought he was and that he looked ready for the WWE. Oh crap; is it my fault? I knew I shouldn’t have talked to him!”
Stage Three: Bargaining
If the departing independent wrestler has a Twitter account, he’s in for a solid week of Twit-spam from indie wrestling fans who foolhardily believe that asking him not to appear in Tampa will surely get him to appear at next week’s Combat Zone Wrestling show, being held in some grassy patch in Illinois. A smattering of Tweets:
@AntonioCaesaro: Please come back! I’ll buy six Ricola Bomb t-shirts!
@AntonioCaesaro: If you don’t sell out to Vince, I’ll buy something off your Amazon.com Wish List!
@AntonioCaesaro: Please come to next week’s show, Claudio. I’ll make you a cake. A Swiss cake.
@AntonioCaesaro: Can you say “hi” to CM Punk for me?
@AntonioCaesaro: RT this if Vince is keeping you hostage.
It’s a modern take on this:
Stage Four: Depression
At this point, the independent wrestling fan will go into a serious funk. Matches featuring the departing indie star, once favorites, will lose their appeal. His t-shirts will go un-worn, his DVDs will go to dust. Oh sure, there are still indie shows to watch and there are other indie wrestlers worth watching, who, like the departing indie star, have their own unique charm about them, but when the official YouTube channel goes un-updated and the news from Tampa has it that the ex-indie star is losing semi-regularly to an ex-bodybuilder picked from a random issue of Muscle & Fitness, it’ll seem to be over for the indie wrestling fan. You can suspend a pinata from a pole and have two Mexican luchadores fight over it, you can book a giant turkey to hatch from a giant egg on a Pay Per View, and you can have Snookie pick up a win at WrestleMania and the wrestling fan will come back. Horrendously misuse a favorite wrestler in the eyes of an indie wrestling fan, however, and there’s little point in even complaining about it online.
Stage Five: Acceptance
But lo, the first footage of the former independent wrestling star will emerge on YouTube, and it will be good:
The independent wrestling fan will view this footage, will note the small child to the right absolutely lose it for the duration of the clip’s three minutes, and his heart, dear readers, will grow like the Grinch’s upon seeing the solidarity of Whoville. After all, seeing a favorite wrestler get signed is like an affirmation from the big guy upstairs (Vince McMahon, who I assume occupies the top floor of Titan Towers) that, yes, independent wrestling fan, you’ve got pretty good taste. Not only that, but you may just be able to identify potential stars who, one day, casual fans will speak of with the same reverence you once did.
And if things don’t work out, hey, it’s no big deal. The future endeavored former independent wrestling star can always go back to the fairgrounds. His old gear is waiting. His old name is waiting. His old fanbase will follow.